September 1/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 25,1-13. Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise ones replied, 'No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.' While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, 'Lord, Lord, open the door for us!'But he said in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.' Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Lebanon is being dragged toward a new abyss.By Ferry Biederman. August 31/07
The final 'final battle. By: Lucy Fielder .Al-Ahram Weekly. August 31/07
Drawing their swords. By: Lucy Fielder.l-Ahram Weekly. August 31/07
Ahmadinejad's bombast puts his country at risk.The Daily Star. August 31/07
Here's why the US might not attack Iran.
By Andrew Exum. August 31/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for August 31/07
Berri: No government for the Opposition in Return for Consensus on New President-Nahart
Feltman: Washington For a Lebanese President In Line with 1559
Franjieh Accuses Saniora, Hamadeh of Plotting to Kill Nasrallah
Lahoud Says He Would Name Suleiman as Provisional Successor
Resigned Cabinet Ministers Create Political Mess
Two soldiers killed in Lebanon.Gulf Daily News
Russia fumes at claim it flamed tension with Syria.Jerusalem Post
Earthquake of up to 7 on Richter scale expected to hit Lebanon
-Daily Star
Harb ties run for presidency to consensus on quorum-Daily Star
Feltman plays coy about US position on how to fill Lahoud's post-Daily Star
Activists reiterate demand for action on missing
-Daily Star
Aridi frets game simulating assault on Grand Serail-Daily Star
Sunni clerics lament 'offensive accusations' in media
-Daily Star
UN envoy calls for new pressure on Hizbullah
-Daily Star
Work proceeds on set-up of Hariri tribunal
-Daily Star
Nahr al-Bared aid appeal set for September 10-Daily Star
Constitutional ambiguity and the presidential election
-Daily Star
Higher spending on electricity helps bloat Beirut's budget deficit
-Daily Star
Lebanese private sector still straining under burden of last year's war
-Daily Star

The final 'final battle'
Lucy Fielder-Al-Ahram Weekly.
Fatah Al-Islam's women and children have at last left Nahr Al-Bared camp, heralding the final battle which could last days or weeks, Lucy Fielder reports
After waiting out more than three months of fierce bombardment of the besieged Nahr Al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon, the families of Fatah Al-Islam members were evacuated by the army this week. Many took this as a sign the end of the battle, prolonged well beyond expectations, was nigh.
More than 60 family members, including many women in niqab and small children, were guided and carried out by soldiers, as shown in much publicised footage. The Sunni militant group holed up inside the Palestinian camp has requested that an estimated 40 injured also be evacuated, but at the time of going to press this was subject to negotiations mediated by Palestinian sheikhs.
Former General Amin Hteit expected a fierce battle after the evacuation of the families had "liberated" both the militants and soldiers. "The evacuation of the families and children means the army is free to act and the militants have dropped the idea of surrender, deciding to fight to the bitter end," he said.
Lebanon's army expects one of two actions from its adversaries. The 65 militants could stay put and defend the third of the camp they still occupy, "If that decision is taken, the strong fortifications in the camp -- shelters and trenches -- mean the army won't prevail in a day or two despite what some say. That could mean another two or weeks of fighting," Hteit said.
Fatah Al-Islam has survived the destruction of Nahr Al-Bared, against expectations of a short battle, by sheltering in deep underground shelters built by Yasser Arafat during the 1980s in the Civil War. According to a security source, the families left in good health -- physically at least -- because of the condition of the bunkers. "They're equipped with electricity and running water," the source said. "They were designed to withstand Israeli bombing, let alone Lebanese."
Hteit said a more feared path the Islamists might take would be a suicide attack to breach army defences, which would allow a contingent to break free from the camp and set up elsewhere, as well as add to the already high military death toll.
Fierce bombardment continued this week and smoke spiralled from the mounds of pulverised concrete and rubble that housed 40,000 people three months ago. The fighting broke out on 20 May with a police raid on a flat rented by suspected bank robbers with alleged links to Fatah Al-Islam. The Al-Qaeda-inspired militants, who had been based in Nahr Al-Bared since splitting from a Syrian-backed group in November, overran an army checkpoint at its outskirts to exact bloody revenge on unsuspecting soldiers. Lebanon has suffered major electricity rationing over the past week after Al-Qaeda-inspired militants fired rockets on the Deir Amar power station.
As well as some Palestinians, the group also comprises Lebanese, Saudi Arabians and other nationalities. At least 148 soldiers have been killed in the battle, and an unknown number of militants and civilians lie dead in the inaccessible ruins.
Neither the army source nor Hteit expected much from negotiations, unless they lead to surrender. "Negotiations were fine when the toll was still small," said Hteit. "Now we have more than 700 injured, as well as the martyrs."
Many in Lebanon's opposition, which has squared off with the US-backed government for the past year over power sharing, accuse the authorities of dragging the army into a battle to weaken it. Hteit subscribes to that view and accuses the United States of undermining the army for political ends.
"The main intention of this battle was striking at the army and finishing off its unity," he said. David Welch, the US under-secretary of State for Near East Affairs, asked the army to take a stand in the event there were two governments following flashpoint presidential elections due in September. But according to Hteit, the army chief said, "I'll be neutral in the event of a national split, because I can't be with one side against the other." A week after that conversation, Nahr Al-Bared started, "in response to the army head's neutrality," Hteit said.
Weakening the army would necessitate the deployment of international forces under Chapter VII of the UN charter, to secure Israel's northern border, prevent arms reaching Hizbullah via Syria, and ultimately to emasculate the Shia guerrilla group's resistance, Hteit added.
Riding high on a wave of popular support for the army's Nahr Al-Bared campaign, and at the head of what is considered Lebanon's only unifying institution, Commander-in-Chief Michel Suleiman is considered a popular candidate for the Maronite Christian presidency. But that would require a constitutional amendment, which the ruling 14 March movement has rejected.
Leading anti-Syrian figures have sniped at the commander and demanded he stay out of politics, angered by a statement he made a few weeks ago saying that Fatah Al-Islam was linked to Al-Qaeda, and not Syrian intelligence as the movement alleges.
Nonetheless, among several possibilities in the coming months, few of them appealing, is that pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud may hand power to Suleiman to form a transitional military government to oversee elections, in the increasingly likely event that parliamentarians cannot agree on a candidate.
Hundreds of Nahr Al-Bared refugees demonstrated on 27 August at their temporary home in the neighbouring Bedawi camp, demanding they be allowed to return to the camp as soon as the fighting is finished and "live on the rubble of our homes", according to some banners. Other signs called for land next to Nahr Al-Bared to be rented to house them temporarily, as promised by United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
"They have been suffering for more than three months. Their living conditions are sub- standard. They want an end to their misery," said Hilal Khashan, political science professor at the American University of Beirut.
Although the fighting has not spread to other camps, many Palestinians are angry and fearful as a result of the destruction of one of the 12 refugee camps. "The problem will be trying to house the refugees before winter," Khashan said. "UNRWA has been trying to rent a huge space in the north to build temporary housing, the camp has been so devastated." Hteit said there was even a plan to give the Palestinians Lebanese nationality to undermine their right of return in accordance with Israel's wishes.
"I believe the government of Fouad Al-Siniora will prevent rebuilding Nahr Al-Bared or making funds available for it. The Lebanese people will be asked to host the Palestinians to ease the way for nationalisation. The plan has become clear," he said. Khashan, himself a Palestinian, judged that unlikely, given the lack of welcome extended to Palestinians in Lebanon. Even the Sunnis, viewed as having most to gain from absorption of their co-religionists, would not welcome such a step, as it would increase demands on their share of the sectarian "pie", he said. "The Lebanese are united on one thing only, their hatred of Palestinians."
© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

