Why V.P. Sharaa’s Statement is Important

MKS asked in the comment section of the last post, "Josh – what is so important about this article by Sharaa that you and Alex thought it needed to be translated? Does Faruq al-Sharaa even still matter?" 

Answer from Joshua: Yes, Sharaa still matters. Sharaa has been an integral part of the new Asad regime. He has played "bad cop" to various "good cops." From 2003 to 2005, he was bad cop to Khaddam and Kanaan on the Lebanon issue (see this previous post of 2005, bottom of post). More recently he has played bad cop to Walid Mualem, particularly on the UN investigation of the Hariri murder.

Khaddam wanted to go soft on Lebanon in 2004, permitting a free presidential election during the fall of 2004. Sharaa was the architect of Lahoud's extension. At the time, he argued that the UN Security Council would not take action against Syria with 1559. He was wrong, but was not punished for this at the time, despite wide-spread belief by Syria's reformers that he should have been. He was the instrument by which regime leaders split the "old guard." He articulated the anti-Khaddam line within the old guard.

 

Sharaa also argued for a hard Syrian line on Iraq (Jihad and resistance) in contrast to Khaddam who wanted Syria to pursue a more flexible policy toward America. Sharaa believing that Saddam would put up more resistance than he did to the American invasion. When this didn't happen and Saddam fell without a fight, Syria was thrown back on its heals, and the US went on its Syria offensive, accusing Syria of aiding Iraq's Baathist dead-enders, taking in Saddam's WMD, and opening up a Ho Chi Min trail to assist the insurgents. As a result, Sharaa was taken off the Iraq portfolio and it was given to Khaddam. Khaddam tried to organize the Sunni tribal leaders in order to deliver them to the Americans and reopen a dialogue with Washington on the basis of delivering Iraqi Sunni cooperation for Lebanon. This strategy failed because Washington would not talk to its enemies, use diplomacy with the Syrians, or pay blackmail (whichever description you prefer).

Following the Hariri murder and the UN investigation into Syria's culpability, Sharaa and Asef Shawkat led a 5 man committee that was tasked with planning Syria's defense and strategy toward the investigation. Only when the aggressive Mehlis phase of the investigation had been undermined by the turning of Husam Husam’s testimony and the announced resignation of Mehlis was Sharaa kicked upstairs to VP and Mualem made Foreign Minister. Mualem was brought in show a change of Syrian course. He was tasked to play the good cop.

His appointment indicated to the UN that Syria would cooperate up to a point with the international investigation. President Asad wanted to find a graceful way to de-escalate the confrontation in Lebanon; he wanted to smooth relations with the International community. By replacing Sharaa with Mualem at the end of 2005, Asad was suggesting that Syria believed it had dodged the Mehlis bullet and needed a new foreign policy face to try to break out of its isolation.

The return of Sharaa as Syria’s spokesperson in yesterday's statement suggests that Syria’s regime leaders are taking him out of mothballs in order to initiate a "bad cop" phase. They may well believe that Washington is determined not to compromise on Lebanon and not to follow the Baker-Hamilton Plan recommendations. Bush and Olmert have made it clear they refuse to resume real dialogue with Syria. This may mean that Syria is pulling up its socks and preparing to push the confrontation up a notch in order to punish Washington for its refusal to engage Syria and give ground in Lebanon and on the UN investigation.

Syria thinks it has won these battles, or will win them, and that Washington is just being obtuse by not finding a gracefully retreat (as the Baker report recommends) and negotiating with Syria to save what it can of its Lebanon policy without subjecting Lebanon and the region to needless confrontation. My hunch is that Syria is preparing to play for keeps in Lebanon on the issue of bringing down the Siniora government, even if an escalation means further civil discord and risking violence that may spin out of control. It means blocking Hamas cooperation with Abu Abbas and blocking a prisoner exchange with Israel. It means obstructing American initiatives in Iraq and undermining the Malaki government. It means going to the mat with Saudi Arabia and tightening cooperation with Iran.

In effect, Sharaa is saying to the West, "if you want to play this game of chicken, you are foolish. We are not going to blink first or veer from our well known course. You will lose in this game. If you do not negotiate with us in good faith, Lebanon will burn, Palestine will burn, and Iraq will burn. We have the cards and we will play them.” This is why I found Sharaa's statement important. From Alex's comments, I think he shares this concern.

This is no time for the US and Syria to be escalating their conflict. The dangers of further radicalization in the region are real and America’s hand is weak. My hunch is that Syria will win on more fronts that it loses. “Win” is perhaps the wrong word to use. Everyone will be a loser, but Syria will lose less than Lebanon, Palestine or Iraq.

