Michel Sleiman, 2008-2014: The Legacy (Part II)

Michel Sleiman

Mr. Speaker, esteemed members of the parliament,

I would have been extremely delighted to begin this mandate with moments of joy; nevertheless, I am confident that our silence will be praised by the souls of our martyrs who are close to God Almighty, since this mandate will be laying the foundations for a new promising phase, for the citizens of our beloved country which is rising from this stumble, thanks to the Lebanese people’s awareness, their refusal to fall the victims of fratricide, and the efforts our loyal friends and brethren have undertaken to mitigate the effects of these unfortunate events and to eliminate their consequences.

Today, by taking the oath, I am calling upon you all, political parties and citizens, to start a new phase which title is Lebanon and the Lebanese people, where we commit ourselves to a national project agreed upon with a futuristic mentality in order to serve the interests of our homeland and prioritize them over our sectarian and confessional interests, and over all the others’ interests.

On the 25th of May 2008, when Michel Sleiman assumed his responsibilities as Lebanon’s new president, he gave an inaugural speech in front of the parliament.  The speech (This is the official English version) includes the president’s plan for the next six years, and the goals he plans on achieving before leaving office on the 25th of May 2014.

This post is a sequel to an entry previously published on the blog. (In part I you’ll find the blog’s comments on the first 8 promises given in the inaugural speech)

In this second part, You’ll find the other half of the speech below, in italics, with comments on what was achieved in order to fulfill the promises of 2008.

9. Diaspora, Tourism, Economy Wel Shabeb

The Lebanese communities in the Diaspora are looking up and hoping to see their homeland rising from underneath the ashes once more and therefore we should acknowledge the rights of the Lebanese immigrants and proceed with the measures which will reinforce their adhesion and interaction with Lebanon. We should also resort to their capacities and engage them in a way that will make them feel as actual citizens and far more worthy of the Lebanese nationality than those who acquired it illegitimately.

Emerging from the state of recession and activating the economic cycle necessitate political and security stability as well as the patronage of the State to encourage the competitive production process. Thereupon, the plans of attracting investments and securing a friendly environment can fight against unemployment and immigration.

This fact also leads to the necessity of attaching great importance to our productive economy in the industrial, agricultural, and services fields and the importance of spreading the environmental culture and emphasizing on this country’s aspects of tourism.

For the president, acknowledging the rights of Lebanese immigrants was of high importance. Since  late 2008 Law gives expatriates the right to vote in the elections. However the elections didn’t happen, and even if they did happen, a failure of the Lebanese Foreign Ministry to raise awareness of the registration process would have made it impossible for Lebanese abroad to vote in the parliamentary elections.

Sleiman also made sure to visit every possible country in the world, in order to strengthen the ties with the Lebanese abroad. The trips – that costed the state 9 million dollars, more than it actually spends on industry, culture, or sports – were useless. One might understand visiting France once or twice like in 2008 and meeting foreign leaders. One might even understand the Cyprus, SyriaQatar, Iran and Saudi Arabia trips. The U.N. New York trips are a must. But Michel Sleiman ‘s trips were too many, and there was always useless leisure time. Armenia. Mexico. Brazil. Russia. Spain. Great Britain. Australia. The Czech Republic. Romania. Uruguay. Argentina. Switzerland. Canada. Italy. Vatican. Egypt. Germany. Jordan. Kuwait. Bahrain. U.A.E. Oman. Turkey. And there’s a lot more (West Africa..). Perhaps the president may do as he wishes, but for millions of times, the cabinet formation was delayed because the president was touring abroad. And that’s only an example of the trips’ repercussions. The whole point of these paragraphs in the inaugural speech was to bring the Lebanese back home and stimulate tourism, not send the president abroad. Although tourism in Lebanon flourished in 2010, tourist traffic at Beirut airport is down at 40% since 2010. Of course, the Syrian Civil war is to blame here, but there were lots of things that could have been done to save the tourism seasons. But instead of enacting reforms reinforcing stability and promoting tourism, politicians opted to travel abroad.

 10. Decentralization

The balanced development is an essential pillar of the country’s unity and the regime’s stability; we consider that the implementation of the wide administrative decentralization constitutes an important factor for this development to achieve the required reform in the field of social, economic and cultural disparity between the Lebanese regions. Furthermore, it is imperative to attach a great importance to the return of the displaced in a way to close this file permanently.

Michel Sleiman had 6 years to pass a decentralization law, and to apply it. He could have taken 1 year to prepare the draft, another to push for it in the parliament, and 4 other years to make sure it’s successfully implemented. But no, the draft law had to be presented to the parliament 1 month before he left office. You know, because one should take his time to implement crucial, long-awaited reforms.

