December 05/2013


Bible Quotation for today/A Call to Holy Living
01 Peter 01/13-23: "So then, have your minds ready for action. Keep alert and set your hope completely on the blessing which will be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Be obedient to God, and do not allow your lives to be shaped by those desires you had when you were still ignorant. Instead, be holy in all that you do, just as God who called you is holy. The scripture says, “Be holy because I am holy.” You call him Father, when you pray to God, who judges all people by the same standard, according to what each one has done; so then, spend the rest of your lives here on earth in reverence for him. For you know what was paid to set you free from the worthless manner of life handed down by your ancestors. It was not something that can be destroyed, such as silver or gold; it was the costly sacrifice of Christ, who was like a lamb without defect or flaw.  He had been chosen by God before the creation of the world and was revealed in these last days for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from death and gave him glory; and so your faith and hope are fixed on God. Now that by your obedience to the truth you have purified yourselves and have come to have a sincere love for other believers, love one another earnestly with all your heart. For through the living and eternal word of God you have been born again as the children of a parent who is immortal, not mortal. As the scripture says, “All human beings are like grass, and all their glory is like wild flowers. The grass withers, and the flowers fall,  but the word of the Lord remains forever". This word is the Good News that was proclaimed to you"

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For December 05/13

Political theater/The Daily Star/December 05/13

DEBKAfile/Slaying Hizballah commander ratchets up Saudi covert war on Iran and Lebanese proxy/December 05/13

Do social networking sites really bridge the communication gap/By: Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Alawsat/December 05/13
Clan Warfare in Egypt/By: Eric Trager/Washington Institute/December 05/13


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For December 05/13
Lebanese Related News

Thousands Stranded as Rainwater Cuts Off Airport Road in Both Directions

Hezbollah says commander killed in Beirut, blames Israel

Lakkis was key figure in Hezbollah drone program

Hezbollah commander gunned down in Beirut

Israel Denies Involvement in Assassination of Hizbullah Official in Hadath

Israeli military aims to ‘flush out’ Hezbollah

Bishops urge release of nuns seized in Syria

Maronite Bishops Warn Against State's Disintegration, Turning Lebanon into Captive

Suleiman: We Musn't Ruin Ties with Saudi Arabia by Making Baseless Accusations against it

Arrest Warrant Issued against Suspect Linked to Bir al-Abed, Ruwais Bombings

4 Gunmen Arrested as Life Goes Back to Normal in Tripoli's Safe Areas

Jumblat Calls for Reconciliation in Tripoli, Considers Politicians 'Incapable' of Managing Crises

Hariri Snaps Back at Nasrallah over Saudi Arabia, Iran

Nasrallah: Abdullah Azzam Brigades Linked to Saudi Intelligence, Our Presence in Syria is Modest

Miqati: We Won't Cover Anyone in Tripoli and We Won't Forgive Those Who Blew Up the Two Mosques

Qaouq Demands March 14 to 'Stop Covering Up' for Attackers against Tripoli Residents

Miscellaneous Reports And News''

Pope Francis Calls for Prayers for Syria Nuns

UAE Leader Accepts Invitation to Visit Iran

Saudi Spy Chief in New Meeting with Putin on Syria

Qatar Says had No Contact with Syrian Govt

Arafat did not die of poisoning, French tests conclude

Information Minister: Assad to Lead during Transition

Canada's PM, Harper breaks into song after announcing first official trip to Israel

Poll: Turkey Loses Popularity in Middle East

EU Strikes Optimistic Note on Mideast Peace Talks

Former Shin Bet head: Israeli-Palestinian conflict more dangerous than a nuclear Iran

Kerry visits Western-leaning Moldova to show support


Pope Francis Calls for Prayers for Syria Nuns
Naharnet Newsdesk 04 December 2013/Pope Francis on Wednesday called for prayers for a group of nuns seized from their convent in Syria and for all hostages held in the war-torn country. "I invite you all to pray for the nuns of the Greek Orthodox convent of St Takla of Maalula in Syria who were forcibly taken away by armed men two days ago," Francis said at a general audience in St Peter's Square. "We pray for these nuns and for all kidnap victims in the conflict," he said. Syrian rebels this week took 12 nuns from the historic town of Maalula, which has been at the center of fierce fighting for months, to the nearby stronghold of Yabrud.
It was not immediately clear whether the nuns had been kidnapped or merely evacuated for their own safety. "The 12 nuns were forced from the convent by an armed group who they went with on the road to Yabrud," which is in rebel hands, the Holy See's nuncio Mario Zenari told Agence France Presse on Tuesday. Reached by phone, the mother superior of the Saydnaya convent in Damascus province, Sivronia Nabhan, said she had spoken with her Maalula counterpart, who confirmed the nuns were in Yabrud. Maalula mother superior Pelagia Sayyaf said "she and the 11 other nuns, accompanied by three young maids, were comfortably installed in a house in Yabrud and no one was bothering them," Nabhan said. The two nuns spoke on Monday evening, Nabhan added. Rebel forces, including jihadists from the al-Qaida-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, on Monday recaptured Maalula, which lies north of Damascus, from regime forces after three days of heavy clashes. The nuns were among the few residents left in the hamlet, and were sheltering inside the convent. In September, they were trapped inside the building with dozens of orphans during the first round of fighting between regime forces and rebels in the town. Maalula has long been a symbol of the ancient Christian presence in Syria. Its residents are some of the few left in the world who speak Aramaic, the language that Jesus Christ is believed to have spoken. Source/Agence France Presse.


Thousands Stranded as Rainwater Cuts Off Airport Road in Both Directions
Naharnet Newsdesk 04 December 2013/..Heavy rains rendered the airport road south of Beirut completely impassable on Wednesday, trapping thousands of people in their cars. LBCI television broadcast footage of vehicles submerged in water inside a tunnel in the area and citizens were leaving the location on foot. Floodwater was around 1.5 meters high inside another tunnel, cutting off the road on both lanes, according to the TV network. Citizens carried out amateurish and primitive attempts to open the overloaded drainage canals ahead of the arrival of Civil Defense crews and vehicles to the area. “The ministries concerned must do their job and Civil Defense cannot do miracles,” Civil Defense chief Brig. Gen. George Khattar told LBCI. “The responsibility of what's happening today falls on the relevant ministries and municipalities because they did not clean drainage canals ahead of winter,” he added. Khattar stressed that Civil Defense crews were present on the ground, noting that the cut-off roads prevented Civil Defense vehicles from arriving quickly to the flooded tunnel. LBCI said caretaker Public Works and Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi was not answering his phone despite several attempts to contact him for an interview. Meanwhile, acting Internal Security Forces chief Brig. Gen. Ibrahim Basbous ordered all ISF units to deploy on the streets to help citizens stranded by rainwater and facilitate traffic.Elsewhere, the coastal highway from Saifi to Karantia, Dora, Nahr el-Mot, Zalka, Jal el-Dib and Dbaye witnessed a severe traffic jam due to the heavy rains that fell in the afternoon. Some streets turned into ponds and citizens urged authorities to rescue them from their vehicles that were trapped in water, the National News Agency said.


