Lebanon Gets a Government

Beware Syrians Bearing Duty-Free: Urs Fruehauf in Damascus has alterted me to the ExportLawBlog.com where Clif Burns explains the delicacies of banning Rami Makhlouf's Syrian duty free and Syriatel.

Makhlouf is President Assad's cousin. Any US citizen with a prepaid sim card bought from Syriatel will be breaking the law. US embassy staff will now be changing their sim cards to the network owned by Mikati and company. They will also refrain from purchasing nice perfumes or other good deals on their way home. After all, OFAC has designated Makhluf as an SDN based on the novel (and dubious) theory that Makhluf’s leveraging of his family relationship to al-Assad to obtain improper business advantages for himself in Syria threatens the security of the United States.

Syria calls off fees applied to Arab travelers and Lebanese trucks. (The Daily Star) "Sources believe that Damascus reversed the decision after Jordan and Saudi Arabia slapped similar taxes on all Syrian trucks.

ON LEBANON

Qifa Nabki writes: The Lebanese are hours (or minutes?) away from a new cabinet. Now that Jumblatt and Geagea have gotten over their mini-tantrums, all that is left is the issue of Qanso, which Berri has set about trying to solve.  This will mean that Suleiman will visit Paris as the head of a formed government, and he will likely meet with President Assad while he is there….

IC asked:

It is interesting to see how many ministers aoun got compare to his allies. his party got 5 (all cabinet ministers), amal got 3 and Hizbullah just got 1. very strange when you look at it like that

QN Answered:

I think that Hizbullah gave their ministers to Aoun for three reasons:

a) The Hizb is slowly dipping its toes into cabinet politics. It doesn’t want to jump in head first, because it is still benefiting from the image of being outside the dirty game of politics.

b) Given that this will be a short-lived cabinet, it wants to minimize any possibility of tarnishing its image before the important elections in 2009. If they had 5 or 6 ministers in the cabinet, there would be many opportunities for them to get embroiled in sticky little political messes, whether they are over telecommunications or the electricity plant, etc.

c) Hizbullah doesn’t really need ministers to maintain its agenda or its constituency. All the Shi`a are basically going to vote Hizbullah/Amal in the next election. The real swing vote is among the Christians (especially the Armenians). This is why they gave so many seats to Aoun (who has a sizable bloc anyway). They want to hold on to his supporters, to make sure they come out in droves to vote.

It was a smart bet on their part, I think. By giving 5 seats to Aoun they were effectively saying to the Christians: “We are equal partners, you and us.”

The cabinet, headed by premier Fouad Saniora, groups 30 ministers from the seven major sects in a nation made up of 18 religious communities.

Maronite Ministers: Ziad Baroud, Nassib Lahoud, Tony Karam, Gebran Bassil and Mario Aoun.

Greek Orthodox ministers: Issam Abu Jamra, Elias Murr, Ibrahim Najjar and Tareq Mitri.

Catholic ministers: Elie Skaff, and Youssef Takla and Raymond Audi.

Druze: Talal Arslan, Ghazi Aridi and Wael Abu Faour.

Sunnis: Fouad Saniora, Bahia Hariri, Mohammed Safadi, Tammam Salam and Mohammad Shatah and Khaled Qabbani

Shiites: Mohammed Fneish, Ali Qanso, Ibrahim Shamseddine, Mohammed Jawad Khalifa, Fawzi Salloukh and Ghazi Zoayter.

Armenians: Jean Ogassapian and Alain Taborian.

Israeli-Syrian Negotiations: The Need For A Bold Move: Alon Ben Meir

Syrian prison riot shrouded in silence
Christian Sci Monitor, 2008-07-10

….. By Tuesday. the violence had ended, but prisoners and guards remained in a standoff, with more than 300 soldiers held hostage, reported Beirut-based media watchdog Menassat.

"The demonstration started after prisoners demanded an improvement in their living and health conditions, also demanding prison officials provide greater access to information about their trials and convictions," human rights groups working on the issue told MENASSAT.

