November 24/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 19,45-48. Then Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.'" And every day he was teaching in the temple area. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people, meanwhile, were seeking to put him to death, but they could find no way to accomplish their purpose because all the people were hanging on his words.

Releases. Reports & Opinions
Looking Down the Precipice. By: Manuela Paraipan. November 23/07
Waiting for a miracle,Al-Ahram Weekly- November 23/07
On a knife-edge.Al-Ahram Weekly-November 23/07
Failed Independence in Lebanon.Ya Libnan-November 23/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for November 23/07
Lebanon presidential vote delayed-Reuters
Military on High Alert in Absence of Consensus Ahead of Midnight Presidential Election Deadline-Naharnet
Opposition vote boycott deepens Lebanon crisis-Reuters
Lebanon crisis marks milestone in Christian decline-Reuters
Analysis: Does Syria want peace?Jerusalem Post

Stalemate in Lebanon Raises Stability Fears.Wall Street Journal
MP Franjieh: A New Era in the Region if Presidential Elections Fail.Naharnet
Rival factions return to arms as Lebanon stares into the abyss.Times Online
Lebanon's presidency - a source of strife since 1976. M & C

Aoun's Salvation plan Allows him to Name Interim President-Naharnet
MP Franjieh: A New Era in the Region if Presidential Elections Fail-Naharnet
European Envoys Doubt Presidential Elections-Naharnet
What Happens After Lahoud's Term Expires-Naharnet
Erdogan Calls Assad Over Lebanon-Naharnet


Lebanon presidential vote delayed
Fri Nov 23, 2007
By Laila Bassam
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's parliamentary speaker postponed a vote on Friday that was the last chance to choose a president before the pro-Syrian head of state, Emile Lahoud, leaves office at midnight. Speaker Nabih Berri, who is also a Shi'ite opposition leader, delayed the election for a fifth time because rival factions were deadlocked. He set a new session for November 30. "To allow for more consultations to arrive at the election of a president... the session is postponed to Friday, November 30," Berri said in a statement read on his behalf. The decision means Lebanon will be without a president for at least a week. Unless a consensus candidate emerges, many fear the dispute may lead to two competing administrations and violence in a country still scarred by its 1975-1990 civil war.
More than 100 lawmakers from the Western-backed majority and the Hezbollah-led opposition went to the parliament building in downtown Beirut, but opposition MPs did not enter the assembly chamber in line with a boycott declared a day earlier. Berri announced the delay after separate meetings with majority leaders Saad al-Hariri and Walid Jumblatt, a sign that the rival camps have not yet burned all their bridges. "We are for consensus and we will remain for consensus," Hariri said. "We want to elect a president for six years." He was implicitly rejecting a proposal by opposition Christian leader Michel Aoun for an interim president to serve only until the next parliamentary election in 2009. Lahoud, a former army chief, has served nine years as president. His six-year term was extended for three years in 2004 at the behest of Syria, then the dominant power in Lebanon. Anti-Syrian factions proved unable to remove him, even after Damascus withdrew its troops in 2005 amid an outcry over the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.

Military on High Alert in Absence of Consensus Ahead of Midnight Presidential Election Deadline

Hundreds of Lebanese army troops and police deployed on Friday in an around Beirut to prevent chaos that could occur if Parliament failed to elect a President by a midnight deadline. Army troops in tanks, armored personnel carriers and jeeps set up checkpoints along road intersections leading to the capital and the suburbs and around downtown Beirut where Parliament building is located, sealing off large areas to motorists. The military and police were put on alert for the past several days with leaves canceled and permits to civilians to bear arms put on hold. Security at key government buildings was also reinforced. The failure to elect a president could plunge the nation into further turmoil. Nevertheless, the feuding camps have been exerting efforts to prevent a further deterioration as it appeared that each side was waiting for the other to make the first step. The pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat said Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman had briefed both Prime Minister Fouad Saniora and House Speaker Nabih Berri of the security measures to be enforced in the absence of a vote by midnight Friday and in light of what outgoing President Emile Lahoud would say in his farewell message to the Lebanese. Al Hayat said Lahoud is expected to authorize the military to maintain peace and order.
Despite a stalemate between Saniora's government and the Hizbullah-led opposition, the majority decided to go ahead with the session even though a required two-thirds quorum for the first round of voting was expected to be lacking. Beirut, 23 Nov 07, 08:13

Failed Independence in Lebanon
Friday, 23 November, 2007 @ 4:09 AM
By Abu Kais
There is nothing more revolting that the sight of 4 European diplomats begging a crazy politician to withdraw his candidacy for the presidency.
Not only is it unconstitutional for foreigners to try to convince a candidate to call it quits, but these efforts are backfiring on the parliament's majority. In one week, Aoun moved from being an irrelevant megalomaniac and Hizbullah's cover into a major player, prompting his equally crazy supporters to predict the exact time of his election on Friday. The diplomacy of begging boosted his self-importance and weakened the position of both March 14 and Nabih Berri, whom the French ironically entrusted with reaching a compromise with Hariri.
Equally revolting is the absurd "diplomacy" of Nicolas Sarkozy, who has effectively brought the Assad regime back to Lebanon. How many more phone calls to Bashar Assad, and how many more visits and incentives can the French president offer the regime before he realizes that he is fueling the fire that has been eating up Lebanon? In a sobering editorial, Michael Young shows how the French initiative, criticized on this blog from the start as being harmful to Lebanon, gave "Syrian President Bashar Assad a golden opportunity to jack up his price on the panicking French, and we are where we are today, with Syria not only looking to capitalize on French eagerness, but also working to use that eagerness as leverage to bring in one of their favorites as Lebanese president." More dangerously, Young reports that one of the incentives the French offered may have involved the Hariri tribunal, which is now officially stuck in UN drawers.
On this day, we should perhaps ask not what other countries can do for Lebanon, but what Lebanese can do for their own country. There were a few who were willing to give this country what it deserves, but they have been killed or spooked and shoved into a corner by both enemies and friends. The French mistook us for Bulgarian nurses, while the US delivered nothing of consequence and made a fatal mistake to trust Sarkozy. Given the shortsightedness and laxity of those friends, the enemy cannot be blamed for finding fertile ground for its designs, especially when the dwellers of the land-of-do-as you-please lack the stamina to act independently by saying no to friends and foes alike.
**Source: From Beirut to the Beltway

Wiam Wahhab Threatens Violence Tonight in Beirut
Lebanon Fails to Elect President
The Associated Press
Friday, November 23, 2007; 7:37 AM
BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Lebanon's parliament failed to elect a successor to President Emile Lahoud just hours before he was set to leave office after it was unable to convene due to an opposition boycott Friday.
The failure puts the country in a potentially explosive political vacuum.
Speaker Nabih Berri said in a statement that the session was postponed for a week until Nov. 30 to give more time "for additional consultations to reach a consensus on electing a president."
