Tear Gas, Trash, and Early Elections

22nd of August protest

For those of you who don’t know me or never read my blog, I’m the guy that enjoys the sport of Lebanese politics. At least it was like that until yesterday. Now I enjoy it with disgust. Every month, around the 25th day, I publish a purely analytical post, linking all the political events of the month to one another, in the smallest detail. For example, this month should have been about how Aoun was trying to unite the FPM and keep things together by bringing as many people as possible into the command (explains why there are two VPs for Bassil), and why Hezbollah was recently escalating its discourse in order to keep the FPM close after Berri last month gave the indirect green light to March 14 to extend Kahwagi’s term in order to force a deal on Aoun. Anyway, you got the point. There will be no monthly analysis post today. They are not worth it.

Let me tell you a little bit about Lebanon: It’s a small country, bordered by two bullies, with a parliament that extended its term twice, for a period of time equivalent to a whole term, because they failed to agree on an electoral law. The parliament, that is made up of two coalitions basically mirroring the conflict in Syria – and a third centrist one taking advantage of both in the name of neutrality, has failed, for the 27th time, to elect a president for the country because some of them even refuse to attend the elections – the last two presidents for the past fifteen years being two politically incompetent army generals that led Lebanon into a worsened economic situation. As of June 2015, The net public debt had increased by 8.3% year-on-year to $59.5bn. 25 years after the end of the Civil war, the government still can’t provide us with 24/7 electricity. Sometimes there are weeks when don’t have access to water. We have the highest per capita refugee ratio in the world, and yet all you hear on TV are politicians giving racist speeches on TV while acting as if the crisis did not exist. The Lebanese politicians – who are mainly the bloody warlords or their protégés/sons/sons-in-law that divided up the country among them after the war – reek with the smell of corruption, and have made deals over the years that benefited no one but themselves. The parliament and cabinet, that also barely meet, got this year the brilliant idea of ignoring a deadline for an already awful waste management plan, which led to piles of trash accumulating on the streets, while the government was trying to hide the evidence of their corruption by throwing the trash in the forests, rivers and sea, as if burning it wasn’t polluting enough. And the government had no environmentally friendly solution in mind: all they wanted to do was another landfill to satisfy their corrupted pockets.

So yeah, we had the right to protest yesterday. We wanted our basic rights as human beings. The warlords, that had destroyed Lebanon between 1975 and 1990, have now hijacked our parliament and our cabinet, shared the cake among themselves and made deals that harm our health.

They were supposed to let us think that we were a country that still had freedom of speech for citizens protesting peacefully. But I guess even that wasn’t a priority anymore. We were tear-gassed by the tear gas we payed for, beaten by men we pay their wages, and sprayed by fire hoses (as if there aren’t enough fires in the country to take care of). When it became dark, they started shooting and hunting down the protesters: yesterday we were a prey. But Lebanese citizens were always a prey.

The beauty of politics is that it is a process of interaction between the people and the politicians. And that interaction is mainly expressed through elections. So there is only one solution for the current crisis: We should recycle our garbage, but not our politicians. Lebanon needs a resignation from the cabinet, early elections for the parliament under a new fair electoral law, and most importantly, accountability for what happened yesterday, and before.

Salam in his press conference today implied that he was going to resign if the government wouldn’t solve the trash crisis in the Thursday cabinet session, without even hinting at any environmentally friendly solution. That’s not enough. It doesn’t matter anymore if he used a modified version of Elias Sarkis’ line “أنا منكم أنا لكم أنا معكم” (who was actually his father’s rival in the 60s and 70s – that should tell you how much they are ready to change their stances in order to stay in power) or if all hypocrite politicians say they’re sorry or they’re with the people or any other kind of bullshit they tell us (here’s three hypocrite statements, one from every coalition in power: Bassil, Jumblatt and Machnouk).

On the 22nd of August 2015, a new era began in Beirut. The politicians currently ruling us shouldn’t have a place in it.

Oh, and to the ISF cameraman desperate to take pictures of us and show them to his boss, I’m gonna make your life easier. I’m there in your pictures. No need to look me up.

22nd August protest police taking pictures

The WikiLebanon Files (Part VII): How Berri Tricked Hezbollah in August 2006

Nabih Berri Hassan Nasrallah poster

Two weeks ago, a political maneuver by Nabih Berri gave the green light to the March 14 alliance to go through with their plans and extend the commander of the army’s term for one year, much to the dismay of the Free Patriotic Movement. Berri, who gave signals throughout that week that he was at odds with Aoun, indirectly opened a window of opportunity for the cabinet and its minister of defense to extend the terms of the top security officials. Berri’s move against the FPM crippled them politically as any plan to respond – including bringing the government down – was made impossible. Without Berri’s support, a double Hezbollah-FPM resignation would have only resulted in a stronger and surely legitimate cabinet – since Berri’s M8 AND Shia ministers would remain in the government – officially dominated by M14. That meant that Hezbollah – regardless if they approved of the extension or not – couldn’t have supported a Aounist resignation move. The bottom line here is that Amal (1) succeeded in creating distrust between Hezbollah and the FPM (which Nasrallah tried to counter by officially supporting and endorsing the FPM’s interests in his latest speech), while at the same time  (2) making Salam, M14 and the centrists owe Berri.

Berri’s genius maneuver wasn’t a first, and definitely won’t be his last. This is why this month’s WikiLeaks cable will be a document detailing a similar ruse: How Berri, exactly 9 years ago, “tricked Hezbollah into agreeing to the 8/16 cabinet decision on deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to the south, even though part of the decision went beyond Nasrallah’s “red lines.”

The cable is a conversation between Amal’s minister of health, Mohammad Khalifeh and U.S. ambassador Feltman. I hope you enjoy the epic stratagems of Nabih Berri.