Earthquake of up to 7 on Richter scale expected to hit Lebanon
No one can specify timing, says Order of Engineers, architects
By Hanadi Chami -Special to The Daily Star
Friday, August 31, 2007
BEIRUT: The head of the Order of Engineers and Architects said Thursday that an earthquake might hit Lebanon. "Studies have showed that an earthquake with a maximum 6.5 to 7 on the Richter scale is expected here," Samir Doumit said during a news conference held by the National Council for Scientific Research (NCSR) on seismology and tectonics in Lebanon. However, he said, "buildings designed with minimum resistibility to earthquakes" will escape much of the destruction.
"Earthquakes are [a] natural occurrence we can't prevent, but we can take adequate measures to lessen its damaging impact," he said.
On August 10, an article published in The Daily Star said that "a new underwater survey has revealed that Lebanon lies dangerously close to a fault that could soon generate a catastrophic tsunami."The article quoted a report by Discovery News channel which said that a fault lying just 6.5 kilometers off Lebanon's coast caused a tsunami-generating earthquake in 551 AD According to the survey, the fault moves approximately every 1,500 years, meaning a disaster of the same magnitude as the earthquake and tsunami that destroyed coastal cities on July 9, 551, could be due any time.
The Order of Engineers and Architects warned contractors and architects in Lebanon about the extent of the expected damage of "probable" earthquakes.
Doumit said rumors have been spreading during the past few days about the possibility of an earthquake, but he stressed that "no one can specify the timing of the earthquake."The National Center for Geophysics, in collaboration with a French team of researchers, discovered a major fault connected with the Yammouneh fault, starting from the South of Marjayoun to the North at Qobeiyt, according to Dr. Ata Elias, a researcher at the National Center for Geophysics. "Studies showed that the fault is of 100-150 kilometers across the shore between Sidon and Tripoli at a depth of 1,300-1,500 meters," said Elias.
Elias added that photos taken by a French submarine equipped with cutting-edge geophysical technologies showed cracks and fractures all along the fault, indicating its "activity." "Our discovery of the Mt. Lebanon fault allows us to better estimate the risks of the probable earthquakes and tsunami waves," Elias said, adding that the best way to minimize the damaging effects of such an event was to enhance public awareness around safety measures that must be taken.
National Center for Geophysics Administrator Alexander Sirsok outlined the history of seismic activity in Lebanon."Lebanon is a high mountain with a vastly inclined slope diving into the Mediterranean and interrupted by the Yammouneh Fault which makes it a geological exception in its region," he explained.
Sirsok said that the geomorphologic phenomenon is evidence of the highly active tectonic reaction in the region. "It is quite normal for earthquakes to occur in such geomorphologic regions," Sirsok said, adding that tsunamis are also common in the Mediterranean Basin, recalling the
latest tsunami which accompanied the 2003 Boumerdes earthquake in Algeria. "Inadequate detailing of reinforcements, building adjacency, and the lack of quality, control, and construction supervision are all problems of the non-engineered buildings," said Dr. Mohammad Harajli, who explained the means to mitigate seismic hazards in Lebanon. Harajli said designing buildings with seismic resistibility only adds the cost by "2-5 percent of the total cost.
The secretary general of the NCSR, Moeen Hamzeh, said that scientific research is at the core of knowledge and that Lebanese research around the activity of seismic fault activity meets with international standards.

UN envoy calls for new pressure on Hizbullah

Compiled by Daily Star staff
Friday, August 31, 2007
UN member nations should insist that Hizbullah produce evidence that the two Israeli soldiers it captured a year ago are still alive, a senior UN envoy said on Wednesday. "I have to say with deep regret personally - because I have made very considerable efforts in this regard - that more than 13 months after their abductions, we still cannot establish proof of life," Michael Williams told reporters "I don't even say release and repatriation of the prisoners. I say proof of life," said Williams, who is leaving his UN post to become Britain's Mideast envoy. Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were captured by Hizbullah in a July 12, 2006, raid across the border.
Williams told the Security Council before he had left Israel during his last visit that his last conversation had been with the wife of one of the two captured soldiers.
He said nations with ties to Hizbullah should "urge the group to meet the basic humanitarian standards - that proof of life of prisoners should always be presented."
Williams was speaking during the Security Council's monthly Middle East debate in which 35 countries participated. He conveyed an Israeli offer for a prisoner exchange, which Hizbullah has rejected after some 20 meetings. The group has said that Israel must first free Lebanese prisoners and possibly others held in its jails.
However, Lebanon's ambassador to the United Nations, Nawaf Salam, said that while his government welcomed the appointment of a facilitator on the matter of the captured Israeli soldiers, Israel continued to refuse to solve the longstanding issue of the Lebanese detainees.
"That country also continued its violation of Lebanese airspace in a blatant violation of [Security Council Resoution] 1701, [just] as the continued Israeli occupation of the Shebaa Farms also constitute a violation of relevant resolutions," he said. He said of the Shebaa Farms that a political process must also start based on Lebanon's proposal to put the area under the interim jurisdiction of the UN. Williams also turned to the situation in Lebanon and the political deadlock that has gripped the country since last November. "Attention was now turning to upcoming presidential elections," he said, "and the secretary general hoped the Lebanese people found their way to consensus on that critical issue."
Williams said the secretary general supported the "clear desire of the Lebanese people to hold presidential elections as stipulated in their Constitution."
Qatar's UN envoy, Mutlaq Majid al-Qahtani, said all Lebanese must unite in the face of threats to Lebanon's stability and security, while all Lebanese political forces must return to the table of national dialogue.Deputy Italian envoy Aldo Mantovani said: "Among the problems that needed to be solved in Lebanon, probably the most crucial was the election of the president, which we hope could take place on schedule."Moscow's ambassador to the UN, Konstantin Dolgov, said Russia was very concerned about the political impasse in Lebanon, and called on all parties "to ensure the upcoming polls were carried out in a manner that set the country on a path to internal stability."The British envoy to the world body, John Sawers, said the Lebanese elections to select a new president next month would be an important milestone on the path to restoring stability in the country.
Regarding Resolution 1701, Williams commended the commitment of the governments of Israel and Lebanon, saying both had worked extremely hard to avoid a renewal of hostilities along their common border. "Israel's provision of the necessary cluster munitions strike data would greatly facilitate the rate of clearance operations and more quickly reduce the present threat to civilians," he added. But Washington's deputy envoy to the UN, Alejandro Wolff, expressed the deep US concern about continued arms smuggling across the Lebanese-Syrian border and called for the implementation of Resolution 1701 in that regard.
Sawers said "a wider need for concerted action to fully implement Resolution 1701, and action to put an end to arms smuggling across the Lebanese-Syrian border would be particularly important."Israel's ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, accused Iran and Syria of rearming Hizbullah. He said both "state sponsors of terror in Lebanon were rearming Hizbullah in defiance of Resolution 1701."However, Iran's representative before the Security Council, Mansour Sadeghi, said that Israel was the one "violating Resolution 1701, on a daily basis, including through violations of Lebanese airspace." - With Reuters

Sunni clerics lament 'offensive accusations' in media
Daily Star staff
Friday, August 31, 2007
BEIRUT: The Sunni Clerics Council expressed concern on Thursday over the turbulence being caused by uncertainty ahead of presidential elections set to be held in Parliament in mid-September. Presided over by Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani at Dar al-Fatwa, the council released a statement warning that the dispute between the opposition and the majority should not go beyond the Constitution, and should not reach the extent of obstructing the election process.
The council also expressed worry about the tone used by politicians, which it said sabotages the image of Lebanon. "It is not acceptable to spread offensive accusations through the media with the aim of belittling others politically," it said. The council also complained that the continuing opposition sit-in in Downtown Beirut was exposing the country to economic and social pressures. In addition, the council expressed it support for the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and denounced reported threats recently made against the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The body also expressed gratitude to the Lebanese Army for its efforts in combating Fatah al Islam militants at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp near Tripoli. Meanwhile, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, vice president of the Higher Shiite Council, said Thursday during a ceremony of the 29th anniversary of the disappearance of Imam Moussa Sadr: "We demand a government of national unity, and demand a president by agreement. We hold no veto against anyone; the important thing is that the Lebanese people as a whole agree to the president."
"The liberation of Lebanon comes through unity and agreement," he added. Sheikh Qabalan also congratulated the army for it efforts in fighting Fatah al-Islam at Nahr al-Bared and called on the remaining militants to turn themselves in. - The Daily Star

