On Independence And Constitutions

Beirut's Martyrs' Square during celebrations marking the release by the French of Lebanon's government from Rashayya prison on November 22, 1943

Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square during celebrations marking the release by the French of Lebanon’s government from Rashayya prison on November 22, 1943

Independent Lebanon is 71 years old today. But then again, if you think of it, we’re barely 7 years old: During the first two years we were still technically under the occupation of the French army. Then, up until 1958, no one really understood what was happening. The next seventeen years were basically buying time so that we don’t have a civil war, which we had anyway from 1975 till 1990. And then there were another fifteen years of Syrian tutelage, followed by 10 years that were more or less similar to the first fifteen ones in terms of democracy and productivity.

And this post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still don’t know how to elect a president. This post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still don’t know how to make a decent fair electoral law.

This post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still postpone parliamentary elections. This post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still have no control over the security situation.

This post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still wait for other states to solve our problems. This post isn’t about the fact that 71 years later we still don’t have a sustainable economy.

This post is about a Lebanese parliament that after 71 years of independence still doesn’t know how to follow the simple rules of the Constitution.

You’d think that after 14 parliamentary elections (since 1943) , we would have a parliament that actually knows how to handle a Constitution. Here’s a small compilation of the major constitutional violations that happened (or are still happening) in the past 10 years.

I – “Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic” (Yeah, right)

PREAMBLE
(INTRODUCED BY THE CONSTITUTIONAL LAW OF SEPTEMBER 21, 1990)
A) Lebanon is a sovereign, free, and independent country. It is a final homeland for all its citizens. It is unified in its territory, people, and institutions within the boundaries defined in this Constitution and recognized internationally.
B) Lebanon is Arab in its identity and in its affiliation. It is a founding and active member of the League of Arab States and abides by its pacts and covenants. Lebanon is also a founding and active member of the United Nations Organization and abides by its covenants and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Government shall embody these principles in all fields and areas without exception.
C) Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic based on respect for public liberties, especially the freedom of opinion and belief, and respect for social justice and equality of rights and duties among all citizens without discrimination.

II – “The people are the source of authority and sovereignty; they shall exercise these powers through the constitutional institutions.” (That’s why we don’t have elections anymore)

D) The people are the source of authority and sovereignty; they shall exercise these powers through the constitutional institutions.

III – “The political system is established on the principle of separation of powers, their balance and cooperation.” (That’s probably why it takes us eleven months to form a government)

E) The political system is established on the principle of separation of powers, their balance and cooperation.

F) The economic system is free and ensures private initiative and the right of private property.

IV – The even what?!?

G) The even development among regions on the educational, social, and economic levels shall be a basic pillar of the unity of the state and the stability of the system.

H) The abolition of political confessionalism shall be a basic national goal and shall be achieved according to a staged plan.
I) Lebanese territory is one for all Lebanese. Every Lebanese shall have the right to live in any part thereof and to enjoy the rule of law wherever he resides. There shall be no segregation of the people on the basis of any type of belonging, and no fragmentation, partition, or settlement of non-Lebanese in Lebanon.
J) There shall be no constitutional legitimacy for any authority which contradicts the ‘pact of mutual existence’.

V – I bet you didn’t even know that we’re supposed to (constitutionally) have a senate (Majlis Chuyukh). But right. Who cares.

Article 22
With the election of the first Chamber of Deputies on a national, non-confessional basis, a Senate shall be established in which all the religious communities shall be represented. Its authority shall be limited to major national issues.

VI - There is no quorum. There. Is. No. Quorum. You do not need 66% of the parliament to be present to elect the president. I repeat, you do not need 66% of the parliament to be present to elect the president.

Article 49
(As amended by the Constitutional Law of October 17, 1927, And by the constitutional law of may 8, 1929, And by the constitutional law of January 21, 1947 And by the constitutional law of September 21, 1990)
[...]
The President of the Republic shall be elected by secret ballot and by a twothirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies. After a first ballot, an absolute majority shall be sufficient. The President’s term is six years. He may not be re-elected until six years after the expiration of his last mandate. No one may be elected to the Presidency of the Republic unless he fulfills the conditions of eligibility for the Chamber of Deputies.

Did you read the word quorum? Because I didn’t. And if the Constitution wanted to say that there was a quorum, it would have said it clearly and mentioned directly the word “quorum”. Like in this article:

Article 65 (As amended by the Constitutional Law of September 21, 1990)

[...]
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. [...]

Even the patriarch said that there was no 2/3 quorum.

VII – How did we elect Michel Sleiman again? Because, unlike what the legend says, the Constitution was not amended in 2008.

Article 49

[...]

It is also not possible to elect judges, Grade One civil servants, or their equivalents in all public institutions to the Presidency during their term or office or within two years following the date of their resignation and their effective cessation of service, or following retirement.

 Really, it wasn’t.

VIII - I don’t mean to be rude, but did “the Chamber meet automatically”? Because last time I checked, we still didn’t have a president.

Article 73
(As amended by the Constitutional Law of October 17, 1927, And the constitutional law of may 22,1948, And the constitutional law of april 24,1976)

One month at least and two months at most before the expiration of the term of office of the President of the Republic, the Chamber shall be convened by its President to elect the new President of the Republic. However, should it not be convened for this purpose, the Chamber shall meet automatically on the tenth day preceding the expiration of the President’s term of office.

IX – The Chamber shall meet immediately and by virtue of the law to elect a successor. Immediately. Immediately? Immediately. Immediately!

Article 74 (As amended by the Constitutional Law of October 17, 1927)

Should the Presidency become vacant through the death or resignation of the President or for any other cause, the Chamber shall meet immediately and by virtue of the law to elect a successor. If either Chamber happens to be dissolved at the time the vacancy occurs, the electoral bodies shall be convened without delay and, as soon as the elections have taken place, the Chamber meets by virtue of the law.

X - “And NOT a legislative body” (In other words, the parliament shouldn’t have been allowed to vote on the extension law)

Article 75 (As amended by the Constitutional Law of October 17, 1927)

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.

XI - General Budget? What was that again?

Article 83

Each year at the beginning of the October session, the Government shall submit to the Chamber of Deputies the general budget estimates of state expenditures and revenues for the following year. The budget shall voted upon article by article.

XII - No Comment.

Article 95

(As amended by the Constitutional Law of November 9, 1943 And by the constitutional law of September 21,1990)
The Chamber of Deputies that is elected on the basis of equality between Muslims and Christians shall take the appropriate measures to bring about the abolition of political confessionalism according to plan. A National Committee shall be formed, headed by the President of the Republic, it includes, in addition to the President of the Chamber of Deputies and the Prime Minister, leading political, intellectual, and social figures.
The tasks of this Committee shall be to study and propose the means to ensure the abolition of confessionalism, propose them to the Chamber of Deputies and to the Ministers council of ministers, and to follow up the execution of the transitional plan. During the transitional phase:
a. The sectarian groups shall be represented in a just and equitable manner in the formation of the Cabinet.
b. The principle of confessional representation in public service jobs, in the judiciary, in the military and security institutions, and in public and mixed agencies shall be cancelled in accordance with the requirements of national reconciliation; they shall be replaced by the principle of expertise and competence. However, Grade One posts and their equivalents shall be excepted from this rule, and the posts shall be distributed equally between Christians and Muslims without reserving any particular job for any sectarian group but rather applying the principles of expertise and competence.

And there are probably millions of other direct or indirect constitutional violations. They’re not as obvious as the ones here, but still, we see them almost every month.

But hey, look on the bright side: We’re so awesome and independent that we elect the president without having to rely on a Constitution.

 182 days since the 25th of May. 18 days since the 5th of November.

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Marwan Hamadeh 1994 vs Marwan Hamadeh 2014

Marwan Hamadeh STL

You know that feature Lebanon has? The one where the politicians change sides and then decide to criticize the past of the opposite side even though they were once part of it?

Marwan Hamadeh testified at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on Tuesday.

Syria’s unforgiving domination of Lebanon under the regime of President Bashar Assad took center stage at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon Monday, with a senior politician testifying that the conflict over the Syrian presence paved the way for the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri.

“These are the roots of the conflict which, in my opinion, ended in the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri,” said Marwan Hamade, an MP and former minister who survived an assassination attempt in 2004, referring to the debate over Syria’s presence in Lebanon during a testimony before the STL.

For a whole day of testimony, the Druze MP who was once an ally of Bashar’s father, Hafez Assad, detailed how Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon and Bashar’s rise ushered in an era of unprecedented Syrian interference, from allowing Hezbollah to keep its arms to direct orders by the Syrian president on the makeup of the Lebanese Cabinet.

“From 2000 … it became clear that Bashar Assad wanted control of every aspect in Lebanon,” he said.

One example was a nighttime visit by Rustom Ghazaleh, Syria’s chief of military intelligence in Lebanon, to Hariri in April 2003. Ghazaleh arrived with alleged orders from Damascus for the formation of a Cabinet with an over a two-thirds majority of pro-Syrian ministers – to be announced the very next day.

