December 16, 2006

Hizbullah’s weapons, the Hariri tribunal and chapter 7

By Abu Kais

The time of compromises is over.

Nothing surprising in what follows. Here's Mahmoud Komati, deputy head of Hezbollah's political bureau, speaking to AP.

Komati said Hezbollah started asking for greater share in the government only after the July-August war with Israel and that one of the key reasons was to prevent the pro-U.S. government from forcing it to disarm.

``Now we are demanding it (greater government share), because our experience during the war and the performance of the government has made us unsure. On several occasions they pressured us to lay down our weapons while we were fighting a war,'' Komati told The Associated Press in a huge tent, one of hundreds Hezbollah has erected for sit-ins just outside Saniora's office.

``So after the war, we had no choice but to demand this guarantee that would give us legal and constitutional strength. If we take the one-third plus one, the government will not be able to impose its decision on us,'' said Komati.

Of course, all the government tried to do is getting them to commit to discussing their disarmament AFTER the war, and as part of a "national dialogue." Hizbullah has been waging a vicious campaign against Saad Hariri, accusing him of daring to ask Hassan Nasrallah for a commitment to disarm. Although Hariri was trying to extract a promise from the holy leader to do what I said at the top of the paragraph, in hopes to avoid a resolution being passed under chapter 7-- it was blown out of proportion by Hizbullah's media and now Hariri has been declared a traitor.

Of course Hariri and Siniora should not have bothered to spare Hizbullah a chapter 7 resolution. As we saw, they wasted no time re-arming, and have shown no gratitude towards efforts to save them in the name of "national unity"—a term they interpret to mean "unity around our weapons."

For all this, the next step should be obvious to Siniora. Let the Hariri tribunal pass under chapter 7, as was suggested before the Lebanese government asked for it to pass through the Lebanese institutions. The likes of Hizbullah and their sponsors understand democracy to mean consensus on their policies, so there is no benefit in giving them the tribunal card to terrorize the country until their demands are met.

The civil war that Siniora wanted to avoid had a chapter 7 resolution forcing Hizbullah to disarm passed, will take place precisely because Hizbullah is an ungrateful, war-obsessed entity that deserves no special treatment outside the rule of law. Like the Assad regime, they use terror to get what they want, albeit in Hizbullah's case, it is political (but for how long?).

According to al-Mustaqbal, France and the US are preparing a chapter 7 resolution regarding the Hariri tribunal, meaning the Lebanese government would be spared the need to approve it in parliament. Hizbullah and the Assad regime are being given until the end of the year to either accept a compromise being worked on by Amr Moussa, or face a chapter 7 resolution. Siniora went to Moscow because the Russians think they can broker a deal between the Lebanese cabinet and their comrades in the Assad regime over the tribunal (Assad is expected to visit Russia soon after). But Moscow might not be able to veto this one, as the French and Americans will not allow the regime and Hizbullah to blow Lebanon into smithereens. Let us not forget that UNIFIL has the mandate to intervene as a protection force if Hizbullah threatens Lebanese security—something that even fundamentalist Fathi Yakan understood when he lashed out at his allies' calls to storm the Serail. 

Finally, the real onus is not only on the Lebanese cabinet and army, but also on the Lebanese marching in support of Hizbullah and Aoun (at least those not getting paid in "clean and honorable Iranian money"). Will they wake up to see where their idols are taking them?

In the meantime, chapter 7 never looked so good.

Posted by Abu Kais at 8:23 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

December 14, 2006

US Senators trying to “find facts” in Syria

By Abu Kais

Senator Bill Nelson (D), the first in a group of at least 4 senators who want to try dialogue with Syria, has been dragged through the mud by dictator Bashar Assad. Over the next few days, John Kerry, Arlen Specter and Christopher Dodd will join him, in an attempt to "convince the Assad regime to "cooperate" in Iraq.  As soon as they finish reading the Baker-Hamilton report.

