May 23/14


Bible Quotation for today/. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’

Matthew 18,18-22/"Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times."


Pope Francis's Tweet For Today
We will never be disillusioned or lose our way if we are guided by God.
Pape François
Aucune âme qui se laisse guider par Dieu ne reste déçue ou ne perd sa route.


Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For May 23/14

Brace yourself for Aoun’s frustration/By Michael Young /The Daily Star/May 23/14

Lebanon spirals into an ominous presidential void/By: Joyce Karam/Al Arabiya/May 23/14

Russian protection will not save Assad/By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/May 23/14

Why should we defend ‘hypocritical’ Saudi clerics/By: Badria al-Bishr/Al Arabiya/May 23/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For May 23/14

Lebanese Related News

No President in Sight as Rivals Fail Again to Vote

Presidential election session fails over lack of quorum
No quorum, No vote ... No president
Geagea: We Must Limit Period of Presidential Vacuum as Much as Possible

Suleiman Hopes Successor Would Follow up on his Achievements

Report: Hariri, Aoun Dialogue to Resolve Presidential Impasse
Justice Ministry Confirms Receiving Two Syrian Notices against Jumblat, Khashan

Constitutional Council suspends notaries’ bill

Interior Ministry Asks Refugees Not to Stage Rallies that May 'Affect Security'

March 14 Will Stand against Anyone Seeking to 'Destroy Constitution'

Berri Throws Weight behind Hizbullah on Resistance and Liberation Day

Sources: Lavrov-Hariri Meeting Canceled over Sensitive Situation

Salam warns against presidential void

Hezbollah to confront fundamentalists and Israel: Qassem

Machnouk calls on refugees not to hold rallies

FPM Considering to Boycott Cabinet Sessions after Suleiman's Term Ends

Mufti slams Future Movement over Islamic Council

MEA: Aviation safety row not about airline

EU will stand by Lebanon in challenging times: envoy

Berri schedules pay hike debate for May 27
Miscellaneous Reports And News

Gazan Christians Travel to West Bank for Pope Visit
Vatican Defends Palestinian Sovereignty ahead of Papal Visit

Rowhani: nuclear deal ‘very likely’ by July
Iran: Any aggression will be met with 'crushing and lethal response'

Turkish group opposes dropping lawsuit against Israelis over 'Mavi Marmara'
China, Russia Veto U.N. Attempt to Refer Syria to ICC

Thailand's Army Seizes Power in Coup

Prince Charles provokes diplomatic row with Russia by comparing Putin to Hitler

Russia vows to veto UN resolution deferring Syria to ICC

Obama calls Jordan’s King, discuss Syria, region

Three Attacks on Shiite Religious Pilgrims kill 32


No President in Sight as Rivals Fail Again to Vote
Naharnet /Lawmakers once again failed to elect a successor to President Michel Suleiman who will leave Baabda Palace on Sunday with a vacant seat in the country's top Christian post.
The fifth round of the elections on Thursday was similar to its predecessors. The majority of March 8 alliance's MPs boycotted it, claiming that the rival parties should agree on a consensual candidate before heading to parliament to elect a new head of state. Berri told MPs, who were present at parliament, however, that the electoral session will be open-ended until the expiry of Suleiman's term.
There are fears that a vacuum in Baabda would affect Lebanon's power-sharing system under which the president should be a Christian Maronite, the speaker a Shiite and the premier a Sunni. Suleiman has made a plea to MPs to elect a president and “avert the dangers” that could result from the failure to do so. Similar appeals have been made by Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi. MP Alain Aoun said the Change and Reform bloc would issue a statement on Monday on ways to deal with the stage of vacuum. The bloc, which is led by Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun, is part of the Hizbullah-led March 8 coalition, that has been boycotting the parliamentary sessions. His rival Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, who is the March 14 alliance's sole candidate, received the votes of only 48 MPs in the first round of the elections after the March 8 MPs cast 52 blank ballots to protest his candidacy. The LF leader's wife, MP Sethrida Geagea, wondered during a press conference she held in parliament what sort of democracy lawmakers were practicing. She said they were not exercising their national duties and accused Aoun of striking Lebanon's power sharing system and the Taef accord.
Another LF MP, George Adwan, warned against the consequences of the paralysis. “Does obstructing quorum adhere to” power sharing? he asked. In another short press conference, presidential candidate centrist MP Henri Helou reiterated his call for the election of a president who does not provoke any of the rival parties. But Change and Reform MP Ibrahim Kanaan, snapped back, telling reporters in parliament that the FPM was not seeking to impose a candidate. “No one can impose their candidate on anyone,” he said.

Geagea: We Must Limit Period of Presidential Vacuum as Much as Possible
Naharnet /Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea lamented on Thursday the political powers' failure to elect a president following the obstruction of quorum for the fourth time by the March 8 alliance.
He said during a press conference: “We must exert efforts with all sides in order to limit the period of presidential vacuum as much as possible.” He accused the March 8 camp of obstructing quorum, saying that only the Development and Liberation bloc respected Speaker Nabih Berri's call to attend the sessions, as well as the centrist Democratic Gathering bloc of MP Walid Jumblat. Commenting on Change and Reform MP Ibrahim Kanaan's claim that the bloc is seeking the election of a president through sound means, Geagea noted that this would be the one time in 24 years that a president would be elected without foreign meddling. Moreover, he remarked that had Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun run in the elections, he would have lost to Geagea should the elections been held in the constitutional manner. “This is why the March 8 alliance has been obstructing quorum,” he added. In addition, the LF leader revealed that Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi had informed him of his disappointment with some of the Maronite leaders who had reneged on their vow to ensure that the presidential elections are held. Geagea had held talks with al-Rahi on Wednesday. A meeting for the four Maronite leaders, Aoun, Marada Movement chief Suleiman Franjieh, Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel, and representatives of the LF, agreed during a meeting chaired by al-Rahi in March not to obstruct the polls and ensure the election of a president before May 25. Geagea did not attend the talks with security reasons, but he agreed to their decisions.President Michel Suleiman's term ends on May 25. Parliament failed on Thursday to elect a president for the fifth time following a boycott by the majority of the March 8 camp over the ongoing differences with the March 14 alliance on a presidential candidate. Berri has kept parliament sessions open-ended until Suleiman's term ends.