Reports from these sources say the rioting has ended but that a tense standoff is still taking place between the prison authorities and the prisoners after the latter managed to take a number of hostages, including the prison director.

Syrian authorities will not reveal the number of fatalities and injuries nor the timeline of events that led to the fighting. …..

Syria software pirate lives by own code of ethics: Abdul-Rahman Mahaini says he hacks into programs because U.S. sanctions block their sale in his country. But he is not above helping Western clients.
By Borzou Daragahi
Los Angeles Times: July 11, 2008

DAMASCUS, SYRIA — Small, thin and pale, with a reddish beard, Abdul-Rahman Mahaini estimates that he has stolen millions of dollars' worth of software, hacking his way into the most complex programs in the world.

Comments (12)


1. EHSANI2 said:

Dr. Landis,

The problem with Mr. Makhlouf’s Syriatel and Duty Free Businesses is not the lost sales of Sim Cards or Perfumes of course. It is the potential problem of securing supplies. Spare parts and new equipment for Syriatel will become harder to source. Similarly, finding a consistent supplier of merchendise for his Duty Free shops may get trickier going forward.

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July 11th, 2008, 5:28 pm

 

2. ugarit said:

“One major American company is currently providing service to Syriatel. Network Solutions is the registrar for syriatel.com, which, as of this posting, was still functioning. Given the increased penalties for violating U.S. sanctions laws, it won’t be surprising if that sight disappears shortly.”

http://www.exportlawblog.com/archives/360

That’s a pretty dumb move on Syriatel’s part. All my domains are in Germany. http://www.joker.com

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July 11th, 2008, 5:54 pm

 

3. Majhool said:

Offended,

You can demonize me all you want. You won’t be the first on SC. I was portrayed as a Zionist, a sympathizer of the Muslim Brotherhood. March 14th supporter, unpatriotic, Saudi lover…

It appears to me that your irritation with redundancy is selective since you don’t get as irritated when others endlessly repeat the same arguments over and over again let alone the half-truths echoed endlessly by others. I am going to be nice and will not bother to count them

As for the Minister of Culture, It’s only your prejudice that led you to think that I added the link to expose its anti-Semitic nature, while in reality I added it to show how outrageous his remarks are with regard to jailing writers and intellectuals.

Akbar, thanks for the kind remark. But let me make one thing clear, for me Israel is the enemy simply because it’s occupying my land. This does not mean that I advocate the hideous anti-Semitism currently in practice by most. What I would like to see is the Golan back as well as one state in Palestine accommodating for all.

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July 11th, 2008, 6:37 pm

 

4. Qifa Nabki said:

If I may just add one point to the Lebanon round-up:

One of the most important members of the new cabinet, about whom much more will certainly be written over the next several days is Ziad Baroud.

He is a young lawyer who is one of Lebanon’s foremost experts on electoral law and reform. He was a key member of the Boutros Commission to produce a new electoral law, and he was the only member of the commission to voice an objection (about districting in Mount Lebanon) to the general recommendations of the board. (You can read the entire draft law here, including Ziad’s objection which falls at the end.)

Three things are notable about his choice for the sovereign Interior Ministry:

a) He is liked and respected by all sides. The Aounists are very happy with this choice, as are the March 14 folks.

b) He was one of the three ministers appointed by President Suleiman, which reflects positively on the new president and further confirms his neutral status vis-a-vis the two sides.

c) Given that Minister Baroud will be the official responsible for overseeing the parliamentary elections in 2009, his appointment reflects a genuine committment by both Suleiman and Saniora to put in place a sophisticated electoral law that goes beyond mere re-districting and gerrymandering.

The one area of potential concern is his inexperience dealing with matters of internal security. One hopes that he will have good advisers, in this regard.

Here’s the lineup. Can you spot the guy who did it?! 😉

null

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July 11th, 2008, 10:16 pm

 

5. offended said:

Majhool,
I am not trying to demonize you, nothing personal here. You can be Jabba The Hutt for all I care. And I didn’t even bother to watch your memri link.