The report, as you know, recommended dialogue with Syria and Iran, because "it worked before" (can't you see how it worked for the US? Iran and Syria are now trusted US allies). Although the panel, which spent nine months peppering the obvious with delusional half-baked solutions, said the US would not compromise over Lebanon to get Syria's cooperation, it said it believes the Assad regime has an interest in a stable Iraq and Lebanon.

Right. So off goes Nelson, who gloated that Assad "clearly indicated a willingness to cooperate'' in controlling its border with Iraq.

Nelson said he reported the information to embassy officials and will brief his congressional committees on the trip.

Sean McCormack wasn't impressed:

At the State Department, spokesman Sean McCormack questioned even the usefulness of Nelson's visit, considering the lack of effect on Syria's action by other visiting foreign dignitaries such as German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier or Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos of Spain.

"We still haven't seen any change in Syrian behavior, any noticeable change in Syrian behavior. ... They haven't changed their behavior at all despite those entreaties to change their behavior."

On Lebanon, Nelson really let Bashar have it, or was it the other way around?

"We support the (Lebanese) prime minister's efforts to establish a tribunal for a horrific crime of assassination," Nelson told reporters. "It is very important that the Untied Nations follows through with this investigation.. and find the perpetrators and bring them to justice," Nelson said.

Assad "disagreed with the opinion that I expressed," Nelson said, adding the Syrian president "said that he did not support the Saniora government."

"On that we had a very sharp exchange of words and a sharp disagreement," Nelson added.

Hopefully (sarcasm), Kerry and the rest will convince Assad where Nelson failed, and Assad will continue to feel important, and frequented by US Senators programmed to blindly oppose their president, without offering a clear alternative.

The senators have described their mission as a "fact-finding" trip. Here's a suggestion. Read those intelligence reports. Or have one of your interns translate a Lebanese newspaper. Maybe visit a Lebanese blog or two. Just don't expect yourselves to achieve anything but wasting taxpayer money by visiting Assad.

What's next? Tea and a holocaust story with Ahmadinejad?

Posted by Abu Kais at 11:23 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

December 12, 2006

Waiting for Assad

By Abu Kais

More details have emerged about the Sudanese envoy's trip to Syria, during which he announced Damascus's alleged support for the Arab initiative.

According to the National News Agency, and an interview Voice of Lebanon conducted with Marwan Hamadeh, the envoy had obtained a tentative agreement on a set of points from Siniora, Nasrallah and Berri. But Berri and Nasrallah asked him to visit Damascus to get the regime's take on the proposed settlement--especially in what concerns the Hariri tribunal.

As was reported, Ismail went to Damascus and then came the announcement of Syrian support. Lo and behold, the Sudanese received a call after his visit from a Hizbullah official informing him that the opposition's approval was only on the "principle" and that his proposal or "working paper" needs a "deep discussion".

This "deep discussion" is really about the Hariri tribunal. Insignificant and self-marginalizing I-want-early-parliamentary-elections-or-I-take-Siniora-hostage Aoun apart, there seems to be a glimmer of hope in reaching a settlement by linking the formation of a national unity government to holding early presidential elections (we can all opine on this once more details emerge).  But the sticking point, and this is according to An-Nahar, is the tribunal, which still "needs negotiations between the opposition and Damascus, which has not given its final word on the issue."

So until the Assad regime releases the "opposition" and allows them to reach a settlement, expect the occupation of downtown Beirut to continue.

The jury is divided on whose side time is on right now. There should no doubt in anybody's mind that it is not on the side of Lebanon and its economy. Some in my comments section have said it's on Hizbullah's side, and others said it was on March 14's.

Here's something to support the second camp's argument:

The "opposition" is quickly losing the support of pro-Syrian Sunnis. Former Prime Minister Omar Karami had refused to address the Hizbullah hordes on Sunday, following Nasrallah's anti-Sunni speech last Thursday. Fathi Yakan, also a pro-Syrian, has publicly disassociated himself from Aoun's plan to storm the Serail and replace the Sunni PM with another one more to Hizbullah's and Aoun's liking.

And today, one of Aoun's allies in Zahle, Elias Skaf, visited Bkirki and announced he was in full support of the Maronite Church and against street protests.

