DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 9,27-31. And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed (him), crying out, "Son of David, have pity on us!"When he entered the house, the blind men approached him and Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I can do this?" "Yes, Lord," they said to him. Then he touched their eyes and said, "Let it be done for you according to your faith." And their eyes were opened. Jesus warned them sternly, "See that no one knows about this." But they went out and spread word of him through all that land.
Reports & Opinions
15 minutes of unity could save Lebanon another year of grief- The Daily Star-December 07/07
Elections in Lebanon: Implications for Washington, Beirut, and Damascus.By Jeffrey Feltman, Tony Badran, and David Schenker.The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. December 07/07
Glimmer of hope.By: Lucy Fielder. Al-Ahram Weekly. December 07/07
What Would Al-Qaeda do if America Left the Middle East?Stanford Progressive-December 07/07
Latest News Reports From
Miscellaneous Sources for December 07/07
Lebanon's Turmoil started by Constitutional Amendment-Naharnet
Vote on Lebanon president delayed-BBC News
Kouchner Predicts Presidential Election on Tuesday-Naharnet
Assad Discusses Lebanon with Prodi-Naharnet
Geagea, Hariri: No to Blackmail-Naharnet
An-Nahar Urges Aoun to Reconsider Conditions to Back Suleiman-Naharnet
Opposition Meets in Rabiyeh-Naharnet
Report: UNIFIL chief in Lebanon stopped at Hizbullah checkpoint-Ynetnews
Hamas: Hezbollah-Israel prisoner swap will include Palestinian ...Ha'aretz
UK welcomes Hezbollah man-Totally Jewish-Naharnet
Police investigates reporters who visited Syria, Lebanon-Jerusalem Post
Fadlallah Praises Iran's Participation in GCC Summit-Naharnet
Yakan Accuses Aoun of Trying to Topple Taif-Naharnet
Kouchner Needs More Time to Work Out Lebanon's Differences-Naharnet
Aoun Not scared Off by Vacuum, Refuses to Compromise-Naharnet
Lahoud Supports Presidency For Suleiman, Guarantees for Aoun-Naharnet
Kouchner, Hariri and Berri try to narrow gap over presidency-Daily Star
Hamas: Palestinians to be part of Hizbullah swap-Daily Star
Ghanem: Obstacle to election political, not constitutional-Daily Star
League for Lebanon urges all-inclusive consensus-Daily Star
National Bloc party denounces compromise-Daily Star
Nassib Lahoud calls for constitutional amendment-Daily Star
Israeli reporters in hot water for visiting Lebanon, Syria. AFP
Lebanese Army bans military-style clothing.(AFP)
Brammertz 'confident' Hariri assassins will be brought to justice.Daily Star
'Lebanon must update bureaucratic procedures-Daily Star
Nonprofit joins forces with UNHCR to launch Beirut center for Iraqi refugees-Daily Star
Canadian NGO hosts event to mark United Nations Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People in Toronto-Daily Star
Geagea, Hariri: No to Blackmail
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Al Moustaqbal chief Saad Hariri held a prolonged meeting on Thursday and discussed the ongoing presidential election crisis. A statement issued by Geagea's press office on Friday said both sides stressed that "we will not to succumb to blackmail" and called for speedy presidential elections."This would be the gateway to restoring balance to the state and a starting point for the effective return of the Christians to it," the statement added.
Beirut, 07 Dec 07, 11:41
Vote on Lebanon president delayed
BBC: The Lebanese parliament has been delayed the vote since September
Lebanese members of parliament have again put off a vote to elect a new president. They are now scheduled to hold the vote on 11 December.
The pro-West ruling bloc and pro-Syrian opposition have agreed on army chief Gen Michel Suleiman, but are divided on the make-up of a new government.
There is also said to be a dispute over how to amend the constitution to allow a senior civil servant to be elected.
The deadlock meant Emile Lahoud stepped down last month without a successor.
When his term in office ended on 23 November, Mr Lahoud's presidential powers were passed to the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
Correspondents say Gen Suleiman has remained neutral during the year-long political crisis and has repeatedly called on the army to keep out of politics.
During the deadlock - Lebanon's worst political crisis since the country's long civil war ended in 1990 - parliament has been crippled and the opposition has refused to recognise the government.
Under Article 49 of the current constitution, senior civil servants are barred from becoming president within two years of stepping down.
Gen Suleiman has remained neutral in Lebanon's recent upheavals
The constitution has been amended twice since 1998, first to allow Mr Lahoud to become president and again in 2004 to extend his term by three years.