The opposition-aligned Berri made the decision 30 minutes after the legislature failed to muster the necessary two-thirds quorum to begin voting. It followed talks with leaders of the parliamentary majority.
Scheduling another session in a week as talks between the two sides continue could defuse for now any potential street confrontations.
While both sides said efforts were underway to prevent a further deterioration, each camp was waiting for the other to make the first move. The failure to elect a new president could throw the country deeper into political chaos and violence.
In the absence of a president, the anti-Syrian government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora takes executive power under the constitution. But the pro-Syrian Lahoud has vowed not to hand his authorities over to Saniora's administration, considering it unconstitutional after all five ministers of the Shiite Muslim community quit a year ago.
"Any step taken by Fuad Saniora to take over the presidency's duties ... within hours the opposition will be on the streets to bring him down by force," warned opposition politician Wiam Wahhab on Hezbollah's al-Manar TV late Thursday.
The most dangerous scenario is that Lahoud could create an alternative government and hand it his power. Saniora's Western-backed government would likely refuse to step aside, leaving Lebanon with two rival governments, much like during the last two years of the 1975-90 civil war.
A compromise possibility is that Lahoud will entrust his security powers to the heads of the military, a move that the government would likely not oppose _ effectively putting the situation on hold to allow further talks on a candidate.
"We are giving wide space to the continuation of dialogue and consultations," said Akram Chehayeb of a hard-line faction in the parliament backing Saniora. "We want to preserve civil peace."
Others in the majority said they would not take any drastic measures such as electing one of their own in a simple majority ignoring the opposition boycott.
Walid Jumblatt, a prominent leader in the majority, said afterwards that he continues to hold out for consensus on a candidate, stressing that the priority was to prevent the political tensions from turning into violence.
"We will continue to work for consensus and national peace," he told reporters.
Ahead of Friday's events, army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman has ordered soldiers "not to be lenient or inactive" in confronting possible troublemakers, calling on his troops to ignore the politics and "listen to the call of duty."
The military has been on alert for several days. On Friday morning, hundreds of troops in tanks, armored carriers and jeeps deployed along intersections leading to the Lebanese capital and around the downtown area where the parliament building is located.
The city was normal, but traffic was lighter than usual. Most schools closed on their own accord and those that did not had few students, with buses arriving empty after parents decided to keep their children home for fear of trouble.
Lawmakers from the majority arrived at parliament for the 1 p.m. Friday in bulletproof cars driven from a nearby hotel where dozens have been seeking refugee for weeks fearing assassination.
The majority, anti-Syrian faction, who hold 68 seats in the 128-member parliament, have been the subject of assassinations over the last two years that many have ascribed to Syrian attempts to whittle down their slim majority in the legislature.
Three previous attempts by the parliament to elect a leader since September failed because of the inability to find a candidate acceptable to both sides.
Rival Lebanese leaders have been unable to reach agreement on a consensus candidate despite intense mediation efforts by European envoys and the U.N. secretary general.
On Thursday night, the foreign ministers of France, Italy and Spain, who together are fielding a majority of the U.N. peacekeepers in the south of the country, held talks with Lebanese leaders, but to no avail. 2007 The Associated Press

Developments of the Presidential Race - 11/23/2007
2:15 AMAL MP Ali Hassan Khalil said the opposition is committed to civil order and to maintaining consultations aimed at achieving consensus on a president.
2:12 MP Saad Hariri arrived at Bkirki for talks with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir
2:00 Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan said the difference in views is not over a candidate, but rather over major options and we are ready to discuss such options with other parties within the framework of safeguarding the nation's sovereignty
1:55 Hizbullah MP Hussein Haj Hassan said the Lebanese Forces alone is against consensus
1:50 Deputy Parliament Speaker Farid Makari warned President Emile Lahoud against breaching the constitution, stressing that his sole constitutional duty is to go home. Boycotters of election sessions are responsible for political vacuum
1:45 Jumblat said we attended today's session to stress on our commitment to consensus and to our constitutional right to elect a president without breaching consensus. We want a president to safeguard the nation's independence, sovereignty and the Taif
1:40 Hariri stressed that he supports consensus and wants to elect a president for six years and rejects any settlement at the expense of the martyrs' blood
1:31 Berri postponed the presidential election session to Nov. 30
1:31 Berri postponed the presidential election session to Nov. 30.
1:30 Opposition MPs remain at Parliament building, but outside the general assembly hall.
1:23 MPs started entering the general assembly hall and Berri would only preside over a session if 86 legislators were present.
1:15 Berri meets MP Hariri.
1:10 Hariri's political advisor Daoud Sayegh meets Sfeir in Bkirki.
1:00 MP Elie Kayrouz read a statement on behalf of the Lebanese Forces: Our presence today is to assure our constitutional right to elect a president and we call on Aoun and his bloc and all Christian MPs to attend now so that we could go ahead with the p
1:00 The number of MPs, from both the majority and the opposition, reached 109.
12:55 Elysee's Secretary General telephones Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir.
12:48 Berri meets presidential hopeful Butros Harb.
12:41 MP Pierre Dakkash: I will take part in the session, but will leave if a simple majority vote is to take place
12:40 MP Saad Hariri arrived at Parliament.
12:38 MP Elias Atallah: We have put off our right to elect a president by a half-plus-one vote
12:28 77 The number of MPs at Parliament reached 77, inclusing opposition lawmakers.
12:22 Berri meets MP Walid Jumblat.
12:19 Speaker Nabih Berri arrived at Parliament.
12:15 MP Hadi Hbeish: We will not accept a president for a two-year term .
12:10 MP Nabil de Freij: If Lahoud makes any move tonight, we will preserve our right to respond.
11:52 Former MP Faris Saeid: Speaker Berri should go down to parliament with his bloc to elect a president if he wants consensus.
11:50 MP Strida Geagea: We expected the Rabiyeh initiative to be constitutional and to include one call that parliamentarians be given the right to go to Parliament because history will hold responsible whoever boycotts today's session
11:40 MP Salim Aoun: We will not accept the current government to cling to power and we will stand side-by-side with the president in any constitutional decision he makes.
11:38 MP Mustafa Alloush: the Hariri-Berri initiative still exists and the half-plus-one vote will not be adopted today.
11:35 March 14 MPs began arriving at Nejmeh Square.
11:20 Voice of Lebanon radio station said MP Saad Hariri met with former cabinet minister Michel Edde.
11:15 MPs Ali Bazzi and Antoine Khoury arrived at Parliament.
11:10 MP Ali Hassan Khalil: We hope that the session will be held and the doors for consensus should remain open.
10:50 MP Fouad el-Saad: Lahoud is not capable of taking any measure and has no right to form any government.
10:50 Parliament's press officer Mohammed Ballout said Berri will not convene parliament if appropriate quorum was not met.
