May 02/14


Bible Quotation for today/Stop making my Father’s house a market-place
John 2,13-25/: "The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone."

Pope Francis's Tweet For Today

I ask everyone with political responsibility to remember two things: human dignity and the common good.

Pape François

Je demande à tous ceux qui ont une responsabilité politique de ne pas oublier deux choses : la dignité humaine et le bien commun.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For May 02/14

Lebanon's Presidential Race/By: David Schenker/Washington Institute/May 02/14
Daily Star/Maronites fatal divide in Lebanon/ May 02/14
Can Iran save President Obama’s legacy/By: Joyce Karam/ May 02/14

Assad's Reelection Campaign Matters—Really/By: Andrew Tabler/Atlantic Website/May 02/14

Suspended Democracy and Meaningless Institutions/By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat/May 02/14

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For May 02/14

Lebanese Related News

Geagea Urges Election of President in Lebanon, 'Not in Doha or Paris'

Lebanon marks Labor Day amid unresolved wage crisis
Report: Joint Parliamentary Committees Agree on Articles Linked to Funding of Wage Scale

To avoid vacuum ‘at any price’: Rai

Telecommunications Minister Butros Harb Agrees with Jumblat to Seek 'New Ideas' on Presidential Vote
Bishop Mazloum: Lack of Quorum in 2nd Round of Votes Was Expected, Camps Trying to Outsmart Each other
Israeli Force Searching for 'Suspicious Object' near Kfarkila
Dialogue Session Scheduled for Monday, Suleiman to Deliver 2 'Important' Speeches This Weekend
Lebanese Army Arrests Five Suspects in Dahieh on Various Charges
Report: Mustaqbal-FPM Talks to Cover Issues Other than Presidential Polls

Report: March 14 to Hold Intense Talks on Presidential Polls as Riyadh Keen to Hold them on Time
Monsignor Labaki's Lawyer Says No Rulings Received on Child Abuse Case, Assures His Defendant’s Innocence

Minister Boutros Harb 'Ready to Forgive' His Attempted Assassin

Drugs Seized inside Painting at the Beirut Airport

Presidential vote awaits regional accord

Autumn wedding in London for Clooney and Alamuddin

Lebanon in Frenzy over Clooney-Alamuddin Engagement

Bassil promises to ease citizenship for expatriates

Miscellaneous Reports And News

Iran Raps U.S. Report Keeping It on Terror List

Kerry: Mideast peace process on 'pause'

Israeli PM to push Basic Law that will define Israel as 'Jewish state'

PM to push Basic Law that will define Israel as 'Jewish state'

New Islamic fatwa: Foreign Muslims can visit Jerusalem's Temple Mou

Israel Police Challenge U.S. 'Terror' Findings

David the Nahal Soldier” goes viral. Army chief: Facebook is not a tool of command
24 Syrians register to run in presidential election
Iraq's Maliki welcomes election turnout

Votes Being Counted but New Iraq Govt. Months Away  


Lebanon's Presidential Race
David Schenker /Washington Institute
May 1, 2014
The thorny parliamentary process of selecting a new president could rekindle violence if it results in substantial delays or further sectarian friction.
Last week, Lebanon's parliament convened for the first round of balloting to elect a new president. While Samir Geagea -- who leads the Christian "Lebanese Forces" party, which is aligned with the pro-Western March 14 coalition -- received the most votes, he failed to secure the requisite two-thirds parliamentary support. In the coming weeks, legislators are slated to continue meeting until a president is selected. Unlike last week's session, in which the Hezbollah-led March 8 bloc did not challenge Geagea's candidacy, the voting promises to become increasingly contentious in subsequent rounds. Perennial sectarian tensions exacerbated by the war next door in Syria have complicated the historically wrought and arcane election process. Should a compromise candidate not emerge by May 25, the term of current president Michel Suleiman will expire, leaving the post vacant.
In the past, the presidency -- which by law must be held by a Christian -- was the dominant office in Lebanon's government. But the 1989 Taif Accord effectively stripped the position of its powers, delegating them to the prime minister, who must hail from the Sunni Muslim constituency. Given the post's largely symbolic nature, some might argue that the tense selection process is much ado about nothing. Yet the presidency remains an emotionally evocative issue for Lebanese Christians, and both the March 8 and March 14 blocs see a sympathetic chief executive as an important advantage worth fighting for.
Lebanon's confessional system stipulates that the 124 members of parliament elect a Christian president by secret ballot for a six-year term. If no candidate receives a two-thirds majority in the first round of voting, subsequent balloting occurs during which a president can be elected with a simple majority of 65 votes, provided a two-thirds quorum is present.
During round one on April 23, Samir Geagea secured 48 votes. The runner-up with 16 votes was Henri Helou, a Maronite Christian parliamentarian from Aley who is aligned with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party (PSP). Former president Amin Gemayel of the Kataeb Party -- part of the March 14 coalition -- received one vote. In addition, fifty-two blank or spoiled ballots were reportedly submitted, likely by legislators affiliated with March 8. A second round of voting was to take place yesterday but was cancelled because it did not meet the quorum requirement.
For the past decade, Lebanon has been divided into two camps: one pro-Western, the other aligned with Iran and Syria's Bashar al-Assad. Both covet the presidency. The March 14 coalition has declared its support for Geagea and remained disciplined during the first round of balloting. Yet it is difficult to envision him getting 65 votes. Since 2005, he has been the country's most consistent anti-Assad and anti-Hezbollah voice. This principled stand -- along with his convictions for ordering assassinations during the 1975-1990 civil war, crimes for which he served eleven years in solitary confinement -- makes him a highly polarizing figure even by Lebanese standards.
Ostensibly, Hezbollah should be supporting Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun, the Shiite militia's ambitious octogenarian partner in the March 8 coalition. Aoun has not yet declared his candidacy, but Hezbollah's backing for the former general already appears tepid at best. In recent months, he and his representatives have been meeting in Europe with March 14 leader Saad Hariri, purportedly to negotiate the coalition's potential backing of Aoun's candidacy. Any such arrangement would stipulate that the FPM reorient itself away from Hezbollah's bloc. Yet this scenario is unlikely to transpire because March 14 -- much like Hezbollah -- distrusts Aoun.
By default, then, the leading presidential contender appears to be Jean Kahwaji, commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces. Not only is the LAF the country's most respected institution, it is widely credited with maintaining stability throughout the war in Syria. Moreover, the past two presidents have hailed from its ranks. Although Kahwaji was appointed to his current position in 2008 by former March 14-aligned defense minister Elias Murr, he has detractors within the coalition. Some March 14 supporters bemoan the militarization of the presidency; others criticize current LAF efforts to stabilize Lebanon as targeting only Sunni -- and not Shiite -- militants, suggesting that Kahwaji is sympathetic to Hezbollah.
Several other names have also been frequently tied to the presidency. Walid Jumblatt -- who wields a critical swing vote -- nominated PSP parliamentarian Henri Helou for the post as a sort of compromise candidate, distant from the March 8 and 14 blocs but reportedly close to the Maronite church. Other potential candidates affiliated with March 14 include former ministers and current members of parliament Boutros Harb and Robert Ghanem, both of whom were considered for the presidency in 2008. Former interior minister Ziyad Baroud -- who has the distinction of emerging to his position from the NGO world -- is also said to be on March 14's short list.
Interestingly, Hezbollah supported Helou's candidacy in the September 2003 by-election to fill the parliamentary seat of his late father Pierre. Nevertheless, March 8 seems unlikely to accept him or any of the other dark-horse presidential candidates. In addition to serving as the constitutionally mandated "symbol of the nation's unity," the next president "must be a friend of the resistance," according to Hezbollah parliamentarian Ali Fayyad. This is shorthand for saying the president must allow the militia to retain its arsenal and its operational independence.
Ghanem tried to thread this needle when he announced his candidacy earlier this month. "The values I believe in are closer to March 14's," he said, "but I also believe in some of March 8's values, notably resisting the Israeli occupation." A more appealing candidate for March 8 is Sleiman Frangieh, a parliamentarian from Zgharta who has been close with the Assad family ever since the 1978 assassination of his father by militiamen from the Kataeb Party, a faction now allied with March 14.
Ultimately, given the animosity between March 8 and March 14, the most likely scenario is the selection of a consensus president. This category of candidate might include Riad Salameh, the impressive governor of Lebanon's Central Bank who has managed to expand the economy since 1993 despite wars, difficult neighbors, a global financial crisis, and a huge legacy debt from the civil war. Yet it is unclear how Hezbollah views Salameh, who has investigated and shut down several of the militia's local bank accounts after prompting from Washington. Moreover, because he currently holds a senior civil service position, his candidacy would require a constitutional amendment.
Former foreign minister Jean Obeid is another potential compromise candidate whose name is being floated. While some in Lebanon consider him too close to Assad, others point out that when he served under the late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, he contravened orders from Damascus by refusing to attend a 2004 parliamentary vote extending the term of Syria's preferred president Emile Lahoud.
Over the next three weeks, these and other candidates will likely be considered. If a leading contender emerges but is deemed unacceptable by either of the two main blocs, then March 8 or March 14 members will boycott parliamentary sessions en masse and thereby stymie efforts to procure a quorum. This dynamic could heighten tensions, and, if a new president is not selected by May 25, open a vacuum in Lebanese politics -- a development that Prime Minister Tammam Salam said would be "a bitter pill" to swallow.
Technically, parliament could decide to amend the constitution and extend Michel Suleiman's term. (By law, he cannot run for a second consecutive term even if he were so inclined.) On several occasions over the past year, however, he has criticized Hezbollah's destabilizing military involvement in Syria. In March, he characterized the militia's longstanding formulation of "the army, the people, and the resistance" as "wooden," a remark that drew a sharp rebuke from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah: "What is golden remains golden," he said, "even if someone changes their opinion about it and said it became wooden." An extension, it seems, is doubtful.
Without a consensus candidate or an extension, the debate could stretch beyond May 25, resulting in yet another domestic crisis at a particularly inopportune time. Three years into the war next door, more than a million mostly Sunni refugees have fled from Syria to Lebanon, where sixteen car bomb attacks occurred in 2013 alone. The hostilities have ebbed lately due to a combination of aggressive LAF action against Sunni militants, Assad regime victories in strategic border regions, and -- some say -- a quiet Saudi-Iranian agreement to deescalate tensions in Lebanon. While few Lebanese articulate an interest in renewed sectarian bloodshed, a prolonged, contentious, or inconclusive presidential election could rekindle the violence.
*David Schenker is the Aufzien Fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute.