 

Compromising with Hizbullah in Beirut will not mean a “Tehran on the Mediterranean” as Hisham Melham insisted it would in his PBS News Hour interview with me. This is why I posted my “Babes of Hizbullah” article several days ago. Lebanon will not become Iran, as some claim will happen should ground be ceded to the Lebanese opposition. (See Helena Cobban's vociferous objection to this post on the grounds that it was sexist and exploitative. Also see her post at "Just World News," her site.)

 

Allow me to add one anecdote to explain why I believe Lebanon will not become a copy of Khomeini’s Iran. In 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon forcing two-hundred-thousand Southern Lebanese to flee north, a Shiite Imam occupied the apartment on the first floor of a building in which lived a Lebanese woman friend of mine. I had been teaching at International College in Beirut, but had moved to Damascus before the invasion to attend the University of Damascus.

 

The Imam brought body guards and militia men with him; they became a powerful presence in the neighborhood (Saqiet al-Janzeer). They shut down the bars in the quarter and harassed my friend for living alone and for having male visitors to her apartment. She worried that Beirut would turn into Tehran. After some time, the Imam stopped enforcing his puritanical rules on the neighborhood and things returned to normal. The Shiites from the South adapted to Beirut rather than Beirut being transformed into Tehran.

 

There can be little doubt that finding a compromise with Hizbullah and Aoun will change things in Lebanon in a way that liberal, Western-oriented Lebanese will dislike, but perhaps negotiating a compromise will be less damaging to their interests than forcing a confrontation that will become ugly? Having Hizbullah take additional power by force will not serve anyone’s interests. 

Comments (20)


1. MSK said:

Dear Josh,

I very much appreciate this post. Sometimes even we “experts” need a regional detail explained to us. 😉

On the “Babes of Hizbollah” – of course the one “babe” pictured is not a “Hizbollah babe”, but sporting symbols of the three big March 8 groups:

– orange belt & bandanna around her wrist (Aoun’s FPM)

– green headband (with the symbol of Berri’s AMAL barely discernable)

– yellow flag with HA’s symbol

Nobody who’s ever been to Lebanon would claim that all Shi’ite women (or even just all female followers of HA) are dressing according to Khomeinist fashion standards. I could send you some pics I took at the Ashura commemorations in Nabatiyeh in early 2003 …

I would also point out that the “HA wants to turn Lebanon into an Arab Iran” argument is not one you’ll hear a lot in political debates INSIDE Lebanon.

And if you re-read Hisham Mulhem’s argument during that PBS NewsHour, then you will see that you misunderstood him. He did not say that HA wants to impose a Shi’a Islamist moral code on all Lebanese, but that:

“they want to turn Beirut into a Tehran on the Mediterranean, that is create a culture of resistance — to put Lebanon in a perpetual mode of confrontation with the United States, the West and Israel, similar to the way Iran sees itself in the region.”

So it is not about making women wear chador, but extending the politics of the HA-run areas onto the national level. In a sense, it would be the (Shi’a Islamist) repetition of what the PLO tried to do in the 1970s.

–MSK

http://www.aqoul.com
http://www.niqash.org

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December 7th, 2006, 8:09 pm

 

2. majedkhaldoun said:

is there a military analyst,who can tell me how can america pull out of Iraq,Iraq is a big country,are they going to reduce troops?,this will invite attacks on US troops,or leave one area at a time,probably start from the north,who will assume power in those areas?,and will the iraqee police forces stay loyal to Maliki,there ?what will prevent foreign invasions?if Maliki goverment colapse,who will assume power?

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December 7th, 2006, 8:35 pm

 

3. t_desco said:

This is rich: Detlev Mehlis (who did great damage to the UN investigation by relying on dubious witnesses like Mohammed Zuhair Siddiq) has the nerve to attack Serge Brammertz !

Magazine report (i.e. Mehlis; t_d) accuses UN’s Hariri probe of foot-dragging

Berlin- A German news magazine report to be published Thursday accuses the Belgian United Nations special investigator into the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri of slowing down the probe. The weekly Stern magazine also alleges that the former UN investigator into Hariri’s killing, Berlin state prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, is convinced that Syrian President Bashar Assad was involved in the killing.

Mehlis gave his Belgian successor, Serge Brammertz, confidential witness testimony and other evidence on Assad’s role when he stood down in January 2006, said Stern, citing a secret UN document is says it obtained.

Stern says Mehlis urged Brammertz to summon Assad for questioning as a potential perpetrator, said the magazine in its report, a copy of which was obtained Wednesday, a day ahead of publication.
DPA

Report by Al-Akhbar and in German.

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December 7th, 2006, 9:27 pm

 

4. G said:

MSK asked in his previous comment:

“The struggle for Lebanon will continue as long as they continue to attempt to isolate it from Syria.” – Is that a threat?