And since silence is agreement, I am glad you agree with me on the prostitution remark.

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July 11th, 2008, 10:47 pm

 

6. Majhool said:

silence is agreement indeed.

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July 12th, 2008, 1:56 am

 

7. Joe M. said:

Qifa Nabki,
why do you think the opposition allowed Elias Murr to be defense minister? My guess is that they simply realized that they were getting a good deal in general and needed to be flexible somewhere, but maybe there is more reason? Even with my explanation, it seems like a particularly odd appointment consider how Hizbullah feels about defense matters.

Also, what is your view on the ability of the opposition to become the majority in the next government, considering your excitement about the new interior minister and his potential for making a fair electoral law. I have not been on the ground in Lebanon in a while, but from all I hear, the opposition number in the clear majority already (and their activists are far more active than the M14 ones, as seen in size of their rallies).

Additionally, in this respect, is there any prospect of a split between Hizbullah and Aoun? Hizbullah has obviously been very generous to Aoun, and he has been a pretty good attack dog for them, but they are not natural allies and there has always been an uneasy relationship between them. Is their relationship as solid as it seems on paper?

Lastly, do you think this government will be able to put a nail in the coffin of the consistent claims that Syria is dominating Lebanese politics? Clearly there will always be those who blame Syria for any squeak in the floor, but do you think that Lebanon is now in a position to put an end to that era (you implied it with your reference to the meeting between Syrian and Lebanese presidents)? At least, will the hysterical voices be marginalized in this new environment?

Ok, sorry, really lastly. I constantly hear voices of those like Assad Abu Khalil talking about his fear of Hizbullah joining forces with Future down the road. I am under the impression that this is fairly likely in general. But Hizbullah was pretty brutalized by Future as of late, and Hizbullah is not the type of organization to ignore a lesson learned. Do you see the relationship between these two parties staying frosty, or do you anticipate that they will warm (to more than a casual relationship, maybe, to a similar position as the Hizbullah/Aoun deal)?

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July 12th, 2008, 3:30 am

 

8. Akbar Palace said:

Akbar, thanks for the kind remark. But let me make one thing clear, for me Israel is the enemy simply because it’s occupying my land. This does not mean that I advocate the hideous anti-Semitism currently in practice by most. What I would like to see is the Golan back as well as one state in Palestine accommodating for all.

Majhool,

No problem, I call them as I see them.

I know we’re the enemy because we occupy your land. Just fill us in on which part of “your land” we are occupying. Once you do that, I’ll definately bring it up at our next Protocols of the Elders of Zion meeting. Perhaps I’ll be able to work something with the Elders in order to get your land back. Should I tell them you’d be willing to sign a peace treaty to get your land back?

Then, the other thing I’m concerned about is whether or not you’ll have a cousin or two asking for their land back too. It adds up you know.

The Arab media continues to glorify terror. This time, al-Jazeera:

http://switch3.castup.net/cunet/gm.asp?ai=214&ar=1805wmv&ak=null

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July 12th, 2008, 4:18 am

 

9. Majhool said:

heheh, that was realy funy and I mean it.

Golan is what concerns me. I know we lost it in war but we should always try to get it back hopefully by peace..I belive this is fair right?

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July 12th, 2008, 5:01 am

 

10. Akbar Palace said:

Majhool,

Yes, I agree with you – hopefully by peace.

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July 12th, 2008, 5:46 am

 

11. Qifa Nabki said:

Joe,

Great questions.

I will try to respond by this evening… promised myself I would not go near SC today in the hopes of getting some work done, but cheated a bit this morning(!)

Plus, who knows, with Lebanon, the answers may be different by this evening.

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July 12th, 2008, 1:20 pm

 

12. Qifa Nabki said:

Dear Joe M.

These are some excellent questions that you are asking. I can give you my tentative perspective on the issues, but I’m just an observer, with no real insider info.

why do you think the opposition allowed Elias Murr to be defense minister?