Geagea Urges Election of President in Lebanon, 'Not in Doha or Paris'

Naharnet/Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea said Thursday that the rival March 8 camp does not want a “real state” in Lebanon, accusing it of “obstructing” parliamentary sessions aimed at electing a new president in order to “maintain the state of chaos” in the country. “We will not accept the persistence of the artificial, paralyzed and usurped state in Lebanon. We will struggle to restore the real and strong state,” Geagea said at a ceremony titled Day of the Republic that was organized by the LF's Student Department in Maarab.
“Some parties do not want a strong state ... and that's why they have gone mad and that's why they are talking and behaving in this manner,” added Geagea, referring to ballots cast by some MPs during the April 23 electoral session, which carried names of victims of murders Geagea is accused of having orchestrated during the 1975-1990 civil war.
“They are obstructing the sessions and they will keep obstructing them so that we accept the president they want ... They want us to accept a president who would maintain the state of chaos ... and allow them to continue their theft, acts and hegemony,” Geagea said. Describing the current period as “a historic moment on the path of our Lebanese, democratic project,” the LF leader stated: “I am not the presidential candidate but our project is. Bashir Gemayel, Rene Mouawad and Rafik Hariri are our candidates.”He said the LF and its allies were doing everything in their capacity in order to reach a “made in Lebanon” president. “But unfortunately we are pressing forward and they are drawing us backward,” Geagea lamented.
“They are obstructing to take us once again to Doha, Paris or any other capital. But this time, we won't go anywhere,” he stressed, in an apparent reference to the meeting that was held Tuesday between former premier Saad Hariri and Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, a Free Patriotic Movement official and son-in-law of MP Michel Aoun.
“We were born here and we were raised here. We want to elect here, we want to live here and we want to die here,” Geagea added. Hitting out at the March 8 camp, Geagea noted that the rival coalition “has neither announced the name of its candidate nor declared its program.” “It has not paid a visit to any parliamentary bloc and everything it has done is impeding the electoral sessions. They are roaming the countries of the world in search for support that they do not enjoy inside the country. This is their democracy and this is their Lebanon,” added Geagea.
He said the state the March 14 camp is seeking to build “would not belong to the LF, nor to March 14, but rather to all the Lebanese.”
“We are doing everything needed in order to bring this project to the helm of the country. This juncture is one of the rounds that the March 14 forces are going through in a united manner,” added Geagea.
“The same as March 14 triumphed against tyranny, oppression, injustice and hegemony, it will triumph today against obstruction, intimidation, threats and assassinations,” he stressed.
Geagea and Democratic Gathering bloc MP Henri Helou are so far the only two candidates who have announced official nominations. On Wednesday, lawmakers once again failed to elect a new president as differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances led to a lack of quorum in the second parliamentary session aimed at choosing a new head of state. As the March 14 camp held onto its candidate Geagea, the Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance, except for Speaker Nabih Berri's Development and Liberation bloc, boycotted the session over lack of consensus on a certain candidate.
Berri set Wednesday, May 7 for a third round of voting.

Telecommunications Minister Butros Harb Agrees with Jumblat to Seek 'New Ideas' on Presidential Vote
Naharnet/Telecommunications Minister Butros Harb announced Thursday that he has agreed with Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat to seek “new ideas” in approaching the presidential vote. “The meeting was an occasion to exchange ideas on the means to confront the coming period, after the (parliament's) failure to hold the presidential vote” on Wednesday, Harb told reporters after meeting Jumblat in Clemenceau. He said the viewpoints were similar regarding “the need to exert further extraordinary efforts, so that Lebanon does not lose the chance to elect a new president and so that the Lebanese do not lose the opportunity to select their president with their free will.”“A vacuum in the presidency would subject Lebanon to major risks in light of the regional and local developments that are taking a dangerous course, especially amid the huge influx of Syrian refugees into Lebanon,” Harb added. He said he agreed with Jumblat on the need to find “new ideas” that might lead to “a certain agreement on holding the presidential vote within the constitutional timeframe.”The two men also agreed to continue consultations and joint efforts among all political parties. Harb has said that he would run for presidency if the March 14 forces agree to endorse his nomination. Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, whose candidacy has been endorsed by March 14, and MP Henri Helou of Jumblat's Democratic Gathering bloc are so far the only candidates who have announced official nominations. On Wednesday, lawmakers once again failed to elect a new president as differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances led to a lack of quorum in the second parliamentary session aimed at choosing a new head of state. Meanwhile, Jumblat told al-Jadeed television later on Thursday that he has not rejected Geagea's bid or the unofficial nomination of Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun. “I have not voiced objections over Geagea nor over Aoun, I have rather fielded a consensus candidate,” Jumblat added, referring to Helou. “I have not voiced objections over the army chief, since he needs a constitutional amendment to run, but should we amend the constitution, we would be giving the impression that the entire Maronite political class is inadequate,” Jumblat added. He condemned the fact that “no one (from the March 8 camp) has announced their nominations, and everyone is waiting behind the scenes or at embassies.”“Let them come forward and announce official nominations in parliament,” added Jumblat. In response to a question, Jumblat denied claims that by nominating Helou he is trying to “decide on behalf of Christians,” stressing that “the president belongs to all Lebanese.”“This is a multi-confessional country and consultations are a must,” he underlined. “It is better to choose a consensus candidate who would be able to gather the Lebanese, as we have major economic issues to address,” Jumblat added.