Report: Hariri, Aoun Dialogue to Resolve Presidential Impasse
Naharnet/An agreement between al-Mustaqbal and the Free Patriotic Movement is reportedly the solution to the controversial presidential deadlock. According to As Safir newspaper, consultations between the two parties didn't reach any positive results as al-Mustaqbal chief Saad Hariri hasn't yet “openly” agreed to support FPM leader Michel Aoun's candidacy to the presidency. Parliamentary sources told the daily that the “dialogue between the FPM and al-Mustaqbal is ongoing but will not last forever.” “May 25 is a critical stage and Hariri has to make up his mind” concerning Aoun's candidacy for the presidential post. The sources said that “the FPM facilitated the formation of the cabinet, the ministerial statement, the appointments of civil servants in state institutions and the implementation of the security plan... These achievements are worth to taking into consideration.” Sources close to the March 8 alliance told As Safir that “Aoun will not waiver his right to reach the presidency.” “Those who are waiting for him to engage in settlements after vacuum occurs will have to wait for a long time.”Al-Mustaqbal sources described in remarks to al-Akhbar newspaper the ongoing consultations with Aoun as “very  important.” “Hariri was convinced at a certain stage that electing Aoun as the head of state will have a good impact on stability in the country.” However, the sources continue: “Things are not clear yet... And Saudi Arabia rejects the adoption of Aoun's candidacy.”“Hariri's agreement with Aoun has negative and positive aspects as it would detach the agreement between Aoun and Hizbullah, prevent (Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid) Jumblat from playing (the balancing role at the parliament) and maintain stability in the country.”“But the agreement would impact the March 14 coalition, in addition to the alliance between al-Mustaqbal and the Lebanese Forces that will both collapse,” the sources added, noting that “Hariri prefers to preserve his current alliances at this stage.”Parliament has so far failed to elect a new president over differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances. Most of the March 8 camp's MPs have boycotted four rounds of elections over their call for an agreement on a consensual president.

Justice Ministry Confirms Receiving Two Syrian Notices against Jumblat, Khashan

Naharnet/Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi confirmed on Thursday receiving two Syrian legal notices against Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat and journalist Fares Khashan. LBCI television reported on Thursday afternoon that Rifi has confirmed receiving the notices from the Criminal Court of the Syrian city of Lattakia. These warrants were issued against Jumblat and Khashan for “undermining the Syrian state's authority.”"The Syrian embassy handed the two notices to the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which then sent them to the Justice Ministry,” Rifi said. He also expressed that he was “surprised by these notices.” "We were particularly surprised because the amnesty ruling issued by the Syrian regime in 2013 included these accusations,” he explained. "I am currently examining these notices,” LBCI quoted the Justice Minister as saying. However, the Foreign Ministry denied receiving any of the two warrants, according to the same source. "The PSP also said it had no former idea about these notices,” LBCI added. Nevertheless, LBCI aired pictures of the notices, saying they were sent by the Syrian embassy to the Foreign Ministry, and that they were then sent to the Justice Ministry without examining their content. Former General Security chief Maj. Gen. Jamil Sayyed had announced on October 3, 2010 that his lawyers in Syria informed him of 33 legal in absentia notices issued by the Damascus First Investigative Judge against judges, military officers, politicians, and media personalities, in addition to other Lebanese and foreign figures. Also, Syrian sources revealed in 2010 that there are warrants issued against Jumblat for “offending” the Syrian people since 2005, when he criticized the regime.

March 14 Will Stand against Anyone Seeking to 'Destroy Constitution'
Naharnet /The March 14 General Secretariat condemned on Thursday the parliament's failure to elect a new president following the lack of quorum caused by the March 8 camp's boycott of the session, warning that vacuum in the presidency harms the country's state institutions. It said in a statement after its weekly meeting: “We will stand against anyone thinking of destroying the constitution or replacing it with another.” It deemed the boycott as unconstitutional, noting: “A hundred thousand Lebanese Muslims and Christians died during the civil war to establish this constitution.” “Harming it during the critical time of presidential vacuum is tantamount to a call for a new civil war,” said the General Secretariat. “We will stand in the way of any side that believes it can change the constitution through the force of arms,” it stressed. “The period of presidential vacuum is one of the most dangerous phases Lebanon has gone through,” added the March 14 forces. Commenting on Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Michel Aoun's remarks that he wants to be part of an "integrated triangle" along with Hizbullah and al-Mustaqbal Movement, the General Secretariat said: “We would like to remind the Lebanese people that the Syrian regime under late President Hafez Assad tried to impose such a formula in Lebanon.” “The Taif Accord however destroyed this equation and restored equal power-sharing among Muslims and Christians,” it explained. “The Cedar Revolution then emphasized the importance of coexistence, achieving reconciliation among the Lebanese in the wake of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri,” it continued. “He was Sunni leader, but Lebanese people from all sects transformed him into a national symbol. An 'integrated triangle' would once again force the sects to close themselves off from each other,” it said. Aoun remarked on Wednesday: “We should form an integrated triangle between Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, al-Mustaqbal Movement head MP Saad Hariri and I.”
"And we cannot dismantle this triangle,” he stated. Parliament failed on Thursday to elect a president for the fifth time following a boycott by the majority of the March 8 camp over the ongoing differences with the March 14 alliance on a presidential candidate. Speaker Nabih Berri has kept parliament sessions open-ended until Suleiman's term ends.

Interior Ministry Asks Refugees Not to Stage Rallies that May 'Affect Security'
Naharnet /The Ministry of Interior on Thursday called on Syrian refugees not to stage any political rallies that “might in any way affect security and stability in Lebanon or the relations between Syrian refugees and Lebanese citizens.” The ministry said the measure is based on “the Lebanese government's stance which insists on neutralizing Lebanon from the ongoing conflict in Syria, and out of keenness on sound relations between Lebanese citizens and Syrian refugees.” But the ministry noted that the freedom of political stances for refugees is preserved “in a manner that does not contradict with the rules of Lebanese national security.” Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq urged U.N. organizations and international groups concerned with the plight of Syrian refugees to “fully shoulder their responsibilities in this regard, seek to inform Syrian refugees of this statement's content, and to follow up the issue and give it utmost importance.” The development comes in the wake of rallies staged by Syrian nationals in the Bourj Hammoud and al-Nabaa areas in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has nominated himself for a third presidential term. The demonstrators carried the flags of Syria and Hizbullah. Damascus has called on all Syrian refugees -- except those who fled “illegally” -- to cast their votes at embassies for the election. Lebanon is home to more than a million refugees from Syria giving it the highest refugee population per capita in the world. In an apparently non-political brawl on Saturday, a Lebanese citizen was severely wounded when a Syrian Kurd man hurled a big gas cylinder at him from the second floor of a building. The incident has sent tensions soaring in the predominantly Armenian Lebanese area.

