Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his top deputy, Vice President Farouk Shareh, have agreed to meet (FT) with the UN commission investigating last year’s assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The UN panel has already fingered high-level Syrian and pro-Syrian Lebanese officials in the killing, though Damascus has denied these charges. Assad’s decision to cooperate, after having long refused to heed UN investigators’ interview requests, follows a new report released by Chief Investigator Serge Brammertz. The report says the UN investigation is closer to understanding the circumstances of Hariri’s death and believes some of the perpetrators may have been involved in terrorism before (NYT).
Hariri’s death shook the status quo in the Middle East. The massive demonstrations in Lebanon that followed, combined with intense international pressure, forced Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon after nearly thirty years of occupation. But Syria-watchers like Middle East analyst Mona Yacoubian say the initial momentum carried by the UN investigation appears to be slowing. She tells cfr.org’s Bernard Gwertzman that after a year of unrelenting pressure from the United Nations and the international community over Syria’s role in the Hariri assassination, Syrians "really don't believe that they have anything to fear at this time." Yacoubian and Scott Lasensky, both of the U.S. Institute of Peace, write that adding to Assad’s confidence is the fact there is no unified opposition ready to take over power from President Assad. While Syrians may not like Assad's regime, they prefer its stability to the chaos they see in neighboring Iraq, they write in a December briefing.
Meanwhile in Lebanon, tensions have run high since Hariri’s murder. Many young people, who in the days after Hariri’s death protested the Syrian-controlled political order in Lebanon as part of the “Cedar Revolution,” are disillusioned after a year in which dozens of notable figures were assassinated by car bombs and say sectarian tensions are now higher than ever (BBC). “The uprising, and the people who championed it, seem long forgotten,” writes Lebanon’s Daily Star. Political leaders are engaged in a national dialogue (CSMonitor) to forge a compromise over a host of issues that have paralyzed the government and led to deep divides not seen among Lebanese since the 1975-90 civil war.