Two Soldiers Killed in Nahr al-Bared
Two Lebanese soldiers were killed Thursday in battles with Islamists at a northern refugee camp as the army launched air strikes to rout the militants from the last area they control. An army spokesman told Agence France Presse that the death of the soldiers at Nahr al-Bared camp in northern Lebanon brought to 152 the number of troops killed since the standoff with Fatah al-Islam terrorists broke out on May 20. Beginning at dawn Thursday the army resumed its air strikes on the camp, dropping 250- and 400-kilogram bombs, an AFP correspondent observed. Soldiers meanwhile proceeded with de-mining operations inside the bombed-out camp, focusing on subterranean shelters now under army control as well as other positions previously held by the Al-Qaida-inspired militants.
The fighters, thought to number about 60, have been trying to negotiate all week to have some of their wounded evacuated, but the army has steadfastly refused calling for the unconditional surrender of everyone. "War is war and they can't ask us to stop the fighting to evacuate their injured," a high-ranking military official who requested anonymity told AFP. "It's total surrender or nothing." He said of the militants still inside the camp, some 30 to 35 are believed injured, nine of them seriously. An additional 20 men are fugitives sought for various crimes and not necessarily related to Fatah al-Islam, the official said. He said one reason the army was having such a hard time in ending the three-month standoff was that it was poorly equipped and was dealing with a well-prepared and well-armed enemy willing to fight to death.
"We need new weapons such as guided missiles, precision weapons and helicopters that can shoot missiles," he said. Nahr al-Bared is located along the Mediterranean. The vast majority of the camp's 30,000 residents fled at the start of the fighting. The Lebanese army has been stretched thin since its deployment to the border with Israel last year for the first time in nearly four decades after the devastating summer war between the Jewish state and guerrillas of Lebanon's Shiite movement Hizbullah.The United States has said that its aid to the army this year would exceed 270 million dollars, or five times more than last year.(AFP-Naharnet)
Beirut, 30 Aug 07, 20:12

Feltman: Washington For a Lebanese President In Line with 1559

U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman stressed to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri Thursday that Washington supports the holding of presidential elections within the constitutional schedule, in line with the constitution and without foreign intervention. Feltman, talking to reporters after a meeting with Berri, said his talks with the Parliament speaker remain confidential. However, the U.S. Ambassador said that he reiterated to Berri Washington's stand which adheres to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 of 2004 that called for the election of a head of state without foreign intervention and in line with Lebanon's constitution.
Feltman also stressed that it is the responsibility of the Lebanese Parliament to elect a president without foreign intervention, including that of the United States.
He said it is not for the United States to name candidates, and expressed confidence that parliament would elect a president committed to Lebanon's independence, democracy, sovereignty, unity and plurality. Asked whether he supports the election of a new head of state by simple majority, Feltman said the United States supports the election of a new president in line with the Lebanese constitution, stressing that interpreting the constitution is up to the Lebanese. "This is your constitution, not ours." In answering a question as to whether the United States supports the election of a president from the March 14 alliance ranks or on a consensus base, Feltman said Washington does not want to get involved in what should be a Lebanese decision. Beirut, 30 Aug 07, 19:02

Resigned Cabinet Ministers Create Political Mess

One ministry has two bosses, another has no one at the helm and a third has a minister who works when he's up to it. Welcome to Lebanon's political imbroglio following the "resignation" of six pro-Syrian cabinet members. The six ministers who walked out in November have plunged Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government into an unprecedented political crisis, especially considering the portfolios at stake -- foreign ministry, health, energy, agriculture, labor and environment.
"This whole situation is not normal," said interim Foreign Minister Tareq Mitri, visibly annoyed that the man he is replacing still "interferes" in the affairs of a government he nonetheless considers as "illegitimate". The said man, Fawzi Sallukh, walked out 10 months ago and initially refused to set foot in his office.
But in recent weeks he has not only decided to show up to work but has also named 10 diplomats to vacant posts, ignoring the appointments to the same positions already made by Mitri. "Either he's in or he's out," Mitri said. "He cannot make use of his ministerial privileges when he feels like it."
The political paralysis has left government employees dealing with two ministers. Mitri is in charge of political decisions that need to be relayed to Lebanese diplomats worldwide. Sallukh on the other hand takes care of administrative and financial issues. In recent days he has also met with foreign ambassadors to Lebanon, much to Mitri's bemusement. Questioned about the mess, Sallukh defended his actions saying that it was his "right" and his "duty" to take care of current business in his ministry, especially since the government rejected his resignation. Still, he refuses to represent Lebanon on the international scene claiming that it would be unacceptable for him to speak on behalf of a government he deems "unconstitutional" in light of the resignation of six ministers, five of them Shiite.
Lebanon's constitution calls for a sectarian distribution of political powers with the top government posts equally divided among the country's Christian and Muslim groups. The five Shiite ministers who resigned did so following the failure of negotiations to create a national unity government in which the Hizbullah would have better representation. The impasse threatens to scuttle upcoming presidential elections and has prompted each minister who resigned to deal with the situation on his own terms. Health Minister Mohammed Khalifeh, for example, now works out of his home.
"I just couldn't complicate people's lives even more by refusing to deal with current issues that affect them," he said. Although he has tackled important reforms at his ministry and signs all documents needed for his office to function, he refuses to attend cabinet meetings or to show up at his office.Energy Minister Mohammed Fneish, who is a member of Hizbullah, stays home and refuses to work saying that he saw no reason to extend himself "for a government responsible for the country's paralysis." As for Labor Minister Trad Hamadeh, the only time he has shown up at his office since November was to oversee the election of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers (CGTL), which represents Lebanese laborers. Environment Minister Yaacoub Sarraf also is a no show at his office but his absence has been even more noticed as the man chosen to act as interim minister has also resigned.(AFP) Beirut, 31 Aug 07, 09:14

Families of Fatah al-Islam Militants Face the UnKnown

For three months, Abeer Qandaqli and her sister-in-law, Farida al-Shaabi, moved from house to house amid the rubble of a besieged Palestinian refugee camp, surviving on canned food, as their husbands -- both Islamic militants -- waged a battle against the Lebanese army.
The two women, both in their late 20s, were among 25 wives of Fatah al-Islam fighters evacuated with their 38 children from the besieged Nahr el-Bared camp a week ago.Now, the two women are living in this southern Lebanese Palestinian refugee camp, where their stories, recounted by their families, shed a bit of light on the confusion surrounding the militant group since the siege began. The two women did not talk to reporters themselves. One of the women, Al-Shaabi, is the Palestinian wife of Shehab al-Qaddour, better known as Fatah Islam's deputy leader Abu Hureira, who was killed earlier this month. It's not clear if Mohammed al-Shaabi, Qandaqli's husband and Farida al-Shaabi's brother, is still alive. Qandaqli's mother, Amal Sweidi, said her daughter left her home at Ein el-Hilweh camp for Nahr el-Bared two months before the fighting erupted there on May 20. She had no idea her husband was a fighter with the al-Qaida-inspired Fatah Islam, but she would have gone even if she had known, Sweidi said. "Wouldn't you follow your husband wherever he goes?" asked Sweidi, 51.
During a brief truce three days after the war began, designed to allow civilians flee, Qandaqli sent her two sons, ages 8 and 10, out of the camp. Farida al-Shaabi also sent four of her children out, but kept her 10-month-old son with her, said her sister, Fadia al-Shaabi, speaking at her home here. Two weeks after the fighting started, the two women were separated from their husbands and have not seen them since, their families said. The fighting between Fatah Islam and the Lebanese army at Nahr el-Bared has killed about 148 soldiers and an unknown number of militants, who have vowed to fight until their deaths. About a dozen of the other Fatah Islam wives who were evacuated last week, and have other various Arab nationalities, are staying at a mosque in Sidon, near Ein el-Hilweh, guarded by Lebanese security dressed in civilian clothes. The rest of the evacuated women and children are in Beddawi, another northern Palestinian refugee camp near Nahr el-Bared.
All have been interrogated by Lebanese security, but security officials said the women have refused to talk. "They're not saying a word, except that they were in one bomb shelter and their husbands in others," said one official. "They will probably stay in Lebanon until the military operation is over, or until we can deport them to their respective countries."Al-Shaabi's mother-in-law, Sweidi, insisted Abou Hureira was not affiliated with Fatah Islam when he first left Ein el-Hilweh. "Nobody had heard of Fatah Islam," she said.
And Sweidi said she and her daughter were not happy when her son-in-law joined Asbat al-Ansar. She called her son-in-law a "good man" but blamed Fatah Islam for her daughter's suffering. Both Qandaqli and Farida al-Shaabi lost so much weight while stuck in Nahr el-Bared that they need medical treatment, she said.
"May God's curse fall on those who caused all the suffering," said Sweidi, referring to Fatah Islam.(AP-Naharnet) Beirut, 31 Aug 07, 09:54