Berri Throws Weight behind Hizbullah on Resistance and Liberation Day
Naharnet/Speaker Nabih Berri hailed on Thursday the resistance that maintained the unity of Lebanon's land, people and institutions, deeming it as a “crucial need.” “The Resistance is a necessity as long as part of our land remains under occupation and due to the ongoing Israeli violations,” Berri said in a statement issued on the occasion of the Resistance and Liberation day that commemorates the Israeli army’s withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000. He noted that “the army is defending the country and carrying out security missions and similarly the resistance is a crucial need against any Israeli aggression.” The head of the AMAL movement congratulated the Lebanese on the occasion, stressing that “the unity of the nation and its civil peace remain essential.”Berri described the resistance as the “most powerful military force in the Middle East and the third in the world.”“On the occasion of the Resistance and Liberation day we reiterate our trust in Lebanon, its system and divisions.” Concerning the presidential elections deadlock, the Speaker called on lawmakers to assume their national responsibilities and kick start a new term. The parliament failed anew on Thursday to elect a president in a fifth session of its kind, raising fears that the vacuum in the country's top Christian post would affect Lebanon's power-sharing agreement under which the president should be a Maronite, the premier a Sunni and the speaker a Shiite.

Sources: Lavrov-Hariri Meeting Canceled over Sensitive Situation
Naharnet /A meeting that was scheduled to be held between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and al-Mustaqbal movement leader ex-PM Saad Hariri was postponed due to the sensitive political situation in Lebanon, Russian sources said. The talks had been set for Thursday. The sources told al-Joumhouria daily that the meeting between Lavrov and Hariri would have led to different interpretations locally amid the failure of parliament to elect a new president. They did not rule out another meeting between them in light of the developments on the presidential elections.
Hariri last met with Lavrov in Paris in January.

FPM Considering to Boycott Cabinet Sessions after Suleiman's Term Ends
Naharnet/The Free Patriotic Movement is mulling to boycott cabinet sessions after the end of President Michel Suleiman's tenure to protest the political arch-foes' failure to elect a successor, media reports said on Thursday. Sources close to the FPM told al-Akhbar newspaper that the “party is discussing the possibility of boycotting all government sessions after Suleiman's term ends to object the failure to carry out timely presidential polls.” The sources pointed out that FPM officials are “still discussing the positive and negative aspects of such a move, especially, if the Marada movement and Tashnag and the rest of the March 8 ministers didn't follow suit.”“Such an endeavor will be meaningless if our allies didn't support it.” Parliament has so far failed to elect a new president over differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances. Most of the March 8 camp's MPs have boycotted four rounds of elections over their call for an agreement on a consensual president. However, sources close to the March 14 alliance questioned the usefulness of the FPM's decision as “the boycott by the movement's two ministers will not affect the cabinet.” The sources pointed out that the coalition, including al-Mustaqbal movement, will boycott all parliamentary sessions set to take place after May 25 to protest the legislators' failure to elect a new head of state. “Christian lawmakers affiliated in the March 14 camp and the FPM agreed to boycott all legislative sessions.”For his part, Information Minister Ramzi Jreij considered in comments published in al-Liwaa daily that the cabinet will be able to cover up for the vacancy at the helm of the most important Christian post in the state. “A president should be elected as soon as possible,” Jreij said, describing the matter as “crucial.”The minister expressed the cabinet's readiness to assume all its responsibilities according to the constitution. There are fears that the vacuum in the country's top Christian post would affect Lebanon's power-sharing agreement under which the president should be a Maronite, the premier a Sunni and the speaker a Shiite.

Suleiman Hopes Successor Would Follow up on his Achievements

Naharnet/President Michel Suleiman has promised to follow up on the achievements that he has made during his tenure, including the implementation of the Baabda Declaration, hoping for similar moves by the country's new head of state. In remarks to An Nahar daily published on Thursday, two days before a ceremony he will hold on the occasion of leaving office, Suleiman regretted that he might not hand over power to the person who will take office after him. The differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances have prevented the election of the new president over the insistence of the Hizbullah-led team to reach a prior agreement on a consensual candidate. The majority of the March 8 camp's MPs have been boycotting the parliamentary sessions aimed at electing a president. A similar scenario will take place on the fifth round of the polls on Thursday. Suleiman told An Nahar that he wanted his successor “to finish what I started,” saying that he would also follow-up the achievements he had made. He was referring to his defense strategy proposal and the Baabda Declaration, which was announced in 2012 after the March 8 and 14 camps agreed during a national dialogue session to distance Lebanon from the region's crisis. Suleiman also made reference to the International Support Group for Lebanon and the 3-billion-dollar Saudi grant to the Lebanese army that was announced in December.
The support group, which was inaugurated in New York in September 2013, undertook to work together to mobilize support for the sovereignty and state institutions of Lebanon and to highlight and promote efforts to assist the country. In his remarks to An Nahar, Suleiman said Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi had backed a proposal to extend his term because he was keen to avoid vacuum in the country's top Christian post. He also stressed that the “voluntary practice of democracy” had harmed him during his tenure. “They changed the concept of elections when they said that paralysis is a democratic right,” Suleiman said about the March 8 alliance without naming it. Suleiman has prepared a speech that he would make during the ceremony on Saturday, a day before he leaves Baabda Palace after the expiry of his six-year term. Local dailies said the outgoing president intends to stress the political, security and administrative achievements made during his tenure and to express regret that he would not be able to hand over power to his successor. The ceremony will be attended by politicians and diplomats, including the speaker, the prime minister, cabinet ministers, current and former MPs, in addition to businessman, civil society members and top journalists.

Brace yourself for Aoun’s frustration
May 22, 2014/By Michael Young /The Daily Star

