Sunday, December 31, 2006

Heads Up

Hi Everyone,
I'm still on my extended vacation - if not from work then from politics - but I came across something that I thought most would find interesting.
The DailyStar has set up an archives pages containing "the key documents that have affected Lebanon and the Middle East since the 19th century."
In other archive-related news, January 1st, 2007 will mark the first day of implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, stipulating that all classified U.S. government documents are to be de-classified, and turned over to the public after they turn 25 years old. Already, the ripples of this gargantuan move have been felt in Lebanon as some officials have begun to question the role played by some Lebanese figures throughout the Iran-Contra affair, the secrets of which are to be revealed throughout the upcoming year. Other highlights will include the release of more extensive documentation regarding the movements and activities of American intelligence agents in Lebanon, throughout the 80's and up to and after the bombing of the American embassy and marines barracks in Beirut in 1983, and so much more.
Anyway, I hope most of you check it out and I hope you all continue to have a great holiday season. Here's to a wonderful new year for all of you and for Lebanon.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Monday, December 25, 2006

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Grandly Blind Serail








The calm before the storm…

The scene at Martyr’s square and Riad al Solh square is both festive and serious. These two squares in the capital’s center have seen some of the fiercest fighting during the 1975-1990 civil war and the largest gatherings in the history of Lebanon most probably. The squares have been transformed into a huge tent city. There are hundreds of tents and the entire square is covered with them and even beyond the square. Most are from the Hizbullah, FPM and Amal groups. The Marada, SSNP, Arslan’ers, and independents all have small camp sites.

There are many from all walks of life strolling calmly around in the streets between the tents. In the background is the thud of the tabal (drum) and before that the news from a pro-opposition channel was blaring from a speaker somewhere. Young and old, families and friends, camp out, smoke arghileh, roast chest nuts, joke, dance (dabkeh), discuss politics, set up debates, walk around, put up Christmas decorations, and just hang out… their reason for being there is none another than to pressure the government to resign and pave the way for a ‘national unity’ government. A student volunteer from the FPM movement tells me that more is in store and soon to come… Demonstrations, civil disobedience campaigns, blocking of roads, airports, ports… all is game.

The security situation there is rather comforting. Soldiers are not seen in the camp itself but outside its perimeter. There was an Internal Security Force jeep, crammed with as many anxious ISF personnel as possible that daringly forayed into the camp… it didn’t seem to be welcomed but they were left alone. The camp has its own security personnel and crowd control system made up of men from the FPM, perhaps other parties, but mostly Hizbullah. They are seen at entrances, junctions and pretty much everywhere and you recognize them by their marked jackets ‘indibat’. Of course, the plain-clothed security are everywhere. Trouble makers are escorted to the edge of the camp, to a tent, questioned and released being told, not to come back.

While I was looking at a group of Amal supporters sitting and clapping and singing around a guy making poetry and songs about the situation in rather a comical way (the Amal folk seem to be the most festive here), suddenly all these guys start rushing towards one side of the tent (we were under a huge tent)… I thought somebody had come but it was a mashkal (problem) started, apparently, by SSNPers… (they are not regarded highly it seems, neither by the FPM nor the Hizb). The response by the camp security agents was very impressive… within seconds, the security guys are all over… and in a matter of minutes everything was back to normal and one of the young men involved taken to the security tent. (I am told by a responsible that the Hizb security guys do not hit anybody, but if a troublemaker is caught they are blacklisted and can not enter again… and no they don’t detain anyone).

The Grand Serail, home of the Lebanese government, is surrounded by multiple layers of barbed wire. There are soldiers there of course… governments must be protected from their people, afterall. However it is a camp of Hizbullah fighters, ironically, that block the entrance to the Serail. They are stern-faced and the mood is more serious there… many fought during the recent war and nearby stands a site of tents representing every village from the south; many of them lost loved ones and property and the heart wounds of the war seem written on their faces. Meanwhile, the Serail stands silently, oblivious to all…

Pictures of Confiscated Pro-Syrian Weapons







Story
Pictures courtesy of http://news.yahoo.com/

Friday, December 22, 2006

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Breaking News: SSNP Offices Surrounded, Members Arrested, Weapons and Explosives Confiscated