Political theater
December 04, 2013/The Daily Star
For some politicians in Lebanon, the presidential election of May 2014 is in full swing. Unfortunately, this means that it’s time to engage in the traditional game of discussing the names of possible “candidates” behind closed doors and then leaking them to the media. Naturally, there is a small market for this kind of news, and anyone looking in from the outside might see the phenomenon as a signal of vitality and pluralism in Lebanon’s political system, where the head of state isn’t limited to a single clique or family. But for the overwhelming majority of consumers of political intrigue and many people who have simply lost interest in what politicians say, the attempts to generate public interest in the presidential election campaign couldn’t mean less. Most are fully aware that the maneuvering which takes place nearly six months before the presidential election will have very little impact on what actually happens in May of next year. They know that these politicians have little to no influence on the factors that will lead to the election of a president, which has to do more with the situation outside Lebanon than the situation inside the country. Some members of the public would like to see presidential candidates stand up openly and declare their platforms, even though MPs in Parliament will do the actual voting. Unfortunately, the current mindset among most politicians is that anyone who openly announces a run themselvesfor the country’s top job is actually destroying any chance of success, so the public is left with the secretive leaking of names to the media.
Instead of wasting time on this circus, politicians could busy themselves with generating solutions for the many problems faced by ordinary people. Instead of devoting their time and effort to entertaining a small segment of the public, these politicians should figure out what can be done to help Lebanon weather the many storms that threaten it. Security conditions, crime, electricity and water, traffic, education and health are some of the many troubled areas that need immediate, feasible solutions. No one expects a magic answer to what the overarching foreign policy should be or other struggles that have paralyzed the national political order, but there is no excuse to see another rainy season begin with no fix for the perennial problem of water supply deficits, massive levels of waste and polluted sources of water. If these vital sectors and day-to-day issues were tackled, politicians and the public would have the time to engage in speculation about the identity of the next president. A proper election campaign only makes sense in a system that works in the first place, and any effort spent to inspire public interest in the spectacle of the presidential election is a dangerous diversion from the real-world issues that are reaching crisis levels.

Suleiman: We Musn't Ruin Ties with Saudi Arabia by Making Baseless Accusations against it
Naharnet Newsdesk 04 December 2013/President Michel Suleiman slammed on Wednesday the criticism directed against Saudi Arabia by some officials in Lebanon, rejecting meddling in the affairs of other countries.
He said: “We should not ruin Lebanon's relations with Saudi Arabia by making baseless accusations against it.”He made his remark during the opening of a conference entitled, “Dialogue: Truth and Democracy,” held in Jbeil.
“Historic ties with a country such as Saudi Arabia should not be ruined through these accusations, especially when it comes to Syria,” declared the president in reference to statements made by Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and other March 8 camp officials. “Our enemy is making victory after victory while we are embroiled in our own disputes,” he lamented. Suleiman therefore demanded that the purpose of arms in Lebanon and the meaning of martyrdom be defined. “The stability of countries rests on the national contract that its people abide by,” he continued. He also stressed the importance of honest dialogue in Lebanon that would help assert Lebanon's sovereignty and its ties with other countries. “The Lebanese people should build a society based on dialogue,” he stated. Nasrallah on Tuesday accused Saudi Arabia of being behind the deadly bombings that targeted the Iranian embassy in southern Beirut on November 19. “We believe the statement in which the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack on the Iranian embassy, because it is a well-known group and its emir is Saudi and it is linked to the Saudi intelligence,” Nasrallah explained. He elaborated: “The Iranian embassy bombing has to do with targeting Iran by those who consider it to be an enemy since 1979 and by those who teach at their institutes that it is an enemy.” “The bombing has to do with the Saudi anger against Iran in the region,” he added


Maronite Bishops Warn Against State's Disintegration, Turning Lebanon into Captive
Naharnet Newsdesk 04 December 2013/The Council of Maronite Bishops warned on Wednesday against turning Lebanon into the captive of international policies, saying the political paralysis was leading to the state's “disintegration.” “Some parties abroad have dealt with Lebanon as if it was not a sovereign state,” the bishops said following their monthly meeting under Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi.  “This does not absolve the Lebanese from responsibility because through their rejection of internal dialogue, some Lebanese groups are forming their own statelets and resorting to friendly countries, making Lebanon the captive of international policies,” they said. The statement said “the situation of the government and the political standstill began to paralyze the public sector, leading to corruption.”Such a corruption was affecting the division of power between Christians and Muslims, it said. The bishops urged politicians to adopt a new electoral law and form a new cabinet to prepare for the presidential elections next year. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends in May 2014. But there are fears that differences and lack of consensus among rival political parties would prevent the parliament from meeting and would lead to a vacuum in the presidency. The bishops warned of vacuum, saying it would “lead to the nation's disintegration.”They expressed concern over the security situation in Lebanon and lauded the efforts exerted by the army and all security forces to impose security in the northern city of Tripoli and prevent chaos from spreading. The bishops also warned from the attack on Lebanon's sovereignty by the Israeli spying through infringement on the telecommunications system and through repeated airspace violations. The bishops condemned the kidnapping of 12 Orthodox Christian nuns from the Greek Orthodox monastery of Santa Takla in Maaloula in Syria. “What does this attack mean? What is their link to the conflict in Syria?” the bishops asked. The nuns were taken by force by armed men two days ago. The abduction has added to fears that hardline rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad were increasingly targeting Christians. The bishops urged the international community to know their fate and resolve the conflict.