It has become obvious in recent days that much of the speculation about whether Saad Hariri would order his parliamentary bloc to vote for Michel Aoun was unfounded.
Part of this speculation was heightened by politicians who have no desire to see Aoun become president. Their tactic, it seems, was to draw the general down into the pit of presidential disputation, when Aoun had sought to remain above the fray, and in that way provoke and intensify negative reactions to his possible election, further eroding his chances.
That’s why even Samir Geagea’s revelation that Hariri had raised the possibility of Aoun as a consensus candidate could conceivably have been a coordinated effort to neutralize the general, while also preserving Hariri’s ties with the Change and Reform Bloc. Geagea’s statement that Aoun, given his past, could not be a consensus candidate added impetus to the argument that Aoun fails to embody Lebanese unity, a president’s primary constitutional role. It also created the impression that Geagea has veto power over whether Future shifts its support to presidential candidates other than him.
Aoun’s election was always a long shot, but he played his cards as well as he could have. By not entering the campaign early on, he kept his hat in the ring, buying time for a possible regional consensus to build around his presidency. That wasn’t to be, but the general had few other options.
Aoun may feel that Hariri led him on, but he should really look closer to home, at his own allies. While Hezbollah did what it had done in 2007-08 by hinting that it supported Aoun, the reality is that the party’s favorite candidate remains Gen. Jean Kahwagi, the Army commander. Aoun’s unofficial candidacy was and is a useful facade allowing the party to eventually slip in someone better able to advance its agenda.
Some observers have astutely pointed out that the real battle is not over the presidency, but over who will lead the Army. In light of this, Aoun’s victory would very likely mean that his son in law, Shamel Roukoz, would succeed Kahwagi, and it appears that Hezbollah is not keen for this to happen. Aoun and Roukoz have their own networks within the officer corps, independent of Hezbollah’s, therefore the leeway to make decisions involving the military of which the party may disapprove.
What are Aoun’s options now? Some media outlets have speculated that if no consensus is reached over a president, the general will force the issue on his candidacy either by taking his ministers out of the government or by blocking its performance.
There are no indications that this is true, but given Aoun’s past performance, it cannot be ruled out. And yet, the worst thing Aoun can do is resort to a strategy of blackmail. This will not only hinder the state at a particularly sensitive time, it will also disturb Hezbollah, which does not want an open-ended vacuum in the presidency. The party is keen to consolidate its position in Lebanon this year, in parallel to Bashar Assad’s gains in Syria, and bringing in a president with whom it is comfortable is one half of its strategy. The other is to secure, with its allies, a parliamentary majority in elections scheduled for November. Hezbollah does not want anything, or anyone, to interrupt or delay this process, even if it will manage relations with the general carefully so as to preserve their alliance during and after the parliamentary elections. Lebanon moves primarily to the rhythm of Sunni-Shiite relations today, and Aoun’s obstructionism would come across as a vain effort to reaffirm Christian priorities in a system that has transcended this. Moreover, the formation of Tammam Salam’s government revealed a shared desire by Hezbollah and Hariri, backed by Iran and Saudi Arabia, to contain the threat of sectarian conflict in Lebanon. That imperative is as relevant today as it was several months ago, and any effort by Aoun to undermine it is likely to upset both Hezbollah and the Future Movement.
But will this be enough to dissuade the general? Very unlikely. There was not much he could do in 2008, when a consensus behind Michel Sleiman in Lebanon and the Arab world helped bring him to office. But in 1989, Aoun plunged Lebanon into a fresh state of conflict once he felt the Taif Accord would be used to sidestep him for the presidency. Before long, he was caught up in a war with the Lebanese Forces that devastated Christian-controlled areas and Christian political fortunes in general.
In this context, if Aoun decides to throw a political tantrum, two Maronites in particular could be asked to intervene. The Maronite patriarch, Beshara Rai, has been irrepressible when it comes to politics. But if Aoun decides to impede the work of the government, Rai has a duty speak out and insist that this would not only harm the state, it would also marginalize the role of Maronites and further divide Christians at a critical juncture. The second Maronite is Sleiman Frangieh. As an ally of Hezbollah and Aoun, his refusal to go along with a project that effectively paralyzes the government would have an impact, especially on members of Aoun’s bloc close to Frangieh. Among them is Gebran Bassil, who has a stake in remaining in office while the auction for oil and gas contracts takes place.
One can understand Aoun’s frustration. But for him to hold Lebanon hostage to his political ambitions is no solution. It will not alter the presidential equation, but it will show, during a time of near-existential vulnerability in the country, that certain individuals cannot break free from their egoism. Lebanon merits better than to face the consequences of this again.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR. He tweets @BeirutCalling.

Lebanon spirals into an ominous presidential void
Thursday, 22 May 2014/By: Joyce Karam/Al Arabiya/Thursday’s parliamentary session in Lebanon will unlikely yield to a presidential vote, thus making a vacuum in the highest office a fait accompli as President Michel Suleiman’s term ends on Sunday. The void sees its root cause in the regional divide as well as a deeply polarized status-quo inside Lebanon, and could open the door to security and political upheavals. There is no doubt that drama has always found its way into Lebanese presidential politics in recent history. Bachir Gemayel, and Renae Mouawad were assassinated shortly after winning the presidency in 1982 and 1989 respectively, while Emile Lahoud’s was loathed towards the end of his term in 2007, and Amine Gemayel and Michel Aoun sought exile after a turbulent time during the civil war. Certainly, this round of presidential elections is not proving to be any different.
Void and regional stalemate
As Lebanese parliamentarians meet today, there is very small chance that they will get the numerical quorum needed to hold a vote (86 members), and an even slimmer chance to get a simple majority behind one of the many candidates aspiring to move to Baabda palace. Lebanon, the microcosm of politics in the Middle East, is once again reflecting the regional divide and the inability of its local actors to break the deadlock. A Saudi-Iranian thaw would certainly help in ending the void by influencing different Lebanese factions
It is the “stark polarization between the main political forces in the Lebanon, and to a larger extent the polarized regional situation due to the Syrian conflict” that has led Lebanon to the void, says Joseph Bahout, a professor of Middle East Studies at the Institute of Politics in Paris. Bahout, author of many papers on Lebanon, tells Al Arabiya News that “regional consensus” has historically been a prerequisite in electing the Lebanese president. Such an umbrella is lacking today, with regional divisions on display between Saudi and Iran, ranging from Syria to Iraq to Bahrain and Yemen. This promises a “prolonged void” for Lebanon according to Bahout, that could “last until there is a change in the regional configuration, or a sudden break in the Syrian conflict.”
A Saudi-Iranian thaw would certainly help in ending the void by influencing different Lebanese factions with strong connections to Riyadh (March 14) and Tehran (March 8). But such a prospect of a Saudi-Iranian understanding cannot be expected in the short term, says Bahout, as the nuclear negotiations and specter of a deal with Iran and the West looms over the “regional entanglement.” While Lebanon was able to form a government last February encompassing the March 8 and 14 blocs, that breakthrough coming after 10 month of deadlock was “an easier nut to crack” than the presidency says Bahout and does not rest upon an agreement on one candidate for the next six years.
Security in the balance
The presidential void, notwithstanding the security progress that the new government and the army have cemented, could yet again rock the Lebanese boat, and magnify the Syria spillover. Bahout contends that “such a vacuum is often accompanied by a degradation in security” reminding that he last period of vacuum for nine months in 2007, saw “political assassinations” following the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. This time however, Assad is preoccupied inside Syria says Bahout, and the “Tripoli lull negotiated in parallel to the formation of the Tamam Salam government tends to show that the main forces are keen to avoid a bloody and wider confrontation.”
The security meter in Lebanon could very well turn out to be the bellwether in deciding the next president. In a sense, Bahout explains that “if security degrades and becomes a priority, precedents show that this plays into the hands of the Army commander,” in this case General Jean Kahwaji whose term ends in September. “The military institution ends up filling the interim period in an informal way, alongside the government.”On the other hand, a prolonged vacuum that does not tip the balance for Kahwaji, can “lead political forces to let go of their maximalist positions and rally around a middle-ground, consensual figure” such as Parliamentarian Robert Ghanem or the head of the Central Bank Riad Salameh or former parliamentarian Jean Obeid. Given the regional dynamics, however, more dramatic scenarios could hold true for Lebanon. A prolonged vacuum could shake the post-Taif agreement system, prompting a debate on overhauling the pact reached in 1989 and pressuring to “modify provisions of the constitution or of the pact” according to Bahout. Regardless how this void might play out, Lebanon’s failure to vote for a new president on time is an ominous sign for the country. Coming on the heels of unprecedented turbulence next door and a splintered Middle East, one can only hope that the actors inside Beirut will take their share of responsibility and avoid a turn for the worse.