SHIA MINISTER CLAIMS BERRI TRICKED HIZBALLAH, NOW AT ODDS WITH NASRALLAH
2006 August 19, 08:23 (Saturday)
06BEIRUT2699_a
— Not Assigned —
SUMMARY
——-
1. (S/NF) Minister of Health (Shia, member of Amal) Mohammed Khalifeh (please protect throughout) told the Ambassador in a 8/18 meeting that Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah are currently at odds. By Khalifeh’s account, Berri was infuriated by Nasrallah’s 8/14 “victory speech.” Wanting to rein in Hizballah, the Speaker essentially tricked Hizballah ministers into agreeing to the 8/16 cabinet decision on deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) to the south, even though part of the decision went beyond Nasrallah’s “red lines.” Nasrallah and Berri, however, maintain agreement on certain “red lines,” including no NATO presence in Lebanon and no international soldiers along the Syrian-Lebanese border. Khalifeh claimed his own small victory, saying that his tour of the south restored GOL control to hospitals and clinics that Hizballah had tried to occupy. Citing health records and anecdotal evidence, Khalifeh estimated that 300-400 Hizballah fighters had been killed. He gave a gruesome account of wounded Hizballah fighters who emerged from underground bunkers after the Israelis pulled back. No fan of Hizballah, Khalifeh thought that the “victory atmosphere” would die down and that the people of the south would soon sober up to the losses they suffered because of a conflict Hizballah provoked. But, at the same time, hatred of Israel and the United States is prevelant everywhere in the south, Khalifeh said, and will not fade. End summary.
NASRALLAH, BERRI AT ODDS
————————
2. (S/NF) Asking to receive the Ambassador at his home (away from media and his staff), Khalifeh — one of the Shia cabinet ministers loyal to Berri — claimed that Berri and Nasrallah are not currently speaking to each other. Khalifeh, who has long complained to us that Berri has been too deferential to Nasrallah (allowing, in his view, Amal to be swallowed up by Hizballah), was clearly delighted by this turn of events. With whispered gusto as the TV blared to interfere with any listening devices, he said that the Berri-Nasrallah spat stems from two developments. First, Berri was furious by Nasrallah’s 8/14 “victory speech,” in which Nasrallah “acted like he thought he was bigger than Salahaddin, bigger than all of us!”
HIZBALLAH DEFINES RED LINES FOR CABINET DECISION
—————————
3. (S/NF) Second, Nasrallah is furious that Berri tricked the Shia cabinet ministers into approving the 8/16 cabinet decision that deployed the LAF to the south. The decision, Khalifeh explained, exceeded what Nasrallah could accept. Khalifeh said that Nasallah, through messengers, had told Berri that Hizballah was prepared to concur with the LAF deployment to the south and would permit the LAF to confiscate any weapons it stumbled across. But Hizballah was not prepared to turn over its fixed positions to the LAF. Most important, Hizballah wanted an understanding that certain parts of south Lebanon would remain off limits to the LAF and thus effectively off-limits to the beefed-up UNIFIL.
4. (S/NF) Berri, Khalifeh said, wore down Hizballah on the fixed positions issue, eventually persuading Nasrallah that, given that the Israelis knew where the fixed positions were and had so damaged them, they were a liability, not an asset, for Hizballah. But Nasrallah would not budge on maintainining “no-go” areas in the south. Berri and Siniora, meanwhile, agreed fully that the LAF had to have the right to go anywhere in the country, that no area of the south could be off limits to the LAF. Berri took particular offense by Nasrallah’s assertion that the national army would have to defer to Hizballah even in a cabinet statement. Berri told Siniora not to worry, that the cabinet would pass the LAF deployment decree unanimously, with the “no-go” areas eliminated.
USING A DIFFERENT MESSENGER TO FOOL HIZBALLAH MINISTERS
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BEIRUT 00002699 002 OF 003
5. (S/NF) During the cabinet meeting, Berri then called Minister of Agriculture Talal Sahali. (Lebanon’s cabinet sessions are constantly interrupted by calls to the ministers from the political bosses — Saad Hariri calling Siniora, Walid Jumblatt calling Marwan Hamadeh, etc.). Berri told Sahali to vote yes for the measure and to tell Khalifeh and Foreign Affairs Minister Salloukh to do the same. Given the close coordination between Berri and Nasrallah throughout this crisis, Hizballah’s two ministers took Sahali’s action to mean that Nasrallah was on board, and the measure passed quickly and without debate, with Trad Hamadeh and Mohammed Fneish concurring. (Indeed, other ministers have told us that they were amazed at how uneventful the 8/16 cabinet meeting was, considering how close the cabinet had come to a breakdown over the deployment details only a few days earlier.)
6. (S/NF) Later, Nasrallah read the details of the cabinet decision and exploded. When the Hizballah ministers confronted Berri, Berri responded that he consistently uses Khalifeh to pass messages to the Shia ministers — a true assertion — when there has been an Amal-Hizballah agreement on something. The Hizballah ministers should have realized that something coming from Sahali is of a different nature. Had they checked, they could have voted no; no one forced them to vote yes. Not willing to split the cabinet or the Shia solidarity or admit that they’d been fooled into approving something without checking with their master, the Hizballah ministers — and Nasrallah — begrudingly accepted the cabinet decision.
BUT BERRI AND NASRALLAH MAINTAIN SOME COMMON RED LINES
——————————
7. (S/NF) The Ambassador asked Khalifeh if he thought there was some unwritten understanding that, while the LAF indeed received the right from the cabinet to go anywhere, in fact the LAF would not push. Khalifeh said that he expected that would be the case at first, but the LAF will become stronger and stronger, eventually able to assert its authority everywhere, which Berri is counting on. The Ambassador asked Khalifeh whether Berri and Nasrallah, despite their current spat, maintained any common “red lines” about implementation of UNSCR 1701. “Absolutely,” Khalifeh responded, tapping his fingers to tip off a list: “Nothing that looks or smells like NATO,” he said; “we cannot accept NATO here, period.” Second, even if there is a second resolution, it cannot be Chapter VII. Third, no foreign troops along the Syrian-Lebanese border.
8. (S/NF) Accepting any of these conditions, Khalifeh said, would be akin to Lebanon throwing itself back into a mandate status. “We become Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine (STET).” The Ambassador, pulling out the UNSCR 1701 text, reviewed with Khalifeh the unambiguous paragraphs on arms smuggling and border controls, noting that Lebanon has clear obligations. Moreover, the Ambassador said, Speaker Berri has a real interest in seeing that Hizballah cannot resupply its arsenals. Khalifeh argued that Lebanon must do the border controls, perhaps with high-tech help, but not with foreign troops. The Ambassador cautioned Khalifeh that the air and sea blockade on Lebanon will continue until the international community has confidence that border controls are being improved, and a quick way to do so would be to ask UNIFIL’s help, per the resolution. “Berri will never accept that,” Khalifeh said, “never! You can’t ask him.” The Ambassador tried to make the point that tightened border controls with international assistance strengthened the state, not weakened it.
HOPING THE SOUTH SOBERS UP, ANTI-AMERICANISM ON THE RISE
—————————-
9. (C/NF) Changing the subject, Khalifeh described what he saw on his two-day tour of southern Lebanon. The destruction in some villages, he said, was “unbelievable, far worse than the civil war.” He thought that, as the extent of the damage sinks in, the population would stop being “drunk on victory” and start questioning the Hizballah policies that provoked the Israeli wrath. In the long term, he claimed, Hizballah will suffer. But he said that he found the hatred of the United States and Israel to be very high. “The people think you are as guilty as Israel,” Khalifeh said, telling stories
BEIRUT 00002699 003 OF 003
of even Christian villagers blaming the United States for providing cluster bombs and political support for what is seen as indiscriminate targetting of civilians. They may get around to blaming Hizballah — “let’s hope they do” — but that doesn’t mean that their hatred for the United States and Israel will drop, Khalifeh predicted.
COUNTING THE DEAD — HIZBALLAH LOSES 300-400 FIGHTERS
——————————–
10. (S/NF) The Ambassador, noting that estimates of infrastructure damage appeared to be exaggerated for political reasons, asked about the actual death toll. Khalifeh said that there were somewhere between 850 and 875 bodies identified and claimed. In addition, there were approximately 300 corpses in mass graves or in hospital morgues that had not been identified or claimed. Those in graves were photographed, described, and DNA samples removed, in case people seek missing relatives. Some of those were probably Hizballah fighters that Hizballah does not want to publicly acknowledge, but many of the unclaimed bodies are also elderly and in some cases entire families. In addition, he said, he guessed from gathering anecdotal information that Hizballah had independently buried about 100 of its fighters out of sight, to prevent its real losses from being known. 11. (S/NF) Going through a complicated accounting process of whom Hizballah acknowledged was killed, how many of the unclaimed bodies were of fighting-age men, and how many Hizballahis might have been buried surreptitiously, Khalifeh estimated that the Israelis killed 300-400 Hizballah fighters. That number is actually quite a blow, he said, and will also help make the population think twice about Hizballah as the losses become more known. Khalifeh then gave some gruesome accounts of Hizballah fighters who emerged from hiding and sought medical attention only after the IDF started pulling back. In one gut-wrenching example, Khalifeh pointed to his shin, saying that one fighter had a huge wound and burns in his lower leg. Although he stopped the bleeding, he did not seek medical attention for 15 days. By the time he saw a doctor, maggots had penetrated up his rotting leg tissue as high as his thigh. “Who are these people?” Khalifeh said; “how could you stay like that? Did someone make him stay like that?”
RESTORING CENTRAL AUTHORITY IN HEALTH
————————————-
12. (S/NF) Khalifeh expressed deep pride that he had planted the flag of the central state during his tour. Accompanied by ISF forces, Khalifeh reclaimed hospitals and clinics that Hizballah had started to occupy, to compensate for the destruction of Hizballah’s facilities. Except for those state health clinics damaged beyond use, Khalifeh said that he had restored Ministry of Health control to all health institutions in the south. The Ambassador noted that the GOL should be more assertive across the board, and Khalifeh agreed.
COMMENT
——-
13. (S/NF) We don’t doubt Khalifeh’s hatred of Hizballah, and his account of the cabinet deliberations explains the curious lack of controversy and discussion last Wednesday — after political fireworks during the preceding cabinet session. But we also think that he was trying to place his boss Berri in a more heroic light for us. Berri may indeed have been able to trick Nasrallah this one time. But Berri is nevertheless very much the junior partner and does not yet seem willing to confront Hizballah frontally. For example, if Berri were willing to join with the March 14 movement in removing Emile Lahoud from the Presidency, then we would could truly classify him as a courageous leader. And as for the Nasrallah-Berri “red lines,” we can probably avoid provoking the Shia on the NATO issue, making sure that any NATO countries’ security or troop contributions to Lebanon do not come in explicit NATO packaging. But we will have to keep pushing on the international element that is clearly needed along the Syrian border and at entry points, including at the airport and seaports.
FELTMAN