11. STL, People, State and Armies

Gentlemen,

Our abidance by the charters of the United Nations and our observance of its resolutions are due to our firm conviction in the International legitimacy based on the principles of justice and right. Consequently, we would like to confirm our participation in the establishment of the International tribunal with regard to the assassination of the martyr Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his companions, as well as the assassinations which followed in order to bring justice.

The evolution of the Resistance was a need during the impotence of the state and the persistence of this Resistance was achieved by virtue of the support granted by the Lebanese people, the State, and the Lebanese Army.

The success of the Resistance in the mission of vanquishing the israeli occupier springs from the courage and greatness of its martyrs and yet, the farms of “Shebaa” which are still occupied and the enemy’s persistence in threatening to violate our sovereignty impose upon us to elaborate a defensive strategy that will safeguard the country concomitantly with a calm dialogue to benefit from the capacities of the resistance in order to better serve this strategy. Accordingly, we will manage to avoid depreciating the achievements of the resistance in internal conflicts and subsequently we will safeguard its values and national position. This day coincides with the National Day of liberation and victory and therefore I hope that this occasion prompts us to be more and more conscious of the dangers that are threatening us and to renew our adherence to freedom and democracy to which we have suffered and sacrificed in order to ensure and safeguard our homeland.

The Lebanese president, in his inaugural speech, insisted on the importance of the people, army, resistance formula (The evolution of the Resistance was a need during the impotence of the state and the persistence of this Resistance was achieved by virtue of the support granted by the Lebanese people, the State, and the Lebanese Army). The president also assured his support to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (the Hariri Tribunal). Just as an interesting fact, his last cabinet did not include both statements in the ministerial declaration – showing a clear change of policy between 2008 and 2014, and the defensive strategy that was expected to see light during his rule never did, probably due to the fact that he started taking sides – although it was constitutionally unwise to do so (The constitution clearly says in article 49 that “The President of the Republic is the head of the state and the symbol of the nation’s unity. He shall safeguard the constitution and Lebanon’s independence, unity, and territorial integrity). Apparently countering the Israeli threat meant rewarding the Judge that let go some of the Israeli spies with ministerial positions. Who knew.

12. …For The Homeland Embraces All Of Its Sons

In this context we should dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to the mission of freeing the prisoners and the detainees as well as revealing the destiny of the missing persons in addition to recovering our sons who sought refuge in Israel, for the homeland embraces all of its sons.

There has been no progress in freeing the detainees in Syrian prisons, and a law passed  in 2011 still assured punishment for the former members of the Southern Lebanese Army (although it did allow their families to come home without being arrested).

13. Fraternity

Lebanon has and will always persist in strengthening the relations with the Arab brethren and thus we are looking forward to achieve a relation of fraternity between Lebanon and Syria in the framework of mutual respect to the sovereignty and the border of both states, and diplomatic relations which will serve the interests of the two countries.
What is most important in this concern resides in the perfect implementation of the equal relations which will be lacking all past flaws, and accordingly we will benefit from the past experiences to avoid any upcoming problems and to ensure the interests, the prosperity and the security of the two brother countries.

Syrian-Lebanese mutual respect became so intimate that by the end of 2013, most of the Lebanese were either pro-Syrian opposition or pro-Syrian regime. In other words, the whole republic suddenly became pro-Syrian during Michel Sleiman’s rule.  Lebanon became so Syrian that rival Lebanese parties decided to go into Syria and help their brothers in the faith. Welcome to the Semi-Autonomous Lebanese Republic of Syria, I guess. And the way to counter this was playing the March 8 and 14 alliances one against the other and destabilizing the country even more. In this regard the Baabda declaration was rather a good decision, although its application turned out to be a nightmare.

14. 50% Yes, 50% No

Fellow compatriots,

The State can not disregard any security violation and shall never allow in any case using a certain party as a source to reinforce terrorism or to advance the Palestinian cause as a pretense to purchase weapons, the thing that might destabilize the country. This type of incidents occurred last year when the Lebanese Army was attacked.

Let us work all together to deal with the repercussions of these incidents by remedying the wounds and reconstructing what has been destroyed. Pains are overwhelming but let us cling to hope. The weapons should always be pointed at the enemy and we will not allow any side to point them elsewhere.  Our firm rejection of the settlement does not mean that we object to host our brother Palestinians and to take care of their humanitarian rights, this rejection stems from our will to preserve the right of their return to their homeland until the establishment of the viable Palestinian State and that is why Lebanon insists on the content of the Arab initiative which was launched from its Capital Beirut in the year 2002.