Lebanon marks Labor Day amid unresolved wage crisis
May 01, 2014/By Jana El Hassan /The Daily Star
BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman congratulated Lebanese workers on the occasion of Labor Day Thursday while urging them to take into consideration the burden on the Treasury of a controversial wage hike. "Workers are the backbone of the country’s development and economy and they have the right to demand improvements in their conditions, but they should at the same time take into consideration the interest of the Treasury,” he said in a statement. Sleiman said that by safeguarding the state’s Treasury, the interests and demands of citizens would also be secured. Lebanon civil servants have upheld protests and strikes throughout the year urging Parliament to endorse a draft bill that would increase their salaries. Parliament has not yet endorsed the bill and is considering resources to fund the salary hike estimated to cost over L.L1.6 billion.  Lebanon marked Labor Day with a rally celebration organized by the Lebanese Communist Party, as officials congratulated workers on the occasion.
The rally started with a march from Barbir Square to Parliament in downtown Beirut with dozens of workers and supporters raising red banners and the party flag. The party’s secretary-general, Khaled Hadadeh, lashed out in a speech at Lebanon’s politicians, accusing them of holding the country a hostage to foreign powers. “[Our] politicians are not free in economy or politics, they wait for foreign powers to choose a president for them,” he said, referring to two failed attempts to elect a new president. “This nation is ours and we will fill the [power] vacuum,” he said.
Ghassan Ghosn, the head of the GLC, also spoke, expressing hope that workers will see their demands met. “Labor Day comes this year as we are calling for social justice... and we can sense the joy of the occasion because it is accompanied with a struggle for workers to get their rights,” he said. Sidon MP Bahia Hariri also congratulated Lebanon's workers “who build, manufacture, grow and seek to provide a livelihood for their families.” For his part, Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel tweeted his congratulations to the Lebanese public and hoped this year would bring job opportunities for the unemployed.
Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil also voiced support for the public sector wage hike in a tweet. “On Labor Day, we confirm our support for the righteous demand [that politicians] endorse the salary scale, and that workers with limited income should not bear the burden [of funding it],” his twee said. The Union of Palestinian workers also held a sit-in in Tyr, south Lebanon, outside the headquarters of the Red Cross calling for endorsing civil rights for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Protesters demanded the right to own property and the right to work in unionized fields, from which Palestinians are currently barred.


Maronites’ fatal divide
May 01, 2014/The Daily Star
The pre-eminent Christian political post in Lebanon moved closer to becoming vacant when MPs failed to gather in Parliament Wednesday to elect a successor to President Michel Sleiman.
The March 8 camp demonstrated its commitment to blocking the process, following its deployment of blank ballots last week with an even simpler strategy this time around: staying away from the legislature building to prevent a quorum. The Christian political community, meanwhile, has no such plan of action. Lebanon is a collection of minorities, and several key groups – Sunnis, Shiites and Druze – have an unquestioned “leader,” while the Christians, and most importantly the Maronites, are divided over who represents them politically. In theory, it is perfectly understandable to see multiple Maronite presidential candidates, but in practice, each candidate is busy looking for support from other communities, unable to benefit from the backing of his own sect. However, the core problem is that Maronite political leaders have ignored their earlier agreements to ensure that the election take place. Until Maronite leaders, and along with them the community they claim to represent, get their own house in order, no improvement in their situation can be expected. They should know by now that Lebanese politics respects only strength and cohesiveness, which the Maronites profoundly lack. The Christians have long complained of being politically marginalized, but it is time to demand an answer to the question: Who exactly is responsible for this marginalization? If these leaders are unable to stick to a simple agreement about the need for a new president, there’s no reason to expect them to agree on even more complex questions that affect their political future.

Minister Boutros Harb 'Ready to Forgive' His Attempted Assassin
Naharnet/Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb revealed on Wednesday that he is ready to forgive those who tried to kill him in July 2012. "It is in my nature to forgive people and those who harmed me,” Harb said in an interview on NBN television. "Forgiveness is one of the main values I believe in, and I am in no position to condemn people,” he explained. He continued: “As Christians, we forgive those who have harmed us and I was moved by Pope John Paul II's visit to the person who tried to shoot him and I will not hesitate to do the same thing.”The minister noted that he had not filed any complaint against his attempted assassin. "To the person who tried to kill me I tell him you are forgiven,” he said. Harb escaped the assassination bid in July 2012 after residents of a building in which his office is located in the Beirut district of Badaro discovered individuals trying to booby-trap the elevator. An arrest warrant in absentia was issued in 2013 against Mahmoud Hayek, a Hizbullah member accused in the assassination attempt against Harb. State Commissioner to the Military Court Judge Saqr Saqr had demanded life in prison with hard labor for Hayek, who is still on the run. The Telecom Minister also discussed the presidential race in the interview, reiterating that there is an agreement on Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea as March 14's nominee for office. "Geagea is running for office to win in the race. He has the right to nominate himself and it is our duty as allies to stand by his side,” he added. He also stressed that the coalition is concerned with having the principles it cherishes in office, not only with electing a certain person. "(Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel) Aoun also has the right to be a candidate,” he remarked. "But presenting himself as a consensual candidate does not correspond with his history,” he pointed out.

Report: March 14 to Hold Intense Talks on Presidential Polls as Riyadh Keen to Hold them on Time

Naharnet/ The March 14 alliance is expected to hold intense consultations on the presidential elections over the upcoming 48 hours in light of the failure of the second round of the polls on Wednesday, reported An Nahar daily on Thursday. The consultations will include talks among the main leaders of the camp as Saudi Arabia expressed its keenness to hold the polls on time, said As Safir newspaper on Thursday. Widely-informed Saudi diplomatic sources told the daily that Riyadh encourages any efforts to reach a consensual president, who would enjoy the support of the majority of the Lebanese people.
It does not advocate a provocative candidate, they added. “The Lebanese people should reach an understanding among themselves over a new president. We will then bless their choice,” they continued. “No one expects Saudi Arabia to name a presidential candidate,” stated the sources to As Safir. The March 14 consultations meanwhile will stress the priority of Christian understanding over a presidential candidate, which will then be followed by Muslim understanding, reported An Nahar. The alliance also demanded that the yet undeclared March 8 camp candidate for the polls refuse to succumb to the influence of Hizbullah's arms. Lawmakers once again failed on Wednesday to elect a new president as differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances led to a lack of quorum in the second parliamentary session aimed at choosing a new head of state. While the March 14 camp held onto its candidate Lebanese Forces leader Geagea, the Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance, except for Speaker Nabih Berri's Development and Liberation bloc, boycotted the second round of the elections over lack of consensus on one candidate. Berri set May 7 for a third round of voting.

