LCCC ENGLISH DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Quotation for today/Warning
James 04/13-17: "Now listen to me, you that say, “Today or tomorrow we will travel to a certain city, where we will stay a year and go into business and make a lot of money.” You don't even know what your life tomorrow will be! You are like a puff of smoke, which appears for a moment and then disappears. What you should say is this: “If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this or that.” But now you are proud, and you boast; all such boasting is wrong. So then, if we do not do the good we know we should do, we are guilty of sin."
Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For January 15/14
Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For January 15/14
Lebanese Related News
Electricite du Liban Contract Workers Reopen Dora Highway
after Promises by Jreissati
Miqati in Kuwait for Syria Donors Conference
Rockets Hit Arsal during Clashes in Syria
U.S. Embassy Denies Issuing Warning to Citizens to Avoid Hamra, Gefinor Area
Egyptians begin voting on constitution
Rouhani boasts of West's 'surrender' to Iran in nuclear talks
Ya'alon criticized for reportedly calling Kerry 'obsessive, messianic'
US calls Ya'alon's comments about Kerry 'offensive'; Netanyahu does damage control
Hariri Killing Trial a Chance to End
Impunity in Lebanon
Naharnet/The trial of those accused of killing former prime minister Rafik Hariri provides a rare chance at justice for a country more used to impunity for political assassinations. But analysts say the proceedings are unlikely to have much of an impact on the country for now, with the consequences of the bloody war in neighboring Syria overshadowing the trial. Four suspects from Hizbullah, a key ally of Syria, will go on trial in absentia on Thursday, charged with the February 14, 2005 bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others in downtown Beirut. Despite the many years that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon has taken to investigate the killing, and the absence of those accused, for some the trial is a much-needed bid to pursue justice. "For the first time, there is an attempt to get to the truth," said Sami Salhab, a professor of international law at the Lebanese University. "In Lebanon's history, most assassinations have happened... without results" in the investigation, he told Agence France Presse. He said the case could drag on for years to come, but added "the role of the court will limit the number of terrorist attacks in Lebanon, including assassinations." Future TV, which is owned by the Hariri family, began a media campaign two weeks before the trial's opening entitled "January 16, 2014: the time of justice.""The path that we have chosen is one of justice," said Ahmed Hariri, secretary-general of al-Mustaqbal movement, which is headed by Hariri's son Saad."We still have a long way to go to reach the truth, to reach the first time in Lebanon that a political crime is prosecuted," he added. 'Obstacles and minefields' "We knew that this path would be long and full of obstacles and minefields, and more assassinations... but the beginning of the trial and the achievement of justice will remove a key element that has always accompanied political life in Lebanon: political assassinations," he said. Lebanon was no stranger to political violence or assassinations even before Hariri's death, having fought a 15-year civil war that saw numerous political figures targeted. But Hariri's killing was the beginning of an unprecedented string of assassinations targeting nine politicians and media figures who spoke publicly against the Syrian government.
Syria was accused of a role in all the deaths though no government officials have been charged. But popular anger over its alleged involvement was sufficient to force Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon shortly after Hariri's death, nearly 30 years after they first intervened in the country's civil war. Syrian ally Hizbullah has dismissed the tribunal as an "American-Israeli tool," refusing to turn over its members for trial.
And as the trial opens, both Syria and Hizbullah remain powerful forces in Lebanon, with the tiny country increasingly battling with the consequences of the conflict in neighboring Syria.
Hizbullah has dispatched troops to help President Bashar Assad's army battle an uprising that many Lebanese Sunnis support. The conflict has raised tensions in Lebanon, and been blamed for a spate of bombings in the country, including four in Hizbullah stronghold neighborhoods in Beirut. "The conflict in Syria overshadows the STL in terms of the media, you no longer have the same attention," said Ghassan al-Azzi, a professor of political science at the Lebanese University. "The events in Syria post a very grave danger to all of Lebanon and the region, along with the explosions that have put Lebanon in the middle of a war with no apparent end," he said. "Unfortunately, the court has sunk under numerous other events and issues that have weakened its importance."For many Lebanese, the immediate security situation takes precedence over legal proceedings at a faraway court trying suspects in absentia. On December 27, former Hariri adviser Mohammed Shatah was killed in a car bomb not far from the scene of Hariri's death, and less than a week later a bomb hit a southern Beirut Hizbullah stronghold killing five civilians. The country has also been without a government since March 2013 and is hosting an estimated population of more than a million Syrian refugees. "We live in a very turbulent security situation, the formation of a government and security are much more important for people today than the court," Azzi said. With the indictments long public, Azzi said the court's proceedings were unlikely to provide any "surprises." But if the suspects are found guilty, "the impact on the very fragile situation in Lebanon will be significant," he added. Ahmed Hariri remains optimistic that the trial will pave the way for justice in Lebanon. "Now this train has started to move, no one can stop it. We will get justice. The opening of the trial is just the beginning."Source/Agence France Presse
STL: No decision yet to try Merhi with
The Daily Star/BEIRUT: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon failed Tuesday to make a decision on whether to join the case of the fifth Hezbollah suspect with the trial of four others accused of involvement in the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri. On its Twitter account, the STL said the Trial Chamber held the hearing “on the joinder of the [Hassan] Merhi case with the Ayyash et al. case.” “The [Trial Chamber] judges offered Merhi counsel to attend start of trial on 16 Jan as observers, but no decision yet on joining Merhi and Ayyash et al,” the U.N.-backed court tweeted. Merhi was accused last year of complicity in the Feb. 14, 2005 assassination of Hariri. Four Hezbollah members were indicted in 2012 of involvement in the killing. Earlier this month, the defense team for the four suspects argued joining the cases would require an adjournment of the trial, which is due to begin Jan. 16.
The prosecution has asked that Merhi be included in the main trial. He is accused of being one of the leaders of the assassination team, working as part of the “green network” of telephones that allegedly coordinated the Hariri attack. Merhi is also accused of coordinating a false claim of responsibility intended to mislead investigators.
Lebanon arrests Palestinian suspect in
Iran Embassy attack
The Daily Star/BEIRUT: General Security has arrested a Palestinian man suspected of involvement in last November's attack on the Iranian Embassy in Beirut, a security source told The Daily Star Tuesday.
General Security handed the man, identified as Y.M., to the military prosecutor’s office after an investigation revealed he had played a role in the twin suicide attack on the embassy, the source said.
The Nov. 19 twin attacks against the Iranian Embassy killed 30 people, including an Iranian diplomat. The Al-Qaeda-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the deadly blasts.
The Lebanese Army last month apprehended the head of the group, Majid al-Majid, who later died of natural causes at the military hospital.
U.S. Embassy Denies Issuing Warning to
Citizens to Avoid Hamra, Gefinor Area
Naharnet/The United States embassy in Lebanon denied on Tuesday issuing a warning to its citizens in the country to avoid Hamra street in Beirut and Gefinor area.
“Such messages were not sent by the U.S. embassy in Beirut,” the mission said via its account twitter, describing the reports as “false.” “The only official message issued by the embassy is our security message to U.S. citizens on January 5,” another tweet said. The U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning advisory to Lebanon over safety and security concerns earlier in January. The statement said that following “recent bombing in Beirut and other instances of violence that occurred in Lebanon in recent months, the U.S. government strongly urges U.S. citizens in Lebanon to exercise extreme caution.”
