October 07/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 10,17-24. The seventy (-two) returned rejoicing, and said, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name." Jesus said, "I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power 'to tread upon serpents' and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven." At that very moment he rejoiced (in) the holy Spirit and said, "I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him." Turning to the disciples in private he said, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it."

Christian split in Lebanon raises specter of civil war. By: Bryan Denton. October 6/07
Washington is looking to avoid a war against Iran.By David Ignatius.October 6/07
Saudi judicial reforms could augur well for the entire region.The Daily Star. October 6/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for October 6/07
Anglican leader condemns Syria, Iran war talk.ABC Online
Report: US stalled Israeli strike on Syria.Ynetnews
Nasrallah Wants to Change Lebanon into a Presidential Republic-Naharnet
Hezbollah chief accuses Israel of Lebanon killings.AFP

Nasrallah flogs Israel, vows no internal fighting-Daily Star
Hariri: We Have No One to Fear but God-Naharnet
Saniora to Nasrallah: Direct Popular Elections Lead to One Sect Crushing the Other-Naharnet
Hariri: Syria hopes to disrupt Lebanon.United Press International-Naharnet
'I am very optimistic that we can achieve a two-state solution' - Bush. Daily Star
France urges EU partners to take unilateral steps against Iran. Daily Star
Lebanon charges 20 with terrorism.BBC News
Russian Embassy in Lebanon investigates terrorist reports.RIA Novosti
UNHCR Expresses Concern About New Visa Requirements by Syria.Voice of America
Feltman, Rifi ink deal for $60 million in aid for ISF-Daily Star
Hariri winds down US trip - and Jumblatt is next-Daily Star
FPM MPs denounce ISF intelligence unit as 'militia.AFP
Fadlallah accuses politicians of fomenting sectarianism-Daily Star
Lessons for Lebanon from Nahr al-Bared-Daily Star
Judiciary issues formal arrest warrant for Abssi-Daily Star
Even if Parliament elects a president, many divisions remain-Daily Star
EU takes 'soft' approach to supporting Lebanon through aid, reconstruction-Daily Star
AUB opens new facilities named for standout alumnus-Daily Star
Bush opposes recognition of 'Armenian genocide.Daily Star
Kouchner tries to defuse tensions with Turkey.AFP

'I am very optimistic that we can achieve a two-state solution' - Bush
Compiled by Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 06, 2007
US President George W. Bush said in comments aired on Friday he was "very optimistic" a Palestinian state could be set up alongside Israel and that next month's Middle East conference could lead to peace in the region. The US-sponsored conference is due to take place in the Washington area in mid- to late November, although there are doubts over how far it will go toward ending decades of conflict and uncertainty over which Arab states will attend.
"I am very optimistic that we can achieve a two-state solution," Bush said in comments on Al-Arabiyya television that were dubbed in Arabic.
"We will host the international peace conference and it will be attended by the interested parties and a delegation from the Arab League and it is an opportunity for serious ... discussions over the road forward to lead to a two-state solution and efforts will be made to reach this objective," Bush said. "I want to affirm that the two-state solution is part of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and that our strategy is for all parties to attend at the table for the sake of a comprehensive peace. We want to push this issue."
Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed on Wednesday that formal negotiations on Palestinian statehood would begin after the peace conference.
But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has balked at Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' call for setting a specific timeframe for the resolution of key issues, including borders and the fate of Occupied Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees.
Abbas said on Thursday that formal negotiations for statehood could be completed six months after the conference.
"There is a lot of dialogue between the two men and I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have realized that there is a vision that is worth working to achieve," Bush said. Aside from the Israel and the Palestinians, the United States would like key Arab states to attend the conference but it is unclear how many will.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has said Damascus would not join unless the agenda also includes the Golan Heights, like the West Bank and Gaza captured by Israel from Syria in the 1967 war.