Franjieh Accuses Saniora, Hamadeh of Plotting to Kill Nasrallah
Former cabinet minister and Syrian ally Suleiman Franjieh accused Prime Minister Fouad Saniora and Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh of plotting to kill Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Franjieh said the issue of private Hizbullah phone networks which recently caused a stir in Lebanon "is known before and is old and the reason it was brought up again is aimed at isolating Sayyed Nasrallah or assassinating him." Franjieh's remarks on Kalam el Nas talk show on LBC television Thursday evening also included a number of other accusations. Hamadeh swiftly retorted with a counter statement, saying that Franjieh's words reveal sectarianism. "It's not worth responding to such language," Hamadeh said in a statement. He later told the daily An Nahar that a copy of Franjieh's interview would be "immediately" submitted to the international investigation committee headed by Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz "as evidence that could one day hold Franjieh responsible for taking part in crimes and assassinations organized by the Syrian Regime in Lebanon." Beirut, 31 Aug 07, 07:28

Lahoud Says He Would Name Suleiman as Provisional Successor

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud said he would name army commander General Michel Suleiman as his provisional successor if the warring political sides fail to agree on a permanent head of state. "The constitution is clear and so are our constitutional norms: a President can be elected only if two-thirds of the number of deputies attend the session," the pro-Syrian Lahoud said in a statement issued by his office on Thursday. "Otherwise I have already made a suggestion to appoint a transitional cabinet headed by army commander General Suleiman and comprising six or seven civilians.
"The goal of this cabinet would be to draft a new electoral law, hold parliamentary elections and pave the way for the holding of presidential elections."
Lahoud was speaking ahead of a planned parliamentary vote this autumn to elect a new President, with the country's pro- and anti-Syrian blocs in a deadlock that threatens to exacerbate ongoing political paralysis. A successful vote requires the 128-seat house to muster a quorum of 86 MPs but this will require a compromise, as the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Fouad Saniora has just 69 MPs. Only once a quorum is reached can the legislature proceed to electing a president, but even then the only hope for success is a compromise candidate. General Suleiman has recently made statements suggesting that he might be prepared to be that person.
Lahoud said he would not 'hand over power to the Saniora cabinet, "simply because I consider it unconstitutional and inexistent."
Lebanon has been mired in a political stalemate since last November, when pro-Syrian opposition forces, led by Hizbullah, withdrew their six ministers from the government. Lahoud has refused to recognize the government's continuing legitimacy, and House Speaker Nabih Berri, Hizbullah ally, has blocked all legislative initiatives put forward by Saniora's administration.
Lahoud was elected President in 2000 and had been due to step down in 2004, but the country's then powerbroker Syria forced through parliament a controversial constitutional amendment extending his term for three more years. This year's election must take place sometime between September 25, when parliament is due to reconvene, and the November 24 expiry of Lahoud's term. Recent efforts by both the Arab League and France to broker a political compromise have come to naught.
The anti-Syrian majority has enough votes in parliament to propose a candidate but not enough to secure a quorum. In any case it also has to resolve its own internal divisions. The Christian community is bitterly divided between those who support the majority, and followers of retired General Michel Aoun, who has made a controversial alliance with Hizbullah.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 31 Aug 07, 07:28