The statement called on U.S. citizens to avoid “hotels, western-style shopping centers, including western-style grocery chain stores, and any public or social events where U.S. citizens normally congregate, as these sites are likely targets for terrorist attacks for at least the near term.” On December 27, ex-Finance Minister and former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's adviser, Mohammed Shatah, who is a prominent critic of the Syrian regime, and seven others were killed in car bombing in the heart of the capital. And on January 2, five people were killed and more than 70 others wounded as a car bombing rocked the Beirut southern suburb of Haret Hreik, a Hizbullah stronghold. The U.S. State Department has already warned U.S. citizens on several occasions to avoid all travel to Lebanon and recommended those in the country make plans to leave.
The conflict in Syria has increasingly spilled over into Lebanon in the shape of deadly clashes and bombings.
France hails Lebanon’s Cabinet
The Daily Star/BEIRUT: French Ambassador to Lebanon Patrice Paoli hailed Tuesday efforts of Lebanon’s political rivals to form a new Cabinet. Following a meeting with Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, Paoli said his country supports all efforts to reach a new Cabinet formula convenient for the Lebanese and hoped political rivals would reach a quick agreement over the issue. He added that France is determined not to interfere in Lebanon’s affairs or take any stance over the future Cabinet line-up. Paoli also reiterated support for the Lebanese institutions, the President and the Army. Hopes recently emerged over a possible agreement between the rival political groups in Lebanon on the next Cabinet which formation has been stalled for over nine months.
Rockets Hit Arsal during Clashes in
Naharnet/Several rockets and shells fell Tuesday on the Arsal border area of Khirbet Daoud during clashes inside Syrian territory. Four artillery shells struck the area at 3:00 p.m., causing no casualties, Lebanon's National News Agency reported. Meanwhile, MTV quoted a Lebanese security source as saying that “14 rockets fired from Syria's Qusayr landed in an agricultural area between Arsal's Mrah and Khirbet Daoud."For its part, Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) said "four artillery shells landed in the Mrah al-Sheikh area north of Khirbet Daoud."The Bekaa town of Arsal comes under frequent shelling from the Syrian side of the border, the last of which was on November 23 when it was targeted by a Syrian airstrike.Hermel and others areas in the Bekaa have also been targeted by rockets fired from Syria in recent months and most attacks were claimed by Syrian rebels.
Salam Meets Saniora to Discuss Cabinet
Naharnet/Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam held talks with head of al-Mustaqbal Parliamentary bloc MP Fouad Saniora as optimism loomed over the formation of an all-embracing cabinet . The meeting between the two officials on Monday night focused on the latest developments regarding the cabinet formation process. The government formation process has witnessed an intensified a political activity in an attempt to end the standstill since Salam was appointed in April. The cabinet formation process was put on the front burner after Speaker Nabih Berri proposed a revised 8-8-8 government formula and President Michel Suleiman said he would form a so-called neutral cabinet if the political rivals don't agree on an all-embracing government within ten days. Amid the Lebanese Forces' rejection of Hizbullah's participation in the cabinet, the March 14 camp has reportedly accepted the 8-8-8 formula in principle, but it is awaiting answers pertaining to the ministerial policy statement and the rotation of portfolios among political parties. The 8-8-8 formula divides ministers equally between the centrists and March 14 and 8 alliances, in which each get eight ministers with “decisive ministers” for the March 14 and 8 coalitions.
Lebanese Cabinet Formation Talks
ongoing as Hariri Contacts Geagea, Sami Gemayel
Naharnet /Intensive consultations to form a new cabinet continued on Tuesday among the various political parties as former Prime Minister Saad Hariri held phone talks with his Christian allies. Hariri telephoned Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea and Phalange Party Central Committee Coordinator MP Sami Gemayel and discussed with them the latest developments in the formation process, after the two Christian leaders voiced concerns on Monday. Hariri and Geagea stressed the "unity" of the March 14 forces' stances, according to various media outlets. Later on Tuesday, Speaker Nabih Berri held talks with caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel on the issue of the new cabinet. The minister hoped after the meeting that this “process is moving forward on the right path.”“I sensed that matters are going ahead in a good and normal manner,” he added. “No obstacles have been encountered so far,” continued Charbel. He hoped that the resolution of the government deadlock will rid Lebanon of its current and potential security problems. The cabinet formation process was put on the front burner after Berri proposed a revised 8-8-8 government formula and President Michel Suleiman said he would form a so-called neutral cabinet if the political rivals don't agree on an all-embracing government within ten days. Amid the LF's rejection of Hizbullah's participation in the cabinet, the March 14 camp has reportedly accepted the 8-8-8 formula in principle, but it is awaiting answers pertaining to the ministerial policy statement and the rotation of portfolios among political parties. The 8-8-8 formula divides ministers equally between the centrists and March 14 and 8 alliances, in which each get eight ministers with “decisive ministers” for the March 14 and 8 coalitions.
Abdullah Azzam Brigades Says Project
Targeting Iran, Hizbullah to Continue
Naharnet/Abdullah Azzam Brigades accused Hizbullah on Tuesday of removing the respirator of Majed al-Majed, who died in Lebanon recently, stressing that its project against Iran and the party will go on.
“The Sheikh (al-Majed) was in a come when he was detained and his condition deteriorated... prompting Hizbullah to remove his respirator,” a statement issued by the group that is loyal to al-Qaida said via twitter.
The statement pointed out that al-Majed's illness forced him to resort to a high medical care since December 4, 2012.
“When al-Majed was submitted into hospitals he was in a coma... The Iranian party couldn't reach him until he was detained in December 27, 2013 after reports about his illness emerged,” the brigades pointed out.
The statement noted that alleged reports that Hizbullah questioned al-Majed is “mere fabrications and an attempt to achieve moral victory on his account.”
It criticized "attacks against Sunnis orchestrated by Iran's party, which controls Lebanon's military intelligence and manipulates it at will."
It also said Iran "manipulates all Lebanese state institutions to protect both its interests and those of its Baathist ally in Syria," a reference to President Bashar Assad.
The brigades considered that al-Majed left behind him capable men, who could lead after him.
“His project will continue to target Iran and its party (Hizbullah) and the Jewish aggressors to defend Sunnis and those who are oppressed.”
Brigades member Sirajeddin Zreikat had already threatened more attacks in Lebanon until Hezbollah ends its intervention.
Al-Majed, a Saudi national, died in Lebanon earlier this month while undergoing treatment at the Central Military Hospital after his health deteriorated, the army said in a communique.
He is accused of being behind the suicide bombing that targeted the Iranian embassy in Beirut on November 19, 2013, and he was detained in December of the same year and had been held at a secret location.
He was also wanted by Saudi Arabia on terrorism charges.
The Lebanese army said in a communique that al-Majed was detained on December 26, 2013, noting that DNA testing confirmed his identity.
The group was formed in 2009 and is believed to have branches in both the Arabian Peninsula and Lebanon.
The Lebanese unit is named after Ziad al-Jarrah, a Lebanese who took part in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
It is named for the Palestinian mentor of the late al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden. He was killed in a 1989 bomb blast.
According to Islamist sites, Majed was revealed to be the leader of the Brigades in 2012.
In 2009, Lebanon sentenced Majed in absentia to life in prison for belonging to a different extremist group, the al-Qaida-inspired Fatah al-Islam.