Saudi Arabia, driving force behind an Arab peace proposal relaunched earlier this year, has also indicated it would not attend unless the conference addresses core issues. The peace conference is part of a US-led effort to bolster Abbas and his West Bank-based government and to isolate Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in June. In Gaza, the Israeli Army said it had killed an armed Palestinian man on Friday in the Gaza Strip, near the border with Israel.
The man "opened fire from the Palestinian side of the border fence toward a unit, which shot back and killed him," an army spokesman told AFP.
The incident occurred east of Gaza City near the Kissufim border crossing, witnesses said. No other details were immediately available from the Palestinian side. - Agencies

Hezbollah chief accuses Israel of Lebanon killings
BEIRUT (AFP) — Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah claimed on Friday that Israel was behind the assassination of Lebanese politicians and urged feuding parties to agree on who should become president in order to end the country's crisis.
"Israel is the one who is carrying out the killings in Lebanon. It wants to stir discord and internal fighting in Lebanon," he said at a rally to commemorate Jerusalem Day in Beirut's southern suburbs. The Western-backed ruling majority in Lebanon has blamed Syria for attacks against anti-Damascus Lebanese figures since October 2004. Syria, the main backer of the Hezbollah-led Lebanese opposition, denies the accusations. Anti-Syrian MP Antoine Ghanem was assassinated in Beirut last month, the eighth Damascus critic to be murdered in Lebanon since the February 2005 killing of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.
Syria has denied involvement in all those crimes.
"Israel is the one that does not want a consensus president and a government of national unity in Lebanon. Israel, backed by America, wants a president who would disarm the resistance," he said. Nasrallah has rejected demands by UN resolutions to disarm his group, which has vowed to pursue a guerrilla campaign to force Israel out of the occupied Shebaa Farms territory. Hezbollah guerrillas, backed by Syria and Iran, led the campaign that force Israel to pull its troops out of a large swathe of territory in southern Lebanon in 2000, after 22 years of occupation. After last year's fierce war with Israel, the Hezbollah-led opposition escalated its actions against the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora with the resignation of its cabinet members and an ongoing street protest.
The two sides have been deadlocked over the choice of a replace for pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud, whose mandate expires next month.
Last month, parliament failed to reach a quorum to elect a president, and adjourned until October 23. The head of state is elected by parliament, not by universal sufferage. "Either we agree on a consensus president or we open the door for the Lebanese people to choose the president directly," Nasrallah said.
"If we cannot agree on a consensus president ... the best way is for parliament to meet and amend the constitution for a single time to allow the Lebanese people to vote directly, without foreign interference."Fears are running high that the deadlock over the presidency could lead to two rival governments, a grim reminder of the final years of the 1975-1990 civil war when two competing administrations battled for control.

Nasrallah flogs Israel, vows no internal fighting
Hizbullah chief suggests direct poll for president

By Mirella Hodeib
Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 06, 2007
BEIRUT: Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah lashed out at Israel on Friday, accusing it of plotting the assassinations and violence that have shaken Lebanon over the past few years but reiterating a pledge to seek consensus and dialogue to spare the country further chaos. "Israel has a clear-cut plan for the region and Lebanon, and it will do everything in its power to have it implemented," Nasrallah said during a ceremony to mark International Quds (Jerusalem) Day at which his speech was televised. Nasrallah said Israel's goals in Lebanon included having Hizbullah dragged into internal conflicts, "so as to distract us from our true goal and to weaken our performance.""But Israel should know we will never take any Lebanese group as our enemy," he said.
In his first speech since August 15 - when he commemorated the "Divine Victory" over Israel during the summer 2006 war - Nasrallah said Hizbullah "fully" endorsed talks on having the presidential election be "an exclusively Lebanese issue free from any form of foreign interference," and outlined three steps toward achieving this aim.
"First of all we should try to agree on a consensus president," he said. "If not, we should proceed to having a president elected by a two-thirds quorum [in Parliament], as stipulated by the Lebanese Constitution."The quorum issue has sparked a heated debate between the ruling majority and the opposition. While the opposition is calling for a two-thirds quorum to elect the president, the ruling March 14 forces consider that a president can be elected by simple majority.