That move sharply divided Lebanon into pro-Western and anti-Syrian camps.
Months later, Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon amid huge protests after the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, who had recently joined the anti-Syrian side.
Any further amendment to the constitution would have to be approved by a two-thirds majority in the 128-seat parliament, something also required for the election of a new president. A quorum of two-thirds is also necessary for either vote.
Under Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system, the country's president must be from the Maronite Christian minority.
The post of prime minister is always reserved for a Sunni Muslim, while that of parliament speaker goes to a Shia.
Lebanon presidential vote faces further delay
07 Dec 2007 08:37:37 GMT
More By Laila Bassam
BEIRUT, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Lebanon's presidential election faced further delay on Friday, despite rival leaders' agreement in principle to give the post to army chief Michel Suleiman.
Direct talks between the anti-Syrian ruling majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition, brokered by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner this week, have failed to clinch a deal on how to amend the constitution to allow Suleiman to take the job.
Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun, who has his own demands, has also yet to give his consent.
Parliament was due to meet for a vote at 1 p.m. (1100 GMT), but senior political sources said they expected the session to be put off for the seventh time since the first attempt on Sept. 25.
"Things are moving in the right direction but more time is needed," one source said, adding that there would be more contacts between the opposing camps during the day.
The presidency, reserved for a Maronite Christian under Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system, has been empty since pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud left office on Nov. 23.
The vote will go ahead only if the Western-backed majority and the opposition reach a prior agreement that would secure a two-thirds quorum for the electoral session.
Electing a president would help defuse a political crisis that has paralysed Lebanon for more than a year and led to its worst internal strife since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is also an opposition leader, and majority coalition leader Saad al-Hariri have met in the past few days in the presence of Kouchner, who has travelled to Lebanon seven times this year to tackle the political crisis.
They have discussed electing Suleiman, the shape of the next government and a new law for a parliamentary election in 2009.
Political sources said one obstacle was a demand by Aoun, Hezbollah's main Christian ally, that the next prime minister be a neutral figure, although his opposition colleagues were ready to accept a candidate chosen by the ruling majority.
Aoun wants his share of seats in the new cabinet to reflect the size of his parliamentary bloc -- the biggest of any Christian faction.
The rival camps remain at odds over exactly how to amend the constitution, which bans senior public servants from running for office, to allow Suleiman to be elected.
Berri wants the amendment to bypass Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, while Hariri insists any move should go through his government. The opposition says Siniora's cabinet is not legitimate since all Shi'ite Muslim ministers left it last year.
Suleiman, 59, had been the consensus candidate favoured by the opposition. He has good ties with Hezbollah and was appointed army chief in 1998 when Syria controlled Lebanon.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday he had been in regular contact with Lebanese leaders and he urged them to demonstrate "statesmanship" by moving quickly to elect a president, even without a deal on cabinet posts and other issues. (Writing by Nadim Ladki; editing by Alistair Lyon and Andrew Dobbie)
Opposition Meets in Rabiyeh
A meeting comprising Gen. Michel Aoun and representatives from Hizbullah and Amal took place at Rabiyeh late Thursday, the daily An Nahar reported.
It said no statements were made after the meeting that stretched on well into the night.
Citing opposition sources, An Nahar said Amal and Hizbullah representatives informed Aoun that MPs from their respective blocs would attend Friday's session.
Sources close to Aoun said the Free Patriotic Movement leader, in turn, informed the conferees of his rejection to MP Saad Hariri's appointment as prime minister.
An Nahar quoted opposition sources as saying the conferees agreed to issue a set of demands that included formation of a national unity government, a new electoral law and rejection to Hariri's appointment as Lebanon's next premier.
The demands contained a clause insisting on 16 seats for the majority, 14 seats for the opposition in a cabinet made up of 30 members and to follow the same distribution formula if a smaller cabinet is to be formed. Beirut, 07 Dec 07, 11:02
Yakan Accuses Aoun of Trying to Topple Taif
Islamic scholar Fathi Yakan indirectly accused Free Patriotic Movement leader Gen. Michel Aoun of staging a coup against Taif.
"Despite our (differences in) stances and views from Feb 14 Forces, we smell the stench of a coup against the Taif Accord from one of our opposition allies," Yakan said. Yakan also accused Aoun of lack of "coordination and agreement, which could take the country back to the formula that prevailed (on Lebanon) 17 years back."