Finally, the sixth UNIIIC report was released on Tuesday, and it looks like Brammertz will keep playing Clue until the tribunal is formed. Speaking of which, the Lebanese cabinet has met and confirmed the tribunal's plan after receiving it from Lahoud, who had sent it back "for a review by another, constitutional, cabinet". It is now on its way to parliament.

Theoretically, the ball is in Berri's court.

But for Berri and Hizbullah, it's in Bashar's court, and has always been.

Posted by Abu Kais at 9:10 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

December 11, 2006

Deal or no deal?

By Abu Kais

It is perhaps too early to discuss the so-called Arab initiative, which has reportedly won Hizbullah's and Assad's support. That this "breakthrough" was announced in Damascus, and not in Beirut, speaks volumes about what these protests were really about.

"I have received confirmation from the brothers in Syria that they (support)...Lebanese consensus and support our efforts," Ismail, a Sudanese presidential adviser, said after talks with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

Ismail was expected in Beirut later in the day for talks with Lebanese leaders. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa would join him in the Lebanese capital on Tuesday.

Syria's backing is seen as essential in forging any compromise in Lebanon. Though its troops left the country more than 18 months ago, Damascus still wields influence on many groups, the most powerful of which is the pro-Syrian Hezbollah. (Reuters)

This last paragraph by Reuters is straight out of one of "brother" Bashar Assad's dreams: "Syria", "Essential", "Lebanon". Assad must think himself important and "yielding influence" again. Only let's not get ahead of ourselves. There is no "deal" yet, and, unlike what some people are already predicting, nobody has been declared winner, especially not Hizbullah, Aoun and the Assad regime.

Let us start by dispelling the illusion propagated and will be propagated by some Aounists, who believe their street parades won them seats in a "national unity government"—seats that were offered to them without the need to go through Hizbullah and Damascus. If anything, and as many of us suspected, the protests proved that the "national unity government" demand was a façade for a power grab. The only people who still believe the pro-Syrian camp were really asking for a "national unity government" are the wire agencies, usually forced to attach formulaic background information to every action reported.

Last time I checked, Aoun didn't even want to be associated with this government, expanded or not, so crying victory now or tomorrow is strange, insulting and idiotic. As for Hizbullah, and considering that Nasrallah has accused Siniora of treason, anything short of the prime minister's assassination cannot constitute real victory for God's alleged party.  As for Berri, he must be enjoying his new completely discredited self. Even Siniora is now saying that the parliament has been "hijacked". 

In fact, the few details that emerged about the negotiations indicate that they revolve around ideas proposed by PM Siniora before the protests, but were ignored: expansion of the cabinet to comprise 19 pro-March 14, 9 pro-opposition and 1 neutral. Siniora had proposed two neutral members with no voting powers, so not to block or paralyze the cabinet with every political dispute.

The negotiations will probably revolve around the identity and role of the neutral minister, and whether March 14 or Hizbullah/Aoun would name him. There are other details: the tribunal, early presidential elections, parliamentary elections, etc. This means that 11 days of protests did absolutely nothing of positive value for the country and we are essentially back where we left off.

What we do have some 11 days into the occupation of downtown Beirut, is an economy in shambles, businesses that lost millions of dollars, another ruined tourist season, and deepening of sectarian divisions.

But if the protests did nothing to advance the talks between Lebanese "parties", did they benefit the Assad regime? I don't know if it was pragmatism that sent the Arab League to Damascus, and I am clearly not privy to what transpired there.  The Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians have nearly divorced the Syrian regime. The flaky regime and its cohorts have certainly not succeeded in toppling the government. And what appears to be regained influence for Damascus could very well be Damascus being told to quit using the country as a chess board. The envoy made it clear that the basis for any settlement should be "no victor and no vanquished".

But it almost appears as if Hizbullah and Aoun wanted to bring Syria back into the equation. Siniora's proposal had to go through Damascus first, and Damascus was given the opportunity to demonstrate its strength in the country. Sectarian divisions in the country almost always benefit the Assad regime, which has a record in manipulating them. No wonder that immediately after the announcement, Siniora asked Ismail to return to Beirut.