Report: Joint Parliamentary Committees Agree on Articles Linked to Funding of Wage Scale
Naharnet /The joint parliamentary committees have made progress over the funding of the new wage scale, reported the daily An Nahar on Thursday. Informed sources told the daily that the committees completed discussions on articles linked to its funding, agreeing that the cost of the scale will reach L.L. 1,740 billion. The government's proposal initially called for L.LL. 1,665 billion for funding it.
A joint parliamentary committees report to parliament submitted on April 15 said that the total cost of funding the wage hike is L.L. 2,440. The latest committee talks also included tax amendments, such as raising the Value Added Tax from 10 to 12 percent. The raise will exclude taxes of fuel, electricity, water resources, and essential goods. The hike in taxes is aimed at garnering L.L.500 billion for the scale, explained An Nahar. The parliament has so far failed to approve the new wage scale over ongoing disputes over its funding. The Syndicate Coordination Committee, a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees, is demanding a 121 percent salary raise that would be effective retroactively. It has also rejected proposals for the extra money to be paid in installments.
The public sector wage scale was approved by the government of Premier Najib Miqati in 2012. But lawmakers have so far failed to approve it over fears that the hike would have a devastating impact on the economy and lead to a depreciation in the Lebanese pound. Instead, lawmakers formed a committee to study the pay raise. But the SCC, which has held several demonstrations, cast doubt on their ability to give the public sector employees their rights after reports emerged that the members of the committee would slash the hike.

Dialogue Session Scheduled for Monday, Suleiman to Deliver 2 'Important' Speeches This Weekend

Naharnet/Rival political leaders are scheduled to convene at Baabda Palace on Monday to resume national dialogue sessions, as President Michel Suleiman is expected to deliver two “important” speeches on the weekend. Al-Joumhouria daily revealed on Thursday that Suleiman informed Prime Minister Tammam Salam during a Wednesday meeting that he is planning on sending the invitations for the dialogue session, which will take place at 11:00 am on Monday. The invitations will be sent on Thursday and Friday to all political leaders, whether they had taken part in past sessions or boycotted them, said the newspaper. Baabda Palace sources told Al-Mustaqbal newspaper, meanwhile, that the presidency has not yet received any official notification from political leaders about boycotting the session. The session will discuss the national defense strategy. The last dialogue session took place on March 31, when participants stressed the importance of an agreement on a defense strategy given a rise in terrorist threats.
It was boycotted by the majority of March 8 camp's representatives and Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea from the March 14 alliance. In a separate matter, Suleiman is expected to deliver two messages on the weekend, the first on Friday when he will meet with diplomats in Lebanon, and on Sunday, during the inauguration of the "Michel Suleiman Sports Village." An Nahar newspaper revealed that the president will tackle the presidential elections in his statements, which the daily described as “important.”Baabda Palace sources told al-Joumhouria that Suleiman will not deliver a formal statement, but that he will improvise a speech which will stress the importance of Lebanon's commitment to international resolutions. He will particularly emphasize United Nations Security Council resolution 1701, which is considered an “important shield for protecting Lebanon.”The president will also underscore the Baabda Declaration and reiterate the policy of disassociation from regional events, particularly from the regional crises. “He will call for reaching a peaceful solution in Syria that would preserve the unity of Syrian territories and stop the bloodbath in the neighboring country,” the sources told the daily.

Army Arrests Five Suspects in Dahieh on Various Charges
Naharnet/The army announced on Thursday the arrest of five wanted suspects in Beirut's southern suburbs of Dahieh. Mohammed Mazloum and his sons Ali and Hassan were arrested after the discovery of military equipment at their residence. Mohammed Saeed Wehbeh and Salem Ahmed Ismail were arrested after the discovery of ammunition and military equipment at the former's residence. They are also wanted on past charges of opening fire, but the army did not disclose the details of the incident. Investigations are underway with the suspects

Report: Mustaqbal-FPM Talks to Cover Issues Other than Presidential Polls
Naharnet/Mustaqbal Movement leader MP Saad Hariri is keen on continuing talks with Free Patriotic Movement officials, in light of his recent meeting with Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, reported al-Joumhouria newspaper on Thursday.It said that the former premier is eager to develop ties between the two sides and that the talks should cover other issues besides the presidential elections.
The two officials held talks in Paris on Tuesday on the eve of the second round of the polls. Hariri had informed Bassil that he “cannot support the candidacy of FPM chief MP Michel Aoun, adding that he did not submit a presidential program that he could agree on.” “Aoun's political stances over the past few years contradict those of the Mustaqbal Movement,” he stated. Moreover, Hariri told Bassil that he will not agree to Aoun's nomination if his Christian allies in the March 14 camp do not consent to it, reported al-Joumhouria. As Safir newspaper meanwhile denied that the talks between the Mustaqbal chief and foreign minister were “pessimistic”, saying that the meeting was productive and contacts between them will continue. Prominent FPM sources told the daily: “The meeting with Bassil would not have taken place had Hariri not been receptive to the possibility of Aoun's nomination.”They stressed however that talk with Hariri will not be open-ended, saying that the room for talks will end with the constitutional deadline to elect a president on May 25. Hariri and Bassil agreed on the importance of holding the presidential elections on time to avoid vacuum, media reports said on Wednesday.
The minister described the meeting as positive, saying: “We reject vacuum and we want the election of a president.”Lawmakers once again failed on Wednesday to elect a new president as differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances led to a lack of quorum in the second parliamentary session aimed at choosing a new head of state. While the March 14 camp held onto its candidate Lebanese Forces leader Geagea, the Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance, including the FPM, boycotted the second round of the elections over lack of consensus on one candidate. Speaker Nabih Berri's Development and Liberation bloc of the March 8 camp attended the session. Berri set May 7 for a third round of voting.

Israeli Force Searching for 'Suspicious Object' near Kfarkila
Naharnet/An Israeli force inspected an orchard in the South on Thursday morning in search of a “suspicious object” in the area. The force, which comprised more than 20 soldiers, was examining a region facing the border town of Kfarkila, MTV reported. The same source added that patrols were also roaming the area along the border between Kfarkila and Adeisseh. The state-run National News agency later said that Israeli forces were repairing the barbed wire fence along the border near the Fatima Gate. The force was provided with protection by military vehicles and by troops deployed in the region's orchards. UNIFIL troops, meanwhile, monitored the Israeli activity from their positions in Lebanon. Last week, an Israeli military unit crossed the technical fence near al-Wazzani river and then left. The state-run National News Agency said the soldiers searched the area before pulling out.