Landis writes:

My hunch is that Syria is preparing to play for keeps in Lebanon on the issue of bringing down the Siniora government, even if it an escalation means further civil discord and risking violence that could get out of hand. It means blocking Hamas cooperation with Abu Abbas in Palestine and a prisoner return for Israel. It means obstructing American initiatives in Iraq and undermining the Malaki government. It means going to the mat with Saudi Arabia and tightening cooperation with Iran. In effect, Sharaa is saying to the West, “if you want to play this game of chicken, you are foolish. We are not going to blink first or veer from our well known course. You will lose in this game. If you do not negotiate with us in good faith, Lebanon will burn, Palestine will burn, and Iraq will burn. We have the cards and we will play them.”

In other words, the answer to MSK’s question is, “yes, it is a threat” and “yes, Syria is responsible for the violence.”

Landis’s recommendation? US should “give ground in Lebanon and on the UN investigation.” In other words, the US should give Lebanon back to Syria and end the Hariri tribunal and investigation and all the UN resolutions on this issue and on Lebanon.

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December 7th, 2006, 11:20 pm

 

5. Zenobia said:

yup, i think that is what he is saying. the united states of america is screwed.

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December 7th, 2006, 11:53 pm

 

6. Enlightened said:

Addendum:

America , the Syrian Jackboot is on your neck and we will squeeze you slowly !

This is Shara’s point, we played the game and we won. It reminds me of that song ” Im the fire starter, come play my game and ill test ya” LOL

In other words we will light up this region if you dont engage us, and given their previous track record I believe them.

A quick note on why Josh would deem this important, Shara is a polished performer and a tough guy in the regime, all the readers should cast their minds back to the OSLO accords meeting
and his stinging response to Yitzak Shamirs speech, when he held a picture of a wanted poster of a young Yitzak when he was wanted by the british for the murder of two policemen. Personally i dont like shara, but i will concede he is a hawk, a very polished comunnicator and negotiator, and a very good politician.

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December 8th, 2006, 12:53 am

 

7. Ghassan said:

To Enlightened:
You mean the Madrid meeting in your statement below.

A quick note on why Josh would deem this important, Shara is a polished performer and a tough guy in the regime, all the readers should cast their minds back to the OSLO accords meeting (You mean the Madrid meeting!)
and his stinging response to Yitzak Shamirs speech, when he held a picture of a wanted poster of a young Yitzak when he was wanted by the british for the murder of two policemen.

You mean the Madrid meeting!

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December 8th, 2006, 1:39 am

 

8. Ehsani2 said:

If we are using Islamic dress code as our metric, is Tehran on the Mediterranean really any worse than Riyadh on the Mediterranean?

Clearly, as G and MSK both implied, this is not about the fear of the Ashrafiya residents having to be forced to celebrate Ashura. This is about the fear of having to watch Syria take back control of Lebanon through its proxies first before it slowly and steadily makes its takeover complete.

Dr. Landis lays it all out by concluding:

“Perhaps negotiating a compromise will be less damaging to their (liberal and western oriented Lebanese) interests than forcing a confrontation that will become ugly? Having Hizbullah takes more power by force will not serve anyone’s interests.”

During the previous post, my friend Alex had an interesting exchange with MSK.

He concluded his comment by saying:

“I think it is time Syria’s adversaries stop ridiculing the Syrians and start listening to what they have to say, because even if you do not agree with them, they ARE significant.”

I personally don’t think that those Lebanese that ridicule Syria do so because they deem it to be insignificant. As a Syrian national, I am not surprised to see the Lebanese react the way they do towards their bigger neighbor. Wouldn’t Syrians have done the same had Turkey occupied our land and extended its welcome after it was invited in with an “international cover”? I don’t think that we can sugarcoat the way Syria conducted itself in Lebanon over the many years it stayed there. Indeed, I wish our leadership spent more of its time fixing the country’s internal problems rather than allocating such a significant amount of its resources to the Lebanon file. Yes, I am aware of the geopolitical importance of this topic to the country. Nonetheless, we cannot blame the Lebanese when they want to free themselves from their more significant neighbor. I know that a lot of people will ask how is Lebanon really free when the French and American Ambassadors have quickly replaced the Syrians as the main power brokers in the country. This brings me to the Lebanese.

There is no question that Lebanon suffers from a fundamental flaw in its core. It is a beautiful country whose people are vibrant, educated and worldly. But, IT CANNOT DEFEND ITSELF. The central government in the country is practically nonexistent and powerless. Its army has no monopoly over armed forces within its borders. This model of governance is not sustainable, especially in a region like ours.