I will await the results of the Arab League sponsored negotiations to lay the final judgment. If Syria now sees itself party to the talks, expect murder and other forms of intimidation, although one could argue that the protests offered an ideal pressure tool. Murdering an entire country, after all, is better than murdering one official.

Posted by Abu Kais at 9:39 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

December 10, 2006

When will law rule in the land-of-do-as-you-please?

By Abu Kais

Action speaks louder than words. Action against outlaws Hizbullah and Aoun should be taken. The Lebanese government waited until they were comfortable enough to mobilize people and capitalize on the state's weak/weakened resolve.

PM Siniora saw today’s mass protests (plural because March 14 staged another in Tripoli) as "freedom of expression", and proof that "freedom should be protected in Lebanon". On Friday, he accused Hizbullah of staging a coup d’etat. I am sorry, but if you're going to accuse someone of staging a coup, you have to keep at it and not spin it into "freedom of expression". There are other things you need to do, like mobilize your army and security forces against the organizers of this coup. Let it be war between the legitimate authority and the illegal militia before it becomes a war between sects.

Siniora, trying to enter history as the statesman who never ruled, also endorsed a large number of checks and payments to Shias in the south who lost homes, as some of these people asked for his head on a stick and called him a traitor, among other things.

What else transpired at this alleged manifestation of freedom of expression?

Nasrallah’s deputy Naim Qassem laid out two demands:

1- Siniora has to order the Lebanese army to return confiscated weapons back to Hizbullah
2- Siniora has to resign

Michel Aoun threatened to take over the Serail by force.

“We look for peaceful methods, but other methods are also legitimate,” he said, referring to steps to force the cabinet to resign. He added that the barbwire around the Grand Serail will not protect the ministers from the “natural expansion” of the protestors next time they take to the streets in large numbers.

And then this Aounist conundrum: “In a few days, we will announce a transitional government… we will demand a transitional government… to hold early elections.”

While Aoun seemed impatient, Qassem said they were prepared to stay on the streets for 10 months if necessary until their demands are met. With Iran and the Lebanese government funding his people, the livelihood of other Lebanese doesn't really matter. What matters is Hizbullah's weapons, Aoun's presidential aspirations and Syria's obsession with the Hariri tribunal.

In other news, Hibzullah continues to build illegally in the Raml El Aleh area. And this isn't their only illegal activity (apart from asking for their illegal weapons back). The militia is now in charge of issuing permits to journalists wishing to cover the protests in downtown Beirut. Naharnet also reported that they are importing army and police uniforms.

Meanwhile, the leading newspaper An Nahar reported that Hizbullah purchased thousands of army and police uniforms from a local company trading with such items in south Lebanon.

The respected newspaper did not elaborate on its short report, which sparked concern in security circles that Hizbullah's trained and tested fighters might use the uniforms as disguise to attack the heavily-guarded government offices, which Saniora and his ministers have been using as residence, across the street from the angry protestors taking part in the city center sit-in.

A ranking security official told Naharnet, that a shipment of uniforms similar to what is used by the Lebanese army and police force has been "imported by a local merchant from India and was recently sold to a local faction."

The security official warned that if the army and police uniforms were used by "irregular factions, this would further escalate the ongoing confrontation and would lead us to facing a real threat of terrorism."

It also emerged today that Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir had asked Syrian-installed President Emile Lahoud to resign three weeks ago (too late buddy). I will not comment on March 14's counter rally in Tripoli. It makes no sense to me when government spokespeople keep telling us what we already know, and never suggest ways to stop this invasion.

Oh why bother…

Posted by Abu Kais at 11:21 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

December 9, 2006

Assad regime to kill Berri if he convenes parliament

By Abu Kais

The Assad regime is in a hurry. Nasrallah hasn’t been able to deliver quickly enough. The Grand Serail is a fortress, and the Lebanese street is slowly turning against the protestors, who don’t even have safe passage back to their homes now. The orders from the Dark Lord’s council are to pack more people in downtown Beirut, and as soon as possible. The plan to occupy or lay siege to the Rafik Hariri International airport seems to be in full swing, although the Lebanese army will reportedly not allow it.

