For June 05/08

Click Here to read the below Nine commenteries & Analysis
Syria lost big in Lebanon.By RABBI DANIEL M. ZUCKER Middle East Times 05/06/08
Next step: undermining Resolution 1701-By Michael Young 05.06.08
Free advice on how President Sleiman can achieve a lasting legacy-The Daily Star 05/06/08
Syrian-Israeli Negotiations.By: Huda al Husseini 05/06/08
What Lebanon needs now. By HADY AMR.Middle East Times 05/06/08
Sarkozy in Lebanon-By:Randa Takieddine 05/06/08
Who will turn the people of Lebanon into Lebanese? By Marc J. Sirois 05/06/08
Doha accord underlines Egypt's diplomatic swoon-By Inter Press Service 05/06/08
How to measure al Qaeda's defeat-By Walid Phares 05/06/08

Syria lost big in Lebanon
Published: June 04, 2008
Middle East Times
Caroline Glick, columnist and editor at The Jerusalem Post is normally right on the money with her comments about Middle East politics. Her column of Friday, May 23, 2008, "Column one: Assad's week of triumph" was a rare exception.
As the title of her essay indicates, Glick believes that Bashar Assad had his best week since becoming president of Syria. With all due respect to Ms. Glick's fine understanding of the area's complex politics, I believe that she and her title miss it, by what we in Middle America call "a country mile."
Rather than being his best week due to Hezbollah's successful power play in Lebanon two weeks prior, and the capitulation of the "March 14" Coalition at the Doha talks last week, which cemented – at least temporarily – Hezbollah's power to control Lebanon and Lebanese politics, the victory of this Iranian-backed Shiite militia proved to be the fulfillment of Assad's worst nightmare.
Why do I say this? The truth is that Hezbollah is not subservient to Syria, but rather to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Syria, which dearly desires to regain control of Lebanon, if not to actually swallow the Levantine coastal nation outright, just saw Beirut become a satellite of Iran.
With Iran controlling Lebanon through its Hezbollah proxies, Syria now is further from its goal of retaking Lebanon under is influence and control. Assad lost, and lost big time when Hezbollah won.
The Lebanese commentator Nizar Abdel Kader, former deputy chief of staff of the Lebanese army, put it aptly when he wrote last week: "…the future role of Syria will be reduced to serving as a conduit for Iranian logistical support to Hezbollah."
Given this twist in Syria's Levantine fortunes, it now becomes understandable why Damascus authorized the publication of its three-month-old clandestine peace negotiations with Israel.
Syria is economically in the doldrums, as more than one analyst has noted, and despite massive infusions of Iranian money, is in rough shape economically.
Assad, a secularist, is not overly enamored of Iranian fundamentalism and is less than pleased to see Lebanon fall to the Shiite fundamentalists whose allegiance is vowed to Ali Khamenei, the Iranian faqih (Supreme Leader).
Assad, in his own strange way, is desperately reaching out to the West – especially the United States, to try to break out of the isolation that he feels, as well as to remove the choking bear hug that Iran has placed around him.
Peace with the implacable foe – Israel – if achieved on good enough terms, now looks better that being choked to death by Iran, or worse yet, being engulfed in the possible conflagration that may come when the United States and the West finally confront Iran.
Dr. Bashar Assad is not as shrewd as was his father Hafez, but he has learned one trait from the old fox: longevity trumps everything else in importance.
As Syria essentially has maintained peaceful borders with Israel since the 1974 disengagement agreements, we need to ask what it is that Assad seeks to gain from formalizing peace with Israel.
Ostensibly it is the recovery of the Golan Heights, lost in 1967.
However, Syria's interest in regaining the Golan pales in comparison to its desire to regain Lebanon as a protectorate.
If we realize that Hezbollah really is "Hezbollah" (the Farsi pronunciation), by which I mean to say that Hassan Nasrallah's Shiite militia is controlled by Iran and not by Syria, we may begin to see – contrary to Glick's analysis and that of Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff in the May 26 edition of Ha'aretz, as well as that of Barry Rubin in the May 26 edition of The Jerusalem Post – that Syria lost when Hezbollah won control of Lebanese politics.
And Assad does not like the idea of being muscled out of his own backyard by his "ally and benefactor," Iran.
Harel and Issacharoff point out that this is the second time in less than a year that Syria operated on a major concern without consulting or even informing its Iranian allies. Syria did not receive Iranian aid on its clandestine nuclear program – aid came from North Korea – and it did not inform Tehran about its secret negotiations with Israel, held under Turkish auspices. Rubin is right on the money when analyzing Syrian motives; his six points listing Syria's reasons for participating in talks with Israel are very insightful except for his failure to see that Syria feels outmaneuvered by Iran in Lebanon.
That point is critical however, as it explains the timing of Syria's publication of its talks with Israel. Syria was registering a protest with its Iranian benefactor.
The February 13, assassination in Damascus' uptown neighborhood of Kfar Suseh of "Hajj Radwan," aka Imad Fayez Mughnieh, Hezbollah's international operations chief, has generally been attributed to the Mossad, Israel's secretive intelligence and covert foreign operations agency.
However, more than one online blogger has suggested that Hezbollah's number two officer was the target of a Syrian Mukhbarat (intelligence service) hit meant to signal Assad's desire to draw closer to the United States, and no less a figure than Druze leader Walid Jumblatt is reputed to have made a similar accusation.
Assuming for a moment that Jumblatt and these bloggers are correct, Syrian motives again would demonstrate Damascus' desire to remove any impediments to a renewal of Syrian (not Syrian-Iranian) domination of Lebanon.
Undermining Hezbollah's operative strength at a time that Syria had little real fear of conflict with Israel would be a cheap way to begin to reassert control of Beirut, especially if Hezbollah made the mistake of attacking Israel and precipitated another Israeli attack on the Iranian proxy.
Note the timetable: Syria's secret talks with Israel began right after Mughnieh's demise. Admittedly, the Mughnieh file still has many, many unanswered questions, but it should be clear that Syrian interests under Assad primarily center on regaining control over Lebanon, with any method of achieving the goal being acceptable to Damascus.