Electricite du Liban Contract Workers
Reopen Dora Highway after Promises by Jreissati
Naharnet /Electricite du Liban contract workers decided on Tuesday to reopen Dora highway as a goodwill gesture after promises by Caretaker Labor Minister Salim Jreissati to follow up the case of KVA service provider company's decision to sack 62 workers. Jreissati described after talks with a delegation from the contract workers committee the company's decision as “arbitrary dismissal.” He called on the KVA company to return the 62 sacked employees back to their posts immediately, saying that Wednesday's meeting with KVA management will be decisive. The EDL committee warned after the meeting that it will force the closure of all EDL branches across Lebanon if Wednesday's meeting didn't reach any fruitful results. A scuffle that erupted on Tuesday between EDL contract workers and security forces as the employees were trying to block the road near KVA company in Dora, north of Beirut, with burning tires, prompted the employees to sit in the middle of the highway. Tens of drivers were stranded in their cars as the road closure caused bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Head of the committee Lebnan Makhoul earlier warned that the contract workers will escalate their measures if the company doesn't avert its decision to dismiss 62 workers. The furious workers said that the Internal Security Forces hit the protesters. Makhoul accused police members of “treating protesters in an unethical way,” vowing to continue their movement. “We will not back down until the company gives back the 62 workers their jobs back,” he stressed. Makhoul pointed out that the families of the discharged workers are participating in the sit-in near the KVA company. Jreissati said earlier in comments to LBCI that blocking roads will not resolve the case nor achieve the demanded results. He called on the contract workers to delegate several workers to the ministry to tackle the matter with him and kick off investigations concerning the arbitrary dismissal of the workers.
However, the workers replied to the Minister inviting him to join them on the ground and discuss the matter with them, stressing that they will not leave the street. "Until the sacked workers return to their jobs we will not open the road," the contract workers said. Caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel held a telephone conversation with Makhoul in an effort to persuade them to reopen the Dora highway and end their sit-in.
“We don't trust the Labor Minister and we will not open the road until our demands are carried out,” Makhoul told Charbel. On Saturday, the contract workers held a sit-in near EDL state-run company headquarters’s in Mar Mikhael in Beirut to demand the management of KVA, a private company, to give the sacked workers their jobs back. The committee warned that it would trigger off a labor movement starting to “topple the plan of service providers.” The statement urged politicians to speed up the approval of an urgent draft-law on the employment of the contract workers. It also urged the management of SP -service providing companies - to “withdraw the intruding workers and mainly foreigners who have been trained by contract workers.”
Miqati in Kuwait for Syria Donors
Naharnet/Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Miqati arrived Tuesday in Kuwait to represent Lebanon in the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, which will kick off Wednesday under the chairmanship of U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon. “Following his arrival, Miqati headed to his residence location at the Bayan Palace,” his office said. The conference aims to raise $6.5 billion for more than 13.4 million Syrians facing extreme conditions inside the country and in neighboring nations. At the first donors conference in January 2013, Kuwait promised and later paid $300 million out of total pledges of $1.5 billion. The U.N. has described the Syria appeal as the largest ever in its history for a single humanitarian emergency. President Michel Suleiman urged donors during the January 2013 conference to provide Lebanon with $370 million assistance for refugees from Syria and called for countries to take in some of the displaced after ringing the alarm bell. The Lebanese government had approved a $370 million comprehensive plan for the refugees -- $180 for Lebanese state institutions and $190 for international agencies, Suleiman told the conference. Despite expectations of a higher influx in the coming months, the “government insists on keeping the border open,” Suleiman told the first conference around a year ago.
More than 850,000 Syrian refugees are registered in Lebanon, although the real number is thought to total more than one million. Thousands live in makeshift camps built from plastic sheeting and wooden frames while others live in unfinished buildings with only little protection from winter weather.
Jumblat Says Iran Openness in Arabs'
Interest, Slams 'Sharonism' of Some Arab Leaders
Naharnet/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat noted on Tuesday that Iran is open to dialogue with all powers, reported al-Alam television.
He told the station: “Iran's openness falls in the interests of Muslims and Arab countries.”He said that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif was clear in stipulating his country's keenness on Lebanese unity and Lebanon's stability. Zarif ended on Monday a two-day official visit to Lebanon where he held talks with various officials, including President Michel Suleiman, Speaker Nabih Berri, Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Jumblat, and others. He highlighted during his talks the strength of Lebanese-Iranian ties and the importance of forming a new government in Lebanon. Meanwhile, in his weekly editorial in his party's al-Anbaa newspaper, Jumblat said late Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon -- who died Saturday – was "very similar to some leaders in the Arab world who ill-treated their people, displaced them and committed numerous massacres against them.”
“Their violence has created extremism and counter-violence,” Jumblat added. “It seems that 'Sharonism' is an Israeli policy that is being implemented in Israel and the Arab countries,” he went on to say.
Egypt Votes on Constitution as
Violence Highlights Divide
Naharnet/Egyptians queued to vote on a new constitution Tuesday amid high security, in a referendum likely to launch a presidential bid by the army chief who overthrew Islamist president Mohammed Morsi. Polling at most stations got off to a smooth start, but five people were killed in clashes between Morsi supporters and police and anti-Morsi groups in central and southern Egypt, security officials said.
The violence highlighted the government's precarious grip on the most populous Arab country, still reeling from Morsi's ouster and a bloody crackdown on his supporters.
An Islamist coalition led by the former president's Muslim Brotherhood had urged protests and a boycott during the two-day vote. A small bomb exploded without causing injuries outside a Cairo court shortly before polls opened in the morning, as hundreds of thousands of soldiers and police deployed to guard polling stations. The interior ministry had pledged to confront attempts to disrupt voting.
Defense minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the general who overthrew Morsi in July, visited a polling station at a north Cairo school after voting began to inspect security preparations.
"Work hard. We need the referendum to be completely secured," he told soldiers guarding the school. The government hopes a large turnout in favor of the constitution will bolster its disputed authority, while Sisi will monitor it for an "indicator" of his popularity, an official close to the general said. Interim president Adly Mansour urged voters to cast their ballots.
"The people must prove to dark terrorism that they fear nothing," he said after voting. "The voting is not only for the constitution, but also for the roadmap, so the country can have an elected president and a parliament." The referendum will be followed by parliamentary and presidential elections. Security forces deployed in force across the country amid fears a spate of recent spate of militants attacks and protests would discourage voters. At one station for women at a school, dozens queued to cast their ballots, some waving Egyptian flags and chanting pro-military slogans.
"We must be with our police and army so that no one can terrorize us. Even if a bomb exploded in my polling station, I would vote," said Salwa Abdel Fattah, a 50-year-old gynecologist.
It is unclear how many Egyptians will vote because of security worries, but the constitution appears certain to pass. Charter bolsters army's powers
The charter has done away with much of the Islamist-inspired wording of Morsi's constitution, suspended on his overthrow, and its supporters say it expands women's rights and freedom of speech. But it has bolstered the military's powers, granting the army the right to appoint the defense minister for the next eight years and to try civilians for attacks on the armed forces.
The runup to the vote was marred by a crackdown on Morsi's supporters and arrests of activists who campaigned for a "no" vote. The capital has been festooned with banners urging Egyptians to vote "yes", often featuring military motifs such as a general's hat, an allusion to Sisi. Many Islamists revile Sisi as the man who overthrew the country's first freely elected and civilian president, but the general is adored by the millions who took to the streets in July to demand Morsi's resignation. He is widely expected to run for president, and has said he would stand if he felt there was "popular demand," state media reported this week. The authorities are worried a low turnout would empower their Islamist opponents in Morsi's Brotherhood and cast further doubts over their legitimacy, analysts say. "Prove to the world that what happened was a popular revolution," Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said in a visit to a polling station, referring to Morsi's overthrow. Backers of the constitution are hoping for at least a 70 percent vote in favor of the constitution as a satisfying majority.