10:49 Former Premier Salim Hoss: We urge the expansion of the current government.
10:48 President Emile Lahoud bids farewell to presidential staff and guards.
10:35 Opposition MPs Ali Hassan Khalil and Ali Khreis arrived at Parliament.
10:30 Opposition MPs Nader Sukkar and Ali Ammar arrived at Parliament.
10:25 MP Mohammed Qabbani: We stand behind Patriarch Sfeir
9:50 MP Akram Sheyaheb: Berri continues to block Parliament upon orders from Syria and Iran.
9:45 A crowd of journalists assembled outside Parliament building, waiting for parliamentarians to show up for the 1:00 pm planned session to elect a new president for Lebanon.
8:15 Cabinet minister Ahmad Fatfat: No lack of consensus as long as we still have 18 hours before the deadline and Aoun's offer is tantamount to a coup against the constitution and Taef.
7:30 Army troops and police are deployed in and around Beirut with random checkpoints set at major intersections and the suburbs.

Waiting for a miracle
With no signs of compromise, Lebanon's future is once again in the balance,
writes Omayma Abdel-Latif from Beirut
On a knife-edge
As Lebanon races towards a 23 November deadline to select a new president, little short of a miracle seems capable of ending the stalemate and pulling the country from the brink of the abyss. The paralysis that has afflicted the presidency, the government and the assembly for well over a year now threatens to erode the foundations of an already fragile state.
With less than 24 hours to go before the parliamentary session -- delayed from Wednesday -- in which the name of the new president is due to be revealed, the mood in the Lebanese capital is anticipatory, though whether Lebanon will have a new president or not on Saturday, let alone whether it will be veteran politician Michel Eddeh, 14 March defector Robert Ghanim or former head of the Central Bank of Lebanon Michael Khoury, may be academic questions given that the parliamentary session could be delayed yet again.
One scenario currently gaining ground posits that should parliament fail to select a president on Friday then an interim caretaker government will be named with a Maronite figure at its head to prepare for fresh parliamentary elections. Other politicians, including Michel Aoun, a presidential candidate and head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), and Mohamed Ra'ad, head of Hizbullah's parliamentarian bloc, argue that the Friday deadline is not carved in stone and the selection process can be extended for a few more days.
Meanwhile, the barrage of news reports that different sectarian groups are rushing to acquire arms serve as a grim reminder of the civil war. In their pursuit to achieve what one reporter described as "a balance of terror" with Hizbullah, many groups have been stockpiling arms while their members undertake military training.
On 16 November, the daily Al-Akhbar reported that Druze Leader Walid Jumblatt was distributing arms in Tariq Jdeeda, a stronghold of supporters of Saad Al-Hariri, head of Tayyar Al-Mustaqbal and the majority bloc in the assembly. The report alleged that Al-Mustaqbal planned to recruit 14,000 people from the private security firms that have mushroomed in Lebanon in recent years.
The war of words between the opposition 8 March and pro-government 14 March groups has reached new levels of vitriol as each accuses the other of preparing for civil war. Al-Akhbar has also carried reports of military training run by Al-Qwat Al-Libnaniya, (Lebanese Forces), the war- time militia led by Samir Geagea. On Tuesday, Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV reported the secret delivery of arms to the Intelligence Branch of the Internal Security Forces (ISF), a pro-Hariri unit within the Interior Ministry, a move described by Ra'ad as "paving the way to chaos".
"There are those who are working hard to prepare the ground for a civil war," Ra'ad told Al-Manar, accusing the ISF's Intelligence Branch of setting up "civil groups and arming them under the pretext of defending neighbourhoods in Beirut".
Al-Mustaqbal and Jumblatt accuse Hizbullah of providing military training in the Beqaa Valley to various opposition groups including, among others, Aoun's FPM, Druze leader Talal Arslan's supporters and the Islamic Action Front. On 7 November in an online question and answer session published in An-Nahar Youth Minister Ahmed Fatfat said Hizbullah was "arming members of the opposition to be on the frontline," warning it will lead to internal strife for which Hizbullah must bear the responsibility. Hizbullah has not responded to the accusations.
Last week saw an escalation in the ongoing war of words between Al-Mustaqbal and Hizbullah. Al-Hariri fired the opening shot when he announced Aoun's only problem was "his alliance with Hizbullah". Tensions between Lebanon's Sunnis and Shias were then fanned by Fatfat, MP Mustafa Aloush and the Mufti Mohamed Rashid Qabbani, all of whom have opted to follow Al-Hariri's lead in fuelling sectarian divisions.
The resulting radicalised Sunni street was involved in two separate incidents last week. The first took place in Al-Basta, a mixed middle class neighbourhood where a small feud turned into a battle during which the Hariri-backed ISF shot live ammunition at Hizbullah supporters. Only the intervention of the army prevented mass bloodshed. In Dawhat Bshamoun, Hizbullah and Al-Mustaqbal also clashed, leaving two people injured.
Such incidents -- many of them unreported -- expose the fragility of Lebanese society. It could take only a small feud, backed by the right regional conditions, to push the country back into civil war. Lebanese divisions, as one commentator pointed out, are always ready to be invoked and in a flash political differences and grievances can be transformed into calls for wholesale ethnic cleansing.
It would be simplistic to reduce the political conflict in Lebanon into who the new president is if, that is, a new president emerges. What the latest crisis reveals is that the sectarian-based political dispensation established by the Taif agreement, and which ended the civil war in 1989, is now imploding. It is unable to resist the stresses placed on it by the prevailing political paralysis, let alone allow for the kind of compromises needed to move beyond the impasse.
Consensus is growing that the real danger lies in what MP Ibrahim Kanaan of the FPM describes as a malfunctioning political system that still retains elements from the Syrian mandate period. And at the heart of the polarisation that has divided the nation into a pro-American government and pro-resistance opposition are the ways in which the Lebanese interpret international resolutions concerning the crisis in Lebanon. Until the Lebanese develop a means of dealing with the resistance, agree on how to mange the conflict with Israel and clearly determine the nature of their relationship with Syria, a new president will be in no position to contribute to ending Lebanon's chronic woes. (see Region and Azmi Bishara)
Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

On a knife-edge
A few days separate Lebanon from a new era, good or bad, Lucy Fielder reports from Beirut
Waiting for a miracle
Lebanon climbs the final, arduous steps to its long-awaited presidential election this week. Controversial incumbent Emile Lahoud's time is up since 25 September and the thrice-delayed vote is scheduled for Wednesday but generally expected on Friday. Lahoud's extension in 2004, under Syrian pressure, was one of several events that galvanised the anti-Syrian movement and rent Lebanese society in half. Three years later, the US-backed 14 March movement wants a president who will crown their anti-Syrian campaign. Facing them off is an opposition led by Hizbullah, Damascus's ally, which fears the election of a pro-Western leader eager to disarm its resistance.