"However," Nasrallah added, "if the two previous options fail to materialize, we should amend the Constitution and proceed to have a popular presidential vote because this will make the election even more Lebanese." Parliament gathered for a vote on September 25 but did not open the session due to the insufficient number of MPs in attendance, and the chamber adjourned until October 23.
Nasrallah said that the country's next head of state should be characterized by "integrity and transparency." "Lebanon's next president should be loyal to Lebanon, first and foremost, and should have immunity against foreign interference and pressures," he said. Nasrallah said such a person "is not a result of the imagination and actually exists."He did not mention a name, and Hizbullah has not officially announced a candidate, but party representatives have repeatedly said that MP Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, was the opposition's preferred choice. Contrary to the expectations of some observers, Nasrallah did not address calls by the Council of Maronite Bishops to dismantle the tent city erected by the opposition in Downtown Beirut since December 1.
The opposition launched the sit-in after six opposition ministers quit the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and protesters have demanded the resignation of a Cabinet it labels illegitimate."It is time to liberate the capital's city center and its surroundings, where restaurants, hotels and shops have shown the whole world that our Beirut is characterized by a vital and active role," the council said earlier this week.
Tackling regional issues, the sayyed called for a unified Arab stance concerning the situation in Palestine. "We are not urging Arab leaders to prepare for a large-scale war against Israel because this will not happen," he said. We only call on Arab countries to support Palestinians both politically and financially and they [Palestinians], in turn, will know how to handle their own problems very well." He also urged various Palestinian factions, namely the Fatah and Hamas movements, to put an end to their differences. Nasrallah also called on Arab leaders to refrain from taking part in the Middle East peace conference organized by the US this fall.
"Participating in the conference is not likely to bring the Palestinians any good ... for the meeting has the normalization of Arab-Israeli ties [rather than Palestinian statehood] as its sole aim," he argued.
The Hizbullah leader also said that Lebanese-Palestinian ties needed repairs after this summer's 15-week battle between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam militants at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp forced about 30,000 Palestinians to flee their homes. "Violence has never been a solution to solving tensions between the two peoples and it is imperative that Palestinians living in Lebanon be granted their social as well as human rights at least," Nasrallah said.
Also on Friday, thousands of Hizbullah supporters flocked to the Fatmeh Gate crossing in the village of Kfar Kila on the Israeli border to mark Quds Day.
Quds Day is held to oppose Israel's illegal occupation of Jerusalem. Demonstrations against the occupation are usually held in several Arab and Muslim countries around the world, including Iran, which first suggested the annual event and continues to publicize it.
An array of yellow Hizbullah flags fluttered a few meters away from the border fence and the Israeli town of Metulla as Lebanese Army soldiers and peacekeepers from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon stood guard.
"There will come a day when the Israelis will be thrown out of Jerusalem so that the people of this region can finally live in peace and harmony," Fatmeh Shehadeh, head of the party's women's wing in the South, told an animated crowd.

Hariri winds down US trip - and Jumblatt is next
By Rym Ghazal
Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 06, 2007
BEIRUT: Parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri again expressed optimism Friday that Lebanon's next head of state would be elected "on time," but he denied having discussed individual candidates during talks in Washington this week with US President George W. Bush.
Both internal and external wrangling over Lebanon's presidency continued on Friday, with one of Hariri's key coalition partners planning his own foray to the United States and a Beirut expecting to host a triumvirate of European foreign ministers later this month.
Sources close to MP Walid Jumblatt, who heads the Democratic Gathering bloc in Parliament, told The Daily Star that he is will travel to the US in the middle of October after being "personally invited" by high-level American officials.
The sources said US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman is overseeing the details of Jumblatt's trip.