"We are satisfied by a president who is just and unbiased, affiliated with the Arabs with a pro-resistance stance vis-à-vis the Zionist entity," Yakan stressed.
"(The president's) jurisdiction, however, has been settled by the Lebanese constitution and the Taif accord. Yakan accused Aoun of "playing with fire," and said he was afraid that "this could lead the country to grave conditions." Beirut, 07 Dec 07, 13:34
Fadlallah Praises Iran's Participation in GCC Summit
A Ranking Lebanese Shiite Muslim cleric on Friday welcomed the participation by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the latest Gulf Cooperation Council Summit. Sayed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, in sermon, also praised the nomination of Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman for president, without mentioning him by name. "We believe a window has been opened to consensus in the Lebanese presidential election," Fadlallah said.
However, he called for "tackling the row related to the future," in reference to differences over the structure of the political authority after the presidential election.
Fadlallah, a prominent religious authority who has followers throughout the Shiite community, declared that "we welcome the recent thrust resembled by the participation of the Iranian president in the latest GCC summit."He said proposals made by the Iranian president during the summit to sponsor joint cooperation with the GCC resemble an "advance move to bolster friendly relations between the two sides." Beirut, 07 Dec 07, 14:18
Aoun Not scared Off by Vacuum, Refuses to Compromise
Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun on Thursday dealt yet another blow to efforts exerted by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to settle Lebanon's ongoing Presidential Crisis. Aoun told a news conference he rejects compromising on his initiative, vowing to update it daily and stating that "we are not scared by vacuum" in the presidential office. Aoun said he "insists on a political understanding before amending the constitution, and we will not make any concessions in this regard.""We want parliamentary consultations prior to the election of a president," Aoun said.He stressed that he wants a president who has veto powers in the forthcoming cabinet "because without that he will not be able to achieve anything."He stressed that he wants an agreement with the majority on the formation of the forthcoming cabinet prior to the presidential election."A consensus president is not subject to majority and minority, but to consensus democracy," Aoun stressed. He did not elaborate on the remark. Asked whether he was prepared to give up any of the terms included in his initiative, Aoun said: ill add up a term to the initiative every day. My best offer is my first offer."He said his initiative does not represent "obstacles, but rather rights." Aoun renewed his attack on Premier Fouad Saniora's majority government, charging that it has "ruined the nation." Beirut, 06 Dec 07, 18:26
Glimmer of hope
By: Lucy Fielder
Army Commander Michel Suleiman appeared poised to be Lebanon's knight in shining armour this week after both sides in an enduring power struggle endorsed him as their presidential candidate. Emile Lahoud vacated Baabda Palace without a successor selected 23 November, leaving a perilous vacuum at the top.
The Western-backed parliamentary majority previously rejected Suleiman as "pro-Syrian", while the opposition has always been amenable to him but currently endorses him only on certain conditions imposed by popular Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun.
Behind-the-scenes jockeying continued, this time for the position of prime minister and for cabinet seats, with the anti-Syrian-dominated government and the Hizbullah-led opposition each using their power to scupper a deal as leverage to vie for clout. Once the president is sworn in, the government's term ends. The opposition has for the past year waged a campaign, including an ongoing sit-in in downtown Beirut, demanding a veto-wielding third of cabinet seats. Aoun would be expected to get most of these, rather than his Hizbullah allies, whose main interest is a government that will not try to wrest its "weapons of resistance" unilaterally.
Denied the presidency despite his support base, Aoun has taken up the role of kingmaker. His stance is that if he, as the most popular Christian leader, has been denied the presidency, then Sunni Future Movement leader Saad Al-Hariri should not be prime minister, said Karim Makdisi, political analyst at the American University in Beirut. Since the powerful Sunni and Shia sects in effect led the bargaining on the Christian presidency, Aoun's view is that the Christians should have a similar say over the premiership, Makdisi said.
Aoun's pro-Western Christian rival, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, is pushing for the same number of cabinet seats, despite commanding a much smaller support base, Makdisi said. "14 March [the anti-Syrian movement] is essentially making use of this great sacrifice, insofar as it has clearly retreated from its earlier words and is moving to endorse Suleiman, to extract many concessions in the details," Makdisi said.
There is also believed to be some jockeying among the movement's Sunnis as to who should be prime minister, with Prime Minister Fouad Al-Siniora and Hariri the natural front-runners. But Aoun will veto both as long as they veto him, Makdisi said. Aoun is also trying to ensure that the next government adopts his programmes, including his Memorandum of Understanding with Hizbullah, which stipulates that the group's weapons should be dealt with internally as part of a national defence strategy.