Cautious optimism reigns. Diplomatic efforts have intensified. Most crucially, Lebanon's two polarised political sides have kept talking. Much could go wrong in the next few days, raising the spectre of military government, a political vacuum or rival twin governments. The last of these options is the most feared, recalling as it does the final, dark years of the 1975-1990 Civil War, whose demons in Lebanon are never far from the surface.
With days separating Lebanon from a new era of one sort or another, armoured personnel carriers rolled into Beirut. Security has been high since the opposition launched an ongoing protest, aimed at bringing down the government or sharing power, nearly a year ago. An army source said 2,500 extra soldiers were deployed in the capital this week, tasked with patrolling and setting up new checkpoints, in addition to the 3,500 that have become a familiar sight guarding major junctions and public buildings.
Eleventh-hour agreements are typical in the history of Lebanese presidential elections. Parliamentarians usually agree on a candidate first -- reflecting the importance of consensus in the country of many sects -- and then enter the chamber to approve the choice by ballot. Saad Al-Hariri, leader of the anti-Syrian majority in parliament, held more talks this week with Speaker Nabih Berri, who represents the Shia- led opposition and his powerful ally, Hizbullah. Analysts and news reports said the talks gave rise to optimism that there would be an agreement.
After digging in his heels for several weeks, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir caved in to French and local demands and handed over a list of candidates for the opposition and loyalists to pore over. Under Lebanon's sectarian political system, the president is traditionally a Maronite. According to news reports, the list was long and contained most of the widely discussed names; it is anybody's guess which, if any, will be chosen. Al-Akhbar quoted a 14 March source this week as saying the movement's Christians had rejected the patriarch's list. Some, the source said, were planning a march to his seat at Bkirki, north of Beirut, at the time of writing.
But Paul Salem, head of the Carnegie Endowment's Middle East centre in Beirut, who knows many of the Christians in the movement, said they had approved of at least four names on the list, which were then rejected by the opposition. He said Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun's long-standing candidacy for the presidency appeared to be a barrier to consensus. Although he is the country's most popular Christian leader, he would be rejected by 14 March because of his alliance with Hizbullah.
Few leading players stand to gain from chaos, analysts say. Lebanon's two largest communities, the Sunnis and Shia, are widely viewed as more influential than the Christians, even concerning the presidency. Hizbullah is mainly concerned with retaining the "weapons of resistance" with which it won a strategic victory over Israel during last summer's war. Powerful Sunni leader Al-Hariri is likely to see his stature enhanced by a successful, peaceful election, and many predict his elevation to prime minister in any new government formed. "Many of the major players do want to come out of this with an agreement, they do want a president," said Salem. "I'm guardedly optimistic."
Diplomatic to-ing and fro-ing has intensified over the past 10 days, but at this last stage before the election action appeared focussed on the Lebanese stage. "The Lebanese players have enough of the cards and know-how and hold enough strings to make a deal," Salem said.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner touched down for one of a series of whirlwind visits, but it was not clear whether he had anything new to offer, and analysts said his zeal may signify the new French administration's determination to make its mark on the world stage rather than any contribution to healing Lebanon's divisions. Strident remarks on Iran's nuclear programme that Kouchner made in Tel Aviv, his stop before Beirut, may also have thrown a spanner in the works, particularly since he made no mention of Israel's undeclared arsenal. "Syria and Iran probably wouldn't be thrilled to make it appear that France helped win a breakthrough after those comments," Salem said. Kouchner said on the plane to Beirut there was a "new situation", in reference to splits in the Christian ranks, and that he was "less confident" a president would be elected.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who visited Beirut last week, said the world body backed a president elected according to the constitution, supported by the widest margin of Lebanese possible and committed to international obligations -- the most controversial of which is Security Council Resolution 1559, calling for Hizbullah's disarmament. "If the responsibilities are not shouldered, there might be a move to the brink of an abyss," Ban said. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa was also expected in Beirut this week, and perhaps also US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rang Al-Hariri, Berri and Sfeir, and according to pro- opposition Al-Akhbar, quoting informed sources, conveyed that the US would not stand in the way of a consensus candidate, even if not from 14 March. If true, this would enhance chances of reaching an agreement and soften Rice's earlier warnings against compromise with Hizbullah whose arms Israel's ally Washington wants to wrest.
However, the gulf between the two sides remains vast, the underlying issues of Hizbullah's arms and the age-old question of Lebanon's orientation and place in the Middle East remain unresolved. Any sudden regional shifts could shock the domestic scene, particularly relating to Washington's standoff with Tehran over its uranium enrichment activities. Two months of talks have yielded no agreement on a president. One possible scenario could be a military state of emergency, whereby the army would seize security control, while the government of Prime Minister Fouad Al-Siniora stays in charge administratively, Salem said. "It all depends on what happens in the next few days." No one is taking bets.
Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

Looking Down the Precipice
written by: Manuela Paraipan,
22-Nov-07, World Security Network
During the time I spent in Lebanon I had the chance to talk - off and on the record - with individuals from various walks of life and with people who act as mediators between the March 8 bloc (Hizbollah, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Amal, Marada, Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party and allies) and March 14 bloc (Future Movement, Progressive Socialist Party, Lebanese Forces, Kataeb Party and allies). No one can play a completely neutral role in Lebanon, but some do manage to keep away from the inter- and intra-quarrels and thus become trustworthy actors.
Each community, group and individual has its own agenda, objectives and ties within and outside the Arab world. The Lebanese problems ceased to be only theirs decades ago when that time political class, lacking any sense of preservation and wisdom, allowed the Palestinians to enter the country. A few years later, Syria was given the green light to take over the country. Since then the snowball rolled and Lebanon's problems have become regional and international.
The Presidency
The dispute around the presidency is much more than meets the eye. It is not only the position in itself that causes heated debates but also rather what it stands for. Since the Taef Agreement, the Christians lost power in favor of the Sunnis and Shias. The prerogatives of the presidential position today are very much like Etienne Saqre (nom de guerre: Abu Arz) described them, a chair with only three legs. Nonetheless, this chair is an essential symbol for the Christians of Lebanon and for those of the region.
The quest to find a consensus President started a while ago. When I asked Ali Hamdan (Amal), a close aide of Nabih Berri, why it is an advantage for Lebanon to have a consensus and thus a weak president he could not bring any valid argument, except for the well-known circular Arab diplomatic language. In pragmatic terms, a consensus president is one who is neither a March 14 man, nor a March 8 man. His ties with either side will be, at best, fragile. He will not carry enough moral or political weight to fulfill the requirements of his position. He will be constrained to please all sides and by doing so, he risks becoming a puppet in the hands of all.
Since the '70s, the Christians are in the habit of continuously weakening their position. It is grotesque, but they fight tooth and nail to accomplish this goal. An agreement is important, but that does not mean giving in to blackmail. After all, the future president of Lebanon should be representative of all citizens and should put the interests of the country above all.