The timing of Jumblatt's trip sends important signals over his role on the Lebanese political scene as it follows that of Hariri, who also met with several other senior officials in addition to Bush. Hariri is now scheduled to visit United Nations headquarters in New York for talks with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, after which he will consult leaders in Paris and Riyadh.
The pro-opposition Al-Akhbar newspaper reported Friday that Hariri might have succeeded in convincing Bush to accept independent candidate Robert Ghanem as Lebanon's next president. The daily quoted sources in Washington as saying Hariri and Bush reached an agreement on having Ghanem as a "consensus president."
Speaking to reporters in the US capital on Friday, however, Hariri denied that any names were mentioned.
"Bush and I discussed how to have the presidential elections on time and not the list of names," he said.
"I remain optimistic that a president will be elected for Lebanon on time," Hariri added.
Also on Friday, the pro-government An-Nahar newspaper quoted French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner as saying Syria must not interfere in the crisis over Lebanon's presidency.
"Syria must not put obstacles in the upcoming presidential elections," said Kouchner, who is expected to join his Italian and Spanish counterparts for a trip to Beirut in the coming weeks.
The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) said Friday that the three will be arriving in Lebanon on October 19.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also expressed his support for Lebanon on Friday, saying he hoped "the Lebanese will reach a consensus."
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is back in Lebanon after meeting leaders in Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in a bid to garnering support for reconstruction projects in the South, badly damaged by last year's war with Israel, and at the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli, devastated by this summer's 15-week battle between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam militants.
Upon his arrival, Siniora focused on the need to define the nature of ties between Lebanon and Syria once and for all.
"There are many things to fix in our relations with Syria, and it should begin with demarcation of borders between the two countries and monitoring them to prevent smuggling of arms and armed men," Siniora told reporters on Friday.
"We want good relations with all Arab nations," the prime minister said, "including Syria."
At the same time, Siniora added, "Lebanon is determined to maintain its independence and freedom in choosing its next president."
He also said legislators had a "duty" to show up for a presidential election session in Parliament set for October 23, referring to the opposition MPs who stayed away from an initial attempt on September 25 because no agreement had been reached on a consensus president.
With some members of the majority still vowing to elect a president with a simple majority, the Central News Agency quoted sources close to Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir as reiterating earlier admonitions that a two-thirds quorum for the first round of voting - demanded by the opposition and mandated by the Constitution - be respected.
At the same time, Deputy Speaker Farid Makkari declared that if March 14 leaders asked him, he would head a session to elect a president with a simple majority.
"If the March 14 camp asked me and Speaker Berri was not willing to carry through with his obligations, I would convene such a session," Makkari told the Voice of Lebanon on Friday.
Meanwhile, former MP Nasser Qandil held a news conference Friday to accuse March 14 leaders of proving that Lebanon is not truly independent.
Trips by ruling majority members to foreign capitals, he said, "exposed them and the interference in Lebanon."
Former Premier Salim al-Hoss expressed growing pessimism over the prospects for an agreement on the upcoming presidential elections.
"The chance for agreement over the presidency is getting weaker day by day," he said in a statement Friday.
In other news, Major General Claudio Graziano, commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), met Friday with the commander of the Lebanese Army, General Michel Suleiman.While neither officer made any comments to the media, it is believed that they discussed procedures to protect UNIFIL peacekeeping troops against future threats.
In an earlier interview with LBC on Thursday, Graziano expressed his concern over the possibility of more attacks against UNIFIL troops in the upcoming months.
The Spanish UNIFIL contingent was attacked early last summer by a car bomb placed along a patrol route in the Southern area of Khiam. - With agencies, additional reporting by Maher Zeineddine

Aoun Threatens with "Street Protests"
Free Patriotic Movement leader Michen Aoun threatened that his supporters would take to the streets if fellow partisans detained by police on charges of paramilitary training were not released. The FPM also denied Friday that some of its members were undergoing paramilitary training, but rather "having fun."
"They were just out having fun with real weapons but not undergoing any military training as such," said FPM spokesman Alain Aoun.