Morsi's constitution passed with 64 percent of the vote, but on a turnout of barely 33 percent of the country's 53 million voters.At least 1,000 people, mostly Islamists, have been killed in street clashes, and thousands have been imprisoned since the ouster of Morsi, whose supporters have kept up near-daily protests. SourceAgence France Presse
Geagea Warns against Forming a
'Cabinet of Contradictions'
Naharnet /Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea on Monday warned against forming a cabinet containing representatives of both the March 8 and March 14 rival political camps.
“An active cabinet that can pull Lebanon out of this dangerous abyss can only be a cabinet driven by a single horse in the right direction and call it whatever you want to call it,” said Geagea at a rally titled “Era of Justice” that was held in Maarab on the occasion of the imminent start of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon trial. Addressing President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam, Geagea added: “We all want a new cabinet as soon as possible, but not any cabinet is a real cabinet. A cabinet of contradictions will not be able to achieve anything or do anything.”“We want a real government. We are all waiting for you and Lebanon is waiting for you, so don't be late. Do not give up your constitutional powers and act according to your beliefs,” he went on to say, addressing the two leaders. Commenting on the assassination of former minister Mohammed Shatah in a powerful car bombing in downtown Beirut, Geagea said “they did not kill Mohammed Shatah because he was holed up in Qusayr, Qalamoun's mountains or Aleppo” in Syria.
“They did not kill him because he posed a takfiri threat to Lebanon or because he was recruiting suicide bombers,” he added. Geagea noted that “they killed Shatah because he represented a moderate, open-minded approach that exposed the major chasm between him and them.”“They killed you because they did not want the Lebanon that resembles you in moderation, tolerance and enlightenment, but rather the image of (fugitive Fatah al-Islam chief) Shaker al-Absi, which would justify their existence,” added Geagea. “They killed you because they belong to the abominable dark ages,” he said. The LF leader called for adding all the assassination cases to ex-PM Hariri's case, which is being probed by the STL, “given the fact that they are all connected.” “The era of justice and truth for Lebanon has come. It is the first time that we sense the presence of a serious will to achieve justice,” he said, referring to the start of the STL trial on January 16. “It would have not been possible to achieve a sense of justice in Lebanon had it not been for the heroic steadfastness of the Lebanese in the face of the killing machine,” he noted.“The era of justice has come so that life can return to normal. Our objective is not punishment, but rather to protect Lebanon from the hands of criminals and to establish a real state,” Geagea clarified. He emphasized that “the triumph of justice would be a triumph for all the Lebanese,” pointing out that “those saying justice would undermine coexistence want neither justice nor coexistence." In an apparent reference to Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, who has said that the rival political camps “are causing all the bombings,” Geagea said “someone who is suffering from despair and a blurred vision has put the blame equally on both parties.” “If both the victim and the criminal are responsible for the crime, then this is the the end of the world with all due honesty,” said Geagea. “Choosing between the state and the fictional state, the criminal and the victim, stability and instability, justice and tyranny, freedom and oppression, and enlightenment and darkness is exactly like choosing between good and evil. There is no place for retreat or neutrality,” he added.
The cabinet formation process was put on the front burner after Speaker Nabih Berri proposed a revised 8-8-8 government formula and President Suleiman said he would form a so-called neutral cabinet if the political rivals don't agree on an all-embracing government within ten days. Amid the LF's rejection of Hizbullah's participation in the cabinet, the March 14 camp has reportedly accepted the 8-8-8 formula in principle, but it is awaiting answers pertaining to the ministerial policy statement and the rotation of portfolios among political parties.
Assad killed Bashir Gemayel in 1982 and triggered Sabra and Shatila massacres to trap Israel and its Lebanese allies
by HAMEED GHURIAFI January 13, 2014
As soon as Israel announced the death of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Arab and international web-based news agencies rushed to unveil the "bloody record" of the Israeli leader and how he came to be known allegedly as the "butcher of Sabra and Chatila" Palestinian camps in September 1982. While it is hard to dispute Sharon's rough military history, many questions remain surrounding his involvement in the Sabra and Chatila massacres.
Notable Lebanese-American historians who have researched the tragic events that occurred at the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Chatila in 1982, flatly dismissed allegations of Ariel Sharon's direct involvement in the killings. Dr. Franck Salameh, Professor of Near Eastern studies at Boston College, revealed in his article titled "Syrian Responsibility for The Sabra and Chatila Massacres"(http://www.familysecuritymatters.org/publications/id.11159/pub_detail.asp) that the troops who conducted the massacres were selected by a Kataeb (Lebanese Forces) military commander Elie Hobeika who had established secret contacts with the Syrian Baathist regime of Hafez al-Assad.
Hobeika's henchmen were reportedly instructed to kill indiscriminately men, women, infants and elderly Palestinians and place the blame for the horrific massacres on late-President-elect Bashir Gemayel and then-Israeli Defence Minister Ariel Sharon. It certainly was not a pure coincidence that the killings took place 48 hours after the Syrian-engineered assassination of Gemayel. Salameh's startling revelation was eerily reminiscent of the allegations made in 1999 by Elie Hobeika's former bodyguard, Robert Hatem.
Pope's choice of new cardinals puts emphasis on poor
By Philip Pullella | Reuters – Sun, 12 Jan, 2014
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis put his first stamp on the group at the top of the Roman Catholic hierarchy on Sunday, naming 19 new cardinals from around the world and emphasizing his concern for poor countries. Sixteen of them are "cardinal electors" under 80 and thus eligible to enter a conclave to elect a pope. They come from Italy, Germany, Britain, Nicaragua, Canada, Ivory Coast, Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, Chile, Burkina Faso, the Philippines and Haiti. Half of them are non-Europeans, indicating the importance Francis attaches to the developing world. Francis is the first Latin American pope and the first non-European pontiff in some 1,300 years. Cardinals are the pope's closest advisers in the Vatican and around the world. Apart from being church leaders in their home countries, those who are not based in the Vatican are members of key committees in Rome that decide policies that can affect the lives of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. The new cardinal electors are aged from 55 to 74. From Latin America are Archbishop Aurelio Poli, 66, Francis's successor in the Argentine capital, and the archbishops of Managua in Nicaragua, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Santiago in Chile.Two are from Africa - the archbishops of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and Abidjan in Ivory Coast. From Asia are the archbishops of Seoul in South Korea and Cotabato in the Philippines. Archbishop Chibly Langlois, 55, is the first cardinal from Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, where according to the World Bank some 80 percent of the rural population lives in abject poverty.
The Philippines, Nicaragua, Ivory Coast and Brazil also have high rates of poverty.
A POOR CHURCH
"The winner here is the South of the world," said Andrea Tornielli, who has written some 50 books on the Catholic Church and interviewed Pope Francis last month.
"The geography of the consistory helps the churches of the world, particularly in Latin America, Africa and Asia. What is also noteworthy is the pope's attention to the Church in Haiti, a country that is on its knees because of the (2010) earthquake and poverty," Tornielli said. The pope, who made the announcement to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square for his Sunday blessing, has often said since his election on March 13 he wants a church that "is poor and for the poor". "The disproportionate representation of wealthy nations in the College of Cardinals is something that Francis is trying to rectify," said Candida Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at Notre Dame University in the United States. "The movement of cardinals to the south was just as predictable as the migration of birds in the winter."