What’s the hurry for?

This sunday, the 15-day time limit for Lahoud to sign the Hariri tribunal plan expires. As of Monday, the cabinet can constitutionally send it to parliament for endorsement.

Nabih Berri is in a pickle. He was forced to declare the cabinet session that approved the tribunal unconstitutional after telling journalists days before, that it wasn’t. On Wednesday, when it appeared that there was a dim hope of reaching a settlement, the speaker of parliament received a death threat from Maher Assad, Bashar’s brother. According to al-Seyassah, Assad threatened to kill Berri if he calls parliament into session to approve the plan (Again, al-Seyassah is to be read with a grain of salt, although they've gotten it right in the past with regards to Lebanon. In any case, this isn't the first time we've heard this.)

That’s how Lahoud’s term was extended, by threatening even pro-Syrian ministers who hated Lahoud (including Suleiman Franjieh). And that’s how the Syrian security regime worked in Lebanon—a regime that Nasrallah found no shame praising during his infamous speech that followed the threat to Berri. In that speech, Nasrallah challenged his opponents to find him one incident where a protestor was killed on his way back from a protest during the Syrian reign. Aounists must have found this funny, or let it go over their heads like the many sick jokes and embarrassing insults their Napoleonic leader utters every day. They, of all people, should know how many of them were taken to Syrian jails, how many were tortured, killed, and threatened because they dared protest when protests weren’t even allowed. And why bring up the deep past when the recent past bears testimony to the murders committed by the Assad regime—a regime Nasrallah considers better than the Siniora government. So good that he thanked the Syrian army for its sacrifices in Lebanon less than a month after Hariri was killed.

Pretty soon, there will be no one left to remind Nasrallah’s worshippers of all these crimes. Not when Assad is allowed to complete the plan to assassinate anyone who speaks, let alone protests, against Hizbullah’s second favorite regime.

Posted by Abu Kais at 6:54 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

December 8, 2006

Siniora to Nasrallah: you are not God

By Abu Kais

Siniora (finally) delivered a sharp response to Nasrallah's Thursday speech.  Details courtesy of Naharnet and the Lebanese Bloggers.

Addressing Nasrallah, Saniora asked: "who gave you the authority to say I [Nasrallah] am right and [those] who do not agree with me are wrong?"

"You are not our Lord and the party (Hizbullah) is not our Lord … Who appointed you to say I am right and all else is wrong?" Saniora asked Nasrallah. "This is a democratic country where the various groups make their points and discuss them … This is a nation of entente, a nation of dialogue," the smiling and calm Sunni premier stressed.

He said Hizbullah's resistance, because of the party-led protest in Beirut, was "losing the backing of all Arabs and Muslims, asking: "Are the streets of Beirut the terrain for the resistance? Is Israel here in Beirut?"

Nasrallah in his Thursday address vowed to call for early parliamentary elections, predicting that the present majority would lose it.

Saniora satirically asked if Nasrallah was "a fortune teller. He declared the outcome of the forthcoming elections, formed a government and named its premier … he declared himself the ruler of the whole of Lebanon."

Nasrallah, according to Saniora, was "trying to launch a coup d'etat, or at least, threatening us with a coup d'etat and defining its outcome in advance. He is applying the ancient Lebanese saying 'he beats me, he cries and rushes to complain."

Doha from the Lebanese Bloggers has more:

[According to Siniora] Nasrallah has delegated himself as the ruler of the country; he has decided ahead of time who will be the majority if Parliamentary elections take place, he has decided the characteristics of the Cabinet that he would oversee and also, who would head the Cabinet, "A Sunni Prime Minister who is clean, true, nationalistic, etc..."

Seniora asks, "Who has given you the authority to say someone is clean or not clean, his money is clean or not clean? This decision rests with the Creator and not with you. Is you party God?"