A Tale of Two Burgers and Three Men

Image from December 2014. Change and Reform bloc MP Alain Aoun meets with Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Army website, HO)

Image from December 2014. Change and Reform bloc MP Alain Aoun meets with Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Army website, HO)

No words can describe how much these last three weeks were insane in Lebanese politics: As if the Aounist July protests weren’t enough, Lebanon suddenly woke up two weeks ago on threats of resignation from the premier, rumors of resignation of March 8 ministers from the cabinet, Aoun saying that he would vote for Frangieh (probably in order to contain Frangieh who has been criticizing his political overlord lately), Future officials attacking one another, the Kataeb criticizing everything anyone can think of, the Future Movement telling the Kataeb (and the FPMtwice (the second time was via MP Hout) that a federal system will never be implemented in Lebanon and March 8 blocking the cabinet’s policy-makingAll of that was accompanied by lots of trash-talking (Jumblatt making the issue sectarian was by far the most interesting headline) and Lebanese army billboards on the occasion of the 70th army day implying that the army was the Lebanese parties’ common denominator ( ≈ presidential campaign for the commander of the army ≈ Wallahi I’m consensual, vote for me).

The bomb

Last Thursday, it was announced that the defense minister had extended the term of the commander of the army, Jean Kahwagi. The decision was a major blow to Michel Aoun who has been seeking to appoint his son-in-law Chamel Roukoz as commander for years. When Kahwagi’s term was about to expire in September, Aoun saw it as an opportunity to both put Roukoz in charge instead and weaken Kahwagi, the main consensual presidential candidate who is  also rumored to be at the same time Hezbollah’s “hidden candidate“. In fact, since mid-May 2015, the FPM has been maneuvering over and over and over again in order to bring Roukoz to the army command without having to give anything in return. Last month tayyar.org even misquoted the constitution as part of their propaganda to secure both the presidency and the army command.

How it was made possible

In the past 10 years, decisions to bring governments down were taken for far simpler reasons: In 2006, March 8 wanted the blocking third. In 2010, Hezbollah didn’t want to fund the STL (that its government eventually ironically funded). In 2013, Mikati didn’t want to throw a general outside the ISF. If you think of it, the army command is as big a deal as all of those. So the million dollar question here is why haven’t the FPM ministers not resigned yet?

While the FPM ministers’ resignation seemed like the typical move, the fact that Aoun wasn’t on board with Berri lately (Berri lashed out at the FPM that same week, told us that he wouldn’t vote for Aoun in the presidential elections, that toppling the cabinet was a red line and that the government paralysis hurts citizens) meant that Amal’s 2.5 ministers wouldn’t resign along with the FPM officials. In other words, a Hezbollah-FPM double resignation wouldn’t have been enough to collapse the cabinet (you need at least 9 ministers) and we would have ended up with a cabinet with both Shia AND March 8 representation (the Amal ministers), which means that Hezbollah couldn’t have said that it was anti-constitutional like they did in 2006. Moreover, 80% of the government would have been either M14 or centrists. That means that an angry resignation move like this one cannot be supported by Hezbollah and will only throw Aoun outside a cabinet he has Gebran Bassil in it as number 2, ultimately weakening him before the internal FPM elections in September.  Things aren’t looking very good for Bassil and Alain Aoun has been talking too much for a regular MP as he prepares to confront Gebran Bassil in the FPM’s internal elections (really,  he has been talking too much).

So to sum things up, Berri’s genius declaration of war on the FPM gave Salam and the FM the green light to go through with their plans to extend the top security officials’ terms. And now both Salam and Kahwagi owe Amal.

A game-changer

The move to throw Roukoz outside the army command and isolate Aoun in the government was humiliating, but do not be mistaken: The Roukoz deal is not off the table. The March 14 alliance knows that if it desires to end the deadlock, it would have to give something to the March 8 alliance and the FPM in return. Before the Kahwagi extension, an opportunity to make a deal was made available: The cabinet would make Roukoz commander of the army, and in exchange, the FPM would make it easier to bring a consensual candidate into Baabda palace. Aoun however did not see an opportunity to make a deal but rather a chance at winning the army command for his son-in-law while continuing his push for the presidency. And after several weeks of stalemate and confrontation the Grand Serail, it was clear to almost everyone that a deal favorable to M14 ending the Aounist campaign for the presidency was not going to happen soon, which led to last week’s controversial decision to give Kahwagi one more year as commander of the army. While it wasn’t very explicit at first, the anti-Aoun maneuver in the cabinet is getting clearer by the day. This is not 1973 anymore and Aoun cannot simply ask the cabinet to dismiss a commander of the army and expect it to comply only because it would give him the upper hand in Lebanese politics. There is one, and only one (fast) way left for Aoun to vacate the army command before the summer of 2016 (when Kahwagi’s new term expires): Agree to make Kahwagi president, which would leave room in the army command to bring in Roukoz. Deep down, March 14’s maneuver of extending Kahwagi’s term wasn’t about ending any chance of making a deal with the FPM. It was actually their way of enforcing one.

We’re (not really) almost there

I do not always (nor do I like to) make predictions, but expect the March 14 politicians to start floating the name of Kahwagi as presidential candidate: His election would weaken the FPM (yet still give Aoun a half-victory via the Roukoz appointment) and at the same time please Hezbollah (since Kahwagi never really stood against the party of God during his stay). By being the ones suggesting the deal, March 14 would also look like the real victors. This is the kind of deal that makes everyone happy, and we all know what that means. If this was the presidential vacancy of November 2007 – May 2008, I’d say we’re somewhere around January (yalla, arrabit :-P). We have a rough idea of what’s going to happen with the presidency and the army command, yet we’re still in the blue on everything else (that was agreed upon in the Doha agreement back in 2007): We still need an agreement on an electoral law (good luck with that), a clear date for the general elections, a post-vacancy cabinet formula and last but not least a mini-road-map  to guide the government through the transitional period.