Just as Aoun defied US and internal pressure and stood by Hizbullah during the war with Israel last summer, the powerful Shia resistance group backs him unconditionally now. "He's in a driving position where nothing can be resolved unless he gets what he wants," Makdisi said.
For Suleiman to step in, Lebanon's constitution must be amended to allow a senior public official to take the presidency, raising a further potential obstacle. Just such a change has been made a number of times -- Lahoud's term extension by amendment under Syrian pressure in 2004 sparked the crisis that endures to this day.
This time round, there seems to be consensus on the need to amend, though few expect plain sailing. Many analysts expect the vote scheduled for 7 December to be postponed for the seventh time and another week at least.
"How to do a constitutional amendment is a minor detail in my opinion if a political consensus is unanimously reached, which is not the case so far," constitutional expert Ziad Baroud said. "I don't think a solution is imminent yet, things are not going smoothly."
"The package being negotiated has gone beyond the presidency, what's at stake is how the cabinet will be composed and the chances of the opposition getting higher representation. I still have fears." One obstacle is that the president should propose the amendment, but currently Al-Siniora's cabinet has taken over the presidency's executive powers.
Another way to push an amendment is to have 10 MPs propose it and for the speaker of parliament to submit it to the government for approval. It would then be passed on to parliament for ratification. "The problematic issue here is that the opposition still claims that the government is not legitimate," Baroud said. With a political agreement, this could be overcome as purely technical, he added. Five Shia and one Christian minister who went into opposition last November in a dispute over power-sharing could rejoin the government for the amendment and then resign again, for example.
Baroud said the presidential stalemate had worked in unpredictable ways to force a solution. It has started to seem that both sides have lost some cards. The opposition appeared to have been counting on Lahoud pulling a hat trick, perhaps appointing a rival government, which could have plunged the country into strife. When he left and that threat receded, their options appeared fewer.
But although the 14 March anti-Syrians, backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia and France, had assumed the president's prerogatives for the past weeks, that power was a potential poisoned chalice. Lebanon's presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian under the sectarian quota system. It was soon clear that many Christians felt threatened by the vacuum and the Sunni prime minister could do little without risking anger.
"It's a balance of power; both sides now feel they're as powerful as the other. They thought back in September it was possible to push harder for better gains," Baroud said. "Today it seems we are in a vacuum and it's different; after Annapolis it's different, and maybe the American position has changed. So both parties are feeling they need to reassess their positions."
Many analysts and commentators have concluded that a thaw in Syrian-US relations at or after the Annapolis conference may have pushed Washington to allow for a consensus candidate -- one previously dismissed as "pro-Syrian" at that. Suleiman's candidacy was supported, though not officially, by the opposition early in the debate, despite Aoun's claim on the Baabda Palace.
Suleiman has strong contacts with Damascus but has proven an even-handed commander, earning support from both sides in the rift of the past few years. The 14 March movement was riled when he dismissed its claims that Syria was backing Fatah Al-Islam, a militant group that battled the army for nearly four months starting 20 May, and instead blamed Al-Qaeda.
General Michel Suleiman: From army chief to president
Army Commander Michel Suleiman appears likely to fill Lebanon's presidential vacuum once last-minute haggling between the government and opposition is over.
Suleiman, 59, has walked the Lebanese tightrope with skill since becoming army commander in 1998, after Emile Lahoud left that post to become president. The Maronite Christian has been widely praised for assiduously keeping the army on the margins of a political crisis that has polarised society, thereby protecting its unity and bolstering its reputation as Lebanon's only functioning national institution as all others atrophied.
During the mass protests following former prime minister Rafik Al-Hariri's assassination, when the anti-Syrian movement and Hizbullah took turns taking to the streets, Suleiman kept the army out of the fray. His army in effect protected protesters from both sides, despite Syria's military and political dominance of Lebanon and a temporary Interior Ministry ban on demonstrations.
All sides credit Suleiman with a strong nerve, professionalism and a cool detachment. "He's never given anything personal away and I'm sure that will continue if and when he becomes president," said Timur Goksel, security analyst and former spokesman for the UN border force in southern Lebanon. "I think that's his personality, he keeps his opinions to himself and acts like a very professional and collected person."