Nasrallah: Abdullah Azzam Brigades Linked to Saudi Intelligence, Our Presence in Syria is Modest
Naharnet Newsdesk 03 December 2013/Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday accused Saudi Arabia of being behind the deadly bombings that targeted the Iranian embassy in southern Beirut, denying that large numbers of Hizbullah fighters were killed in the Syrian war. “We believe the statement in which the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack on the Iranian embassy, because it is a well-known group and its emir is Saudi and it is linked to the Saudi intelligence,” Nasrallah stated in an interview on OTV. He elaborated: “The Iranian embassy bombing has to do with targeting Iran by those who consider it to be an enemy since 1979 and by those who teach at their institutes that it is an enemy.” “The bombing has to do with the Saudi anger against Iran in the region.”At least 25 people were killed and 150 wounded in twin suicide blasts that targeted the Iranian embassy in the Hizbullah stronghold of Bir Hassan on November 19. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the bombings, according to the Twitter page of a cleric linked to the group.
"The Abdullah Azzam brigades -- the Hussein bin Ali cells -- are behind the attack on the Iranian embassy in Beirut," Sheikh Sirajeddine Zuraiqat, the group's religious guide, posted on Twitter.
Nasrallah denied during the interview reports saying huge numbers of Hizbullah fighters were involved in the Syrian war, stressing that the party has “very modest presence there.”
“We are not fighting on behalf of the Syrians,” he stated. “There is not a single Hizbullah fighter in (the Syrian regions of) Daraa, Deir Ezzor, al-Raqqa, Hasakeh, Idlib, Latakia or Tartus. We have a limited presence in Homs and Damascus near the (Lebanese) border.” He added: “Also, claims that we have lost 350 or 500 or 1,000 fighters in Eastern Ghouta are wishful thinking and there is not a single Hizbullah captive in Syria today and some bodies of martyrs are still missing.”He detailed the early stages of Hizbullah's intervention in the Syrian war, noting that the fighters were not “immediately sent” to the neighboring country.
He explained: “We took gradual steps, which began in the towns inhabited by Lebanese residents in (the Syrian border region of) Qusayr. When the Syrian army retreated from these towns, the residents sought our help because shameful things had happened there. They had two options: the displacement of 30,000 people or defending their areas.” “I must note that the Lebanese government did not offer any help,” Nasrallah added.
“Had it not been for Hizbullah's intervention in Qusayr's countryside, the armed groups would have invaded all these towns, but we went there and ended the battle,” he said.
Nasrallah continued: “The issue of the Sayyeda Zainab shrine obliged us to interfere in a minor manner in the battles in Damascus' countryside. We only sent 40 or 50 young men to help defend the shrine there.”
“And as time progressed, we had to increase the numbers (of fighters in Damascus) ahead of the major intervention in Qusayr.”He also noted that entering Qusayr was not based on an Iranian decision.
“We took the decision and informed the Iranians of it,” he assured. Turning to the issue of the stalled cabinet formation process, Nasrallah again underlined that “the 6-9-9 formula is the acceptable formula for the cabinet because it reserves everyone's rights." "The majority of parties were with the 6-9-9 formula but Saudi Arabia ordered them not to form a cabinet," he added. "We accepted a premier that they themselves nominated, so how can they accuse us of seeking political vacuum?" Nasrallah went on to say. On the issue of the upcoming presidential election, Nasrallah said: "We are with holding the presidential election on time and let the parliament convene and elect a president and we are ready to contribute to the success of this juncture." "Our camp must meet to discuss how to deal with this juncture and I believe that our camp must nominate a clear candidate for the presidency," he added. Nasrallah also said that Hizbullah is willing to engage in national dialogue with the rival camp. "We always support the convention of the dialogue table and we are willing to sit with anyone and we believe that severing ties with anyone is not useful," he said. Separately, Tuesday's interview kicked off with a discussion over the newly reached accord between the United States and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program.
Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers held historic talks last month in Geneva, which culminated in the landmark agreement elusive for the past decade in freezing parts of Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for limited sanctions relief. “According to the information I have, the Americans wanted to discuss other issues with Iran, and throughout history, the U.S. has always tried to discuss all issues as one package but the Iranians have always preferred to discuss one dossier at a time,” Nasrallah said on the negotiations.
Nasrallah stated that the first result of the agreement was lowering the possibility of war. “The agreement has very important consequences and the first winner is people in the region, from the Gulf to the Middle East, because regional and international forces were pushing for the choice of war with Iran,” he said. In a related matter, Hizbullah's leader accused Gulf countries of “antagonizing Iran.”
“But Iran has always been ready to engage in dialogue,” he expressed. “I believe that there is a real problem with Saudi Arabia because all the attempts to open the door of dialogue have failed and the Americans are the ones who are closing the doors. Nasrallah elaborated: “If you monitor all the Saudi-financed media outlets, KSA's war against Iran has never stopped. Saudi Arabia waged wars against the Iranians in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Gulf, Iraq and Syria, and of course through its proxies, because it does not dare to wage a direct war.” “Saudi Arabia's problem with Iran is not of a sectarian nature, because it had problems with several Arab countries, and these countries are Sunni, not Shiite.” He also noted that Saudi Arabia's war on Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is a “political war.” “KSA wants to be the leader of the Muslim world and it does not accept any partners,” Nasrallah considered. On Hizbullah's relation with Qatar, Nasrallah revealed that communication was not suspended with the Gulf country despite being at odds on several political issues.
He added: “We have met with a Qatari delegation in the past few days and we're still in a disagreement over Syria but we were not seeking problems with anyone, not even with Saudi Arabia.”
He continued: “We told the Qatari envoy that the military choice in Syria is futile and the attempt to oust (Syrian President Bashar) Assad militarily is an act of madness, that's why I call on all countries to contribute towards finding a political solution. We also spoke of neutralizing Lebanon in the Syrian crisis.”“Qatar is reevaluating all its stances in the region,” Nasrallah pointed out.

Hariri Snaps Back at Nasrallah over Saudi Arabia, Iran

Naharnet Newsdesk 04 December 2013/Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's accusation that militants linked to Riyadh were behind the deadly attack on the Iranian embassy last month drew a sharp retort from al-Mustaqbal movement leader ex-PM Saad Hariri. Nasrallah told OTV in an interview on Tuesday that militants with links to the Saudi intelligence were involved in the double suicide bombings that targeted the Iranian Embassy in Beirut's southern suburbs. The attack, which was carried out by a Lebanese and a Palestinian and which left scores of casualties, including an Iranian diplomat, was linked to Riyadh's hostility against Iran, he said.
“We believe the statement in which the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the attack on the Iranian embassy because it is a well-known group and its emir is Saudi and it is linked to the Saudi intelligence,” Nasrallah stated. But his accusation drew a sharp response from Hariri, who slammed the Hizbullah secretary-general for “overstepping” the latest Iranian agreement with major powers on its nuclear program, and “launching an unprecedented campaign against all those who disagree with him in Lebanon and the region.”He said in his statement that Nasrallah was seeking to destroy Lebanon's ties with Arab countries by accusing Saudi Arabia of organizing all the wars in the region and of bombing Iran's embassy. Hariri reminded that Hizbullah was the main suspect in the Feb. 2005 assassination of his father, former Premier Rafik Hariri, and was also responsible for undermining coexistence among the Lebanese in general, and the Sunnis and Shiites in particular. He accused Hizbullah of responsibility for a series of attacks in the Saudi coastal city of Khobar, Argentina, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Bahrain, Yemen and Egypt. Nasrallah “forgot that Saudi Arabia's history with Lebanon is based on construction, goodwill and peace,” Hariri said. The statement said that several officials would retort to Nasrallah's statements. But the first impression that a person gets is that the Hizbullah chief is “drowning in a surging sea of ego.”
This will lead to more “hatred” among the Lebanese and would “rekindle strife in the people’s souls,” it added.

