Thursday, May 29, 2008
BEIRUT: The most recent report issued by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) indicated that despite the severe political paralysis that has negatively affected Lebanon for nearly two years, the economy has continued to function relatively well. But as other sources of growth and capital have dried up, the country has become increasingly dependent on a single factor, which is the continued engagement of the many Lebanese living and working abroad, according to the report. The EIU said the deeply divided country has lacked a president since late 2007, Parliament has been forcibly shut down since September 2006, and political tensions continued to escalate until very recently. As a result, much-needed fiscal reforms have been on indefinite hold, and many foreign investors have been showing extreme caution.
It added that despite the ongoing political problems, Lebanon's real GDP grew by 4 percent in 2007, a respectable level, if well below potential. Private-sector consumption remained high, with many Beirut shops and restaurants flourishing, save in the Downtown area, a high-end commercial district that was until recently paralyzed for over a year by a protest encampment put up by the opposition. Some investment is still coming into the country, especially in the real-estate sector, which stayed healthy. Tourism has also held up to some extent, as the streets of Beirut were packed and the best restaurants were fully booked during the 2007-08 Christmas and New Year holiday season. Most importantly, foreign-currency deposits have continued to rise steadily, allowing local banks to keep on covering the country's massive public debt, estimated at almost 190 percent of GDP.
The EIU noted that all of these sources of growth increasingly depend on one factor: the huge Lebanese diaspora, which is estimated to outnumber the national population of 4 million, tends to send money back home. Banking-sector deposits have also increased in part by Lebanese expatriates, as many expatriates use local addresses, meaning that some of their funds are classified as resident and some as nonresident deposits. Similarly, the tourism sector is driven by Lebanese nationals. These visitors fill the cafes, restaurants and bars, though they tend to stay with family and friends, which kept hotel occupancy rates at just 30 percent in 2007, while some hotels catering primarily to Gulf Arab visitors, further deterred by recent official travel warnings from the governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait, have been forced to close indefinitely.The real-estate market is also increasingly dependent on Lebanese working abroad, as Gulf Arabs who used to see Lebanon as their summer destination think twice about investing in new holiday homes. Lebanese expatriates, meanwhile, have bought residences in Lebanon in the hope of returning one day, and also find buying property in their present city of residence both prohibitively expensive and legally complex. - Byblos Bank's Lebanon This Week
Hariri insists nomination was not intended as 'challenge' to opposition
By Hussein Abdallah and Nafez Qawas
Daily Star staff
BEIRUT: President Michel Suleiman appointed incumbent Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Wednesday to head a government of national unity after the parliamentary majority gave Siniora its backing. Of the 127 members in Parliament, 68 MPs named Siniora as their candidate. "Based on his consultations with members of Parliament ... the president has asked Fouad Siniora to form a new government," the presidency said. Siniora told reporters after arriving at the Presidential Palace in Baabda and meeting with Suleiman that he would seek to bridge the gaps among all rival parties as he forms a new government and begins a new term as prime minister.
Before meeting with Siniora, Suleiman also met Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and informed him of the result of the consultations. "I extend my hand for cooperation and solidarity, so that our country can achieve the breakthroughs it deserves," Siniora said. He added that he hoped all parties would draw lessons from recent events that must not be repeated. "I call on all of you to heal the wounds and to overcome the divisions we have experienced and not to resort to violence to solve our problems," he said. "I look to the future with great hope that we will go from a situation where we suffered greatly to one that the Lebanese people aspire to, that is stability, constructive work and democratic competition." Siniora, 64, will begin consultations on Friday afternoon with the various parliamentary blocs on forming a 30-member cabinet of national unity in which the opposition will have veto power over key decisions.
Formation of a unity government is a key plank of a deal hammered out by rival factions last week to end an 18-month political crisis that boiled over into deadly fighting and threatened to plunge the nation back into civil war. Under the deal, the ruling bloc will hold 16 seats in the new cabinet, the opposition 11, and the president will appoint three ministers. Parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri - who had also been tipped as a possible prime minister - said his bloc had decided to nominate Siniora again as he was the best man for the job. "We didn't name Siniora as a challenge [to the opposition] but as a move toward real reconciliation and to turn over a new page," he told reporters Wednesday after meeting Suleiman. MP Walid Jumblatt, head of the Democratic Gathering bloc, also named Siniora for the post, and so did the Lebanese Forces. Out of 68 majority MPs, only one did not commit to the decision taken by the March 14 coalition: Beirut MP Bahij Tabbarah told reporters he named Hariri and not Siniora. But independent MPs Michel Murr, former opposition member, surprisingly named Siniora for the post, thus securing 68 votes.
The opposition made clear it was not satisfied with the choice of Siniora, saying he did not reflect the spirit of national unity called for in Doha. "His nomination is a recipe for conflict rather than reconciliation," Reform and Change bloc leader Michel Aoun said. "It seems the ruling bloc, rather than battling for a new Lebanon, is seeking to unleash a new conflict." He added, however, that the opposition would not stand in the way of forming a new government. "We are determined to take part in the government without offering our backing to the premier," Aoun said. "We will take part in the cabinet as an opposition force." Aoun told reporters that his bloc named three candidates for the post; former Minister Leila al-Solh, Tabbarah, and Public Works and Transportation Minister Mohammad Safadi. While Solh is independent, Tabbarah and Safadi are members of the parliamentary majority. Aoun's allies in the opposition, Hizbullah and Amal Movement abstained from naming any candidate for the post.
After meeting with Suleiman, Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad said that the next prime minister should be concerned about "preserving the arms of the resistance, and should be against any form of foreign patronage." "We did not name any candidate, but we believe that the Lebanese are in deep need of a positive shock at the beginning of the new presidential term," Raad said. After being officially named by Suleiman, Siniora hailed the president's inaugural address during his election on Sunday and said that his [Siniora's] vision conforms with that of the president on many issues. "The president's inaugural speech revived the role of the presidency, which we missed for a long time," Siniora said, referring to the six months of presidential vacuum that followed the end of Emile Lahoud's term last November. Siniora added that all parties in the next government, which he described as "the government of all Lebanon," should cooperate together to face future economic and political challenges. "We should work to liberate the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms and to resume the reconstruction in Beirut's southern suburbs and the South," he said. "We should also protect the right of our brother Palestinians to return to their homes." Siniora also focused on strengthening the Lebanese Army to enable it to face the enemy and preserve peace and stability in the country. At the end of his speech, Siniora recalled those "who were targeted by assassination, violence, and terrorism." "We must also remember the people who lost their lives in the wrong place and at the wrong time," the premier said, referring to the recent casualties after deadly clashes between opposition and pro-government supporters in different areas of the country. The violence left at least 65 people dead and 250 others wounded. - With AFP
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
I was informed today that someone in Akhbar el Sabah on Future TV News was giving all the program of the events for this week: He confirmed Majida on Sunday night.
On Sunday morning there will be a marathon taking place down town...!
Lebanese Singers will be performing for the public and the invitation is open to all: Stars like Nancy Ajram, Nawal El-Zoghbi and Ragheb Alama, Star Academy Stars Joseph Attieh and Fady Andraos and the final 10 contestants of Future's "Super Star 5" (i.e. the Lebanese equivalent of American Idol).
The international Lebanese star, MASSARI, will also perform.
To join the celebrations, head to DownTown Beirut for the LIVE FREE Concerts that start every night at 9.00 pm !
Monday 26th May 08: Haifa Wehbe & Assi Hellani
Tuesday 27th May 08: Nawal El-Zoghbi, Ragheb Alama & Star Academy Stars Joseph Attieh & Fady Andraos
Wednesday 28th May 08: Nancy Ajram & Fadel Shaker
Thursday 29th May 08: MASSARI, Ramy Ayash and the Contestants of Super Star 5
These concerts are FREE in order to revive Beirut.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Hizbullah leader reaffirms party's commitment to Doha accord
Daily Star staff
BEIRUT: Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah vowed his group would not use its arms to achieve political gains, and renewed the party's commitment to preserving Lebanese diversity in a speech on Monday to mark the eight-year anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from most of South Lebanon. "I renew my position today. We do not want to monopolize power in Lebanon and we don't want to rule the country or impose our thoughts on the people," Nasrallah stressed. The sayyed was speaking by video link to thousands of supporters who had flocked from across Lebanon to the Raya football pitch in the Sfeir region of Beirut's southern suburbs. Major General Hassan Mohsen represented President Michel Suleiman at the rally, and MP Ali Hassan Khalil represented Speaker Nabih Berri. An array of diplomatic, political and religious also took part. "I reaffirm the Doha agreement clause that precludes the use of arms to attain political goals," Nasrallah said, referring to the deal struck last week in the Qatari capital to end Lebanon's long-running political crisis. "The resistance's arms are to fight the enemy, liberate lands and prisoners, and defend Lebanon and nothing else," he pledged, referring to his group's enmity with Israel which pulled out of South Lebanon in 2000. Nasrallah also warned against the state's arsenal being used to settle domestic accounts. "The government's weapons or those of the army or security forces are to defend the nation, the people and their rights, the government, and to maintain security," he said. "The government's weapons cannot be used to settle accounts with a political opponent. The government's weapons cannot be used to target the resistance and its arms," he added. "All arms must remain in the service of the goal they were created for," Nasrallah said. Referring to the violence that shook the country earlier this month, Nasrallah said he would seek to heal wounds opened during the violence. "Both sides suffered deep wounds," he said. "Either we widen the wound and put salt on it, or we work to heal it for the sake of Lebanon. We choose the latter option."