But Suleiman's leadership of the army was not without controversy over the past year. His army won huge domestic support when it fought a nearly four-month battle with the Islamist militant group Fatah Al-Islam. The demolition of the Nahr Al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in which they were sheltered raised few national qualms, and a patriotic fever swept Lebanon. Suleiman's stern expression graced roadside billboards with the words: "At your command".
But the commander incurred the anti-Syrian ruling movement's wrath when he dismissed its claims that Fatah Al-Islam was backed by Syria. "This organisation is not linked to Syrian intelligence, nor is it backed up by official Lebanese circles. It is a branch of Al-Qaeda which had planned to use Lebanon and the Palestinian camps as a safe haven to launch its operations in Lebanon and abroad," Suleiman said. His statement drew fury even though it also implicitly rejected counter- allegations that the Sunni leadership had backed Fatah Al-Islam.
"He had the most credible intelligence service in Lebanon, the army intelligence, and when he says something like that he's not talking off the top of his head, he's saying something that his own professionals are telling him," said Goksel. "At that time, that took guts."
Suleiman was immediately accused of being "pro- Syrian". Analysts agree that he has good contacts with the Syrians, which he has preserved since Damascus pulled out its troops in 2005 after Al-Hariri's assassination. He has maintained Lebanese army training in Syria.
"General Suleiman believes in the ideology of the Lebanese army, which is that Israel is the enemy, and he believes in good relations with the other Arab states, especially Syria," retired General Amin Al-Hteit said.
The 14 March movement also sniped at Suleiman in early 2007, when the army did not intervene to prevent opposition street protests that descended into sectarian clashes.
Goksel said anyone in Suleiman's position would have to have strong relations with Damascus, particularly during Syria's dominance of post-civil war Lebanon. "Professional dealings are one thing, going to bed with Syria is another," he said.
During the Nahr Al-Bared siege, Suleiman also implied that vaunted US support for the army had consisted of "promises and best wishes", rather than the modern equipment Lebanon's weak and poorly equipped army needed to fight the group. "It's as though they are telling us, 'die first and assistance will follow'," he said, without naming Washington. After the battle ended in September, he said the army's guns could go back to pointing in the proper direction -- at Israel.
Such a stance has chimed favourably with Hizbullah, whose victory against Israel last summer he praised. Analysts say there is little doubt that like his predecessor in both jobs, Lahoud, Suleiman has thoroughly absorbed the army's doctrine. "He's not with either team, but sees Hizbullah as an essential part of Lebanon's defence," Hteit said.
Goksel agrees. "Nobody can accuse him of being pro-Hizbullah, he just maintains good relations all around," he said. Suleiman also oversaw the deployment of the Lebanese army across the south following last summer's war. His good relations with Hizbullah lessen the possibility of a damaging internal wrangle over the group's weapons if he is installed at Baabda Palace.
"This guy had a very senior public position and an exposed and touchy one," Goksel said. "If he succeeded in that for so many years, that is experience that no other candidate has."
Suleiman graduated from Lebanon's Military Academy in 1970 and also holds a degree in political and administrative sciences from the Lebanese University. A father of three, he is French-educated but also speaks English.
© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved
Elections in Lebanon: Implications for Washington, Beirut, and Damascus
By Jeffrey Feltman, Tony Badran, and David Schenker
December 6, 2007 Listen to Audio
On November 27, 2007, Jeffrey Feltman, Tony Badran, and David Schenker addressed a Policy Forum at The Washington Institute. Mr. Feltman has been the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon since July 2004. Mr. Badran is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, specializing in Syrian and Lebanese politics. He runs the well-known political blogs Across the Bay and OpenSyria.org. Mr. Schenker is a senior fellow and director of the Arab Politics Program at The Washington Institute. The following is a rapporteur's summary of their remarks.
On November 23, the presidential term of Emile Lahoud expired with no one elected to replace him. This occurred due to a boycott by opposition members of parliament -- namely Nabih Berri, Michel Aoun, and representatives of Hizballah. In previous weeks, French diplomats had taken the lead in trying to broker a consensus on the presidency by asking the Maronite patriarch to make a list of possible candidates. Pro-Syrian forces and the Iran-backed "March 8" bloc -- represented by Berri and Aoun -- vetoed five of the suggested names, however, while Saad Hariri, leader of the pro-Western "March 14" movement, vetoed two. Although the French initiative eventually failed, there was a half victory: Lahoud left office at the end of his scheduled term, and Lebanon remains a democracy, albeit a weak one. Moreover, it is unlikely that the next president will be as sympathetic to Syria and Hizballah as Lahoud was.