Since all consultations failed, the Patriarch was asked to list a few names of individuals that may be right for the presidency. If this also fails, the Patriarch will be used as a scapegoat by all sides, and as a result the church will lose what little moral standing it has today in political affairs. In a sectarian system, state and church may be separated in theory, but not in practice, and the Patriarch often acts as a mediator between camps. As it happened before, there is always a chance a solution will be found right before the country slips into total chaos.
The media reported that the Patriarch's list includes the names of Boutros Harb, Michel Aoun, Robert Ghanem, Nassib Lahoud, Michel Edde who is Chairman of the Maronite League and Michel Khoury.
The plan is to have House Speaker Berri, representing March 8 and Saad Hariri representing 14 March achieve a consensus on one or two of the potential candidates and then go to parliament for the actual elections. Thus far, they did not reach a consensus but there is still time until November 21, when Speaker Berri is supposed to convene the parliament. Another name often heard lately is that of Demianos Kattar, a young and ambitious intellectual. Sources that have asked to be kept confidential told WSN that the Vatican was in favor of Mr. Kattar.
There are ongoing discussions as to whether or not to elect a president with 50+1 vote or the 2/3 as the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Hizbollah ask. Rumors are that some from March 8 (FPM included) may break off and go with the 50+1 alternative.
In September when the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the FPM and Hizbollah was signed, Gibran Bassil, FPM's political officer and one of the few who were with General Aoun told WSN: "To agree on a president you have to convince us that we need to attend the session. If they say that they don't need the 2/3 and they will vote with any majority, any portion of the parliament that means they go against the constitution. It's possible. Then we won't let this president rule the country or go to Baabda Palace, or let the Siniora government rule the country. At that time we will have our own measures to take."
Subtle allusions of civil unrest may well be a reality if by November 24, when President Lahoud's term ends, March 8 and March 14 are not able to reach some sort of agreement. An internal conflict is easy to start but extremely difficult to stop. Both camps are very much aware of this. However, if this happens, the Lebanese will only succeed to tear apart the country and once again be an easy prey for villain states that claim to be its friends.
Hizbollah - the Party of God
Hizbollah is a strong political party, with a disciplined, well-trained militia. It is splendidly structured and organized as a service provider, championing the Shia cause. It suffices to take a look at the Shia political and socio-economic situation in the '50s, '60s and '70s, up until Hizbollah was created with the direct support of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, in order to understand the sympathy and support it enjoys today.
Not only did the Christians, Sunnis or Druze have zaims or as we know them elsewhere, feudals: Powerful families that exercised influence over many. The Shias had them as well. Even without Israel's military presence in southern Lebanon, sooner or later Hizbollah or an organization to that effect would have emerged.
There are two aspects worth being taken into consideration when discussing Hizbollah's principles and actions. The first one is the religious attitude towards existence that has prevailed within the Shia sect since the battle near Karbala in the year 680 when Hussein, Prophet Muhammad's grandson was killed. It is almost an obsession with humiliation and honor. They always have to prove themselves. Timur Goksel called it an obsession with pride. If Israel does something, Hizbollah will have to top it. It is this mentality that makes Hizbollah constantly challenge the others, whoever they may be.
It is to a large extent an emotional and nihilistic perspective on life and reality. This humiliation is so strong, so self-devouring that it can only be quenched by an action, which supposedly will bring honor to that person, community and collective Islamic Ummah ego. In the equation of honor and humiliation appears a new element that of revenge. Honor is truly bizarre. It has rules and definitions. Often times, it works diametrically against the rationale and feeds the beast. If we know of tools to work with, when logic dictates, there is nothing to do when faith is involved.
The second aspect is more out of this place and it has to do with the fact that Shias in general, as the Christians of southern Lebanon were neglected by their own people and by the state. Since it was created, Hizbollah managed to build a state where there wasn't one. There is no trust between the Shias and the state. This is the core problem. If this issue cannot be solved, then all the rest is futile. A compromise reached between the state and Hizbollah would merely be a treacherous calm before the storm.
In Lebanon, there are many distinct communities who have to live side by side. In most cases a middle ground can be found, but not always. Hizbollah is the perfect example that some principles, irrespective of their validity are simply not tradable. Moreover, the sectarian political system, instead of promoting largess when it comes to building citizenship and civility is pushing forward group interests over people.
Some pointed out that the government is pouring money into Beirut, in particular the rich areas of Beirut rather than, for example, the southern Beirut suburbs - Dahiye, Southern Lebanon or Baalbek. Just recently, the government spent money on the Corniche pavement and on the roads in and in the immediate vicinity of the capital and in the mountains. These investments were not a priority. Especially not after the July war and not with the growing tensions between Shias and their Christian allies on the one hand, and the rest of the Christians and Sunnis on the other.
In Bint Jbeil, Ras Maroun, Tibnin and even in Ain Ebel I heard people praising Sheikh Nasrallah and Nabih Berri for taking care of them. Each time I asked, what about the state? The answer I got was along the line, which state? Investing in southern Lebanon would not challenge the religious loyalties, but it would be a goodwill gesture to show the Shias that they too are important for the Beirut government.
Building trust is a long-term process. At first, any support from the state may be seen as a pay off, but if continued people will see it with different eyes. Hizbollah and Amal will always have their followers, but the state will be an alternative. Now, there is no other alternative. Let's not forget that Shias are a minority in Lebanon and in the region. Their primary interest is not to start wars that they cannot possibly win. That is, not to say that they will totally abandon their dreams, but not all dreams are realizable. Hizbollah has taken over the Shia sect. They have money and a well-organized religious, socio-economic and political structure. Today Hizbollah is unrivaled, but there is always tomorrow.
If there is a way to keep Lebanon out of inter-conflicts, this is it. In spite of the ideological and religious ties between Ayatollah Khamenei and Hizbollah's leadership, there are differences between Persian Shias and the Arab Shias. By working on building trust, Hizbollah's monopoly over the sect will be pushed aside. It's not the social support the Shias need from the state. This will keep them in their current, dependent status. Don't give them fish; teach them how to use the fishing rod.
After the war, Hizbollah distributed thousands of dollars in advance payments to all those who lost their houses. From a socio-economic perspective, Hizbollah takes care of its own. The irony is that much of the hardship of the sect is because of the patriarchal, or bluntly stated, the mafia style of the party. Nonetheless, when one is the direct recipient of this help he or she feels compelled to follow in the footsteps of the leader.
Hizbollah's relationship to Syria has not been as smooth and friendly as people make it to be. During the conflict provoked by the Palestinians and incorrectly called a civil war Syria endorsed and armed Amal against Hizbollah. In the mid-1990s, a number of Hizbollah's members and supporters were presumably killed by Syria. Damascus also used to keep track of
Hizbollah's weapons stockpile locations. While not agreeing with Syria's plans for Lebanon, Hizbollah focused on its initial agenda, that of fighting Israel.
