Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, December 19th, 2007
Al-Hayat correspondents are on a jag, dinging Syria for the opposition's hard ball in Lebanon. Syria has made it clear for months now that it wants the opposition to get a third of the Lebanese cabinet to enable the opposition to block bills that it doesn't like. But is this Syria's fault?
The opposition, led by both the Shiites and Aounist Christians, insists on a "blocking third" of the cabinet. Now seems the time to demand such cabinet guarantees because the presidency is in play.
A blocking third agreement would be bad for effective and decisive government in Lebanon. It would guarantee that decision making on important issues remains paralyzed.
The only alternative to accepting some form of blocking power from the opposition, however, is to revisit the Taif Accord, Lebanon's consitution and the white elephant in the room.
So long as Shiites remain severely under-represented in parliament because of the faulty constitution, aggrieved parties will be able to demand revision of the constitution. After all, a constitution is useless, if it is not seen to be fair and acceptable by the crushing majority. Of course, Hizbullah has not said that it contests Taif. On the contrary, it has explicitly said that it will not bring into question the iniquities of Taif out of concern for social peace. It does not want to further alienate Lebanon's other sects or risked renewed civil war. All the same, Hizbullah's false modesty and apparent self-sacrifice is more than made up for by Hizbullah's demand for a constitutional work-around. In fact, tinkering with the constitution rather than fixing it suits Hizbullah just fine.
It allows Hizbullah and the opposition to wink at the entire constitutional issue, including the question of "resistance." So long as Hizbullah has a militia, it will not want to have a constitution that people actually respect. Both Hizbullah and the parliamentary majority are pretending that they want a constitution that works and is democratic. They do not. For the first, it would mean disarming. For the second it would mean carrying out a proper national census to replace the dusty joke of the 1932 census and giving up the sectarian set-asides and guarantees which make a mockery of real democracy.
The entire political and constitutional process in Lebanon is built on so many layers of hypocrisy and artifice that it requires winking. When Hizbullah chieftain Nasrallah proclaims that the parliamentary majority does not actually reflect the national majority, no one knows for sure if he is correct or not. When he calls the Future Movement's bluff and asks for a national referendum based on one man, one vote to decide who the president should be, the parliamentary majority casts down its eyes, does a soft shuffle for a few moments, and pretends Nasrallah is just ranting. Everyone winks. The problem is that no one in Lebanon knows what a real democratic vote would mean for the country. Most don't want to find out. They prefer the artifice and hypocrisy that is called "consociational-democracy." Consociational democracy is like the other double barrelled democracies of the Middle East – "People's" democracy of the secular dictators and the "Islamic" Republic of Iran. All are sham democracies. Why should one have to qualify or limit democracy – even with a term as euphonious as "consociationalism"?
President Bush and the scolds of March 14th proclaim that Syria is behind the paralysis that has beset the Lebanese political process, but they are acting in a form of Kabuki theater. The tragedy is real enough, but nothing is as it seems.
Walid Choucair – Damascus, based on what it has informed King Abdullah II of Jordan, refuses to be questioned about its role in Lebanon by a foreign side, especially an Arab, because it considers Lebanon to be its vital sphere of influence in which no outsiders are allowed to interfere.
Sarkozy and The Diplomacy of Planes al-Hayat
Elias Harfouche – The French President is assuming that the Syrians will wake up anxious tomorrow should the presidential elections in Lebanon fail to take place. Nicolas Sarkozy “warned” that tomorrow Monday is the “last chance” to elect a president for the republic or else…Syria may lose the “honor” of hosting him in Damascus!
Raghida Dergham – US President George W Bush is politically and morally responsible toward a small country called Lebanon because he took the initiative to make statement after statement in which he pledged support for this country's path toward independence and democracy and its standing up to extremism and plans to turn it into a base for Syria or Iran. Bush then let this country down with his frightening silence, which told those who had relied on his commitments that he was now unable to do anything….
The silence of Ki-moon and the Security Council about the transgressions is tantamount to a blessing for Syria and its destructive role in Lebanon, as it is a blessing of Iran and its financing and arming of Hizbullah. The Bush administration, the government of Sarkozy, the Security Council and the secretary general of the UN are the losers because they caved in to the blackmail, fear-mongering and bribery and they are going to pay a steep price.
دمشق – ابراهيم حميدي – قال نائب رئيس الوزراء العراقي برهم صالح في حديث الى»الحياة» انه ابلغ المسؤولين السوريين ضرورة ان يصبح العراق «نقطة تلاقٍ للمصالح الاقليمية والدولية بدلاً من ان يكون ساحة للصراع بين الفرقاء»، في دول الجوار والعالم، في اشارة الى العلاقات بين سورية وايران وأميركا، مشيراً الى ان الجانب السوري أبلغه ضرورة ان لا يكون العراق «منطلقاً لأعمال تهدد دول الجوار».
Assad last week rejected claims that Syria's alliance with Iran would be weakened as a result of Damascus's participation at Annapolis. "I confirm, on this occasion, that relations will not be shaken for any reason or under any circumstances," said Assad, according to the Syria's state-run SANA news agency.
With leaders like these, who needs enemies? by Sami Moubayed
ISLAMIST GROUPS IN LEBANON
Gary C. Gambill*
The Israel-Hizballah War
…The 33-day American-backed Israeli military campaign that followed was largely designed to prevent this from happening. While the Israelis presumably recognized the futility of trying to change Lebanese Shi'a public opinion by force of arms (they had been down that road before), there was clearly an expectation that targeting Lebanon's economic infrastructure would turn Sunnis (and Christians) against Hizballah. However, despite the immense destruction visited upon Lebanon, the war failed to diminish significantly support for Hizballah among Lebanese Sunnis and greatly increased support for Hizballah among Arab Sunnis outside of Lebanon.