Following its power play earlier this month, and its political victory at the Doha conference, Hezbollah has emerged as a rival to Damascus because it is controlled by, and swears allegiance to Iran's Supreme Leader. Damascus and Tehran still play on the same team, but the internal rivalry is beginning to strain the cooperation between them.
To those that say that Syria turned around and signed a mutual defense pact with Iran only days after revealing the peace talks with Israel, I would point out that Assad, while dismissing Israeli demands that Syria break its ties with Iran, also advised Lebanon to begin negotiations with Israel should the Syrian-Israeli peace discussions move forward.
Assad is proving to be a chip off of the old block – he is learning to be a wily negotiator, courting more than one suitor at a time – now Israel and the West (i.e., the United States), and now Iran and the jihadists. But most of all, Assad wants to regain Lebanon as a Syrian protectorate. That fact should never be forgotten when assessing Syrian motives and moves on the Middle East chessboard.
**Professor Rabbi Daniel M. Zucker is founder and Chairman of the Board of Americans for Democracy in the Middle East, a grassroots organization dedicated to teaching government officials and the public of the dangers posed by Islamic fundamentalism.

Next step: undermining Resolution 1701
By Michael Young
Daily Star staff
Thursday, June 05, 2008
The most worrying development in the coming months in Lebanon may be only partly visible today: a concerted effort by Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah to undermine United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which, with Resolution 1559, is at the core of international decisions to bolster a sovereign Lebanese state with absolute control over its territory.
In an NBN interview on Tuesday, Hizbullah's Nawwaf al-Musawi said something both revealing and remarkable. He observed that upcoming security appointments were important because they "affect the security of the resistance." At this stage it's official, any government decision that Hizbullah opposes can be described as harming the resistance. But more disturbing was another reading of Musawi's statement, one we should place against the backdrop of the Abdeh bomb explosion at a military intelligence post last weekend, for which Fatah al-Islam claimed responsibility.
Michel Suleiman's election as president means a successor needs to be found as army commander, which suggests that someone new is also expected to take over as military intelligence chief. The Abdeh explosion was Syria's message to Suleiman and the army that it wants individuals it can trust to be named to senior military positions. That's because for all the debate over Fatah al-Islam's origins during the Nahr al-Bared fighting, there is considerable evidence to suggest that the organization, or what remains of it, is mainly an instrument of Syrian policy today - a stick to destabilize Lebanon under the guise of Sunni militancy.
If so, what does this have to do with Resolution 1701? Here is a scenario we should watch out for. The Syrians, who have not given up on re-imposing their writ in Lebanon and whose offer of diplomatic relations with Beirut will do little to change this, have several priorities. The first is to open a dialogue with the United States once the Bush administration leaves office. The way ahead is to pursue negotiations with Israel over the Golan Heights. However, Syria is less interested in the final outcome of such negotiations than in the process itself, because it is that process that might ensure improved relations with Washington while eroding international determination to press forward with the Hariri tribunal, whose establishment is already proving to be lethargic at best.
It is very doubtful that Syria will carry on serious negotiations without ensuring, first, that it has military leverage over Israel through the southern Lebanese border. Damascus may not necessarily want talks to reach a conclusion now, but it does have to prepare for the possibility of an eventual breakthrough. As far as President Bashar Assad is concerned, a Golan deal is important principally if Lebanon is part of the package. In other words, Syria gets the Golan but is also granted effective hegemony over Lebanon - an arrangement with which the Israelis have no problem, nor did when they were bargaining with Hafez Assad during the 1990s.
The Syrians can hit these two birds with one stone by ensuring that Hizbullah resumes its military operations in South Lebanon. The attacks would provide Syria with the leverage it seeks but also revitalize a Hizbullah threat that Assad will insist only Syria can resolve by again being granted considerable leeway in Lebanon. Ultimately, the Syrians hope, that would mean a return of their army and intelligence network in some capacity. Iran and Hizbullah would, for a time at least, see an advantage in this as it would protect Hizbullah's weapons against the growing demands for disarmament of the party inside Lebanon while allowing it to resume fighting, despite resolutions 1559 and 1701.
For Hizbullah to reopen the southern border, three conditions must be met: Resolution 1701 must be rendered ineffective; Hizbullah must not be seen as responsible for reigniting the southern front, since most Shiites have no desire to be brutalized by Israel yet again; and the Lebanese Army command must cooperate with Hizbullah in the border area. That latter prerequisite explains the Abdeh explosion and Musawi's statement.
Resolution 1701 is only as effective as the will of the international community and of UNIFIL, the United Nations force in South Lebanon. What better way to break that will than to restart bomb attacks against UNIFIL's contingents, and blame Fatah al-Islam - in other words Sunni Islamists - for this? Given France's impetuousness in wanting to reopen ties with Syria after the Doha agreement; given that neither Italy nor Spain, two other key members of UNIFIL, is likely to stand firm if the bombings begin in earnest; and given that ongoing Syrian-Israeli talks will considerably lower international incentive to punish Damascus for whatever goes wrong in the border area, this may prove quite easy. The fact that the attacks are allegedly the work of Sunni militants would cover Hizbullah vis-ˆ-vis its own electorate, allow the party's media to once more highlight the alleged links between Fatah al-Islam and the Future Movement, and let Hizbullah exploit instability in the border area to provoke Israeli actions justifying a resumption of armed resistance.
What would the objective be? Some have suggested Syria, Iran and Hizbullah want a new arrangement in the South similar to the April Understanding of 1996, legitimizing Hizbullah military action through new "rules of the game" between the party and Israel. That seems a plausible theory, if it can be managed. But there are some question marks. In the long term, Hizbullah would welcome a Syrian return to Lebanon, but realizes that any final Israeli-Syrian settlement, even with Lebanon in Syrian hands, could be curtains for the resistance. It's equally unclear how Hizbullah might use possible attacks by alleged Sunni Islamists against UNIFIL to validate its own military operations. And will the Lebanese Army be as pliant as Hizbullah and Syria want it to be, or does the presence of Michel Suleiman, no enemy of Syria but also the main beneficiary of a stronger Lebanese state, make this less likely?