Arrest Warrant Issued against Suspect Linked to Bir al-Abed, Ruwais Bombings
Naharnet Newsdesk 04 December 2013/An arrest warrant was issued on Wednesday against a Lebanese suspect for his links to bombings in Beirut's southern suburbs, reported the National News Agency. It said that Military Examining Magistrate Imad al-Zein issued the warrant against Hassan R. on charges of carrying out terrorist attacks in the Bir al-Abed and al-Ruwais areas.He was also charged with causing the death and injury of a number of people and the destruction of property and vehicles. The suspect is in custody in connection to terrorist attacks. Zein will interrogate other suspects linked to the bombings next week.Fifty-three people were wounded when a booby-trapped car exploded at a parking lot near a Hizbullah religious center in Beirut's southern suburb of Bir al-Abed on July 9. A little known Syrian rebel group claimed responsibility for the attack. On August 15, at least 21 people were killed and 200 wounded in a car bomb attack in the Ruwais neighborhood in Beirut's southern suburbs.

4 Gunmen Arrested as Life Goes Back to Normal in Tripoli's Safe Areas
Naharnet Newsdesk 04 December 2013/There was “total calm” in the northern city of Tripoli on Wednesday after several days of deadly gunbattles, the state-run National News Agency reported, as the Lebanese army arrested four gunmen in its latest sweep on the fighters. Schools, universities and shops reopened in the city's safer areas except for the hotspots, NNA said. The calm neighborhoods also witnessed busy traffic, it said.
Army units, using bulldozers, began to remove barricades and earth mounds erected by the fighters, the agency added. The military command said in a communique that soldiers arrested four armed men for engaging in sniper attacks, assaulting the army and civilians, and for carrying arms and ammunition. It identified them as Ahmed Yehya Saoud, Jaafar Hussein Tamer, Ahmed Mohammed Riyad al-Hajj and Salah Abdul Hamid Mohammed.
Military units spread widely in major roads and in secondary streets on Tuesday afternoon. The army carried out patrols and raids in search for militants, and set up checkpoints to inspect vehicles and the IDs of drivers.
Hundreds of policemen from different parts of Lebanon have been sent to Tripoli to help improve security, working under the army's command. The army has been authorized to take charge of security in Tripoli for six months following the deadly sectarian clashes by rival sides stemming from the civil war in neighboring Syria. The main gunbattles lie between the impoverished neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh, which is majority Sunni, and Jabal Mohsen, whose residents are from Syrian President Bashar Assad's Alawite sect.

Jumblat Calls for Reconciliation in Tripoli, Considers Politicians 'Incapable' of Managing Crises

by Naharnet Newsdesk 04 December 2013/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat said on Wednesday that politicians are incapable of resolving any of the local crises, calling for reconciliation among the residents of Tripoli to end the sectarian clashes. “President Michel Suleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Najib Miqati and I are working on the same level but we are incapable of ending the standstill,” Jumblat said in an interview with al-Akhbar newspaper. He pointed out that the “game of nations” made Lebanon slip over into the turmoil in Syria, which is having a significant impact on the country. “The ongoing conflict in Syria helped Takfiris to enter Lebanon and turn into suicide bombers,” Jumblat said. He said that al-Mustaqbal movement should realize that there are powers “stronger than us fighting on Syrian territories.”“It's a conflict of nations,” he noted. Jumblat described “Tripoli as an example of the situation in Syrian villages such as Qalamoun, Homs and Aleppo.” “Tripoli today is governed by the flow of money, which is representing the ongoing conflict between Alawites and the Salafist powers.”“I doubt that the leaders of Tripoli will be able to control the situation in the northern city,” Jumblat added. The Druze leader called for a truce between the rival neighborhoods of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh. “The leaders of the two neighborhoods should carry out a reconciliation,” Jumblat said. He considered that the situation in Tripoli is “unacceptable,” saying: “They want to cleanse the city of Alawites and end their existence unless the aim is to create an alibi for the Syrian regime to interfere.” At least 10 people have been killed and 100 others wounded in clashes between the rival Tripoli neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen since Saturday. The fighting in the city is linked to the war raging in neighboring Syria. Bab al-Tabbaneh district, which is majority Sunni, and Jabal Mohsen, whose residents are from Syrian President Bashar Assad's sect, have been engaged in severe gunbattles since the revolt against him in March 2011.Tensions soared in the city in August when twin car bombings hit Sunni mosques and left hundreds of casualties.
The latest round of violence erupted last week when Jabal Mohsen residents were shot in their feet in vengeful sectarian attacks. Jumblat adopted Berri's initiative to end the conflict in Tripoli.
“I agree with him. The army should control the situation in the city and the heads of the security agencies should be replaced,” he said. Berri suggested recently an initiative to salvage the city of Tripoli by deploying the armed forces throughout the city and giving them the needed political cover to reach stability in the city. Berri's proposal also calls on Tripoli's officials to work hand-in-hand to restore calm.
Jumblat also revealed that the Internal Security Forces Intelligence Branch should be handed over to the army control. Concerning the cabinet formation process, Jumblat expressed belief that the country is “paralyzed.”He wondered what PM-designate Salam could do as long as both rival parties are setting conditions and counter-conditions. Endeavors are ongoing to end the cabinet deadlock as Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam continuously said that conditions and counter-conditions set by the rival sides have brought his efforts to form a cabinet to a stalemate. Since his appointment to form a cabinet in April, Salam has been seeking the formation of a 24-member cabinet in which the March 8, March 14 and centrists camps would each get eight ministers.

Hezbollah says commander killed in Beirut, blames Israel
BEIRUT (Reuters) - A Hezbollah commander who fought in Syria's civil war was shot dead outside his home in Lebanon on Wednesday in an attack which the militant Shi'ite group blamed on Israel.
Israel denied any role in the killing of Hassan al-Laqqis, who was shot from close range by a silenced gun as he arrived home at around midnight in the Hadath district of Beirut, a source close to Hezbollah said. Hezbollah, which fought a 34-day war with Israel in 2006, also sent fighters into neighboring Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad against mainly Sunni Muslim rebels, an intervention which helped to raise sectarian tension in Lebanon.
A previously unknown group, Ahrar al-Sunna Baalbek brigade, claimed responsibility for the attack in a message on Twitter. The claim could not be verified but the name of the purported group suggested Lebanese Sunni Muslim connections. Footage from the scene broadcast by Hezbollah's Al Manar television on Wednesday showed two bullet marks in a wall and muddy footprints it said had been left by possibly more than one assailant.
Hezbollah described Laqqis, who will be buried in Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley later in the day, as "one of the leaders of the Islamic resistance" against Israel who had been frequently targeted by the Jewish state. He had been with Hezbollah since it was set up with Iranian support in the 1980s to fight Israeli troops occupying south Lebanon. His son was killed in the 2006 war, Hezbollah said in a statement.
"The Israeli enemy tried to get to our martyr brother several times, in more than one location, but these attempts failed until this repugnant assassination," it said. Israel would "bear full responsibility and all the consequences for this heinous crime", it said. But Israel denied involvement. "This has strictly nothing to do Israel," foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. "Hezbollah has made a fool of itself in the past with these automatic and groundless accusations against Israel ... If they are looking for explanations as to what is happening to them, they should examine their own actions."
The source close to Hezbollah said Laqqis had taken part in several battles inside Syria.Five years ago top Hezbollah commander Imad Moughniyah was killed in a Damascus car bombing. Hezbollah has blamed Israel for Moughniyah's death and vowed to avenge it. The source also said Wednesday's attack bore the hallmarks of an Israeli operation, and analyst Charles Lister of IHS Jane's in London said it suggested an element of "professionalism and prior intelligence". "But what is very clear is that it comes under the context of Hezbollah and its role in Syria," he said. "It was expected that Hezbollah would blame Israel, but that is not necessarily the case." The open role of Hezbollah fighters in the Syrian civil war and the steady flow of Lebanese Sunnis joining the anti-Assad rebels have fuelled sectarian strife in Lebanon. Car bombs killed dozens of people in Beirut in August and a twin suicide attack on the Beirut embassy of Hezbollah's patron Iran killed at least 25 people last month. An Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman blamed Israel for that attack, but responsibility was claimed by a Lebanon-based al Qaeda-linked group, the Abdullah Azzam brigades.Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said he believed the group had support from Saudi Arabia, Iran's main regional rival whose backing for Assad's foes has pushed it deeper into a proxy conflict in Syria against Tehran. Abdullah Azzam "is not a fictitious name," Nasrallah said in an interview broadcast on Lebanese television on Tuesday night. "This group exists ... It has its leadership ... and I am convinced it is linked to Saudi intelligence," he said. "Saudi Arabia is the one who runs these kinds of groups in several places in the world.

(Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes in Beirut and Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem; Editing by Alistair Lyon and David Stamp)


Slaying Hizballah commander ratchets up Saudi covert war on Iran and Lebanese proxy

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report December 4, 2013/The gunning down of Hajj Hassan Hollo al-Laqqis, a high-ranking Hizballah commander and close crony of Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, raised the stakes of the clandestine war running between Saudi Arabia and Iran, two weeks after two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut. The Hizballah officer was killed by five shots to the head and throat in the underground parking lot of his home in the Hadath neighborhood southwest of Beirut, when he returned home from work after midnight Tuesday, Dec. 3. The Hizballah statement, which said: “Israel is automatically held responsible for the crime,” described al Laqqis as an elite member of the organization’s military wing who for many years served as its technology and arms chief.
A photo published by the Lebanese state news agency shows a man in his mid-40s in military clothing. debkafile’s counterterrorism sources report: It seems obvious that the al-Laqqis hit was timed to take place shortly after the Hizballah leader went on the air for an extraordinarily arrogant television interview, during which he made a point of sneering after every reference to the US, Saudi Arabia or Israel. He also appeared to glorify in the big power status conferred on the Islamic Republic (and himself) by the Obama administration after the signing of the Geneva nuclear accord. Nasrallah praised that accord as signaling “the end of the US monopoly on power” and preventing war in the region. He said Israel couldn’t bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities without a green light from the US. But, he said, America is tired of war. The Saudi war against Iran, he said, has never stopped. He accused a “Saudi-backed group” of being behind the Iranian embassy bombing in Beirut.
The killing of a high-placed Nasrallah insider was intended to illustrate to Hizballah members and the rest of the region that the Hizballah leader’s outburst of hubris was hollow, that his own innermost command elite is deeply penetrated, and that whoever sent the assassins could at any time sow mayhem within the pro-Iranian organization’s ranks.
It also carried a wider message for Tehran and Gen. al-Soleimani: Your own Hizballah holds wide sway over Lebanon and its capital. If you can’t nonetheless keep the symbols of Iranian power in Lebanon and your proxy’s commanders safe, neither can you guarantee the security of Syrian president Bashar Assad in Damascus.
Accusing Israel of the deed and threatening revenge apparently made more sense to Hizballah that accusing Riyadh, which is out of its reach for punishment. Its leaders were even willing to allow people to deduce that Israeli intelligence had penetrated Hizballah’s top ranks and center of government in Beirut deeply enough to pick off its commanders.
There is little doubt in Tehran or Beirut that Riyadh’s hand was behind the slaying of the Hizballah commander, or that Saudi and Israeli intelligence agencies are working hand in hand against Tehran in Iran, Syria and Lebanon.

