Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, September 19th, 2007
BEIRUT (Reuters) – A car bomb killed an anti-Syrian Lebanese lawmaker and at least six other people in Beirut on Wednesday, just six days before parliament was due to elect a new president, security sources said.
The lawmaker, Antoine Ghanem of the Christian Phalange party, was killed by the blast in a Christian district of the Lebanese capital. At least 19 other people were wounded by the bomb in the busy commercial and residential area of Sin el-Fil.
[Comment by JL] This is significant because Presidential elections must be carried out before the end of November and March 14th's majority is only held by a few deputies. The immediate impulse of journalists will be to tie the killing of Ghanem to Syria. They will see it as Damascus' pay back for Israel's bombing raid on Syria.
Andrew Lee Butters, story yesterday will seem prescient in this respect, "Will Syria's response to Israel come via Lebanon?" Wednesday, 18 September, 2007.
Reporters will be irresponsible if thy make the Syria connection without commenting that the last two assassinations of March 14 statesmen were pinned on Fatah al-Islam, a Lebanese, al-Qaida-linked, Sunni extremist organization that the Lebanese Army says has no known links to Syria. The murky undercurrents of Lebanon's militias are hard to read. The press will undoubtedly simplify for us with the follow sort of anodyne statement blaming Syria: "Hariri's family says Syria was behind the killing of the former prime minister and later attacks, but Damascus denies this." Such reporting is irresponsible without at least mentioning that Lebanese state authorities have fingered Lebanese extremist groups for the last several attacks and has yet to come up with any hard evidence linking Syria to previous murders.
Chibli Mallat explains "What Lebanon's president should do about Syria," in the Daily Star, September 18. He is a presidential candidate in the up-coming Lebanese elections. He offers Syria full Lebanese assistance in getting back the Golan by supporting it in peace conferences in exchange for no Syrian interference in Lebanon. He writes: "One sentence displaying responsible conciliation from Assad would suffice: Syria, he should say, desires a constitutional change in Lebanon's presidency, and considers it has no say in whom that president should be. This signifies a nod toward conciliation with Syria, but it will not placate the opposition who want more power in government.
Mallat's criticism of the Brammertz investigation into Hariri's killing is well put. He writes:
I have criticized investigator Serge Brammertz, and would continue if elected. After two years of reports, the Lebanese and Syrian publics, and the world, are entitled to know more. Either the investigator has no evidence of the involvement of the Syrian leadership and its Lebanese allies – in which case Mehlis and the initial UN investigator of the case, Peter Fitzgerald, were wrong, and Brammertz should say so publicly (after all four people, at least, have been sitting in prison without trial for over two years now); or Brammertz thinks the conclusions of his predecessors were correct, and he must say so publicly.
The policy of any new Lebanese president has, therefore, been made excruciatingly difficult by the fog created by the investigator's performance over the past two years. If no evidence is forthcoming of the Syrian leadership's involvement, we should accept this and mend the political rift the murder has so dramatically occasioned. If we have cause to believe that Syria was involved, then any new president's attitude must depend on the level and role of the accused, and the reaction of the Syrian regime to it. The bottom line is that any accused should stand trial, however high in the governing system – in Lebanon or Syria. Any other result will deepen the mistrust between the two countries, and the risk of open military confrontation. Hence my continued hope that Bashar Assad was not involved in Hariri's assassination and other crimes.
The Syrio-Lebanese socio-economic issues are very much entangled. The effects of any internal Syrian policy on Lebanon is grave, more so than Lebanese M14 politicians want to admit.
A couple of weeks ago I was in Beirut for a conference. When the taxi driver from the airport knew I’m Syrian, he expressed his anxiety about the Syrian government decision to remove subsidies on oil and its plan on introducing VAT. I was astonished. Here was a Sunni Beiruti Lebanese telling me how my government’s internal economic decision is going to affect him negatively. He went on and on on how his family and extended family buy their yearly “mooneh” from Syria and how the economies of Lebanese villages on the Syrian border will be devastated with the decision of introducing VAT in Syria or removal of government subsidies on oil, diesel or gas.
The decision to reopen the border crossing with Lebanon will not affect many Syrians (maybe only those who are used to clubbing in Beirut), but people on the Lebanese side of the border will definitely be jubilant.
Policy makers asking for curbing on Lebanese-Syrian border will definitely face much resistance from hundreds of thousands of Lebanese citizens who strongly depend on the subsidized neighboring Syrian market for their day to day livelihood.
The taxi driver asked if there is anyway that pressure can be made on the Syrian government to reverse its decision and keep the subsidies.. I smiled!
LEBANON: Presidency crisis risks two governments
Wednesday, September 12 2007
Oxford Analytica 2007
- The opposition has threatened to boycott the vote and deny parliament a quorum, thus blocking the process.
- In return, the pro-government majority has threatened to go ahead and choose a president from its own ranks with its majority, possibly in a parliamentary session outside of parliament.
Such outcomes are widely expected to lead to either side declaring their own government, citing their conflicting interpretations of Article 49. Lebanon witnessed a similar scenario of two governments in 1988 when Amin Gemayel, the president at that time, named then army commander General Michel Aoun to a head a military government in conflict with the existing cabinet.
Impasse. So far, both sides have been uncompromising. The 'March 14' government coalition demands a new president who will:
- commit Lebanon to the UN tribunal to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri;
- ensure that Syria does not return to its previous position of power broker in Lebanese affairs; and
- respect UN resolutions 1559 and 1701 which call for Hizbollah to disarm.
For its part, the Hizbollah-led opposition stresses that a new president should:
- resist US attempts to act as protector of Lebanon;
- respect Hizbollah's status as a liberation force in southern Lebanon; and
- implement policies to counter nepotism and corruption in public life, which they blame the current government for exacerbating.
Hizbollah's bid for power, which started after last year's war, is a key factor in this impasse. Its flat refusal of any president from the March 14 group who is likely to pursue UN resolutions 1559 and 1701 dictates the opposition's stance and leaves little room for manoeuvre.
Divided counsels. The March 14 group have divergent priorities:
- Saad al-Hariri's Sunni bloc is mainly concerned with securing a president who will support the UN trial of his father's killers.
- Walid Jumblatt and Samir Geagea have made opposition to Syrian influence, the disarmament of Hizbollah, and concern over what they call the "Hizbollah state" within the Lebanese state, their first priorities.
Neither of these stances accommodates the opposition's standpoint.
Berri's compromise. Berri last week proposed to relinquish the opposition's claim for a unity government in return for agreement on a consensus candidate. This proposal reflects a changed situation after the UN Security Council on May 30 passed Resolution 1757 authorising an international tribunal for the trial of Hariri's killers. A unity government is no longer necessary to block a vote for such a tribunal, and the main focus for the opposition forces is now to avoid Emile Lahoud being replaced by a president beyond their influence.
The proposal has been positively received by the diplomatic corps, and also met with some approval among some March 14 leaders, including Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. Others like Jumblatt and Geagea see the proposal as an ultimatum, because the opposition could fail to show up at the parliamentary session unless the March 14 group agrees to find a consensus candidate.