The Lebanese, therefore, should start by blaming themselves first. For them to think that they can live in an island of prosperity, secularism, freedom and all night parties without any interference from outsiders is nothing short of naïve. Until their country’s defense minister can demonstrate that he has a real job for example, its more “significant” neighbors will keep meddling with their country. The Americans and French will come and go. 20 million Syrians on the other hand will not. Incidentally, this 20 million number doubles every 22 years.

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December 8th, 2006, 1:51 am

 

9. Enlightened said:

Ghassan you are correct, it was the madrod meeting! I guess you confused the two!

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December 8th, 2006, 3:20 am

 

10. Enlightened said:

Ghassan you are correct, it was the madrid meeting! I guess I confused the two!

Ehsani , I like your candour in regards to the Lebanese issue and feel that you have highlighted the concern of most Lebanese succintly.

While most Lebanese have familial and marriage ties to the Syrian side of the border ( ex:we do too on both sides of our family, and me through my wifes family) this we cant forget or abrogate through choice.

Hence, though history will show that most of Syrias political turmoil since independence was hatched in Beirut, there is no easy way out, but i would stake one bet towards any syrian, and that is they would like the limited freedom and slightly higher standard of living in Lebanon?

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December 8th, 2006, 4:14 am

 

11. Charles G. Coutinho, Ph. D. said:

Professor Landis and his usual band of contributors must be commended for the unusually high level of analysis of both the Levant, and the Near East regions as a whole in the postings of the last week or so. So Bravo!

Now, I will of course throw in, my two cents worth, of criticism of some (not all or even most just a small bit) of the last two postings, in particular that of Professor Landis’ own commentary today.

First, he is most likely correct, in saying that the Syrians and their allies, vis-`a-vis the Americans and their local(Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, Israel, et cetera) as well as International allies (France and the UK) probably have better cards to play in the ‘struggle for Lebanon’ (to paraphrase Patrick Seale). And, of course one may argue that Damascus will play the
jeu more ruthlessly and probably (on points) ‘better’.

Second, but that is not the real reason why the Syrians et. al., are likely to ‘win’. The reason that they will ‘come out ahead’, is simply that the Syrians are the only player, outside of the Lebanon, who really cares, about ‘winning’ this game. When I use the word, ‘cares’, I mean in the realpolitik sense. For Washington or Paris, and in a sense even Tel Aviv, who ‘rules in Beirut’, is not an existential matter of life or death. For the clique who runs Syria, it is not either, but, it is very very close to being so. Hence, for Assad fils, and his cohorts, the amount of resources they are willing to employ in order to overturn the Siniora government, is probably greater than what the USA et, al., is willing to employ to keep the same in power. After all, if the USA were really interested in keeping the 14 March movement in power, American policy would have been a quite different in the past 18 months or so. But, of course for the Bush regime, what occurred in the Lebanon, had less to do, with the
intrinsic importance of latter per se, than the fact, that the Cedar Revolution, became as it were, the only successful off-spring of the whole Iraq adventure. And, to a lesser extent, in the heady days of the Spring and Summer of 2005, it was viewed as a prelude to similar events taking place in Syria itself (this of course was a neo-conservative fantasy). Does anyone really think that Washington really attributes any strategic importance to ‘who rules in Beirut’ outside of the above two considerations? Of course not.

So, to sum up, it is very likely, barring some unexpected variable that none of us can see, that Damascus will ‘win’ the game over the Lebanon. However, one is tempted to ask, and, I will conclude on this note, what one may inquire will have ‘Damascus have won’? In real terms, ousting the Siniora government will not do anything for the average inhabitant of Syria. And, as per Nada Bakri’s article in The Daily Star of the 5th of December, even European powers, like Germany, are not exactly regarding Damascus as the poster child of the month due to its misbehavior in the Near Eastern playpen. Which in practical terms means, that Assad and company, cannot expect any trade deals, aid, et cetera, from the EU, World Bank, et cetera, as well as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, for quite awhile to come. Perhaps for those members of the Syrian diaspora who contribute to this online journal that does not mean too much in economic terms, but, for the population of Syria as a whole, it does and it will. So, in the struggle for Lebanon, Syria may eventually be regarded as a ‘winner’, but, the Syrian people as a whole will lose out, as much as anyone, if not more so…

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December 8th, 2006, 5:07 am

 

12. Alex said:

Ehsani and Charles you made some interesting points.

In my opinion, Syria seems to be winning the struggle for Lebanon for these main reasons:

Geography. Just look at the map again.

Experience The Syrian regime has been in power since 1970. They know what works and what does not work… washington has tons of “syria experts” … many (like joshua!) are real experts on the country, but the problem is that American leaders are often not capable of picking and choosing between good advice and terrible advice .. the Bush Sr and the Clinton administrations for example relied on good advice. The Reagan and Bush Jr. administrations adopted the most biased and distorted opinions.