Constitutional ambiguity and the presidential election

Conflicting interpretations of law may lead to a crisis over upcoming vote, resulting in the formation of two competing governments
By Hani M. Bathish -Daily Star staff
Friday, August 31, 2007
In a nightmare scenario, both sides of the political chasm in Lebanon will fail to agree over the next president of the pepublic and with the end of Emile Lahoud's term in office, both the ruling coalition and the opposition will proceed to set up competing governments. Already, both sides refer to the Lebanese Constitution to justify their actions as legal and to denounce the other side's actions as unconstitutional. Developments over the next couple of months have the potential to split the country in half and result in the appointment of two cabinets.
Former Defense Minister Albert Mansour, who authored the book "Revolt against Taif", told The Daily Star that should the two sides fail to reach an agreement over the next president, Lahoud could issue a decree considering the current government resigned. Mansour pointed out that the president has already vowed that he will not end his term in office by handing power to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet.
Article 53 of the Constitution allows the president to "issue, on his own authority, the decrees accepting the resignation of the Cabinet or considering it resigned." Mansour said Lahoud would then immediately hold binding consultations with members of Parliament to appoint a new government.
"All MPs would be invited for consultations with the president to appoint a new Cabinet; whoever attends will be consulted, those who do not come will not count," Mansour said.
As it seems unlikely that MPs from the ruling coalition would attend such consultations with a president they have sought to remove from office over the last two years, it seems inevitable that in this scenario opposition MPs would appoint their own cabinet.
Should the opposition appoint a new cabinet, the ruling coalition's response would likely be to open the doors of the Chamber of Deputies 10 days before the end of Lahoud's term in office, as the Constitution stipulates, and proceed to elect their own president and appoint their own government. Article 73 of the Constitution allows for this: "should [the Chamber of Deputies] not be summoned [to elect a new president] the Chamber shall meet of its own accord on the 10th day preceding the expiration of the president's term of office."
Mansour, who has followed the Taif process since its inception and held posts in the reunification government from 1989 to 1992, said that should the ruling coalition go ahead and elect its own president, the opposition would consider such an act "an attempted coup plot and there are means to respond to that."
Thus the current situation constitutes a recipe for an extraordinary political crisis
Exacerbating an existing constitutional crisis
The opposition continues to demand a national unity government before presidential elections take place. Opposition MPs frequently refer to the Constitution to support their argument that the present government is unconstitutional. The ruling coalition is reluctant to give in to opposition demands for a national unity government out of fear such a government could be used to turn the tables on the majority and scuttle presidential elections.
Article 95 of the Constitution states that "confessional groups shall be represented in a just and equitable fashion in the formation of the Cabinet." Thus, the absence of Shiite ministers in the current Cabinet seems to contradict this constitutional requirement, even though these ministers resigned of their own accord.
Item 10 in the preamble to the Constitution also states that "There shall be no constitutional legitimacy for any authority which contradicts the 'pact of communal coexistence.'" A Cabinet without Shiite members can therefore be viewed as contradicting that pact as well.
The opposition has also put forward the argument that since the Shiite community theoretically accounts for about a third of the Lebanese population, their absence from the Cabinet means that a third of the Cabinet is missing. Article 69 states that one of the conditions for considering a Cabinet to be resigned is: "If it loses more than a third of the members specified in the decree forming it."
constitutional ambiguity on electing a new president
Article 49 of the Constitution states that "The president of the republic shall be elected by a secret ballot and by a two-thirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies. After the first ballot, an absolute majority shall be sufficient."
Therefore, the Constitution is clear in specifying that a president can be elected by an absolute majority in a second session of voting if a first round fails to produce a winner. What is unclear in the Constitution, however, is whether deputies can proceed to a second session if a quorum of two-thirds of MPs is not achieved in the first. This ambiguity in the Constitution has left wide room for interpretation by both sides of the political divide.
According to legal expert Ziad Baroud, who is also a founding member of former MP Nassib Lahoud's Democratic Renewal Movement, there are two points of view on the matter: one insists two-thirds of all MPs have to be present for a first electoral session to convene, while the other point of view holds that a "two-thirds majority" only refers to the majority vote required to elect a president in the first ballot.
Either way, the Constitution sets a deadline for the vote to take place. According to Article 73, the speaker of Parliament should summon deputies for a vote "one month at least and two months at most before the expiration of the term of office of the president of the republic." However, the same article adds that if the speaker fails to convene the vote, "the Chamber meets of its own accord on the 10th day preceding the expiration of the president's term of office." So on November 14, 10 days before Lahoud's term in office ends, MPs are required to turn up to vote, two-thirds or no two-thirds.
Continuity and the Public Interest
Professor Hassan al-Rifai, a constitutional expert, told The Daily Star that while Article 49 of the Constitution requires a quorum of two-thirds of the original members of the Chamber of Deputies to elect a new president, failure of MPs to attend an electoral session would be tantamount to "treason" as such an absence would hinder continuity of government and therefore threaten the public interest.
Rifai said that the "two-thirds majority of the chamber" stipulated in Article 49 refers to the "total of original members" of the body, though "the dead do not count." However, he stressed that boycotting the session is not an option, nor is it a legitimate political tool that MPs can use. "A deputy can fail to turn up for a session in which a certain law will be discussed or passed that he wishes to delay, but when Parliament is called to elect a president it is every MP's duty to attend and failure to do so is treason," Rifai said.
He said in the pre-Taif Constitution if a group of MPs did not turn up with the intent to delay proceedings, Parliament could be dissolved, but in the Taif Constitution that is no longer an option. Rifai added that a balance has to be struck between the stipulations of Article 49 on the one hand, and the public interest with regard to the continuity of government on the other. "In exceptional circumstances and after repeated and intentional absence, the chamber can adopt a simple majority to elect the next president," Rifai said.
sacred duty
According to the Constitution, the single most important duty of an MP is to attend the electoral session to elect a new president. Future Movement MP Nabil De Freij has said in an earlier interview that any MP who fails to attend an electoral session of Parliament to elect a new president would be violating his duties.
"Any MP who does not attend would be a traitor to his country; all 128 MPs should be there to elect the next president," De Freij said.
Article 75 states that "the chamber meeting to elect the president of the republic shall be considered an electoral body and not a legislative assembly. It must proceed immediately, without discussion or any other act, to elect the head of the state."
a Formula for Consensus
"Insisting on a quorum of two-thirds is insisting on consensus over the presidential candidate," Baroud told The Daily Star, adding that the question is no longer a constitutional or legal one, but has become a political one. Baroud pointed out that the Maronite patriarch has come out in favor of a quorum of two-thirds as a prerequisite for convening a first electoral session. In addition, presidential candidate MP Boutros Harb has said that he will not stand for election unless a quorum of two-thirds is achieved.
"If the Parliament convenes with half its members plus one and if in the first ballot two-thirds of MPs are not present to vote for a president, then a second ballot is held immediately to elect a president which only requires an absolute majority," Baroud said.
He added that the only body that ought to arbitrate when there are conflicting interpretations of the Constitution should be the Constitutional Council. But apart from being hamstrung and missing half its members due to political bickering over appointments, Baroud said the Constitutional Council was never actually given the power to interpret the Constitution.
"In 1990, during a general session of Parliament, the government submitted a proposal for a constitutional council with three prerogatives: to determine the constitutionality of laws, arbitrate conflicts arising from parliamentary and presidential elections and interpret the Constitution. The last prerogative was removed," Baroud said.
He added that the government at the time did not want to see the country governed under the rule of judges. "I cannot say who is right and who is wrong; there should be a constitutional council to do that; however, politically the matter has already been settled for many," Baroud said.
He said that consensus over the next president is required today because the country is passing through an extraordinary period, but added that it would be impossible for the country to continue to function only through consensus.
Two-thirds of MPs needed to interpret the constitution
Baroud said the current state of affairs leaves the Chamber of Deputies as the only body with the power to interpret the Constitution. But he points out that constitutional interpretation requires two-thirds of MPs to attend the parliamentary session, the same as would be required to amend the Constitution because interpretation may result in unintentional amendments. "This brings us back to the same problem," Baroud said: obviously a quorum of two-thirds ultimately requires the majority and the opposition to come to some sort of agreement.
Baroud argues that reform is badly needed, "but from 2005 to this day the country has been in an unusual state, the security lapses, major shocks - you cannot build a future while suffering constant shocks." He said reform takes place in an environment where people trust one another and live side by side, but most importantly talk to one another. "How can you reform institutions when people are not talking to each other and all institutions are paralyzed?" Baroud asked.
suleiman as a potential consensus candidate
The Lebanese Army should ordinarily be kept out of political bickering, Defense Minister Elias Murr has said repeatedly. Recent statements, however, by Army Commander General Michel Suleiman have thrust him personally into the limelight as a potential national savior figure and serious contender for the presidency.
Suleiman, a Maronite, has responded favorably to the idea of heading a transitional government in the event that MPs fail to elect Lahoud's successor, according to Mansour, who put the idea to the army commander personally. Of course, Suleiman did insist that he will only accept such a post if all the political parties agree to his appointment. In fact the army commander's recent chiding of politicians has not gone down well with some majority MPs, who have rebuffed Suleiman. The army commander in a recent speech urged politicians to follow the "letter and spirit of Taif" and for each and every one to make "reciprocal concessions" so the whole country may traverse this difficult period successfully. A constitutional amendment would be required for any grade one civil servant to be eligible to run for president, Suleiman added.
Mansour said in an earlier interview that Lahoud would prefer to hand over power to the army rather than to the Sunni prime minister if agreement over the next president is not reached. "It would be in keeping with established practice for a president to hand power to a Maronite prime minister. It has happened twice before in our modern history," Mansour said.
amending the constitution to 'save' the country
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir has reluctantly stated that he would agree to a constitutional amendment to allow Suleiman to be put forward as a consensus candidate, if such a scenario would be required to save the country from collapse. Sfeir has warned that talk of two governments is very serious and dangerous. The patriarch has also warned MPs against boycotting the electoral session on September 25.
Many observers expect that Sfeir's meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri, scheduled for early September, will produce a short list of names of presidential candidates who would be acceptable to all parties. The patriarch appears to be intent on preventing a large-scale crisis that would split the country in half. Above all else, Sfeir's actions appear to be motivated by a desire to prevent the top Maronite post from becoming vacant and allowing the presidential powers to be assumed by the Cabinet.
The meeting of Christian politicians from the March 14 alliance two weeks ago all but rejected the possibility of the army commander taking the top job. The United States has also made it clear that it will not accept a candidate who has close ties with Hizbullah and anyone who will work to restore Syrian influence in Lebanon, which rules out Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun as an acceptable candidate in US eyes.
where does executive power really lie?
"It was established practice, in order to avoid a constitutional vacuum, for the president to appoint a so-called transitional government, and give it executive authority, but let us not forget both times this happened was under the Constitution of 1925 during the First Republic, before the Taif amendments, at a time when the president still had executive authority," Baroud said. The Constitution before Taif allowed the president alone to appoint the prime minister; since Taif the president is required to hold binding parliamentary consultations first.
At the end of Lahoud's term the present Cabinet would have neared the end of its mandate as well, as with the election of a new president a new cabinet would need to be appointed. The new president would then consult MPs over who shall be the next prime minister; the majority would name their candidate for prime minister that the president would have to accept. The president then consults with the new prime minister over cabinet appointments. The old cabinet shall be considered resigned at the beginning of the term of the new president, according to Article 69.
On the other hand, Article 62 stipulates that "should the presidency become vacant for any reason whatsoever, the Council of Ministers" - not the prime minister - "shall exercise the powers of the president ..." From this point of view, real executive power resides with all 30 members of the Cabinet combined. The Cabinet is the center of executive authority and in many ways a reflection of the nation in its confessional makeup.
The Cabinet's decisions are made through consensus, but if consensus is not reached than it is put to a majority vote. Basic or vital national issues - which include amendments to the Constitution, declaring a state of emergency, adopting annual budgets and international agreements and treaties - require the approval of two-thirds of the Cabinet's members.
Confessionalism at root of conflict
The current divisions in the country may appear international in nature, with one side supported by the United States and the other side backed by Syria and Iran. But the international dimension of the conflict stems from the underlying confessional divisions, which run much deeper and are more permanent. Confessional loyalties also tend to rise to the surface during times of crisis. The Metn by-election exemplified this tendency, as the vote prompted a storm of sectarian controversy.
Baroud believes the root cause of the country's political troubles is the absence of a new electoral law that is fair, equitable and truly representative. In order to ensure fairness, he added, such a law would need to be based on a non-confessional system.
The abolition of political confessionalism is a "national goal" as stipulated in the Taif Constitution, both in the preamble and in Article 95. Sadly, however, no initiative has been taken by any of the successive governments since 1991 to move toward the abolition of political confessionalism.
A much feared three-way distribution of parliamentary seats among three principle communities, Sunni, Shiite and Christian, would require a constitutional amendment, an amendment that would contradict the spirit of the Constitution, which insists on the abolition of political confessionalism, not its entrenchment. Article 95 does stipulate equal distribution of parliamentary seats between Muslims and Christians, but it also says that Parliament should "take the appropriate measures to realize the abolition of political confessionalism according to a transitional plan."
Article 24 of the Constitution states that the Chamber of Deputies shall be composed of elected members; their number and the method of their election shall be determined by the electoral laws in effect. Until such time as the Chamber enacts new electoral laws on a non-confessional basis, the distribution of seats shall be according to the following principles: Equal representation between Christians and Muslims, proportional representation among the confessional groups within each religious community, and proportional representation among geographic regions.
Item eight in the preamble to the Constitution states that "the abolition of political confessionalism shall be a basic national goal and shall be achieved according to a gradual plan." Taif did, however, make provisions for a sectarian senate, or upper house, in which all religious communities would be represented. Article 22 states that the senate's authority shall be limited to major national issues, thus leaving the mundane duties of legislating to MPs elected based on a non-confessional electoral law.