… Then Seniora discussed the Shebaa Farms issue. Nasrallah yesterday said that Seniora and his government are traitors for trying to get back Al-Ghajar and the Shebaa Farms diplomatically… Seniora questioned whether some folks want to truly liberate the Shebaa Farms. He said that during the hiwar (dialogue) sessions, the government saw that it wise to have Shebaa to be transferred to the UN's purview, not under Israeli rule, until the Syrians decide to provide the UN with documents showing that the Farms are Lebanese. Despite such a practical approach, Seniora revealed that there was someone who visited him in the Serail and who wanted the Farms to stay under Israeli rule: it's the Iranian Foreign Minister!

Then Seniora asked how Nasrallah says that the Opposition doesn't get foreign support when Hizbullah gets foreign financial support in the millions and unfortunately not through legal channels, such as through the Lebanese Central Bank. Seniora said, "Yes many Arab countries have sent us financial support, but by depositing that money in the Central Bank to benefit all of Lebanon." He welcomed Iranian financial contributions for all Lebanese to benefit from and through a transparent mechanism, by depositing the money in the Central Bank.

Speaking of Iran,

Meanwhile, Iran declared support for Hizbullah in the current confrontation, hoping that the Shiite party will emerge victorious.

"What Hizbullah says is quite rational: that the acting government does not represent all Lebanese people," hardline cleric Ahmad Khatami said in his Friday prayer sermon.

"Every group, Shiite, Sunni and Christian, should have a share in the cabinet according to their size," he said, expressing the hope that Hizbullah "will come out of this political conflict victorious and proud."

Finally, the Lebanese army today responded to Nasrallah's accusation that Siniora ordered the army to confiscate their weapons.

The Lebanese army issued a statement saying it received no orders from the government to block guerrilla weapons supplies during the summer war but said troops confiscated ammunition at one of the army's checkpoints. Hezbollah requested the ammunition be returned, but the army said it was up to the government to make that decision.

Posted by Abu Kais at 8:30 AM | Permalink | Comments Off

December 7, 2006

The patriot and his militia

By Abu Kais

It became clear after listening to Nasrallah’s address on Thursday that the milita leader is pissed about the Lebanese cabinet allegedly conspiring against the re-arming of his group, and the attempt to extend state authority over all territory. Almost the entire speech was reserved for exposing alleged cabinet attempts to destroy the resistance and confiscate Hizbullah weapons. For Nasrallah and his followers, this is unpatriotic and amounts to treason. For any person who believes in the rule of law, any attempt to curb weapons smuggling to an illegal militia is the least a legitimate authority can do.

Nasrallah’s narrative was designed for anti-Israel Shia ears. I find it strange that any Aounist would find anything in it appealing or compatible with their stated aims.  There’s a government guilty of western support for over a year and a half, making it suspicious (never mind that Nasrallah’s political soldiers were part of this government). The internal security forces have to prove they’re a national force. The prime minister is conspiring with the Israelis by ordering the Lebanese army to cut the Hizbullah supplies during the war.

“Just because he [Siniora] is a Sunni doesn’t mean I should keep my mouth shut. Does any Arab, Muslim or Christian, Sunni or Shia accept that a prime minister cut the weapons supplies to the resistance that’s defending the country?”

Nasrallah elsewhere may have rejected murder and civil war, but this last statement, coming from a religious figure in the Arab world, is a legalization of Siniora’s assassination.

What’s worse, Nasrallah accused the internal security forces of spying on Hizbullah for the Israelis, and of trying to locate Nasrallah’s whereabouts and failing to “protect the country and its citizens.” Nasrallah lamented the fact that “they” pay taxes to the government to train and arm such agencies. As if Hizbullah and its 150,000 employees ever paid taxes for the billions they receive from Iran!

And then Nasrallah proceeded to categorize Sunnis, saying that if this cabinet does not accept to give Hizbullah the blocking vote (yes, Nasrallah wants to join the Israeli-supported cabinet), he will find patriotic Sunnis who could handle such leadership.

And since Nasrallah is such a secular minded guy that appeals to Aounists and communists alike, tomorrow a pro-Sunni fundamentalist will lead Shia Islamists in prayer, so the communists and the Aounists better make room. As for Sunday, the “national opposition” will attempt to ruin another weekend, burying the country and its economy in the sanitary hole that Hizbullah created in downtown Beirut.