Nasrallah was speaking one day after Suleiman was elected president. The election ended a long-running political crisis between rival factions that left the country without a head of state since late November. The Hizbullah leader welcomed Suleiman's election as a new chapter for Lebanon. "The election of Michel Suleiman brings hope to the Lebanese of a new era and a new beginning,"he said. "His inaugural speech expressed the spirit of consensus that he promised to act upon in the upcoming period. And this is what Lebanon needs." Nasrallah said he wished the Lebanese a quiet summer in contrast to what he Washington's "dream" of a hot summer, a reference to comments attributed to a US diplomat. "We face two dreams, a Lebanese and an American dream," he said. "The Lebanese dream is about a quiet summer while the American one speaks of a hot summer. "Let us make our dream come true rather than theirs." He also vowed to work toward restoring unity and reconciling differences. "I promise ... that we will make every effort to get over every grudge, overcome every sensitivity and surpass every wound to put our hands together to build Lebanon and be Lebanon," he said. Nasrallah also said Lebanon should be able to set the foundation for "a liberation strategy in addition to a defense strategy." "In Lebanon, we talk about defense; what we need now is a liberation strategy for the occupied Shebaa Farms, and Kfar Shuba Hills and the detainees in Israeli jails," he said. The sayyed also said that Israel will release Lebanese detainees it holds "very soon." "The detainees are our commitment; and Samir Kantar and his brothers will soon return to Lebanon," he said. He also blasted US policy in Iraq and Gaza, encouraging resistance and telling the Iraqis "to take an historic stance and not let their country fall into the hands of the invaders." - The Daily Star, with AFP
Monday, May 26, 2008
Daily Star staff
New head of state picks up 118 votes out of 127 cast
BEIRUT: Lebanon's Parliament elected the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces General Michel Suleiman as president on Sunday, ending six months of presidential vacuum. Suleiman got 118 out of the 127 votes cast, with six blank ballots and three invalid ones. The votes counted as invalid were cast for Nassib Lahoud, Jean Obeid and "slain former Premier Rafik Hariri and the martyred MPs." The election took place in the presence of Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, his Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani, members of the Arab ministerial committee which brokered the recent Doha agreement, Arab League chief Amr Moussa, and a number of senior Arab and international figures (see the complete list of attendees on page 8). After Suleiman was sworn in, the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora resigned in line with the Constitution but will stay on in a caretaker capacity.
Suleiman arrived at Parliament shortly after the election accompanied by Speaker Nabih Berri, who left the Parliament building after the vote and returned with the newly elected president in line with protocol. After taking the presidential oath, Suleiman delivered an inaugural address that dealth with several contentious issues, including Lebanese-Syrian ties and the deadly clashes that struck Lebanon earlier this month. He called for good and balanced relations with Damascus - whose foreign minister, Walid Moallem, was in attendance - based on mutual respect. "Both Lebanon and Syria should also respect each other's borders," the president added. In an indirect reference to the recent clashes between opposition and pro-government supporters, Suleiman said Lebanon's weapons should only be directed at the Israeli enemy. Prior to Suleiman's address, Berri congratulated the new president and praised the patience and sacrifices of the Lebanese people. "This is a historic moment," Berri said. "I ask God to help you succeed in steering the Lebanese ship to a safe haven ... today no one in the world can turn Lebanon into a fighting arena," he added, addressing Suleiman. Berri thanked various countries, including Russia, France, Italy, Spain as well as the Arab League for their help in bringing an end to the 18-month old political crisis. But he took a swipe at Washington, saying: "I thank the United States nonetheless, seeing that it seems to have been convinced that Lebanon is not the appropriate place for its New Middle East plan." He was referring to comments made by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who described the plight of Lebanon during Israel's 2006 war against it as part of the "birth pangs of the New Middle East."
After Suleiman's inaugural address, Qatar's emir delivered a speech to the Parliament and international guests. "I want to tell you that there is a victor and a vanquished in Lebanon today ... Lebanon is the victor and internal strife is the vanquished," Sheikh Hamad said. "Two years ago, I saw the courage and strength of the resistance in Lebanon when resistance was necessary ... today, I am seeing another form of courage ... it is the courage of wisdom," he added. Sheikh Hamad appealed for Arab unity while stressing the role of the Arab League in solving inter-Arab disputes. "Our similarities are far more than our differences," he said. Suleiman, who met separately with Berri and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at Parliament, was to spend the night at his home before heading to the Presidential Palace on Monday morning. Mottaki also met Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal at the Parliament. The newly elected president is expected to start parliamentary consultations on Tuesday in a bid to name a new prime minister, who, in turn, will hold his own consultations on the lineup of the next cabinet. Prior to the election, MPs Butros Harb, Hussein al-Husseini, Nayla Mouawad and George Adwan voiced reservations about the procedure of used to elect Suleiman, describing it as "unconstitutional." The lawmakers said they preferred to see Suleiman elected after amending Article 49 of the Lebanese Constitution. The article bans the election of grade one officials unless they have resigned two years prior to being elected to the country's top post. Berri responded that the election process was in line with Article 74 of the Constitution. The article stipulates that if a presidential vacuum occurs, Parliament should immediately meet and elect a president. - With AFP
Qatari emir congratulates Lebanese on ending crisis
BEIRUT: "The dangerous political crisis that threatened to lead to the collapse of Lebanon has ended, and we hope this crisis is the last," Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifah al-Thani said in an address to the Lebanese Parliament and newly elected President Michel Suleiman on Sunday. With myriad local and foreign dignitaries crowding Lebanon's reconstructed Parliament building for back-to-back election and inauguration ceremonies, the Qatari emir stressed that the dangers facing the Arab world "do not permit the renewal of conflict between parties every now and again." "The fate of nations, more important than factional disputes, is at stake in our region," added Sheikh Hamad, who helped pressure feuding Lebanese factions into the recent Doha talks that ultimately resulted in an accord after the country seemed on the brink of another civil war. A recurrent theme during the emir's address to the House was his allusion to the "no victor, no vanquished" staple of Lebanese politics, as he at once hoped that the Doha talks transcended that approach, "which buries rather than solves crises," and stated that the Doha agreement saw to it that "Lebanon vanquished strife" by resorting to dialogue. "All the [Doha process] did was to provide a locale for dialogue in the absence of pressure, and I believe the chance afforded by such a dialogue reached its natural conclusion," the Qatari ruler added.