To be honest, I think that the objection to Murr was Aoun’s strategy to get a sovereign ministry. The argument he was making went like this: a) The Doha Agreement stipulated that Suleiman would choose two sovereign ministries, and the majority and opposition would each choose one. b) Elias al-Murr is hardly a neutral appointment as Defense Minister, so he must be counted as one for the majority; c) as such, it is only fair to award another sovereign ministry to the opposition as compensation.

Some people speculated that Aoun was making a play for the Finance Ministry because he knew that Saniora would never give it up, in the hopes that he would land the Defense Ministry. In the end, Aoun did not get either of his two demands: no sovereign ministry, and Murr was appointed anyway. The concession that he DID get was a pittance (the deputy PM spot for Issam Abu Jamra).

I honestly think that Aoun asked for too much, and he was starting to endanger his own ties with his allies, as witnessed by the reports that came out in pro-opposition papers like al-Safir and al-Akhbar. So he backed off and got a kind of face-saving solution with Abu Jamra.

Also, what is your view on the ability of the opposition to become the majority in the next government, considering your excitement about the new interior minister and his potential for making a fair electoral law.

It’s impossible to say. We just don’t know what the effects of the electoral law are going to be, and we don’t know what increased voter turnout would achieve (given that it was very low in 2005). The swing factor, as I said, is the Christian vote. It is hard to know what Aoun’s support is like these days, after Murr’s defection from Aoun, and the missteps that M14 made vis-a-vis the Armenians. Who knows? This is what is so exciting, in my opinion.

But I can tell you my gut feeling. I think the current opposition will win, and possibly win big, in the next election. The March 14 coalition is on its way out. It has lost its “glue”, now that Syria is out, the Tribunal is looking anemic, and its allies in the U.S. and Europe are either weaker or changing tack.

In my opinion, this owuld actually be a very good thing for Lebanon, because it would force the counter-culture to become the dominant culture, with all of the political accommodations that that involves.

Additionally, in this respect, is there any prospect of a split between Hizbullah and Aoun? … they are not natural allies and there has always been an uneasy relationship between them.

I can’t see them splitting. There is some anxiety among the Aounist cadres about such a “divorce”, esp if HA and the FM/PSP can reconcile, but it’s just paranoia, in my opinion. I hope the relationship persists and grows stronger, actually, as the FPM does a very good job in checking HA’s rhetoric and possibly even its strategy, while HA has taught the FPM’s Maronite base that the Shi`a don’t have tails. It’s a fascinating sociological experiment. Someone needs to write a dissertation about it.

Lastly, do you think this government will be able to put a nail in the coffin of the consistent claims that Syria is dominating Lebanese politics?

This depends, I think, on Syria’s involvement in Lebanon. I know that sounds like a circular argument, however there is no doubt that Syria will continue to play a role in Lebanese politics. If it’s a heavy-handed role, there will continue to be some criticism.

I constantly hear voices of those like Assad Abu Khalil talking about his fear of Hizbullah joining forces with Future down the road. I am under the impression that this is fairly likely in general.

What As`ad deplores is the return to the old tacit agreement, whereby Hizbullah was responsible for the resistance against Israel and the Future Movement was responsible for economic development, and neither side could interfere in ther other’s business.

I think As`ad and many others are right in criticizing this arrangement. Many of the FM’s neo-liberal policies simply haven’t worked in Lebanon, or at least they have been applied in specific sectors to the detriment of other sectors. It is important that Hizbullah play a role in advocating for economic reform that benefits their constitutents as well, instead of merely providing services to their people in the government’s absence. Such a situation is very unhealthy and creates a lot social dissonance.

Similarly, I would say that it has become clear that the resistance cannot remain untouchable, as it was under the old arrangement. There needs to be clearer understanding on the future of the weapons, the interface between HA and the Lebanese Army, etc. Aoun has said — and I am inclined to agree with him — that the way to address these issues is through the framework of his Memorandum of Understanding. But the problem is that the MoU is too vague, and it lacks teeth.

I hope I’ve addressed the issues… Now back to work!

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July 12th, 2008, 5:22 pm

 

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