Update:
Police have released a preliminary statement regarding the security operations surrounding SSNP offices and members:

"A force from the Internal Security Force raided these houses and found inside them a large quantity of explosives, electrical detonators and timers in addition to a large cache of weapons," the statement said.
News services in Lebanon are reporting the arrest of five members of the Syrian Socialist National Party (SSNP) in Lebanon. The arrest took place in the northern province of Koura and included a confiscation of weapons and explosives, according to a news bulletin on news website Naharnet. The website is also reporting that the surrounding by police and other security services of the SSNP office in the Ras Beirut district of the capital. The operation is being described by security services as a "suspect chase".
Background
The SSNP is one of the leading parties currently participating in the pro-Syrian sit-ins and demonstrations aimed at bringing Lebanon's current government down. The party is seen as having extensive ties to Syrian intelligence services, and advocates a union of the two countries (as well as Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Palestine, and parts of Turkey and Egypt) into one pan-arab nation with Damascus as its capital.

Following the assassination of Minister of Industry Pierre Gemayel just over a month ago, SSNP offices were attacked in the late Minister's home town of Bikfaya resulting in the destruction of several cars belonging to SSNP members. The attacks were understood to be in retribution to the killing in light of accusations of Syrian involvement in the assassination and the party's close ties to autocratic Syrian regime.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Attempted Shi'ite Cleansing of Lebanon

During the July War a delegation from the March 14 coalition visited General Aoun. They informed him that the war was aimed at expelling the Shi'ites from Lebanon while resettling the Palestinian refugees in the homes, villages, and towns they owned. They instructed him to cease helping the Shi'ite refugees in order to more efficiently allow this to occur.

Former MP Najah Wakim revealed this recently. The validity of his comments were confirmed to me in person by a "very credible source".


IMPORTANT NOTE: Dear all, I am not the type to inflame people meaninglessly nor do I care to spread lies. All I am doing in this post is reporting what I have been hearing on the street and TV and if you read carefully I make no statement of my personal opinion on this matter. In fact, I dont care to list my opinion on this 'rumour' because whether it is true or not, this is very alarming... i.e. it is alarming that this is what I am hearing by so many people and I am not even looking for it; what made it particularly surprising to me was that it was confrimed to me by a political figure that I consider to be in the know and trustworthy. Furthermore, this is what many people in Lebanon are saying... whether they will come to believe it or not I don't know but chances are it is reverbating deeply and will play its part.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Nasrallah: The tribunal is the reason behind the street protests

This picture taken in the spring of 2005 depicts Nasrallah presenting the weapon of honor (Israeli spoil) to the ex-Syrian army commander in Lebanon and the ex-chief spy Roustom Ghazaleh. The spy chief who is the main suspect in the Hariri assassination.

As a matter of fact, after the cedar revolution a number of Lebanese thought that it was only a matter of time before Hizballah would integrate into the Lebanese state and abandon its militancy and regional projects. This was a naive outlook. Indeed, ever since the assassination of PM on February 14, 2005, Hizballah has been defending the goals and objectives of the Syrian regime with fervor and efficiency that made the Syrians comfortable to the perpetuation of their influence in Lebanon even after they withdrew their troops in April 2005.

Recently, a series of statement made by Hizballah officials indicated the true objectives of their coup attempt in play since December 1st, 2006. Last week, Mahmoud Qomati stated that their objective is to block future attempts at disarming their militia. But, yesterday, the leader of Hizballah revealed the main goal in an interview with Al Arabi newspaper, which was also reported by SANA. Here is a part of he had to say.

...With regard to the issue of the International Tribunal, the Secretary General of Hezbollah said that we were among the first ones to agree on it in principle, and we still agree on its inception. But, we demanded that safeguards and controls be put in place in such a way that the tribunal does not become like sword of Damocles hanging above the necks of the Lebanese, and a blackmail tool that lays siege to the resistance[...] After the opposition failed [to put in place those safeguards], and as a result of other government practices, the opposition had to take to the streets and impose its demands using democratic means...