Balance The Syrians, despite all the valid criticism of their army’s conduct in Lebanon, managed Lebanon with an approach that was much more balanced than the one the Americans tried in Iraq (lets put our guys in power and lets get rid of the bad guys), or … Saddam’s short-lived approach to managing Kuwait. Or even the Saudi approach to managing Lebanon the past two years which was one dimensional and it had a clear objective: we will systematically erase Syria’s influence in Lebanon… we will empower the Lebanese Sunnis and we will fight Iranian influence.

A reminder of how effective the Syrians were in managing Lebanon’s conflicts, here is something Jihad al-khazen (Lebanese Editor) said about Ghazi Kanaan:

أغرب ما سمعت منه كان عن دوره في خلاف كنسي (ربما كاثوليكي) في البقاع مع تسلمه العمل رسمياً رئيساً لجهاز الأمن والاستطلاع في لبنان، وهو قال انه وجد نفسه مصلحاً بين مطارنة وخوارنة، وأخذ ينتقل من كنيسة الى مطرانية الى بطريركية ويحضر قداديس الأحد، حتى طوى الخلاف

Before one of you reminds me that Lebanon should not need to be managed by outsiders… I will say: If Aoun becomes the president, Hoss the prime minister, and with Nasrallah’s full support, then Lebanon would have a better chance to be much more independent than it ever was until today.

But with today’s ex-warlords and Saudi businessmen as “leaders” there is no moral foundation to build a unified, meaningful, cohesive, secure, and independent country.

But Syria should also not make the same mistake that Saudi Arabia did (replacing Syria). Saudi influence in Lebanon should be balanced, not erased. If Syria tries to humiliate the Saudis out of Lebanon, then the Saudis will tell Bashar: take your Lebanon back .. and take with it the 45 Billion national debt.

Syria would not want to see the new friendly Lebanon turn into another Hamas bankrupt and boycotted government.

Without international deals and agreements, there will be no long-term winners in the Middle East … only continued confrontations.

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December 8th, 2006, 8:04 am

 

13. Ehsani2 said:

Hurting them financially is the new mantra. This is going to be used now to inflict maximum damage. Businesses cannot sustain this for much longer. As for Charles’s comment above, there is no doubt that the Syrian people will take the brunt of this policy in Lebanon. The only saving grace for them is :

“it already sucks so how much worse can it really get anyway”?

The Syrian people have proved that their tolerance for sub-standard and certainly sub-potential economic existence is higher than logic would dictate. The coma on that front continues.

BEIRUT (AP)–Sales at the Virgin Megastore in downtown Beirut had just begun
bouncing back from the summer war when a sit-in connected to Lebanon’s tense
political standoff paralyzed the area, forcing the store closed again.
“This is what I call slow death. Each time we are dying just a little bit
more,” the store’s chairman, Jihad Murr, said recently, predicting he may have
to close the branch, which is located in an elegant building downtown,
altogether.
This vibrant city, mostly rebuilt after its long civil war, has been
struggling since the Hezbollah-Israeli war with a series of political crises
that have brought both fears of civil war and economic devastation.
The latest blow has been fierce: a weeklong sit-in by Hezbollah and other
opposition protesters in two downtown squares has brought the heart of Beirut
to a standstill, transforming it into a tent city of protesters camped out and
combat troops in armored vehicles behind barricades of barbed wire.
Hundreds of businesses have lost revenue and many have closed. Hotels hoping
for strong tourism during the holiday season – Christmas and the Islamic
al-Adha – have seen most of their bookings canceled, with visitors fearing the
country’s turmoil.
No end is in sight; the opposition threatens another massive protest Sunday.
The Western-backed government has tried to ignore the protests – designed to
unseat it – and Prime Minister Fuad Saniora has gone about his schedule from
his fortified offices nearby.
But Finance Minister Jihad Azour has said every day of the sit-in costs the
economy $70 million in losses.
Overall, the economy has been gloomy since the summer war. The latest cycle
of unrest began Nov. 21 with the assassination of anti-Syrian politician Pierre
Gemayel, followed by a national strike, his funeral and the opposition sit-in
that began Dec. 1.
Road closures have caused huge traffic jams and troop searches of pedestrians
downtown have kept many away. Scattered violence between Sunni Muslims backing
the government and Shiites led by Hezbollah has fueled the uncertainty.
For this city that prides itself as the Paris of the Middle East, the impact
has been severe on the posh designer boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs that
cluster downtown.
“Downtown is like a ghost town. And the sad thing is that every time we think
it’s over, some new disaster strikes,” said George Helou, training director at
a trendy food outlet that now is closed.
Sidewalk cafes – a favorite of Gulf Arab tourists in years past – now sit
empty and closed. Restaurants and department stores also have closed, and
hundreds of white canvas tents have been pitched in streets and parking lots
around the two squares.
Outside the fashionable Buddha Bar, a Hezbollah tent was pitched steps away
from portable latrines and water tanks in the middle of an intersection in
front of the prime minister’s building.
On Thursday, Charles Samaha worked to move women’s clothes and shoes from his
store to a suburban branch. “It looks like it’s going to last long,” he said,
estimating his losses were at least $100,000. Even at the other branch, he
conceded, sales are “very light” because of the uncertainty.
Banks and multinational companies with downtown headquarters have relocated
staff and offices. Others now work shorter hours, evacuating their buildings
before the afternoon, when the Hezbollah protests often become boisterous.
Virgin’s Murr has laid off 20% of his employees in the past few months and
says he is thinking seriously of closing the downtown Beirut branch if
instability persists. The store has several smaller branches elsewhere in the
city and its suburbs.
“We are losing a minimum of $50,000 with each day of closure,” he said.
Overall, about 15,000 people in the tourism industry could be laid off early
next year because of hotel booking cancellations, said Pierre Ashkar, an
industry official.
Tourism – which brings in about 12% of Lebanon’s gross national product – is
crucial for a country with no significant natural resources. But the sector was
devastated by the Israel-Hezbollah war.
Before the war, the Tourism Ministry was predicting a record 1.6 million
visitors in 2006, with revenues topping $2 billion. But in August, the number
of visitors – 26,000 – was down 85% from the same month in 2005, and
September’s 67,000 visitors was 43% less than the year before. More recent
figures were not available, and officials have not estimated dollar losses in
tourism.
Despite everything, signs of resilience remain: The annual Beirut Marathon,
titled “For the Love of Lebanon,” went ahead Sunday after a week’s
postponement. But the 20,000 runners had to take different routes to skirt the
protests.