Only four of the cardinal electors are Vatican officials, chief among them Italian Archbishop Pietro Parolin, 58, Francis's new secretary of state, and Archbishop Gerhard Mueller, 66, the German head of the Vatican's doctrinal congregation. The most prominent European elector from outside Italy is Archbishop Vincent Nichols, 68, the Archbishop of Westminster in London and the main link between Catholicism and the Anglican Church.
The three who are 80 or over will assume the title cardinal emeritus as a sign of gratitude for their work for the Catholic Church and will not be able to enter a conclave. They come from Spain, Italy and the Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Andrew Roche and Sophie Hares)
French first lady hospitalized after report of president's secret liaison
PARIS - The woman considered France's first lady was hospitalized after a report the president is having an affair with an actress, her office said Sunday, as a poll was released showing the French shrugging off any liaison as none of their business. Valerie Trierweiler was hospitalized Friday — the day the magazine report and photo spread came out — for "rest and a few tests," said her chief of staff, Patrice Biancone. He said she was expected to leave Monday. Hollande has never married but has had longtime relationships with Trierweiler and before her with French Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal, with whom he has four children. Rumours have circulated for months that he might have another lover. French media face strict privacy laws, but in recent years have chipped away at the tradition of ignoring the private lives of public figures.
The magazine Closer published images Friday showing a bodyguard and a helmeted man it said was Hollande visiting Julie Gayet, 41, a moderately known French actress who appeared in a clip for his 2012 presidential campaign. Hollande's popularity is already at historic lows over his failure to improve the economy, but a poll released over the weekend indicated the latest developments left the majority of French untroubled.
According to the Ifop poll for the weekly Journal du dimanche, 77 per cent of those asked believed the liaison should be private. The poll was released before the hospitalization of Trierweiler was made public.
Hollande himself would agree, saying in a statement that he was weighing possible legal action for "the attacks on respect for privacy, to which each citizen has a right."
For a president whose approval ratings hover around 25 per cent, however, the weekend survey had less good news. More than 8 in 10 said their opinion of him had not changed.
The telephone poll of 1,025 adults was conducted on Friday and Saturday. No margin of error was given in Sunday's publication of its results, but such polls often have one of about 3 percentage points.
Syrian Responsibility for the Sabra and Chatila Massacres
by DR FRANCK SALAMEH January 5, 2012
After the massacres.
This past September marked the twenty-ninth anniversary of the assassination of Lebanon’s president-elect Bashir Gemayel. Like its most recent clone, the 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, memories of the 1982 crime continue to haunt many Lebanese, some of whom are still persuaded its perpetrators to have been Syrian operatives bent on scuttling end-of-conflict prospects for Lebanon. Today, as Syria’s “Alawite era” teeters on the edge of its twilight, and as the international community prepares to indict it for ongoing crimes against its own people, the regime’s shady gruesome past is coming back to assail its tattered present days.
Although few Westerners today might remember Bashir Gemayel (or his assassination), and fewer still might be tempted to consider the motivations of those who commissioned his murder, rare are those who would not readily recall the massacres at Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps, and rarer still are those who would not attribute those crimes to “right-wing” Lebanese-Christian militiamen—ostensibly bent on avenging their fallen leader. Never mind that Gemayel’s elimination and the ensuing massacres of Palestinian civilians hardly served the cause of Lebanon’s Christians. Indeed, the events in question plunged Lebanon into another eight years of bloodshed, tightened Syria’s grip over the country, turned it into a Syrian “satellite state” wholly bound to the whims and will of Damascus, and reduced the status of Lebanon’s Christians to a state of subservience and political insignificance. Yet, the narrative that attributes Gemayel’s killing to Israeli agents, and the Sabra and Shatila massacres to Israel’s Lebanese Christian allies—getting Syria off scot free—still has its defenders, and still defines a significant chapter in Lebanon’s modern history.
Today, as Syria veers toward civil war, as its military occupation of Lebanon seems to be a thing of the past, and as the international “Special Tribunal for Lebanon” readies to finger Syrian officials (beginning with the recent indictment of their Hezbollah foot-soldiers) for a string of political assassinations that have shook Lebanon since 2005, a revision of the pleasing narrative of an Israeli and (a “right-wing”)Lebanese Christian involvement in Sabra and Shatila seems fitting.
Besides the Kahan Commission's mention of armed elements dressed in Lebanese Forces uniforms entering Sabra and Shatila between September 16 and the morning of September 18, 1982, there is no hard usable evidence to support the scenario of murderous Lebanese Christians itching to mete out revenge on Palestinian refugees for the assassination of President-elect Bashir Gemayel; that is to say there is no concrete usable evidence besides eyewitness reports of "men dressed in LF uniforms"—knowing full well that "uniforms" of every stripe were a dime a dozen in civil-war-era Lebanon.
Of course a scenario such as this remains tempting, and in the context of Lebanon's war—and its cycles of tit-for-tat massacres and counter massacres—it would have made plenty of sense for Christian militias to exact revenge on Palestinians for the killing of their leader. However, there is no evidence to bear this out beyond the circumstantial. Of course, an argument could be made—and indeed one was made—that rogue elements of the Lebanese Forces, without knowledge or express directives from the LF's leadership, entered the camps with the intent of killing Palestinian civilians. The question that begs being asked in this case would be, "why would LF members commit these crimes, flaunting easily identifiable insignia and uniforms, incriminating themselves and their community, at a time when Lebanon's Christians had been hard at work for reconciliation with other constitutive elements of Lebanese society?"
It should be noted here that Bashir Gemayel's first official act as President-elect of the Lebanese Republic in 1982 was not—as many at that time might have predicted—dismissing Lebanon's Muslims, suing for partition, or signing a peace treaty with Israel without the endorsement of Lebanon's Muslims. To the contrary, his first official act was to reach out to Lebanon's Muslims and attempt to build a national unity government that would have eventually signed a peace treaty reflecting national consensus, not Christian communal interests.
Incidentally, throughout their troubled twentieth-century history, Lebanon's Maronites always opted for reconciliation, power-sharing, and a "multi-ethnic," rather than a purely Maronite or a Maronite-dominated state. To wit, when the French warned the Maronites about the "demographic time bomb" that Grand Liban of 1920 would become in twenty years’ time and advised them to construct a smaller "Christian homeland" instead, the Maronites opted for a "larger Lebanon" as a model of multi-ethnic (Christian-Muslim) coexistence. When another such opportunity for a smaller, culturally homogenous, Christian Lebanon offered itself in 1926, the Maronites still opted for "coexistence" with Lebanon’s Muslims. They did so time and again in 1936, in 1958, in 1976, and most importantly, at the height of their political and military power, in 1982. What is more, Bashir Gemayel's assassination dashed the hopes and snuffed the exuberance of a wide cross-section of Lebanese society—Muslims and Christians alike—and in the aftermath of his death the LF were scrambling to deal with the trauma, the disarray, the mass popular despondency, and the political vacuum that his sudden disappearance had left. It is, therefore, more than dubious that in a moment of national trauma such as this, the LF leadership would be plotting and executing a massacre that not only would have tarnished their image among the Muslims they'd been courting, but one that would have impugned their very legitimacy in the wider Arab world—which Bashir had been visiting for years prior, promoting his presidential platform and his national salvation and reconciliation project, and hawking his intent on hammering out an eventual “end-of-conflict” agreement with Israel.