These uncertainties notwithstanding, Resolution 1701 has been in the crosshairs of Iran, Syria, and Hizbullah for some time. With the Bush administration on its way out, the Europeans ripe to end Syria's isolation, Syria's Arab foes anemic, Israel little interested in reinforcing the UN's credibility in Lebanon, and the Hariri tribunal looking like an afterthought, now may be the ideal time to begin chopping down the edifice built up in Lebanon by the Security Council between 2004 and 2006. Assad is in the driver's seat and no one seems willing to stop him.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR

Free advice on how President Sleiman can achieve a lasting legacy
By The Daily Star
Thursday, June 05, 2008
Like all Lebanese, President Michel Sleiman cannot look on the long list of challenges facing this country without some degree of trepidation. The new head of state has more capacity to shape Lebanon's future than do his compatriots, but he also will bear more of the responsibility if he is perceived to have failed. The only sure thing is that he will not accomplish all that needs to be done, principally because no one could, so a question of priorities needs to be answered: What change might he institute that would make the greatest positive difference for the people of Lebanon and help ease the passage of additional reforms in the future?
If Sleiman and his advisers examine the situation carefully, they can come to only one conclusion on this score: Nothing else they might do would approach the singular utility of equipping this troubled country with an independent judiciary. If Sleiman resolves to make that the cornerstone of his presidency, he will have taken several first steps all at once, many of them crucial for the national welfare. And if he succeeds, he will have accomplished more in his six-year term than all of his predecessors combined.
This advance verdict is not nearly so sweeping as it might seem, for while the immediate benefits of unshackling a society's judges are many and marvelous, the long-term value of such a step is inestimable. When justice is administered - and seen to be administered - in an apolitical and competent manner, good things start to happen. Victims of criminal acts feel less compelled to seek revenge because they trust in the authorities to administer justice. Foreign investors are freer with their money because they rely on the courts to protect them against unscrupulous business practices. Banks get looser with credit because they feel more confident in their ability to collect if a loan goes sour. In every way, society becomes more orderly because human beings and groups thereof are more apt to follow the rules when they think their neighbors are doing the same - or can be compelled to do so by a court of law.
The best effects of an independent judiciary, though, lie in its capacity to make democracy more than a word to be pronounced or a ballot to be cast. Without reliable jurists, in fact, the most ingenious constitution is a worthless trinket - and the holding of free and fair elections an exercise in daydreaming. It is not grand documents and the appearance of gaining the consent of the governed that determine how democratic a country is: It is the degree of likelihood that the humblest citizen can obtain redress from the rich and powerful, or even from the state itself, when he or she has been wronged. Where judiciaries are not independent, not even the determined jurist who refuses to be bought, bribed or bullied can make much difference: Decisions can be overturned on appeal, closed cases can be summarily reopened in other venues, and new ones can be steered to more pliant benches. The result is institutionalized caprice, which cannot be reconciled with justice because it renders meaningless the rights (theoretically) accorded to all citizens in a democratic society.
If Lebanon is to live up to its population's aspirations to democracy, therefore, its judges must be empowered to render and enforce their verdicts without regard to any consideration but the law. So if Sleiman wants to leave a lasting legacy, he will find no better place to start. He would not be the first to try: President Fouad Chehab pursued the goal in the 1950s and '60s but was unable to overcome a congenitally corrupt political class that closed ranks to protect its various lines of "business." The Lebanese people, though, are more aware than ever of the need to flesh out the "democracy" promised by their Constitution, so Sleiman will have more allies than Chehab did. He might even find some politicians to go along.

Syrian-Israeli Negotiations

04/06/2008-Asharq Alawsat
By Huda al Husseini
For over a year now there has been serious but intermittent communication between Syria and Israel via Turkish mediation after Israel bombed a nuclear installation in Syria (September 2007).
Despite Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s public announcement that negotiations with Syria are serious, many observers believe that peace between the two nations is farfetched.
There are two reasons for this: One, there is absolutely no chance that Syria will abandon its radical commitments to Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. The Syrians publicly declare that this can never be achieved and pigeonhole it as part the rejection of the preconditions.
Two, if Syria genuinely wanted to abandon its radical allies then it would not build a nuclear reactor so that it may become more radical than North Korea.
According to a Western politician who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity; the most important question in the Middle East today is: What is the nature of that radical alliance? Is it simply a transitional stage or is it a game? Is Iran the only radical party or is the matter more deeply rooted in the Middle East?
The answer to that question is: Radical elements are present in the Middle East and they will prevail.
The source explained, “For decades Syria has been radical and it remained to be so even when the price of radicalism was extremely steep.”
Syria supported Iran in its war against Iraq, which is what isolated it from the Arab Sunni world, since everyone stood by Saddam Hussein against Ayatollah Khomeini – even those who hated Saddam Hussein wanted Iraq to defeat Iran. Syria was the only exception in the Arab world and it chose to side with Iran at a time when it was very costly to do so.
But Syria continued to follow the radical course, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For a while it believed that it should claim to have abandoned the radical axis, which is when it allied itself with the US in Kuwait’s liberation war; however, when late Syria President Hafez al Assad realized that the US was incapable of imposing its will on the Middle East, he reverted back to his radical positions.
As such, the idea that Syria is capable of abandoning its radicalism is unreasonable, because it would also mean that Syria would be more accepting and open to the independence and sovereignty of Lebanon.
“If Syria could get something more important than the Golan Heights, specifically an American acknowledgment of its role in Lebanon, even then – it would still remain radical and loyal to Iran and it would still support Hamas and Hezbollah. It would still not become pro-American,” the same source said.
He added, “The biggest incentive for Syria to work with the US was when its [Syria] position was threatened in Lebanon. And all what the Americans wanted from Syria at the time was to curb the infiltration of terrorists through its borders into Iraq – but Syria refused to comply.”
According to the politician, when he heard that Syria and Israel were going to resume negotiations before it was officially announced, his initial reaction was: “it is over for Lebanon”.