The FPM in denial

As Aoun heads towards the internal elections with weakness caused by his recent defeat in government, he knows that he still has the ultimate option, his plan A since May 2014 and now his plan B since August 2015: He could continue to block the presidential elections – where Berri’s cooperation matters not – while at the same time try one last time to mobilize the masses in the name of Christian rights. His latest move was saying that it was his efforts in 2004 – and not the assassination of Rafik Hariri in 2005 – that led to the Syrian withdrawal. Aoun – who now knows for sure that he can no longer trust the allies (a rebellious Berri and an overreaching Frangieh) of his ally – is taking his discourse to a whole new level. The war for Chamel Roukoz is becoming more and more desperate: (1) Aoun, in denial, said that he didn’t want Roukoz in first place (?!?!), (2) called for demonstrations (while defying Kahwagi and the army) to protest the non-appointment of Roukoz while his other son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, (3) literally said that the FPM “rejected dhimmitude and was fighting for the Christians of the world” (no comment).

Desperate times require desperate measures.

Two Burgers

The only thing hotter than Lebanon’s weather right now is its political tensions, and the only thing more rotten than Beirut’s streets right now is its deadlock: This is officially the longest presidential vacancy Lebanon has ever seen, the longest parliamentary term extension Lebanon has ever seen and the longest period of time without general elections since the Civil War. And August’s garbage crisis isn’t making things any easier.

Three men walk into a bar and ask for two burgers: a large one (with large fries, a Pepsi and a McFlurry) and a smaller one (with small fries only). The first man wants the large burger for himself and the smaller burger for the second man who happens to be his son-in-law, while the third man, currently savoring the small burger, wants to eat the larger one. The cherry (or in this case, bacon) on the top? No one has a clue how a burger is paid for.

Solve the burger riddle and you would have solved the longest deadlock Lebanon has ever seen.

(Meanwhile, everyone else is starving)

445 days since the 25th of May. 281 days since the 5th of November. Not that anyone cares anymore.

Aoun’s Jockeying

Michel Aoun

Free Patriotic Movement protests are just the latest of Michel Aoun’s tactics to secure the presidency and empower his party.

The following analysis was first published in Sada on July 28, 2015.

Following a political feud in the cabinet regarding the nomination of the next Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) commander, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) leader Michel Aoun called for protests, and party supporters rallied in Beirut on July 9. The presidency, the most important Maronite-allocated post in Lebanese politics, has been vacant since May 2014, and the term of the LAF commander—another important Maronite post—expires in September. Although Aoun has framed the deadlock over both appointments as an assault on Christian rights, his call for protests is really a key gambit in his quest to empower the FPM and his allies within the party.

When the FPM and Lebanese Forces party signed their “declaration of intent” in June to elect a strong president, this gave Aoun the upper hand over other Christian parties. Because Chairman of the Lebanese Forces Samir Geagea visited Aoun in Rabieh to sign the declaration, he was branded the junior partner. The declaration—basically an agreement to agree on an agreement between the two parties—also preemptively ended any rising threat that any Kataeb party or Hezbollah–Future Movement (FM) presidential deal would exclude the FPM.

The Kataeb, distracted and vulnerable during the current transfer of power from party leader Amine Gemayel to his son Sami, is not in a position to threaten the FPM’s supremacy among the Christian electorate, which has become increasingly friendly to other members of the March 8 alliance as Hezbollah’s reputation as protector against the Islamic State grows. With two traditionally Maronite posts up for contention and three Christian parties in disarray (the FPM and the Kataeb are focused on internal organization, and the Lebanese Forces is weakened amid revelations that Geagea asked for Saudi financial support), Aoun’s call for protests and public mobilization seemed like a wise political gamble.

Had the FPM conceded the presidency in 2014 when the office had just been vacated, they would likely have only received an electoral law friendlier to the March 8 alliance and perhaps a better share in the next cabinet—and so had little reason to do so. But since May 2015, when the post of LAF commander came onto the negotiating table, the FPM has had the opportunity to win the best political deal on the two posts. Its position is strong enough that it could concede the presidency to March 14, if it so chose, in return for claiming the LAF command, the lesser of the two posts. They can alternately use their “blocking third” parliament veto powers on the presidential elections to gain concessions on a continued push for LAF command appointment. The March 8 alliance could also abandon their presidential ambitions in exchange for all three demands: a modified electoral law, the blocking third in the cabinet, and the army command. For the FPM, that also means the opportunity to empower Aoun’s popular potential successor, his son-in-law and current commander of the LAF Special Forces Chamel Roukoz, by making him commander of the army.

Most importantly, a tradeoff deal between the presidency and the army command post could make the FPM the strongest Christian player in politics, because the Future Movement would be conceding to the FPM as opposed to one of its own March 14 Christian allies like the Lebanese Forces or Kataeb party. Aoun and his supporters could use this political win to boost his standing before internal FPM elections in September. The two primary candidates seem to be Baabda MP Alain Aoun, Michel Aoun’s nephew, and Gebran Bassil, another son-in-law of Aoun’s and current minister of foreign affairs. There were rumors that Aoun might push for a consensus deal within the FPM by making one of the candidates president and the other vice president, but that remains to be seen.

If both candidates lock horns it might cause a major rift within the FPM, especially as the two are high-ranking politicians influential among the party’s electorate. Should Aoun fail to appoint Chamel Roukoz as commander of the army, it could create an atmosphere of failure ahead of the internal elections, possibly weaken Aoun and his favored candidates, and disrupt the transfer of power in the FPM. Hence, Aoun sought to use the July 9 demonstrations to pressure the cabinet into appointing Roukoz as soon as possible. The closer Aoun is to September, the more likely he will accept a presidential–army command power-sharing deal with March 14, in order to avoid any distractions ahead of the FPM elections. And this is likely why the FM is blocking any discussion about the army commander post until August.

According to the March 14 logic, if Aoun refuses to concede the presidency in exchange for the LAF command, the cabinet could proceed to appoint another LAF commander and deny Aoun the chance of appointing Roukoz for another few years. This would weaken Aoun before the internal elections and deprive him of the army command, while at the same time allowing March 14 to depict him as the man responsible for blocking the election of a president. For them, Aoun has to compromise or he’ll lose both posts.

By Aoun’s thinking, if he pressures the cabinet to appoint his son-in-law as commander of the army now, he won’t have to give up his presidential ambitions later, as a compromise deal over the presidency and LAF command post will no longer be on the table. The March 14 alliance would no longer be able to deny the FPM the LAF command, leaving the FPM little to lose if they keep pushing for the presidency. It would also weaken Aoun’s main rival for the presidency, Jean Kahwaji, whose presence in the army command remains his largest asset.

As such, Aoun is using every tactic to pressure the cabinet. He argued that Prime Minister Tammam Salam was abusing his powers when he refused to put the appointment of a new commander of the army on the cabinet’s agenda. Constitutionally speaking, the Sunni PM sets the agenda in the cabinet meetings (article 64), although the Maronite president is allowed to “present any urgent matter to the council of Ministers from outside the agenda” (article 53). In the absence of a president, Aoun took it upon himself to protect the Christian interests by proclaiming that the FPM—as the largest Christian party represented in the cabinet—is allowed to assume the president’s authority during the cabinet session. March 14 has responded by pointing out that Aoun is ultimately to blame because he is blocking the election of any non-Aoun president.

Aoun’s demonstrations also had a low turnout, and a confrontation between the FPM supporters and the army near the Grand Serail didn’t help. The next day, Aoun verbally attacked the army command over the incident, and while army commander Jean Kahwaji did not respond directly, an indirect response came from his son Joe on Twitter, pointing out the FPM’s double standards in praising General Roukoz when the FPM and the army are on the same page and criticizing Kahwaji when they aren’t.

So although the protests might appear as a wise political maneuver, they are a defeat for Aoun in the streets, the cabinet, and the institution over which he wants greater influence. Aoun is even losing ground within his bloc. One of his closest allies, Marada Movement leader Sleiman Frangieh, criticized Aoun’s political moves in the days following the protests, saying that he supported Aoun’s quest but disapproved of the means (the demonstrations). And although Hezbollah publicly stated that they stood with their March 8 Christian allies, the fact that they did not take part in the protests is telling. By refusing to make a popular move against the current commander of the army, they perhaps sought to save face with Kahwaji, who is also the strongest consensus presidential candidate. One thing is for sure: the FPM is heading into a turbulent period in the next few weeks, and as a main party of the March 8 alliance and the Lebanese fabric, they are dragging both their coalition and the country with it.

Ramez Dagher is a Lebanese political blogger at Moulahazat.

When Tayyar.org Misquote the Constitution

Tayyar.org constitution article

Here’s a lovely screenshot of the article

Since the expiration of the term of Former President Michel Suleiman, and the Parliaments failure to elect a successor, the constitution stipulates that all ministers in the government must unanimously agree to a law in order for it to be considered as passed.

I understand Lebanon has other more important things to focus on these days (like a garbage crisis, militants on our eastern border, a refugee emergency, and a cabinet that might fall and paralyze the whole country with it), but this is bad. This very, very, very bad. Tayyar.org, the FPM’s main media mouthpiece, published yesterday an article (link) in which they said that the constitution stipulates that all ministers in the government must unanimously agree to a law in order for it to be considered as passed.

The constitution doesn’t even mention what happens with the cabinet voting mechanism when a presidential vacancy happens (by all means, look for yourselves, and if you find anything, tell me). In fact, for the voting mechanism, the constitution only stipulates that:

5. The Council of Ministers shall meet periodically in a special seat, and the President of the republic shall chair its meetings when he attends. The legal quorum for a Council meeting shall be a two-thirds majority of its members. It shall make its decisions by consensus. If that is not possible, it makes its decisions by vote of the majority of attending members. Basic issues shall require the approval of two thirds of the members of the government named in the Decree of its formation. The following issues are considered basic: The amendment of the constitution, the declaration of a state of emergency and its termination, war and peace, general mobilization, international, long-term comprehensive development plans, the appointment of employees of grade one and its equivalent, the reconsideration of the administrative divisions, the dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies, electoral laws, nationality laws, personal status laws, and the dismissal of Ministers.

(Article 65)

and for the presidential vacancy, the article that we can relate to is this one:

Should there be a vacancy in the Presidency for any reason whatsoever, the Council of Ministers shall exercise the authorities of the President by delegation.

(Article 62)

I usually come across brainwashing in most media outlets and I often choose to smile and ignore them, but this is huge (I’m not picking sides here). This is the constitution we’re talking about, and quoting articles that don’t exist  is the worst kind of brainwashing there is. It’s already bad enough that the different parties interpret the constitution in different ways and barely stick to its rules, the last thing we need right now is a made up constitutional article to be used as a political maneuver.

Not cool, Tayyar.org. Not cool.

Oh and by the way Tayyar.org, they’re called decrees, not laws.

431 days since the 25th of May. 267 days since the 5th of November.

To Fall or not to Fall: What’s Next for Salam’s Cabinet?

I was in doubt whether to put a picture of Gebran Bassil and Salam together or a vintage image of Saeb Salam during the 1958 revolution, but you  just can't say no to Angelina Jolie. Image source: AP

I was in doubt whether to put a picture of Gebran Bassil and Tammam Salam together or a vintage image of Saeb Salam during the 1958 revolution, but you just can’t say no to Angelina Jolie. Image source: AP

This is the 13th post in a series of monthly posts covering the presidential elections. This post is about the month of July 2015.

For the past two months, things have been very rough in Lebanese politics. Aoun and Geagea signed a declaration of intent, a mini-feud erupted between two Future movement ministers, a new era started in the Kataeb, and the FPM launched a full-blown maneuver in the cabinet in order to secure the appointment of Shamel Roukoz as commander of the army. All of this was also accompanied by a prison scandal and a garbage crisis. Can Lebanon get even more creative?

But this week’s rumor beats all the other political events of this month (Aoun’s interview in which he said he would vote for Frangieh, Jumblatt’s statements, and FPM rallies): In the dark alleys of the Lebanese republic, they say that Lebanon’s Prime Minister Tammam Salam is threatening to resign this week.

No President + No Cabinet = No Parliament

According to article 75 of the constitution, 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 of any other act, to elect the Head of the State. In other words, the parliament becomes an electoral body when it meets 10 days before the expiration of the president’s term, by virtue of law (yeah, right), in order to elect the president. The founding fathers probably meant that the parliament also loses all its legislative powers once a presidential vacancy happens, but since it’s not clearly written there, the Lebanese parliament meets sometimes during presidential vacancies in order to legislate (the biggest example is when the parliament convened on November 5, 2014 in order to extend its term till 2017 ).

According to another article (article 69), When the Council resigns or is considered resigned, the Chamber of Deputies shall automatically be considered convened in extraordinary session until a new Council has been formed and has gained the Chamber’s confidence. When a cabinet usually resigns, the parliament is also discouraged to legislate because the founding fathers probably meant that the extraordinary session was for the vote of confidence and nothing else. But since it’s also not clearly written there, the Lebanese parliament meets sometimes during cabinet vacancies in order to legislate (the biggest example is when the parliament convened on May 31, 2013 and extended its term for 17 months).

What I mean here by these awfully complicated paragraphs is that Tammam Salam’s threat of resignation is huge: Once he leaves office, the parliament, and due to the two – two is too much – articles of the constitution, would probably be forced (for good this time) not to legislate until a president is elected, and since the two coalitions don’t seem to agree on any candidate right now and the parliament isn’t assuming its electoral responsibilities, that means that the Prime Minister’s resignation would not only stop the executive power from functioning, it would also entirely paralyze the parliament.

(And to make things even more complicated, the parliament needs its legislative power in case it wants to amend the constitution and elect a civil-servant like Kahwaji president.)

The bigger picture…

To be clear here, the parliament barely meets during the regular days, and  meets even less now with the presidential vacancy. Aoun and Geagea had previously agreed that they would not attend any legislative session as long as there is no president in power (although they are arguably the main politicians to blame for the vacancy since they are refusing to agree on anyone else other than themselves). This mini-maneuver that both politicians had agreed on – by freezing the parliament in order to pressure the election of a president – will hence heavily backfire: Not only will they lose their blackmailing power, their stubbornness will also be now responsible for one of the biggest deadlocks Lebanon has ever seen: No parliament, no cabinet, no general elections and no president for a record time (Lebanon broke the 1988 record of presidential vacancy three weeks ago). The only thing that could solve this major deadlock is an agreement on a president, and the March 8 alliance, being the one that is officially denying the quorum (probably since M8 fears a last-minute agreement between M14 and Jumblatt on a candidate such as Henri Helou), will mainly be responsible for the deadlock.

…and the smaller one

One must not forget why Salam wants to resign: The FPM ministers want participate in putting the cabinet’s agenda, something the Sunni PM does on his own. They argue that the Maronite president is constitutionally authorized to introduce, from outside the agenda, any urgent matter to the council of Ministers (article 53), and as the biggest Christian party represented in the cabinet, they should hence be allowed to introduce matters from outside the cabinet’s agenda (in order to propose the appointment of Roukoz as commander of the army). They say the rules should change when there is no president in power: An earlier agreement was previously reached according to which a veto right was given to all the ministers (in normal times it’s the absolute majority of the ministers that takes decisions). When the PM refused to let them introduce matters from outside the agenda, they considered that Salam was stepping on the Christian rights and establishing his own “Daesh dictatorship”. But unlike the former agreement, it is political suicide the FPM are asking from Salam: When the deal was reached in May on giving every minister veto power, the PM was giving up the cabinet‘s authority and giving it to the cabinet. Now the FPM was asking Salam to give up the Sunni Prime Minister‘s authority and give it to a Maronite minister. The FPM has been talking about being denied their “Christian rights”, but for Salam, it’s the “Sunni rights” that are at stake here, as well as his powers as president of the executive power: Unlike the popular myth in Lebanon, most of the president’s authorities were mainly transferred after Taef to the cabinet and not the Prime Minister (for example, the army answers to the cabinet, etc..). The only “real” authority the Prime Minister has is the one figuring in article 64, 6: He shall call the Council of Ministers into session and sets its agenda, and he shall inform the President beforehand of the subjects included on the agenda and of the urgent subjects that will be discussed. Everything else is either shared with the cabinet or the president, double-checked by the parliament or too general to be considered as a true power.

Tammam Saeb Salam

The FPM are asking Tammam Salam to give up his powers in the name of a vacancy they are helping to maintain. But Lebanon tends to forget who Salam’s father was. Here’s a small reminder: Saeb Salam resigned in 1973 because the president, Sleiman Frangieh, refused to dismiss the commander of the army. Do the FPM really think that Salam Jr will give up his powers, appoint their candidate as commander of the army and live happily ever after with them because he fears that the resignation of M8 ministers might bring the cabinet down?

What the FPM are failing to see, year after year, cabinet after cabinet, is that their feud with the different Prime Ministers – Siniora, Hariri, Mikati and Salam – does not only make them look like the protectors of Christian interests: It makes of every Prime Minister a hero among his community and strengthens him. Lebanon forgot how Mikati resigned in 2013 because there was a veto within his cabinet on keeping Rifi in his position. If the 2013 parliamentary elections had happened, Mikati would have probably won in his district.

If Mikati, who was M8’s ally, refused to cross such red lines, why would Salam, who isn’t even a direct ally to M8, and whose father had a history of disagreeing with Lebanese Maronite presidents, concede defeat?

So what happens if Salam resigns?

His cabinet – that already assumes the role of the president – becomes a caretaker one, the parliament loses the remainder of its legislative power and the FPM’s demands in the government become useless (since a caretaker cabinet cannot theoretically meet). The FPM lose their chance of making a scene by throwing Salam outside like they did to Hariri in 2011,  and instead of showing themselves as victims, they become the ones responsible for literally everything: Every institution in Lebanon becomes paralyzed because of the M8 boycott of the presidential elections, and the only one who would still keep a bit of influence is Tammam Salam as president of the caretaker cabinet. Also if no solution is reached by September, the commander of the army will probably see his term extended (= bye-bye Shamel Roukoz as LAF commander), since a caretaker cabinet doesn’t officially have enough authority to discuss such an important post, especially that the country would become highly unstable once we cease to have a functioning government alongside a paralyzed parliament and a non-existent president.

If he resigns, Tammam Salam will make everyone else lose everything: The cabinet and the parliament. All the tough responsibilities (The refugee crisis and the garbage crisis to name a few) will now be in the parliament’s hands that will also be forced to elect a president before seeking to vote on any law or cabinet. Salam, on the other hand, has nothing to lose: His cabinet would become a caretaker one anyway the first minute a president is elected.

429 days since the 25th of May. 265 days since the 5th of November.

The WikiLebanon Files (Part VI): Garbage Crises and the Lebanese Civil War

A parking meter is seen between a pile of garbage on a Beirut street, Lebanon, Tuesday, July 21, 2015. (AP/Hassan Ammar)

A parking meter is seen between a pile of garbage on a Beirut street, Lebanon, Tuesday, July 21, 2015. (AP/Hassan Ammar)

This is the sixth post in a series of monthly posts covering Lebanese WikiLeaks cables.

On July 17, activists in the town of Naameh, just south of Beirut, forcibly closed Lebanon’s largest landfill, halting trash collection in Beirut and its environs and flaring tempers this summer.

Earlier this year, the government finally agreed that the landfill would be shut down for good this July. But they never agreed on an alternative way to handle the massive amounts of waste produced by Beirut and surrounding communities.

As Beirut drowns in its own garbage and corruption, I’m publishing four 40-year-old U.S. diplomatic cables  mentioning similar garbage crises the country suffered from during the chaotic days of the Lebanese civil war.

Ironically enough, the last two cables date from May 1976 and talk about the presidential election’s deadlock as well as the garbage crisis. 2015 much?

Unless you really, really enjoy reading about the battles of 1975 and the forgotten presidential elections of 1976, look for the mentions of the garbage crises in bold.

Hope you enjoy Lebanon’s 20th century trash-talk.

0900 LEBANON REPORT
1975 October 18, 07:57 (Saturday)
1975BEIRUT12952_b
CONFIDENTIAL
UNCLASSIFIEDFrom:
Margaret P. Grafeld Declassified/Released US Department of State EO Systematic Review 06 JUL 2006
YESTERDAY’S RELATIVE PEACE AND QUIET SLIPPED A BIT YESTERDAY AFTERNOON WITH KIDNAPPINGS INCREASING THE UNEASINESS OBVIOUSLY EXISTING BOTH SIDES. LAST EVENING WAS QUITE NOISY IN RAS BEIRUT. CONSIDERABLE AUTOMATIC WEAPONS FIRE AND EVEN A FEW MORTARS AND/OR ROCKETS GOING OFF. TRAFFIC INTO AND IN THE CITY THIS MORNING NOT QUITE AS HEAVY AS YESTERDAY BUT ALL ACCESS ROADS ARE OPEN. PALL OF SMOKE OVER CITY BUT DUE TO SYSTEMATIC GARBAGE BURNING ABOUT EVERYWHERE AND NOT REPEAT NOT DUE ARSON OR BOMBINGS. FOR THE FIRST WEEKEND IN OVER A MONTH WE ARE PERMITTING EMBASSY PERSONNEL TO GO TO DAMOUR, JUNIEH AND INTO THE MOUNTAINS BEHIND BEIRUT.
LATEST TIME AND WEWSWEEK COPIES REACHED BEIRUT YESTERDAY. HAVE OBVIOUSLY CAUSED CONSTERNATION IN MOST COMPANIES’ HOME OFFICES. AMERICAN BUSINESSMEN HERE CURRENTLY FREQUENTLY MORE WORRIED ABOUT WHAT’S GOING ON IN HOME OFFICES THAN WHAT IS TRANSPIRING IN BEIRUT. ZAHLE AGAIN DICEY. PRESS REPORTS SEVEN DEAD PRINCIPALLY DUE KIDNAPPING.
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0900 LEBANON REPORT
1976 January 5, 12:01 (Monday)
1976BEIRUT00055_b
CONFIDENTIAL
UNCLASSIFIED
Margaret P. Grafeld Declassified/Released US Department of State EO Systematic Review 04 MAY 2006
1. WEEKEND SAW MUCH KIDNAPPING AND LOOTING. THIS MORNING, MON., JAN 5, CALLED ON MARONITE PATRIARCH (SEPTEL), SO DROVE DIRECTLY FROM HOUSE VIA AIN RUMMANEH, ASHRAFIYEH, QARANTINA, BORJ HAMMUD, DORO TO BKIRKE. MANY PHALANGE ROADBLOCKS, SOME ARMENIAN (VIGILANTE TYPE) KEEPING ARMED MEN OUT OF ARMENIAN PORTIONS OF CITY. NO REPEAT NO MOSLEM, EVEN IN PORT AREA, THROUGH WHICH I RETURNED. CONSIDERABLE TRAFFIC IN AND OUT OF TOWN, NOTWITHSTANDING RADIO WARNINGS THIS MORNING RE DANGER DRIVING. NEVERTHELESS, BEIRUT IS A JUNGLE OR BEDLAM; NO ONE FOLLOWING TRAFFIC RULES, ARMED LOCAL MEN TRYING DIRECT TRAFFIC; STREETS POTHOLED AND FULL OF WATER DUE GARBAGE BLOCKING SEWERS AND HEAVY RECENT RAINS. NO GARBAGE HAS BEEN COLLECTED FOR WEEKS.
2.AUG OPENED THIS MORNING, AS DID BUC, IC AND ACS. AUB ATTENDANCE BETTER THAN EXPECTED, BUT EVERYONE VERY, VERY NERVOUS. PAN AM RESUMING ONCE WEEKLY FLIGHTS. BANKS CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 02 BEIRUT 00055 051228Z
NOT REPEAT NOT OPEN.
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1. LEBANON IS QUIETER 5 MAY WITH NOTICEABLE REDUCTION IN CLASHES AND SHELLINGS OBSERVED BEGINNING AFTERNOON 4 MAY AND CONTINUING THROUGH HOURS OF DARKNESS. CLASHES IN PORT AREA HAVE FALLEN OFF AND PLA FORCES HAVE REPORTEDLY BEGUN MOVING INTO BUFFER ZONE BETWEEN ALLENBY AND PATRIARCH HOYEK STREETS TO SEPARATE AND DETER COMBATANTS. PUBLIC INDICATIONS HAVE BEEN THAT THESE FORCES WILL FIRE UPON EITHER SIDE BREAKING CURRENT TRUCE TO WHICH ALL MAJOR FACTIONS, RIGHT AND LEFT, HAVE NOW PUBLICLY ENDORSED. REMAINS TO BE SEEN, HOWEVER, WHETHER PLA WILL BE ABLE OR WILLING TO FUNCTION AS EFFECTIVE AND IMPARTIAL DETERRENT FORCE ALONG CONFRONTATION LINE AND IN DOWNTOWN BUSINESS DISTRICT.
2. EXCEPTIONS TO OVERNIGHT QUIET WERE TRADITIONAL TROUBLE ZONES– SHIAH, HADATH, AND LAYLAKI–IN BEIRUT SUBURGS. NO GROUND MOVE- MENTS HAVE BEEN REPORTED THERE, BUT SUBSTANTIAL SHELLING AND MORTARING OCCURRED IN EARLY MORNING HOURS OF 5 MAY. BEIRUT AIR- PORT WAS AGAIN RECIPIENT OF MORTAR FIRE MID-AFTERNOON 4 MAY AND AT APPROX. 0100 HOURS LOCAL 5 MAY, POSSIBLY AS RESULT OF OVERSHOTS ORIGINATING IN HADATH.NO DEATH AND LIMITED MATERIAL DAMAGE RESULTED FROM LATEST SHELLING, BUT AIR FRANCE HAS ANNOUNCED THAT IT IS SUSPENDING REGULAR SERVICE TO BEIRUT AND WILL CONSIDER LANDING HERE ON CASE BY CASE BASIS. FRAGMENTARY REPORTS INDICATE THAT CLASH OCCURRED IN AKKAR AREA OF NORTH YESTERDAY BUT INIT AL INDICATIONS RECEIVED BY DATT SUGGEST THIS DUST-UP MAY HAVE BEEN RESULT OF INTERNAL SQUABBLING WITHIN LOOSELY STRUCTURED LEBANESE ARAB ARMY (LAA) ADHERENTS IN THAT REGION.
3. NO PALPABLE PROGRESS HAS BEEN ACHIEVED ON THE POLITICAL FRONT DESPITE THE RAPID APPROACH OF SCHEDULED PARLIAMENT SESSION ON
CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 03 BEIRUT 04026 051456Z
MAY 8. THERE ARE GROWING ANTICIPATIONS THAT ELECTION OF PRESIDENT AT THAT TIME WILL NOT RPT NOT BE POSSIBLE BECAUSE OF FAILURE OF BROAD SPECTRUM OF LEBANESE POLITICAL OPINION TO COALESCE BEHIND SINGLE CANDIDATE ACCEPTABLE TO SYRIA. AMIN AL HAFEZ HAS RETURNED FROM DAMASCUS, HELD NON-ILLUMINATING PRESS CONFERENCE, AND SCHEDULED MEETING TODAY WITH HIS COHORTS IN SPEAKER ASSAD’S “INDEPENDENT” BLOC TO REPORT RESULTS OF HIS MISSION. IT IS WIDELY ACCEPTED THAT HIS EFFORTS TO CONVINCE SYRIANS TO ACCEPT “THIRD” CANDIDATE FOR PRESI- DENCY MET STONE WALL. ADDITIONALLY, PRIMIN KARAME AND SHIITE IMAN MUSA SADR HAVE EXPRESSED OPPOSITION TO COMPROMISE CANDIDATE CONCEPT–A PRETTY GOOD INDICATION OF WHERE SYRIA STANDS.
4. AT MOMENT, THEREFORE, EDDE AND SARKIS REMAIN ONLY SERIOUS CONTENDERS AND STALEMATE BETWEEN THEM PERSISTS. EDDE IS CAMPAIGNING HARD, ISSUING HARD-CHARGING STATEMENT AGAINST SYRIA 4 MAY IN WHICH HE PREPARED GROUND FOR HIS DEFEAT BY STATING THAT,IF HE NOT ELECTED,HIS FAILURE DUE TO SYRIAN INTERFERRENCE. NEWSPAPERS CON- TINUE MEANWHILE TO REPORT FAITHFULLY ACTIVITIES OF MINOR HOPEFULS, INCLUDING NEWCOMER SAID AKL.
5. STATEMENTS OF BOTH KARAME AND JUMBLATT FOLLOWING 4 MAY MEETINGS WITH AMBASSADOR BROWN WIDELY CARRIED IN PRESS. BOTH POLITICIANS EMPHASIZED USG POSITION THAT ELECTION OF PRESIDENT IS PURELY LEBANESE DECISION AND JUMBLATT TOLD REPORTERS THAT AMB. HAD ASSURED HIM THAT USG HAS NO RPT NO CANDIDATE IN PRESIDENTIAL SWEEPSTAKES. JUMBLATT ALSO REPORTED TO PRESS THAT AMB HAD EXPRESSED HIS CONCERN ABOUT INDISCRIMINATE SHELLING BY BOTH SIDES OF RESIDENTIAL AREA AND JUMBLATT ADDED THAT HE AGREED WITH AMB. THAT THIS SHOULD CEASE FOR HUMANITARIAN REASONS.
6. ON BRIGHTER SIDE, MANY AREAS OF RAS BEIRUT RECEIVED 5 MAY FIRST VISITS FROM NEWLY PAINTED CITY GARBAGE TRUCKS IN MANY MONTHS AS CONCERTED EFFORT APPARETNLY BEING MADE TO REMOVE HUGE HEAPS OF ACCUMULATED REFUSE WHERE LARGE COLONIES OF RODENT REFUGEES HAD MADE THEIR ABODE. EYEWITNESS HAS TOLD US THAT SIMILAR EFFORT IN AL HOUT STREET AREA WAS ABORTED WHEN ARMED ELEMENTS FIRED ON GARBAGE TRUCKS.
7. KARIM PAKRADOUNI OF PHALANGE POLITBURO HAS JUST INFORMED EMBOFF THAT HE IS TRAVELLING 5 MAY TO DAMASCUS FOR CONSULTATIONS. TRIP APPARENTLY DECIDED DURING HIGH-LEVEL MEETING OF PHALANGE LEADERSHIP
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AT NOON TODAY.
BROWN
CONFIDENTIAL
1. FURTHER ELEMENTS OF UNCERTAINTY WAS INTERJECTED INTO LEBANESE POLITICAL PROCESS EVENING 6 MAY WHEN KAMAL JUMBLATT, SPEAKING ON BEHALF OF “PROGRESSIVES”, PUBLICLY OPPOSED CONVENING THE PARLIAMENT TO ELECT A NEW PRESIDENT BEFORE “ALL FORMS OF PRESSURE ARE LIFTED AND ALL INTERFERENCE IS ENDED.” WHILE JUMBLATT’S REMARKS DO NOT RPT NOT CONSTITUTE A FORMAL DEMAND THAT THE 8 MAY SESSION BE POSTPONED, THEY DO INDICATE THAT JUMBLATT AND THE SYRIANS HAVE NOT YET BEEN RECONCILED. AS FURTHER EVIDENCE, SYRIAN-SPONSORED DAILY, “AH SHARQ”, UNLEASED 7 MAY BROADSIDE AGAINST JUMBLATT.
2. WHETHER SOME OF ‘ARAFAT’S UNDERLINGS HAD SECRETLY JOURNEYED TO DAMASCUS PREVIOUSLY OR NOT, IT NOW SEEMS CLEAR THAT ‘ARAFAT HIMSELF DID NOT RPT NOT DEPART LEBANON UNTIL 6 MAY, WHEN HE FLEW TO SYRIA. IF HE IS SEEKING, AS SOME OBSERVERS BELIEVE, TO MEDIATE BETWEEN JUMBLATT AND THEY SYRIANS, IT DOES NOT APPEAR THAT HE WILL BE ABLE TO PUT THE FROSTING ON THE CAKE IN TIME FOR SATURDAY’S PARLIAMENT SESSION TO PROCEED ON SCHEDULE. WE BELIEVE THAT JUMBLATT MIGHT BE WILLING NOW TO REACH SOME COMPROMISE WITH SYRIA BECAUSE OF INTERNAL WEAKNESSES IN HIS POSITION. THERE HAVE BEEN SOME INDICATIONS THAT SECOND-ECHELON DRUZE AND PSP PARTY LEADERS CLOSE TO JUMBLATT HAVE BECOME DISENCHANTED WITH REPEATED DELAYS IN THE POLITICAL PROCESS, FOR WHICH JUMBLATT HIM- SELF BEARS A SHARE OF THE BLAME. SIMILARLY, ‘ARAFAT AND HIS FATAH COLLEAGUES ARE CHAFING UNDER PRESENT PRECARIOUS SITUATION WHICH THEY PROBABLY BELIEVE LEAVES JUMBLATT (AND HIS EVEN LESS RELIABLE LEFTIST COHORTS) WITH CONSIDERABLE LEEWAY TO REHEAT THE MILITARY SITUATION AND PULL THE PALESTINIANS BACK INTO A CONFLICT WHICH COULD THIS TIME INCLUDE THE SYRIANS.
3. WE WOULD EXPECT SOME INDICATION FRIDAY, MAY 7 OF WHETHER OR NOT PARLIAMENT WILL ATETEMPT TO MEET 8 MAY. GEN. AHDAB, SELF-ANNOUNCED MILITARY GOVERNOR OF LEBANON, HAS
CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 03 BEIRUT 04081 071338Z
ANNOUNCED THE IMPOSITION OF A CURFEW IN A PROSCRIBED AREA AROUND THE VILLA (WHERE PARLIAMENT WILL ONCE AGAIN GATHER IN EXILE) EFFECTIVE AT 1400 HOURS LOCAL TODAY. PREPARATIONS THUS CON- TINUE FOR THE SESSION WHILE THE POLICOS DECIDE WHETHER TO ATTEND OR NOT. WE UNDERSTAND THAT MOST CHRISTIAN DEPUTIES AREPREPARED TO ATTEND, GIVEN MINIMAL SECURITY WHICH AT PRESENT EXISTS, BUT ALMOST NONE OF THE OTHER PARLIAMENTARIANS, INCLUDING THOSE CON- TROLLED BY JUMBLATT, HAVE YET CALLED THEIR SHOTS.
4. SINCE THE ADMINISTRATIVE AND JUDICIARY COMMITTEE OF THE PARLIAMENT DECIDED TWO DAYS AGO THAT AMINIMUM OF 66 DEPUTIES MUST BE PRESENT BEFORE GAVEL FALLS, “INDEPENDENT” GROUPING LED BY SPEAKER ASSSAD PROBABLY CAN DETERMINE WHETHER OR NOT SESSION COMES OFF. THIS GROUP, WHICH AS WE NOTED IN REFTEL, MAY BE COMING APART AS MEMBERS CHOOSE UP SIDES, HAS SLATED A MEETING FOR TODAY WHICH PROBABLY WILL GIVE AN INDICATION OF THE DIRECTION OF THE WIND. THERE STILL SEEMS TO BE SOME MOVEMENT WHITHIN THE UNCOMMITTED TOWARD SARKIS IP RESPONSE TO WHAT STIMULI WE CAN ONLYSPECULATE AT THE MOMENT, BUT CAMPAIGN POSTERS PROCLAIMING THAT “EDDE IS THE MAN” HAVE GONE UP OVERNIGHT IN SOME PARTS OF WEST BEIRUT. FOR ANALYTICAL PURPOSES, THEREFORE, PARLIAMENTARY MEMBERSHIP BREAKS DOWN INTO THREE BASIS GROUPS TODAY AS FAR AS WE CAN DETERMINE: PRO-SARKIS (LARGEST BUT NOT YET DETERMINANT); INDEPENDENTS (SECOND AND KEY); AND PRO-EDDE. PRECISE NUMBERS ARE ANYBODY’S GUESS BUT WE WOULD PLACE SARKIS VOTES IN HAND TODAY AT SLIGHTLY OVER 50 RPT 50 AND, THEREFORE SUFFICIENT FOR ELECTION ON SECOND BALLOT IF SESSION GOES AHEAD. ELECTION BY THIS SLIM MARGIN, HOWEVER, WOULD LEAVE THE NEW PRESIDENT IN A RELATIVELY WEAK POSITION AND FACING A DIVIDED ELECTORATE–NOT A HAPPY PROSPECT.
5. SECURITY SITUATION CONTINUED TO HOLD FAIRLY WELL IN BEIRUT WITH SOME EXCHANGES OF FIRE IN METN. LAST NIGHT, FURN ASH SHUBAK WAS HEAVILY SHELLED FROM DIRECTION OF RAS AN NABA ACCORDING TO LOCAL RESIDENT; THIS COULD BE WORK OF SPOILERS SUPPORTING “REJECTIONISTS”. PHALANGE SOURCES ALSO REPORT LIMITED GROUND ACTION (TWO PHALANGISTS KIA) IN VICINITY OF TAYOUNE CIRCLE, WHICH CONSTITUES ONE OF OUTER LIMITES OF SECURITY ZONE SURROUNDING PARLIAMENT SITE. ON OTHER HAND, SAME SOURCE IN AL HOUT STREET THAT TOLD US OF BATTLE OF THE GARBAGE TRUCKS TWO DAYS AGO REPORTS THAT TRUCKS THRUST INTO NEIGHBORHOOD THIS MORNING WITHOUT ENCOUNTERING ARMED RESISTENCE.
CONFIDENTIAL CONFIDENTIAL PAGE 04 BEIRUT 04081 071338Z AIRPORT
ALSO ESCAPED SHELLING YESTERDAY AND THIS MORNING FOR FIRST TIME IN SEVERAL DAYS.
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