Work proceeds on set-up of Hariri tribunal
Daily Star staff
Friday, August 31, 2007
BEIRUT: Preparations are continuing for the establishment of a special court to try suspects in the 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the Central News Agency (CNA) said Thursday. The CNA said the tribunal will be held in The Netherlands. The agency said that United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had delegated Undersecretary General for Legal Affairs Nicholas Michel to handle the details of the trial with the Dutch government.
Michel will also be discussing with the government matters of funding, budgeting and location, and the issues of security, working conditions, and placement of the accused. Designated judges are expected be announced on September 24. Ban has the list of 14 Lebanese nominees, from whom four will be chosen.
Official sources said that the approximate cost for the initial year would be $50 million, 49 percent of which Lebanon will cover. The Lebanese Cabinet recently set aside LL7.5 billion (about $5 million) as an advance payment against the share Beirut will be contributing to the trial. - The Daily Star

Harb ties run for presidency to consensus on quorum

By Mirella Hodeib -Daily Star staff
Friday, August 31, 2007
BEIRUT: MP Butros Harb announced his candidacy for Lebanon's forthcoming presidential election on Thursday, while calling on various political groups to reach an agreement concerning the constitutional procedures tied to the poll. "I will immediately withdraw my candidacy if it is likely to stir more conflicts on the Lebanese political scene," Harb told a large audience who rallied to the Parliament's headquarters in Downtown Beirut.
During the two-hour conference, Harb presented his platform, which tackled a number of political as well as economic and social issues.
"My candidacy to the presidency is conditional; I will pull out of the race if politicians fail to reach a common understanding on the quorum needed to elect the next president," he said. A heated debate concerning the quorum to elect the next president was set off in political circles a few months ago. While the opposition calls for a two-thirds quorum to elect the next president, the ruling coalition is pressing for the absolute majority option.
Article 49 of the Constitution stipulates that the president "shall be elected by secret ballot and by a two-thirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies. After a first ballot, an absolute majority shall be sufficient.""I was determined to present my candidacy for the presidential race out of conviction that the election is a strictly Lebanese concern rather than an outside deal which does not take the opinions and aspirations of the Lebanese into consideration," Harb said.
The presidential hopeful said if he were elected, he would make sure to resume national dialogue and move it to the Presidential Palace, "so as to spare [Speaker] Nabih Berri from the burdens of such a task."Harb also addressed the issue of Hizbullah's weapons, saying an "honorable solution ought to be found because the resistance has made a lot of sacrifices to liberate the South."
"The resistance should be able to protect Lebanon and pursue its goals by merging with the Lebanese Army within the framework of a clear-cut defense strategy," he argued. Harb added that the Lebanese authorities should be the only ones to possess weapons on Lebanese territories.
Concerning Lebanese-Syrian ties, which have suffered in the aftermath of the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, Harb said the continuing crisis should be brought to an end.
"We call for Lebanese-Syrian dialogue to solve all pending matters, to outline the nature of future ties, and achieve a historical reconciliation between our two countries," he added. Harb said a "healthy and equal" relationship with Syria could be achieved by "an exchange of embassies, the demarcation of borders, and revisiting past agreements in order to avoid previous mistakes."An array of political as well as media figures were present at the briefing. The Parliament's auditorium was packed with reporters and photographers and the conference was moderated by the head of the Press Federation, Mohammad Baalbaki, and the head of the Journalists Union, Melhem Karam. Harb outlined the requirements of Lebanon's next president as being "independent, democratic, open and transparent," adding that "Lebanon's next president should refuse any form of hegemony, represent all the Lebanese, and most important respect the Constitution and the Taif Accord."
Harb's platform focused on two major themes: reform and accountability. He vowed to introduce major reforms to public administrations, "so as to ensure better productivity." He also said accountability would be applied in all public sectors. Harb also stressed the necessity of reforming the judiciary, "because preserving the independence of the judiciary is a key step toward the building of a healthy state."
He also promised to have a fair and efficient electoral law shaped "as soon as possible.""I endorse an electoral law based on district representation as a first step, but I am a supporter of proportional representation; yet this could be applied at later stages," he said. Harb, who started his career as a lawyer, was elected to Parliament in the 1976, 1996, 2000, and 2005 elections. He also served as education minister in 1979 and 1991 and as public works and transportation minister in 1980.
"I announce my candidacy today because I believe we should not surrender to despair and anxiety," he said. "Let us all work together to prevent our children from seeking better opportunities elsewhere and let's build a democratic and free nation."

Lebanon is being dragged toward a new abyss
By Ferry Biederman
Commentary by
Friday, August 31, 2007
The Shiites of South Lebanon and the Israelis should seek joint therapy for their unhealthy relationship. Their mutual resentment, distrust and geopolitics lead to new disasters every time. Hizbullah recently celebrated what it considers its victory in the war with Israel last year at an exhibition in Beirut's southern suburbs. Families with little kids strolled around the grounds, taking in displays that mingled gore, glitter and glory. The mood was elated but also determined because it seemed as if every last woman, man and child expected a new war, much in the same way as so many Israelis are convinced that there will be a "next round."
Not that either the Israelis or the Lebanese are looking forward to a new period of bloodletting, destabilization, economic hardship and all the other consequences of conflict. But once again, Lebanon in particular seems to be caught up in a web of domestic, regional and international circumstances that is dragging the country inexorably toward a new abyss. Even if it is not tipped into the void, just the incessant sense of crisis, which started well before last year's war, may well grind the country down to such an extent that serious questions about its sustainability will emerge again, as they did during the Civil War.
The internal Lebanese crisis cannot and could never before be seen in isolation from the regional situation. The 2006 war is being used by the various Lebanese factions to justify their domestic political positions. Hizbullah has since the war been emphasizing that the United States supports both Israel and the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The Shiite movement has to all effects and purposes accused the ruling anti-Syrian majority of treason, of having engineered or extended the war, and of being an American puppet.
Now that both sides are gearing up for the immensely important and controversial vote in Parliament to choose a new president later this fall, Hizbullah has upped the rhetoric another notch. "We will not allow the American scheme, which we buried last July, to come into being again through the upcoming presidential elections," said Nabil Qaouk, Hizbullah's commander in the South. Obviously, the tone is polarizing and the ruling coalition, which encompasses a large part of the Sunni Muslim community, bristles at being cast as pro-Israeli and American puppets. And despite many claims to the contrary, resentment against Hizbullah for starting last year's war and then paralyzing the country politically and Beirut's downtown commercially is running high among the movement's opponents.
Both sides would have had different sticks anyway to beat each other with if last year's war had not taken place. The international tribunal for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri remains a hot topic, as does the extent of desirable Syrian influence in the country as well as Hizbullah's weapons. A "national dialogue" among the parties before last year's war went nowhere. In fact, it's more than likely that Lebanon's internal disagreements were a major contributing factor in the outbreak of last year's war; not only in the sense that the country's internal divisions and its weakness lay it open to foreign intervention or to militant groups using its territory to launch attacks. This time the lingering feeling among many is that they are facing a choice between two unpalatable extremes: either perpetual war and tension with Israel if Hizbullah gets its way; or dependency on the US, with all the concomitant tensions that internal and regional resistance to such a state idea will bring.
There is no easy fix to this dilemma, especially since a middle ground barely exists and Lebanon's political system is particularly ill equipped to deal with existential political questions that go beyond how to divide the loot. A good first step would be for Hizbullah to accept that it can remain relevant even if it does not provoke wars and even if it does not build up one of the largest strategic weapons arsenals in the region. For that to happen, it would be essential that the other groups and the government take concrete steps to make it very clear that the Shiites and other relatively disadvantaged sectors of Lebanese society can get a fair shake in the country, politically and financially - something that still requires a lot of work
***Ferry Biederman is a reporter for The Financial Times in Beirut. This commentary first appeared at, an online newsletter that publishes views of Middle Eastern and Muslim issues.