But why? “These negotiations mean that Syria will continue to impose its will on Lebanon via Hezbollah and in return; the US, Israel and France cannot act against it. These negotiations give Syria immunity.”
As for the reason behind Syria’s insistence on making its negotiations with Israel public; it is to prevent America, Israel and France from taking any action against it in Lebanon so that it may have freedom of movement there.
“Syria has gained freedom for maneuvering in Lebanon. Investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri will not resume and there will not be an American threat like the one that drove the Syrian army out of Lebanon. Syria, Hezbollah and Iran will control Lebanon and France and the US will not be opposed to this.”
According to my source, this is likely to cause a catastrophe for the Christians in Lebanon in the near future. In the case of a war with Israel, “If the situation in 2006 had been what it is toady, Israel would have bombed Lebanon’s entire infrastructure because Lebanon would have been considered a hostile state. The reason behind America and France’s defense of Lebanon against Israel is the presence of Fouad Siniora’s government. Today, the government will be Hezbollah’s – regardless of the name it operates under.”
Syria will not abandon its radical alliance and this will not motivate Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights. Additionally, polls in Israel indicate that there is no support in Israel for withdrawing from the Golan Height in return for peace.
Syria will not separate from its radical alliance; this will not motivate Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights. In addition, polls in Israel don’t indicate support for withdrawing from the Golan even in return for peace. The statement issued by Olmert’s government upholding that it wants to withdraw from the Golan Heights and the West Bank practically means that it will not withdraw from either, because the Israelis against withdrawal from the Golan Heights have joined forces with the Israelis against withdrawal from the West Bank.
And to confirm Syria’s radical nature; a Syrian military delegation arrived in Tehran on the same day in which the first round of indirect Syrian-Israeli negotiations was concluded in Istanbul. According to my source, the recent agreement between Iran and Syria is serious, “but it does not indicate anything new as such. If Syria had been ready for a strategic change in its relationship with Israel, then the Syrians would have signed an agreement with Iran and not considered it serious. But what happened recently is serious and the strategic cooperation between the two states is ongoing; it is genuine cooperation that reinforces the relations between them.”
It is possible that Olmert may know that these negotiations will lead to nothing but he embarked upon them because he did not want war with Syria – in the case of the US launching an attack on Iran. Olmert is driven by reason to negotiate with Syria so as to alleviate the tension, and even if Iran was subjected to an attack; Israel would not necessarily become implicated in a war with Syria.
But what are the chances of a war against Iran? The politician reminded me of what US President George W. Bush recently said in Israel, which was that there are options available. Although he said that only 20 percent [in the US] were for going to war with Iran, he said that he does not underestimate that percentage because the US and Israel insist on not allowing Iran to possess a nuclear weapon.
.My source pointed out that the US is not in favor of the Israeli-Syrian negotiations, as opposed to the French who are willing to accept the defeat of the Lebanese government. The politician insisted that in light of these negotiations, “Hezbollah will resume its control over Lebanon. Hezbollah is smarter than Hamas in Gaza. It does not want to shoulder the responsibility in Lebanon; it wants a government that is headed by Fouad Siniora or Saad Hariri so that it may bear the responsibility while it [Hezbollah] reaps profits and consolidates interests.”
However, if the US launches an attack on Iran then it would lead to war in Lebanon if Hezbollah launches rockets on Israel. In this scenario, my interviewee does not rule out that a war with Hezbollah will lead to a war with Syria but he added, “Olmert has a different agenda, he believes that Israel bombing a nuclear reactor in Syria was a military action and that Syria had the right to retaliate. This is why he believes that negotiating with Syria will distance it a little further away from war.”
why is Turkey playing that role? Because Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to become a player in the international arena and he insisted on this role. The process began with a fundamental improvement in Turkish-Syrian relations and has evolved so that Turkey has become the mediator between Syria and Israel. Turkey does not want to play a role that is against Iran; rather, it seeks to balance matters. Perhaps Iran could later appoint Turkey as a mediator. Turkey wants to play a positive role in the region in confronting Iran’s negative one.

What Lebanon needs now
Middle East Times
June 04, 2008
After years of turmoil, and on the heels of the highly successful Lebanese National Dialogue held in Doha in mid-May, Lebanon's leaders swore in a new president on Sunday under the banner of a broad-based coalition government. The government will include both Hezbollah – which led Lebanon into war with Israel in 2006 – and its allies, as well as Saad Hariri's Western-leaning Future Movement; a diverse but necessary coalition to keep the country from splitting in two.
The coalition formula in the Doha Accord on Lebanon was just about the only thing that could have stopped the bleeding today, but Lebanon's real problems are more fundamental; much deeper reform is needed.
The core problem is Lebanon's electoral system, which is more feudal than democratic. This system has weakened the Lebanese state over the past half century to such an extent that groups like Hezbollah and the Palestine Liberation Organization have each been able to create a state-within-a-state, complete with weapons and communications systems that are stronger than those of the Lebanese government.
Imagine a system whereby the U.S. Constitution guaranteed that the U.S. president be white, the vice president be black and the speaker of the house be latino. That's what Lebanon has, but along religious lines. And the effect is that the core of Lebanese politicking takes place along those sectarian lines with quasi, supra-tribal chieftain leaders emerging as the heads of the Sunnis, Shiites, Druze, and various Christian sects. This setup serves only to deepen the divide between religious groups, creating the conditions for never-ending sectarian tension.
This feudal Lebanese electoral system can and should be confined to the dustbin of history and replaced with a truly democratic electoral system. Lebanon may also need the help of an international consensus to end this system of apportioning seats in parliament along medieval religious lines and simply allow Lebanese to vote as Lebanese. Period. Not as Christians, Druze, Shiites or Sunnis. To vote for policies. To vote for the future and not the past. To vote for hope.
Imagine living in a country where a Barack Obama-style presidential campaign by a non-traditional candidate from a minority group would not just be improbable, it would be against the law. Those are Lebanon's ancient rules that no longer make sense, that continue to lead to perpetual conflict, and that need to be discarded.