After the passing away of Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran adopted a slightly different policy towards Lebanon in general and Hizbollah in particular, and lessened its financial support for the party. It was never a type of relationship where Ayatollah Khamenei picks up the phone and orders Sheikh Nasrallah to do this or that. Sheih Nasrallah has a margin of movement, but in the end, he is part of a hierarchical structure of Ummah. Nowadays, Hizbollah prides itself that is almost entirely self-sufficient.
Although, the details remain to this day in the dark, Hizbollah has an impressive network of businesses and investments all over the world, not just in Lebanon. In Lebanon they usually invest in small- and middle-size of businesses. Such action has two purposes: 1) To keep the Shia rally behind it. Money and ideology make together a powerful mix; 2) to help locally the economy, which in itself is a positive aspect.
Last year, in November, Hizbollah withdrew its ministers from the government and asked for a government of national unity and veto power. Asking for a national unity government was just one of a long line of deceitful maneuvers, since they already had ministers in the government. By asking for veto power Hizbollah trespassed the common sense line. Since when and based on what ground, is a minority entitled to ask to control the majority? It was ludicrous and unattainable from day one and the party and its allies knew that. Why did they do it then? To buy time, to stir tensions while posing themselves as the victims of the corrupt, evil system of which, they too were part of since 1992.
To make it look as if they accept compromise, Hizbollah through its representative House Speaker Nabih Berri focused on the presidency. This was a matter blown out of proportion to lure attention from the core issues. In an artful manner, Sheikh Nasrallah tested the waters in one of his very recent speeches by suggesting that a president should be directly elected by the people. According to the Lebanese constitution, the parliament elects the president. Nasrallah comes and markets a democratic idea after all standards. If we are to do it for the people, then why not let them decide on this matter?
Such a popular stance can only win the hearts of the people. The implication is that in spite of what Siniora's government and others are saying, Hizbollah wants what the Lebanese want. Consequently, this should be proof enough that Hizbollah is not an Iranian proxy but rather a veritable Lebanese resistance. The timing to launch this appeal is crucial. The party does not expect it to have an immediate success, but now that it is officially out in the open it can be built upon, in time.
Islamists have the patience that most normally lack. They waited since Karbala to regain honor through revenge. If they could wait that long, a few more years or decades are just a drop in the ocean. Hizbollah claims that it does not seek to impose an Islamic republic. Why use force when they can use the democratic process to do so? This is what Sheikh Nasrallah tested publicly. For the time being, Hizbollah pledged to abide by the democratic competition. This does not mean that they agree with the non-Islamic nature of Lebanese politics, but they tolerate it and play by the rules of the game looking to achieve the initial goal, that of implementing what today is called political Islam, when the time is right. Hizbollah does advocate a change of the present political system. They want an end to seats being divided by sect.
Hizbollah has brought about a revival of the Shia in an unprecedented way and is only second to the Islamic revolution in Iran. The party's performance, both politically and otherwise peaked in 2000 and the aftermath of what it calls "the liberation". They used their popular boost to increase their influence in the government. Too bad the Sunnis and the Christians went along, each for different reasons and having in mind only immediate gains. This is how the bayan wizari, i.e. the cabinet statement, came about in which the government fully endorsed Hizbollah as a resistance movement that has the right to actively resist in pursuit of liberation of the Shebaa farms and prisoners.
This happened before the July 2006 war and the statement still exists unaltered. This government blames Hizbollah for having a private militia but stops short of calling it an alien implant in the country. The government seems to be under the impression that by compromising on truth it will maintain the country calm and safe. Although reality proved otherwise, the government maintains the status quo. Despite its Lebanese participation, through its agenda, Hizbollah is the Iranian Pasdaran in Lebanon. In July and on other occasions, it acted in coordination with its patrons (Iran is the main ideological patron while Syria could be called a second-rate patron only because Hizbollah has to use it to get weapons and fighters), not with the Lebanese government. In any other country, this would be considered high treason.
The national unity government, the veto, the presidency, all these are important to Hizbollah, but they come as a cover for something else, namely UN Resolution 1559. Hizbollah never intended to give up arms, regardless of the incentives offered. Neither Hizbollah nor its patrons are in the position of power to challenge the world. The rhetoric is filled with veiled threats and the HISH (Hamas-Iran-Syria-Hizbollah) alliance as Dr. Barry Rubin calls it can create mayhem and even win battles, but not the war.
For the time being, Hizbollah is doing all it can to avoid turning weapons against fellow Lebanese. That would be the end of the mighty and holy resistance and they know it. What do to then? The only solution as they see it is to keep on going with the resistance message, increase social support in order to maintain the loyalty of the masses, keep friendly ties with the Palestinian militias and make sure Hizbollah still has a say in the country.
Telecommunication Lines
Back in August, both the national and international press reported about Hizbollah's private communication network. The government apparently found out about it by mistake. In case the intelligence service in its subordination is not completely idiotic and totally compromised, the government must have known about it for quite some time. Hizbollah's actions are not a surprise, after all they always proved to be very resourceful, but the state inaction is a surprise.
When I asked the Minister of Information, Ghazi Aridi about the telecommunication lines, I was confident that the state cut them off. I remember clearly reading that the government took care of the problem. I was astonished to learn that in fact the government did nothing and the lines are still in place in Beirut, and in all Hizbollah's dominions. As I understood, the army, which is or should be subordinated to the government tried to plead with Hizbollah, without success.
Here are two important things to consider further:
1) The government ordered the army to take care of the problem and basically to respect the laws of the country and the official hierarchy. What does the army do? It contacts Hizbollah, and Hizbollah says that the lines remain in place. Conclusion? The army goes back to the government to say that it is not the time to act against Hizbollah's will and that's that.
Minister Ghazi Aridi said: "The army is trying to do something to convince Hizbollah to solve this issue. But in the end if there is a problem between the army and Hizbollah, they will say this is not the right time to do anything. This is the question and the problem with Hizbollah."
2) This being the case, logic dictates that the army's leadership loyalty is not 100% with the government. Now there were the communication lines in discussion, but I ask, what if tomorrow the government comes to its senses and orders the army to disarm Hizbollah as asked for in the Taef Agreement and UN Resolutions 1559, 1680 and 1701? Would the army do it? Probably not. Not under this leadership, anyway. This problem needs to be addressed and solved. The sooner the better.
The state institutions are heavily infiltrated by both Syria and Hizbollah. In southern Lebanon, people spoke proudly of the ghosts. The ghosts being Hizbollah's members and supporters. No one knows who they are and where they are, but experience demonstrates that they are everywhere.