The missing link in this drama is Elie Hobeika, a former LF member and senior officer long suspected of being a Syrian agent. In January 2002 Hobeika was assassinated in a car bomb plot reminiscent of the one that killed former prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005. Lebanese officials (then still under Syrian occupation) immediately blamed Israel for the Hobeika assassination given that the latter had allegedly been preparing to testify in a Belgian court case believed to be on the verge of implicating then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in the Sabra and Shatila massacres. However, close Hobeika associates and family members recently revealed that, at that time, Hobeika had been more concerned with clearing his own name than with implicating Sharon in the massacres. Indeed, a Belgian senator who had met with Hobeika shortly before the latter's assassination revealed to al-Jazeera on January 26, 2002 (two days after Hobeika's assassination) that Hobeika had no intention of identifying Sharon (or Israel for that matter) as the responsible party in the Sabra and Shatila massacres. This leaves (as only remaining "person of interest") Baathist Syria; a notoriously murderous regime that is showing its mettle in today’s Syria, and that had mastered to the hilt the skills of "arsonist-fireman" in Lebanon these past forty years.
Syria stood to gain most from the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, as well as from the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Among other payoffs reaped, this “cold case” stunted all attempts at Lebanese national reconciliation, it scuttled the prospects of peace with Israel, it extended the Lebanese war for another decade, it maintained Syria’s occupation of the country for another twenty-three years, it tightened its grip over the functioning of the Lebanese state, it continued using Lebanon as a launching pad for Syria’s regional settling of scores, and it provided the Alawites with a bottomless private piggy-bank bankrolling their wars-by-proxy.
Murder, mayhem, arson, and intrigue have indeed defined the Alawite era in the modern Levant, and have kept Syria’s Alawites firmly ensconced in power. The world’s powers that be ignored (or condoned) Syria’s bad behavior. They did so mainly for fear that what may be lurking in a post-Alawite state might prove much worse than the inconvenient present: “it is us or chaos” went an ominous forewarning that the Assads conveyed to credulous visiting dignitaries—among them America’s seasoned Clintons and Kerrys. But has the Alawite “Us” been anything but “Chaos” these past forty years? Isn’t it time the world considered the “chaotic” alternative? Isn’t it time inhumed “cold cases” got lain open again?
**Family Security Matters Contributor Dr Franck Salameh is assistant professor of Slavic and Eastern Languages at Boston College. He received his PhD in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies from Brandeis University in 2004
Obama withholds from Israel details of
nuclear accord with Iran: Tehran denies dismantling its program
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report January 14, 2014/US Vice President Joe Biden when he met Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Monday night, Jan. 13, refused to level with him on the detailed agreements which the Americans claimed were reached by the six powers and Iran in their talks earlier this week on the implementation of their first-stage Geneva accord. This is reported by DEBKAfile’s Washington and Jerusalem sources. It was the first time US President Barack Obama personally vetoed a briefing to Israel on the content of the international nuclear negotiations he instigated - notwithstanding his private and public pledges to Netanyahu of “full transparency.”
This secretiveness has stirred concern and mistrust in Jerusalem on two grounds:
1. It denotes a sharp decline in the strategic relations between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government and leaves Israel in the dark on an issue of vital concern to its security.
2. It is suspected that there is no implementation agreement at all and that the US President, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are repeating the performance they put on three months ago in Geneva. Then, they presented a very general framework of non-binding clauses reached between the six powers and Iran as a genuine, full-fledged, interim accord, when in reality it omitted the details on how and when Iran would dismantle the military side of its nuclear program, and inter alia neglected to address the critical issue of Iran’s nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.
Tehran itself has contradicted these assertions as “misleading," referring specifically to the White House statement of Jan. 12 which said: “From Jan. 20, Iran will for the first time start eliminating its stockpile of higher level enriched uranium and dismantling some of the infrastructure that makes such enrichment possible.”
Three days later, on Tuesday, Jan 15. Iran’s lead negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Aragchi, went on national television with a less than polite denial: “…different interpretations come out of a single document and that is natural,” he said. “But we had better try to have common interpretations, and that is why during the talks we paused a couple of times and continued with the participation of the higher levels.”
Homing in on the White House term “dismantling,” Aragchi countered: “We are aware of Mr. Obama’s problems in Congress, but ‘dismantling’ abuses the word after the recent deal.”
In the light of the conflicting versions coming out the White House and Tehran - and Joe Biden’s refusal to level with Netanyahu on the latest rounds of nuclear talks - Israel is left wondering what in fact US-led international nuclear diplomacy has achieved in the way of curbing Iran’s progress toward a bomb – if anything.
The coming DEBKA Weekly out next Friday, Jan. 17, will offer some pointed answers to those questions. We will also show how President Obama’s policies have opened the door for a major Iranian political offensive in the Middle East, which gives Tehran free rein to meddle profoundly in the affairs of Iraq and Lebanon in addition to Syria.
To read this and more exclusive reporting, become a DEBKA Weekly subscriber and sign on here.
US calls Ya'alon's comments about Kerry 'offensive'; Netanyahu does damage control
By LAHAV HARKOV/REUTERS/J.Post
LAST UPDATED: 01/14/2014/
State Dept. issues rebuke after Ya'alon reportedly calls Kerry "messianic, delusional"; PM says "even when we have disagreements with the US, they are always on the heart of the matter, not on the merits of an individual."Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did damage control on the Israel-US relationship in his speech in honor of the Knesset's 65th birthday, following Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon's comments about US Secretary of State John Kerry."Even when we have disagreements with the US, they are always on the heart of the matter, not on the merits of an individual," Netanyahu said in an apparent dig at Ya'alon, who, according to a Yediot Aharonot report, accused Kerry of being "messianic" and "delusional" when it comes to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The United States on Tuesday rebuked Israel for the comments attributed to the defense minister.
"The remarks of the defense minister, if accurate, are offensive and inappropriate especially given all that the United States is doing to support Israel's security needs," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a brief statement that constituted a rare rebuke to close ally Israel.
"Secretary Kerry and his team, including General (John) Allen, have been working day and night to try to promote a secure peace for Israel because of the secretary's deep concern for Israel's future," she added. "To question his motives and distort his proposals is not something we would expect from the defense minister of a close ally."
Following the reports in Yediot, Ya'alon's bureau released a statement which contained a pledge to smooth over divisions with Washington, but not a denial of the reported remarks.
Relations between the US and Israel are "intimate and are of high significance for us. The US is our greatest friend and most important ally, and when there are divisions we smooth them over inside the room [behind closed doors], including with Secretary of State Kerry, with whom I hold many talks about the future of Israel," the statement said.
Ya'alon vowed to continue to safeguard the security of Israeli citizens with "determination, responsibility, and sound judgment."
"The US is our greatest ally," Netanyahu stated in his speech. "We are partners in goals and joint interests: regional stability, the war on terror, growth, security and peace. We are making efforts to bring security to the region and stand up for our interests."
The prime minister said that true peace depends on recognition of Israel as the Jewish state along with security arrangements that will ensure that "the land in the Palestinians' hands will not turn into terrorist launching pads."
However, he said, those aims must be reached "while respecting our important connection with the US."
"We stand up for our national interests and one of those is continuing to cultivate our connection with our ally, the US," Netanyahu added.
President Shimon Peres thanked US President Barack Obama "for his full responsiveness to our security and intelligence needs" and Kerry for his "determined efforts to make peace."