Gazan Christians Travel to West Bank for Pope Visit

Naharnet /Gaza Strip have been allowed to leave the besieged Palestinian territory to travel to the West Bank for Pope Francis's upcoming visit, officials said Thursday. "Israel allowed around 650 Christians in Gaza to travel to the West Bank during the pope's visit" this weekend, a security official told AFP . Dozens of pilgrims passed through the Erez border crossing Thursday morning, an AFP correspondent said, referring to the Israeli-controlled personnel crossing from the Strip, which is run by Islamist movement Hamas. Pope Francis arrives in Jordan on Saturday before traveling to the West Bank town of Bethlehem, then to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. "This visit honors Palestinians and recognizes them as a people, and acknowledges their rights," said 22-year-old Milad Ayyad, whose mother will go while he is left behind. Israel has only allowed Christians over 35 years of age to go. Minerva Saba, a 54-year-old woman who lost a son during an Israeli military operation in Gaza in 2008, called on the pope to "come to Gaza and pray with us in our church, to see how people live here." "Christians are a minority in Gaza and they have many problems which the pope must hear about," she said. Gaza is home to only some 1,500 Christians out of an overwhelmingly Muslim population of 1.7 million people. Most of them are Greek Orthodox, and only about 130 Roman Catholic. They have been targeted in attacks by Islamists since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007. A hand grenade exploded in the courtyard of a Roman Catholic church in Gaza City in February. In 2011, a bomb targeted the director of Gaza's Anglican hospital, who escaped unharmed. Source/Agence France Presse

Vatican Defends Palestinian Sovereignty ahead of Papal Visit
Naharnet /The Vatican's Secretary of State on Thursday defended the Palestinians' right to a "sovereign and independent" homeland and said he hoped Pope Francis's upcoming visit would lead to "courageous decisions" for peace. "We know that the pope is going to a particularly suffering land," Cardinal Pietro Parolin, whose role is equivalent to that of a prime minister, told Vatican television ahead of the pope's three-day visit starting on Saturday. "I really hope that the fruit will be to help politicians and all people of good will take courageous decisions on the path to peace," Parolin said in the interview, which was posted on the website of Vatican Radio. Asked about particular points that Francis will talk about during the visit amid stalled peace talks, Parolin said they would be in line with Vatican policy. "On the one hand, Israel's right to exist in peace and security within internationally recognized boundaries. "And the Palestinian people's right to have a homeland, sovereign and independent, the right to move around freely, the right to live in dignity," he said. The pope travels to Jordan first on Saturday where he will meet Syrian refugees, then to Bethlehem in the Palestinian Territories on Sunday and on to Jerusalem where he will hold a prayer for Christian unity and visit holy sites. The Vatican's decision for Francis to fly by helicopter directly to Bethlehem from Jordan without passing through Israel as normally required by diplomatic protocol is a first that has cheered Palestinians and angered Israelis. The Vatican recognized the Palestinian Territories as the "State of Palestine" in 2012 and has incurred Israeli ire in the past for appearing to side with the Palestinians although relations have improved markedly in recent years. Source/Agence France Presse

Thailand's Army Seizes Power in Coup
Naharnet /Thailand's army chief seized power in a military coup on Thursday, ordering rival protesters off the streets and deposing the government in a bid to end months of political bloodshed. General Prayut Chan-O-Cha made the announcement in a televised address to the nation, saying the powerful armed forces had to act to restore stability in the Southeast Asian nation. The military declared a nationwide curfew from 10 pm to 5 am and ordered demonstrators on both sides of the kingdom's political divide to disperse and go home after nearly seven months of political rallies in the capital.
It banned gatherings of more than five people, summoned the ousted cabinet to report to the army and suspended the constitution -- except for the section related to the monarchy.
Moments before Prayut's stunning announcement, witnesses said they saw leaders of Thailand's two main political parties and its rival protest movements being taken by the military from a venue where Prayut had convened talks aimed at resolving their differences. It was unclear if they had been formally detained. The tough-talking Prayut, 60, said he seized power because of "the violence in Bangkok and many parts of the country that resulted in loss of innocent lives and property and was likely to escalate." It is the latest twist in a nearly decade-long political crisis stretching back to an earlier coup in 2006 that deposed the controversial tycoon-turned-politician Thaksin Shinawatra as premier -- a move that infuriated his supporters. "All Thais must remain calm and government officials must work as normal," Prayut said in the brief announcement around 5 pm (1000 GMT), flanked by four of his top officers. Rumors of an imminent coup had gripped Thailand since Tuesday, when the army chief declared martial law to prevent deadly political tensions spiraling out of control. The overthrow caps months of increasing political tension pitting a Bangkok-based royalist elite and its backers against the democratically elected government aligned to Thaksin, whose sister Yingluck was dismissed as premier earlier this month in a controversial court ruling.
Thaksin now lives in Dubai to avoid prison for a corruption conviction, but he and his political allies retain strong support in Thailand, particularly in the rural north, and have won every general election since 2001. Prayut's announcement came shortly after the opposing camps and other top political actors had gathered for a second straight day of closed-door reconciliation talks at a heavily guarded military facility in the capital Bangkok. Some experts expressed fears the military takeover could unleash more turmoil.
"The coup is not a solution at all to end the crisis. This will become the crisis," said Pavin Chachavalpongpun of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Japan's Kyoto University. "It shows the military has never learned the lesson from 2006," he said, referring to the cycle of political crisis stemming from Thaksin's overthrow. Pavin said the coup would make anti-government protesters "very happy". Protests by the anti-Thaksin movement have rocked Thailand for months. Related violence has left at least 28 people dead and hundreds wounded. The army chief likely took over due to the weakened caretaker government's refusal to make way for an interim regime, said Paul Chambers of the Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs at Chiang Mai University. "Since the caretaker government was resisting moving to an ad hoc prime minister, Prayut was pressured to take the 2006 option," he said. Caretaker premier Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, who had refused calls to step down, was among the ministers ordered to report to the army. Niwattumrong was "safe" in an undisclosed location, an aide said. Prayut, a staunch royalist aligned with the anti-Thaksin bloc, had earlier vowed not to allow Thailand to become another "Ukraine or Egypt."
"What I am doing in my security capacity -- if I upset anyone, I apologize but it is necessary," he said on Thursday before the coup announcement. Thailand's democratic development has now been repeatedly been curbed by a total of 19 actual or attempted coups since 1932. Martial law gives the military wide powers to ban public gatherings, restrict movements, and detain people, though most of those powers had not been invoked before the coup. The military has taken steps to muzzle the media since Tuesday. On Thursday it announced after the coup that all public and private television and radio stations must suspend normal programming and only broadcast army feeds. The step was taken to ensure the release of "accurate news to the people," an army spokesman said in a televised announcement. All television channels in the Southeast Asian kingdom including foreign broadcasters such as CNN, BBC, and CNBC ran a constant military feed featuring a succession of brief announcements related to the government takeover. Between the bulletins, a static screen was shown depicting the emblems of the various branches of Thailand's armed forces, as patriotic Thai songs played. Prayut gave no indication how long the military would hold power. He said it took over in order to "start political reform", without giving details. The pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt" movement had called for new national polls they hope will provide a fresh mandate to the beleaguered elected government. But the anti-government movement has first demanded vague political reforms that are widely seen as a bid to cripple the political power of Thaksin's family and allies, and some Thais welcomed the army takeover. Arnusit Chenruk, a 39-year-old Bangkok office worker, said the coup was a "good" thing. "Our country has been chaotic and has had no solutions for a long time."Source/Agence France Presse