Update. Incidentally, Le Monde today quoted (French) a senior UN official as saying there was "a constant and massive rearmament of Hizbullah."  According to the official, these weapons are entering Lebanon thanks to the complicity of Hizbullah sympathisers in the directorate of General Security, which controls the borders. The directorate is officially part of the Interior Ministry, but is run by a pro-Hizbullah guy. Its former director is in jail over suspected involvement in the Hariri murder.

For some context on the tug of war between the cabinet and Hizbullah/Amal on this issue, click here (a post about the time former acting interior minister Ahmad Fatfat tried to put a leash on  General Security but was accused of running a security regime by Hizbullah and Amal). This is further proof that one of Nasrallah's primary aims is to protect his weapon supply. Not that it ever stopped. But it could.

In related news, the UN has confirmed the report of a Syrian plot to kill 36 Lebanese figures. Don't expect a fiery reaction from Nasrallah.

 

Posted by Abu Kais at 7:35 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Hizbullah holding Lebanese economy hostage

By Abu Kais

Some people justify Hizbullah's actions by claiming they represent an impoverished community long neglected by the state. In other words, because the Shias of Lebanon were poor and neglected, somehow Hizbullah earned the right to be the bully it is, since it provides for them. This is a false argument, mainly because Hizbullah was never about social justice, but about farming humans to carry out an essentially Jihadist agenda. The people who benefit from their Iranian-funded projects are essentially tools for social change that is incompatible with Lebanese democracy. And if the state has failed Hizbullah's people, so has Hizbullah, which is now holding their country's economy hostage.

Michael Karam, managing  editor of Executive Magazine, says Hibzullah's protests are killing the Lebanese economy.

Crunch the numbers and it becomes obvious that this is neither the time nor the place for such a jamboree. Lebanon's total debt stands at $39.4 billion, a year-on-year increase of 6.9 percent. The debt-to-GDP ratio is a staggering 190 percent. PM Fouad Siniora, a banker by training, is aware of the urgency of reform… …Even on a "good day" it is estimated that Lebanon looses $1 million for every day it stalls in carrying out economic reform. Does the opposition care about such figures? One wonders.

Yes, one wonders whether the "opposition" cares.

According to the March 14 media, Hizbullah has been working on a new government for months now, and the lineup is ready, consisting mostly of pro-Syrian ministers, with former PM Salim Hoss likely at the helm. Aoun's rejection of joining the current cabinet seems to corroborate these reports, which claim that the new government was to be announced as soon as the Grand Serail fell last Friday.

But if they had a lineup ready, this doesn't mean they have a economic plan—unless they want to play it Syrian style: assign finances to a semi-independent figure (Aoun?) with some credibility, in return for control of foreign policy and security matters.

Michael Young spells out Hizbullah's strategy:

Hizbullah's strategy is now clear, its repercussions dangerous. The party is pushing Lebanon into a protracted vacuum, in which low-level violence and economic debilitation become the norm. Hizbullah is calculating that its adversaries will crack first, because they have more at stake than do poor Shiites when it comes to the country's financial and commercial health. Its leaders know the powerful symbolism associated with dispatching thousands of destitute people into the plush downtown area, which best symbolizes that financial and commercial health - the jewel in late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's reconstruction crown.

According to Karam, the country's economy is "hurtling to hell in the proverbial hand basket". The Paris III economic conference might be postponed again, which might force rating agencies to downgrade the country one step away from a default. Tourism and industry are in shambles. Pierre Ashkar, the head of the Federation of Tourism Syndicates, told al-Mustaqbal that hotel reservations went "from 90% [full], to 50% when Hizbullah threatened to take to the streets, and now 0%."  The protests and the sit-in in downtown Beirut has cost the country $400m so far, with businesses to lay off workers in the near future. Some 20,000 workers were laid off in July during the Hizbullah-initiated war.

Furthermore, Hizbullah and FPM tents occupy private property owned by Gulf investors and slated for development. Economist Marwan Iskandar accused the "protestors" of seeking to scare away major investors, especially if Beirut is transformed from a civilized place into a gangland where "groups of kids" fight and hurl obscenities.

Karam describes it well:

Lebanon's image as the region's party town is evaporating faster than you can say Bacardi Breezer, while brand Lebanon, which nearly two years ago oozed with equity, is looking very brittle. A widely televised war, a gangster-style assassination in broad daylight, and the sight of soldiers behind razor wire defending a holed-up Cabinet are not good for business, and whether we like it or not business is what makes Lebanon.

I would add to the above that 1980s Beirut is being resurrected. Armed thugs are back on the streets, and the only things missing are a wider scale conflict and the Syrian army for the picture to be complete.

Hizbullah, in fact, is filling in for the Syrian army, as far as destabilizing the country is concerned. On Wednesday, the Syrian vice president and the regime's official liar (by UN findings), Farouk al-Sharaa, said Syria "didn't need" troops on the ground to have "stronger" relations with the country than in the past (stronger relations = hegemony). Sharaa promised us that the conflict will continue as long as the Lebanese "political will" is imported (meaning no resolution as long as Syria's will is resisted). He also bragged that if the Syrians were to get involved (he says they're not), the situation would have been resolved quickly. He lashed out at France and the United States, said Syria's relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia were at an all time low, but praised Michel Aoun's "reasonable and logical" discourse.

And then this gem:

Can you imagine a Lebanese soldier would fire at a Syrian soldier or vice versa? Whoever doesn't understand this issue has no future.

In Sharaa's mind, Hizbullah is their army, and the Lebanese army is in their pocket, and would not oppose their efforts to topple the government when push comes to shove. The army has proved them wrong so far, although many still question the loyalty of its leadership, and its long-term ability to withstand communal divisions and infiltrations by Hizbullah and the Syrian regime. 

Which brings us back to the main point. Hizbullah thinks that economic peril and Syrian-style destablization can deliver the government and please their Syrian allies. This is proving to be yet another costly "miscalculation", for the political opposition to their tactics has been formidable. The Sunni street has united around the cabinet, and the Maronite Church has regained its political role following attempts by Syrian regime thugs like Suleiman Franjieh to discredit the Patriarch. The Church is now asking Nabih Berri to convene parliament to settle the conflict within the state's institutions. The church's initiative, in fact, calls for endorsement of the Hariri tribunal, early presidential elections, a new electoral law, one of two kinds of government: consensual or independents if the first is not possible.

The Syrian regime was quick to reject the Church's recommendations through its mouthpiece, "president" Emile Lahoud, who ruled out early presidential elections because it's "unconstitutional" and "the parliament does not represent the orientations of Lebanese people". (LBC)

Hizbullah responded by calling for another massive protest on Sunday afternoon. It is not clear what will be different this time.

But what is becoming evident is that some of Hizbullah's allies in the country, namely Aoun and Berri, cannot afford to attach themselves to Hizbullah's economic and political suicide project for ever. The country is not a fighter that can be sacrificed. With Aoun lacking any sensitivity, Nabih Berri probably feels it the most. He reportedly sent an emissary to Damascus for consultations. Lahoud is free to reject the Church's demands, but can Berri, as parliament speaker, ignore Sunnis, Maronites and Druze, not to mention a Saudi ambassador giving him an earful every day? At some point, he must realize that the Syrian regime's fear of the tribunal and Hizbullah's "conceit" are pushing the country into the abyss. 

Young gets the final word.

Another flaw in Syrian and Iranian reasoning is hubris. Despite the tactical parallels in the staging of a coup, Lebanon is no Czechoslovakia. Tehran, Damascus, and Hizbullah imagine the country can be conquered, with Hizbullah somehow emerging on top. Only the fundamentally intolerant can fall for such a tidy, straightforward conceit. But that's not really how things work in Lebanon's confessional disorder. We may be in the throes of a faltering coup, but the ultimate challenge is to avoid being inadvertently manhandled by Hizbullah into a war nobody wants.

Posted by Abu Kais at 6:50 AM | Permalink | Comments Off
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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