In characterizing the Doha agreement as an achievement for Lebanon, Sheikh Hamad also stressed the "broader meaning of success, as the crisis was taken from the verge of disaster to an arena of dialogue." The emir continued by saying that hosting the Lebanese dialogue "was an honor for us," and added that the Qatari capital would remain "open, unconditionally, as a space for dialogue. "The Arab world is endowed with institutions and organizations - the Arab League, above all - capable of creating an atmosphere for dialogue," the Qatari leader added. Sheikh Hamad concluded by declaring: "That which unites [Lebanese] parties transcends the divisions between them. This is our belief and our goal, so that God may preserve Lebanon." - The Daily Star
Inaugural address ranges far and wide
BEIRUT: "I swear by Almighty God to observe the laws of the Lebanese nation and maintain the independence of Lebanon and its territorial integrity," President Michel Suleiman declared Sunday, taking an oath of office that ended a six-month presidential vacuum. After calling for a moment of silence in honor of those who have died for Lebanon, Suleiman delivered his inaugural address, laying out the governing vision for the coming six years of his term. Suleiman spoke of strengthening Lebanon's constitutional institutions, minimizing incendiary political rhetoric, preserving the rights of diaspora Lebanese and pursuing constructive and balanced relations with Syria. "One of the more dangerous developments of the last few years has been the basing of political discourse on the rhetoric of treason," he said, underlining the political divisions that have paralyzed Lebanon since the summer war with Israel. Suleiman stressed the importance of balanced development, which he described as "a pillar of state integrity," adding that this could be achieved through "more thorough administrative decentralization at all levels in addressing the social, economic and cultural imbalances" between various regions of the country. "Emerging from our state of stagnation and stimulating the economic cycle requires security and political stability, as well as the state's encouragement of competitive production," added Suleiman. " The president touched upon the rights of the diaspora, linking the issue to the controversial debate over citizenship in Lebanon, saying that "Lebanese abroad have more of a right to citizenship than others." In discussing foreign policy, Suleiman expressed his belief that Lebanon should "respect all United Nations decisions" and stressed the importance of following through with "the international tribunal pertaining to the assassination of [former Prime Minister] Rafik Hariri." The manner in which the Hariri tribunal is pursued remains a controversial issue, and much of the dispute has to do with the country's role in the region and its relations with its neighbors. Suleiman tackled these issues in his speech, steering the careful course that marked his tenure as Lebanese Armed Forces commander. The new president said a strong defense strategy is "necessitated by Israeli aggression," calling for a composed dialogue aimed at creating such a strategy, which he said should "utilize the capabilities of the resistance." Suleiman added that Lebanese-Syrian relations should be "brotherly," with mutual respect for the "boundaries of each sovereign country." Suleiman also argued that "the Palestinian struggle cannot be used as a pretext" for terrorism and that "the gun should never be aimed inward, but should always point toward our enemies." President Suleiman, coming to office amid a long-running political stalemate in Lebanon and on the tail of deadly clashes between feuding rival parties, also noted that the Lebanese "have paid a high price for this unity ... Let us strive to preserve it." - The Daily Star, with agencies
Berri takes pointed swipe at US policy during speech
BEIRUT: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri took a swipe at the United States on Sunday following the election of a new president, saying that Lebanon was not a playground for Washington's policy in the region. Berri, an opposition stalwart, thanked various countries, including Qatar, Iran, Turkey, Russia, France, Italy, Spain as well as the Arab League for their help in bringing an end to Lebanon's 18-month old political crisis. "I thank the United States nonetheless, seeing that it seems to have been convinced that Lebanon is not the appropriate place for its New Middle East plan," Berri said. "This plan will not find any place in the entire Middle East," he added. He was referring to comments made by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said while on a visit to Beirut during Israel's war on Lebanon in summer 2006 that the war was part of "birth pangs of the New Middle East." "This is a historic moment," Berri said, while introducing the president. "I ask God to help you succeed in steering the Lebanese ship to a safe haven ... today no one in the world can turn Lebanon into a fighting arena." Berri described as a "great honor" the fact that the election was taking place on May 25, which happens to be the date of Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon eight years ago. "May 25 happens to be the eighth anniversary of the victory of our heroic resistance and the withdrawal of the Israeli army from most of Lebanon's territory expect for the Shebaa Farms and the Kafar Shuba Hills," Berri said. "It also happens to be the fist anniversary of the victory of our army against terrorism in Nahr al-Bared," he added, referring to last year's clashes between the army and Islamist militants at a Palestinian refugee camp in the North of the country. Berri also recalled "lawmakers who sacrificed their lives" in the past few years. Since 2005, Lebanon's Parliament has lost seven lawmakers, six of whom were assassinated. Addressing the president, Berri said that Suleiman was the eligible person to sponsor a dialogue on adopting a defense strategy for Lebanon. - The Daily Star, with AFP
World leaders welcome Lebanese election
WASHINGTON: US President George W. Bush led the international community on Sunday in hailing the election of Michel Suleiman as Lebanon's new president as a first step in reuniting the divided nation. "I am confident that Lebanon has chosen a leader committed to protecting its sovereignty, extending the government's authority over all of Lebanon, and upholding Lebanon's international obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions," Bush said. "We look forward to working with president Suleiman in pursuit of our common values of freedom and independence."
Suleiman, Lebanon's army chief for the past 10 years, was sworn in on Sunday after a parliamentary vote that many hope will turn the page on an 18-month political feud that threatened to plunge the nation back into civil war. The vote was held just days after the government and the opposition agreed to a deal after talks in Doha to end the political crisis. Bush said he was "hopeful that the Doha agreement, which paved the way for this election, will usher in an era of political reconciliation to the benefit of all Lebanese."
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the election was "an important step forward for Lebanon" and pledged his government's support for the new president. "We will continue to support Lebanon's stability, integrity and independence, and we look forward to president Suleiman working with a unity government to bring Lebanon out of its current fragility," he said in a statement. German President Horst Koehler said he welcomed "this bold step" toward resolving Lebanon's political crisis and wished Suleiman luck in his new role. "I wish you lots of success, the necessary strength and good luck for the big challenges that lie ahead of you," he said in a statement. French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged full support for Suleiman and said he hoped the election would allow Lebanon to take a significant step forward and "confront the challenges that await." His Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner applauded Suleiman as "courageous" in calling for the UN tribunal being set up to try suspects the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri to continue its work. He applauded Suleiman's election but said he had hoped it would have gone more smoothly adding he preferred "democracy without weapons," in reference to the gun battles which gripped the country in the run-up to the vote. Jordan's King Abdullah II said the vote was a "positive step for the people of Lebanon and for national unity," according to a statement from the royal palace. "Jordan stands alongside the Lebanese in their desire and their efforts to preserve their independence and their stability," he said. Morocco's King Mohammed VI congratulated Suleiman. "Thanks to your wisdom, your skills and human qualities, you are going to achieve the aspirations of the brotherly people of Lebanon in strengthening national unity," he said. - AFP
By Tom Perry
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's parliament elected army chief Michel Suleiman as head of state on Sunday, reviving paralyzed state institutions after an 18-month standoff between a U.S.-backed government and the Hezbollah-led opposition. Celebratory gunfire erupted in Beirut after Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri declared that Suleiman, the sole candidate, had won by securing 118 votes in the 128-member assembly. The election was part of an agreement brokered by Qatar last week to defuse a crisis that had pushed Lebanon to the brink of civil war, with Hezbollah briefly seizing parts of Beirut and routing government partisans. At least 81 people were killed.
The Doha deal was widely seen as a setback for Washington and its allies, which had pressed for Hezbollah to be disarmed. However, U.S. President George W. Bush, congratulating Suleiman on his election, said in a statement: "I am hopeful that the Doha Agreement ... will usher in an era of political reconciliation to the benefit of all Lebanese." Bush said he was confident that Lebanon had chosen a leader who would uphold the country's international obligations under U.N. resolutions that call for Hezbollah to be disarmed.
Foreign ministers attending included those of Iran and Syria, which support Hezbollah, and their regional rival Saudi Arabia, which backs the anti-Syrian majority bloc. The Iranian and Saudi ministers met for half an hour after the election. "It is clear that the Doha settlement could only occur in an atmosphere of regional truces," Lebanese political commentator Suleiman Taqieddin told Reuters. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad later phoned Suleiman to congratulate him on his election, the Lebanese president's office said in a statement.
After the vote, Suleiman, 59, took his oath of office in the chamber before making a speech designed to set the tone for his six-year term. Lebanon has had no president since November. Suleiman urged a "calm dialogue" on a national defense strategy that would draw on the "capacities of the resistance" -- apparently suggesting the eventual integration of Hezbollah's guerrillas into Lebanese security forces. Hezbollah has rejected any move to force it to lay down its weapons, which it says are needed to deter Israeli attack. But its Lebanese opponents revived calls for the Shi'ite group to disarm after its military offensive in Beirut this month. Tackling another of the challenges his presidency will face, Suleiman called for formal diplomatic links with Damascus. Syria, Lebanon's main powerbroker for 29 years until 2005, has never agreed to exchange embassies with Beirut. In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he hoped Suleiman's election presaged the revitalization of all Lebanon's constitutional institutions and a return to dialogue. Suleiman also urged dialogue, criticizing a political discourse based on "accusations of treachery" which had "paved the way to divergence and discord, especially among youth."
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani was the most prominent of many dignitaries in Beirut for the vote. The majority and the opposition agreed long ago Suleiman should be president, but deadlock over the shape of a national unity government had forced the vote to be postponed 19 times. The deal struck in Doha met the opposition's main demand for veto power in a unity government and secured the choice of a president on good terms with Syria and Hezbollah. The agreement, which also stipulates a new law for 2009 parliamentary polls, has calmed a conflict that had stoked sectarian tensions, paralyzed government and hurt the economy. Parliament had not met for over 18 months, crippling Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government. Bouts of violence killed scores and revived memories of the 1975-90 civil war. Under Lebanon's complex power-sharing system, the president is always a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shi'ite Muslim.
Suleiman succeeds Emile Lahoud, an ally of Syria. Appointed army chief in 1998 when Damascus controlled Lebanon, Suleiman is inescapably linked to that era. He coordinated with Syrian troops before they withdrew from Lebanon in 2005 after an outcry sparked by the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. His first task as president is to appoint a new prime minister and consult with him on forming a cabinet, Siniora remaining as caretaker prime minister in the meantime. Parliamentary majority leader Saad al-Hariri is frontrunner for the job, but his ally Siniora could stay on, officials said. Suleiman must nominate whoever is backed by a majority of MPs.