His comments came after security officials on Thursday announced that two FPM members had been arrested for undergoing paramilitary training, fanning tension ahead of a delayed presidential vote. The security forces also released photographs of uniformed young men and women armed with automatic rifles. Authorities said the group was receiving instructions on the use of weapons in the Jbeil region north of the capital.
The FPM spokesman said the group had been in charge of protecting residence of the movement's leader outside Beirut in 2005 and that the photos released by the authorities were taken at least 18 months ago.
"These kids made a mistake," he told Agence France Presse. "But we're not talking here about combat units as the ruling majority is claiming."
But Youth and Sports Minister Ahmad Fatfat, a member of the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora, said the government could not tolerate political parties each having their own security forces. "Such a situation could lead to a new civil war," he warned.
Under the Taif agreement that ended Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war, all factions disarmed their militias with the exception of the Shiite militant group Hizbullah which fought last year's war with Israel. Aoun, a candidate in this month's vote for a new president, is allied with Hizbullah and the Amal movement of parliament speaker Nabih Berri, which are backed by Syria and Iran.The two sides have been deadlocked over the choice of a new president to replace pro-Syrian incumbent Emile Lahoud and a first parliamentary session convened last month to elect a successor failed to achieve a quorum.(Naharnet-AFP)
Beirut, 05 Oct 07, 16:20

Saniora to Nasrallah: Direct Popular Elections Lead to One Sect Crushing the Other

Prime Minister Fouad Saniora criticized Hizbullah leader Sayyad Hassan Nasrallah's call for direct popular presidential elections, saying this could lead to one sect crushing the other. "This proposal … is, in principle, against the constitution," the daily An Nahar on Saturday quoted Saniora's sources as saying.
"At the very least, one could say about this proposal that it would lead to one sect defeating the other," Saniora said.
On Nasrallah's accusations that Israel committed the serial killings in Lebanon to facilitate creation of an international tribunal that would be used to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, Saniora said: "No one brushed aside that possibility. It is likely."
However, Saniora, wondered that if Israel was behind those killings, "is it by chance that it chose its targets from March 14 only?" Beirut, 06 Oct 07, 08:27

Christian split in Lebanon raises specter of civil war
Saturday, 6 October, 2007 @ 7:48 AM
By: Bryan Denton
Beirut - With the Islamist group Hezbollah having brought Lebanese politics to a standstill, the country's once-dominant Christian community feels under siege and has begun re-establishing militias , training in the hills and stockpiling weapons.
Many Lebanese say another civil war — like the 15-year one that started in 1975 — is imminent and that the most dangerous flash points are within the divided Christian community.
Christian youth are signing up for militant factions in the greatest numbers since the end of the civil war, spray painting nationalist symbols on walls and tattooing them on their skin, and proclaiming their willingness to fight in a new civil war — in particular, against fellow Christians.
"When the war begins, I'll be the first one in it," said Fadil Abbas, 30, flexing his biceps in Shadow Tattoo as an artist etched a cross onto his shoulder. "I want everyone to know I am a Christian and I am ready to fight."
The struggle is over who gets to be the next president, a post reserved for a Christian under Lebanon's Constitution, and which must be filled by the end of November. But the larger question — one that is prompting rival Christian factions to threaten war — is whether Lebanese Christians must accept their minority status and get along with the Muslim majority (the choice of the popular Gen. Michel Aoun) or whether Christians should insist on special privileges no matter what their share of the population (the position of veteran civil war factions like the Phalange and the Lebanese Forces).
The government dedicated an extraordinary cabinet session in September to reports that Christian factions had opened militia training camps in the mountains. The police have arrested two groups of Christians allegedly linked to General Aoun's party — the most recent on Thursday — and accused them of illegal weapons training. One group said that they were on a picnic and the other that they were "playing." General Aoun said his followers keep only "personal weapons," like most Lebanese.