Iraq: A Cold War between Iran and Saudi Arabia

"The real story in Iraq is this below-the-surface 'unconventional war' between the old IIS, which could become a more overt Saudi proxy -- and the al Quds special directorate intelligence-counterintelligence," Mr. O'Connell said[...] the Iranian levers of influence in Iraq include a broad network of informants, military and logistical support of armed groups, and social welfare campaigns

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Assad calls for dialogue with Israel

DAMASCUS - the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad announced in this interview his choice: “I want to be a man of peace” “We can live side by side in harmony”. He also asked for the participation of Europe: “The EU...acts like a bridge between the Arab world and the United States”. He iterated his confidence in Italy's PM Prodi: “He knows our region well”. And lastly he called on the Israeli PM: “I say to Olmert: make an attempt. Call our bluff, you have nothing to lose”.


La Repubblica

“A kingdom divided against itself can not stand.” Jesus Christ.

Lebanon has never witnessed what it sees today. On December 10 of 2006 perhaps more than half of the Lebanese population was in one of two protests in the country, one of which may have been the largest in Lebanese history. The amount of political fervor within the Lebanese people (whatever their colors are) is mind boggling considering that not three years ago we were mostly apathetic compared to the feelings we have today.

What is sad however is that these two protests were of two opposing camps. One mostly Sunni, the other with a majority of Shi’ites. No matter how you try to twist and change things a Sunni-Shi’ite confrontation is glaring at us today. They spoke of the ‘Lebanonization’ of Iraq... today we are speaking of the ‘Iraqization’ of Lebanon. The politicians have been steadily increasing their verbal wars over the past two years until this moment and where these battle of words will lead, only God knows.

Several months ago I saw a clip of children on a Lebanese talk show. The children must have been 10 or 12 years old. Each was from a certain sect and political ‘opinion’. Except for the fact that those participating in the talk show were not old enough to drive, it was a perfectly typical political debate... a carbon copy of any talk show amongst ‘adult’ politicians. They were very ‘grown-up like’ and it was very scary... these children have been taught political discourse without being able to analyze what they say nor process what is being said to them. Like programmed machines they respond to issues and counter-attack just like their role models.

So we see that even our children are fervent about politics, and seem very mature, yet to me, critical thinking has been thrown out the window not just amongst our children but amongst the Lebanese population in general. We have allowed our leaders to lead us into a mass frenzy of fury... just like those children, each supporter speaks the lines of his/her favored politicians, the same rumors, counter-attacks, arguments, excuses and slogans. There is no third voice, no voice of reason, no neutral middle ground, no peace-making or bridge-building initiative amongst the politicians... where is the voice of moderation and peace??? (most likely drowned out... it is terribly difficult to remain neutral in such polarized conditions).

I am not the type to throw away truth for the sake of unity, but today we are sinking into the abyss of political immaturity and I no am longer proud of the ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom of speech’ and (now perhaps non-existent) ‘freedom of thought’ that Lebanon treasured in an otherwise autocratic political landscape of Arab nations. We protest in fury and without any vision and in the end we gain nothing but division... and today you will find families and friends being divided over politics to the point that they are ready to fight each other. Every time we receive true independence we show ourselves to be too selfish and greedy to govern in fairness and justice... perhaps we are looking for independence in the wrong place... may I be proved wrong and long live Lebanon!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Official: Hizbullah Seeking More Power to Avoid Disarmament

"Hizbullah is pushing for more power in a new Lebanese cabinet partly to avoid being disarmed by any future government, deputy head of the group's political bureau, said.The remarks Friday by Mahmoud Komati were the first time Hizbullah has publicly acknowledged a direct link between weapons possession and its drive for more power."

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PS: This statement might be a bluff, as many analysts believe that the main reason behind the coup d'etat attempt is a bid to protect the Assad regime against prosecution.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Lebanese World Record!

Lebanon holds the world record for migrants' remittances as percentage of GDP, 25.8%!!!

From The Economist print edition

Migrants' remittances
Nov 23rd 2006


Recorded remittances by migrants to their home countries should reach $268 billion this year, according to economists at the World Bank, just over twice as much as in 2000. Workers from developing countries account for most of this: they are forecast to send $199 billion home in 2006, compared with $85 billion six years ago. Perhaps not surprisingly, Mexico receives more from its citizens abroad than any other country.