China, Russia Veto U.N. Attempt to Refer Syria to ICC

Naharnet /China and Russia vetoed Thursday a draft U.N. Security Council resolution to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for crimes committed by both sides in the three-year civil war.
Western powers pressed for the resolution in the face of mounting atrocities in Syria, including chemical attacks, systematic torture, barrel bombings and blocked aid access. It was the fourth time China and Russia have blocked Western resolutions on the conflict, paralyzing Security Council efforts to end a war estimated to have killed more than 160,000 people. The 13 other members of the Security Council voted in favor and Western powers rounded on China and Russia for protecting not just the Syrian regime but also opposition "terrorist groups." "Our grandchildren will ask us years from now how we could have failed to bring justice to people living in hell on earth," said U.S. ambassador Samantha Power. "The victims of the Assad regime's industrial killing machine and the victims of terrorist attacks deserve more than to have more dead counted," she added. Moscow is Syrian President Bashar Assad's closest ally, and has provided him with diplomatic cover throughout the crisis. Beijing generally aligns with the Russian position. "It is disgraceful that they have yet again vetoed the Security Council's efforts to take action on human rights violations in Syria," said British ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.
The text, drawn up by France, was co-sponsored by 60 countries, including members of the European Union, Japan, South Korea and several African states. Syria is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court so only the Security Council can decide whether to refer war crimes or crimes against humanity on its territory to the court. It did the same for Darfur in 2005 and Libya in 2011.
French ambassador Gerard Araud said before the expected veto it "would be an insult to millions of suffering Syrians." Western powers said they would continue to document atrocities and press for justice.
Writing in The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the Security Council "must unite." "Holding the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity accountable for their actions is a way of obtaining justice for the victims. "It is also a deterrent to those who continue to commit such actions. Sooner or later, they will be judged," he wrote.
Jan Eliasson, deputy secretary general of the United Nations, told the Security Council before the vote that the chamber's more than three years of disagreement was deeply damaging.
"If members of the Council continue to be unable to agree on a measures that could provide some accountability for the ongoing crimes, the credibility of this body and of the entire organization will continue to suffer," he said before the vote. But the Russian veto had never been in doubt. Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin on Wednesday dismissed the French initiative as a "publicity stunt" that would undermine efforts to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria. Peace talks have been locked in stalemate since February and international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has resigned. Western diplomats say China is embarrassed but was reluctant to oppose Russia again after abstaining from a resolution denouncing the separatist referendum in Crimea in March. London-based rights group Amnesty International accused China and Russia of displaying "chilling disregard" for the countless victims in Syria. "A crucial opportunity for justice has been squandered. Once again, Russia and China have abandoned the Syrian people for the sake of salvaging political alliances," it said. "Not only does this move risk emboldening those who are committing crimes with impunity but it is yet another sign of how the international community is failing Syrians."

Prince Charles provokes diplomatic row with Russia by comparing Putin to Hitler

Reuters/Ynetnews/Published: 05.22.14/Holocaust refugee says Prince Charles compared Russia's annexation of Crimea with Hitler's invasion of Poland; Russian diplomats seeking official explanation over remarks. Prince Charles's comparison of Vladimir Putin with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler triggered a diplomatic row on Thursday when Moscow scolded the heir to the British throne for what it said was an outrageous attempt to sully Russia's reputation over Ukraine. During a trip to Canada, the 65-year-old prince told a Jewish woman who fled from Poland during World War Two that in Ukraine "Putin is doing just about the same as Hitler", reportedly comparing Hitler's 1939 invasion of Poland with Russia's annexation of Crimeaa, according to the Daily Mail newspaper. Charles's remarks, described by a royal source as "well-intentioned" and not meant to be public, caused a stir in Britain because the royal family is not expected to voice political views in public.  "If these words were truly spoken, then without doubt, they do not reflect well on the future British monarch," a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry told a news conference. "We view the use of the Western press by members of the British royal family to spread the propaganda campaign against Russia on a pressing issue – that is, the situation in Ukraine – as unacceptable, outrageous and low." Russian diplomats are seeking an official explanation over the remarks which are especially emotive for a country that lost more people than any other in World War Two. Putin, a former KGB spy who has repeatedly spoken about the sacrifices of what Russians call the Great Patriotic War, lost a brother in the Nazi siege of Leningrad. The Soviet Union lost more than 20 million people in the war and the victory over Nazi Germany is celebrated across Russia as a national triumph. But Putin's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea province has prompted some Ukrainian protesters and even some Western politicians to make comparisons between the 61-year-old Russian president and the actions of Hitler. Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to clarify remarks in March suggesting Putin's justification for his incursion into Crimea to protect ethnic Russians was reminiscent of claims made by Hitler over foreign territories.

Heir to the throne
It was not the first time that the man destined to be king has taken British politicians and royal watchers by surprise. In a private diary that was leaked, he once described the Chinese Communist leadership as "appalling old waxworks". Queen Elizabeth, Charles's 88-year-old mother, has never aired any such emotive sentiments in public though her husband, Prince Philip, is famous for a host of unusually blunt comments and off-the-cuff remarks. "This was a private conversation and we are not exactly sure what was said. It certainly wasn't meant to be a diplomatic intervention," Clarissa Campbell Orr, an historian of the monarchy at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. "But this is a very sensitive issue for Russia. We know the Russians are offended but the prince was not making an official statement. That is all we can really be certain of." Prime Minister David Cameron, who has scolded the Kremlin for annexing Crimea and supporting pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, declined to comment on Charles's reported remarks. When asked whether it was appropriate to compare Putin with Hitler given that one of Putin's brothers died during the Nazi siege of Leningrad, Cameron said: "I am not going to comment someone's private conversation, least of all Prince Charles."A spokeswoman for Charles's office said they did not comment on his private conversations.