Israel Denies Involvement in Assassination of Hizbullah Official in Hadath
Naharnet Newsdesk 04 December 2013/Israel denied on Wednesday its involvement in the assassination of Hizbullah official Hajj Hassan Hollo al-Laqqis, who was assassinated overnight near his residence in Hadath in Beirut's southern suburbs. "Israel has nothing to do with this incident," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said on Wednesday. He pointed out that these “automatic accusations are an innate reflex with Hizbullah,” adding that the party “doesn't need evidence or facts... They just blame anything on Israel.”Earlier on Wednesday, Hizbullah accused in a statement Israel of assassinating Laqqis, who is a prominent figure in the resistance.
A previously unknown group called “The Brigade of Sunni Freemen in Baalbak” claimed responsibility for the assassination of Laqqis. “Around 12 a.m. overnight Hajj Hassan Hollo al-Laqqis was assassinated near his house in Sainte Thérèse neighborhood in Hadath while he was on his way back from his work,” a statement issued by Hizbulla's press office said. A Hizbullah source told Agence France Presse that Laqqis was very close to the party's chief Hassan Nasrallah. Hizullah accused in the statement Israel with carrying out the assassination, revealing that Laqqis “was subjected several times and in several areas to failed assassination attempts.” “Israel is automatically held the complete responsibility for this heinous crime,” the statement added. Hizbullah described Laqqis as a “Jihaddist and a leader, who sacrificed his life.”
Speaker Nabih Berri condemned the assassination, saying that it bears Israel's hallmark. “We must remain diligent during this time because the enemy is a constant threat to us all,” he added. Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat condemned the assassination, saying: “I condemn political assassinations in principle and all terrorist bombings.” “The judiciary should take its course in security incidents that have taken place in Lebanon, especially those that have targeted Dahieh, Tripoli, and the Iranian embassy,” he remarked in a statement. Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Rokn Abadi offered his condolences to Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, considering that the “coward acts of Israel and its agents will only make the resistance insist on achieving its goals.”Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5) later reported that the unknown assailants ambushed Laqqis in his residence's parking lot. The radio station said that he was still inside his Jeep Cherokee when he was assassinated. "He was shot 5 times, four bullets in the head and one in the neck, from a nearby distance," the radio station said. Laqqis's son had passed away during the July 2006 war, according to the statement. Israel fought a devastating war against Hizbullah in 2006 that cost the lives of 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Canada's PM, Harper breaks into song after announcing first official trip to Israel
By Will Campbell, The Canadian Press | The Canadian Press –
TORONTO - Prime Minister Stephen Harper basked in the glow of support from members of Canada's Jewish community on Sunday, announcing a first-ever trip to Israel next year and then breaking into song at a gala fundraising dinner. Hundreds of kilometres away from the battle-like atmosphere of Parliament Hill where the Senate scandal rages on, Harper was clearly relaxed and comfortable enough at the Jewish National Fund's Negev dinner to belt out his own rendition of the Who's "The Seeker" and a string of other classic songs. But first, he announced an official visit to Israel, as well as Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.
"I'll tell you, friends, what I'm going to be doing in January — I'm going to be going and visiting the state of Israel," he said to enthusiastic applause. Harper called Israel a "light of freedom and democracy in what is otherwise a region of darkness," and reiterated that Canada will continue to back it in the United Nations and elsewhere abroad. "We understand that the future of our country and of our shared civilization depends on the survival and thriving of that free and democratic homeland for the Jewish people in the Middle East," he said. Harper, who skipped his usual suit-and-tie look for a dark shirt open at the collar, then abruptly stopped his speech and launched into a musical interlude for his rapt audience. "This really is a show of affection of love, and I really appreciate that, and I want to show you a bit of affection and love in return," said Harper, who took charge on the keyboard and lead vocals with his backing band, Herringbone, for a run of 60's and 70's hits. He started with the Who's "The Seeker" and continued on with several more songs, including Buddy Holly's "Oh Boy" and Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" to the delight of the thousands at the event. And Harper tickled more than the ivories, getting the crowd laughing during some between-song joking about one of his bandmates having a "lost weekend."
"He ended up in Boston at a baseball game in a drunken stupor. It's a Herringbone fact." The Harper concert concluded with an encore of The Beatles "Hey Jude," while a throng of the well-dressed crowd bunched around the stage, waving candles grabbed from dinner tables and snapping photos on smartphones. Harper has been unafraid to sing in public in the past, getting up on the stage at the Calgary Stampede last summer and also performing at an Ottawa gala. But at seven songs the set list for Sunday night's gig may be have stretched longer than the prime minister's other musical moments.
After the set was over, Harper was lauded as a "real leader" in a video message by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Stephen doesn't want to be politically correct. He wants to be correct." Sunday's gala fundraiser was to acknowledge Harper's staunch political support of Israel. His pro-Israeli policies have sowed resentment in Canada's Arab and Muslim communities. The dinner was put on by the Jewish National Fund's Canadian chapter, which raised $5.7 million to build a bird sanctuary in Israel to be named after Harper. Spokesmen for the Jewish National Fund and the Prime Minister's Office wouldn't say last week what persuaded the prime minister to lend his name to the Stephen J. Harper Hula Valley Bird Sanctuary Visitor and Education Centre.Not everyone gave Harper a warm embrace. Outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre where the dinner was held, dozens of protesters turned out to protest Harper's political agenda and his environmental policies. "Harper, Harper, will you see, Palestine will be free," they chanted. "The main message really is to push Canada to end its complicity with these violations of international law that Israel commits," said Palestinian activist Yafa Jarrar. Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version gave an incorrect name for the Jewish National Fund.

Arafat did not die of poisoning, French tests conclude

By Paul Taylor/PARIS (Reuters) - Yasser Arafat was not the victim of poisoning, French forensic tests concluded on Tuesday, countering the theory put forward by a Swiss report on the 2004 death of the Palestinian leader.
The French conclusions were immediately challenged by his widow Suha Arafat, who has argued the death was a political assassination by someone close to her husband. A senior Palestinian official dismissed the report as "politicized". "You can imagine how much I am shaken by the contradictions between the findings of the best experts in Europe in this domain," Suha Arafat, dressed in black and reading from a written statement, told a news conference in Paris. "I am accusing no one. This is in the hands of justice and it is just the beginning," she said, requesting that the Swiss report be made available to French judges examining the case.
Arafat, who signed the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords with Israel but then led an uprising after subsequent talks broke down in 2000, died aged 75 in a French hospital in November 2004. His death came four weeks after he fell ill after a meal, suffering from vomiting and stomach pains. The official cause of death was a massive stroke, but French doctors said at the time they were unable to determine the origin of his illness. No autopsy was carried out. Swiss forensic experts stirred controversy last month by announcing that results from their tests of samples taken from Arafat's body were consistent with polonium poisoning, while not absolute proof of the cause of death.
The report handed to Suha Arafat will not be published, but a source who had seen it quoted extracts to Reuters. "The results of the analyses allow us to conclude that the death was not the result of poisoning," the source quoted it as concluding. "Measurements of Polonium 210 and other radioactive substances taken from biological samples of the body are consistent with a natural environmental origin."
A Palestinian official dismissed the French findings.
"The French report is politicized and is contrary to all the evidence which confirms that the president was killed by poisoning," senior Palestinian official Wasel Abu Yousef told Reuters in Ramallah. "This report is an attempt to cover up what happened in Percy hospital," he said of the French military hospital near Paris where Arafat was taken for treatment in 2004. There are few known cases of polonium poisoning, the most famous recent example being that of defecting Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who drank a poisoned cup of tea in a London hotel in 2006. "We have no doubt that the most comprehensive and thorough report that examined all aspects of this case remains the Swiss report," Suha Arafat's lawyer Saad Djebbar told Reuters. A radiation scientist who examined the Swiss and the French reports for Suha Arafat said both studies had found similar levels of Polonium 210 in Arafat's body but differed in their explanations of how it got there. The scientist, who declined to be named, said the French report concluded that some of the radioactivity could be explained by the presence of radon gas in the tomb where Arafat was buried.
(Additional reporting by Noah Browning and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Mark John and Mark Heinrich

Information Minister: Assad to Lead during Transition
Naharnet Newsdesk 04 December 2013/Syria's Bashar Assad will remain president and lead any transition agreed upon in Geneva peace talks planned for next month, a government minister insisted on Wednesday.
"If anyone thinks we are going to Geneva 2 to hand the keys to Damascus over (to the opposition), then he might as well not go," Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said in remarks carried by the official SANA news agency.
"The decision rests with President Assad. He will lead the period of transition, if there is one. He is the leader of Syria... And he will remain the president of Syria."Zohbi also said that Saudi Arabia, a strong backer of the rebels, should be excluded from the peace conference. The rebels battling Assad's regime in a war that has claimed 126,000 lives since March 2011 have insisted he step down as part of any transition.
The two sides are set to meet in Geneva on January 22 in talks brokered by the U.N.-Arab league envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. But the dispute over Assad's role in the transition, and the endemic divisions among both the external opposition and rebels battling on the ground, have cast doubt over whether the two sides can even reach an agreement let alone implement it. The National Coalition, an umbrella opposition group, has demanded the creation of a "transitional governing body" with "full executive powers" that excludes Assad and his inner circle. The conflict began nearly three years ago with peaceful pro-democracy protests inspired by the Arab Spring but escalated into a full-scale civil war after Assad's regime launched a brutal crackdown. Today hundreds of armed groups, including powerful jihadist brigades affiliated with al-Qaida, are battling both the regime and each other, complicating any efforts to reach a political settlement. Source/Agence France Presse.