Mr. Abbas, the man in the tattoo parlor, used to work as a luxury hotel receptionist. In the last six months, in anticipation of a coming struggle, he has moved his family out of Beirut to the mountains, and has joined the militant wing of the Lebanese Forces, a pro-government party.
Government leaders say they worry that within days of a renewed conflict, heavy weapons could flow to rival Christian factions from Israel, France, Syria, or even the United States.
"There are trainings. That's a huge mistake," Saad Hariri, a Sunni Muslim who leads the pro-Western governing coalition, said. Militarization has not spiraled out of control, he said, but open, armed conflict could set off an unstoppable chain reaction.
The bold talk and the throngs of youths converging on recruitment offices throughout Beirut and in Christian towns in the mountains, stand in marked contrast to Hezbollah and the Sunni parties, which have urged restraint on their own militias.
In the Christian suburbs of Beirut, activists from the Phalange and the Lebanese Forces have opened recruitment offices, organized marches to protest the killings of Christian politicians, and are preparing for a hotly contested campaign in university student council elections this month, which are taken seriously as a proxy for popular support.
On the other side of the Christian divide, followers of General Aoun and Suleiman Franjieh — two Christian groups allied with Hezbollah and considered pro-Syrian — have stepped up their "youth summer camp" programs, a combination of hiking and political indoctrination. They have joined Hezbollah's marches and occupation of downtown Beirut, and, according to the government, have engaged in militia training in Hezbollah camps.
Since the country's last census in 1932, when Christians accounted for about 55 percent of the population, their numbers have shrunk to an estimated 30 percent. The president and the leader of the armed forces must always be a Christian, but since the Christian community is so bitterly divided, Shiite and Sunni Muslim leaders often end up choosing the candidates for them.
The government has avoided a new census because of the repercussions: power is delicately divided among Lebanon's officially recognized 18 sects.
Traditional Christian leaders — notably Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, Lebanon's chief Maronite cleric — are trying to broker a compromise. The patriarch has welcomed leaders to Bkirke, his compound overlooking the sea north of Beirut. But his pronouncements about what kind of leader should assume the presidency have been all but ignored.
Vociferous Christians who oppose the government, like Antoine Franjieh — youth leader for the pro-Syrian opposition faction Marada — say that only an alliance with the dominant Shiite Muslims can protect the Christian community. Mr. Franjieh, 26, (a distant relative of his party's top leader) lives in the mountains of north Lebanon, in the Christian stronghold of Zgharta. Like many Christian movements, his party builds support around a bizarre iconography, reminiscent of early-20th-century European fascism; his party has adopted the symbol for "pi" to express constancy, and another group has chosen the Greek letter "omega," for resistance.
Recruiters like Mr. Franjieh spout tales of "martyrdom" at the hands of other Christians from the civil war and slogans like Mr. Franjieh's favorite, repeated without apparent irony: "My country, right or wrong."
The Christians allied with Hezbollah have had to overcome their own deeply entrenched prejudice against Muslims, Mr. Franjieh said: "We were always taught that we were superior to the Muslims. Now we must realize they are our brothers, and we must help each other."
As he drives toward the party headquarters in Zgharta, he waves his hands at the abandoned houses in a village on the ridge: "On paper, according to the census, a thousand Christians live here. But you will find no one here. All of them have left."
Aoun and Hezbollah have signed an alliance agreement . The agreement has divided the Christian community right in the middle and many blame Aoun for Lebanon's problems starting with the summer war and leading to the anti government protests. Many expected Aoun to help disarm Hezbollah , but instead Aoun supporters according to documented reports are being armed and trained by Hezbollah. Several Aoun supporters were arrested while training last week and charged with carrying illegal weapons
Sources: The New York Times

Even if Parliament elects a president, many divisions remain

By Hani M. Bathish
Daily Star staff
Saturday, October 06, 2007
BEIRUT: Many feel that electing a new president acceptable to both political camps will magically mend deep-rooted internal divisions and solve Lebanon's problems. Others feel that a consensus presidential candidate will be too weak to be effective and will only be a stop-gap measure that prolongs a problem rather than solve it.