Nevertheless, the scale of destruction rendered Hizballah provocations against Israel politically unthinkable for the foreseeable future and the subsequent deployment of an expanded UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) force sealed off its access to the border. Deprived of an outlet for confronting Israel, Hizballah turned its attention to domestic affairs after the war, forging a united opposition front with the FPM and leading a Shi'a boycott of the government. This reorientation alienated many Sunni political Islamists who had been staunch supporters of the "resistance" during the war, for Hizballah was now committing the double sin of mobilizing Shi'as against a Sunni prime minister in league with secular Christians. Al-Jama'a quickly splintered, as Mawlawi and most of its senior leadership lined up behind the government, while Yakan and a substantial minority of its rank and file joined the opposition, under the umbrella group Jabhat al-Amal al-Islami (Islamic Action Front). Although the two rival factions of Tawhid (led by Minqara and Bilal Sha'ban) both reaffirmed their support for Hizballah and joined the IAF, a few former Tawhid "emirs" (e.g. Kana'an Naji) came out in support of March 14. On the other hand, Shahal and the vast majority of Salafi preachers now backed the government more firmly than ever.
The Rise of Fatah al-Islam
The March 14 coalition's struggle to preserve Sunni unity amid Lebanon's escalating postwar political crisis widened the latitude enjoyed by Salafi-jihadists, as Hariri was understandably reluctant to enter into a confrontation with fellow Sunnis. The Siniora government therefore did nothing to reverse Jund al-Sham's pre-war seizure of the neighborhood of Ta'mir adjacent to Ayn al-Hilwah or to prevent it from terrorizing the inhabitants. The militants finally allowed the army to deploy in Ta'mir only after Bahiya Hariri (Sa'd's aunt) paid them off in early 2007.
The Syrians exploited this weakness by allowing Arab jihadists to cross into Lebanon, most notably Shakir al-Absi, a Jordanian-Palestinian associate of Zarqawi best known for organizing the 2002 assassination of U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley in Amman. During the summer and fall of 2006, Absi quietly recruited a small force of several dozen militant Sunni Islamists and trained them at facilities made available by pro-Syrian Palestinian organizations. After operating underground for several months, however, his men apparently "went native" in late November 2006, seizing control of three Fatah al-Intifada compounds in the Nahr al-Barid refugee camp near Tripoli and issuing a statement denouncing the "corruption and deviation" of the sclerotic Syrian proxy and the "intelligence agencies" it serves. Calling themselves a "Palestinian national liberation movement" and adopting the moniker Fatah al-Islam, they declared a holy war to liberate Palestine.
While Absi presented Fatah al-Islam as an all-Palestinian movement, most of the hundreds of volunteers who answered his call over the next six months were Lebanese and a substantial minorityÂ were Saudis, Syrians, and nationals of various other Arab and Islamic countries. Astonishingly, this massive expansion took place with little interference from the government. Despite having been convicted in absentia for the Foley murder, Absi operated in the open, even playing host to journalists from the New York Times (which noted obliquely that "because of Lebanese politics" he was "largely shielded from the government").
While there is little evidence to support claims by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh and others that March 14 leaders encouraged the growth of Fatah al-Islam and other armed Islamist groups as counterweights to Hizballah, the coalition was clearly reluctant to pay the hefty political premium of confronting a well-financed and provisioned Sunni jihadist group operating within the protection of a Palestinian refugee camp. It was not until Fatah al-Islam robbed its third bank in the Tripoli area and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch visited Beirut to press the issue in May 2007 that Siniora finally sent the ISF into action with a pre-dawn raid on a Fatah al-Islam safehouse.
Siniora's failure to inform the army beforehand left Lebanese soldiers stationed outside Nahr al-Barid vulnerable to a withering reprisal hours later while most were asleep in their barracks (nine were found with their throats slit). Ironically, however, the deaths of 22 soldiers that day diminished the political expense of taking the group down by collectively horrifying the vast majority of Lebanese. Although a number of terror attacks outside the camp were carried out by sleeper cells established by Fatah al-Islam or under the direction of outsiders (culminating in the June 24 bomb attack in South Lebanon that killed six UNIFIL peacekeepers) as the army methodically isolated and destroyed Fatah al-Islam over the next three months, few Lebanese voiced objections. Even Asbat al-Ansar distanced itself from Fatah al-Islam and extinguished an abortive attempt to join the revolt by Jund al-Sham (which appears to have since disbanded and returned to the fold). Al-Qa'ida leaders abroad wisely chose not to endorse the ill-fated rebellion.
The Lebanese army's victory over Fatah al-Islam undoubtedly strengthened the coalition's leverage vis-Ã -vis other Salafi-jihadist groups. However, so long as the coalition relies primarily on support from the Sunni community, there will be political impediments to constraining their growth. It is telling that Dai al-Islam al-Shahal can beam with praise for Hariri even as he acknowledges having met twice with Absi prior to his apocalyptic confrontation with the state. There is a code of understanding among Salafists in Lebanon that accepts the formation of underground armed networks so long as they do not antagonize the authorities. Persuading them otherwise will be virtually impossible so long as Hizballah remains armed, which clearly will be the case for the foreseeable future.
* Gary C. Gambill, the editor of Mideast Monitor, has written extensively on Lebanese and Syrian politics.
Lebanese judicial authorities charged 31 al Qaeda-linked individuals on Tuesday for plotting to attack a church and other religious sites in the Christian town of Zahleh in the eastern Bekaa Valley…
T_desco writes; "If the reports are all true, al-Boubou would link the Dinniyeh group, Fatah al-Islam, al-Qa’ida, the Danish consulate riots and (at least indirectly) even the German train bombs."