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December 8th, 2006, 12:14 pm

 

14. Akbar Palace said:

Professor Josh issues a warning:

“This is no time for the US and Syria to be escalating their conflict.”

The AP reports:

“Things are bad and getting worse in Lebanon. Hizballah and their sponsors, Iran and Syria, are bolder than ever. Hezbollah vows end to Lebanon government.”

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061207/ap_on_re_mi_ea/lebanon

Professor Josh reassures:

“Allow me to add one anecdote to explain why I believe Lebanon will not become like Khomeini’s Iran.”

Oh sure!

And while you’re at it, please give us an anecdote to explain how you believe Lebanon will not be dragged into another war with Israel.

Meanwhile, the Iranian-backed Jihadist government of Palestine seems satisfied with their continued war with the Zionist:

Speaking before thousands of worshippers at Tehran University, Palestinian prime minister vows his Hamas-led government will continue to fight for liberation of Jerusalem. ‘We will never recognize usurper Zionist government,’ he says.

Sound like “moderation” to me…

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December 8th, 2006, 12:21 pm

 

15. ausamaa said:

Bravo Joshoua,

Great ananlysis of the situation. Al Sharaa is upping the ante but with a subtle message that there is still room to compromise. His speach was followed by the fiery speach of Sayed Hassan Nassrallah, and by Iran’s FM who said in a press conference “Iran is willing to help, and can help, but ‘you’ have to tell us what sort of help you need”.Add to that Haniya’s hardening of tone after his visit to Damascus. Add to that he demanded the return of the Golan in full -back to 1967 boarders- and not merely a readiness for renewewd negotiations with Israel-, and you have it.

As to Lebanon, at the first instant, I did not like or understand the need for his offensive comment: “We could have solved the crisis in Lebanon in one day”. Then I realized that as the intended reciever of the the message was the the US and the Eropeans and even some Arab rulers, then Al Sharra was merely reminding them of how things were when Syria was there. Coupled with his “prophecy” that the “coming weeks and months will prove that you can not seperate Syria from Lebanon”, this is a clear signal to them that Syria is getting what it wants there wether they like it or not. So, that is a good place to start if they need and want help elsewhere. Otherwise, go it on your own.

And he did not forget to dangle a carrot to the Gulf states by reminding them of Syria’s supportive roll during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, he is hinting also at the role Syria can play in calming Iranian-Gulf tensions and reminding Saudi that it will soon a very long boarder with an Iranian friendly new Iraq.

Well, his old aquintances Baker and Bush senior are back. And they have managed to come to terms during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait which led to the Madrid conference. So, he, and the area, can feel a breath of hope that together they can change things. And he wasted no time to put all his cards on the table and to send his invitation/message…..

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December 8th, 2006, 2:56 pm

 

16. t_desco said:

“It was interesting and good that Nasrallah did not mention Iran and Syria and even said that he opposes “wisayah” (guardianship, the term used to refer to Syrian domination of Lebanon) even with “friends and “brothers”–a reference that usually refers to Syria.”
As’ad AbuKhalil on Nasrallah’s speech.