For the March 14 coalition, the question remains how best to secure a president who is committed to Lebanon's security and independence and will support the implementation of the UN Security Council's resolutions. But time is not on their side. The Christians will naturally become more restless the longer the presidency -- which is their office by law -- remains vacant. There is also the danger of ongoing political assassinations, which have already taken a toll on the majority. Although the democratic "half-plus-one" formula for electing a president -- which the March 14 movement advocates but the opposition rejects, preferring a two-thirds supermajority -- could plunge Lebanon into civil war, nothing has come of the frequent threats over the past eighteen months. But many March 14 members believe that this time, Aoun and Hizballah will act on their threats of violence if a compromise candidate is not elected.
The March 14 coalition stands for the victory of the state, the end of assassinations, and for the implementation of the Security Council's resolutions. This is exactly why the United States should fortify the movement. There are two groups struggling for power in Lebanon: one allied with the West and the other with Syria and Iran. The question confronting the United States is how to tip the balance toward the former.
The French initiative forced the Maronite patriarch to draft a list of potential candidates. According to the initiative, the names would be discussed, and if no single consensus candidate emerged, the two or three remaining names would be taken to parliament and voted on.
The result of the initiative demonstrated that diplomacy with Syria always results in failure. Not wanting to admit failure, however, the French stood by their plan. Everything France was offering Syria had already been discussed, including normalization with Europe and progress on the European Union Economic Association Agreement. But Syria conceded nothing because its real objective was resumption of diplomatic relations with the United States.
Similarly, "convincing" Syria to come to the Annapolis peace summit was not a victory -- the Syrians were already more than eager to participate. Despite appearances, it seems that Damascus was just holding out for concessions to attend. Shortly before the meeting, fearing a no-show by Syria, Jordan's King Abdullah visited Damascus carrying a stern message: attend Annapolis or risk a boycott of the 2008 Arab League summit in Syria, a development that would further isolate the regime.
Similarly, many Lebanese feared that pro-Syrian president Lahoud would create chaos before he left office. That did not happen, however, and Damascus is trying to portray the lack of chaos as some sort of concession. But long before Lahoud's departure, it was clear that Syria's choice, Lebanese armed forces chief of staff Michel Suleiman, would not head a transitional or military government, and Damascus has not yet managed to impose its own presidential candidate. For its part, the March 14 coalition has not yet abandoned the half-plus-one option and, on a certain level, retains leverage. Hizballah is livid that Lahoud did not leave office without extracting any concessions, given that the group had been waging a year-long campaign to oust Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
Sectarian tensions may increase as long as a vacuum exists, and Syria will exploit the situation to push for its candidate. For pro-Syrian elements inside Lebanon, their ultimate ally is Hizballah. The notion that Hizballah and Syria will eventually part ways is improbable because Damascus would lose its only available means of exerting influence inside Lebanon.
What is the meaning of a "consensus" president? Although the Lebanese presidency is a weak office, Lahoud showed it has the power to block many initiatives and appoint a number of ministers. Lahoud even held a blocking third in Siniora's cabinet at one point (though these ministers eventually abandoned him and joined the March 14 coalition). The president had no commitment to UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1701, and if his successor is sympathetic to Syria, he will not support these resolutions either. And while a consensus president might not be able to stop the tribunal from prosecuting the killers of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri -- a trial that the Syrian regime views as an existential threat -- he could undermine international support for it.
Hizballah announced late in the election period that Aoun was its candidate, but it is not clear whether he is truly the group's first choice. Syria's candidate is Suleiman. But in order for him to be a presidential contender, a constitutional amendment would be required to overturn the normal two-year waiting period for senior officials seeking elected office -- a move that is opposed by Walid Jumblatt and other March 14 leaders. Yet, these same leaders have recently suggested the movement might accept a compromise president -- a troubling prospect that may indicate they are hedging their bets. Perhaps this development reflects their concern over the Hariri tribunal's progress. The appointment of a Canadian prosecutor with no experience prosecuting terrorism cases, instead of the former chief prosecutor of the Yugoslavia tribunal, may have undermined the movement's confidence.
There has also been a lot of talk about another civil war in Lebanon, but the issue cannot be discussed without considering Syrian and Iranian interests. Hizballah has pledged never to turn its weapons of "resistance" against the Lebanese people, and the last thing Iran wants is to tarnish the Shiite militia's positive image in the Arab world by returning to civil war. Syria, however, may find it useful to foment such a conflict in order to undermine the tribunal.