“Rafik Hariri sent for us members of the former government and potential members of the future government to discuss this new diktat that had come from Damascus,” Hamade said, sporting a navy blue suit and red tie. “He said specifically we have to change the government, we have to change some of your colleagues, and this has to be done by tomorrow.”

The aim of the reshuffle was to lay the groundwork for the deeply unpopular renewal of then-President Emile Lahoud’s term in 2004, which defined the breakdown in relations between Assad and Hariri, and was the cause of Hariri’s outright opposition to Syria’s influence.

“It was in fact the preparation for the new coup d’etat of Syria in Lebanon which would take place with the election of Emile Lahoud in 2004,” Hamade said.

Hamade became the first of more than a dozen “political witnesses” to testify before the court on the breakdown in relations between Lebanon and Syria under Assad’s leadership, in the first court case to examine Syria’s alleged role in the gravest political assassination in modern Lebanese history.

Former prime minister and head of the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc Fouad Siniora confirmed to The Daily Star that he would also be delivering testimony before the court.

The STL is tasked with prosecuting those responsible for the 2005 bombing that killed Hariri and 21 others and led to street protests that ended Syria’s formal tutelage over its smaller neighbor. The court has indicted five members of Hezbollah in connection with the attack, but no Syrian official has ever been formally charged despite investigators concluding shortly after Hariri’s killing that the operation was so complex that it could not have been carried out without the knowledge of senior Lebanese and Syrian officials.

The renewed focus on Syria’s role has led defense lawyers to cry foul, arguing that prosecutors were now focusing on Assad and his security apparatus as being behind Hariri’s assassination. Prosecutors say the political context could offer a glimpse into the motive behind the killing.

The political testimony is supposed to cover Hariri’s deteriorating relations with Syria, Syria’s corresponding resolve to exert “control beyond mere influence” in Lebanon, the international community’s growing concern at Syria’s interference, the evolution of an anti-Syrian opposition movement and Hariri’s role as an influential statesman, particularly in the Gulf.

The testimony will cover crucial meetings between Hariri and Assad, the passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 ordering Syria’s withdrawal and Hezbollah’s disarmament, and other key political events. Prosecutors said the testimony could help provide a “political motive” for the assassination.

Hamade detailed how Syria repeatedly failed to implement the Taif Accord that ended the Lebanese Civil War. Hamade was a minister in the national unity government of Omar Karami after the Civil War and was part of a ministerial committee supervising the disarmament of militias.

He said the government at the time openly endorsed Hezbollah’s retention of its weapons to fight the Israeli occupation.

But he said the most egregious interference by the Syrian regime came with the rise of Bashar Assad and the Israeli withdrawal from the south, removing the raison d’etre for Syria’s presence and Hezbollah’s arms.

He said Syria distorted the cooperation treaty with Lebanon to enable a pervasive infiltration of the security services. Under Assad, Syria sought to control not just security and politics but also Lebanon’s financial resources, while also barring Lebanon from seeking an independent peace with Israel.

The Syrians’ “big break” with Hariri occurred as he sought to build up the Lebanese state with a free economy and functioning institutions.

“A new atmosphere prevailed after 2000,” Hamade said. “We felt nobody was anymore concerned with the sovereignty, prosperity and institutions of Lebanon. What was important is to keep Syrian influence and translate it internally into the growing influence of Hezbollah.”

He accused the Syrians of trying to foil reconciliation attempts between the Druze and the Christians, as well as influencing the Constitutional Council, Lebanon’s highest court, to prevent the election of anti-Syrian MP Gabriel Murr and ordering the closure of his TV station, MTV.

He described Syria’s growing tutelage over its former neighbor in the years after the end of the Civil War as one where Syria saw itself as a “superpower” and Lebanon as the “underdog.”

“Anything military, foreign policy and security was one-handed,” Hamade said, “the Syrian hand altogether, and its allies or agents in Lebanon.”

The relationship went from “years of hope” immediately after the Taif agreement to “disappointment” and finally to “collapse and despair.”

Hamade is expected to continue testifying for two more days, before cross-examination by the defense.

(Link)

MP Marwan Hamadeh resumed on Tuesday his testimony before the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, focusing on Syria’s hegemony over Lebanon under the premiership of slain PM Rafik Hariri and examining his ties with former President Emile Lahoud.

The ties between Hariri and MP Walid Jumblat came into prominence during the debate over the extension of Lahoud’s term in 2004, prompting the STL Prosecution to reveal that it is studying the possibility of summoning the lawmaker to make his testimony before the tribunal.

Hamadeh kicked off the second day of his testimony by addressing the Syrian leadership’s opposition to the Taef Accord and attempts to execute the remaining articles of the agreement that were not implemented at the end of the Lebanese civil war.

The MP recounted how he had proposed to Hariri to include the implementation of the remaining articles in a ministerial statement in 2003.

“I had presented to Hariri in 2003 some articles of the accord that had not been implemented, such as Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon, to which the former PM responded, ‘Do you want to kill us both?’ before throwing the sheet in the trash,” revealed Hamadeh.

“Hariri believed that referring to the Taef Accord in the ministerial statement would be tantamount to a declaration of war against the Syrian regime,” he added.

The lawmaker stated that Hariri had reservations over Syria’s influence over Lebanon, confiding to him of the pressure he was under from Syrian officials.

“Hariri was very annoyed with this influence and he used to relay to us the details of his meetings in Damascus and with (Syrian intelligence chief in Lebanon) Rustom Ghazali,” he continued.

“I used to meet with Hariri on an almost daily basis and his greatest concern was how to diminish Syria’s influence, such as through parliamentary polls,” he said.

In addition, he remarked that Hariri’s annoyance with Syria reached a peak when he decided in 2000 to withdraw from political life in Lebanon.

Attention was then shifted to Syria’s pressure on the Lebanese press as Hamadeh recounted how the regime sought to “silence free media in Lebanon.”

Following the closure of MTV in 2003, Syrian officials directed their pressure to An Nahar newspaper, of which Hariri was a shareholder.

“Syrian President Bashar Assad used to get upset with the articles of Ghassan Tueni and Samir Kassir, so he sought to close or bankrupt the daily,” he revealed.

To that end, the Syrian leadership ordered Hariri to sell his shares in the newspaper and make individuals he was affiliated with in its board to do the same, stated Hamadeh.

“The Syrian regime sought the bankruptcy of An Nahar newspaper after the closure of MTV in 2002,” he added.

The testimony then tackled Hariri’s relationship with Syrian officials between 2003 and 2004 as tensions between the two sides increased amid speculation that Lahoud’s term may be extended.

The MP spoke of a meeting Hariri had in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad from which he returned to Beirut with a bloody nose.

He revealed that the premier had left an August 2004 meeting so agitated that he banged his head against his car window in frustration.

The details of the meeting were not disclosed.

Hariri said that he felt humiliated after the meeting, added Hamadeh.

Commenting on the extension of Lahoud’s term, the MP said that Hariri had initially rejected the former army chief’s election as president in 1998, while Lahoud had later opposed a number of the premier’s development projects.

“Coming from a military background, Lahoud probably did not know how a democratic state can be managed and he was also Syria’s main man in Lebanon,” continued Hamadeh.

“Furthermore, Lahoud had always turned to Syria to impose a new cabinet and parliament in Lebanon. They were choices we opposed,” he remarked.

“In 2003, we had growing concerns that Syria would seek the extension of Lahoud’s term and we attempted to persuade Syrian officials to hold regular elections,” Hamadeh said.

“We soon however began to become aware of Syria’s rejection of the possibility of holding regular elections and that the regime sought to extend Lahoud’s term,” he added.

“The pro-Syrian media and agencies and Lahoud’s entourage made us believe that Syria only trusts the president and will not accept any alternative to the extension,” he explained.

“For his part, Hariri said he would rather cut his arm off rather than sign the decree on the extension,” he revealed.

“As a minister and lawmaker, I completely opposed the extension. The bloc I was affiliated with at the time was not on good terms with Lahoud or the Syrian regime under Assad,” Hamadeh remarked.

The extension, which took place through a constitutional amendment, occurred in September 2004.

Hamadeh recounted the details that led up to the extension and the role of the Syrian leadership and that of Ghazali in achieving its aim.

He recalled how Jumblat had rejected the extension, saying he would discuss the matter with Assad in Damascus to which Ghazali said that there will be no meeting with the Syrian president if he did not head to Syria to discuss the approval of the extension.

Head of Syrian intelligence in Beirut, Jamaa Jamaa, then contacted Jumblat after his meeting with Ghazali to inform him that his scheduled visit to Assad had been canceled, Hamadeh added.

Ghazali told Hariri that the extension “is not open to discussion”, to which the PM replied that he will not head to Syria and that he had “made up his mind on the matter”, he said.

Ghazali then suggested that Hariri head to his Damascus residence and await a meeting with Assad, which the premier rejected, stated the lawmaker.