Mazloum: Lack of Quorum in 2nd Round of Votes Was Expected, Camps Trying to Outsmart Each other

Naharnet/Bishop Samir Mazloum stated on Thursday that “no one expected the required quorum to be met” at the parliament in the second round of votes on a new president. "Each camp has its own candidate and neither has the required number of votes to secure its nominee's victory,” Mazloum told al-Joumhouria newspaper. He continued: “Things are clear now. When any of either camps feels that a rival candidate might win in the elections, it will try to obstruct holding the parliamentary session.” The bishop noted that Christian leaders committed to attending the first round of votes at the parliament.
"All Christian MPs attended the first session then. But they did not relinquish what they considered to be their right of missing the second round of votes. They say that boycotting sessions is part of the democratic game.” Mazloum then called on all Christian factions to hurry up and reach an agreement to elect a new head of state, remarking that they were trying to “outsmart each other.”
He added that Bkirki's efforts are continuous in this respect. "Now is the time for reaching a settlement and an agreement (on the presidential elections),” he stressed. The bishop also denied that Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi had suggested the name of former minister Ziad Baroud as a consensual candidate. "The patriarch took a decision not to get involved in the naming game,” he said.
Meanwhile, al-Rahi revealed that the Wednesday meeting with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Paris stressed the necessity of electing a president who is capable of responding to Lebanon's needs.
"I totally reject vacuum (in the presidency), and we must work on avoiding it,” Rahi told LBCI television. He also reiterated that no lawmaker has the right to miss parliamentary sessions dedicated for electing a new president. "Being present (at the sessions) is a national duty because the MPs were elected by the people and their presence is a constitutional duty,” the patriarch stated. "No lawmaker shall abuse people's delegation,” he commented. Al-Rahi also remarked that the names of potential presidential candidates should be discussed among political leaders only.
Informed sources told al-Joumhouria that the meeting came as a continuation of talks on the presidential vote between Hariri and al-Rahi that were launched one month ago in Rome. Hariri updated the patriarch on his Tuesday talks with Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil, stressing that communication with different factions will continue on the anticipated elections, although no outcomes have been reached so far. The head of al-Mustaqbal Movement is expected to return to Saudi Arabia from Paris on the weekend. In a related matter, the daily revealed that United States Ambassador to Lebanon David Hale will travel to Saudi Arabia on Sunday after he concludes the rounds of talks he is holding in Beirut. Hale is expected to hold talks with Saudi authorities and take part in the American-Saudi Arabian Joint Commission's meetings, which will discuss regional issues, including the Lebanese presidential race and the Syrian crisis. Lawmakers once again failed on Wednesday to elect a new president as differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances led to a lack of quorum in the second parliamentary session aimed at choosing a new head of state. While the March 14 camp held onto its candidate Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, the Hizbullah-led March 8 alliance, except for Speaker Nabih Berri's Development and Liberation bloc, boycotted the second round of the elections over lack of consensus on one candidate. Berri set Wednesday, May 7 for a third round of voting.

Monsignor Labaki's Lawyer Says No Rulings Received on Child Abuse Case, Assures His Defendant’s Innocence

Naharnet/Mansour Labaki's lawyer denied on Thursday that Vatican authorities ruled that the monsignor was innocent of the child abuse accusations against him. "The case is now in the hands of Pope Francis only, and we are sure of Labaki's innocence according to the documents we have,” attorney Antoine Akl said in released statement. "And therefore, we were not surprised by media reports saying he was innocent but we are waiting for Vatican authorities to officially communicate the ruling to us,” he added. Akl also revealed that he has filed a criminal complaint with Lebanese judicial authorities against all locals and foreigners involved in launching accusations against Labaki. "We gathered irrefutable documents, among them emails, shared by the suspects and used to falsely accuse the monsignor,” he noted.
The case is now in the hands of Maronite Patriarch Behsara al-Rahi who will review it with Pope Francis, added the lawyer. Labaki was charged in 2013 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican with sexually abusing several minors.The Vatican's office charged Labaki after a two-year investigation. The Monsignor reportedly appealed the sentence but it was rejected by Rome.
He was sentenced to a life of penitence and he will also be banned from conducting any ecclesiastical duties or participating in public appearances. Labaki, 73, is a well-known figure in Lebanon and is the founder of a spiritual movement called Lo Tedhal. He has also written several books and composed famous hymns.

Drugs Seized inside Painting at the Beirut Airport
Naharnet/The airport's customs on Wednesday thwarted an attempt to smuggle a large quantity of drugs. "Customs' officials seized a large quantity of drugs that were placed inside a neatly arranged painting,” the state-run National News Agency reported, noting that the drugs were set up to be sent to Australia. "4.8 kilograms of narcotic substance which is thought to be a variety of opium were found and they are being inspected by relevant authorities,” the NNA added. After investigations, two Lebanese nationals were arrested. They were referred along with the seized substance to the Central Anti-Drug Bureau.

Iran Raps U.S. Report Keeping It on Terror List

Naharnet/Iran rejected an annual U.S. report that keeps Tehran on a list of state sponsors of terrorism as reflecting double standards, media reports said Thursday. The foreign ministry was reacting to a State Department report released Wednesday that kept Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan on its list of so-called state sponsors of terrorism. The report also highlighted what it said was Iran's role in supporting and funding the regime of President Bashar Assad in its fight against Syrian rebels. "Accusing Iran of supporting terrorism is politicized and based on double standards," ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said in a statement reported by the official IRNA news agency. She questioned Washington's anti-terrorism intentions, recalling "innocent people who fall victim" to U.S. drone attacks in the region as well as "the turning of a blind eye to Zionist (Israeli) crimes against the Palestinians."She also took issues with what has been the progressive removal from international terror lists of the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, an exiled opposition group that says it seeks the overthrow of Iran's Islamic regime through peaceful means. Banned in Iran, Tehran has listed it as a terror group for carrying out bombings and assassinations.
Britain struck the group off its terror list in 2008, followed by the European Union in 2009 and the United States in 2012. That, Afkham said, "also poses a serious challenge to the claim of U.S. statesmen in combating terrorism."Source Agence France Presse

David the Nahal Soldier” goes viral. Army chief: Facebook is not a tool of command