"There is no doubt [Obama] wants to see a peaceful Middle East," Peres told the Knesset. "Our deep friendship with the US is a central component of Israel's security and an impetus for peace in the Middle East."
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) also referred to Ya'alon's comments, saying that the relationship with the US is essential and "we shouldn't call them 'messianic' or 'delusional' or any other derogatory nicknames."
Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.
Rouhani boasts of West's 'surrender'
to Iran in nuclear talks
By REUTERS/Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took to social media on Tuesday to boast that the interim nuclear agreement reached between Tehran and the P5+1 nations was the result of the “world powers surrender[ing] to the Iranian nation’s will.” The UN nuclear watchdog said on Tuesday a planned meeting with Iran next week to discuss steps meant to ease concerns over its nuclear program has been pushed back to Feb. 8 at Tehran's request.The International Atomic Energy Agency did not say why Tehran asked for a delay. But the original date, Jan. 21, is just a day after Iran and big powers are to start implementing an interim deal on curbing Iranian nuclear activity, suggesting a busy agenda in coming days may have led to the postponement.The IAEA has been tasked with checking that Iran carries out its end of the six-month preliminary accord, so the UN agency is also facing an extra workload. The IAEA-Iran negotiations that have now been postponed are separate from - albeit still closely aligned with - broader, high-level diplomacy between Tehran and six world powers over Iran's nuclear program. In November, Iran and the IAEA struck a cooperation pact, including six initial steps to be taken by Tehran over the following three months, entailing access to two nuclear-related facilities and the provision of information. They said after a review meeting last month they would meet again in Tehran on Jan. 21 to discuss the next steps under the framework agreement.
Western diplomats say those measures may be increasingly difficult to negotiate, as the IAEA has made clear it wants to resume a long-blocked investigation into what it calls the possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program. IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor confirmed that the date of the meeting had been changed and that "this was at Iran's request". There was no immediate comment from Iran's IAEA mission.
The IAEA wants Iran to address allegations that it has researched how to develop a nuclear bomb, a charge Iran denies. The Islamic Republic says its nuclear energy program is wholly peaceful. But it concealed sensitive activity from IAEA inspectors in the past, stoking suspicions abroad. Iran and the six powers - the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia - said on Sunday the implementation of their Nov. 24 preliminary accord would begin on Monday. Iran agreed to scale back some activity of potential use in producing a nuclear bomb, in return for some easing of economic sanctions.
The IAEA will play a pivotal role in verifying that Iran fulfils its part of the bargain. A group of IAEA inspectors will travel to Iran on Saturday "to implement the first step" of the accord, Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said.
The landmark agreement, nailed down after a decade-long standoff, appeared to stem a slide towards another Middle East war over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, although diplomats warn that mistrust remains so deep it will not be easy to implement. The IAEA's 35-nation Board of Governors is to hold an extraordinary meeting on Jan. 24 to discuss the extra work burden facing inspectors in monitoring the pact between Iran and the six states, diplomats said on Tuesday. The IAEA has long inspected Iranian nuclear sites regularly to ensure no diversions of material for military purposes. It will now both increase the frequency of such visits and examine additional sites including plants where Iran manufactures equipment for refining uranium. Enriched uranium can fuel nuclear power plants or, if processed much further, nuclear bombs. For its increased workload, the IAEA likely needs to send more inspectors to Iran. It has tentatively identified extra costs of some 5 million euros ($6.83 million), to be funded in part by voluntary member state contributions, diplomats said.
Egypt's New Constitution: Bleak
Eric Trager/Washington Institute
As Egypt prepares to vote on a constitution that could prove economically ruinous or, at best, ineffectual, Washington and its regional allies should discuss ways of encouraging Cairo to pursue much-needed reforms.
Egypt's new draft constitution reflects the coalition of leftist political parties and entrenched state actors that helped oust President Muhammad Morsi from power in July. In the short run, the strength of this coalition -- and its ability to achieve a convincing mandate in the January constitutional referendum -- will determine whether the political transition can move forward. In the longer run, however, Egypt's outlook remains bleak: either the massive state spending that the new constitution mandates will be enforced and thereby wreak economic havoc, or the charter will not be enforced, in which case the country will continue to be governed by an unreliable legal system.
In December 2012, following mass outcry over a constitutional declaration that placed his own edicts above judicial scrutiny, Morsi ordered the Islamist-dominated parliament to complete a new draft constitution within forty-eight hours and then put it to a referendum two weeks later. Although that constitution passed with 64 percent of the vote, the low 33 percent turnout undermined its popular legitimacy, and the noninclusive nature of the drafting process catalyzed a mass opposition movement that eventually culminated in Morsi's July 3 ouster.
As a result, the military-backed government that replaced Morsi made amending the charter a first-order priority. A July 8 declaration suspended the constitution and outlined a new process under which a ten-member committee of legal experts would amend it. Afterward, a fifty-member committee "representing all categories of society and demographic diversities" reviewed, amended, and approved the draft. While the latter committee drew from across the social spectrum, it was ideologically consistent with the coalition that ousted Morsi: it contained only two Islamists, neither of which were Muslim Brothers, and a plurality hailed from non-Islamist parties that have historically won very few votes in elections.
TO THE REBELS GO THE SPOILS
The current draft constitution reflects the anti-Morsi coalition in three respects. First, it is far less Islamist than its predecessor. While it maintains that "the principles of the Islamic sharia are the principal source of legislation" (Article 2), it erases Article 219, which delineated the specific sharia sources on which to base legislation. It also removes Article 44, which prohibited "Insult or abuse of all religious messengers and prophets," and modifies the article regarding al-Azhar, the country's preeminent Islamic institution of learning, which no longer must be consulted "in matters pertaining to Islamic law." Most notably, the new constitution bans religious parties (Article 74).
Second, the new draft grants broad autonomy to the security services, military, and other state institutions that participated in Morsi's ouster. For example, it establishes a Supreme Police Council, which must be consulted on all laws pertaining to the police (Article 207). And in addition to granting each judicial body "an independent budget" and the autonomy to "administer its own affairs" (Article 185), it empowers the Supreme Constitutional Court's General Assembly to select the court's leadership (Article 193). It also empowers the Supreme Judicial Council to appoint the government's prosecutor-general (Article 189), an authority granted to the president under the previous constitution.
The new draft is particularly generous toward the military. The preamble emphasizes that the military has been the state's "pillar" since nineteenth-century ruler Muhammad Ali, and hails "our patriotic army" that "delivered victory to the sweeping popular will in the January 25-June 30 Revolution." Like the previous constitution, the latest draft mandates that the defense minister be a military officer (Article 201), protects the military's autonomy over its budgets by empowering a security-dominated National Defense Council to review them (Article 203), and allows civilians to be tried before military courts (Article 204). But the new charter goes even further, requiring less legislative oversight for military trials, mandating that the defense minister can only be appointed with the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces during the next two presidential terms (Article 234), and empowering the state to fight "all types and forms of terrorism" (Article 237) -- a virtual carte blanche for the military in its ongoing crackdown against pro-Brotherhood forces.
Third, the new draft reflects leftist parties' insistence on a more expansive government role in providing social services. In addition to the many state responsibilities envisioned in the previous constitution, the charter now commits the government to "achieving social justice" (Article 8), providing "food resources to all citizens" (Article 79), and guaranteeing the elderly "appropriate pensions to ensure them a decent standard of living" (Article 83). It also mandates an exorbitant level of specific state spending: at least 3 percent of gross domestic product must be spent on healthcare (Article 18), 4 percent on education (Article 19), 2 percent on higher education (Article 21), and 1 percent on scientific research (Article 23) -- all of which must be put into effect by fiscal year 2016/2017 (Article 238).