To me it seems that Nasrallah is adopting a Gandhian approach to domestic politics:

“We will not be dragged into any kind of strife even if you kill a thousand of us,” he said as the crowd cheered and waved Lebanese flags in a square just walking distance from government headquarters, where Siniora and other ministers have taken up residence behind barbed wire and barricades. “We will not raise weapons in the face of anyone.”
WP

“We reject any armed clash in the street, and we also reject any kind of confrontation in the street,” he said. “Tell the Lebanese and all nations in the region, whoever pushes matters in the direction of civil war, in civil war, everyone is a loser.”
NYT

Another sign of this approach was that he forgave the Sunni fundamentalists who had plotted to kill him.

This approach may also explain why he is still prepared to compromise and work with people whom he accuses of collaborating with Israel during the war:

“Although Hezbollah has said before that the government had effectively colluded with Israel in the hope that its bombing campaign would destroy Hezbollah’s militia, on Thursday, Sheik Nasrallah went a step further, saying that a government agency tried to find out where he was staying during the war and that the government worked to block the resupply of Hezbollah during the battle. …

“Those who sat with the Americans and requested from them that Israel launch a war against us, they know themselves, and I know them, and I hope that the day will not come when I would say their names,” he said.”
NYT

The Lebanese army has confirmed that ammunition was indeed confiscated during the war:

“Responding to Nasrallah’s speech on the confiscation of guerrilla arms, the Lebanese army issued a statement on Friday saying it received no orders from the government to block guerrilla weapons supplies during the summer war but said troops stopped and confiscated ammunition at one of its checkpoints. Hezbollah requested the ammunition be returned, but the army said it was up to the government to make that decision.”
CNN

Full text of the speech in Arabic by Champress.

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December 8th, 2006, 7:07 pm

 

17. Ford Prefect said:

Alex,
Well said. I really enjoyed your analysis, which underscores the strange, artificial, and irrational being of Lebanon. The late Kamal Jumblatt once quoted saying “ This society is not a society in the real sense of the word, because there is no such thing as a Lebanese community. There is no Lebanese social unit. Lebanon is a collection of sects and socio-religious communities. This ……not a society, not a community, not a nation.” Nothing can be closer to reality that what Jumblatt said over a quarter a century ago.
Not until the Lebanese forge a common identity, admit that their miseries are not because of the Palestinians, the Israelis, the Iranians, or the Syrians. Lebanon is cursed by the simple map that Alex provided, small in area, but huge in egos. The Lebanese are desperate to locate an identity that does not yet exist. So how about, for a starter, all Lebanese come together and unequivocally admit that Lebanon was a mistake by Britain and France and that that the current Lebanon, with its confessional, sectarian system is fundamentally flawed and irrevocably doomed. Not until a complete abandonment of all sects and religions in politics can Lebanon join the world. Meanwhile, only Syria knows how to deal with such a hapless mess.

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December 8th, 2006, 8:04 pm

 

18. Badger said:

Good post and discussion, so much so that I pillaged (with attribution) from the Sharaa discussion, not so much from the regional point of view (even though that’s the most important part), but more to point to a fundamental critique of American policy, something we used to see on the Left in America, but …

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December 8th, 2006, 8:22 pm

 

19. SyriaComment » Archives » Encouraging Sectarian War as a Means to Bring Down Asad said:

[…] Whether the International Court will be an effective instrument to break Syria is also in doubt. A spat has broken out between Mehlis and Brammertz, the two lead investigators. Here is what T_Desco writes in the last comment section. This is rich: Detlev Mehlis (who did great damage to the UN investigation by relying on dubious witnesses like Mohammed Zuhair Siddiq) has the nerve to attack Serge Brammertz ! […]

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December 8th, 2006, 10:29 pm

 

20. Judith Bello said:

This is a comment on the original post. I will read the other responses tomorrow, but it took me from yesterday to today to find this space:
I just read your comment on Sharaa’s remarks. I am not an expert, and I don’t know a whole lot about Syria. I don’t know you very well either, so please bear with me. I have a question about some of your remark’s about Hizollah’s motivation, though I more or less agree with what you predict in the end. And, in fact, I think all governments that function effectively do manipulate their constituencies to some extent, and manage their political resources in such a way as to get the most bang for their buck They are kind of like people, sometimes kind and just, but often egocentric and self centered, sometimes right, but often misguided. Well, you see what I mean.

