A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, March 16, 2009

Lebanese Open Embassy in Damascus

Lebanon opened its Embassy in Damascus today, which would not be news except for the fact that there has never been an exchange of embassies between Lebanon and Syria before. Despite the close ties between the two countries and the long Syrian occupation of Lebanon, they've never exchanged ambassadors (and Syria still hasn't named an Ambassador to Lebanon, though it opened its Beirut Embassy in December).

Originally this was a sort of artifact of Syria's dreams of a greater Syria and resentment of the way the French mandate expanded the Ottoman boundaries of Lebanon to include territory Syria considered its own; eventually, even though both countries were members of the Arab League and signed agreements with each other, it became a bargaining chip for Syria's continued influence over Lebanon. In the Ta'if Accord of 1989 which ended the civil war (in theory, though fighting continued until 1991), Syria and Lebanon agreed to exhange embassies. It has only taken them 20 years to carry that out.

Lebanese media were quick to note that no official Syrian delegation was present at the flag-raising, and many interpreted this as a snub. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mu'allem said it was all a misunderstanding, that in fact Syria thought the Embassy opening was Sunday. He does not seem to have explained why no Syrian officials showed up Sunday, but the Embassy is open and the flag has been raised, and another diplomatic anomaly in Lebanon's status is finally removed.

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