In just under a month, MPs will meet again at Nijmeh Square for what people hope will be to vote for a new president. The government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has vowed "to spare no effort" to hold presidential elections on time and in keeping with constitutional rules.
"It would be a blessed hour when a new president is elected and with a new president new horizons will open for Lebanon, a future of hope and promise," Siniora declared at a recent iftar banquet. Political analyst Simon Haddad, however, feels the presidential issue is not the real root of the problem, but rather that the real divisions in Lebanon run much deeper and major ideological differences exist.
"The presidential election would give the country a little respite but after a while the problems will surface again, there would be disagreement over other major appointments in government," Haddad said. "There is a pro-Syrian side and an anti-Syrian side and if the anti-Syrian side accepts a consensus candidate it would mean the slow but inevitable return of Syrian control over Lebanon ... The Syrians are not ready to leave Lebanon," Haddad said, adding that unless a major regional shift occurs resulting in a regional accord, contentious issues in Lebanon will remain unresolved, including the issue of weapons outside the control of the state.
He said the political rift has existed for over a year, with half the country not recognizing the government. Haddad feels that after the presidential election the political landscape could see a shift in alliances, depending on who is elected president. "With the election of a new president, the economic situation could get better and Gulf investors could return," he said.
Youssef Saadallah Khoury, a legal expert and former head of the State Shura Council in Lebanon, said that while a climate of dialogue prevails, the seriousness of the debate and its chances for reaching favorable results is in question.
"I hope we come to the October 23 session and two-thirds of MPs attend and we reach agreement over the next president,"Khoury said. But "personally I feel it is far-fetched.""I favor a strong president who can meet people's aspirations, even if he has to be from one political group or the other," Khoury added, admitting his favorite candidate is Change and Reform Bloc leader MP Michel Aoun. He fears a consensus candidate "without taste, color or smell" will be ineffective. Khoury wants to a see a president who would revive national institutions and reform the judiciary, reaffirm judicial independence and put an end to public-sector waste.
There are those who have had enough of regional power plays using Lebanon as a stage to settle scores. The Khalas (which in English means "enough,") campaign is one popular civil-society movement that is trying to send the message to politicians that people are fed up with sectarianism and internal division, rejecting what they see as a slide toward war.
Mohammad Balouza, who represents the Khalas campaign, said the movement encompasses over 100 civil-society organizations and is working to promote national unity as a way to save the country from the risk of civil war. Khalas is circulating a petition and collecting signatures from all over Lebanon to pressure politicians to reverse their course.
"We have a bus that visits the different provinces in the country; last week we were in Tripoli, this week we go to the Bekaa, then South. In Beirut we collected about 4,000 signatures, in Tripoli more. In all we have around 13,000 signatures," Balouza said, adding that the young men and women working on the campaign exemplify a desire of the new generation to move beyond a state of national disunity and sectarianism they inherited from their parents.
Said Sanadiki, executive director of the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE), one of the NGOs that monitored the hotly contested by-elections in the Metn over the summer, believes the presidential election boils down to a bargaining game.
"It is a bargaining game," Sanadiki said. "Each one wants to take what he can get and get his candidate elected."
He believes that both sides may have reached an understanding already but may be waiting to make it public.
"As LADE we comment on technical aspects of an election, the presidential election is not a technical matter, it's political. Everyone is interpreting the Constitution as they like in the absence of a body legally capable of doing so," Sanadiki said, adding that only Parliament can give a legally binding interpretation of the Constitution. The Constitutional Council, which many feel ought to have powers to interpret the Constitution, was never given the legal authority by Parliament to do so.
"We encourage all aspects of dialogue ... We just want [politicians] to sit down together and reach a solution to take Lebanon out of this crisis," Sanadiki said.
He described peoples' situation in Lebanon much like a frog in a frying pan while the heat is slowly being turned up degree by degree. "The bad thing is we are getting used to the violence, but like the frog at some point we will die," Sanadiki said.