DEBKAfile Special Report May 1, 2014/A Facebook campaign expressing support for a soldier filmed pointing a cocked gun at a young Palestinian during an altercation in the West Bank is growing in strength. The IDF is powerless to stop its soldiers’ online actions, and the flurry of publicity surrounding “David the Nahal soldier” is beginning to steer the country’s political narrative out of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s control. As the protest gathers more “likes,” various politicians and media figureheads are eager to get in on the act and exploit it for their own ends.
Online support for soldier is the direct result of failure by the IDF and government to provide answers for the Internet generation. The Facebook campaign, “We are with David the Nahal soldier” had already garnered 100,000 “likes” in support of soldier David Admov by Thursday morning. The suggestion conveyed was that the IDF is losing control of its soldiers and the government losing ground on the country’s political agenda. This effect may be disproportionate. The protest grew out of a video posted online of a confrontation between the Nahal Brigade member and several Palestinian youngsters in Hebron, in which the soldier cocked his gun and pointed it at one of the Palestinians. Erroneous reports spread that Admov had been jailed as a result of the incident, but the IDF said he had been put on disciplinary trial before the clip was filmed, for an unrelated incident. But the damage was already done, and backers began posting pictures of themselves in uniform, their faces hidden by signs expressing solidarity with the soldier. It is not clear how many of those in the photos are actually soldiers, or simply civilians trying to give the campaign a boost.
IDF Spokesman Brigadier-General Motti Almoz was technically correct when he said that “in the army there is no such thing as a protest,” and that the army can’t recognize the concept. But the statement was a misstep media-wise, as it showed the extent to which he and the IDF are unaware of the ground level concerns of their own soldiers.
There may be no protest in the army, but there is protest online and the army doesn’t have the means to stop it.
Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz addressed the issue at a General Command meeting Thursday. Promising an investigation into the incident and its repercussions, Gantz said the army would examine how it was handled and draw the necessary lessons. He stressed: “It is important to say loud and clear that Facebook is not a tool of command. It is here and that is a fact, but on no account may [this medium] be allowed to take the place of regular interchange between officers and their men.
Central to the public debate on the issue is the notion that the conduct of the protesting soldiers “goes against the spirit of the IDF.” This concept needed no explanation to a former generation, but simply doesn’t ring true with many of those in service today. While the majority of young Israelis still serve in the army, they are not lauded like their parents and grandparents were. And they are confused by the IDF’s reluctance, since the start of the second intifada, to issue clear orders about when to use their weapons to show authority, and when to fire.
They are also frustrated – combat-trained soldiers spend weeks at a time essentially acting as police patrols in the West Bank. They are left to cope independently with a rebellious Palestinian population.
The uproar isn’t just the result of army policy; it is also rooted in the actions of the political class.
Like many prime ministers before him, Prime Minister Netanyahu is deliberately vague on nearly every issue, and his attitude suggests the average person doesn’t really need to know what is happening in the country. His public relations efforts are almost exclusively in English and directed at the foreign media. The result of this philosophy is that eventually the man on the street – in this case the IDF soldiers – are fed up and refuse to be taken for fools.
The Facebook protesters are saying ‘we’ve had it with the obfuscation. We want to be spoken to clearly, and if you don’t speak directly to us, we will speak to you.”
Many Israelis are fed up with the song and dance surrounding the talks with the Palestinians. They don’t have any idea what is on the table, what is being discussed, and what the true final objectives are. In a time when any child with a smart phone can become a media mogul, clouding the truth is a bankrupt political policy.
The protest is also a statement against the labeling every spray-painted Star of David on a Palestinian or Israeli Arab car a “hate crime” and a “price tag” attack. Just as we have no idea how many of those joining the online campaign are soldiers, there’s no way to tell if all of those who have been painting graffiti on mosques and other Arab properties are genuine protestors or just people who want to stir up trouble and undermine coexistence or even Palestinian provocateurs.
These actions don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen, and they are on the rise because young Israelis wonder why the law they are required to uphold and obey is not being enforced on the Arab street. They wonder why Palestinian terrorists, mainly from Hamas and Hizb al-Tahrir, can barricade themselves inside Al Aqsa with no action by Israeli law enforcement. When the “we are with David the Nahal soldier” generation watched the news April 29, they saw thousands of people marching through Ramallah, carrying green Hamas flags and shouting “Ya Qassam, Ya Qassam, destroy Tel Aviv!” Asking why they must accept this, and finding no answer from the Israeli establishment, this generation is providing its own answers.
Ultimately, the problem lies with the lack of leadership in Israel, where the rule of law is weak. As of Thursday morning, the Facebook campaign had begun to threaten the survival of the government coalition.
Economics Minister and chairman of the Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett declared on his own Facebook page that he too supports “David the Nahal soldier,” saying he “acted correctly.”
“He was alone, confronted by several violent Palestinian provocateurs,” Bennett wrote. “He did not fire his weapon and he took reasonable measures to protect himself and those around him.”
“The far left is always keen to slander IDF fighters. This sort of thing should be denounced by the entire political spectrum. If the cameras hadn’t been there, the incident would not even have happened,” the minister charged,” alluding to the cameras that left-wing organizations distribute to Palestinians to record the actions of soldiers and settlers.
It won’t be long until the usual politicians will clamor for Bennett and his party to be removed from the coalition.
But the soldiers supporting David aren’t willing to be tools in a political agenda.

Can Iran save President Obama’s legacy?
Thursday, 1 May 2014
By: Joyce Karam
With an open conflict in Syria, a collapsing peace process, uncertainty in Egypt and a more defiant Russia on the global stage, it is increasingly looking likely that the Iranian nuclear issue will define the Barack Obama legacy in foreign policy.
A deal with Iran as soon as this summer on the nuclear issue could salvage Obama’s chances at a groundbreaking accomplishment that could transform the Middle East and Washington’s relations with Tehran, plagued since 1979. By the same logic, the possible failure of the Iranian talks will dash Obama’s hopes at a presidency marked by transformational foreign policy, and leave one built on key domestic policy accomplishments, while limiting the U.S. footprint abroad.
The Iranian bet
The current status quo in the Middle East, with the exception of the Iranian nuclear talks, has put U.S. foreign policy on a perilous path, with little to no hope left for diplomatic breakthroughs. The Geneva framework for Syria has completely collapsed with Syria’s ruthless President Bashar al-Assad seeking a new term in June, while Secretary John Kerry’s promise of a framework agreement between Israelis and Palestinians has evaporated. In Egypt, Obama’s Cairo speech is more of a history reference to good intentions and an ambitious foreign policy that the U.S. had in 2009, as a wave of uncertainties cloud U.S.-Egyptian relations.
“A nuclear deal with Iran will carry strategic implications for the Middle East in reshuffling the balance of power with sanctions eased”
In Russia, the “reset button” that the White House and the Kremlin pressed in 2009 seems to have been replaced with a “control button” as proxy wars ensue between Moscow and Washington in Ukraine, Syria and in the natural gas and arms sales markets across the globe.
It is against this dim background, that the Iranian nuclear talks hold promise for U.S. diplomacy and Obama’s own legacy. It is an issue that the 44th president has had eyes on from day one in office, in part to avoid military confrontation and meet strategic goals regionally as well as to prevent nuclear proliferation.
Prospects for a deal
There are increasing signs that the current talks being held in Vienna could conclude in a long-term agreement on the nuclear issue, curbing Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon, and upping international inspection of Iranian facilities while gradually easing sanctions on Tehran.
According to diplomatic sources, the atmosphere of the talks is “very positive,” and delving into key details of the nuclear program, the benefits of an agreement and the ramifications of failure. Representatives of the P5+1 and those of Iran even call each other on a first name basis, and conversations can get “flirtatious.” But flirting aside, the Obama administration is prioritizing those negotiations and investing diplomatically with allies and Congress alike in preventing measures that could scuttle a deal, as well as providing assurances that lay the ground for an agreement.
While some in the administration put the chances of a deal at 50/50, U.S. officials have recently told the Wall Street Journal that these odds have gone up, and that the Obama administration is convinced it can conclude an agreement by the July 20 target date despite “significant political hurdles.” Outside Vienna, these hurdles include primarily selling the deal to Congress and regional allies, especially Israel who could use its political clout in Washington or even air power to squander what it might perceive as “a bad deal.” While it’s unlikely that Senate Democrats will go against their own president, the upcoming midterm elections in November poses timing problems for the White House, with the risk of Democrats losing senate majority and crippling Obama’s agenda. This and the internal pressure on Iranian President Hassan Rowhani give more urgency to the July 20th deadline.
A nuclear deal with Iran will carry strategic implications for the Middle East in reshuffling the balance of power with sanctions eased, and on Iran’s own relations with the United States and the West. It would, nevertheless, rescue Obama’s foreign policy legacy, unless his efforts meet the fate of former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan during the hostage crisis and the Iran contra scandal.