UAE Leader Accepts Invitation to Visit Iran

Naharnet Newsdesk 04 December 2013/The president of the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday accepted an invitation to visit Iran, the WAM state news agency said, as Tehran looks to mend ties with Gulf states.
The Sunni monarchies of the Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia, have long viewed Shiite Iran as a regional rival and the two sides are currently locked in a proxy war in Syria, with Tehran backing the regime and Saudi Arabia and Qatar supporting Sunni-led rebels. But Iran has tried to improve relations in recent weeks following a landmark agreement on its nuclear program, which the Gulf countries and the West have long suspected is aimed at developing a weapons capability, allegations denied by Tehran. The invitation was delivered to the UAE president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, by Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during a meeting between the two in a palace in Al-Ain, in the east of the Emirates. "The date for the visit will be announced at a later stage," WAM said.
Sheikh Khalifa told his guest that the UAE welcomes the nuclear deal, stressing that his nation aspires for "strengthened security and stability in the region and cooperation between countries," WAM said.
Zarif is in the UAE as part of a Gulf tour that has taken him to Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. He said Iran's newly elected president Hasan Rouhani wishes to strengthen relations with Gulf countries, "stressing that Iran gives high importance to its relations with neighbors, especially the UAE," WAM reported. In Kuwait, Zarif reassured Gulf Arab states on Sunday that Tehran's nuclear deal is in their interest.
The deal was struck in Geneva last month between Iran and the P5+1 -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany.
Iran agreed to freeze parts of its controversial program in exchange for an estimated $7.0 billion of relief from crippling sanctions in an interim deal aimed at buying time for the negotiation of a comprehensive accord.
The Gulf states have called on Tehran to fully cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog in implementing the deal.
Source/Agence France Presse.

Do social networking sites really bridge the communication gap?

By: Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Alawsat
Has our world really changed just because we’ve become more communicative and because we use YouTube, Facebook and Twitter? We thank those who created these social networking websites. No one doubts that we currently know more about each other than we did five years ago. We know a lot! But the more we get to know each other, the more worried we should be. What’s interesting is that social networking tools are trains that take us from one stop to another. Rather, they act as a mirror which reflects our societies. In the US for example, nine of the most active Twitter users include recording artists like Katy Perry and Justin Bieber. Meanwhile, for us, seven of the most active Twitter users include clerics like Sheikh Arifi and Sheikh Ouda! So, will the cultural map change just because we have 20 million people communicating via Twitter every day? Or will this simply bolster the old situation? The forum launched by my colleagues at Al-Arabiya News was centered on this political, social and technical change. The increase in diversity of media, cultural and technical networking tools gives hope that the people of this disturbed and divided world will have a chance to get to know one another. Numbers do confirm that the world has really changed, as it’s witnessing a revolution the likes of which has not been seen since the invention of airplanes, ships and trains. Such inventions altered the world’s demography, as did the invention of televisions and printers, which led to the creation of the information society.
Despite that, jumping to the conclusion that Twitter, Facebook and other social networking websites will improve people’s understanding of one another is questionable. There is no solid data that confirms such a hypothesis. Actually, the general conclusion is the opposite! Information has increased, but this has not improved understanding. On Twitter, Al-Qaeda followers’ tweets are full of threats and pride in displaying the severed heads that the group has cut off and tied up like a bundle of carrots. Millions of sectarian, religious and racial messages flood Twitter in an unprecedented manner. It’s as if sewage tunnels have flooded the streets. Therefore, we cannot claim that the gap has been bridged, since the truth may be the opposite. Despite that, the invention of Twitter is not similar to the invention of gunpowder. It’s closer to a kitchen knife that may be used to prepare a meal or commit a crime. It’s like the satellite dish—a mere copper dish that cannot be blamed for the content delivered to the audience.
The development of social networking websites has landed us in another phase of technological confusion. This case, however, is not the first. During the last two decades, we witnessed a similar situation due to the advent of satellite dishes and the Internet. Our current confusion will thus be cleared up at a later date, much like what happened with the advent of the Internet, which transformed into a useful tool we resort to in order to learn about new places and gain access to books we previously had no easy access to. As we swim across the vast space of the Internet and social networking websites, we might bump into stray meteors or lose our way in black holes. It’s too early to judge. But, it’s not true that these means bridge the gap during this particular phase. On the contrary, they further widen it.

Clan Warfare in Egypt

By: Eric Trager/Washington Institute
Foreign Policy
Given Egypt's brewing power struggles, the current state of relative calm should not be mistaken for progress, let alone stability.
Nearly five months after the uprising-cum-coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsy, Egypt is mostly calm. That might seem surprising, especially given the reemergence of hundreds-strong protests following the military-backed government's passage of a law restricting demonstrations last week, and the ongoing power struggle between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood, in which over 1,000 Morsy supporters have been killed. Just last week, Islamist protesters reached Tahrir Square for the first time since Morsy's ouster this summer. But this is also the way most of Egypt has been for the past three years: Like the old Microsoft Windows computer game Minesweeper, the most explosive tumult typically occurs in small pockets, leaving the rest of the country safe, tranquil, and at times eerily quiet.
Egypt's relative calm, however, should not be mistaken for stability. Far from representing the first step toward the better future that the "Arab Spring" once promised, it is an interlude -- one that might endure, even if somewhat unsteadily, for a while, but which cannot last forever. That's because Egypt's emerging regime is trying to preserve this measure of peace by reestablishing the status quo ante -- putting power back in the hands of the clans that supported Mubarak for decades, and which chafed mightily under Morsy's rule. But the new regime has done nothing to address the factors that catalyzed the first uprising almost three years ago: It has no answer for Egypt's still-dwindling economy and no strategy for incorporating or appeasing Egypt's Islamists, who tasted power once and are unlikely to accept the current crackdown indefinitely.
The attempt to restore the Mubarak-era way of doing business reflects the nature of the coalition that backed Morsy's removal in July. The most critical opposition to Morsy's rule outside Cairo came from the large families and tribes in the Nile Delta and Upper Egypt, which comprised the Mubarak regime's base and benefitted from its clientelist approach to politics.
"These traditional powers are the critical mass of voters," Abdullah Kamal, a journalist and onetime official in Mubarak's now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP), told me. These clans, he continued, "had sympathy" for Mubarak, voted for Mubarak's former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik in the 2012 presidential elections, and would likely back Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi if he runs for president.
For decades, these clans wielded substantial political influence. They were empowered by the Mubarak regime's use of relatively small electoral districts, which allowed them to mobilize their family members and local supporters to win elections. And since Egypt's parliament was largely a mechanism for distributing state resources, the clans typically used their electoral victories to deliver resources back to their districts and thereby entrench their local support. Following the 2011 uprising, however, the new electoral system entailed much wider electoral districts that diluted these traditional powers' support. Meanwhile the Islamist parties rode their internal unity to overwhelming, nationwide victories.
While the details for Egypt's next parliamentary elections will be determined by the government, it is widely anticipated that the next system will feature smaller districts that will re-empower the old tribal networks. Influential players within the Egyptian state are pushing for a system that would shrink electoral districts considerably.
"I participated in some of the discussions, and urged the adoption of an individual-candidacy system, because any other system forces us to have large districts, and we want smaller areas," said retired Interior Ministry Gen. Mohamed Rifaat Qumsan, the man personally responsible for drawing Egypt's electoral districts.
Qumsan, who previously served in the division of Egypt's state security responsible for monitoring -- and thwarting the political ambitions of -- Islamists, admitted that the internal tribal make-up of each district is one of his key considerations when he's drawing districts. "I know very well the geographic and social situation and tribes and families," he said. "For example, if one big village has only one electoral box according to law, but it's unsafe because people [from different tribes] clashed, I can make two boxes so they won't clash."
As a result, tribal leaders are once again key players in Egyptian electoral politics. Egypt's non-Islamist parties are already planning to aggressively court them: For example, the Conference Party, founded by former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa earlier this year, is essentially a coalition of relatively small parties that managed to win seats in the last parliamentary elections in large part due to their tribal connections. And those parties with barely any popular support, such as the left-of-center Dostour and Egypt Social Democratic parties, are working through their clan-affiliated members to win key tribes' support.
"[The tribes] are renewing their blood," Kamal, the ex-NDP official, told me. "The guy who ran for parliament years ago won't run, but his cousin will." The old way of doing politics, in other words, is back.
By appeasing the old tribal networks, the newly emerging regime looks to promote a level of calm that the Muslim Brotherhood -- which the clans largely view as mortal competitors -- could never achieve. But there are two big reasons why this strategy will falter in the long run.
First, the return of a clientelist system won't resolve the core problems that incited the 2011 uprising and also contributed to the anti-Morsy uprising this summer: high youth unemployment and widespread economic hardship. The current government, in fact, appears to be in total denial that there is even a real problem. "We are least worried about the economics," an official in the Finance Ministry's policy division told me. "The fundamentals are there."
While Egyptian officials correctly attribute the country's economic woes to the political instability of the past three years, their assessment that Egypt is on the verge of an economic rebound appears based on a set of worryingly data-free assumptions. Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa El-Din told me that once things normalize, the government will be able to fund its ballooning budget without having to rely on oil-producing Gulf states' largesse in part through a tourism resurgence. "We cannot assume that Egypt will continue in the current level of touristic travel," he said. "We must assume that it will get higher."
The math, however, just doesn't add up. The latest data pegs Egypt's cash reserves at just under $19 billion -- and that's despite a massive $12 billion pledge from the Gulf states immediately after Morsy's removal, approximately $7 billion of which has already been delivered. Meanwhile, rather than using that cash to reform the food and fuel subsidies that comprise a significant portion of the government's expenditures, it is being used to increase government employment, raise the minimum wage for government employees, and complete infrastructure projects. And the new constitution will further handcuff the government's fiscal flexibility: According to the recently circulated draft, the state will be required to spend 3 percent of GDP on healthcare, 4 percent on education, 2 percent on university education, and 1 percent on scientific research.
The present trajectory, in other words, doesn't bode well for a country that cannot count on Gulf generosity indefinitely. And these expansionary policies won't even buy prolonged social peace: As Bahaa El-Din acknowledged, it will take time before the infrastructure investments trickle down to lower-income Egyptians, and the government has struggled to control food prices and implement the minimum-wage raise. So while Egypt's economic cliff is further away than it was during Morsy's last weeks in office, when gas and electricity shortages intensified just as Egypt's summer burned the hottest, a cliff is still waiting in the distance because the current level of spending is simply unsustainable.
The second reason why Egypt's current calm won't translate into longer-term stability involves the Islamist parties who, not too long ago, dominated Egyptian politics. These parties recognize the emerging political system for what it is -- an attempt to limit, if not entirely obliterate, their political influence -- and they might therefore pursue politics via other, more destabilizing means.
This is especially true of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islamist movement has refused to accept the government's post-Morsy "roadmap," which is the government's condition for ending the crackdown against the Brotherhood, and it continues to believe that Morsy will be reinstated.
"Sisi has on his neck 5,000 dead Egyptians," one Brotherhood leader told me, inflating the reported death count by a factor of five. "So it makes no sense that he'll complete his political life. Bangladesh is now taking its putschists to court, and Turkey did the same thing even without having a revolution against the coup like we have here in Egypt."
By "revolution against the coup," the Brotherhood leader meant the mostly small pro-Morsy protests that have continued for months. Still, the Brotherhood's confidence that it will win, however delusional, indicates its motivation to fight the status quo rather than accept it.
While Egypt's other Islamist parties don't share the Brotherhood's eagerness for confrontation, they don't trust the emerging order either. "I won't run," said Amr Gamal, a Qena-based leader for the Salafist Watan Party, which aligned itself with Morsy and protested his ouster. "If they pass the constitution -- and God willing they won't -- it will not be real elections," he said.
Even the Salafist Nour Party, which has participated in the post-Morsy transition and seemingly won the military's acceptance as a political player, mistrusts the forthcoming system. The current regime "is returning back to the time of Mubarak," Sharkiya-based Nour Party leader and former parliamentarian Gamel Metwally, told me. "And the explanations for it are nonsense."
While Metwally said that the Nour Party intends to continue participating in the transition "to preserve the Islamic identity for the Egyptian people," he acknowledged that it -- unlike the Brotherhood -- has no control over its rank-and-file, and therefore could not guarantee that members would vote in the forthcoming political process.
Egypt's new powerbrokers shouldn't count the Islamists out, or expect them to meekly retreat from the political sphere after getting their first taste of real power. While Islamist movements have lost substantial popular support in the past year, they remain extremely well organized and boast ideologically cohesive, motivated bases. That raises the strong possibility that they will take to the streets or embrace violence, both of which bode poorly for Egypt's long-term stability.
Of course, it must be acknowledged that including Islamists isn't exactly a recipe for stability either. During Morsy's year in power, Islamists demonstrated that they are just as willing to manipulate Egypt's political institutions to their own advantage as their Mubarak-era opponents. Moreover, Islamists' explicit desire to control Egyptians' personal lives makes the choice between a stable Egypt that includes Islamists and an unstable Egypt that excludes Islamists a false one, since there is nothing particularly stabilizing about a government that would enforce a ban on bikinis, let alone incite its rank-and-file against Shiites.
Ultimately, Egypt's ideological struggles are a sideshow. The country's fate will be determined by two intertwined power struggles: The narrower fight between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military that removed it from power, and the broader fight between the old Mubarakist tribal order and the Islamist order that was only beginning to consolidate itself. For both sides in these conflicts, the stakes are existential, which is why Egypt's current calm -- unsteady though it is -- should not be mistaken for progress, let alone stability.
**Eric Trager is the Wagner Fellow at The Washington Institute.