The last 3 years were the worst. Weekly clashes in Lebanon’s second biggest city, two assassinations, dozens of rigged cars exploding in a small time frame and a million Syrian refugees stepping into Lebanon with little government control dominated Lebanese politics. But the best part was Marwan Charbel, Sleiman’s minister of interior between 2011-2013. The minister’s probably one of the best, but the fact that every time an explosion happened his answers were either ” I don’t know” or “50% yes, 50% no” showed a clear administrative chaos regarding security issues during Sleiman’s rule.

15. Equip These Troops?

The Armed Forces, and especially the Lebanese Army, have gained the confidence of the Lebanese people during the last years in consequence of achieving great and historic accomplishments starting with the protection of democracy and civil peace and the deployment of the Lebanese Army units in the South after an absence of more than three decades, in addition to confronting the enemy and the terrorist threat, and have subsequently offered many brave men on the altar of the homeland.

Moreover, the recent security incidents gave the impression that the Armed Forces did not assume the complete and required role. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the issue of ensuring the minimum level of agreement and securing the required political cover contribute to ward off such incidents in the future. In addition to this, it is essential to reinforce the morale of the Armed Forces on the national level, to equip these troops and to encourage the educated and promising youth to join the Army.

A plan to equip the Lebanese army with 1.6 billion dollars was implemented during Sleiman’s rule, but 1.6B. dollars, militarily speaking, is nothing. A Saudi-French-Lebanese deal in 2013 to equip the army with a 3 Billion dollars Saudi donation was more about the French and Saudis boosting their relation and increasing their influence in Lebanese politics by funding the Lebanese army (and hence controlling its weapon flow) than arming the LAF for modern warfare.

16. Shoukran Qatar

Gentlemen,

On this occasion, I would like to express my gratitude to the league of Arab Nations and its Secretary General for embracing the crisis which devastated the country and for undertaking productive efforts to elaborate the appropriate solution.

On behalf of the Lebanese people, I would also like to express the deepest feelings of gratitude to the State of Qatar, to His Highness the Prince, to the Prime Minister and to the Arab Ministerial Committee for their sincere efforts and their national commitment in launching and hosting the Lebanese National Dialogue which has succeeded by virtue of their initiative, and was crowned by the Doha agreement.

On this occasion, I would like to express my appreciation to the brother and friendly countries which helped Lebanon overcome the ordeals and to the States which are participating in the UNIFIL deployed in the South to implement resolution 1701, for their distinguished performance in complementarily with the Lebanese Army. We should also point out to the importance attached by this International Force to the development and social aspects in the areas of deployment and to the satisfaction of the citizens.

Even the national dialogue collapsed by the end of Sleiman’s mandate, and the president that came via a consensual deal failed to keep neutral stances, despite the violent repercussions previous biased presidential stances had on Lebanon.

17. Commitments and Freedom Of Speech

Fellow compatriots,

Much work lies ahead; my oath is a commitment I made, just as your will is also a commitment. Let us avoid drowning in promises, let us make an approach to reality and its various fields, within our capabilities, and let us enjoy the support of brothers and friends to overcome the difficulties. Let us be united in solidarity, let us walk along together towards a deep-rooted reconciliation in order to plant the seeds of hope in the hearts of our sons, to launch pioneering, creative and brave initiatives, to establish the foundation of the capable and civil State, based on the respect of public liberties, the freedom of expression and religion. Our national unity has cost us a lot, so let us preserve it together, hand in hand; God is with the community.

The same man that wanted to establish the foundation of the capable and civil State, based on the respect of public liberties and the freedom of  expression ended up suing his critics and throwing angry twitter users in jail. Not a golden age for the Lebanese freedom of speech, that’s for sure. And the very fact that this post wasn’t published before Sleiman left office (the law forbids criticizing the president) while militia leaders travel the country unscathed reveals something more: The president made the wrong men fear him.

To sum up this post, Michel Sleiman’s term can be described as a major disappointment. Bechara El Khoury’s undermining of democracy, Camille Chamoun’s biased moves, Fouad Chehab’s repression and military policies, Charles Helou’s weakness, Sleiman Frangieh’s awful way of managing conflicts, Elias Sarkis’ hesitation, Bachir Gemayel’s illusions de grandeur, Amine Gemayel’s corruption, a number of achievements similar to Rene Mouawad’s 17 days in power, and Elias Hraoui and Emile Lahoud’s dependence on foreign powers. In a unique way, Michel Sleiman combined the bad qualities of all the previous Lebanese presidents, while artificially glueing the state together: even the last cabinet’s official photo was photoshopped.

Even in his legacy, Michel Sleiman would be setting the stage for Lebanon’s least legitimate president since 1943. Due to the postponement of the parliamentary elections, Lebanon’s next president will stay till 2020 and would have been elected by the parliament of June 2009.

Reminder: We still don’t have a president.

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