Hamadeh also confirmed to the STL that the telephone lines of Lebanese officials were wiretapped, saying: “Our lines were tapped and we were being watched for years and years.”

He then recounted how Hariri had sacked head of his security, Ali al-Hajj, following suspicions that he was cooperating with Syrian intelligence.

He spoke of how the slain premier had set up a test to Hajj to verify if he was indeed relaying information to Syrian officials.

He gave Hajj a false piece of information and he soon received a telephone call from Ghazali to inquire about the news, which confirmed Hariri’s suspicions that Hajj was working for Syrian intelligence.

“Hajj was sacked, but he was rewarded for his service by being appointed head of the Internal Security Forces,” Hamadeh recalled.

The lawmaker began his testimony in the case of the assassination of Hariri on Monday, focusing on Syria’s influence on Lebanon and its alleged complicity in the February 2005 crime.

The MP, who was the victim of an assassination attempt in October 2004, is expected to testify for three to four days.

In addition to the lawmaker, other officials and journalists who were close to Hariri, will testify in court on the former PM’s deteriorating ties with Syria, the neighboring country’s increasing resolve to have more influence on Lebanon’s internal affairs and growing concerns by the international community regarding the foreign political pressure exerted on Lebanon.

The STL, which is based in The Hague, will also hear the evolution of the opposition movement in Lebanon in September 2004, of which Hariri was first silent and then went public. And finally Hariri’s influence as a statesman.

In the immediate aftermath of the former prime minister’s assassination in a suicide truck bombing in Beirut, suspicion fell on Syria, since Hariri had been seeking to weaken its domination of Lebanon.

Syria has denied any role in the murder, but the killing galvanized opposition to Damascus and led to huge street demonstrations dubbed the “Cedar Revolution,” which forced the exit of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Hamadeh had a leading role along with other politicians from the March 14 alliance in organizing the rallies.

(Link)

Here’s what Marwan Hamadeh said in 1994, 20 years earlier. The quote is from a book, “باسل حافظ الأسد: منارة الأجيال”. I won’t translate the text because it wouldn’t be as shocking as it is in Arabic.

«غاب الرائد باسل حافظ الأسد ولكن روحه لم تغب. غاب، ولكن شبابه استمرّ في شباب العرب. غاب، ولكن شجاعته بقيت تنمو في قلب كل واحد من أبناء حافظ الأسد. غاب، ولكن فروسيّته ظلّت تمتطي التحديّات. تقود خطى الجيل العربي الواعد. غاب، أما حسّه الإنساني والاجتماعي فماثل في أعماقنا لا يمحوه الزمن ولا العوادي. غاب، أما ريادته فستتواصل في المثل والقيم التي تشبّع منها وأشاعها في مجتمعه وأمته. إذا كان لغياب باسل الأسد هذا المعنى، فهل غاب فعلاً؟ بالطبع لا. أمثال باسل يغيبون مادة فقط. لأنهم عندما يرحلون يزداد حضورهم ويتعاظم تأثيرهم وينسحب مثلهم ليشكل منارة طموحات أجيال الشباب العربي. نحن لن نبكيك يا باسل لأنك لم ترحل. لن نبكيك لأن في رحم كل عربيّة قطعة منك مصيرها أن تزهر يوماً. لن نبكيك لأن أمة عزيزة لا تبكي على نفسها إنما تستمدّ من المصيبة قوة ومنعة وحياة تجدّد. أما أنتم يا سيادة القائد فلستم وحدكم في هذا المصاب. وثقوا أن كل شاب من شباب العرب هو باسل آخر وآخر. فيكف يغيب؟ وكيف تخبو نار العروبة الخالدة؟».

I have nothing else to add.

Endorsing Frangieh: March 14′s New Maneuver?

Sleiman Frangieh Timbre

Accordingly, [Future MP] Shab foresees serious negotiations taking place within “weeks, not months” to agree on a candidate “who can navigate a Sunni-Shiite conflict and who has the confidence of both parties […] someone with a certain degree of legitimate representation, but who is also agreeable to both sides.”

Asked by NOW who might fit that profile, Shab cited the leader of the 8 March-aligned Marada Movement, MP Sleiman Frangieh. When NOW queried how Frangieh, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, could be acceptable to 14 March, Shab hinted at a hypothetical agreement by which Frangieh’s presidency would be paired with Future leader MP Saad Hariri as prime minister.

(Source)

This is the beauty of Lebanese politics: Just when you thought that there would be no political maneuvers after the parliamentary extension and that we would enjoy at least three or four months of political silence, the Future Movement decides to throw this time bomb. The leading party of the March 14 alliance is apparently ready to strike a deal that involves the election of Syria’s man in Lebanon, Sleiman Frangieh, as president. True, Shab’s remarks don’t necessarily mean that there’s a consensus on the election of Frangieh among all the members of M14 (or even the FM), but even the idea of the Future Movement electing Frangieh is extremely shocking. So shocking that it might ironically be their best move since this presidential thing started.

A Thank You Note To Hezbollah?

Endorsing Frangieh might be a thank you note to Hezbollah. The party gave three gifts to the FM in the past three weeks: The first one was the official endorsement of Aoun that ended the FPM’s “Aoun is a consensual candidate” campaign. The second one was Hezbollah’s early decision to extend the parliament’s term although his main Christian ally opposed it and although it might have probably led to a decisive M8 victory – Due to the ISIS propaganda and the Christian fears. And the third one was Nasrallah’s friendly remarks about the Future Movement in his speech two weeks ago. These three stances indicated that there might be a rapprochement between the two parties (Similar to the one the FPM and the FM had in the autumn of 2013). Hezbollah had let down its main Christian ally three times in less than 3 weeks (And it’s in a context of presidential elections, making it worse for Aoun and even better for the FM). Perhaps accepting a Frangieh presidency might be a way of saying thank you to Hezbollah for postponing the elections, destroying Aoun’s last presidential hope, and not making a big deal out of the extension. And the very fact that Frangieh’s men were the only MPs from the change and reform bloc (27 MPs) that voted for the extension means that Frangieh is (1) fully independent from Aoun and (2) might as well be the intermediary between Hezbollah and the FM.

Perhaps Not A Thank You Note After All.

But how on earth would the Syrian regime’s oldest and closest ally, and Hezbollah’s primary ally in the North become an accepted consensual candidate? No matter how much you think about it, it’s surreal. Here’s something I wrote about the Frangieh presidency in October 2013 (Link for the full post):

Apparently on Thursday, Marada Movement leader Suleiman Franjieh warned of a presidential vacuum as the conflict over Syria continues and suggested that Lebanon adopts the 50 percent plus one vote formula to secure the office.

[...]

Let alone the fact that Frangieh’s allies took advantage of that particular constitutional clause (Of having the two thirds quorum in the Presidential elections) in order to block the election of an M14 candidate in 2008, the very fact that Frangieh is asking for a modification of that electoral process is very weird. Why? Let’s see why. Because Frangieh belongs to a coalition in the parliament that holds between the third and half of the seats in the parliament. That means that under the current constitutional rules, Frangieh – Let’s suppose for a while that he will be M8’s candidate – can block the electoral process by instructing his allies to boycott the session. Just to make it clear – and more complicated for you –  Frangieh said that a 50% plus one vote should be adopted. Thus theoretically, Frangieh spoke nothing about the quorum.  He only mentioned what the number of votes for the winner should be once there is quorum. So if Frangieh doesn’t want to change the quorum rule in the constitution but only the voting rule, nothing makes sense. Is Frangieh suggesting that we change the quorum or the winning vote number? Let’s see.

M8 has 40% of the votes, M14 45%, and the others (Mikati, Jumblatt …)15%  (The numbers aren’t exact, but you get the point)

Cas 1: Our lovely non functioning system (Quorum 66%, First round 66%, Second round 50%+1). Frangieh wants to run, but M14 and the others won’t vote for him. Frangieh instructs his allies to boycott. 40%>33% which means that there will be no quorum, thus no elections. In case the others will vote for him, that means he will have 55% of the votes. M14 boycotts, 45%>33%, meaning that there will also be no quorum.

Cas 2: Quorum remains untouched with Frangieh’s amendment (Quorum 66%, First round 50%+1). Frangieh wants to run, but M14 and the others won’t vote for him. Frangieh instructs his allies to boycott. 40%>33% which means that there will be no quorum, thus no elections. However, Frangieh is saying that he is making the amendment to make life simpler and easier for the parliament to elect the president. Which means that the amendment doesn’t make any sense (See, I told you!) because the quorum boycott is still here and if he wishes not to boycott and elect the president with 50%+1 he can simply wait for the second round and keep the constitution like it was (see Cas 1)

Cas 3:  Frangieh was actually talking about the quorum!  (Quorum  50%+1%, First round 50%+1).  40%<50% which means that Frangieh can’t freeze the process if he boycotts and has a very high chance of losing because 40%<50%. Unless…

Unless What?