Feltman plays coy about US position on how to fill Lahoud's post
Interpretation is up to lebanese: 'this is your constitution, not ours'

Daily Star staff
Friday, August 31, 2007
US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman said on Thursday his country supported holding the presidential election within constitutional deadlines and without foreign intervention. "It is not for the US to name candidates because we are confident that the Lebanese Parliament would elect a president committed to Lebanon's independence, democracy, sovereignty, unity and plurality," Feltman said following a visit to Speaker Nabih Berri.
Berri is expected to deliver a speech during a rally on Friday marking 29 years since the disappearance of Shiite leader Imam Moussa Sadr.
The speaker is expected to unveil a new initiative to solve the political impasse in Lebanon, including measures to ensure that next month's presidential election takes place. Media reports circulated last week said that Berri would not make public his initiative before he receives the answers of US Foreign Secretary Condoleezza Rice on three questions concerning the presidential election in Lebanon. Berri had sent his questions via Feltman.
Berri's first query to Rice centered on the US view concerning the quorum for electing Lebanon's next president, and whether the US endorsed the absolute majority quorum currently being promoted by the ruling coalition. The speaker's second question tackled the issue of constitutional amendments, and whether the US administration agreed to such a step.
The Constitution stipulates that Article 49 be amended if an employee of the civil service were to be elected president. The issue was raised after the names of army commander General Michel Suleiman and Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, both senior civil servants, were widely circulated as potential presidential candidates.
Berri's last query asked whether the US administration was in favor of a consensus president, or does it prefer the election of a president belonging to a specific Lebanese political group.Feltman refused to reveal the answers to Berri's ques-tions provided by the US administration, saying that they were "confidential."
Asked whether he supports the election of a new head of state by absolute majority, Feltman said the US supports the election of a new president in line with the Lebanese Constitution as well as Resolution 1559, stressing that interpreting the Constitution was the responsibility of the Lebanese: "This is your Constitution, not ours."Also regarding the presidential election, President Emile Lahoud said Thursday he would appoint an interim government headed by the army chief if rival leaders could not agree on a new head of state before his term expires in November.
There were no immediate comments from Suleiman.
Lahoud said a president "for all Lebanon" must be elected with the two-thirds quorum.
"If that doesn't happen ... the leader of the army will come for an interim period as head of the government, with a clear mission to lay down an electoral law acceptable to all," he said in a statement. Parliamentary elections would then be held as quickly as possible, he added. It was the first time Lahoud has spelled out what he would do if there is no settlement to the political crisis before he leaves office.
Analysts say the governing coalition will reject any such move, leaving Lebanon with two governments. "This is two governments. Absolutely," said Oussama Safa, head of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies. If Suleiman accepted the post, Safa said the army would likely be divided. Soldiers loyal to the ruling coalition leaders would split from those who sympathize with the opposition. Lahoud said the government he had in mind would not be a military Cabinet. There would be six or seven civilian ministers representing the main religious communities. Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun said that the March 14 Forces, "which proved they are nothing but a bunch of corrupt people, should not be allowed to choose Lebanon's next president.""The Lebanese cannot trust a group of murderers and bandits who follow instructions given to them by outside forces," Aoun told a group of FPM supporters who visited him at his residence in Rabiyeh Thursday. The former army commander also urged the international community not to interfere in Lebanon's domestic affairs. "Some countries have said that Lebanon's next president should be a supporter of their policies and should work on combatting Hizbullah," Aoun said. "Are they telling us that we have to give up on one-third of the Lebanese population?" - With Reuters