Regarding the Annapolis summit, the government used its newly found executive powers following Lahoud's departure to send a delegation to the meeting. Yet, although some high-ranking Lebanese officials hope this initiative will somehow improve the situation in Lebanon, such a development is extremely unlikely.
**This rapporteur's summary was prepared by Megan Khoury.
What Would Al-Qaeda do if America Left?
by Ross Rafin
© Copyright 2007 Stanford Progressive. All rights reserved.
Al-Qaeda was formed in 1990, the year America stationed tens of thousands of troops in Saudi Arabia, Osama Bin Laden’s home country. Bin Laden personally offered his soldiers to the House of Saud to fight against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. The House of Saud instead chose America and exiled Bin Laden. Before the early 90s, the focus of the modern Jihadist movement was mainly towards subverting Muslim governments. Throughout Bin Laden’s public speeches, he has reiterated that American troops in the Persian Gulf drove Al Qaeda into existence. In 2004, Bin Laden offered a peace treaty to all the European governments who took their troops out of Muslim land.
On the other hand, Bin Laden’s views were shaped much earlier by the teachings of Sayyid Qutb who advocated a violent jihad against all non-muslim nations. 1990 was also a year after the Soviets were forced out of Afghanistan, leaving a conglomeration of the most extreme foreign mujahedeen. It was here that many mujahedeen began talk of expanding operations and began meetings for what would later become Al-Qaeda.
At one end, Al-Qaeda’s goals are purely geopolitical and with the withdrawal of foreign troops Al-Qaeda would dissolve. At the other end, Al-Qaeda is purely ideological and no amount of concessions or treaties will satiate their goal of destroying the Western world.
Geopolitics and ideology are far from mutually exclusive. For instance, one of the ultimate goals of the religious jihad is the restoration of the Caliphate, a super-country the size the Ottoman Empire. Ideological goals in this case are nearly inseparable with geopolitical goals.
In Hezbollah’s “Open Letter,” the group states that their objectives are to expel “colonialist” forces in Lebanon and allow the Lebanese to choose whatever form of government they desire. The letter calls upon the Lebanese to choose an Islamic government but does not force it. They call for the destruction of Zionists because Israel was “aggressive since its inception” and is a “vanguard of the United States.”
On the other hand, that same Open Letter states that Hezbollah obeys the commands of Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who proclaimed that he would “export” terrorist revolutions throughout surrounding Muslim countries.
Again the question is about the motivations of Hezbollah. If their aims are mainly geopolitical, then negotiations and perhaps even concessions by Israel can lead to peace. If Hezbollah’s aims are mainly ideological, then policy cannot rely on direct diplomatic means.
The above terrorist groups have well-established ideological records of violence which will lead many to dismiss such musing as irrelevant. But take the case of the jihad in Chechnya.
The Beslan School bombing, which lead to 330 deaths, was organized by Shamil Basayeva, the leader of the extremist Islamic movement in Chechnya. The Beslan attacks, as well as many others, used female suicide bombers known as the “Black Widows.” Basayeva, in his many public announcements, supported the jihadist movement throughout the Balkans. He was the leader and creator of the Riyad us-Saliheyn Martyrs, which translates to “requirements for getting into paradise.”
But all evidence points to Basayeva being a separatist, not a jihadist. In 1991, Basayeva fought for Boris Yeltsin until Chechen nationalist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev called for Chechen independence. Basayeva served in the first Chechen war as a commander of separatist troops. Then, in 1994, Shamil met Emir Ibn Khattab, a Chechen Islamic radical with ties to Al-Qaeda. Public speeches and announcement after 1994 suddenly started to include references to freeing the whole Arab world. Shamil was soon hailed as an Islamic globalist.
By adding Islamic fanaticism to his cause, Shamil gained the active support of thousands of foreign mujahedeen as well as Islamic sponsors across the continent. Shamil also gained the use of one of the most devastating tactical weapons known to man: the suicide-bomber. A close look at all of Shamil’s speeches about “global Islam,” reveal that, without fail, each contains a clause stating that he would stop fighting if Chechnya gained independence.
Riyad us-Saliheyn Martyrs is a terrorist group responsible for suicide bombings and the massacre of civilians. But should the same diplomatic tactics be used on Riyad us-Saliheyn as are used against Hezbollah? Would Shamil Basayeva have continued his global jihad if Chechnya were declared an independent state?