The south and north of Litani, Baalbek and Bekaa Valley are known as Hizbollah fiefdoms. Journalists such as Daniel Williams of Bloomberg and Charles Levinson, analysts such as Elie Fawaz, Tony Badran and Toni Nissi among others, wrote about signs on roads that actually warn that entry is forbidden in Hizbollah's areas. I was told that if I want to go to southern Lebanon, especially to Bint Jbeil (also known as Hizbollah's southern stronghold) to talk with people and take pictures, I needed Hizbollah's approval. I managed just fine without the party's green light, but the question remains: Is it Hizbollah's country to allow or forbid people to enter a place? How did it get to the point that Hizbollah exercises such power and influence in Lebanon?
Not long ago, stories about Shia businessmen that purchase land from poor Christians and Druze surfaced, yet the government did not come publicly with a statement condemning it. Does it realize that by sitting idle it actually supports Hizbollah's agenda of undermining the state of law? Thus far for Hizbollah, playing democracy is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Much can be said about the party, but not that its leadership is foolish. That is why, after the disaster it brought upon the country, Sheikh Nasrallah should understand that some favors to its patrons come with a price that is too high to pay. If the leadership has some consideration for the average citizen, then Hizbollah should distance itself from Iran's regional ambitions and act solely as a Lebanese political actor.
Free Patriotic Movement and Hizbollah Cooperation
The fantastic, as economist Sami Nader called it, Beirut spring started not in 2005 but rather in 2003 with the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty act (SALSRA). This signaled a change in US policy towards Lebanon. If by the end of 1975, beginning of 1976 the US authorized the Syrians to enter Lebanon, now the US wanted Syria out. In all this time
Lebanon almost collapsed under Syrian dictatorship and US interests in the region have come to suffer because of Assad's regime alliances. When SALSRA was voted, many of today's March 14 leaders were silent and some even opposed it. Perhaps out of fear, but that does not excuse their actions. At that time, General Aoun was among the few visible and well-known Christian leaders that opposed Syria. While in exile, the general's rhetoric vis--vis Hizbollah was always as harsh as that against Damascus.
In April 2005, talking with WSN, Michel Aoun said that Hizbollah has a role to play in Lebanon, if its "ready to return the exercise of that sovereign authority and obligation to the state." He went on asking: "Are they ready to become strictly a political and social movement? Or do they want to remain a militia and maintain the untenable proposition of sharing sovereignty with the national army?" These are very good questions that have remained unanswered by Hizbollah to this day. This, in spite of the MoU that was signed in February 2006. The MoU is a good document and a start toward building confidence between the Christians represented by the FPM and the Shias represented by Hizbollah.
There are basically points that they have in common and then it leaves enough space for other issues where these two parties, don't see eye to eye. Those who want to crucify Aoun for his ties with Hizbollah should remember a few things:
1) Since 1992, Hizbollah was active on the political stage and it had members in parliament and ministers. To name just two, Walid Jumblatt and Hariri never complained about Hizbollah. On the contrary. After all, it was because of Rafiq Hariri's relentless lobbying that France and the EU did not put Hizbollah on the terror list, as the US did. Hizbollah's relationship with Iran and the velayet e faqih (rule by jurisprudence) concept it holds dear were known from its inception. If Hizbollah is an undermining, terrorist entity now, wasn't it a terrorist entity years ago?
2) The bayan wizari stating that the government condones all actions taken by the Resistance.
3) In politics one uses all available strategies to get to power and stay there.
MP Ibrahim Kannan of the FPM beautifully explained why the MoU is necessary: "Because Hizbollah is the other side. It is not an alliance. First of all, it is an understanding. When you want to make a compromise you make it with the other side - someone with whom you have contradictions. We have considered and continue to consider Hizbollah to be the other side in Lebanon. We were the heart of the 14 of March movement for 15 years. We were alone. Later, others joined us. We consider that we have to have dialog with the other Lebanese people and we have to try to bring Lebanon and its people together. We believe that we cannot preserve its independence and sovereignty without an understanding among the Lebanese."
Is there a contradiction in the fact that General Aoun uses this alliance to accede to power with the fact that MoU is a step in the right direction? For a long time I thought so, because I was always considering the moral, ethical dimension. Politics is seldom if ever moral. Most likely, Aoun did it to secure two objectives: Peaceful coexistence with the Shias and to obtain more power.
This still leaves the question of why Hizbollah signed the MoU.
Realistically, Hizbollah needed a Christian cover to counter attack UN Resolution 1559. Something it could push in front and say, look, the Christians, those who admire the manmade democracy, allied with us. This shows that we are not the bad guys you think we are.
Did Hizbollah win more than the FPM from this alliance? Most likely. The FPM was being labeled as pro-Syrian which is nonsense, but this is due to its rapprochement with Hizbollah.
Many said that who knows what would have happened with the Shias in July, were it not for the MoU? Stereotypes aside, the Lebanese are warm and hospitable people. They would have helped their fellow citizens with or without the MoU. In the worst-case scenario this support might have been slightly delayed. At the time, there were some who made bitter comments, saying that maybe the Shias seeing how Christians, Sunni and others live won't go back to their own areas and will simply take over the country. What actually happened and few talk about it is that right after the armistice, Sheikh Nasrallah asked the Shias to go back to their areas and homes. One million came and one million went back in a matter of days. This is an aspect that should also be kept in mind.
When asked about the strategy behind the MoU, Sami Nader, a former Aounist said: "It's a tactical move from Aoun to block the 14 March camp because they did not back him up to promote his candidature. This is why he is losing a lot of ground. He used to be supported by 70% of the Christians." Christians did in fact sanction the alliance and it all came in the open during the Metn elections, when the FPM's Kamille Khoury won, but only by a very small margin and only helped by Armenians and the vote of others. Some FPM members left the party because of its alliance with Hizbollah. However, only few joined Samir Geagea's party.
After the General Aoun's recent meeting with Saad Hariri in France, Hizbollah has suddenly proclaimed him as its candidate for the presidency. Everyone knows that although an ally of FPM, Hizbollah was rather reluctant to endorse Aoun's candidacy. It would have preferred a candidate closer to Syria and more sympathetic to its organic ties with Iran. In a way, it was like the general served its purpose and now it's time to move on. By going public, Hizbollah managed to keep Aoun from disassociating himself from the Syrian-Iranian stance.
In the eccentric social fabric of Lebanon, the term militia was rapidly dismissed by the FPM and quickly adopted by its rivals. More so, when pictures from the FPM training camps surfaced in the media and the ISF (Internal Security Forces) office corroborated the story. When compared with Hizbollah's forces, the FPM's are at best a quasi-organized and trained group of loyalists who carry weapons. The party denies it has a militia, but admits it has a security force. I was told once that weapons are home gadgets in Lebanon; therefore, it is not at all surprising that everyone carry light weapons.
Why did the FPM resort to such action? The general said from day one that only the army should have weapons. That line seems to have changed in practice. The danger of the FPM carrying weapons, aside from the fact that it trespasses the law, is that it will turn not against Shias or Sunnis, but against fellow Christians. It happened during the conflict with the Palestinians and Syrians and there are no guarantees it won't happen again.