Unless Frangieh is sure he can secure 65 MPs to vote for him. In politics you don’t actually propose something you might lose in, so there’s something fishy about this. If Frangieh meant cas 1 (or cas 2), he was probably just saying things to fill in the blanks of his speech. But if what Frangieh meant was cas 3, then something very dangerous is going on here.

Dangerous How?

If Frangieh can bring 65 votes, but not 86 (the 66% quorum that he wishes to remove in his reform) that can mean only few things. That means he isn’t a consensual candidate because he doesn’t have 66% of the votes (shocking, right?), that he will be running with M14 (See what I mean by dangerous?) against Aoun, or that Jumblatt and Mikati, along with Amal and Hezbollah and someone else will choose him as their sole candidate to the elections and throw Aoun outside which will probably make the latter closer to M14 than M8.

Read the last paragraph from last year’s post (emphasis on the words in green), and read it well. A Frangieh candidacy endorsed by M14 would ironically put Hezbollah in a very though position.

It’s as if a very poor person (Let’s call him Michel) asked for a loaf of bread, and instead, you give his other not-so-needy friend (Let’s call him Sleiman) a Burger that he can’t split – because it’s your only option. There’s nothing wrong about eating the Burger, except that Michel would hate you (and Sleiman) for it and you’ll eventually lose Michel as a friend.

You are Hezbollah, and the burger/loaf is obviously the presidency (I don’t think I need to clarify who Michel and Sleiman are).

Sleiman Frangieh had previously confirmed that he wasn’t anymore a presidential candidate and endorsed Michel Aoun. The problem here is that if March 14 endorses Frangieh, it would be highly tempting for Hezbollah and Frangieh to abandon the Aoun campaign. For Hezbollah, Aoun is silver but Frangieh is gold. Frangieh – unlike Aoun who has 18 MPs representing solely the FPM – doesn’t have a big bloc (4 MPs, including himself and Emile Rahme who is much more pro-Hezbollah than he is pro-Frangieh). Frangieh also has a limited electorate that he can rely on. And by limited, I mean it in a geographical, demographic, and sectarian way. Most (If not all) of Frangieh’s popular base is Christian, mostly Maronite, from the Zgharta Caza (Which is one of the smallest in terms of parliamentary representation with 3 MPs) and some of the surrounding villages in Koura. Frangieh doesn’t have foothold outside the North, belongs to a feudal family – and most importantly – faces continuous competition from other renowned political families established in Zgharta (Such as the Mouawads). In other words, Frangieh is too weak and can be manipulated by Hezbollah / Future Movement while Aoun (as a comparison) is much, much harder to keep under control. If Aoun switches sides, his ~ 22/23 MPs would be enough to change the status quo and throw a party outside the cabinet – be it Hezbollah, or even the FM. Frangieh can’t do anything with his 3 MPs (Yes, 3, because once he’s elected he loses his seat :P – And it’s actually 2 since you can’t really count Rahme as a loyalist). Frangieh won’t have his own base in the parliament to rely on, which means that he will fully be dependent on Hezbollah or the FM in everything concerning the legislation. Even if Frangieh wants to call for demonstrations, it wouldn’t have any impact unless Hezbollah joins him. Aoun wouldn’t need Hezbollah at all on the popular level –  in fact it would hurt him since the counter-propaganda would make it look as if his supporters aren’t Christian – making him an “illegitimate” Christian president. Frangieh is also a lot more pro-Syrian than Aoun is, and the Frangiehs have historical family ties with the Assad family that are almost 50 years old. Which means that even if every single MP in M14 endorses Frangieh, he would always be a friend of Syria – and thus closer to Hezbollah. Aoun, on the other hand, is a lot more unreliable so he might be a pain in the ass in case he decides to switch sides or go against the Syrian regime.

La morale: If you’re Hezbollah, and have to choose between Frangieh and Aoun, you’ll choose Frangieh every time. Every time.

Le Piège (Sowing Discontent Level: Future Movement)

If the FM allows and even supports the election of Frangieh, it would have given Hezbollah its golden candidate. It would have also looked like it would have won the elections, since it was the one who proposed Frangieh’s name first. The only problem here is that for Hezbollah, it would mean abandoning its now declared candidacy of Aoun. It would also mean that Nabih Berri’s opinion would be marginalized, and that the FPM would probably exit the March 8 alliance (and perhaps join a common Christian Front with the LF/Kaaeb who should also be in theory pissed because of the Frangieh election). In other words, Hezbollah would have won the presidency, but would’ve lost the integrity of the March 8 coalition. What’s the point of having a 100% loyal president if you can’t even influence 15% of the MPs when you want to form the government or vote for laws?

Hezbollah had a plan: Support Aoun till the end, and eventually settle – with Aoun’s blessing – on a non “Maronite Four” consensual candidate that has a friendly attitude towards Hezbollah, such as LAF commander Jean Kahwaji. Kahwaji’s election would have also been part of a bigger deal that should have been even more rewarding to the M8 alliance.

If the FM – according to MP Shab’s hints – are seriously considering Frangieh’s candidacy, it would make Hezbollah look like a hypocrite in case they insist on Aoun or a consensual candidate, and it would create problems between the Marada and the FPM and between M8′s Christians and M8′s Muslims. A Frangieh presidency might seem like a March 8 victory, but on the long run, it will probably lead to the downfall of that alliance.

Such a maneuver from M14 would kill two candidacies with one stone: Aoun’s candidacy and Kahwaji’s candidacy. And in the process, it would kill the M8 alliance.

174 days since the 25th of May. 10 days since the 5th of November.

Five Months Of Vacuum (And Another Parliamentary Extension)

Same shit, different day. Image dates back to the first parliamentary  extension. (31 May 2013)

Same shit, different day. Image dates back to the first parliamentary extension. (31 May 2013)

We are officially not heading to parliamentary elections.The parliament approved today a second extension to its term for two years and seven month (31 months). That’s 943 days. 943. Again, 943.  Most of the MPs voted for the extension while The FPM and Kataeb boycotted the session. While the extension move was very expected, several signs, especially in late August and the beginning of September hinted at the possibility of parliamentary elections happening this fall. But Lebanese politics are highly unpredictable. So what really happened these last two months?

This week Future Movement showed Berri that they could still bypass any of his vetoes regarding the presidential elections by endorsing M8’s “hidden candidate” (Jean Kahwaji). And Berri responded by reminding them that he too is unpredictable and that no matter what happens, he still holds the keys to the Lebanese parliament and could postpone for them the elections in case they wanted to. And in the process, the Lebanese Forces discovered that they were yet again left alone with no real power.

That was the situation in the first week of October. Then, on the 13th and 14th of October, three separate events proved that we were about to enter a turning point in Lebanon’s presidential/parliamentary politics.

(1) Hassan Nasrallah’s remarks while he was visiting the Bekaa were at the same time too violent about ISIS and awkwardly silent about the parliamentary elections. If Hezbollah genuinely wanted the elections to happen, Nasrallah would have publicly and clearly supported the demands of his Christian ally. The Bekaa speech would have also been a good occasion to start the electoral campaign, since the parliamentary elections were supposed to happen in the next month. But Nasrallah completely ignored the subject and instead chose to keep the anti-ISIS media war alive. The comments were 100% about ISIS and 0% about the elections or even broad Lebanese politics for that matter (No mention of the presidential elections either).

And there are two obvious reasons for that: Hezbollah’s top priority right now is the war next door, and exactly like the first extension’s context in 2013, the parliamentary elections would lead to two things:

A bad result:  A stronger Michel Aoun with a bigger parliamentary bloc (Making him more Hezbollah-independent which means that it would be easier for him to shift alliances or strike deals with his rivals).

A worse result: M14 wins the elections.

In both cases, it is more convenient for Hezbollah to keep the status quo, especially that the FM had previously threatened to boycott the parliamentary elections. Which means that Hezbollah would have had to deal with a political crisis, Sunni uproar, a non-representative parliament and possible Sunni-Shia clashes. (All this because Aoun might or might not have gained 7 extra seats.)

(2) The second development is about Amal and the FM. High ranking officials from both parties engaged in talks and the meeting was described as “positive” and aimed at extending the legislative term with “the minimum damage.” Two of the biggest blocs in parliament were already pro-extension.

(3) Hariri had previously hinted that M14 was ready to drop Geagea’s candidacy, but it didn’t seem that serious until he met with the Maronite patriarch and publicly endorsed the election of a consensual candidate. The maneuver was simple: By throwing Geagea outside the presidential race and endrosing a consensual candidate, M14 appears to the Lebanese public as the coalition that is spending most of the effort regarding the presidential elections. It puts pressure on Michel Aoun to back down but also gives the impression that the consensual candidate – once elected – would be an M14 sympathizer (since Aoun would be the last candidate to withdraw). Jean Kahwaji wouldn’t be “M8′s hidden candidate” anymore, but rather “M14′s proposed consensual candidate”. Properly speaking, it won’t be a win for M14, but it would definitively be defeat for Aoun.

Is A ‘Consensual War’ Starting?

Some rumors indicate that Jean Obeid might gather more support than Jean Kahwagi. Apparently, Obeid’s candidacy has the approval of Berri, Hariri and Jumblatt, which might mean that we could be heading (after the extension) to a “consensual candidate war”, with Obeid being supported by the “quadripartite alliance” Berri/Hezbollah/Mustaqbal/PSP (minus Hezbollah), Kahwagi being supported by Hezbollah, and Aoun being supported by himself while his Christian rivals seem to have no idea of what’s happening.

Baabda > Nejmeh Square

Throwing Geagea outside means however that the abandoned Lebanese Forces would have wanted to take their revenge somehow. The Lebanese- and especially the Christian electorate – are mainly against extending the parliament’s term. The wise thing to do from the Lebanese Forces would have been to embrace their electorate’s demands and piss off their Muslim allies by calling for elections and voting no for the extension. But that’s not what happened today. The FM and Berri’s biggest fear was that Christian MPs would boycott the extension session (making it invalid because of the lack of Christian support and creating constitutional problems). The very fact that the LF didn’t do that means something very important: Although they might not want the extension, they still value their allies’ importance. The LF needs the FM for the  presidential elections. Even the FPM – indirectly, with the Yes votes of their smaller ally, the Marada (4 votes) – gave a “Christian cover” for the extension and partially satisfied  Hezbollah’s political needs: For the LF and the FPM, abandoning your Muslim ally means losing the quest to Baabda. The Nejmeh square quarrel can obviously wait. For the Kataeb who don’t have a presidential candidate at the frontline of the presidential elections ( which is mainly about Geagea and Aoun), the wise thing to do was to please the Christian electorate and boycott the extension session. (Their alliance with Mustaqbal isn’t very relevant right now since they have no presidential candidate for the FM to support)

Retracing The Steps That Led To The Extension

The rest of October was rather quite similar to these two days. Even at the height of a political offensive by M14, Hezbollah reacted calmly – indicating its desperate need to eliminate something as simple as the idea of a Sunni-Shia political/military crisis - by “rejecting to engage in Spat with Mustaqbal despite a sharp rift“. On the other side of the political spectrum, the FM continued their presidential maneuver. The LF were once again indirectly bashed by their allies when Saad Hariri, approximately two weeks after his meeting with the Patriarch, declared the end of Geagea’s candidacy one more time. The first days of November were also similar. The most important stance was Hezbollah’s one, when Nasrallah (1) praised the FM for their stances on Tripoli’s events (indicating a rapprochement due to their similar stances on the extension) and (2) publicly – and probably for the first time – said that Aoun was Hezbollah’s candidate (Implying that Aoun was no longer a consensus candidate and indirectly ruling him out from the “Consensual candidate list” – something that should please the Mustaqbal party)

The Scary Part

What is scary here isn’t that Lebanese politicians lie and steal and deceive and postpone elections. That, we already know. What is truly scary here is that 25 years after Taef, we are starting to witness an obvious rapprochement between the Christian parties while a rivalry between the Muslim blocs and the major Christian ones is becoming more apparent by the day. Every time there’s an important law debated in parliament – Such as the electoral law or the extension law – the rift is yet again Christian/Muslim instead of M8/M14: 10 years after the creation of these alliances , it seems that they were more based on an electoral than ideological ground.

If there was one beautiful thing about the March 8 and 14 alliances, it was that they were religiously diverse. And now – with ISIS on our gates and with vacancy and dysfunction everywhere in the political establishment – is literally the worst time to lose that.

Clashes, Again

The war for the extension was until now political. Then, on the third week of October, clashes erupted between the Lebanese army and Islamist militants in Tripoli. It was the best thing that could have happened to the pro-extension parties. That, in addition to the other security issues, such as the Arsal fiasco, were more than enough to say that the government couldn’t handle organizing elections in such a context (which is total bullshit, since in the 1990s the parliamentary elections happened even when Israel was occupying the South). Just look at that headline:

North Lebanon mufti cancels Christian-Muslim summit over clashes

Now forget about that headline for a while, and read the following paragraphs (sorry, couldn’t find an English version)

            انطلاقاً من الأوضاع الأمنية التي يمر بها الوطن والتي تؤثر بشكل واضح ومباشر على الحياة الطبيعية في مناطق واسعة وفي معظم المحافظات اللبنانية حيث انتقال الحوادث والإشكالات من منطقة إلى أخرى سبّبت سقوط الشهداء والجرحى لا سيما في مدن رئيسية تشكل عقدة المواصلات الأساسية بين المناطق اللبنانية من الشمال إلى الجنوب إلى البقاع.

            وبناءً على ما لهذا الأمر من أثر مباشر على قدرة الجيش والقوى الأمنية التي تسخّر كل قوتها وانتشارها لضبط الأوضاع مع تكرار الإعتداءات على الجيش ووقوع خسائر في أرواح جنوده وضباطه مما شكّل تحدّياً لدوره أدّى إلى سحب ونقل قواته من مهامها الأساسية في الجنوب إلى مناطق أخرى.

ونظراً لانعكاس هذه الحالة وتلازمها مع تصعيد سياسي وانقسام يأخذ في كثير من الأحيان أبعاداً مذهبية وطائفية حادة تنذر تداعياتها بالفتنة التي أصبحت معالمها تنتقل من مكان لآخر وبأشكال متعددة.

وبالاطلاع التفصيلي على أوضاع أكثر من منطقة لبنانية تظهر أن سلاح الفوضى يعبث بأمنها حيث يتجرّأ المسلحون على هز هيبة الدولة واستقرار حياة الناس وصولاً إلى إطلاق الصواريخ على المناطق التي تشكل امتداداً للعاصمة وكذلك مدينة طرابلس مع ما لهذا من انعكاس على صورة لبنان إضافةً إلىسقوط عشرات القتلى ومئات الجرحى، والقصف الصاروخي المتكرر على مدينة الهرمل.

هذه الأوضاع الأمنية المتردية أدّت إلى أن العديد من الدول العربية والأجنبية نصحت رعاياها بمغادرة لبنان أو على الأقل عدم المجيء إليه إلا للضرورة القصوى.

وبما أن مجمل هذا الوضع الأمني والسياسي المتوتر يعطل بشكل كبير إمكانية القيام بتحرك إنتخابي وتنظيم الحملات التي تسمح للمواطن وللمرشح بممارسة حقه في إطار القوانين والأنظمة وتعطل قدرة التواصل بينهما في أغلب المناطق وخاصة في المدن الكبرى ومنها وإليها.

وتزامناً مع عدم الاستقرار الأمني هذا تأتي مشكلة غياب الاستقرار السياسي مع وجود حكومة مستقيلة.

كل هذا انعكس وسينعكس مع استحقاق الانتخابات بشكل سلبي على القطاعات الاقتصادية والتجارية والسياحية المتعثرة وبما يؤدي إلى شلل إقتصادي يدفع اللبنانيون ثمنه مباشرةً.

وبما أن معظم هذه الأمور السياسية والأمنية تتسم بصفات الظروف الاستثنائية والقوة القاهرة بأشد مفاهيمها. 

ولو سمحت الظروف لأي كان بالاستماع إلى وزيري الدفاع والداخلية وقادة الأجهزة لعرف بدقة حجم الصعوبات والأزمات التي يواجهونها والتي تتطلب المساعدة من الجميع.

وبمـا أنـه صـدرت في لبنـان قوانيـن مـددت مـدة ولايـة المجلـس النيابـي لأكثر من مرة وهي القوانين رقـم 1/76 –3/78 –14/80 –9/83 – 3/84 – 11/86 –  52/87 – 1/1989 .

وبمـا أن القوانيـن المذكـورة أعـلاه مـددت ولايـة المجلـس النيابـي تحـت وطـأة الحـرب والقـوة القاهـرةوالظروف الاستثنائية فإن اقتراح القانـون الذي نحن بصدده مـا هـو إلا لمنـع الحـرب واستدراك الفتنـة ونتائج الأزمـات الخطيـرة المحدقـة بنا.

In case you didn’t understand a word, those were the compelling reasons (الاسباب الموجبة) that came with the previous extension law of 2013 (find the full text here). According to the text, the main reasons for the extension were that the security situation is unstable (There was the Qussair battle at the time) , that there is no political stability (Mikati’s government was a caretaker one at the time) and that there is no agreement on the electoral law.

The main rhetoric used here is a preventive one: “The parliamentary extension is to prevent war” and is based on the fact that the previous extensions were made in times of war. You know, because since we didn’t have elections during the war, we shouldn’t have elections in order to prevent the war (what a logical sentence! – credit goes to our politicians)

Now read the headline again:

North Lebanon mufti cancels Christian-Muslim summit over clashes

That headline is the Christmas miracle. The political class that wasted most of the 17 previous months on forming a government that could have been formed in 17 minutes instead of agreeing on an electoral law, and that successfully postponed the presidential elections and established vacancy in Baabda, now received what it had always wanted: Clashes, sectarianism and terrorism, all in a combo package.

The other Christmas miracle was the decision of two Lebanese universities last week to postpone their student elections because of the security situation. Take it from the politicians’ point of view: If the universities can’t even hold elections in this context, how can the government organize them?

By the end of this week, the three extension requirements were met. It was finally time to pass the parliamentary extension: (a) There was no political stability (no president), (b) there was no new electoral law to use (apparently 17 months aren’t enough to write a couple of consensual articles on a piece of paper), and (c) There were severe security breaches.

Mabrouk, maddadna.

Is it politically correct to say 3a2bel el miyye?

165 days since the 25th of May. One million years till the next parliamentary elections.

Wikileaks’ Five Consensual Candidates Of 2007

Lebanese Parliament 1950s

Since Lebanon’s presidential politics are now about finding the consensual candidate (with the ًexpected withdrawal of Samir Geagea that should be followed by a similar move from Aoun), I thought it might be interesting to take a look at who the “consensual” candidates were in 2007. So here’s a diplomatic cable (Thank you, Julien Assange) discussing the main five consensual candidates of the last presidential elections.

BEIRUT 00001424 001.2 OF 004 Classified By: Jeffrey Feltman, Ambassador, per 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (S) As we have reported, March 14 leaders say that Nassib Lahoud is their first choice for president, with Boutros Harb the fall-back; March 8 leaders at least tactically suggest Michel Aoun is their only candidate. At the same time there is considerable talk by both sides about finding a consensus choice, an approach that presumably rules out those three as well as undeclared March 14 candidates Amine Gemayel and Nayla Mouawad. Yet we are not convinced that March 8 leaders seek genuine consensus. Their Syrian and Iranian backers probably hope to exploit the public yearning for a solution in order to dictate a presidential choice, who would be a consensus candidate in name only. Failing that, March 8 leaders — and Michel Aoun — would probably prefer vacuum or chaos to blame on March 14 stubbornness. Suggesting that acquiring trump cards is more important than achieving consensus, Nabih Berri insists that discussions toward a consensus president will begin only after March 14 agrees to conditions that ensure a March 8 veto.
2. (S) But let us assume that the two clashing political camps succumb to domestic and international pressure to discuss compromise figures. Each side has a different definition of who counts as a consensus choice (with Harb believing obsequiousness will lead Berri secretly to back him and Aoun deluding his cult-like inner circle that he occupies the halfway point between March 8 and 12). But, despite differences, there are five names mentioned frequently as potential consensus candidates: LAF Commander Michel Sleiman, Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, MP Robert Ghanem, ex-Minister Michel Edde, and Maronite League head Joseph Torbey. We guess that Berri would add ex-Ministers Jean Obeid and Fares Bouez to the consensus list, and Patriarch Sfeir would include ex-Ambassador Simon Karam and ex-Minister Demianos Kattar. Minister of Justice Charles Rizk would add himself. Occasionally, bankers Francois Bassil and Farid Raphael are mentioned, as is, infrequently, Higher Judicial Council chief Antoine Kheir. Some even raise the unlikely possibility of luring Carlos Ghosn from Renault-Nissan to Baabda. The darkest horses in the consensus sweepstakes include beach resort owner Roger Edde and lawyer Chibli Mallatt.
3. (S) At this point — and until or unless other names emerge — Sleiman, Salameh, Ghanem, Edde and Torbey probably have the best chance of branding themselves as the consensus candidate of choice acceptable to both camps (albeit begrudgingly in the March 14 case, given March 14 leaders’ belief that they have the majority right to elect a president). We can’t at this point predict the odds of who might prevail, or even if the consensus approach prevails over March 14 being able to elect one of its own. But in comparing the current choices, we can make a few observations about the behavior of the candidates in question. Our biggest concern is that all of the leading consensus candidates with the possible exception of Torbey (whose political views are largely unknown) have either documented or rumored ties to Syria that might make them vulnerable to interference. We also note that UN Special Coordinator to Lebanon Geir Pedersen believes that Sleiman and Salameh are the only two candidates acceptable to Hizballah, rendering them suspect. — LAF Commander Sleiman: In the aftermath of Nahr al-Barid, Sleiman is the most popular choice. He is a useful tool in deflating Michel Aoun, as many Aoun backers, including powerful MP Michel Murr, are ready to shift support to Sleiman. But Sleiman’s record has been mixed over the past three years. On the one hand, in permitting (and even facilitating) the spring 2005 demonstrations including the famous March 14 rally, Sleiman defied Syrian orders. He also oversaw the historic LAF troop withdrawal to the south and (after initially blinking) the Nahr al-Barid fight. UNIFIL reports that he promotes active LAF-UNIFIL cooperation. On the other hand, his public statements have been among the worst of any GOL officials (going beyond what would be considered politically imperative), and the LAF under his command has done almost nothing to stop Hizballah weapons smuggling and transport. We cannot imagine he would be more
BEIRUT 00001424 002.2 OF 004
forceful as president in implementing UNSCRs 1559 and 1701, especially if he owes Hizballah and Syria for helping to create his presidency. He is suspicious of March 14 and dislikes Siniora, who is openly contemptuous of Sleiman. To be president, Sleiman would require the same constitutional amendment passed for Emile Lahoud’s first time, waiving the usual two-year cooling-off period before the army commander is eligible to become president. We cannot say with certainty what his current ties to Syria are, but we assume that they remain active. — Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh: Salameh enjoys an excellent international reputation in financial circles for having prevented Lebanon’s financial meltdown. If examined closely, his methods may raise bankers’ eyebrows, but they worked. His candidacy is pushed by Lebanon’s financial and business circles, who cite a pragmatic, non-ideological approach and connections to all parties in Lebanon. But the number of rumors about Salameh’s private life and his alleged cover-up of the Bank al-Medina scandal raise concerns about the potential for blackmail. Unsubstantiated stories circulate about trips to Damascus to advise the Asad family on banking and finance. Once a protege of Rafiq Hariri, in 2004 he was seen as having betrayed Hariri, when he secretly worked with Emile Lahoud to reschedule bonds in advance of their mature dates (and at higher interest costs that padded his banker friends’ pockets); Hariri had planned to use the approaching financial crisis as leverage in his quiet campaign to prevent Lahoud’s extension. Nevertheless, Salameh is very close to Rafiq’s widow Nazek. Common wisdom is that he, too, would require a constitutional amendment to become president, although he makes an argument that the cooling-off period does not apply. PM Siniora and Salameh loathe each other, with each bearing grudges that date back years. While friendly to us, Salameh demonstrates a certain opaqueness, an ability to mask what he is really thinking or doing. As with Sleiman, we assume he maintains active ties to the Syrians. — MP Robert Ghanem: A long-time MP from West Biqa’, Ghanem comes from a part of Lebanon that has long been subject to heavy Syrian interference. While he voted against Emile Lahoud’s extension in 2004 (as Ghanem wanted to become president himself), Ghanem sat out the spring 2005 demonstrations. Fellow Christian MPs who did join March 14 tended to forgive Ghanem at the time, noting that his district’s location next to Syria explained his absence. By the 2005 legislative elections, he had thrown his lot in with the March 14 movement, successfully defending his parliamentary seat on a March 14 electoral list. As March 14 fortunes have fallen over the past year, however, Ghanem has tiptoed away, and he was not invited to the August meeting of March 14 Christians. Our sense is that Ghanem — a decent man — is politically opportunistic rather than ideological, malleable rather than principled. With his political base in the Biqa’, he will naturally work hard not to offend the Syrians. If the Syrians said “boo,” he would be among the first to be rattled. — Former Minister Michel Edde: Now an octogenarian, Edde has sufficient wealth not to fall into the usual Lebanese temptations of using public office for private gain. A generous donor to the Maronite church and former head of the Maronite League, he has the “Christian weight” that most of the other consensus candidates lack, through a close, decades-long friendship with Patriarch Sfeir. The French are seduced by his happy gourmand profile, and he is generous and ecumenical with his private charity. He serves, for example, as the first non-Druse officer of the primary Druse charity in Lebanon, thanks to his financial support. But his attitude about Sunnis, and Palestinian Sunnis in general, verges on racism. He views most issues from a paranoid perspective of how to preserve the political powers of a diminishing and (in his view) embattled Maronite population. Perversely, this has led him to traditionally cozy relations with Hizballah and Syria (with rumored links to Mohammed Nassif Khayrbek), all of whom he sees as needed counterweights to Sunni power. His views of Sunnis approaches those of General Aoun, although the perpetually sunny Edde drops the vitriol Aoun applies. Infamously, he once said that he would throw his body down before the Syrian tanks to prevent them from leaving, leading to the current jokes that, after the Syrian withdrawal, when Edde comes to
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visit, he can slip in under the door without knocking. — Maronite League President Joseph Torbey: Torbey was elected as head of the Maronite League in May 2007, in a surprisingly heated race seen to have promoted him into the ranks of presidential contenders. A banker, Torbey was for years head of the Lebanese Bankers Association and previously Chairman of the Arab Bankers Association. His political views are not well known. He is head of Credit-Libanais Bank, which is majority Saudi-owned, leading some politicians to muse that he must lean in the direction of the Hariris and March 14. Yet his winning slate for the Maronite League board suggests a slight bias against March 14 (including, for example, LBC Chair Pierre Daher — an enemy of Samir Geagea — and Abdullah Bouhabib, close to former Deputy Prime Minister Issam Fares). But most observers feel he is pragmatic rather than political. Patriarch Sfeir has mentioned Torbey as an example of the “neutral” figure, “equal distance” from both March 8 and March 14 that Sfeir sees as needed to heal Lebanon’s deep political divide.
4. (S) If we had voting power and were confined to these five consensus candidates, what would we think? Despite his current popularity, we would eliminate Sleiman immediately: After Emile Lahoud and the experience with Michel Aoun earlier, Lebanon could benefit from a civilian president. And, whatever Sleiman’s admirable actions over the past three years, we believe pursuing an end to Hizballah’s arms smuggling would be a particularly hard sell with him, especially given his (accurate) suspicions about March 14′s only reluctant support and trust of him. He sees Syria and Hizballah as more reliable allies, we believe. We would scratch Michel Edde’s name off next, as someone who is well past his sell-by date. Much as we enjoy Edde’s friendship and cuisine, it is difficult to pursue a constructive agenda with someone who does not pause to take a breath in his unending monologues on Lebanon’s Christian identity. Edde’s presidential ambitions are taken most seriously by those who wish a weak president or those who are counting on Edde’s advanced age forcing an early vacancy in the office.
5. (S) As Saad Hariri pointed out himself (reftel), Robert Ghanem poses a challenge. He would not provide the strong leadership Lebanon needs in the years to come. But, as a decent man who did back the Special Tribunal (despite pervasive Syrian influence in his neighborhood), he would be an improvement over the incumbent in Baabda Palace. Unlike Emile Lahoud, Ghanem is not a believer in Syrian hegemony. Rather, our worries would be that his natural susceptibility to Syrian pressure would make him a facilitator of Syrian interests by default. We guess that Ghanem would try very hard to avoid conflict with either Syria or with us, making the choice of a PM all that much more important: the premier will have to help fill the leadership vacuum Ghanem is not prepared to fill. While we would be unexcited by the choice, Ghanem would not be a disaster, and it would be difficult to object to his candidacy, if he emerges out of a genuine consensus.
6. (S) Of all the five, Torbey and Salameh are probably the most modern thinkers, by virtue of their broad exposure in international business and financial circles. They have both been part of the financial establishment here that has kept Lebanon afloat despite the common belief that Lebanon should have collapsed financially years ago. In fact, the financial concerns would probably keep both Torbey and Salameh leaning toward the west, despite Syrian pressures and whatever vulnerabilities they have, since neither would want to preside over Lebanon’s bankruptcy. Financial pressure, in other words, could be a useful deterrent on either from going too far with the Syrians. Besides rumors of Syrian connections and some unsavory personal and business practices, Salameh faces the additional burdens of a constitutional amendment (at least according to most observers) and the hatred of Siniora. But, with Torbey such an unknown figure, we would probably, and without enthusiasm, end up backing Salameh as the least risky of the five.
7. (S) Unfortunately, none of these five candidates are statesmen. The exercise of examining potential compromise candidates reinforces our first impression that none of the consensus names currently in circulation indicate the type of exciting, dynamic leaders that would be ideal to move Lebanon
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forward. But the desire to pull Lebanon backwards, toward renewed Syrian hegemony, is surely what motivates Syria’s agents here to object so strenuously to candidates like Nassib Lahoud who are. Lackluster as candidates like Salameh and Ghanem are, they at least would not willingly participate in facilitating the return of Syrian occupation of Lebanon.
8. (S) Much can happen between now and the expiration of Emile Lahoud’s presidential term at midnight on November 23. But, for now, a consensus solution for the presidency appears able merely to prevent immediate chaos and violence, not to deal decisively with Lebanon’s long-term problems. A consensus president prevents the emerges of a new crisis but is unlikely to have the influence to solve the existing problems. If there is a consensus president from the list we have provided here, we should keep our fingers crossed that Lebanon’s next prime minister is a strong, decisive figure to help compensate for the weakness in Baabda Palace. We have a sinking feeling that, with a weak compromise figure as president, Lebanon would be no more able to resolve the issues facing it than under the current dysfunctional line-up.
FELTMAN
149 days since the 25th of May. 28 days till the 16th of November.

Lebanon’s New Presidential Favorite?

Empty frames (presidential vacuum)

Visual vacuum: Portraits of ex-Lebanese President Michel Sleiman at state-run facilities replaced with empty frames. (Image source: The Daily Star, Mohamad Azakir)

Other than the fact that we still don’t have a president and that the parliamentary elections are in a month, Lebanon had two very busy weeks. Let’s take a look at some of these stories.

28/09/2014 – Army Repels Jihadist Infiltration Attempt as Gunmen Try to Spread Chaos in Lebanon (Naharnet)

The Lebanese army clashed with jihadists trying to infiltrate Lebanese territories at dawn Monday, leaving many dead and injured among their ranks, Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) reported.

The infiltration attempt was made on the outskirts of the northeastern border town of Arsal, which last month witnessed bloody clashes between the army and militants from al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group.

28/09/2014 – Hariri: Syrian National Coalition Complaint on Army’s Arsal Raid Should’ve Mentioned Captive Troops (Naharnet)

Head of the Mustaqbal Movement MP Saad Hariri criticized on Sunday the Syrian National Coalition’s complaint to the United Nations Security Council over the Lebanese army’s treatment of Syrian refugees in the northeastern region of Arsal, deeming it as a “misstep” and saying that it disregards the ties between the Lebanese and Syrian people.

He said in a statement: “The Syrian National Coalition has the right to defend the refugees’ humanitarian rights … but the interests of the refugees and Syrian revolt also requires them to raise their voice and demand the release of the Lebanese soldiers and policemen abducted by Islamists in August.”

29/09/2014 – Saudi Arabia asks for clarification on weapons deal for Army (The Daily Star)

“For reasons that I cannot explain today, the Saudis have put conditions on the destinations of the arms,” Lebranchu said. When pressed what she meant by “destinations,” Lebranchu said that the already complex file would only be further complicated if she discussed the details publicly.

Moreover, the Saudis had not registered their specific concerns regarding the arms deal with the French by Friday evening as Lebranchu concluded her trip to Lebanon.

“If the Saudis have a problem [with the accord] … it would be helpful if they identified it quickly so that we could respond,” Lebranchu said. “We need to get this file moving.”

She was confident that the Saudis would express their precise concerns in the near future.

30/09/2014 – Iran to donate military equipment to Lebanese Army (The Daily Star)

Iran will donate military equipment to the Lebanese Army, a visiting Iranian official said Tuesday after talks with Prime Minister Tammam Salam.

“Given the role Lebanon is playing in fighting extremist takfiri terrorism in some border regions, Iran has decided to donate military equipment to the Lebanese Army, as a token of love and appreciation for Lebanon and its brave Army,” said Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran.

 

01/10/2014 – Jumblat Calls for Exchange between Arsal Captives, Roumieh Prisoners to End Abduction Ordeal (Naharnet)

Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat called on Wednesday for a swift exchange between the Arsal captives and Roumieh prison Islamist inmates, holding former Internal Security Forces personnel responsible for the “self-rule” at the facility.

“The government and crisis cell should follow up any exchange process with the kidnappers,” Jumblat said in an interview with An Nahar newspaper.

He denied any previous knowledge of the conditions set by the jihadists, who kidnapped a batch of soldiers after withdrawing from the northeastern border town of Arsal in August.

Note: Jumblatt had previously refused the idea of an exchange deal on the 7th of  September.

05/01/2014 – Lebanon to get Russian helicopters, air defense (The Daily Star)

“There are talks on buying Russian arms and special equipment by Lebanon,” the World Tribune quoted Machnouk as saying during his visit to Moscow in late September to discuss weapons supplies to Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces.

He said a delegation from the army would visit Moscow later this month to discuss proposals.

Any deal would most likely be financed by the $1 billion Saudi donation that was announced by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri in August.

Political sources last month told the The Daily Star that Hariri was working to revive 2010 arms negotiations with Moscow. The Russian ambassador confirmed at the time that talks were taking place without going into detail.

08/10/2014 – Lebanese Army receives new US arms delivery (The Daily Star)

he United States delivered a new batch of aid to the Lebanese Army Wednesday as part of Washington’s efforts to bolster the military’s capabilities to confront Syrian border violence.

The National News Agency reported that senior Army officers were handed ammunition at Beirut’s International Airport in the presence of representatives from U.S. Office of Defense Cooperation in Lebanon.

The Army has received several deliveries of U.S. military equipment, including arms and ammunitions, in the past weeks under the U.S. military assistance program.

08/10/2014 – France says $3 billion Lebanon arms deal to go ahead (Reuters)

“All the work is done and the President (Francois Hollande) indicated yesterday to Mr (Saad) al-Hariri that the conditions to fulfil the contract had been met,” Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament.

“This is a necessity. The Lebanese army is the last barrier that exists against the security threats this country faces.”

08/10/2014 – Envoy: Iran’s Military Gift to Lebanon Ready for Delivery (Fars News Agency)

thali made the remarks after a meeting with Lebanese Democratic Party Leader Talal Arslan, where he expressed the hope that the gift would be sent to the Lebanese army through legal procedures in the Muslim Arab state, the Egyptian al-Bawaba news reported.

The envoy did not reveal details or the nature of the aid, but said the gift would help Lebanon meet all its Army needs  in its current war on terrorism.

Iran hopes the weapons can support Lebanon in its fight against the terrorist groups, he reiterated.

Meet Lebanon’s Top Presidential Candidate

I think that I’ve made my point by now. In less than 10 days, every possible country in the world suddenly volunteered to arm the Lebanese army. Faisal Kassem’s media campaign backfired, and by the end of this week, Jean Kahwaji had become Lebanon’s man of the month. At the same time, the Lebanese army was also getting credit for its achievement in keeping a relative peace in the Bekaa and for taking control of the situation. The credit came from everyone, except Berri. Although the speaker had earlier expressed his “frustration and defended the army against critics” (30/09), on the third of October the speaker indirectly attacked the army’s command by blaming the army for the delay regarding the controversial wage hike draft law. The speaker knew what he was doing. The Lebanese army was getting stronger and stronger in the context of a presidential vacancy. On one hand, the world’s greater powers are (probably) competing to gain the sympathy of the LAF leader via the arms deals, and on the other hand,  most of the M14 forces are endorsing Kawhaji’s moves. Jumblatt’s endorsement of the exchange deal with the Arsal militants made M8′s initial veto on the issue meaningless. Kahwaji, who is traditionally seen by the Lebanese media as being sympathetic to the March 8 Alliance (and particularly Hezbollah), was becoming at the same time stronger and more popular among M14 (proof: Kahwaji headed to Washington, Riyadh to discuss support for Lebanese army). That makes it a lot easier for him to become Lebanon’s next president,  and a lot harder for Berri to enforce some of his demands in a possible deal on Kahwaji’s candidacy. After all, if everyone agrees on Kahwaji, Berri becomes as influential as Talal Arslan.

Berri’s Maneuver

This is probably why Berri made two very interesting moves this week: In the first one, the parliament speaker attacked the army and blamed it for freezing the wage hike efforts (and hence tried to make Kahwaji  unpopular). In the second one, he declared that he was going to vote against the elections in case the Future Movement takes the decision to boycott the polls. And since the FM already took that decision, it means that Nabih Berri will vote against the elections. Which also means that:

1) There’s now at least more than 65 MPs against the elections.

2) The speaker can still enforce whatever terms he wants regarding the presidential elections by effectively deciding the outcome of the extension law vote since he – as it seems – is now in control of the swing votes in the parliament (regarding the Extension/ Temdid law) and can change his decision at any time (He just proved to everyone that he is unpredictable).

The Lebanese Forces In Denial (Again)

58+8=64. That means that exactly half of the parliament wants to stay in the parliament, while the other half wants parliamentary elections (which means that we will go to elections since an extension law needs 65 votes to pass). As striking as it might seem, the decision to keep the same parliament or to change it lies within the Lebanese Forces .

Probably for the first time since prehistory, the Lebanese Forces are in a position where they are actually in charge of taking a major decision (Going to elections in the context of a presidential vacancy). And they can use this rare moment of power in order to force the M8/M14 coalitions into a deal that might be favorable to their interests.

That was the situation in September. But since Berri decided that he was going to boycott the elections after all, the majority in the parliament is now against elections – regardless of what the LF think. The Lebanese Forces hence lost their bargaining chip which might explain their recent aggressive stances and their very weird decision to sue regular citizens (If we were a normal country, such an irresponsible decision, especially in the context of an extension of the parliament’s term would have led to a revolution. Emphasis on normal.)

So in other words, this week Future Movement showed Berri that they were unpredictable and could still bypass any of his vetoes regarding the presidential elections by endorsing M8′s “hidden candidate”. And Berri responded by reminding them that he too is unpredictable and that no matter what happens, he still holds the keys to the Lebanese parliament and could postpone for them the elections in case they wanted to. And in the process, the Lebanese Forces discovered that they were yet again left alone with no real power.

 141 days since the 25th of May. 36 days till the 16th of November.

Four Months Of Vacuum

Baabda Palace during its construction, 1969

Baabda Palace during its construction, 1969 (Image source)

Four months is nothing. It took the Lebanese parliament 13 months to elect Rene Mouawad in 1989, and 7 months to elect Michel Sleiman in 2008. Before the Salam cabinet crisis (Lebanon’s longest governmental vacancy ever, 11 months), the longest period of vacancy regarding the executive power was 7 months (Rachid Karami, 1969). So, proportionally speaking, the next president should be elected in the matter of 13*11 /7 = 20 months (16 months from now). That’s January 2016. Cool, no?

The presidential elections are old news

No one cares about the Lebanese presidential elections anymore. It’s not a priority. ِAs it turns out, the Lebanese parliament is perfectly comfortable at legislating and the government is even more comfortable at ruling now that there is no president in power. A change or a vacancy in the presidency isn’t scary for Lebanese politicians. What’s truly scary is a change in the Lebanese parliament. Change the parliament, you change the status quo. So if you think that a president is going to be elected before  they strike a deal regarding the parliamentary elections (and the electoral law), don’t. The vacancy in the presidency is yet another alibi to use in case the parliament wants to extend its mandate (other than the 1960 law alibi that was used in 2013). It’s also a valuable negotiation card to use when things go bad for one of the two coalitions.

The Lebanese Forces en force (It’s payback time)

Rewind to February 2014. The only party that was left out of the Salam cabinet was Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces. True, it was their decision to stay out of the executive power, but the FM acted like they couldn’t care less at the time, which gave Michel Aoun a nice advantage two months before Sleiman left office.

The Lebanese forces have 8 MPs in the parliament (That’s more than what Jumblatt used to have in 2012). That number is relatively low and means nothing, unless you use it – à la Jumblatt – to manipulate both coalitions in order to serve the party’s interests. The Future Movement needs an extension of the parliament’s term now more than ever. The Lebanese Forces, on the other hand, have nothing to lose if they participate in the elections. Out of the 8 seats, 3 are from Zahle (friendly Sunni electorate), 2 are from Bsharri (Geagea’s hometown and the LF’s e stronghold), 1 is from the Shouf (friendly druze and Sunni electorates), 1 is from Koura (friendly Sunni electorate, although relatively less influential than in the other cases) and the last MP is from Batroun. So in the worst case scenario, under the 1960 electoral law, Geagea loses 2 seats out of the 8 (And he’s not even using the 8). Best case scenario: Geagea goes to elections, asks for more “sovereignty” from the Future Movement regarding the Christian seats in the constituencies where the Sunni electorate is present – almost 1/3 of the FM bloc are Christian MPs – and tries to control the Metn and Keserwan seats by defeating Aoun there. Although his chances are slim, it does seems tempting to defeat the main presidential contender (Aoun) in the middle of a presidential vacancy, no?

A possible deal

Here’s the situation, as of this week. Hezbollah is still relatively silent about the parliamentary elections (Nasrallah spoke last tuesday, but only about ISIS – willingly ignoring the subject of parliamentary elections). However Berri and his party want elections, and the same goes for Michel Aoun and his party. Which means that we should assume that their common ally, Hezbollah, is likely to go to elections should both of them head to polls. To sum things up here, M8 has around 58 MPs who are in favor of the elections and are likely to vote against extension. The centrists (Jumblatt & co)  are likely to vote against elections.  In M14, the FM and its proxies are against the parliamentary elections, and the Kataeb seem to have a similar opinion. The FM have even threatened to boycott the elections. The only party that is going against the current here is the LF. According to the LF’s George Adwan, they are going to vote against the extension. 58+8=64. That means that exactly half of the parliament wants to stay in the parliament, while the other half wants parliamentary elections (which means that we will go to elections since an extension law needs 65 votes to pass). As striking as it might seem, the decision to keep the same parliament or to change it lies within the Lebanese Forces .

Probably for the first time since prehistory, the Lebanese Forces are in a position where they are actually in charge of taking a major decision (Going to elections in the context of a presidential vacancy). And they can use this rare moment of power in order to force the M8/M14 coalitions into a deal that might be favorable to their interests.

So let’s sum things up: We’re a country that has no president, no elections, no functioning cabinet, a self-extending parliament that doesn’t meet anyway, and whose students pass without official exams.

Also, Samir Geagea might be the new Walid Jumblatt.

127 days since the 25th of May. 50 days till the 16th of November.