Understanding the dynamics between the geopolitical and ideological goals of a terrorist organization is the key to dealing with any form of “fanatics.” On the surface, all Islamic terrorist organizations appear the same. But this naïve approach misses the nuances that will decide how the Western world fairs against terrorism.
Al-Qaeda accused Hamas of “surrendering” after Hamas agreed to form a Palestinian government with al-Fatah, the other major political party. Fatah itself was a terrorist organization that promised the destruction of Israel when it was part of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Fatah is now backed by the United States. Al-Qaeda has publicly denounced several Sunni insurgency groups in Iraq such as factions of the Iraqi Jihad Union, formerly a strong ally of Al-Qaeda.
The question to peace in the middle-east is based on discarding current political assumptions about the universality of religious terrorism. Even terrorist groups with the same objectives may share very different motives. Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda both want the destruction of Israel, but if the Sunni Caliphate is restored Hezbollah and every other Shiite will be thrown into a state of oppression.
Some Iraqi insurgency groups formed purely due to the 2003 American invasion and others are the extended arms of larger terrorist organizations operating internationally. The “arm,” since its leader will be constrained by orders from outside, will have less leverage in negotiations than the independent insurgency group.
A terrorist group with nationalist aims, such as in the case of Chechnya, may adopt the persona of religious fanaticism as a tactical advantage. Such considerations will ultimately determine if America is part of an ambiguous global “war on terror” or a specific, effective fight against precise ideological and geopolitical forces.
15 minutes of unity could save Lebanon another year of grief
By The Daily Star
Friday, December 07, 2007
Last week, the presidential crisis in Lebanon seemed to be nearing a swift end after the ruling March 14 coalition announced its willingness to amend the Constitution to allow the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman, to assume the post. Electing the army chief as president still seems to be the most logical solution to the country's year-long political stalemate, since Suleiman is one of few public figures in the country who has been able to maintain an equal distance from both the government and the opposition. Indeed, the consensus that has emerged around Suleiman over the past week is so strong that his candidacy has eclipsed that of any other presidential contender.
The ruling coalition and the opposition have seemingly cleared the hurdle of agreeing on who should be the next president, yet obstacles still remain in the way of actually holding the election. The major snag currently blocking a vote is the fact that an amendment would require the participation of Cabinet. Even if the amendment is initiated by the Parliament, the Constitution requires that the draft be passed on to the Cabinet for approval. This constitutional requirement puts the opposition in a quandary, since they have long denounced the current Cabinet as illegitimate. They insist that when all five of the Cabinet's Shiite ministers resigned last year, the Cabinet lost its legitimacy, since the Constitution states in its preamble that "There is no constitutional legitimacy for any authority which contradicts the 'pact of communal coexistence.'" The ruling coalition, on the other hand, has long asserted that the Cabinet exists in compliance with the Constitution, since the ministers' resignations were never formally accepted. For over a year, no one tried to bridge this enormous gap in opinion, and the country is now suffering from continued stalemate as a result.
Worse, this Cabinet's members have remained in office for over a year on borrowed time, and now the opposition, like the money lenders in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice," are demanding their pound of flesh as payment for the debt. In fact, the longer the crisis is extended, the lengthier the list of demands becomes. Opposition leader Michel Aoun, the head of the Reform and Change bloc, warned on Thursday that he has "made enough compromises and ... will add a new demand every day."
With such uncompromising positions, it is difficult to envision a way out of the current impasse. Perhaps it would be wise for the ruling coalition to revisit an idea put forth a few weeks ago by the leader of Hizbullah's parliamentary bloc, MP Mohammad Raad. Prior to Emile Lahoud's departure from office, Raad had suggested that the president hand power over to a national unity government. Although it is too late for Lahoud to play such a role in resolving (or possibly exacerbating) the crisis, both camps could agree that for 15 minutes prior to the passage of a constitutional amendment, the current Cabinet could be expanded to include opposition members in a national unity government. The new unity government would necessarily include members of Aoun's bloc, as well as other opposition parties, and this would ensure their direct participation in Suleiman's election, and a thus broader mandate for the new president.
Neither the ruling coalition nor the opposition will ever be able to govern this country on its own. They have no choice but to accept the principles of consensual democracy that are set forth in the country's Constitution. The two sides may never see eye-to-eye, but the least that they could do is agree that 15 minutes of unity is far better than another year of stalemate.