Russia vows to veto UN resolution deferring Syria to ICC
Source/Agence France Presse/Ynetnews/22.05.14
French-drafted Security Council resolution would allow indictments of Syrian war crimes at ICC; Russia, China likely to veto.
Associated Press
UNITED NATIONS - The UN Security Council faces a dramatic vote Thursday on referring the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court for investigation of possible war crimes, with dozens of countries signing on to embarrass Russia which vowed to kill the measure that demands a path to justice. Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said Wednesday his country will veto the French-drafted resolution, calling it a "publicity stunt" that will hurt efforts to find a political solution to a crisis that activists say has killed more than 160,000 and sent millions fleeing. France's UN Ambassador Gerard Araud retorted that Churkin can't say the resolution will undermine a political process "because there is no political process." He challenged Russia to explain why it's really casting a veto.
The draft resolution condemns the "widespread violation" of human rights and international humanitarian law by Syrian authorities and pro-government militias as well as abuses and violations by "non-state armed groups" during the last three years. It would refer the conflict to the world's permanent war crimes tribunal without targeting either side. The Security Council has been deeply divided over Syria, with Syrian allies Russia and China at odds with the US, its Western allies and other members who support the opposition. This will be the fourth time Russia has used its veto power as a permanent council member to deflect action against the government of President Bashar Assad. China also supports Assad's government and joined Russia in earlier vetoes, and diplomats said Beijing is likely to do so again Thursday. With attempts at peace talks at a standstill, leading the joint UN-Arab league envoy who tried to broker them to resign, frustration has soared as the international community struggles to find a solution to the war, deliver humanitarian aid to almost 3.5 million Syrians in need and end impunity for horrific crimes. Some 50 UN countries have taken the unusual move of signing on as co-sponsors to the latest Security Council resolution, saying they want to send "a strong political signal ... that impunity for the most serious crimes under international law is unacceptable."  Syria is not a party to the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court, so the only way it can be referred to The Hague, Netherlands-based tribunal is by the Security Council. The council has previously referred conflicts in Darfur and Libya to the court, but not with so many non-council members signing on in support. Lobbying on both sides continued this week, with Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari sending a letter Tuesday asking countries not to support the resolution. A copy of the letter, obtained by The Associated Press, calls the proposal "biased" and an effort to "sabotage any chance of peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis led by the Syrian people themselves." Ja'afari also accused France of supporting "terrorist groups" operating inside his country. In a letter Tuesday to the Security Council, Najib Ghadbian, UN representative of the opposition Syrian Coalition, blamed the Syrian government for a range of crimes including the use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs. "There is every indication that many of the most heinous acts committed by Syrian armed forces have received the approval, and indeed the complicity, of the highest level of government, including Syria's head of state," Ghadbian wrote. The Security Council has managed twice to reach agreement on a Syria resolution, once to get rid of its chemical weapons and earlier this year to demand access for the delivery of humanitarian aid. The resolution on aid has largely failed. The new resolution takes note of reports by an independent commission appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate rights violations in Syria. In its latest report in September, the commission said at least eight massacres had been perpetrated in Syria by Assad's government and supporters, and one by rebels in the previous year and a half. A confidential list of suspected criminals is being produced by the commission and kept under lock and key by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

Rowhani: nuclear deal ‘very likely’ by July
AFP, Shanghai/Thursday, 22 May 2014/Talks between Tehran and six world powers on a comprehensive deal over its nuclear program are “very likely” to reach a successful conclusion by a July 20 deadline, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani said Thursday. “We are very likely to come to an agreement by the end of July,” Rowhani told reporters in Shanghai, speaking in Farsi through a translator. “We can achieve this.” His comments came after an apparently largely fruitless fourth round of negotiations in Vienna last week. But the U.N. atomic watchdog said Wednesday that Iran has agreed to address some of the many long-held allegations that it conducted research into making nuclear weapons before 2003 and possibly since. The International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran, which denies ever having sought nuclear weapons, has undertaken to implement “practical measures” by August 25. “It takes time” to resolve outstanding issues, Rowhani said after he attended a regional security forum in China earlier this week. “We cannot expect it to be resolved in a few meetings.”

Obama calls Jordan’s King, discuss Syria, region

By ARIEL BEN SOLOMON/J.Post/05/22/2014 /US President Barack Obama called King Abdullah of Jordan on Wednesday and spoke about the Syrian war and how it is affecting the region. Abdullah emphasized the need for a political solution to the conflict as his country has already taken in 600,000 registered Syrian refugees. They also spoke about ways to increase strategic cooperation and Obama complimented the king’s efforts to achieve regional peace and stability as well as its absorption of Syrian refugees, The Jordan Times reported. On Tuesday night, Abdullah met with Secretary of State John Kerry and discussed the crisis in Syria and the peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. Abdullah told Kerry that it was important to continue the peace talks and reach an agreement to establish a Palestinian state. The king added that the US should continue its key role in managing the talks and that a final solution is needed for the conflict, which is a core one in the region, Jordan’s embassy in Washington stated. Abdullah also told Kerry that it is necessary to maintain the territorial integrity of Syria. He returned to Jordan on Thursday from his visit to the US.Meanwhile, Jordan prepares to receive Pope Francis on Saturday. “We hope the visit will push for achieving peace and stability in the region, including the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” said government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani on Wednesday, AFP reported. The Pope will meet Abdullah, hold mass in a stadium, and meet Syrian refugees during his visit.

Iran: Any aggression will be met with 'crushing and lethal response'
By JPOST.COM STAFF/05/22/2014 15:16
An Iranian military official touts the Islamic republic's "full preparedness" in face of foreign aggression, echoing Israel's warning earlier this week of "a storm on the horizon." Bushehr nuclear Iranian
Iranian security official at Bushehr nuclear plant. Photo: REUTERS
The Iranian military highlighted its full preparedness in the event of foreign aggression on Thursday, just days after nuclear talks in Vienna ended with no progress made. "The Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran will never be caught unawares, and should the enemy want to act on the immature fantasy of aggression, it will face a crushing and lethal response by the Armed forces,” commander of the Iranian Army’s Ground Forces Brigadier General Ahmad-Reza Pourdastan was quoted as saying by Iranian news agency Fars. “Today, we are facing new threats that are different from [those in] the past in terms of type, shape and size,” he added. Pourdastan said Iranian intelligence experts are monitoring the movements of the "enemy at the borders, across the region and beyond the region.” The Islamic Republic has repeatedly said its nuclear program poses no threat to other countries, reiterating that its defense doctrine is based on deterrence. Pourdastan's comments were reminiscent of those of Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, who warned of Iran's military readiness earlier this week. Speaking in Tel Aviv at a security conference organized by the Israel Defense publication and the Israel Artillery Association, Gilad said Iran could break out to nuclear weapons "very quickly" and that the security forecast was not sunny. "Today is a pleasant day. But there are clouds, and a storm, on the horizon," he said. "People don't believe it until it comes."