Assad's Reelection Campaign Matters—Really
The Syrian president wants to impose a solution to the country's crisis—on his terms.
Andrew Tabler/Atlantic Website
Apr 30 2014/The United States and the international community have spent the better part of the last year backing peace talks in Geneva to bring about a “political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” and ultimately end the war between the Alawite-dominated regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the Sunni and Kurdish-dominated opposition. But Assad has his own transition in mind: running for a third seven-year term as president. On April 28, the Syrian president nominated himself as a candidate in Syria’s June 3 presidential poll, “hoping the parliament would endorse it.”This was hardly a surprise. Assad has hinted at his candidacy for months, and “spontaneous rallies” calling for him to run—many complete with images of Assad beside Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah—have sprung up across regime-controlled areas of the country, while shopkeepers have been encouraged to paint their storefronts with Syrian flags and slogans supporting the leader.
Assad's solution includes laying siege to opposition strongholds, manipulating aid, and dropping “barrel bombs.”
What’s Assad’s concession to his opponents after attempting to shoot his way out of the country’s largest uprising, with 150,000-plus killed, 680,000 injured, and up to half of the country’s 23 million people displaced? The Syrian president has made the next poll the first contested presidential election in the nation’s modern history. That pledge, however, is undermined by the state of war in the country and Assad’s previous referendums, including the last presidential election I observed personally in 2007, when he won by a Crimea-like 97.62 percent of the vote. In one polling station in Damascus’s wealthiest and most Westernized neighborhood, a young woman-turned-poll worker not only urged me to vote even though I did not have Syrian nationality, but also encouraged me to follow the lead of Assad’s main election poster and vote with a fingerprint in my own blood. Such tactics helped Assad improve upon his 97.24-percent showing in 2000, when his father Hafez died, and the Syrian parliament lowered the minimum age for seeking the Syrian presidency from 40 to 34 to allow Bashar to run.
Why, then, should anyone care about another rigged election in the Middle East? Because Assad’s reelection is actually part of his larger strategy to destroy the international community-backed plan for a negotiated solution to the increasingly sectarian Syrian crisis in favor of a forced solution on his terms. This solution includes sieges and starvation of opposition-controlled areas, the manipulation of aid supplies, and the dropping of “barrel bombs,” Scud missiles, and alleged chlorine gas canisters on his enemies. While this approach has helped him gain ground in western Syria with help from a legion of Hezbollah, Iraqi, and other Iranian-backed Shiite fighters, Assad lacks the troops to retake and hold all of Syria, unless his allies expand their involvement to a much more costly degree. Short of Syria’s occupation by what is often described as “Iran’s foreign legion,” the opposition and their regional backers will not agree to a Potemkin transition with Assad and his Iranian allies calling the shots.
The likely outcome of all this is a failed state partitioned into regime, Sunni-Arab, and Kurdish areas, all of which are now havens for U.S.-designated terrorist organizations in the heart of the Middle East. Combined with regional tensions between Iran and the Arabs, as well as the deep chill in relations between Russia and the United States, diplomatic solutions seem distant as well. This presents Barack Obama with a dilemma that has far-reaching implications. Allowing Assad’s forced solution to go forward will only contribute to the spread of a Syria-centered Middle Eastern proxy war between Iran and Arab countries, demonstrate to dictators that mass slaughter works, and show Moscow and other U.S. adversaries that Washington is unwilling to follow through on its foreign-policy principles and diplomatic agreements. But reversing Assad’s course will require the kind of military action from the West and its regional allies that Obama has been extremely reluctant to use due to its expense and uncertain result for the United States.
In early 2012, as the armed insurgency in Syria gathered steam, the Assad regime’s changes to the constitution to establish contested presidential elections attracted little attention in the West, which at the time was focused on Kofi Annan’s five-point plan to end the crisis. When that effort failed, the United States and Russia negotiated the “Geneva Communique of 2012.” At the time, the regime’s contraction, if not its demise, seemed certain, so Western negotiators watered down the text’s language over Assad’s fate to overcome a Russian veto at the United Nations. Instead of demanding Assad “step aside” as part of a transition, the United States agreed to a “Transitional Governing Body” with “full executive powers” to be formed by “mutual consent” that “could include members of the current government and the opposition and other groups.” American negotiators held up the “mutual consent” clause at the time as giving the opposition a veto over Assad’s participation in the TGB. But by not ruling Assad out of the scheme, as well as failing to define which opposition groups had to agree to the TGB, the agreement gave Russia a veto over the process and allowed Assad to play for time.
And he did just that. Last year, with the backing of Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia, Assad launched a counterinsurgency effort that—combined with the use of chemical weapons, Obama’s unwillingness to enforce his “red line” on their use in Syria, and the regime’s foot-dragging on its deal with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in Security Council Resolution 2118—decimated the opposition. As a seeming concession to the Russians for getting the Assad regime to give up its chemical weapons, the United States helped deliver selective representatives from the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), an opposition umbrella organization backed by the West, to negotiations in Geneva with the Assad regime in January and February. But the Syrian regime refused to negotiate a Transitional Governing Body, and went so far as to place opposition negotiators on a list of terrorists. At the same time, Assad increased bombardment of opposition areas with barrel bombs—crude explosive devices dropped from regime helicopters. According to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power “the most concentrated period of killing in the entire duration of the conflict” occurred during the talks in Geneva. Russia, which in Security Council Resolution 2118 had effectively pledged to involve the regime in discussions on the TGB, is now suddenly unwilling to do so.
Meanwhile, in interviews with the Western, Russian, and Arab press, Assad and regime spokespersons have announced that he will run in the upcoming presidential poll and that international election observers will not be allowed into the country. The rules stipulate that each candidate file an application with the Supreme Constitutional Court, an all-Assad-appointed body that will reach a verdict on each application within five days. It is unclear what the final arrangements will be and who will run—six other candidates have announced their candidacy. But what is certain is that Syria’s election law forbids candidates who have not resided in Syria for the last 10 years, which eliminates many of the exiled opposition active in the Syrian National Coalition.
Assad says he will only deal with parties that have a “national agenda” in upcoming local and parliamentary elections, which essentially rules out not only the SNC, but also other armed groups that control large swaths of opposition-held Syria. The opposition acceptable to Assad encompasses groups in regime-controlled areas that have been tolerated for years, including the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change (NCC). The NCC is headed by the elderly pan-Arab socialist Hassan Abdel Azim, who has little to no influence on the opposition outside Assad-controlled areas.
It is here where Assad’s logic collides with the hard realities of Syrian demographics. Following the Assad regime’s last attempt to shoot its way out of an uprising by its Sunni majority, which culminated in the Hama Massacre of 1982, in which up to 30,000 Syrians died, Assad’s father launched a massive, decade-long crackdown in Syria that decimated the economy and confined people to their homes. Predictably, birthrates skyrocketed. In the decade following the Hama Massacre, Syria was among the 20 fastest-growing populations on the planet, particularly in Sunni-dominated rural areas (this accounts for the lack of gray hair among today's opposition fighters). This time around, there are many more Sunnis than Alawites, who had fewer children. If Assad only offers a bankrupt plan for reforms based on his “reelection” as a transition, along with promises of economic largesse that he can ill afford, there is little chance his regime will be able to shoot the Sunni opposition into submission to a degree that would stabilize and reunite the country.
The bad news for the fragmented Syrian opposition is that the loose language negotiated by Russia in the Geneva Communique of 2012 concerning the formation of a “Transitional Governing Body” by “mutual consent” could in practice mean that opposition forces who succumb to Assad ultimately form the basis of the TGB. And given the Obama administration’s aversion to supporting the Syrian opposition with lethal assistance or direct military intervention, as well as its current outreach to the Assad regime’s chief supporters in Tehran, the White House might be tempted to take the bait and agree to such a political transition. As might European governments concerned about the growth of jihadists among the Sunni opposition.
The only way to stop Assad is by providing anti-aircraft weapons to the opposition or launching missile strikes on the regime’s airfields.
That would be a big mistake. Handing Assad and Iran’s foreign legion even a partial victory in Syria right now would make it more difficult to contain Tehran’s regional machinations and secure further concessions over its nuclear program. But more importantly, it would likely stoke a regional, sectarian proxy war centered on Syria. Arab Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, are deeply worried about Iran’s spreading influence and nuclear ambitions, and appear committed to fighting Iran’s legion to the last dead Syrian. These motivations have spurred some of their citizens to sponsor effective al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria with global aspirations.
The most effective and least costly way to contain Assad’s advance, as well as the influence of jihadists, is through greater lethal support for the moderate opposition—an option the White House has been debating for years and is reportedly debating now in light of the bravado that the Syrian and Russian presidents have been demonstrating recently. As the Assad regime has accelerated shipments of chemical weapons to the Syrian coast, American-made TOW anti-tank missiles have increasingly made their way to moderate Syrian opposition fighters vetted by Western intelligence. But the only way to stop the Assad regime’s aerial bombardment of opposition areas and bring the government to the negotiating table is by providing anti-aircraft weapons to the opposition or launching missile strikes on the regime’s airfields. In recent days, however, Obama has sharply rebuked critics of his Syria policy who are now calling for a military response to Assad’s worsening behavior.
While Obama’s equation of “Syria is Iraq” has worked with the American public so far, Assad’s forced solution has global implications that run directly counter to American values and interests. Permitting the Syrian president to implement his strategy would demonstrate to ruthless dictators around the world that mass slaughter and blocked humanitarian access are effective tactics. And, at a time when Washington and its European allies are contending with a resurgent Russia, U.S. adversaries eager to challenge international law will conclude that the West is weak, does not uphold its principles, and can be effectively ignored.