MOVING EGYPT'S TRANSITION FORWARD?
The fact that the new draft reflects Egypt's current governing coalition is neither surprising nor novel. The previous constitution similarly embodied the coalition that governed only a year ago, giving Morsi and the ruling Islamists a substantial foothold for instituting their theocratic agenda while securing the military's buy-in by granting it unprecedented autonomy (see PolicyWatch 2001). Still, the immediate future of Egypt's transition hinges on whether the current coalition is more durable than the previous one, which collapsed barely six months after the constitution was approved via referendum.
In the short run, the answer depends on the new referendum scheduled for January 14-15. Although it is expected to pass -- no Egyptian referendum has ever yielded a "no" vote -- a wide "yes" margin with high turnout and low voter suppression would likely solidify the current coalition and legitimize the parliamentary and presidential elections that will follow. Alternatively, a narrow "yes" vote would undermine the viability of the current process significantly, especially if accompanied by low turnout and/or widespread repression. Those rejecting the transition would be encouraged to intensify their protests, and some leftist party leaders might defect from the governing coalition. Both scenarios are plausible at the moment: polls suggest that the military, the key institution backing the current constitutional draft, retains strong support, but frustration with the transition has mounted in recent months, and participation in demonstrations against the military-backed government has broadened beyond the Brotherhood, particularly on university campuses.
Even if a successful referendum allows the political transition to move forward, the massive state spending that the new constitution entails is unsustainable in the long term, suggesting that the current government has no intention of fully enforcing the charter. In particular, if the government fulfills the constitutional requirement to spend 10 percent of GDP -- not merely 10 percent of its budget -- on specific social services, it could catalyze a severe cash crunch that would jeopardize food and fuel subsidies, angering large sectors of the population and potentially broadening support for antigovernment demonstrations. The latest economic data highlights the substantial risk of such massive state spending: Egypt's cash reserves fell from $18.6 billion to $17.8 billion between October and November, and the government does not expect indefinite generosity from the wealthy Persian Gulf states that pledged $12 billion to Cairo following Morsi's removal. Yet if the government tries to avoid these outcomes by not following the new constitution, Egypt will continue to lack the legal rationalism that any stable political system requires.
Given the U.S. interest in a stable Egypt moving toward effective civilian rule, Washington's response to the upcoming referendum should emphasize both short- and long-term goals. This means encouraging a fair and clean voting process by pledging to lift the post-Morsi suspension of U.S. military aid if the referendum is conducted properly. But since even a successful referendum will saddle Egypt with a constitution that either sinks its economy or remains largely unenforced, Washington and its regional allies should begin examining strategies for encouraging Cairo to undertake much-needed economic and political reforms.
**Eric Trager is the Wagner Fellow at The Washington Institute.
A day after his burial, Sharon's grave is a pilgrimage site
Yoav Zitun/Ynetnews/Students from Haifa, Sharon's former driver, and his political heir Ehud Olmert are just some of those who made the journey to the Negev burial site.
Less than 24 hours after his burial, Ariel Sharon has become as much of a legend in death as he was in life. His grave is now a pilgrimage site. Not just for those who remember his decades-long career as a soldier and politician, but also, it seems, for young Israelis."This is a very special place. I have learned many things about Sharon, like his activities in Unit 101, the battle at Latrun and the political decisions he made as prime minister," said 17-year-old Mike Cohen, a high school student from Haifa, who arrived at the gravesite Tuesday morning with his friends. From the early hours, Israelis began to arrive at Anemone Hill, where Israel's eleventh prime minister was laid to rest Monday beside Lily, his wife of 37 years. The first to arrive were the students from Haifa. They made their way south in preparation for their annual school trip. Their humanities teacher, Ilana Aron, says her students were very excited: "In recent days they have heard a great deal about Sharon's condition. To stand by his grave – this is a special moment for them."hroughout the day, more and more people made the climb up the hill. Among them was Ehud Olmert, Sharon's deputy in Kadima, and the man who stepped in as prime minister and party leader when Sharon was incapacitated by that fateful stroke in 2006. Olmert paid his respects at the grave, and then headed to the family home, where Sharon's sons are sitting shiva (mourning). Sharon's driver for 20 years, Gilbert Cohen, also visited Tuesday. "I came this morning simply to be with Arik, to be by his side," he said. "When I stand here, it takes me back to the day when I arrived at the Sycamore Ranch to start work as a driver. That day my entire body was shaking."
Cohen also came to ask forgiveness for any past transgressions. "I hope that the Israeli people know how to cherish a man like this."Among the other visitors were Zivit Zaruk and her mother Penina Kirshner, who came from nearby the Nir Moshe moshav to pay their respects.
"This is definitely a sad day for us," Zaruk said. "Sharon was an amazing man and deserving of unprecedented public support. I doubt there will be leaders of his ilk in the future."
Eli Cohen of Beersheba was also there. He recalled how his father would tell him stories of his experiences when he served with Sharon in the Sinai. "My father would tell me astounding stories about Sharon," he said. "In his view, Sharon was the number one soldier The police believe the number of visitors to Anemone Hill will onlhy swell in coming days, in particular at the weekend, and that the spot will become a local landmark.
The trend of fanaticism and fear in Egypt and Kuwait
Diana Moukalled/Asharq Alawsat
Do you think Abla Fahita was tortured while being interrogated? Do you think she willingly confessed her involvement in a conspiracy where she secretly conveyed coded messages to terrorists in a TV advertisement? And how did the ‘evil’ Muslim Brotherhood manage to expand its terrorism to the extent of exploiting puppets? We’ve been asking these questions as we both laughed and cried while following the farce of the ‘terrorist’ Abla Fahita, a Muppet-like character used in commercials for the telecommunications company Vodafone. It all came about after a public figure in Egypt accused the famous puppet of the TV ad plot. The funny part here is not only the accusation, but also the fact that Egyptian security took the allegation seriously, investigated it, then tried to turn what was a blatant joke into a national security issue. We can only congratulate the person whose rich imagination managed to inspire such collective delirium. At the same time, a Kuwaiti member of parliament delivered a statement on TV voicing his anger and demanding that a so-called poetry master, Jalaluddin Al-Rumi, be banned from holding a reading so as not to corrupt the morals of women in the audience. The MP added: “We have no master but God,” and demanded that the poet be dealt with strictly.
I don’t want to believe that this representative of his country does not really know who the great poet Rumi is and in which century he lived. (He died in 1273.) Not only that, but this MP went on to demand that the poet, who has been dead for more than 700 years, be barred from entering the country! Jokes aside, what does all this indicate? It seems that fear has become a phobia, inseparable from us. When I say fear, I don’t mean that fear we feel when we watch on TV the atrocities committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or by the Syrian regime, or the fear that arises from hearing about the explosions in Iraq and Lebanon. Rather, it’s the panic we feel when we realize our minds are being destroyed in preparation for the killing of our body. Yes, we are witnessing what resembles the death of the revolutions that three years ago gave us such hope. This ‘execution’ is being carried out by two fanatical parties: one is religious and another military. This fundamentalism aims to deform our minds and make us crazy through the demonization of a puppet and the proliferation of ignorance, as demonstrated by a representative of the public.