Russian protection will not save Assad
Thursday, 22 May 2014/By: Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya
Recently, some observers have expressed concern that Russia’s occupation of parts of Ukraine and Crimea is keeping it from supporting Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria. However, Syria’s propaganda machine rushed to reassure them, citing the Russian-Chinese statement in support of the Syrian regime. It also cited Moscow’s pledge to use its veto power to prevent transferring the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the investigation of possible war crimes. Russia, of course, voiced its support of the farce of re-electing Assad and said: “Be assured as Russia is confident that Assad will restore his control across the country within three years.”The Russians know well that the Assad regime failed in the war despite the massive support received from Russia and Iran
Russia can use its veto power all it wants at the U.N. Security Council, but this won’t be enough to keep the Assad regime in power. Political statements won’t do the latter any good either. Russia’s act of preventing the transfer of Syria’s war crimes to the ICC is a new Russian crime. Meanwhile, Russia has exhausted all efforts to aid the regime, from military capabilities, to intelligence information to indirect management of on-the-ground fighting. Most Syrian territories remain outside the control of Assad despite all this support. The Assad regime even failed to halt fighting in the areas surrounding Homs, a city which it besieged, starved, destroyed and forced fighters out of. Opposition armed forces have also renewed attacks on the capital Damascus.
Incapable regime
The Russians know well that the Assad regime failed in the war despite the massive support received from Russia and Iran. Foreign forces and militias fight most battles on behalf of the Syrian army, yet the regime is still incapable of altering the status quo. Assad will thus be toppled by the majority of the revolting Syrian people. In case the United States continues to refuse to support the Syrians, then the regime will collapse due to the spread of extremist groups that desire to expand their control. These groups will probably head towards Damascus at a later stage.
Thus, the Syrian regime won’t survive whether Moscow and Iran support it or abandon it. Meanwhile, Iran is currently expressing its willingness to accept a political solution to the Syrian conflict - even if its price is the isolation of Assad. Although Iranian demands are still unreasonable, there’s always a middle ground we can agree on at the right time.
No position to tamper
Russia remains involved in the Ukrainian crisis and it’s in no position to tamper with a faraway region like the Middle East. Russia is currently confronting its biggest ordeal since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it’s struggling to control the situation as it fears its former republics will follow in Ukraine’s footsteps. Now that Russia has lost Ukraine, it has practically lost its most important ally in the world. This is all a result of the same mentality Russia is also adopting towards Syria. Russia has insisted on imposing a president despite the people’s rejection. It also insisted on forcefully bringing him back to power. However, Viktor Yanukovych was eventually toppled in a popular revolution which turned into indignation against Moscow itself - indignation which pushed the Ukrainians to demand joining NATO.
The Russians are at the beginning of an economic war and diplomatic confrontation with the U.S. and not with the small Free Syrian Army. As time passes by and pressures increase, Russia will be the one in need of foreign support. So what will the Iranians and Syrians give to Russia? On the practical level, Iran and Syria are a political burden on Russia. Iran cannot continue to go on under this strict siege and the Assad regime is bankrupt and it cannot even pay for its food. All we can say is that Moscow’s policy is foolish. It really is.
**This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 22, 2014.

Why should we defend ‘hypocritical’ Saudi clerics
Thursday, 22 May 2014/By: Badria al-Bishr/Al Arabiya
A recording of a preacher dating a young girl and engaging in an obscene conversation with her spread in the media recently. In the recording, the girl was luring him to Makkah to meet with her. The story may have ended there - at this limit of a human mistake. However, it got worse when the preacher's lawyer - who is no less obscene than the preacher himself - said that what happened with his client was a conspiracy against religious men. He also said that the a group of liberals in Saudi Arabia is behind this conspiracy and threatened that he will release lewd photos and recordings of these liberals. For him, this is the solution as he apparently objects to defamation by counter defamation.
I don't understand why some people rise to defend moral crimes just because the preacher is a known public figure. This is what they did when a famous preacher plagiarized the book of a female Saudi writer. As far as they knew, this writer isn't one of their liberal enemies but is a supporter of this preacher (who plagiarized her work) and she has given him her book to to hear his feedback After the information ministry's ruling, it turned out that about 90 percent of his book was plagiarized from her book. I also don't understand how some people once defended a judge who in a famous case took bribes worth millions and then claimed he was possessed by a demon who ordered him to accept the bribe - so the demon was criminalized and the judge was exonerated! I also don't understand how, although people hear the truth with their own ears, they still believe a preacher who committed an obscene act when the same preacher says that liberals who defend women's rights are encouraging women to commit immoral acts.
Who is really being insubordinate?
This preacher's lawyer is now threatening to scandalize liberals and publish photos of them practicing obscene acts. The capable lawyer did not just make threats but he also warned that anyone who condemns his client's act is an enemy of religion. He also said that those who criticized his client have disobeyed their superior, adding that anyone who does so would be disobeying God and his prophet. I don't see how such statements harmonize with their frequent campaigns. Only a few days ago, they criticized assigning women in the Shura Council for the tenth time! They continue to criticize this although this was the decision of the superior - King Abdullah. The king has announced that he made this decision after consulting with a group from the Council of Senior Scholars. So wouldn't criticizing the decision be considered as disobedience of the superior?
I don't understand why some people rise to defend moral crimes just because the preacher is a known public figure
What about when they stood in groups in front of the royal court to protest the king's scholarship program? Isn't this disobedience of the superior, dear lawyer? Or when they went to the minister of labor, harassed him and threatened that they will pray for God to inflict him with cancer if he implements the decision allowing women to work as saleswomen in shops. Isn't this disobedience of the superior? What about when they raided the annual book fair and attacked and defamed the information minister and terrorized the publishing houses? Wasn't this disobedience of the superior? Or when they attacked the Janadriya Festival? Wasn't this disobedience of the superior?
And the list goes on and on. But nothing is equal to their suspicious silence regarding al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. They simply view these groups as having been led astray, ones which we should pray for to find the right path. Meanwhile, according to them, liberals must be burnt and decapitated.
**This article was first published in al-Hayat on May 21, 2014.