Drawing their swords
Lucy Fielder - Al-Ahram Weekly
Time is running out for Lebanon's government and opposition to step back from the brink before flash-point presidential elections, Lucy Fielder reports
After three years of political paralysis, Lebanon's rival factions have about a month to agree on a candidate to replace President Emile Lahoud. A military coup or parallel governments reminiscent of the civil war days may be the alternative.
The ruling US- and Saudi-backed 14 March bloc views the Maronite presidency as a last battle against Syrian influence. The three-year extension of Lahoud's term by Syrian coercion in September 2004 plunged a teetering country headlong into the political abyss.
Lahoud has looked lonely in Baabda Palace since Syrian troops pulled out after the former prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri's assassination in February 2005. Lebanon's first post-war election without Syrian tutelage is expected on 25 September and Lahoud's term ends in late November.
Lahoud has threatened to use his powers if no compromise is found, suggesting he might stay put or hand power over to the army. Parliament appoints the president by an agreed convention. Leading members of 14 March, which holds a majority of parliament seats, have stated the president must come from their ranks and have threatened to choose one by simple majority if the constitutional two- thirds quorum is elusive. This proposal has met opposition even among its own MPs.
Al-Akhbar quoted a leaked diplomatic report last week as saying US Under- Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Welch as saying Washington wanted a president "from the team that supports our policies in the region" and that it would accept a vote by simple majority as threatened by 14 March. Washington has not denied the report.
The opposition led by Hizbullah has made it clear it would not legitimise such a vote and sees the pro-US bloc as having reneged on promises to allow a national unity government after attaining its goal of an international tribunal into Hariri's killing. "I think it's highly likely they'll go ahead with the elections anyway, which is going to be a major provocation to the opposition," said Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment's Middle East Centre in Beirut.
Sheikh Naim Qasem, deputy secretary- general of Hizbullah, told Al-Hayat the government of Prime Minister Fouad Al-Siniora could not stay on if no president were elected. "The opposition might find itself obligated to form a government that would fill in the governmental vacuum," he said, adding that the opposition was "serious in looking for other solutions for the problem if no agreement is reached about the national unity government."
In that event, Saad-Ghorayeb said, either Lahoud would hand power over to army chief Michel Suleiman -- effectively a military coup -- or the opposition would announce a rival government.
At heart is a broader struggle between US plans to disarm the Iranian-backed Hizbullah after Israel failed to do so in last summer's war and the Shia guerrillas' determination to retain "the weapons of resistance".
At the peak of the civil war in 1988, President Amin Gemayel left office with no successor and appointed Christian army chief Michel Aoun to the traditionally Sunni premiership. In protest, the retired Sunni prime minister, Selim Al-Hoss returned to set up a rival government. "A rival government does spell conflict at some point, it's highly destabilising," Saad-Ghorayeb said.
Aoun is so far the only opposition candidate for president, who is always a Maronite under Lebanon's religious- based system. In early August he narrowly won a by-election seen as a bellwether for the presidency and he remains the most popular Christian figure. But his alliance with Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hizbullah makes him anathema to 14 March.
Several 14 March MPs -- Boutros Harb, Nassib Lahoud and Robert Ghanem -- have announced their intention to stand. "This is the first time in many years that the Lebanese will be able to elect their president themselves," Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea told reporters after convening a meeting of 14 March Christians.
Days before the meeting, Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir dropped his objection to amending the constitution to allow a state employee to stand, which would pave the way for the only prominent Maronites seen as neutral -- Boutros Harb, Nassib Lahoud and Robert Ghanem Suleiman or Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh. "And if the army commander, as president, can save the country, he is most welcome," Sfeir told the leftist daily As-Safir.
But the traditional Maronite kingmaker looks marginalised. 14 March Christians have agreed only on rejecting the amendment. Two non-Christian powerhouses lead Lebanon's opposing factions: Saad Al-Hariri's Sunni Future movement and Hizbullah. "The patriarch's quite worried about the presidency and trying to strike a balance. On the one hand he wants to ensure the presidency remains a strong and sturdy institution for the Maronites; on the other hand, because of his pro-US political agenda, he's undermining the presidency by siding with 14 March," Saad- Ghorayeb said. The Americans "have put all their eggs in the Sunni basket", she commented, and even former colonial power France, with its centuries-old links to the Maronites, is showing little interest in ensuring a strong Christian president.
Nationalist fervour runs high for the army, locked in a three-month-old battle with Sunni militants in the northern Nahr El-Bared Palestinian refugee camp. But 14 March turned against Suleiman a few weeks ago after he contradicted their allegations of Syrian backing for the Fatah Al-Islam radicals. "This organisation is not linked to Syrian intelligence, nor is it backed up by official Lebanese circles. It is a branch of Al-Qaeda which had planned to use Lebanon and the Palestinian camps as a safe haven to launch its operations in Lebanon and abroad," Suleiman said. Although his statement also cleared Saad Hariri's camp of allegations of backing Fatah Al-Islam, and corroborated earlier statements by the defence minister, it drew fury.
"Do the Lebanese army, the Lebanese martyrs or those who believe they represent them want us to believe that the acquittal granted by the commander of the army to the Syrian regime is a token of the willingness to twin the expected military rule in Lebanon with the rule that has been a burden on the Syrian people since 1949?" wrote Ghassan Tueni, owner of pro-government An-Nahar newspaper and another potential presidential candidate. "Let the army return to its barracks."
"They are unable to figure Suleiman out, they don't really see him as part of 14 March. He's too neutral and seen as having contacts with the Syrians," said Oussama Safa, head of the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies.
Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri has promised to unveil an initiative soon to resolve the crisis, but it is unclear whether he has any new carrots to offer. French envoy Jean Claude Cousseran left Beirut empty-handed this week. Arab League Secretary- General Amr Moussa is believed to be working to get regional backers together on Lebanon.
14 March has been weakened by Hizbullah's campaign against it since last December and has no choice but compromise, Safa said. "The best they can hope for is a candidate they can live with who is also amenable to the opposition."
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What will the October winds bring to Lebanon?
By: Dr Salim Nazzal-31 August 2007
A businessman in Lebanon told me recently that he has postponed new business until there is a new president in the country. Indeed, it is not unusual there these days to hear similar stories about people thinking of leaving the country or postponing new business, awaiting the coming October to see how things will turn out regarding the election of a new president. The Lebanese media and public opinion polls have lately been reporting an increasing tendency among the Lebanese towards leaving the country if the crisis continues. In the past, the Lebanese people were known for their eternal optimism and faith that their small country, which survived many past challenges, would be able to survive the current ones. It seems now, however, that a pessimistic mood is dominating Lebanese thinking, which perhaps explains why everybody is saying, "Let's wait till October."
Problems with the presidency in Lebanon however are not a new thing under a political system based on a sensitive balance between its 18 religious denominations, in a country where the regional and international powers have a major say in who will be living in the Baabda palace, and where the presidency is restricted to one religious denomination, namely the Christian Maronites, who played a decisive role in the making of modern Lebanon. Even back in the 19th century, the Austrian foreign minister Metternich was conscious of the troublesome nature of Mount Lebanon, believing that its influence exceeded its size.
The modern history of Lebanon demonstrates that the question of electing a president there has often been problematic: of the nine presidents (and not counting the two assassinated elected presidents) who took power since Lebanon attained independence from France in 1946, three ended their terms in crisis. The first crisis began at the end of the term of Bishara Al-Khoury, the first president of the independence era. The second took place at the end of Camille Chamoun's term in office, leading to a civil war in 1958. The third crisis took place at the end of Amin Jumayel's tenure, when he left the Baabda palace in 1988, leaving behind a vacuum in the presidency which resulted in the establishment of two governments, each claiming sole legitimacy. In the current crisis, more than a few expect the possibility of repeating the two governments' bitter experiences, should the political parties fail to find a political compromise, if the majority decides to go ahead with their plans to elect a president by the half-plus-one representation system of the parliament members, a step considered unconstitutional by the opposition which insists on obtaining the concensus of two-thirds of the parliament. This naturally raises the question of the willingness of the political parties to agree on a neutral president, a question which concern all Lebanese whose worry is obviously not without reason. Is there any hope of a future compromise?
For the time being, it is difficult to anticipate that such compromise is anywhere near between the 8th March and 14th March camps. So far, Arab mediation efforts have ended without any result. The Arab League's Secretary General, Amr Moussa, has described the Lebanese crisis as consisting of three levels, the Lebanese, the regional, and the international. This allegorical characterization re-emphasizes the question frequently asked in Beirut these days - which level will be dealt with first? Yet the reality which nobody can ignore is that the complications are not as simple as Moussa's characterization would have us believe, for the simple reason that the different “levels” interact with each others. For example, a major question which is both local and regional is, how to define the role of Lebanon towards the conflict with Israel? Will it join the pro-US moderate Arab countries or the anti-US countries which seek to struggle to retain Arab rights?
This question is not only a purely political one, since it is also related to other socio-cultural considerations, the principal one being Lebanon's identity. The identify of Lebanon, since the early days of independence, has been one of the key questions which was solved through the famous compromise that Lebanon “has an Arab face," but was modified in the 1998 Taef agreement to become an Arab country. Obviously, Lebanon's politicians are not unaware of the fact that periods of stress or calm in regional conflicts affect them. In the past, Lebanese politicians considered applying the model of Swiss neutrality, which even Nazi Germany respected, to their country. This policy, however, proved too unrealistic due to the continuous Israeli attacks on Lebanon over the past six decades, which convinced large numbers of the Lebanese people that only a strong Lebanon is a safe Lebanon. The French mediator who met with the two coalitions concluded that, despite the regional impact, the Lebanese leaders should be left to reach agreement among themselves. This naturally raises the question of Lebanese ability to produce a solution capable of surviving the wider regional conflicts. The question is, would such a solution be possible now?
In the light of this background, two schools of political thought have emerged; these two schools do not necessarily reflect the views of the two conflicting camps, but rather highlight two major approaches. The first school, which could be called the “made in Lebanon” school, assumes that if the Lebanese leaders reach agreement, they will be able to impose it on the regional powers. The ideological roots of this school return to the days of Michel Shiha, described as the theoretician of Lebanese independence. Shiha thought it was possible to isolate Lebanon from wider regional problems by means of a "Switzerland-ization" of its politics and a "Hong Kong-ization" of its economy. The basic critique of this school of thought is that its focus on localism blinds it from seeing not only the historical bond which link Lebanon with the Arab orient, but more dangerously, the fact that the very structure of Lebanon as a country of coexistence between various religions contradicts with the racist idea of the state of Israel. The second school puts more weight on the wider regional factors, assuming that the Lebanese conflict is reflective of the regional one; according to this view, the Lebanese crisis could be easily solved if the regional powers reached some agreement, an eventuality which does not seem possible in the foreseeable future. This school apparently falls into a similar trap to the first school, but errs differently in underestimating the Lebanese role in playing a part in the crisis. This presents the possibility of a third approach, which would consolidate Lebanese society in order for it to be strong enough to face the expected challenges. For the time being, it is obvious that the Lebanese politicians are aware of the potential dangers of civil strife if October passes without the election of a new president. The violent clashes which occurred several months ago in the vicinity of the Arab University were solid proof of the country's fragile situation. Most Lebanese feel that reaching agreement on a candidate would generate a positive atmosphere which could help in resuming the intra- Lebanese dialogue, which was suspended by the Israeli war against Lebanon in July 2006. The question about this is, would the parties agree on a presidential candidate in the absence of a political compromise? And, which comes first, the comprehensive political agreement or the partial agreement on a president? This put the whole crisis into the category of a Byzantine logicians' debate about, which came first, the chicken or the egg. Until this puzzling question is solved, the Lebanese people will continue hoping for a miracle to make the October winds blow gently across the shores and mountains of their beautiful republic.

* ِA Palestinian-Norwegian historian in the Middle East, who has written extensively on social and political issues in the region. His writings have been published and translated into several languages in various sites and publications. He can be contacted at: