Wikileaks And The 1995 Presidential Elections

Elias Hrawi delivers his Inaugural speech, Nov. 24, 1989

Elias Hrawi delivers his Inaugural speech, Nov. 24, 1989

Things are moving very slowly in Lebanese politics these days, so I thought it would be interesting to see how Lebanon handled the presidential elections two decades ago, back when Berri was serving his very first term in office and when Hariri was still prime minister.

So here it is, the 1995 presidential elections, in the eyes of U.S. embassy.

(Spoiler alert: The parliament eventually extended Hrawi’s term)

(S)ELECTING A LEBANESE PRESIDENT IN 1995: A CURTAIN-RAISER
1994 November 9, 09:45 (Wednesday)
94BEIRUT5863_a
CONFIDENTIAL
CONFIDENTIAL
– Not Assigned –
CURTAIN-RAISER
1. CONFIDENTIAL – ENTIRE TEXT.
2. SUMMARY: VIRTUALLY EVERY PROMINENT MARONITE POLITICAN IN LEBANON (AND IN PARIS) HOPES TO SUCCEED PRESIDENT HRAWI, WHOSE TERM IS SET TO EXPIRE IN NOVEMBER 1995. FURIOUS JOCKEYING HAS BEGUN, AND A DIZZYING ARRAY OF POSSIBLE SCENARIOS EXISTS, BEGINNING WITH AN EXTENSION OF HRAWI’S TERM. THE FATE OF THE PEACE PROCESS IS WIDELY VIEWED AS A KEY DETERMINING FACTOR. THE LEBANESE HISTORICAL REFLEX TO SEEK FOREIGN BACKERS WILL MARK THE 1995 PROCESS: SYRIA WILL BE THE MAIN PLAYER, BUT CANDIDATES ARE ALSO SEEKING U.S., FRENCH, SAUDI, AND VATICAN SUPPORT. AS OF NOW, HRAWI, LAF COMMANDER EMILE LAHOUD, AND FORMER AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S. NASSIB LAHOUD ARE THE FRONT-RUNNERS. THE PRINCIPAL USG INTEREST SHOULD BE IN URGING THE SELECTION OF A PRESIDENT WITH ACROSS-THE-BOARD CREDIBILITY, BUT IN PARTICULAR WHO CAN HELP STEER THE MARONITES TOWARD POSITIVE PARTICIPATION IN FORMAL POLITICAL LIFE. SEPTEL REPORT WILL “HANDICAP” THE MOST PROMINENT CONTENDERS. END SUMMARY.
A PRESIDENT IN EVERY MARONITE’S MIRROR
————————————–
3. THE SIX-YEAR TERM OF ILYAS HRAWI IS SLATED TO EXPIRE IN NOVEMBER 1995, AT WHICH TIME PARLIAMENT WILL SELECT A SUCCESSOR. SHI’I NABIH BERRI AND SUNNI RAFIQ HARIRI BOTH HOPE ONE DAY TO BE THE FIRST MUSLIM PRESIDENT OF LEBANON, BUT NOBODY PREDICTS THAT THE NEXT PRESIDENT WILL BE ANYTHING OTHER THAN A MARONITE.
4. THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF WOULD-BE SUCCESSORS IN THE MARONITE COMMUNITY. AT A RECENT SOCIAL EVENT FOR PARLIAMENTARIANS, A DRUZE MP ILLUSTRATED THE POINT WHEN HE TOASTED “TO THE NEXT PRESIDENT IN OUR MIDST–ALL SIX OF THEM.” THE LIST OF MARONITE “WANNABES” BRIDGES THE GAP BETWEEN THOSE WHO PARTICIPATED IN THE 1992 ELECTIONS AND THOSE WHO BOYCOTTED THE PROCESS, AND RUNS THE SPECTRUM FROM VIRULENT ANTI-SYRIANS TO THE SHAMELESS SURROGATES OF DAMASCUS. IN ADDITION TO THE SURFEIT OF WOULD-BE LEADERS IN THE COUNTRY, SUCH EXILES IN PARIS AS RAYMOND EDDE, AMINE GEMAYEL, AND MICHEL AOUN WANT TO EITHER GAIN THE PRIZE OR PLAY KINGMAKER.
THE SYRIAN ROLE, AS USUAL, KEY
——————————
5. REGIONAL REALITIES AND THE PRESENCE OF A PRO-SYRIAN MAJORITY IN THE LEBANESE PARLIAMENT ASSURE THAT SYRIA WILL HAVE THE DOMINANT VOICE IN THE SELECTION OF A NEW PRESIDENT. TO DATE, THE SARG HAS NOT TIPPED ITS HAND ABOUT ITS PREFERENCES. IN LEBANON, IT IS ASSUMED THAT THE PRESIDENTIAL SUCCESSION WILL BE CLOSELY TIED TO THE PEACE PROCESS, AND THAT THE SARG WILL CALCULATE ITS INTERESTS AS NEGOTIATIONS WITH ISRAEL PLAY THEMSELVES OUT. 6. EVEN THE MARONITES NOW JOCKEYING FOR POSITION BELIEVE THAT THE SYRIAN STRATEGY WILL BE TO LET THE CANDIDATES STRATCH, JOSTLE, AND ELBOW EACH OTHER TO THE POINT OF IMPASSE, AT WHICH POINT “BIG BROTHER” WILL STEP IN TO “HELP” THE LEBANESE SORT OUT THEIR SELF-MADE MESS. IN THE MEANTIME, DAMASCUS WILL HOST A CONSTANT STREAM OF CANDIDATES WHO SALLY ACROSS THE BORDER IN HOPE THAT ASAD WILL GIVE A FAVORABLE WORD, WINK, OR NOD.
THE U.S. ROLE: DIFFERENT SCENARIOS
———————————-
7. IT IS AXIOMATIC AMONG LEBANESE THAT THE USG WILL PLAY A KEY ROLE, EITHER ACTIVE OR PASSIVE, IN THE MAKING OF THE NEXT PRESIDENT. USG DRUTHERS ARE JUDGED TO BE DEPENDENT ON THE PEACE PROCESS. THOSE WHO BELIEVE THAT THE U.S. PLANS TO “SELL OUT” LEBANON FOR THE SAKE OF A SYRIAN-ISRAELI PEACE AGREEMENT FEAR THAT THE SARG AND THE USG WILL COOPERATE TO CREATE A LEBANESE QUISLING WHO WILL FAITHFULLY EXECUTE SYRIAN DIKTAT.
8. A MORE POSITIVE SCHOOL OF THOUGHT BELIEVES THAT THE USG, AT AN APPROPRIATE MOMENT, SHOULD URGE THE SARG TO EXERCISE ITS INFLUENCE TO GUARANTEE THE SELECTION OF A PRESIDENT WHO HAS A DEGREE OF CREDIBILITY ON ALL SIDES. THEY HOPE THAT DAMASCUS WILL BE SUFFICIENTLY BROAD-MINDED TO SEE THE NEED FOR A UNIFYING FIGURE, IN PARTICULAR SOMEONE WHO CAN LEAD THE MARONITES TOWARD POSITIVE PARTICIPATION IN FORMAL POLITICAL LIFE. SUCH SYRIAN ALTRUISM, HOWEVER, WOULD IN THEIR ESTIMATION BE DEPENDENT ON A SUCCESSFUL OUTCOME OF THE PEACE PROCESS.
9. THE MARONITE HARD CORE HOPES THAT A BREAKDOWN OF THE PEACE PROCESS WILL SOMEHOW LEAD THE USG (AND ISRAEL) TO SUPPORT A VOCAL OPPONENT OF SYRIA. THEY HOPE TO MOBILIZE MARONITE COMMUNITIES IN THE U.S. TO PRESSURE THE ADMINISTRATION TO SUPPORT “THE LEBANESE POWER OF DECISION” — WHICH IN THEIR CIRCLES MEANS RESTORING UNRIVALED MARONITE DOMINANCE.
OTHER PLAYERS: FRANCE, SAUDI ARABIA, THE VATICAN
——————————————— —
10. MANY MARONITES ARE HOPING THAT FRANCE WILL INVOLVE ITSELF IN THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE BY URGING SYRIA OR THE USG IN A PARTICULAR DIRECTION, OR, IN SOME FEVERED IMAGININGS, BY RESUMING THE ROLE OF GUARANTOR OF MARONITE POWER. THOSE MARONITES WHO MAKE THE PILGRIMAGE TO FOGGY BOTTOM SEEKING USG BLESSING USUALLY STOP OFF IN PARIS TO PRACTICE THEIR PITCH. THEORIES OF FRENCH PREFERENCES VARY WILDLY — FROM BACKING AOUN AND “MARONISME” TO SELLING OUT CHRISTIAN INTERESTS FOR THE SAKE OF CEMENTING WIDER FRENCH INTERESTS IN THE ARAB WORLD. IN PARTICULAR, MANY MARONITES FEAR THE WARM RELATIONS BETWEEN JACQUES CHIRAC AND SUNNI PRIME MINISTER HARIRI.
11. SAUDI ARABIA IS ALSO SEEN AS HAVING A ROLE TO PLAY, BUILDING ON ITS EXISTING RELATIONSHIP WITH HARIRI. SOME SPECULATE THAT RIYADH WILL POUR MONEY INTO LEBANON — OR EVEN SYRIA — TO SUPPORT HARIRI’S FAVORITE MARONITE, OR THAT, CONVERSELY, HARIRI WILL BE GIVEN INSTRUCTIONS WHOM TO SUPPORT. MOREOVER, ONE PROMINENT CANDIDATE, NASSIB LAHOUD, HAS INDEPENDENT TIES TO RIYADH (SEPTEL). SOME EXPECT THE USG TO URGE THE SAUDIS TO SUPPORT ITS FAVORED CANDIDATE.
12. PUNDITS EXPECT THAT THE VATICAN, THROUGH THE INFLUENCE IT MIGHT EXERCISE ON THE MARONITE PATRIARCH AND THUS HIS CHURCH, WILL INVOLVE ITSELF DEEPLY. THEY SEE THE ELEVATION OF PATRIARCH SFAYR TO CARDINAL AS A SIGN OF VATICAN INTEREST IN GUARDING CHRISTIAN “RIGHTS.” THE HARD CORE HOPES THAT THE POPE WILL PRESSURE THE USG AND FRANCE TO SUPPORT A “NATIONALIST”; MODERATES HOPE THAT THE VATICAN WILL STRONGLY URGE MARONITES TO PARTICIPATE IN POLITICAL LIFE; SOME BELIEVE THAT PAPAL NUNCIO PUENTE’S ONGOING DIALOGUE WITH HIZBALLAH LEADER FADLALLAH WILL HELP PRODUCE A PRESIDENT WITH BROAD CREDIBILITY. PUENTE SAYS THAT, HEALTH PERMITTING, THE POPE WILL VISIT LEBANON IF A PEACE AGREEMENT IS REACHED: IF THE VISIT HAPPENS, LOCAL EARS WILL BE KEEN TO SIGNALS OF A VATICAN PRESIDENTIAL PREFERENCE.
THE MUSLIM CONTRIBUTION
———————–
13. MOST PRESIDENTIAL MANEUVERING, OF COURSE, IS A STRICTLY MARONITE GAME. MUSLIMS–SHIA, SUNNI, AND DRUZE–ARE RELEGATED TO SECONDARY ROLES: EITHER TO BE THE GREEK CHORUS IN PARLIAMENT TO ECHO THE WISDOM RECEIVED FROM DAMASCUS, AND/OR TO STRIKE DEALS WITH MARONITE HOPEFULS TO OBTAIN THE POSITIONS TO WHICH MUSLIMS AT THIS POINT CAN ASPIRE. MUSLIM LEADERS ALREADY HAVE BEGUN CAUTIOUSLY TO ALIGN THEMSELVES, AS OFTEN AGAINST AS FOR A PARTICULAR MARONITE. UNTIL NOW, THE HIZBALLAH SHI’A HAVE NOT DISCUSSED THE RACE OPENLY: INSTEAD, THEY ARE PREOCCUPIED WITH WHAT SYRIA, AND PERHAPS IRAN, HAVE IN STORE FOR THEM AFTER PEACE WITH ISRAEL.
EXTENSION FOR HRAWI?
——————–
14. IN THE LAST FEW MONTHS, THERE HAS BEEN DISCUSSION OF A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT THAT WOULD ALLOW PRESIDENT HRAWI TO EXTEND HIS TERM BY PERHAPS TWO YEARS. DESPITE PUBLIC DISAVOWAL OF THE IDEA, HRAWI IS WORKING TOWARD THIS GOAL BEHIND THE SCENES. HE APPARENTLY WANTS TO BE SEEN AS THE PRESIDENT WHO TOOK OFFICE IN THE MIDST OF TURMOIL, THEN PRESIDED OVER A PERIOD IN WHICH LEBANON ENDED ITS CIVIL WAR, MADE PEACE WITH ISRAEL, THEN PUT ITSELF ON THE PATH TO ECONOMIC REVIVAL. WE HAVE ALSO DETECTED WHAT MAY BE A NASCENT EFFORT BY HRAWI TO BOOST HIS DOMESTIC CREDIBILITY BY PUTTING A BIT OF DAYLIGHT BETWEEN HIMSELF AND DAMASCUS.
15. THE LEBANESE SAY THAT THE SYRIANS HAVE SENT CONFLICTING SIGNALS ON THE ISSUE OF EXTENSION, AND THAT THE ISSUE MAY DEPEND ON THE FATE OF THE PEACE PROCESS. THE THINKING IS THAT, IF THE PROCESS STALLS, HRAWI WOULD REMAIN IN OFFICE, AND THE QUESTION OF THE PRESIDENCY, LIKE SO MANY OTHER ISSUES, WOULD REMAIN BLOCKED UNTIL THE SHAPE OF REGIONAL POLITICS BECAME CLEAR.
16. THERE ARE CONFLICTING REPORTS ON HOW PM HARIRI, SPEAKER BERRI, AND OTHER GOL FIGURES VIEW AN EXTENSION OF HRAWI. HARIRI AND BERRI DISLIKE HRAWI, BUT FEAR THAT A NEW, STRONGER PRESIDENT COULD JEOPARDIZE THE PREROGATIVES THEY HAVE BEEN ABLE TO CARVE OUT. PREDICTABLY, TO THE EXTENT THAT AN EXTENSION OF HRAWI WOULD ALSO HELP FREEZE THEM IN PLACE, THE IDEA IS ATTRACTIVE. IN THE ULTIMATE ANALYSIS, THEY WILL WAIT FOR SYRIA’S DEFINITIVE SIGNAL ON THE ISSUE.
17. INTERESTINGLY, THERE ARE VIRULENT OPPONENTS OF BOTH HRAWI AND SYRIA WHO SUPPORT AN EXTENSION. THEIR THINKING IS THAT THE ENEMIES OF SYRIA SHOULD CONCENTRATE THEIR EFFORTS ON THE 1996 PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS, SEEKING INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS AND GUARANTEES. THE NEW, PRESUMABLY LESS SYRIAN-INFLUENCED PARLIAMENT WOULD THEN ELECT A PRESIDENT UNDER LESS SYRIAN SWAY.
THE USG INTEREST
—————-
18. THE USG’S VERY ACTIVE, UNSUCCESSFUL SUPPORT IN 1988 FOR MIKHAEL DAHER PROVIDES A CAUTIONARY LESSON FOR THE 1995 PRESIDENTIAL SELECTION PROCESS. ACTIVE USG BACKING FOR A PARTICULAR CANDIDATE WOULD PROBABLY SET IN MOTION A SERIES OF REACTIONS THAT WOULD DAMAGE THE CHANCES OF “AMERICA’S CHOICE.” THAT SAID, IT WOULD BE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE USG TO KEEP SILENT ABOUT THE SELECTION PROCESS: IF EXTENSION OF HRAWI REMAINS A LIVE ISSUE, WE WILL BE ASKED AT LEAST FOR COMMENT. IF A NEW PRESIDENT IS TO BE CHOSEN, WE WILL BE ASKED FOR OUR INPUT EVERY STEP OF THE WAY. PRESUMABLY, AT A MINIMUM, WE WOULD LIKE TO ASSURE THAT THE NEW PRESIDENT IS NOT HOSTILE TO USG INTERESTS.
19. UP TO THIS POINT, EMBASSY HAS ANSWERED INQUIRIES BY AVOIDING NAMES AND SAYING THAT WE HOPE A NEW PRESIDENT WILL FIT A CERTAIN PROFILE: HE/SHE SHOULD BE DEDICATED TO FINDING WAYS TO RECONCILE THE VARIOUS LEBANESE COMMUNITIES WITH EACH OTHER AND WITH THE NEEDS OF THE COMING ERA OF PEACE. HE/SHE SHOULD HAVE CREDIBILITY WITH ALL SIDES, AND IN THIS SENSE SHOULD NOT BE SEEN AS OVERLY TIED TO ANY FOREIGN SPONSOR. HE/SHE SHOULD ALSO VIEW AS A PRINCIPAL TASK ENCOURAGING THE MARONITES TOWARD MORE ACTIVE, POSITIVE PARTICIPATION IN FORMAL LEBANESE POLITICAL LIFE. IF THE TREND TOWARD CHRISTIAN NON-PARTICIPATION CONTINUES OR DEEPENS, THE PROSPECTS FOR INTERNAL RECONCILIATION AND STABILITY–WITHIN AND PERHAPS EVEN BEYOND LEBANON’S BORDERS–ARE POOR.
SCHLICHER
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How Lebanon Inspired The Syrian Civil War

Beirut's Green Line

Beirut’s Green Line

Lebanon looked at the Syrian border with disgust this week, as the jihadi militants who once overran the town of Arsal in August executed one of the Lebanese soldiers that were taken hostage.

Since the civil war began in Syria, Lebanon was amazed how a simple conflict can so quickly turn into a sectarian one, forgetting that one of the most brutal sectarian wars had happened on the streets of Beirut 40 years ago.

Lebanon was amazed how easy calls for partition can be well received, forgetting that in 1975, one of Lebanon’s founding fathers ironically called for separatism.

Lebanon was amazed how quickly a sectarian state within a state could emerge from the rubble of war and how organized it could become, forgetting for a while here about moments like this one in the Lebanese civil war.

Lebanon was amazed when the Syrian militants started taking foreign journalists, photographers and aid workers as hostages, forgetting for a while here about our numerous hostage crises in the 1980s. Lebanon was also amazed  when the Syrians militants mistreated those hostages and started the executions of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, forgetting for a while here about names such as Michel Seurat and Arkady Katkov.

Lebanon was amazed how both sides of the conflict looted multiple heritage sites and souks in Syria, forgetting for a while here how the Lebanese militias’ first most admirable achievement (and yes, that’s sarcastic) was the looting and destruction of hundreds of years of rich history in Beirut. Yes, there were days when Lebanon had actual, historic Souks, you know.

Lebanon was amazed how both sides of the conflict were destroying Syria’s infrastructure. And yet the very first thing a Lebanese will tell you about the Lebanese civil war is some battle involving hotels. Each side will tell you how heroic that battle was, and everyone will skip the part where the Hotel district, the symbol of Lebanon’s once touristic era, was reduced to rubble.

Lebanon was amazed how both the Syrian sides of the conflict are waging a war of attrition and besieging cities and starving their cities to death. As if Zahle wasn’t besieged. As if Beirut wasn’t besieged.

Lebanon was amazed how foreign fighters and Europeans and Lebanese have now active roles on the battlefield in Syria. As if the Syrians never entered Lebanon in 1976, or the Israelis in 1978, or the Americans and Italians and French in 1982. As if the Palestinians never carried weapons, and as if the Lebanese never hired non-Lebanese mercenaries.

Lebanon was amazed how Syrian members of the same “coalition” or sect could turn on each other’s back in their quest to power. As if the war of the camps never happened. As if the Aoun-Geagea wars never happened. As if the Amal-Hezbollah infighting never happened.

But here, lies the most disgusting of all ironies. Lebanon was amazed how Syrians could kill each other and commit massacres for the simple reason of belonging to a certain tribe or religious group. As if Lebanon wasn’t the country that innovated the concept of killing based on the citizen’s sect (ذبح عالهوية). As if the black Saturday hadn’t happened. As if one of the biggest massacres (Sabra and Chatila) that had ever happened since the Nazi era, was never committed in Beirut.  As if Karantina and Damour never happened.

As if 1975 hadn’t happened. As if 1976 hadn’t happened. As if 1977 hadn’t happened. As if 1978 hadn’t happened. As if 1979 hadn’t happened. As if 1980 hadn’t happened. As if 1981 hadn’t happened. As if 1982 hadn’t happened. As if 1983 hadn’t happened. As if 1984 hadn’t happened. As if 1985 hadn’t happened. As if 1986 hadn’t happened. As if 1987 hadn’t happened. As if 1988 hadn’t happened. As if 1989 hadn’t happened. As if 1990 hadn’t happened. As if 1975 hadn’t happened.

Why are you amazed, Lebanon?

Let me reformulate here.

How can you be amazed , Lebanon?

How can you be amazed, and not be a hypocrite?

There is no generation gap here. A big number of the Lebanese politicians/citizens that once fought the civil war in their twenties are the same ones, now in their forties, or fifties, or sixties, criticizing the brutality of the Syrian Civil War.

There is no possible way to describe the hypocrisy of the Lebanese. If you want to blame anyone, do not blame the terrorists or the tyranny. Do not blame the terrorists or the tyranny. Do not blame the terrorists or the tyranny.

Blame the terrorists or the tyranny you inspired.

Most Lebanese, directly blame Iran, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey or Russia for everything that’s happening in Syria. It doesn’t matter. The inspiration, the ideas, they come from the 1980’s. They come from Beirut.

Perhaps Gold, diamonds, and Jewellery aren’t Lebanon’s top exports.

Perhaps after all, sectarian brutal civil wars are Lebanon’s top export.

Here’s a small message to the neighbors next door: You know those people who are destroying your country? There will come a day when they will all rule you, via a consensual dictatorship, and tell you that you’re in a beautiful democratic republic.

And – for a reason no one could ever understand – you’ll be happy about it, and amazed at the brutality of another civil war next door.

Six Months Of Vacuum

A Lebanese Staghound securing the presidential palace in Kantari, Beirut (1958)

A Lebanese Staghound securing the presidential palace in Kantari, Beirut (1958)

It’s already been six months since Michel Sleiman left office. And this month has been the most active one so far: The parliament approved its 2 years and seven months extension, the Future Movement hinted at the possibility of a presidential breakthrough, Aoun responded with an innovative counter-attack, and most importantly, there are renewed talks about the electoral law.

How the FM tried to break the vicious circle

Two weeks ago, one of the most shocking and unexpected maneuvers of the year broke the five months status-quo we had since Michel Sleiman left office: The Future Movement – via an interview with a Beirut MP – hinted that Sleiman Frangieh could be an accepted presidential candidate. The maneuver was surprising, yet brilliant:

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.

How Frangieh responded

So to sum things up here , Frangieh in his interview ended the Future Movement’s maneuver while it was still in its early stage and proved that he wouldn’t go behind his allies’ back in order to secure the presidency for himself. But he also indirectly gave the names of M8’s three presidential favorites: Aoun, Obeid (rumored to be Berri’s favori), and Kahwaji (rumored to be Hezbollah’s favori) while at the same time blacklisting two other possible consensual names: Georges Khoury (Who used to be the head of Lebanon’s intelligence service), and the governor of the central bank (Riad Salameh).

How Aoun responded

Aoun however was more subtle in his counter-attack. While he didn’t directly comment on M14’s maneuver, he said (in an interview with MTV) that he was ready to face off with Samir Geagea in parliament provided that there was no other candidate running in the presidential elections. The maneuver here is pretty much obvious: As demonstrated by the first round of the presidential elections, Samir Geagea could never get more than 50% of the votes needed to be elected. Walid Jumblatt, among other non-affiliated M8 politicians would never elect him as president. While Michel Aoun would also never get more than 50% of the votes (since the Jumblatt and Mikati blocs are hardly going to prefer him over Geagea), Michel Aoun – via his face off proposal – would have made sure that other presidential candidates would be surely gone from the race: Two names quickly come to mind here: Sleiman Frangieh and Henri Helou.

By making sure that it would be either Geagea or himself in Baabda, Aoun would have achieved a big win here and would have stopped two major M14 maneuvers from happening: The first one – electing Frangieh – was a long shot and its main goal was shattering the M8 alliance rather than securing the election of Frangieh – and it didn’t work anyway. The second maneuver is M8’s biggest fear: Should there be quorum, if M14 decides to support Jumblatt’s candidate – Henri Helou –  then he would become Lebanon’s next president since M14’s votes alongside Jumblatt’s ones are more than 65.
Aoun – and by getting everyone else to agree to his face off deal – Would have ruled out the possibility of M14 showing up to vote for Geagea but instead voting for Helou and electing him as president.

The FPM was trying to hit two birds with one stone: Keeping Frangieh outside the presidential race – independently of what Frangieh has to say- and at the same time preventing M14 from voting for Helou and electing him as president. This is why M8 won’t let the parliament meet to elect the president: It’s not because they fear that Geagea would be elected (Which is surreal). It’s because they fear that M14 would change their mind at the last minute and elect Helou after a deal with Walid Jumblatt. What confirms this theory is Jumblatt’s rejection of Aoun’s proposal (He called it undemocratic):

How the Lebanese Forces responded

The Lebanese Forces had two interesting reactions on the maneuvers of this month: The first one was their sudden interest in the electoral law and their reinvigorated support to a law they had previously agreed to (in May 2013) with the PSP and the FM. This is probably a reminder to the PSP and the FM that they are still an integral part of M14 and that they can give them concessions other parties would never give (Like on the electoral law). The second one was their approval of Aoun’s face-to-face competition with Geagea. After all, how can it harm the Lebanese Forces if Frangieh and Helou are out from the presidential race?

How vacancy in the presidency is in favor of M8

Now that the stances of every party is becoming clearer by the day, it would be interesting to see the bigger picture here, that is a lot similar to 2007 and 2008: March 8 is blocking the presidential elections because it gives them a tactical advantage: If they let it happen, there’s a possibility that M14 could eventually rally around Helou and elect him as president. Once Helou is elected president, M14 could – with the help of Jumblatt – form a government that is purely M14 and pass an electoral law that has the consent M14 (and M14 only). And the very fact that such a draft law already exists (It’s the one the LF mentioned) scares M8 even more. While M8 are more or less sure by now that Aoun’s chances are next to nil, Hezbollah’s ultimate goal of electing a consensual candidate that isn’t hostile towards its politics is becoming more likely. The delay in the presidential elections also gives M8 another advantage: By blocking the election of any president whatsoever, M8 could extort M14 into agreeing to their own terms: Just like 2008, the war for the presidential elections is the minor one. The main issue here is the deal that would include the name of the Lebanese president, and not the Lebanese president himself. There has been a lot of talk lately about a possible dialogue between Hezbollah and the Future Movement: While the dialogue in itself is likely to be useless, what is really important here is the FM’s precondition that the dialogue should start by solving the presidential deadlock before anything else: M14 wants to prevent M8 – via the preconditions of the dialogue – from asking for a deal (including the name of the president among other things). On the other hand, M8 needs guarantees that it wouldn’t be ousted from the next Lebanese government, and that an electoral law wouldn’t be voted without its consent. Deep down, the Aoun candidacy isn’t the will. It’s the way. After all, the only power M8 has (politically) is their “presidential blocking third”. So if they want to survive till the next parliamentary elections and if they want to make sure that their blocking third in the government is still there, now would be the smart time to take advantage of their number in parliament.

185 since the 25th of May. 21 days since the 5th of November. One million years till the next parliamentary elections.

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.

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.