In 1994 in South Africa, the African National Congress finally handed over its weapons when its "one man, one vote" policy was adopted through a proportional representation system that had built-in structural guarantees for minority rights. In Lebanon, where no group has enough of a majority to dominate the other, a similar electoral system should be even easier to implement than in South Africa, where the minority white population could have easily feared being dominated by blacks who make up the vast majority. In Lebanon, the central problem has been fear – fear by each segment of society that it would be overrun by the others.
What the Lebanese people want most is a guarantee that minority rights, and the freedom to live their lives in a prosperous system, will be respected.
Part of the Doha Accord on Lebanon calls for the creation of "a dialogue on promoting the Lebanese state's authority over all Lebanese territory and its relationship with the various groups." Again, South Africa provides an excellent model: after Nelson Mandela's release from prison in 1990, the South African leadership set up a Convention for a Democratic South Africa shortly thereafter in which all citizen groups – not just political leaders – could sit down and debate the shape of their constitution and electoral system. What they came up with was an electoral system without sectarian quotas, but which guaranteed minority rights through provisions requiring minority political parties to always have a seat in government.
One hopes that factional Lebanese leaders could, for the benefit of their country, step out of the way just a bit, and allow a true roll-up-your-sleeves democratic debate to blossom in Beirut to agree on new rules to the game. The natural outcome of such a dialogue would likely be a new national accord in which Hizbullah and all other militias hand over all their weapons to the Lebanese army. This would be part of a new national pact whereby Lebanon embraces an entirely non-sectarian constitution, but one with guarantees for very substantial minority party participation in government. South Africans have done it. So why can't the Lebanese?
The benefits would likely be many. The core result should be that all segments of society have faith in the state institutions, thus completely undermining the rationale for Hizbullah's military – and making the handover of Hizbullah's weapons to a strengthened Lebanese Army something that all Lebanese, including the Shiites, could support. This would also mean increased investment in government-run schools, instead of religiously-based schools.
There must be faith in the representation of the government across all spectrums in Lebanon. The Lebanese might then have a chance to finally address the country's other core problems – like having the highest per capita debt ratio in the Arab world. Only then will true democracy blossom in the Arab world, in which citizens participate based on their hopes for the future – and not on how their parents pray. What could be better than that?
**Hady Amr is a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution and director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Sarkozy in Lebanon
Randa Takieddine
Al-Hayat - 04/06/08//
Finally, and after months of waiting and calling for the election of a president in Lebanon, French President Nicolas Sarkozy will manage to be the first Western leader to congratulate the new president, General Michel Suleiman, at Baabda Palace.
Sarkozy differs from most members of the political class in France. He has never visited this country, which has close ties with France, its "tender mother." A person close to Sarkozy says that the president's dream has always been to visit Lebanon. He got acquainted with many Lebanese residing in France, when he was the mayor of the Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine. They were among his voters. Some of them were active in the Gaullist Party, which brought Sarkozy to the presidency. During his election campaign, he invited a number of French-Lebanese who voted for him to the Interior Ministry, where he explained his view of French policy toward Lebanon. He affirmed the need for Lebanon's independence and sovereignty as well as his support for the course of the International Tribunal to punish the assassins of former Premier Rafic Hariri.
Sarkozy scheduled his visit to Lebanon at the end of a busy calendar, full of events, before France takes up the presidency of the European Union early July. On Saturday, he will travel directly from Greece to Beirut, to congratulate Suleiman and inform him of France's support for and interest in Lebanon's security, independence and sovereignty. For the West, Lebanon represents a symbol of coexistence between Muslims and Christians, and Sarkozy is keen to safeguard this model of diversity, which he often praises.
Sarkozy's visit is important because top French officials might accompany him. One of these officials might be Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who knows Lebanon. He visited the country as minister in the government of Jacques Chirac, accompanying former Lebanese minister Michel Edde on a trip to Sidon. Fillon told his visitors that Edde had invited him to taste the famous local ice cream on the way to Sidon. The Sarkozy delegation will include the ministers of defense (Herve Morin), foreign affairs (Bernard Kouchner) and finance (Christine Lagarde) as well as the chief of staff, General Jean-Louis Georgelin; Sarkozy is scheduled to visit French peacekeeping forces operating in South Lebanon.
Sarkozy's visit is tremendously important, as it affirms France's commitment to helping Lebanon recover politically and economically and regain its total sovereignty. Defense Minister Morin will be tasked with laying a wreath at the tomb of Martyr Hariri; Sarkozy wanted to do this himself but will be unable to do so due to the tight schedule!
The visit comes after considerable coordination with France's Arab friends. Sarkozy met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Rome a few days ago, on the sidelines of the FAO Conference. They discussed the visit and the revived Franco-Syrian dialogue. Sarkozy also sent a letter with Morin to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, informing him of the visit to Lebanon and his contacts with Syria. France under Sarkozy has close ties with the Emir and Prime Minister of Qatar, who have been part of the push to resume dialogue between Paris and Damascus, as a reward to the Syrian regime for not obstructing the Doha Agreement. The French presidency considers it important to have dialogue with Syria and Iran, since the two states have influence in the region, especially in Lebanon. France under Sarkozy wants a dialogue with Syria to keep a lid on the situation in Lebanon.
Sarkozy is expected to deliver a speech during a lunch hosted by President Suleiman, after which he will head for the French Embassy, where he will meet members of the French community in Lebanon. Sarkozy will then visit French forces in South Lebanon and leave the country with impressions he will communicate to his friend, US President George Bush, who will visit the Elysee Palace on the evening of 13 June; the following day will see Sarkozy and Bush take part in a working session in which Lebanon, Syria and Iran will be among the discussion topics on the table

Who will turn the people of Lebanon into Lebanese?
By Marc J. Sirois

Daily Star staff
Thursday, June 05, 2008
The relief greeting Lebanon's belated election of President Michel Sleiman is tinged with more than a little doubt, and both reactions are signs of just how low this country was brought by the power struggle that began in late 2006. Private citizens seem to understand that while a headlong rush to civil war has been suspended by the agreement signed in Doha last month, the factors that necessitated it remain very much intact.