Opinion: Suspended Democracy and Meaningless Institutions

By: Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat
Thursday, 1 May, 2014
Some Arabs boast about being more advanced and adhering to the standards of citizenship and good governance more closely than their fellow Arabs. These people either come from countries that have always boasted about their long record of enlightenment, education and democratic experience, or whose countries have long claimed to be at the forefront in the struggle against colonialism, imperialism and, of course, Israel.
However, if we look beyond the superficial and consider the reality of our so-called “democratic” and “revolutionary” entities, we will be in for a surprise.
Let’s begin with some simple examples before we highlight some of the more glaring cases. Earlier this week both the Lebanese Press Syndicate and Lebanon’s Editors’ Syndicate jointly organized a rally in Beirut in solidarity with a writer from Al-Akhbar newspaper and an executive of Al-Jadeed TV who have been summoned by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on accusations of endangering the lives of witnesses by leaking their identities. The Lebanese people are well aware that the two media institutions named above have always been bitter enemies of former prime minister Rafik Hariri, whose assassination led to the establishment of the Special Tribunal, and are to this day hostile to his political movement and anyone close to him.
In every civilized country respect of the judiciary and its mechanisms is an unshakable principle, while obstructing the course of justice and contempt of court are serious criminal offenses. Accusing someone of treason, inciting violence against them, and breaking and entering are not part of press freedom; rather, the media has to be responsible and objective while working within the framework of the law. As far as union action is concerned, when it comes to legal issues the principle of “help your brother, whether he is the oppressor or the oppressed” is simply wrong. Progress, Arab nationalism and “resistance” may be honorable slogans, but they do not justify committing crimes, covering up murder or protecting those accused of committing murder.
Let’s leave Lebanon aside for now and turn our attention to Algeria. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika took the oath of office earlier this week after securing an unprecedented fourth term in office. During the ceremony, it was obvious that his health was not up to the daunting challenges of the presidency. Indeed, there was no doubt that he would secure a fourth term in office through the “democratic election,” given that democracy is currently in vogue—is the almost only commodity that can be exported. Sure enough, Algeria’s authorities vehemently deny accusations of exploiting all their power to guarantee Bouteflika a comfortable victory. However, the reality is that what we have witnessed is that “democracy” in Algeria is not well-established in the nation’s conscience; rather, it is a discreet means of ensuring that those in power get their way.
Even in Egypt, which a famous Arab proverb calls the “mother of the world” and which is the traditional “sanctuary for all Arabs,” the mass death sentences passed against members of the Muslim Brotherhood have understandably caused uproar across the world. This does not mean that those convicted are innocent, but it certainly expresses the international community’s rejection of intimidation through blanket judicial rulings; noting here that even the Egyptian general public expects these sentences to be commuted. The outcry was obvious in Western countries that actually oppose the Muslim Brotherhood, because they uphold the principle of separating the judiciary from politics and believe that “politicizing” the judicial system marks the beginning of the collapse of civil society.
At this point we come to what can only be described as the glaringly obvious cases: what is happening in both Syria and Iraq is disastrous. Both countries were cradles of ancient civilizations. Both are founding members of the United Nations and the Arab League, and both have enjoyed pioneering democratic experiences. The disasters that befell the two brotherly countries can be attributed to the failure of petty and backward mentalities to live up to their overblown slogans and delusions of grandeur. In fact, the borders between the two states as drawn up by the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 are artificial in the first place, and were subsequently readjusted into their current form. In environmental, social, cultural and demographic terms there is no real difference between Deir Ezzor and Al-Bukamal on the Syrian side and Ana, Haditha and Ar-Ramadi in Iraq.
However, as soon as the grand dreams of liberation from colonialism and of Arab unity catapulted those who claimed to be nationalists and progressives into power, bitter conflicts broke out. Nationalists toppled their erstwhile Left-wing allies and then the Ba’athists liquidated their ideological partners, the Arab Nationalists and Nasserists. Finally, change occurred within the Ba’athist camp itself. The bloated party that once called for Arab unity from Ahvaz through Somalia and Eritrea to the borders of Senegal evolved into two narrow, sectarian, family-ruled parties: a Sunni-led party under Saddam Hussein in Iraq and an Alawite-led party under Hafez Al-Assad in Syria. Thus the deep hostility between the two blocs that lasted throughout their period in power came as no surprise. In fact, enmity between the two only deepened after Damascus supported Tehran during the Iran–Iraq War of 1980–1988. Furthermore, the two Ba’athist regimes waged a proxy war during the Lebanese Civil War and tore apart the Palestinian resistance movement.
Despite its secular slogans, Iraq under Saddam ended up an occupied, confessionally polarized country governed by a sectarian government controlled by the black-turbaned mullahs, while facing the threat of being divided along ethnic lines, especially after Kurdistan gained de facto independence from Baghdad. The death toll throughout Saddam’s “nationalist” civil wars between 1979 and 2003 was in the hundreds of thousands, while millions of others have been displaced.
The situation in Syria is no better. In 1973 the shrewd Hafez Al-Assad came to power, forming a police state run by security agencies and proffering empty “resistance” slogans about liberating the occupied Golan Heights. With his death and the ascension of his son, Bashar Al-Assad, in 2000, the only thing that changed in Syria was the level of the leadership’s cunning. During the era of Assad Jr., his father’s 1982 Hama massacre was repeated across the entire country. Under the direct sponsorship of Iran, Syria’s regime is today waging a brutal war against its own people. In the lexicon of the “secular” Assad regime, the enemy today is not the Majus—a term used by Saddam to deny the “Islamic” identity of Iranian Shi’ites—but rather the “takfirists”—a term Assad applies to Sunni opposition groups—that are accused by Damascus and Iran’s henchman of serving Israel’s interests. It is ironic, however, that while Assad and his non-secular backers still claim that Israel is an “enemy,” they have turned their guns on Homs, Aleppo, Hama, Idlib, Qalamoun, and elsewhere in Syria.
Both Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and Assad are keen on assuring us they are committed to “democracy.” Maliki is waging his war for democracy against the people of Anbar and Mosul on the pretext of fighting Al-Qaeda and its ilk, while the clock counts down to the independence of the Kurdistan region. On the other hand, Assad is competing with six other pseudo-presidential hopefuls in his bid to win the “trust” of the Syrian people, a third of whom he has displaced. In the process, his forces have killed 300,000 people and destroyed dozens of towns and villages.
Whoever said democracy means “rule of the people”?