When I asked MP Hagop Pakradonian how he perceives the MoU as an Armenian Christian and as a political player, he said the following: "General Aoun has tried to bring Hizbollah more to the Lebanese ideology and to a Lebanese political presence. We should not forget that there are lots of Christians in the Bekaa, Baalbek and southern Lebanon where the Shias are present. (...) It was the first time that Hizbollah agreed that the Lebanese who are in Israel should return to Lebanon. Before this, Hizbollah considered them to be traitors. It was also the first time that Hizbollah spoke about the Lebanese prisoners from Syria. Everyone in Lebanon knows that the problem of Hizbollah's weapons cannot be resolved through pressure and through war. Hizbollah should have some Lebanese guarantee that they can give back the weapons to the authorities but they have felt that this guarantee is a Christian guarantee. Hizbollah felt more relaxed knowing that it has a Christian cover in its resistance against Israel."
When asked about the Christian gains, if any, MP Pakradonian responded: "Regarding Israel, we were accused as Christians, not as Armenians, of being allies of Israel. We showed that we are really Lebanese and we consider Israel an enemy. This also relaxed the Christians living in the Shia area. We want the various communities of Lebanon to have good relations. We must try to strengthen Lebanon and recognize that we are all Lebanese citizens. Until now we have failed to recognize Lebanon as our homeland - to form a state in Lebanon and to have a real citizenship. Our citizenship is our community, the state is our region and our homeland is the village. The idea of one state, one nation and one citizenship is very important. (...) Through the MoU it is not that we already reached that target but it's a step forward."
Tent City in Downtown Beirut
The tent city is nothing else than a failed coup d'etat and an embarrassment for the FPM. Why not admit failure and go home? I visited the tent and I was told by one of the guards that fighters of Hizbollah were there and that is why if I want to talk to them and take pictures inside, I need the party's approval. Later on, news that Hizbollah is preparing the tent city for the winter made me reconsider the fact that fighters are in the camp. Are there weapons, too? I did not see any, and I never read about that, but would it be unrealistic? Nothing ever is with Hizbollah. The FPM should take precautions and stay away from whatever Hizbollah intends to use the tent city for.
These are extraordinarily tense times for Lebanon. If they manage to get through without resorting to street clashes then there is still hope for Lebanon and its multicultural culture.
Christians need to reassert their priorities and stand united or they will continue to lose ground. All parties have to understand that aside from the religious goals of the Shias, Iran did not establish, train, finance and arm Hizbollah to the teeth so that after almost 30 years, Hizbollah gives it all up. If the Lebanese leadership of Hizbollah will ever agree to maintain solely a political and social role and find a way for its fighters to join the army, then the process is going to be extremely difficult and demanding if all are involved in the negotiations. It is not impossible, but it is highly unlikely.
Sunnis want to know who killed Rafiq Hariri or as many say, they know but they want the culprits to be punished. Apart from this, its little they have in common in respect to secular, democratic principles with the Christians or with the Shias, for that matter. That is why this momentum should be used to create a common vision of Lebanon, away from the feudal lines and outside loyalties.
Syria and Iran are allies in the region but in respect to Lebanon these regimes do not share a 100% common interest. Assad's regime plan is to reincorporate one way or another, Lebanon into its area of control. Iran on the other hand has to be careful not to start a war it cannot control between Sunni and Shia that will spread like fire in and outside the region.
Everyone talks of compromises. But what exactly is at stake here? One should not compromise all principles only to buy time. Make no mistake: If sovereignty and independence are being used as merchandise to trade, it won't be long until new internal conflicts come along. Today's sect and party leaders have to put the interests of all before their own petty squabbles. After all they have been through since the 1970s people simply want to move on with their lives in a calm environment where they enjoy political transparency, social openness and economic growth. If these leaders are not capable of serving the population, then they should step away and let others do the job. None have been sent or put by God in that specific position, thus not one of them is indispensable.
Have elections on time and based on the constitution
Continue to stabilize the country and draw investments through Paris III
Strengthen the army
Disarm immediately all militias and resistances from the Lebanese territory
Make concessions, as long as they do not affect Lebanon's sovereignty and are a prelude to building a national conscience
New parliamentary elections
A new election law
End the Taef Agreement's favoritism and come up with a genuine Lebanese national project
Dr Fuad Abou Nader: "We want to find a final solution with the Muslims in Lebanon and rule number one is that we have to stop lying to each other; number two, we have to start thinking Lebanese only; and rule number 3, we need to sit together and find a solution - without a hidden agenda from either side. (...) We need to redefine the cause and our targets."
Dr Kamel Mohanna: "People are wonderful it's just that they follow the bad policies of the political leaders. Instead of doing what we are doing now, Lebanon should play a leadership role in the Arab world. (...) We have to develop a social and civil responsibility. We did not choose our religion, or the area we are from. We inherited them. What we are doing now matters and can make a difference. It is a great challenge to work together."
Information Minister, Ghazi Aridi: "We must reach a political agreement. When we have a political agreement between all the Lebanese political parties, I think that everything will be solved - the presidency, the government, all the problems." (...) Why does Syria insist on peace while in Lebanon there is no other priority except the war with Israel on our land? Whose interest is at stake? Last year in July, Israel attacked us and destroyed many places. At the same time, there were under-the-table discussions between Israel and Syria. We simply cannot continue like this."
Gibran Bassil, FPM Political Officer: "Restoring the internal equilibrium and a new electoral law would give a new spirit to democracy. We don't have democracy now in the country. After the withdrawal of the Syrians, we were supposed to restore our democracy as we restored our independence."
MP Ibrahim Kannan (FPM): "We want a democracy because we cannot protect the sovereignty that we have been fighting for more than a decade without creating a democratic system where everyone feels that it is participating in the future of Lebanon. Otherwise we will again have the Syrians, the Iranians, the Saudis, the French - everybody will be interested to have a stand in Lebanon when Lebanese are disagreeing and fighting each other. But when the Lebanese can agree on a vision for Lebanon, the space to maneuver for the outside world is reduced. This is why we strategically took the decision to speak to the other camp. To try to find something in common where we can build a state in Lebanon. Not mini-states. We don't agree that we have to have two states, that anybody should keep its arms in Lebanon not even Hizbollah. That's why we thought that by speaking to Hizbollah and by trying to make it accept to deal with its concerns and maybe to reach a stage where it will support the state and give up at some point.
Economist Sami Nader: "The main course for us is to take Lebanon out of the Syrian orbit and this was the case since the inception of Lebanon. It's a continuous struggle with Syria. The Arab Baath regime ideologically considers Lebanon to be part of the historic Syria."
Secretary General of the Lebanese Parliament, Bilal Sharara: "Peace for us is a necessity."
Demianos Kattar -

Robert Ghanem -
Nassib Lahoud -
Michel Aoun -