The Only Ever Solution To The Presidential Crisis Is A Hard One

By Sami Karam



With the Lebanese presidential crisis looming over the people, chocking any progress or hope, the Lebanese look to leaders with courage and conviction to take decisive actions and deliver on the faith of the people, especially those that rose on the 14th of March 2005. Unfortunately, the leaders of both the majority and opposition in Lebanon lack the “testicular fortitude” that the ancient and modern Lebanese “zaim” is well known for.


Recent developments on the local, regional and international levels are threatening to overshadow the Lebanese cause and turn Lebanon once again into a tool for settlement. Whilst the majority maneuvers for ways to elect a president, the opposition is counter-acting to keep the vacuum. Whilst the opposition interprets the constitution as they see fit, the majority are failing to even use the constitution as clear as it is written. Whilst the opposition is bold in taking steps to harm the nation and pursue their goals, the majority seems frightened to flex their constitutional rights and take bold steps to save the nation, or at the very least change the status quo!  The presidential crisis has gone through phases that have produced no results, with each phase bringing us back to square one:


Phase 1: This saw the naming of presidential candidates and the tug of war that followed. The Syrians successfully convinced the French into bringing the Maronite Patriarch Sfeir into the debate, with a view to burn the Patriarch as a dealmaker. The Syrians were successful, and the Christians were left with no symbol to rally around.


Phase 2: With American and Syrian co-operation at the Annapolis Conference, Gen. Michel Suleiman emerged as a consensus candidate that March 14 was pressured into accepting, as much as the Opposition were surprised at his acceptance. With a solution seemingly in sight, the Syrians needed new fuel to block the election. Whilst their allies accepted Suleiman as a compromise candidate, they were instructed to block the constitutional amendment that could bring him to power, under the guise that the new government and election law had to be part of the basket of conditions required before presidential elections can be facilitated. Contrary to the warnings of Walid Jumblat, the American and French administrations are learning the pitfalls involved courting Bashar Al-Assad.


Now the Government has prepared a draft bill for amending article 49 of the constitution so as to allow the election of Gen. Suleiman, a move that will surely be rejected by Nabi Berri and that will see parliament doors remain closed. The more phases that fail, the tighter the Syrian grip will become. March 14 must change the status quo by taking a bold step. Electing a president by 50+1 majority is a constitutional right. It is the only remaining option left to the majority, as it is clear that the only aim of Syria and its allies is to block the election of a substantial president. Whilst some March 14 members of Parliament have stated that they will not take part in a session bringing a president via a 50+1 vote, their options have now become narrowed, and their failures from here on will endanger the nation. Other than submission what option do they have left?!


Some analysts have opined that this move by the majority will lead to civil strife and even civil war. It seems that all international superpowers are interested in seeing the majority elect a president. President Bush has claimed that the international community will embrace a president elected by a 50+1 majority. The French have been left burned and scolded by the Syrians and the Arab position is well known. So, if with all this international support, the March 14 leaders are unwilling to take bold steps, then when will the Lebanese people find salvation and from whom?! The rejection of Gen. Suleiman by the opposition will ensure the Lebanese Army are in line with the hopes and aspirations of the Lebanese people as defenders of the nation against all enemies, external or internal, whomever the next president may be.


Recent structural changes with in the Opposition have seen it become more rigid and hard-line to deal with. The Syrians/Iranian axis has shifted their focus within their allies to those whom are less inclined to give up any gains that have been made in recent months in order to find a solution. Speaker Berri has been sidelined as the chief negotiator in preference to Michel Aoun, who nobody in the Majority is willing to negotiate with due his stubborn demands. On the Hezbollah front, nobody has heard from Sayyed Hassan Nassrallah for some time, whilst Sheik Naim Qassem has gained much press and is now the commander of the military wing of the party. Is the Opposition preparing for a showdown to solidify their gains and see them come to fruition?


There are those within March 14 that have the political experience and historical background to lead the movement into the right direction, with conviction and strength. As the presidential post is a Christian right, it is also a Christian responsibility. Those Christian leaders within March 14, who should by now know the consequences of inaction, need to do more than just press conferences and speeches. They need to leverage their non-Christian allies into taking a stand for a Christian post, a daunting task, yet one that needs to be achieved successfully. In the current Lebanese political climate, the only decisions that benefit the nation are difficult ones.


With the Annapolis conference making some surprisingly quiet achievements, the time is running out for the Lebanese of the March 14 spirit to realize their hopes and aspirations. The Bush administration is making a hard push to settle their new middle east before the next administration takes over. If the parliamentary majority in Lebanon fail in getting their act together and governing the nation so that it meets international resolutions and standards, they may find themselves isolated in a deal to settle the Palestinians in Lebanon.


If that happens, the Christians of Lebanon need not worry if they can agree on whom the next president of Lebanon may be!