(Additional reporting by Nadim Ladki, Laila Bassam and Yara Bayoumy; writing by Alistair Lyon; editing by Jon Boyle)
Thursday, May 22, 2008
DOHA: Under the auspices of Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and in continuation of the efforts of the Arab Ministerial Committee, headed by Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani, and the efforts of Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and the foreign ministers of Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Algeria, Djibouti, Oman, Morocco, and Yemen,
And based on the Arab initiative to contain the Lebanese crisis and in implementation of the Arab-brokered Beirut agreement which took place on May 15, 2008
The Lebanese National Dialogue Conference was held in Doha from May 16, 2008 to May 21, 2008 in the presence of the different Lebanese political leaders, who asserted their will to save Lebanon by ending the current political impasse and avoiding its dangerous consequences on national coexistence and civil peace between the Lebanese, and voiced their commitment to the principles of the Lebanese Constitution and the Taif Accord.
As a result of the different meetings, discussions, and consultations that the Arab committee had with all the parties participating in the conference, the following agreement has been reached:
1 - The Parliament speaker will summon the Lebanese Parliament to convene, according to rules in force, within 24 hours to elect consensus candidate General Michel Suleiman as president.
2 - A national unity government of 30 ministers to be formed. It will comprise 16 ministers from the majority, 11 ministers from the opposition and three ministers to be named by the new president. All parties pledge not to resign from the government or hinder its work.
3 - Adopting the qada as the electoral constituency based on the 1960 electoral law, but the qadas of Marjayoun and Hasbaya will continue to be one constituency and so will the qadas of Western Bekaa and Rashaya and the qadas of Baalbek and Hermel.
As for Beirut, it will be divided in the following manner:
First constituency: Achrafieh, Rmeil, Saifi
Second constituency: Bashoura, Medawar, Marfaa
Third constituency: Mina al-Hosn, Ain al-Mreisseh, Mazraa, Mosseitbeh, Ras Beirut, Zokak al-Balat.
The parties also agree on forwarding to the Lebanese Parliament the electoral reforms that were proposed by the National Committee for Drafting the Electoral Law, headed by former Minister Fouad Boutros.
4 - All parties will commit not to resort to arms or violence in order to resolve political conflicts.
Resuming dialogue over strength ening state authority over all parts of Lebanon and defining the relations between the state and the different political groups in the country.
This dialogue has already started in Doha and resulted in:
- Agreeing that security and military powers to be solely in the hands of the state and spreading state authority over all parts of the country so that outlaws will have no safe havens.
5 - Reiteration of a pledge by Lebanese political leaders to immediately refrain from using language that incites political rifts or sectarianism and from accusing each other of treason.
This agreement was signed in Doha on May 21, 2008, by the Lebanese leaders participating in the conference and in the presence of the head of the Arab Ministerial Committee and its members.
By Hussein Abdallah
Daily Star staff
BEIRUT: Lebanese lawmakers are set to elect the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman, as president on Sunday after rival political leaders clinched a deal in Doha on Wednesday to end an 18-month feud that exploded into deadly sectarian fighting and threatened to plunge the nation into all-out civil war. The deal that was reached at Doha after four days of intensive talks will lead to electing Suleiman, forming a national unity cabinet, and drafting a new electoral law for the 2009 parliamentary elections. The agreement was announced by Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani at noon Wednesday as the rival leaders gathered at a roundtable. "Some of you took to the streets asking your leaders not to return to Lebanon without reaching an agreement ... I would like to tell you that your leaders have finally agreed and they will shortly be on their way back," Sheikh Hamad said, addressing the Lebanese people. The rival leaders officially signed the agreement shortly after it was announced. They arrived in Beirut later in the day.
As the good news reached Beirut, people in the capital and in different areas of the country could not help but show their content and relief. The feeling of relief was followed by instant action as opposition supporters began to remove tents at the site of their 18-month sit-in in Downtown Beirut after Speaker Nabih Berri declared an end to the protest. Berri said that ending the sit-in was a gift from the opposition to the Doha agreement. The speaker also thanked Qatari and Arab mediators for their role in helping Lebanese parties reach an agreement. The long-awaited deal addressed two key issues of contention between the opposition and ruling majority. As far as forming a national unity government is concerned, the opposition has managed to get its long-demanded veto power. The new cabinet will be made up of 16 ministers for the parliamentary majority, 11 for the opposition, and three for the elected president. The 11 ministers (one third plus one of the 30-member cabinet) are all that it takes for the opposition to block any government decision to which its is opposed. However, the next cabinet is not due to last long as it will resign by default when the parliamentary elections are due next spring. Meanwhile, the most important deal of all was the agreement reached on drafting a new electoral law for the 2009 parliamentary elections.
The issue of the electoral law was the major hurdle to the success of the Doha talks after the rival sides, which approved adopting the qada (smaller district) as an electoral constituency, appeared at odds over how to divide seats in Beirut. As the Doha talks were moving close to failure, a late night meeting on Tuesday of a six-member committee to discuss the electoral law finally achieved a breakthrough. Following a short session, opposition MP Ali Hassan Khalil told NBN television that a settlement was in the offing. The feuding parties have finally managed to agree on dividing Beirut into three balanced constituencies. The first constituency is a Christian one with five seats, the second is a mixed one with four seats, and the third is a Sunni-dominated one with 10seats. The formula is likely to secure for parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri at least 10 out of Beirut's 19 seats. On the other hand, Reform and Change bloc leader Michel Aoun will have to fight to win the five seats in the Christian district as the Armenian vote will be a deciding factor in the mixed constituency. Up until the last minute, Aoun was reportedly fighting to put six seats in the Christian district, but ended up accepting the 10-5-4 formula. As for other parts of the country, the two sides agreed on adopting the divisions of the 1960 electoral law.
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora described the agreement as a "great achievement in ... the history of Lebanon." Speaking shortly after the Qatari emir announced the agreement, Siniora called on all Lebanese parties to condemn violence and pledge not to use arms to settle political disputes. The Doha agreement has committed all parties not to use violence and stated that security was the exclusive responsibility of the Lebanese state. Under the agreement, a dialogue is set to begin in Beirut to address the issue of the state's relations with political groups in the country. Such dialogue is to be held under the auspices of the new president. The issue of Hizbullah's possession of arms was not discussed at the Doha talks or mentioned in the agreement as the Arab committee decided to make do with banning the use of violence, a clear reference to the recent clashes in Lebanon between opposition and pro-government militants. The clashes left up to 65 dead and 250 wounded.
Hariri also praised the deal. "Today, we are opening a new page in Lebanon's history," he said. "I know the wounds are deep, but we have no one except each other," he added. Hariri thanked both his allies and opponents for facilitating mutual concessions and facilitating an agreement. Hariri reportedly left Doha for Saudi Arabia's capital, Riyadh, while other leaders returned to Beirut. Two other March 14 stalwarts, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and former President Amin Gemayel, sounded more cautious as they welcomed the agreement on Wednesday. Both Geagea and Gemayel agreed that what was achieved in Doha was the best of all possible options, but stressed that the most important part was implementing the agreement. "After ending the sit-in in Downtown Beirut, we will now move to electing a president ... The Parliament, which was closed for more than a year, will now open its doors," Geagea said. "We will finally leave the streets and return to state institutions," he added. Geagea also said that Suleiman would be Lebanon's first "real" president after 18 years of waiting, a reference to the influence Syria exerted on Lebanese politics after 1990. "Suleiman will be the first real president after the late Rene Mouawad," he said. Mouawad was assassinated in November 1990 shortly after he was elected as president. Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad said that the agreement reached at Doha was not an ideal one, but nevertheless "is enough to take Lebanon from one stage to another."
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Hopefully things will get better from here on...
The tents are being dismantled as we speak and hundreds of people are crowding the area to watch along with many foreign press... Traffic jams on the streets as people have stopped their cars and got out to watch. Civil work in being done at the Presidential palace to "welcome" the newly "elected" President (no idea whats so urgent though) and technical and logistics preparations are being executed at the parlimant for the "elections" on Sunday...
So according to the news, the agreement was reached around midnight last night as follows:
- Siniora government resigns
- "Election" of the new President (on Sunday apparently)
- Dismantlement of the tents in DT (already started)
- Creation of a National Unity Government
- Session by Parliamant to approve the new Election Law to the election of parliamant members
One additional note, the Opposition has informed the Mayor and Governer of Beirut that they will rehabilitate the DT Riad el Solh square and return it to what it was before the sit-in. No idea how that translates to the businesses in that area though.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Sheikh Hamad emphasizes 'dangerous consequences' of failure
By Hussein Abdallah
Daily Star staff
BEIRUT: Lebanon's feuding political leaders gathered in Qatar Friday for Arab League-brokered talks aimed at ending a long-running crisis that drove the country to the brink of a new civil war. Qatar's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani read an opening statement late on Friday, welcoming the rival leaders and vowing to protect Lebanon's future by preserving its unity. Sheikh Hamad said that Qatar was looking forward to be a place where Lebanese leaders meet for fruitful talks. "We hope that consensus is reached so we can avoid dangerous consequences," he said before adjourning the opening ceremony and announcing that the first round of talks will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. The leaders arrived in Doha on a single plane, except for parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who took a private jet to Doha. Hizbullah's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah did not go to Qatar, apparently for security reasons, but was represented by MP Mohammad Raad and other key figures from the resistance movement.
Earlier on Friday, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun told reporters at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport before boarding the plane to Doha that he had proposed to the Arab delegation the formation of a transitional government that would run the country in case the rival parties failed to reach an agreement. "I was not opposed to mentioning the name of the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces Michel Suleiman, as a consensus candidate for presidency, but I also proposed mentioning that a transitional government should be formed if the talks fail," Aoun said. The FPM leader added that all parties were in favor of adopting a qada-based electoral law for the next parliamentary elections. "There are many formulas in hand, but all are similar and based on the qada as an electoral constituency," he said. Also at the airport, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea advised Hizbullah not to expect to much during the talks in Doha. "I urge Hizbullah not to have high expectations because we will not take the military balance of power into consideration during the talks," he said, referring to the rout of pro-government gunmen by their opposition rivals last week.
The Lebanese leaders agreed Thursday to launch a dialogue as part of a six-point plan, following Arab League mediation led by Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani. Under the deal the rivals undertook "to shore up the authority of the Lebanese state throughout the country," to refrain from using weapons to further political aims and to remove militants from the streets. Qatar invited the rivals to Doha for talks to end a broader political standoff that has paralyzed government for 18 months and left Lebanon without a president since November. "We are going to Doha ... to come back, God willing, with an agreement that will allow Lebanese to look forward, benefiting from the past and its bitter experience," Siniora said before leaving. He added that there is no Lebanese party that can impose its will on other parties through the use of arms. "Violence will not lead to a solution ... It will rather complicate the crisis," he said.
Also Friday, the White House announced that Siniora has cancelled talks with US President George W. Bush in Egypt on Sunday so that he can deal with Lebanon's political crisis. Bush, who vowed last week to stand by Siniora and his pro-Western government despite the clashes, had been due to meet the prime minister on the sidelines of an economic forum in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe, accompanying Bush on a visit to Saudi Arabia during a Middle East tour, said Siniora had dropped out of the talks "because of the situation on the ground" in Lebanon. Meanwhile, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal voiced Riyadh's backing for the six-point agreement and called all Lebanese parties to commit to implementing it in its entirety. "All parties should commit to implementing the agreement, particularly the item that bans the use of arms by any party in Lebanon to achieve political aims," Saud said at a news conference in Riyadh. He added that any agreement should lead to enhancing the sovereignty of the Lebanese state, "which should control the decisions of war and peace." Asked whether Saudi Arabia was standing at the same distance from all parties in Lebanon, the Saudi foreign minister said that this was the case in principal, "but we cannot treat right and wrong equally ... and the use of arms in internal strife is wrong." Riyadh has been a staunch supporter of the Siniora government.
Syrian Foreign Minister told As-Safir newspaper on Friday that Syria supported the Arab-brokered agreement. He described the pact as "a real opportunity to save Lebanon from the dangers it faces," but warned against "international interference that could have negative impacts."
BEIRUT: Lebanese delegates to the Doha talks include:
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and MPs Samir Azar and Ali Hassan Khalil and advisers Mahmoud Berri, Ali Hamdan and Ali Hamad.
Future Movement leader Saad Hariri and MPs Bassem Sabaa, Nabil De Freij, Samir Jisr, former MP Ghattas Khoury and political adviser Hani Hammoud.
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and ministers Tarek Mitri, Khaled Qabbani, Michel Pharaon, Ahmad Fatfat and political advisers Mohammad Chatah, Radwan al-Sayyed, Roula Noureddine, and Aref al-Abed.
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat and ministers Ghazi al -Aridi, Marwan Hamadeh and MPs Nehme Tohme and Wael Bou Faour.
Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun and MPs Abbass Hashem, Nabil Nkoula, Farid Khazen, FPM political relations official Gibran Bassil and political advisers Mario Aoun and Jean Aziz.
Hizbullah MPs Mohammad Raad and Hussein al-Hajj Hassan and resigned Energy and Water Minister Mohammad Fneish.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and MPs George Adwan, Antoine Zahra and foreign affairs adviser Joseph Nehme.
Former President and Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel and party members Chaker Aoun, Walid Fares, Elie Dagher, Sassine Sassine and political adviser Joseph Khalil.
Zahle's Popular Bloc head MP Elie Skaff and MP Salim Aoun.
Tripoli Bloc leader and Transport and Public Works Minister Mohammad Safadi.
MPs Michel Murr, Ghassan Tueini, Boutros Harb, Jawad Boulos and Hagop Pakradounian.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Military makes good on pledge to increase vigilance
By Anthony Elghossain
Daily Star staff
BEIRUT: The situation in Lebanon continued to gradually cool down on Tuesday, the first day of broader Lebanese Army deployments aimed at restoring order in areas plagued by fighting since the eruption of clashes between pro-government and opposition factions last week. The Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) had announced on Monday that, as of Tuesday at 6:00 a.m., it would treat any overt armed presence as hostile and that it would resort to force, if necessary, to restore order across the country. "Army units will bring about an end to all violations ... even if this requires the use of force," the LAF said in a statement. Although fighting in Beirut died down overnight, opposition fighters were seen in several areas of the city. The capital is slowly returning to normalcy, but many schools and universities remained closed.
Battles involving machine guns, mortars and rocked-propelled grenades erupted shortly after 3:00 am Tuesday morning in the Bab al-Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen neighborhoods of the northern city of Tripoli. Although early-morning sniper fire was reported in the mostly Sunni port city, clashes eventually eased. Meanwhile, a fragile truce was maintained in the Aley and Chouf districts, areas southeast of Beirut that saw clashes between opposition gunmen and armed Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) supporters. PSP leader MP Walid Jumblatt has designated his Druze rival, former Minister Talal Arslan, as an intermediary for negotiating a gradual phaseout of arms, but PSP fighters have refused to turn over their heavy weapons. While the PSP has now agreed to turn over all positions to the LAF, the army has not deployed fully in the region for fear of becoming involved in fighting. During a press conference Tuesday, Arslan said he was "still working on fulfilling the agreement with [Jumblatt]," adding that a PSP weapons handover "must be coordinated between the LAF and Jumblatt himself." Arslan also assured residents of the Chouf that "no one will enter [their] homes," adding that his faction "seeks to protect these mountains in order to return to dialogue" and is in agreement with Hizbullah secretary general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on this account. Arslan then accused Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of clinging to his position at the expense of the security and prosperity of the Lebanese. "Let him resign and save the country more violence," Arslan said.
During an interview with Al-Arabiya television US President George W. Bush addressed regional aspects of the situation. He confirmed that the US Navy had deployed the USS Cole off the coast of Lebanon again, but said it was "part of a routine training mission that had been scheduled a long time before." Bush also expressed a desire to strengthen support for the LAF, saying "best way for us to help stabilize the situation and eventually allow this Lebanese democracy to go forward is [to] keep the pressure on Syria ... [and] bolster the capabilities of the Lebanese Armed Forces."
Violence between opposition and pro-government factions has resulted in the deaths of at least 62 Lebanese and the wounding of some 200 others. Several roads remain closed, including the main highway leading to Beirut's airport. As the situation on the ground continues to ease, the political dispute remains unresolved, pending the arrival of an Arab League delegation and the possible return to dialogue between warring Lebanese parties. - With AP
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Below is an account by a European who lives in Beirut of what happened in the past week…
for those who like details.
I suppose you have all heard about the things going on here over thepast days. Maybe you are interested in my semi-personal account of howwe lived thru these times, interspersed with some attempts tounderstand what actually happened, and why.
So the civil war has started, or maybe it is over already.
Thursday night was fighting almost non-stop. In the afternoon and evening, salvoes of fire from automatic weapons into the air during and afterthe speeches of the two main opponents, Nasrallah for Hizbullah and Hariri for the pro-American Future Movement, as has become fashion fora couple of months now. Then the rhythm changes, the firing movescloser, becomes fire and counter fire. Names of places in the news aremore familiar now, are finally only two blocks away, where Jumblatlives, the one opponent singled out by the Hizbollah chief as the image of evil collaboration with the American and the Israeli enemy. But it might as well be in the alleyway under our bedroom window, punctuated by the dull pounding of missiles from a kilometer's distance. Small fry compared to what the Israelis administered on the suburbs two years ago, but much, much closer to us. Our three year oldson dismisses our stories about firecrackers and decides it's thunder. We deliberate where to sleep – civil war lore has it that you are supposed to sleep in the bathroom, but it's too small there. The corridor, the hallway – anything with no outside windows. In the end, we stay in the bedroom – anybody who takes up position in that alleyway, we tell ourselves, must be plain mad – it's a trap, if thereever was one. Finally, the thunder really comes: a furious and unseasonal thunderstorm hits the city, pounding the streets and our windows with relentless rain, drowning out the sounds of the explosions for nearly an hour. For a night of long knifes, this is terrific choreography.
Shooting continues until the morning, when Jumbat's house is finally surrounded by Hizbollah fighters. Somehow, the wave just rolled over us and our alleyway. Across the hallway, the door of an abandoned house – the owner, an old Armenian woman, lives in Spain, and hasn't been seen since the last war – has been kicked in. Apparently they came to check if the owner of the building, a 150 % Hariri man and possibly training in the militia, was using it as a weapon's cache. Carefully, we venture in: nothing but stale air, dust, covered furniture. Not a drawer has been opened, not a sheet crumpled. They walked in, checked the place, and walked out. As it turns out, that pretty much sums up the style of the whole operation. One by one, the quarters and positions held by government supporters fall. By all accounts, it is a rout. Within less than eight hours –fighting only really started in earnest after the speech of Saad Hariri in the evening – it is all over. Hizbollah and Amal, their rather low-brow and thuggish auxiliaries, have taken over most of West Beirut, flushed out most strongholds of the "Future"-movement and took their media off the air. The Army, after standing by throughout the fight, has deployed to secure sensitive spots, in particular wherepro-government officials live. Around 10, army vehicles take up positions in our area. On Friday, all quiet and deserted streets, intermittent gunfire – some last pockets of resistance, or maybe just militia shooting in the air in celebration. On Saturday, a semblance of normality seems to return, but everybody remains on edge. We cross to the East, where nothing has happened (yet) – the old demarcation lines have been reinstated, and as was the case during the 1980ies, fighting only occurs in the Muslim areas, despite the bitter animosity that also divides the Christians in government and opposition supporters – yes, there are Christians, possibly the majority, who support Hizbollah. We spend the day on the seaside, feasting on fish and Arak and giving our bored kid some dearly needed entertainment, after being locked into the house for three days. In the afternoon, two thuggish guys in their mid-thirties enter the place, and the head waiter turns all jittery and flustered, lavishing attention on those unsmiling characters – if our radars are good for anything, those must be men of Dr Geagea (aka Dr Death), the shadowy pro-American henchman – turned politician who vies for leadership of the Christians, patrolling their turf. We prefer to leave.
Areas where lower middle class Sunnis - the power base of the Hariris– concentrate, and which have been hemmed in rather than taken over, are tense with wounded pride and barely contained rage. Six die when a funeral procession for one of the victims of the day before reaches the shop of an opposition sympathizer, who fires, allegedly in self-defense. Saturday night, fighting between pro- and anti-government Druze, vicious antagonists divided by clan rivalries, erupts in the hills to the South-East of the capital. In their strongholds around Tripoli, the Hariroids ignore their leader's call for quiet and mete out retribution to the Alawis of Jabl Muhsin, who have the bad luck to adhere to the same religion as the rioters' favorite but unreachable enemy, the Syrian regime. After a long night with several dead and thousands displaced, again the army moves in. In a nearby town, eleven cadres of the Syrian Socialist Party, a particularly despicable formation of rabid Jew-haters following awacko Arab/Levantine nationalist ideology, are massacred, possibly in retribution for their torching of Hariri's TV station in Beirut. Jumblats men kidnap three Hizbollah fighters and execute two of them, mutilating the bodies. Clashes keep flaring up on and around the two main roads leading to Syria. On Sunday, Hizbollah and its Druze auxiliaries fight it out with Jumblat, the strategic mastermind of the government camp, in the mountains above the capital. A friend receives a hysterical call from the sister of a Druze friend, an engineer with a master's degree and a career ahead of him, who just called in wearing fatigues, determined to fight Hizbollah (he didn't reach in time to put himself in harms way). Ominous growling of missiles all afternoon, but even the result of this battle is sealed from the start, despite the heavy armor that the Druze are rumored to have – it appears that Jumblat has neglected his home base for too long, and that his formerly fearsome fightersare no longer what they used to be. In the afternoon, he orders them to stand down and hand over their arsenal to the army, all under the oversight of his Druze arch nemesis, the Hizbollah ally, ending a very long weekend (nobody has been to work since Wednesday).
The Airport remains closed, as are the roads to Syria and the port. Soon, the fuel oil for the power plants will run out, and the Lebanese electricity grid, already strained by three postwar decades of corruption and mismanagement, will falter again. The good news (so far): while the conflict does have a sectarian dimension – the fighters are mostly Shiites on one side, Sunnis and Druze on the other - it is still first and foremost a struggle between two irreconcilable political agendas, and has not (yet) turned sectarian, despite the best effort of pundits in the pay of the government and its Saudi masters (who control much of the Arab media) to discredit Hizbollah as hell-bent on turning Lebanon and the Levantinto an Shiite-Arab foothold of a new Persian Empire.
No ethnic cleansing is occurring. Hizbollah's and Amal's fighters have uprooted their opponents from their positions in neighborhoods that are often Sunni-dominated but mostly mixed, or intertwined with Shiite neighborhoods, but so far have left civilian residents alone, regardless of religion and sect, and have not apprehended known supporters of the other side who did not take part in the fighting. Those captured in the fighting are handed over to the army. Likewise, no plundering or rampage, or deliberate bombing of residential buildings that are not home to armed positions. Apart from those unlucky enough to be living in the vicinity of actual clashes, people living in Beirut were not under immediate threat. The prime minister decries "massacres" and "people being attacked in their houses", but it remains his secret where this actually occurred (apart from Tripoli, where it appears that the attackers came from his own party).
How it all started: a few days ago, the government or what is left of it took a twin decision to fire the chief of airport security, and to dismantle Hizbollah's private telephone network – a "declaration of war" according to the party's secretary general. And war it was. Why were these decisions a casus belli? According to Hizbollah's secretary general, replacing the chief of airport security was part of a plan to convert the airport into "a base for the CIA and the Israeli Mossad" -a rather outlandish accusation (since it would constitute criminal high treason and be nearly impossible to conceal within a complex structure like an airport), if well in line with the party's rhetoric, expressed constantly since the aftermath of the 2006 war, of casting the government as a tool in the hand of those forces.
The communication network appears to be quite a different matter: Nasrallah's assertion whereby this system was of crucial importance for Hizbollah's operations during the 2006 war (directing their fighters and orchestrating the missile attacks on Northern Israel) and would be of equal importance in any future confrontation, seems to make immediate sense – it does not require a degree from a military academy to realize that in any armed confrontation, to be able to maintain secure communication between headquarters and the troops in the field is critical, and that having your communications penetratedor disrupted can very easily be the beginning of the end (for a good article on this, see http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1738255,00.html?xid=site-cnn-partner).
So why were these decisions taken in the first place, and why now? The Airport Security Chief, who has served in this position for years, stood accused of not moving decisively enough against "surveillance equipment" which Hizbollah allegedly installed close to the Airport –but the areas around the Airport have been Hizbollah strongholds for more than two decades, and hundreds of residential buildings overlook the runways, where people will happily welcome Hizbollah to install just about anything. The phone network has been in place for years,and even if were true that illicit profits are reaped from it – which Hizbollah categorically denies -, that hardly seems sufficient reason to risk civil war. Moreover, it appears mysterious how the decision was meant to be physically implemented. Surely, Hizbollah knows where the wires are, has means to know about any attempts to dig them up, and would have not stood by and watched.
So that leaves us with several possible explanations:
(1) Bazaar – the decision was taken without any real intention to see it through, but rather, to score a political point and create a political asset, first by seeing Hizbollah obstruct it – voila, here you have the state within the state –, and then to trade it against concessions in the ongoing haggling about the formation of the new government, electoral law, etc. etc.
(2) Posturing - a move to please their Western benefactors, and deliver a show of strength and determination to boost morale among the follower base, after a grinding 18 months of political stalemate. To be sure, a purely rhetorical show of strength – since no army or police commander in his right mind would have exposed his troops to such an adventure.
(3) Hubris & Underestimating the adversary – after three years of receiving military, financial and moral support and restructuring the Internal Security Forces to become government loyalists (now here to be seen during the event), the government may have felt strong enough to risk a confrontation. Former flare-ups, both politically and in the streets, may have helped create the impression that once seriously squeezed, Hizbollah would always back down, fearing the stigma of illegitimacy and the potential for uncontrollable sectarian (Sunni-Shiite) strife (which both Hariri and the religious head of the Lebanese Sunnis evoked heavily on the eve of the fighting).
(4) Conspiracy – all of this was a bait and a trap to draw Hizbollah out into the open, discredit their nationalist credentials and expose them as sectarian warmongers staging a coup, thus preparing for some sort of international intervention to take them out. A variety of scenarios circulate that center on the highly publicized Turkish-mediated initiative for a peace deal between Israel and Syria, starring a variety of actors (determined by the position of he who presents the scenario) who may want to use the Lebanese crisis to shoot such a deal down (American neo-cons, Israeli and Syrian hawks, Iran). And even the long standing argument about Iran being ready to fight the Americans until the last Lebanese and Arab, and being ready to sell its allies out once the US are offering the right terms, is being rehashed by pundits of the Egyptian and other regimes, who are known for their own close ties with the Americans, and despised by their people for that.
As it were, Hizbollah decided to not take chances and linger long wondering about the government's intentions. Or maybe they decided that, blunder or brinkmanship, rhetoric or conspiracy, the time had come to bite rather than bark. Exploiting or rather hijacking a general strike that the labor federation had called over purely economic demands, they sent their youth to the street, who quickly blocked all roads to the airport. By touching the airport – the one lifeline out of the country for anybody opposed to Syria, named after the late Rafik El-Hariri and iconic for his project of turning Lebanon into a leisure hub for petrodollar Arabs - a response from the other side was virtually assured. And surely it came: hails of stones exchanged between youth supporting either side, who live side by side on the southern edges of the city – a stone-throw from each other, quite literally. First gunshots (as always, we will never know who fired first), then the fighters were deployed. When we saw the first footage of those guys, we knew that a whole new game had just started. Those were not some angry youth or neighborhood thugs who just picked up some old Kalashnikovs: these guys were well trained and equipped for urban warfare, advancing slowly and well-coordinated down the alleys, seeking cover and securing positions. As it were, the Hariri militia – a lot of them young guys recruited from dirt-poor areas in the North, with a few yalla-rounds of basic military training - were no match, and it appears that some of their commanders abandoned ship and ran even before the fight had started. So devastating was the defeat that the government felt compelled to deny that a battle ever took place – only a few "unprotected citizen defended their houses" – with automatic weapons, and rocket-propelled grenades, stuffs we all store under our beds. (see http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-security12-2008may12,0,6458359.story).
So where do we go from here? The victors, Hizbollah and Amal, have infact largely withdrawn, leaving the army to control the streets. Agency reports whereby "Beirut is in the grip of fear and chaos" as bearded fundamentalist militias are roaming the streets are absolute rubbish, poor and simple. Even the one day they WERE roaming the streets of the city, what reigned was relief – that the fighting was over, and that those guys, scary as they may have looked to some, by and large acted with discipline, even the Amal-guys, who do not have a reputation for such behaviour. Bringing in the army so far is the smartest move in a game they have played with perfect planning, timing and tactics – staying within the framework of a legal institution, denying as it does its opponents the opportunity to portray what hashappened as a coup, absolving the party of the effort to maintain security, and leaving it in the hands of a legal institution that is neutral, if not sympathetic to them. Almost a game of bad cop – good cop. But withdrawing does not wipe away the past days. The shadows of war linger. Invisible, the fighters are there as a ghostly presence. We know that they can be there any second. We know that nothing will stand between them and simply wiping the state out of existence. The army, the last institution potentially functioning as an arbiter, has lost that ability, if it ever had it. Over the past days, they have largely acted as an auxiliary or second-tier force shadowing Hizbollah, doing things that could have tied down or compromised the party – controlling masses prone to riot, moving in and securing the areas that were "cleared", leaving the fighters with their hands and backs free to knock out their opponents. Yes, weapons that are illegitimate and positions that should not have existed in the first place, in particular for parties who have been singing the hymn of state sovereignty for the past three years, are handed over to the army – but it's only weapons and positions of the pro-government parties who are handed over, and while Hizbollah and Amal voluntarily withdrew from the streets, the others had to surrender. The balance has been changed – and the prime minister, now more than ever, has been reduced to little more than a janitor of the Saray, the Ottoman barracks-turned government palace overlooking a city that is now in the hand of his enemies. In any other place, a government with even a token residue of self-respect would have resigned, or exiled itself. But they are hanging on, propped up by foreign backing. Yet, pretending that nothing has happened is simply not going to work. Already, the government has backpedalled on the disputed issues as far as it possible can without officially renouncing them, proposing a permanent postponement, and Hizbollah is having nothing of it. Some pro-government media have already been silenced, and there may be others to follow. It appears highly unlikely that things can return to the status quo ante of political attrition that has lasted for 18 months – we don't know yet what the new balance of power will be, what the rules of the next phase will look like, but one thing is sure: they will be different. Soon, not much will be left of the political institutions, some of which have already been reduced to mere ciphers. The army, touted now by everyone as the one institution with untainted national credentials, seems to be set to perform a much bigger role (already, the army chief has been pre-selected to become president, if there is ever going to be an election). The next government, if there will be one, will certainly have a very different color.
So is it over? Militarily speaking, and barring outside intervention, the answer is probably yes, as the defeat of the government camp has been so complete that there is hardly anything left to fight with. The question remains what the Americans want, and if they know what they want, and whether they are even free to think about it. No doubt, the demise of the Seniora government, praised right left and centre by anybody in the Bush administration who ever said a word about the Middle East, is another black spot on the Middle Eastern report card of this administration, and not exactly reassuring for those Arab regimes who rely on American support for their own survival. Are they going to do anything about it? Can they do anything about it? Is this still part of a "grand plan"? Really a plot to sabotage Israeli-Syrian peace (as if Olmert has any authority or credibility to see such athing thru)? Or just another addition to a long book of blunders, a list of assorted self-inflicted messes that Mr. Bush will happily bequeath to a democratic successor, or which a republican successor will happily convert into an occasion for a new show of force (though I am not sure a democratic successor will deal any different). Most likely, however, the fading Bush administration will have just enough momentum or rather inertia left to continue supporting Seniora, and pressure its Arab allies to do the same, thus keeping the living corpse that his government is propped up in the Saray, and prompting the other side to push even further.
Monday, May 12, 2008
By The Daily Star
Some are condemning what Hizbullah did this week as a coup d'etat, while others are defending it as a counter-putsch. That debate will not end soon, but there is no doubting that Lebanon's political status quo has been radically altered in a very few days. It is too early to predict where this will lead the country, but whereas the seat of actual Lebanese power has long been in doubt, for now at least it has a clear address: that of Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. He may continue to shun any official position, but barring an unforeseen turn of events, the leader of the Lebanese resistance has just acquired a hitherto unprecedented amount of national political responsibility.
Hizbullah's track record on previous occasions of ascendancy bodes well for this instance: After the resistance movement forced Israel to pull its occupation forces from most of the South in 2000, it granted far more lenient treatment to Lebanese who had collaborated with the enemy than most established armies ordinarily do. This time, though, Nasrallah has made himself responsible for agendas of incalculably greater breadth. Due largely to the political squabbles that have paralyzed Lebanon since 2005, urgent matters have been left waiting. If Nasrallah's gambit this week was aimed at ending those squabbles rather than responding with just another tit-for-tat escalation, it is now his job to make possible the resolution of several quandaries. The economy is adrift, the vagueness of the national defense strategy that worked so well in the 1990s has become a liability, the existing electoral law is fatally flawed, and deep mistrust marks both political and sectarian boundaries. In addition, depending on how the consequences of this week's events play out, the Lebanese could find themselves besieged like the Palestinians after they elected Hamas in January 2006. Above all else, there is a need to engage in real dialogue, not the profitless trade of empty slogans.