Solid evidence for this conclusion begins with that part of Doha which lays down parameters for the 2009 parliamentary elections - and with the fact that disagreements on this score very nearly scuttled the entire deal. In essence, both the ruling March 14 coalition and the March 8 opposition alliance accused one another of trying to lock in advantages in next year's balloting. Each was guilty as charged, of course, but that hardly makes them better or worse than political parties in even the world's most advanced democracies, many of which do precisely the same thing whenever they get the chance. The difference is that these more fortunate lands have a series of mechanisms that limit damage to the core purposes of the democratic process.
For one thing, they are closer to being genuine democracies. Their models vary widely, and some feature quotas which, either by law or by convention, guarantee a certain level of representation in legislatures and/or cabinets for ethnic, linguistic and/or religious minorities. Some also use appointed chambers to provide what was once described as "sober second thought," but most of these were designed to salve the apprehensions of long-dead aristocrats and now serve primarily as constitutional ornaments, repositories for unelectable party hacks, and/or tourist attractions. There are also bodies that seek to balance population disparities by enhancing the clout of smaller jurisdictions: The US Senate, for example, has two members from each of that country's 50 states, from California (population 36 million) to Wyoming (just over 500,000).
Whatever their particularities, these systems and the electoral machineries that drive them usually succeed in reflecting something of the will of their citizens - at least those among them who show up at the polls. Some, like Australia's, go so far as to remove this caveat by making voting compulsory.
It is when these systems can reasonably be judged to have failed, though, that their true strengths become most evident. The 2000 presidential election in the United States, for instance, remains a highly contentious event. George W. Bush lost the popular vote, and widespread demands for a recount in the decisive state of Florida were rejected by a Supreme Court perceived as biased because seven of its nine justices were appointed by presidents from Bush's Republican Party. Two of those seven - including one named by Bush's father - dissented, but the perception of back-scratching remained a strong one.
Bush won the White House, then, despite the fact that most voters had sided with his opponent, Al Gore. In addition, his administration has conducted itself, both at home and abroad, in a manner viewed by many observers - including quite a few stalwart Republicans - to be contemptuous of the US Constitution and myriad laws supposedly limiting the purviews of the executive branch. Some go so far as to argue that Bush's presidency has amounted to an unrelenting assault on the rule of law.
Yet the wheels have not fallen off the American political system. Granted, many people are angry: The economy may already be in recession, the enormous power of the US military has been dashed on the wrong rocks, Washington's global reputation is in tatters, and the pendulum is likely to swing the other way when the next presidential election is held in November. But by and large America has chugged along.
Why? Because whatever its numerous flaws and high-profile inequities, the United States is at bottom a democracy. (Pre-emptive strike: Pointy-headed law professors will rightly argue that technically, this is not true, that America is a constitutional republic, but I refer to function, not form.) Like other democracies, it has internal bulkheads that prevent threats to its core principles from pervading all sectors of national life.
For starters, it has a generally vigorous economy that provides more than enough opportunities to prevent a critical mass of disillusionment from developing. For another, its institutions are so old and so solid that even though Congress, the courts and much of the media have only dared to challenge Bush in the long twilight of his presidency, there is no crisis of confidence in the long-term viability of the model as a whole. For all sorts of reasons, the great majority of Americans are convinced that, however awful their current leadership, things will not get so bad that they cannot be improved without a comprehensive overhaul.
In this capacity for self-renewal, America is the rule, not the exception, when it comes to genuine democracies, even highly unstable ones.
Take Italy, a polity with far less experience at discerning the views of the governed and a system for doing so that is nothing short of magnificent in its deficiencies. Until Silvio Berlusconi's second stint as prime minister began in 2001, that country had averaged more that one government per year since the advent of universal suffrage in 1946. The mercurial billionaire proved to have a number of authoritarian tendencies and a predilection for activities of dubious legality, but his lawyers were good and his coalition's majority in Parliament was unshakeable, so he reigned for almost five years.

He lost out to the highly competent but terminally colorless Romano Prodi in 2006, but the latter's majority was both thin and brittle, so his government spent much of its time teetering on the brink of collapse before falling over earlier this year, forcing new elections. As near as can be determined, Italian voters never forgave Prodi for trying to take difficult steps with his weak mandate - or their own judgment for having given it to him, so they punished both him and themselves by handing Berlusconi another thumping majority. Provided his health holds up, he's likely to repay the favor with another five years of reminding them of why they got rid of him the last time.
Berlusconi's experience is instructive for Lebanon, not just for demonstrating how fickle voters can be, but also for showing how the best-laid plans can go awry - especially when it comes to the gerrymandering of electoral laws. Italy's opposition cried foul during the run-up to the 2006 elections because Berlusconi's cabinet had pushed through a new law that was expected to give his center-right coalition a clear advantage at the ballot box. That it did not should serve as a warning to Lebanon's political parties that however they seek to foreordain particular aspects of the 2009 polls, the voters might just surprise.
A great many Lebanese are increasingly disillusioned with the level of political discourse in this country, and much depends on how that malaise manifests itself. If it causes many people to stay home on election day, the party machines will almost certainly ensure a business-as-usual result that makes the implementation of badly needed reforms more difficult and so protects their own status. There is also the possibility, though, that someone finally harnesses the common-sense rejection of current Lebanese politics - a feeling that cuts across the usual geographical, sectarian and socioeconomic lines - and creates a new force.
The latter development can only take place, though, if more Lebanese citizens can be convinced to start seeing themselves as such, rather than as members of competing clubs based on their religious backgrounds.
Here too the Italian experience might hold some useful insights for Lebanon. Shortly after independence in 1861, Massimo d'Azeglio, one of the ministers in the new government, is credited with having summed up all that had been accomplished - and much of what remained. "We have created Italy," he declared. "Now all we have to do is create Italians."