My source of information on these matters is a variety of news outlets, both us and middle eastern as I watch Mosaic regularly and check out AlJazeera and AlArabiya Websites periodically. You appear to treat Hizbollah (and Hamas) as a straight out puppet of Syria, and so every action they take is interpreted as a Syrian initiative. I can’t be sure that isn’t the case, but there are a couple of points I would like to bring up.
First, the actions of the leaders of Hizbollah and Hamas are fully justified as responses to their own peculiar situations. That is to say, their actions make sense in terms of who they are in relation to their own context, the incredibly difficult situations that they and their compatriots are in. Those situations are largely caused by interactions with Israel and the Western powers, not Syria. Syria may not be helping the situation, but it is also not responsible for the worst abuses (picture Southern Lebanon as rubble).
For example, the current Hizbollah action in Beirut directed at bringing down the Signora government. Hibollah gained a lot of clout in Lebanon for resisting the Iraeli onslaught last summer. Even after the incursion was over and people were returning to their homes, Hizbollah was able to provide some measure of support for them. At the same time, the Signora Government was totally divested of power by it’s own allies and supporters in the west who not only didn’t come to his aid, but who provided weapons and passive support to their enemies as they destroyed half his country. When the dust settled, the Signora Government normalized relations with those so called allies and attempted to get back to business as usual. But this is only the context.
The Signora Govt has control of the parliament while holding a third or so of the seats, yet they refuse to form a unity government where the other factions can share power. This can happen because there are more than 2 centers of power in Lebanon, but that doesn’t make it right. In this country we just let the government know that we don’t like it when one party uses a small majority to run over the opposition and govern unilaterally. We kicked out the offending party. In Lebanon, the fact this is more difficult because there are more than main parties.
Signora won’t share power. To do so would offend his masters. Though there is no reason for Syria to be any more generous than we are, since as a physical neighbor they have significantly more at stake. However, it isn’t obvious that they would need to manipulate anyone to cause dissension over the current status quo, or to cause many Lebanese to be upset with Signora. Hizbollah has earned the right to participate fully, and the political edge by which Signora holds power is not a popular one at this point. Hizbollah, on the other hand, currently has a large base of popular support, and not only of Shia.

So, my question is, why does Hizbollah need Syria to tell them to fight for a unity government?
Secondly, With regard to Syria, tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of Lebanese fled to Syria, including Christians as well as Moslems, and Sunnis as well as Shia, during the Israeli attack last summer. They were heading for safety, I assume. There are, as far as I know, a significant minority of christians in Syria, and I haven’t heard that they are persecuted. They may not hold high positions in government, but how many moslems and asians hold high positions in our government. As far as I know, Syria has not attempted to wipe out the Christians, or to wipe Lebanon off the face of the earth recently, or any other country for that matter. The multi-ethnic population of Lebanon has been divided against itself and shamelessly manipulated, not only by Syria, but by the western nations for years, and menaced by Israel as well. Hundreds of Lebanese are still in Israeli prisons following the last Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. Are there large numbers of Lebanese in Syrian prisons as well? I suppose it is possible. I don’t know.
But I have to ask, what is wrong with Syria supporting their neighbor to have a more democratic (in the sense of popular with the people, in the sense of cooperative) government?
And furthermore, should Syria have refused to support their neighbor when they were under attack? Now as a question of ‘is Syria’s behavior altruistic?’ I imagine it probably isn’t. I can see very real reasons why Syria would not like to see Lebanon occupied by Israel or otherwise dominated by western masters. Does the US government have a single altruistic (bone? initiative? I don’t know). I don’t think so. I sometimes think they would rather kill every Iraqi (Palestinian, Afgani, Sudanese whatever) than than allow that someone else has soverienty somewhere else in the world over resources that we want. A good example of our government’s altruistic support of Democracy and Human Rights is the brazen rejection of the democratically elected government in Palestine and the obscene punishment the people there have suffered for disagreeing with the western agenda in their democratically elected choice. So much for western altruism and idealism. That is the nature of governments. But I believe in people, and I believe in brotherhood, and I believe in the mutual self interest and cultural resonance of neighbors.
So, I am going to read some more on your site. What I have seen so far leaves me wondering where you are really coming from. I looks like you have great affetion for the area, and have spent time there. And I see that even Robert Fisk, for whom I have great respect, hates Syria for their intervetion in Lebanon, and because of the assasination of Hariri. But I ‘m confused by the western intervention which has been so much more terrible for Lebanon, and which, cannot, no matter how they try, be blamed on the Lebanese, or even on Hizbollah. There was no possible excuse for it other than insane paranoia, or greed. I don’t know which.
But, I can only look at the current snapshot. I have less information, but also less personal investment in the situation. In my opinion, governments in general tend to be easily corrupted and are often evil, yet our only hope for a better future is to find a way to tame them, to own them rather than be owned by them. This is true everywhere, not just in the Middle East.

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December 9th, 2006, 4:28 am

 

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