Nasrallah's task now is to create an inclusive environment conducive to the answering of these and other challenges. He and his party cannot be expected to come up with all of the solutions, and nor should they want to: If they cannot draw other players - and not just their closest allies - into the process, Nasrallah runs the risk of being cast as a dictator by default. Hizbullah and its partners have frequently argued that their counterparts in the March 14 Forces coalition were not interested in true partnership, only in dictating terms. Now Nasrallah has to prove that his side is ready, willing and able to live up to its own expectations, and speed is of the essence: After 15 years of civil war, 15 of diluted sovereignty, and three of limbo, the Lebanese deserve at last to have a level of politics commensurate with their talents and energies. If Nasrallah is the man who makes this happen, history will judge his actions to have been a revolution, not a coup, and a long-overdue one at that.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Friday, May 09, 2008
By Anthony Elghossain
Daily Star staff
Nasrallah accuses ruling coalition of 'declaring war,' singles out Jumblatt
BEIRUT: Hizbullah secretary general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said during a press conference Thursday that Lebanon has entered a new phase of its political crisis and warned that a government crackdown on his party was tantamount to a "declaration of war." Nasrallah stressed that Hizbullah was ready to return to dialogue, linking talks to a government back-track regarding measures taken Tuesday. The eruption of violence is immediately rooted in a Cabinet decision to take action against a Hizbullah communi-cations network and reassign Rafik Hariri International Airport's security chief, General Wafiq Shucair, for failing to prevent Hizbullah's alleged video surveillance of a runway, among other potential breaches. On the second day of anti-government protests and intensifying clashes between government supporters and opposition partisans, Nasrallah held the press conference to discuss "the issue of [Hizbullah's] communications networks, the debate surrounding airport video surveillance and the political crisis now facing us." He described the fixed-line network that connects the group's officials, commanders and positions as a vital part of the military structure of the group, which fought Israel during that latter's 34-day war against Lebanon in 2006. "The communications network is a significant part of the weapons of the resistance," Nasrallah declared. "I had said that we will cut the hand that targets the weapons of the resistance ... Today is the day to fulfill this decision." The cleric also stressed that Hizbullah is ready to use its weapons to defend itself should the government "cartel" seek to impinge upon the rights of the resistance. "We have the right to confront he who starts a war with us by defending our rights and our weapons. We have yet to use our weapons inside the country but will do so to protect our arsenal," he added. "The [government] decision is tantamount to a declaration of war. This [signals] the start of a war ... on behalf of the United States and Israel," Nasrallah said during the conference, which was held via video link. Nasrallah also escalated his rhetoric against a key March 14 stalwart Progressive Socialist Party leader and MP Walid Jumblatt, with whom the opposition has been trading jabs over the airport controversy and the communications debate. The Hizbullah leader said "the current government boss - Mr. Walid Jumblatt - is a thief, a liar and a murderer. He sits there drawing red lines calling for members of the resistance to be taken to court." "The airport is being transformed into a base for the CIA, FBI, and Mossad, which we cannot tolerate," added the Hizbullah leader. "Our honor and fate are more valuable than any other consideration." "We will no longer accept being fired upon and killed in the streets ... We will not accept encroachment against our presence as a resistance," Nasrallah said. "We will shoot once shot at, strike back when struck at." Downplaying the prospects of a Sunni-Shiite rift even as fighting was limited to factions supported mostly by those two communities, Nasrallah said the conflict in Lebanon was between factions supporting an "American-Israeli regional agenda" and parties opposed to any such scheme, irrespective of "religious or communal differences." In response to accusations that the violence signaled an attempted opposition coup d'etat, Nasrallah said that "had we [the opposition] desired to orchestrate a coup, [members of the government] would have awoken in cells or been thrown into the sea."
Responding to Nasrallah, Jumblatt later told the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation that the Hizbullah leader should "call for a retreat from the streets and for the halting of fire if he seeks a return to dialogue.""There is no clear definition of the boundaries of resistance and those of the state. We need to delineate such boundaries in the future," Jumblatt added in response to Nasrallah's claim that Hizbullah would protect its arsenal by any means necessary. "What happened today is enough - this harms everybody ... Druze, Sunni, Shiite, Christian," added Jumblatt, urging a quick resolution of the crisis.
Lebanese Forces (LF) leader Samir Geagea also reacted to Nasrallah's speech. In a statement released by the LF press office, Geagea said: "Despite the rhetorical flourish through which Sayyed Nasrallah sugarcoated his statements today, this was a declaration of war." Geagea also stressed that "the security situation cannot be left as is, with roads block, tires burning and shootings threatening citizens' way of life."
The political crisis in Lebanon has continued to spiral out of control in the two days since the Cabinet decision, and the Lebanese Armed Forces have refrained from decisive action for fear of increasing the violence or splitting the ranks of the service. Amid a five-month long presidential vacuum and tenuous regional situation, the violence has further strained the delicate situation in Lebanon. - With Agencies
Hariri offers to have military take charge of controversial decisions
BEIRUT: The leader of the parliamentary majority, MP Saad Hariri, called on Hizbullah's leader Thursday to work with him to end the fighting that has broken out in Beirut between their factions. In a televised appearance, Hariri called on Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah to "pull fighters off the street ... to save Lebanon from hell." Hariri, the son of a former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri who was assassinated in a 2005 car bombing, also proposed a compromise on government decisions that sparked street confrontations between his group and Hizbullah. Nasrallah had said earlier that the government's decision to declare the group's military telecommunications network illegal was tantamount to declaring war on his organization and demanded that the Cabinet revoke it and that rival factions hold a dialogue on resolving their differences. The government also sacked the airport security chief over his reportedly close ties to the opposition. Hariri's proposal late Thursday stated that the decisions would be left up to the Lebanese Armed Forces to handle, effectively taking them out of the government's hands. It also stuck to an earlier demand, however, calling for the election of a president prior to a national dialogue. Hariri also urged Nasrallah to lift what he called the "siege" of Beirut, withdraw his fighters and reopen the roads, including ones leading to Beirut airport, which has been paralyzed by opposition supporters for the last two days. Hariri said what Hizbullah was doing is a "crime that must be stopped immediately." The proposal came after a Nasrallah news conference in which he warned he would "cut off" the hands of those who attempt to disarm the group, insisting he did not want to spark a Sunni-Shiite strife. But Hariri countered that the strife was already happening on the streets and urged the Hizbullah leader to work with him to end it. "My appeal to you is to stop the language of arms ... We are entrusted with the unity of Muslims and Lebanon ... It they are in danger, then let us put out the flames," Hariri said.
The opposition has previously rejected government demands to elect a president before agreement on a new unity Cabinet and a new election law. As The Daily Star went to press, Hizbullah's Al-Manar television said the offer had been rejected. - AP, with The Daily Star
Armys says crisis imperils its unity, urges restraint
BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army Command warned on Thursday that the ongoing violence threatened the unity of the military. An Army Command statement called on all parties to practice self-restraint, adding that the lack of national responsibility is limiting the army's role and ability to restore peace. The army statement said that moving away from dialogue and resorting to violence was a clear departure from the principle of national coexistence. "Everybody will lose if the current status quo persists since security in Lebanon is only achieved through consensus and not through arms," the statement said. The Army Command urged all parties to seek solutions for the ongoing crisis, adding that the army was ready to help find solutions while trying its best to protect people and their property despite major obstacles. - The Daily Star
Berri discusses crisis with March 14 leaders, US and UN envoys
BEIRUT: Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri was contacted by Future Movement leader Saad Hariri and Progressive Socialist Party boss Walid Jumblatt on Thursday in order to discuss how to rescue the rapidly deteriorating situation in Lebanon, the National News Agency (NNA) said. The speaker also remained in contact with key regional and local political figures on the second day of clashes that erupted as opposition factions protested controversial government decisions to sack Beirut airport's security chief, General Wafiq Shoucair, over his reportedly close ties to the opposition, and to take measures against a private Hizbullah communications network. Berri spoke with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin-Jassem al-Jabr, Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, UN special envoy Terje-Roed Larsen and US Charge d'Affaires to Lebanon Michele Sison regarding the unfolding situation in Beirut. In the weeks leading up to the clashes between pro-government and opposition factions, Berri, who leads the opposition Amal movement, had called for the return to a multi-party dialogue between feuding parties. The ruling March 14 coalition has argued that the call is an empty one designed to focus attention away from the five-month old presidential vacuum. The clashes, particularly between mostly Sunni partisans of the Future Movement and largely Shiite backers of Amal and Hizbullah, have increased fears of an all-out civil war in the country. - The Daily Star
Higher Shiite Council says government must back down
BEIRUT: Lebanon's Higher Shiite Council said on Thursday that the key to ending the "dangerous crisis" is the government revoking its recent decisions against Hizbullah. The council was referring to the government's decisions to remove the head of security at the Beirut airport, Brigadier General Wafiq Shoucair - who is seen as being close to the opposition - and probe Hizbullah's private phone network. The council said held the government responsible for the escalation and accused it of sowing discord between the Lebanese people. The council described the government decisions as a "big crime" against the resistance and the people who sacrificed their blood in fighting the "Zionist enemy." "Unfortunately, the decisions are a continuation of the summer 2006 American and Israeli war on Lebanon, but today is being carried out by Lebanese hands," it said. Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, the council's vice president, stressed that the decisions taken by the government were aimed at "uncovering the resistance in a way that makes it easier for the Israeli Army to target it." - The Daily Star