The Italians are still at work on the latter challenge, and similar efforts are just getting off the ground in Lebanon - a country with more internal diversity and greater vulnerability to outside pressures. Nonetheless, the process of developing a sense of national identity that does away with confessional divisions has the potential to fuel the impetus required to make a difference in the 2009 polls: The powers that be have so thoroughly disappointed and disgusted so many Lebanese (especially younger ones) that the electorate might well be ripe for a radical change of direction.
The voters, though, cannot accomplish this mission by themselves: They need new political representation that will not just challenge the status quo but also the very premises upon which it is based. The people who would join such parties exist in large numbers, but as yet they have no capacity to act or speak in unison. They have neither the political organizations nor the media empires required to overcome the incumbents and their respective mouthpieces. Surely somewhere out there is the Lebanese citizen who has both money and a sense of national responsibility. Now how do we find out where he or she is hiding?
**Marc J. Sirois is managing editor of THE DAILY STAR. His e-mail address is

Doha accord underlines Egypt's diplomatic swoon
Analysts point to us ties as cause for decline
Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa al-Omrani
By Inter Press Service
Thursday, June 05, 2008
CAIRO: A deal brokered by Qatar last month succeeded in ending the longstanding political standoff in Lebanon - at least for the time being. Some local analysts see Qatar's success as Cairo's failure, saying Egyptian diplomacy has been hamstrung by the ruling regime's closeness to Washington.
"Ever since Egypt moved into the American orbit, its diplomatic role in the region has eroded," Hamadeen Sabahi, opposition MP and publisher of opposition weekly Al-Karama told IPS. "In the case of Lebanon, tiny Qatar succeeded where Egypt - the most populous Arab country - failed."
On May 21, representatives of Lebanon's two rival factions signed a power-sharing agreement ending two years of political deadlock and governmental paralysis. Signed in Doha, Qatar and brokered by the Qatari leadership, the deal staved off fears - temporarily, at least - of looming civil war between the US-backed government and the political opposition led by resistance group Hizbullah.
The accord stipulates the formation of a national unity government in which the opposition enjoys veto power over decision-making - which will allow Hizbullah and its allies to pre-empt legislation aimed at the resistance group's disarmament. The accord further stipulates the adoption of a new electoral law in advance of upcoming parliamentary elections.
On May 25, consensus candidate Michel Sleiman, a former army chief, was elected to the presidency after the post had lain vacant during six months of political wrangling.
But as most Lebanese breathed a sigh of relief, Egyptian analysts saw the "Doha Deal" as further proof of Cairo's diminished diplomatic stature in the region.
"Egypt used to lead the Arab fight against European colonialism and Zionism," said Sabahi. "Now, despite its massive population, long history and geo-strategic importance, Egypt has been upstaged by tiny Qatar - at least in terms of diplomacy."
Some foreign policy critics attribute Cairo's waning influence to the ruling regime's longstanding "strategic relationship" with Washington.
They say that the US-brokered Camp David peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, signed in 1978, signaled the end of independent Egyptian foreign policymaking and Cairo's historic role as regional arbiter. "The agreement inextricably bound Egypt to Washington, and unwise US policies have since ended up costing Egypt much of its traditional importance," says Sabahi.
Ahmad Thabet, professor of political science at Cairo University, agreed that Egypt's diplomatic role in the region had declined significantly over the course of the last 30 years.
"Since Camp David, Egypt has largely withdrawn from the Arab arena," Thabet said. "In the post-Camp David era of [President Hosni] Mubarak, Egypt has chosen to closely adhere to US and Israeli policy dictates."
Thabet added: "This strategy has severely damaged Egypt's reputation as a credible arbitrator of the region's conflicts."
Qatar, too, is set firmly within the US orbit. The tiny Gulf emirate hosts one of the most important US military assets in the region, the Al-Udeid Airbase, and maintains low-level relations with Israel.
Nevertheless, the Qatari leadership has distinguished itself in recent years from fellow "moderate," i.e. US-friendly, Arab states by regularly voicing opposition to policies espoused by American and Israel. During Israel's 2006 summer war against Lebanon, Qatar - unlike Egypt and Saudi Arabia - refrained from blaming Hizbullah solely for the conflict. One year later, in June 2007, Doha again diverged from many Arab capitals by refusing to condemn the takeover of the Gaza Strip by Palestinian resistance faction Hamas.
Last December, Qatar irked the US by inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to attend a Gulf Cooperation Council summit - a first for an Iranian head of state - held in Doha.
"Qatar has done a very good job of looking after its own relations with regional players," said Sabahi. "This has significantly bolstered its credibility throughout the Middle East."
In contrast, say local analysts, Egypt - by consistently toeing the US line - has since lost much of the diplomatic credibility it once enjoyed.
"Egypt totally alienated Hizbullah by publicly condemning it for starting the war in 2006," says Sabahi. "And Cairo has staunchly supported the resistance group's rivals in Beirut, with the blessings of Washington, ever since."
"By resolutely siding with one side of the conflict against the other, Cairo effectively neutralized its ability to mediate," agreed Thabet. "Qatar, on the other hand, has shown a level of diplomatic savvy absent from recent Egyptian and Saudi policymaking

How to measure al Qaeda's defeat
By Walid Phares
In an article published in the Washington Post on Friday May 30, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden is quoted as portraying al Qaeda movement as
"essentially defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia and on the defensive throughout much of the rest of the world, including in its presumed haven along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border."
The article said Hayden asserts that
"Osama bin Laden is losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world and has largely forfeited his ability to exploit the Iraq war to recruit adherents." More importantly, the article quotes the chief intelligence declaring a "near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq; near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia; significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally -- and here I'm going to use the word 'ideologically' -- as a lot of the Islamic world pushes back on their form of Islam."
These powerful declarations prompted a series of reactions and debates both in political and counter terrorism circles, causing loud media discussions. The main but simple question of interest to the public, and subsequently to voters in the US and other Democracies, is this:
Is al Qaeda being defeated?
However more complex questions arise from the CIA Director's statements, which if answered accurately would leave the main assertion still unclear. Following are few of these strategic questions:
If al Qaeda is being defeated, who is defeating it? Is it the US and the West, the Arab and Muslim moderates, or other Jihadists? If Usama Bin Laden is being challenged by his own members, ex members or non al Qaeda Jihadists, how can that be determined as a defeat and to whom?