Hariri’s Visit to Washington: Improper and Untimely
by Maher Itani*
Center for Democracy in Lebanon | October 5, 2007
The timing of MP Saadeddin Hariri’s visit to Washington is reminiscent of the visit Hariri’s father, the late Rafik Hariri, made to Damascus on the eve of the presidential elections in Lebanon in 2004. Then PM Rafik Hariri received orders from Bashar Assad to amend the Lebanese Constitution and reappoint President Emile Lahoud for another 3 years. And so it was, Hariri and his bloc in Parliament “The Future Bloc” were persuaded to compromise on principle and respond to the wishes of Syria’s Assad. After Hariri’s assassination and Syria’s withdrawal, fourteen MPs of the “Future” signed a petition claiming they were coerced to back Lahoud.
It is against this background in dealing with the outside world that Hariri’s visit comes this week; hence the seeming controversy vis-ŕ-vis its timing and true purpose. The appearance of impropriety could have been avoided had Mr. Hariri been more open to internal advice rather than external invites, and more focused on building consensus inside Lebanon rather than making agreements abroad.
As a majority leader in Parliament, MP Hariri should have discussed the agenda of his visit with other Parliamentary leaders (mainly in the opposition) and his delegation should have included representatives of their blocs. Before you go abroad and claim to represent your country, you must have a unified country behind you or at least behind your message. That is how leaders in true democracies, including the USA, operate; that is what true leadership is about. It is not enough to be labeled a “Great Leader” by President Bush – considering the source! Mr. Hariri could have avoided the appearance of impropriety had he led a multi-partisan delegation in this visit; such a delegation, would have spared him the accusation of playing into the hands of the Americans in Lebanon and given his message more strength.
As a leader in the March 14 coalition, Hariri’s visit does an internal disservice to the coalition’s image. Claims by the coalition to oppose foreign meddling in Lebanese internal affairs appear now disingenuous given that Mr. Hariri discussed what should have been a strictly internal matter - the Lebanese presidential elections - with US authorities in the USA. He did not have to discuss names of candidates with Mr. Bush to raise the appearance of impropriety – Bush barely knows the name of the current President of neighboring Mexico. It was enough, however, to merely bring up the topic in the discussions; after all, unlike the Syrians, the Americans are less obvious and more subtle.
Lastly, as the leader of the “Future Movement” and against a political history of pandering to “friendly” persuasions and “brotherly” coercions - and then backpedaling, Hariri’s visit raises again the specter of his dad’s policy of consent to the powers that be; it has the appearance of impropriety at best and may be easily labeled as suspicious.
Mr. Hariri needs to dissipate these suspicions if he is genuinely interested in avoiding a confrontation with the opposition over the next President. He owes a duty to the Lebanese people in general and to the March 14 movement in particular to exhibit utmost transparency vis-ŕ-vis this visit. The people, who rejected the secretive backdoor political deals during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, demand no less today.
Mr. Hariri has yet to report directly to the Lebanese people on the substance of his discussions in Washington. That does not just mean reporting to the March 14 Coalition, or to PM Siniora or to Speaker Berri in one on one meetings. It means rather a detailed report filed with Parliament and accessible through official channels; it also means a formal press conference (not an Iftar dinner) held in Beirut, in which Hariri discusses openly with the press what was said on behalf of Lebanon. After all, his visit was by all accounts an official (not a personal) visit in which he discussed the Presidency, the tribunal, the arming of security forces, etc; in addition to being escorted around by Lebanon’s new Ambassador in Washington.
I write this as a concerned citizen who stood against the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and staunchly supported the liberation and sovereignty movement. This movement appears today in dire need of a course correction to stay on the true path of freedom, sovereignty and independence.
* Maher Itani: Research fellow in public policy, activist in the Cedar Revolution (2005-2006), advocate for peace, sovereignty and democracy in Lebanon.