Would a coup inside al Qaeda be of interest to Washington if the new team is as Jihadist but not as "Bin Ladenist"? Or is it the US-centered interests that are at play? Meaning the inability of al Qaeda under Bin laden and Zawahiri to strike at America or target American troops and presence overseas, including in Iraq?
Is it Bin laden's discredit, al-Qaeda's weakening or Jihadism's defeat that is the broadest strategic goal to attain? Even farther in questioning, is it al Qaeda'Takfiri method or it the global Jihadist ideology that is receding? The matter is not that simple, as one can conclude. So how can we measure an al Qaeda defeat in the middle of a War still raging around the world? I propose the following parameters.
Is al Qaeda being defeated strategically worldwide as stated by the CIA Director?
First the confrontation is still ongoing. Hence we need to situate the conflict first. Are we comparable with WWII before Normandy or after? In this War on Terror terms, what are our intentions? Is the US-led campaign designed to go after the membership of al Qaeda, go after its ideology or to support democracy movements to finish the job? Everything depends on the answers.
Geopolitically and at this stage, al Qaeda has been contained in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Somalia. But al Qaeda has potential, through allies, to thrust through Pakistan and the entire sub Sahara plateau. It was contained in Saudi Arabia but its cells (and off shoots) are omnipresent in Western Europe, Latin America, Indonesia, the Balkans, Russia and India, let alone North America. Objectively one would admit that the organization is being pushed back in some spots but is still gaining ground in other locations. Although geopolitical results are crucial, a final blow against al Qaeda has to be mainly ideological.
How can we measure al Qaeda's defeat in Iraq, if that is true?
There are three ways to measure defeat or victory: Operational, Control and Recruitment. First, is al Qaeda waging the same number of operations? Second, does it control enclaves? Third, is it recruiting high numbers? By these parameters al Qaeda was certainly "contained" in Iraq, particularly in the Sunni triangle. This was a combined result of the US surge operations and of a rise by local tribes, backed by American military and funding. But this scoring against al Qaeda would diminish and probably collapse if the US quit Iraq abruptly, or without leaving a strong ally behind. So, technically it is a conditioned containment of al Qaeda in Iraq.
How about Saudi Arabia?
The Saudis have contained many of al Qaeda's active cells in the Kingdom. But authorities haven't shrunk the ideological pool from which al Qaeda recruits, i.e. the hard core Wahabi circles. The regime has been using its own clerics to isolate the more radical indoctrination chains. It has been successful in creating a new status quo, but just that. If Iraq crumbles, that is if an abrupt withdrawal takes place in the absence of a strong and democratic Iraqi Government, al Qaeda will surge in the Triangle and thus will begin to impact Saudi Arabia. Therefore the current containment in the Kingdom is hinging on the success of the US led efforts in Iraq, not on inherent ideological efforts in Saudi Arabia.
How about Pakistan-Afghanistan?
In Afghanistan, both the Taliban and al Qaeda weren't able to create exclusive zones of control despite their frequent Terror attacks for the last seven years. But there again, the support to operations inside Afghanistan is coming mainly from the Jihadi enclaves inside Pakistan: Which conditions the victory over al Qaeda by the Kabul Government to the defeat of the combat Jihadi forces within the borders of Pakistan by Islamabad's authorities. Do we expect President Musharref and his cabinet to wage a massive campaign soon into Waziristan and beyond? Unlikely for the moment believe most experts. Hence, the containment of al Qaeda in Afghanistan is hinging on the Pakistan's politics. While it is true that the Bin Laden initial leadership network has been depleted, the movement continues to survive, fed by an unchallenged ideology, so far.
The war of ideas: Is al Qaeda losing it?
Geopolitically, al Qaeda is contained on the main battlefields in Iraq, Afghanistan and somewhat in Somalia. It is suppressed in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. But it is roaming freely in many other spots. It is not winning in face of the Western world's premier military machine, but it is still breathing, and more importantly it is making babies. All what it would take to see it leaping back in all battlefields and more is a powerful change of direction in Washington D.C:
As simple as that: if the United States decides to end the War on Terror. or as its bureaucracy has been inclined to do lately, end the War of Ideas against Jihadism, the hydra will rise again and change the course of the conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Arabia and the African Sahara. All depends on how Americans and other democracies are going to wage their campaign against al Qaeda's ideology. If they choose to ignore it and embark on a fantasy trip to nowhere, as the "Lexicon" business shows, al Qaeda -- or its successors -- will win eventually.
But if the next Administration would focus on a real ideological defeat of Bin Laden's movement, then, the advances made on the battlefields will hold firmly and expand.
Lately, some in the counter terrorism community are postulating that Bin Laden is being criticized by his own supporters, or more precisely by ideologues and Jihadists who backed him in the past, then turned against him lately. These analysts offer striking writings by Salafist cadres against the leadership of Bin laden and his associates as evidence of an al Qaeda going into decline. Would these facts mean that the once unchallenged Bin Laden is now losing altitude? Technically yes, Usama is being criticized by Jihadists. But does that mean that we in liberal democracies are winning that war of ideas? Less likely.
A thorough review of the substance of what the Jihadi critics are complaining about (a subject I intend to address in a future article), is not exactly what the free world would be looking forward to. But in short, al Qaeda is now contained in the very battlefield it chose to fend off the Infidels in: Iraq. But this is just one moment in space and time, during which we will have to fight hard to keep the situation as is. Our favorable situation is a product of the US military surge and of a massive investment in dollars. It is up to this Congress, and probably to the next President to maintain that moment, weaken it or expand it.
Al Qaeda and the Iranian regime know exactly the essence of this strategic equation. I am not sure, though, that a majority of Americans are aware of the gravity of the situation. In other words, the public is told that we have won this round against al Qaeda but it should be informed of what it would take to reach final victory in this global conflict.
**Dr Walid Phares is the Director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the author of The Confrontation: Winning the War against Future Jihad.