Copyright © 2006 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.

The Lebanese Opposition's First Casualty


Story: By Michael Young Daily Star staff Thursday, December 14, 2006

It adds little to the debate over MP Michel Aoun to note that this past Sunday he addressed the multitudes in the guise of a giant pumpkin. The general was not at his sartorial best, and when the searing orange had ceased to blind us, and presumably him, he must have realized this. But there is something more important than Aoun's attire that his partisans should now seriously consider: If any group is set to take a tumble in the foreseeable future, it is the Free Patriotic Movement.
My own feelings for Aoun have lately fluctuated between rampant dislike and cold hostility. This makes me a less than credible chronicler of the general's fortunes, but it wasn't always so. I twice visited Aoun during his early days of exile, after he had been deposited somewhere in the Parisian countryside - too close to Euro Disney for my taste. He was guarded by a phalanx of French gendarmes, paid for by French taxpayers, all belonging to a country that Aoun has forsaken since becoming a Maronite knockoff of Hugo Chavez. I found the general amiable, a monsieur tout le monde, generous with his time and unaffected in his approach. I've learned from several people, none enthusiasts, that the private Aoun has little changed.
However, the public Aoun is in trouble, and his urgency on Sunday to force a final showdown with the government confirmed that something was amiss. The general knows he and his own are the weakest link in the campaign against Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The Aounists cannot long endure an open-ended sit-in, both because they are not earning salaries to do so and probably because the looming holiday season threatens to melt their momentum. And there is something else: Aoun realizes that as package deals are unwrapped left and right to resolve the ongoing crisis, his chances of seeing the presidency diminish.
Indeed, the latest basket of ideas from Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa includes a proposal for the March 14 coalition and the opposition to consent to a compromise president. If that process goes through, Aoun will not be the chosen one, although Hizbullah may use him as their opening card. The party will think long and hard before accepting bids on the presidency, however, because it realizes that this will lead to a noisy divorce with the general, when it still needs the cross-sectarian cover he provides for a largely Shiite protest movement. The thing is, Hizbullah may soon not have the luxury to bat away arrangements that involve getting rid of President Emile Lahoud.
The reason is that Hizbullah is being strangled by its conflicting commitments. The party owes Syria on undermining the Hariri tribunal, and owes Iran on just about everything else. This situation has pushed Hizbullah into an uncomfortable confrontation with the Sunni community, one that is damaging its appeal in the Arab world. Since that appeal is essential to the Iranian leadership, which has sought to use popular Arab antagonism against Israel as a means of discrediting pro-Western Arab regimes, Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, risks undercutting his own importance. It could be that in an effort to salvage his troublesome Syrian and Iranian agendas, Nasrallah will have to jettison his most dispensable ally: Michel Aoun. If that happens, Aoun's double-or-nothing gamble could permanently cripple his ambitions. Soon after the summer war between Hizbullah and Israel, the general quietly visited Nasrallah in what was apparently an early effort to prepare what is taking place today in Downtown Beirut. Aoun had backed Hizbullah during the conflict, in the face of widespread condemnation, and felt Nasrallah owed him. It is now Aoun who is most vocally warning that the opposition might form an interim government against the one backed by the majority. As the general's rhetoric escalates, his anxiety is becoming more palpable. Even under the best of circumstances his being elected would require an immensely complex succession of events that is looking increasingly unlikely.
Aoun needs a majority in Parliament to become president. He doesn't have one, which is why he would like to see early parliamentary elections before Lahoud's mandate expires. But even assuming such elections take place, a doubtful proposition, are there any guarantees that Aoun and his allies would win more seats than in 2005? If anything, the general's popularity has declined. Moreover, while he has complained long and hard about last year's election law, it was actually beneficial to him. Under any other system, the likelihood of his winning a similar landslide virtually evaporates. And Aoun's dismissal of the 2005 law is such that he's locked himself into accepting a new law, particularly one that might benefit comrades who lost their seats, such as Suleiman Franjieh.
Once that electoral hurdle is crossed, and assuming, fancifully, that everything goes Aoun's way, can the general then convince Hizbullah and the Syrians that he's their man? If the Syrians are back in town by then, their preference will be for someone more controllable; and if they are not, this will mean that all sides must accept a compromise candidate. In neither case does Aoun fit the bill. By accumulating power through persistent divisiveness, the general has allowed himself to be squeezed dry by his associates; he has also surrendered any opportunity to emerge as everyone's first, or far more importantly second, choice.
Aoun's personal misfortune matters little. However, when you speak to his supporters, it becomes obvious how deeply uneasy they are with their society, the nature of Lebanon's government, and the fate of the Christian community - and an overwhelming majority are parochial Christians, regardless of the transient love-fest with Hizbullah. If Aoun crashes, as such contraptions invariably do, someone will have to explain to the Aounists why they have followed that pied piper down a blind alley for the second time in just 16 years. And when no answer comes, all the orange will change to a menacing hue of black.

Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

Brammertz, Nasrallah, Aoun, and Ghazaleh...

Fares Khachan digs into the archives:

Hassan Nasrallah,
in a speech delivered in November 1989, confirms the long standing strategy of rejecting the Taef accord. At the time the "Scholar" Hassan Nasrallah, speaking on behalf of "Islamic resistance" in a Shiite mosque in Burj el-Barajneh during a memorial service said:
"In the midst of the current events in Lebanon, the main problem is something called the Taef Agreement, and another is called Michel Aoun. It is not true that the Taef Agreement is only rejected by Michel Aoun, no. The problem with the Taif is that it enshrines the Maronite sectarian system (...) Our problem in Lebanon is this sectarian system that fosters the deprivation [of our community]. The alternative as said by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is that this regime must fall, and the people are to decide the formation of the new, and what we wish for is that the people in Lebanon be able to choose this new system without pressures. On the other hand, the problem with Michel Aoun is that he represents an Israeli -Saddamist confrontational and destructive force, and he perceives only his personal interests (...) The alternative to the Taif accord is the resistance. "

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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Unifying Theory: Part II

So what differentiates this theory from others floating around? Through this theory, we are finally able to gain an understanding of the deep beliefs that permeate Lebanese society today, and which have defined the political affiliations and outlooks of much of the population. Although the theory was created with the aim of uniting these different outlooks, it is by breaking it apart that we truly understand the driving forces behind them.

The first, and most accepted and supported, element lies in the allegations of Syria’s involvement. These allegations prompted a revolution of the streets following Hariri’s assassination and inevitably led to the withdrawal of the occupying Syrian forces. More than a year on, this element has resulted in a constitutional crisis as the March 14th coalition, now headed by Rafic Hariri’s son – Saad Hariri, has sought to push through a government approval of an International Tribunal setup to try those to be accused of the murder. Parties thought to be loyal to Syria, have attempted to block the government’s approval through resignations and street protests on a large scale.

The second element constitutes a complete return to the classic blame Israel routine, whether done out of sheer conviction, or out of a desire to deflect scrutiny or attention from another suspected party. By blaming Israel (for either of the above reasons), the adherers to this element have tried to accord justifications for their opposition to the ruling coalition’s stance towards Syria and any advancements on the International Tribunal that might harm our ‘sisterly’ country. By taking this route, those adherers are hoping that the Syria question completely can be simply avoided.

The third, and perhaps most interesting element, has been a relatively new one. It is one that recognizes the divergent paths upon which major sections of the Lebanese population envision their country should take following the Syrian withdrawal. On the one hand, you have a clear majority that feel that Hariri was justified in trying to liberate Lebanon (and Syria) from the tyrannical Assad regime. Whether in life or in death, they consider Hariri’s actions to have been heroic, and feel that it is time Lebanon embarked on a new path separate of the Syrian track, and more closely aligned with countries sharing Lebanon’s western outlook. On the other hand, we find a large segment of the populace that feels that Lebanon was properly aligned with Syria before Hariri moved against it, and slung the country into crisis. This group accepts the notion that if it was the Syrians who murdered Hariri, then it was an action taken in self-defense against a man that threatened their very existence. If it was the Israelis who did it, then their desire for a closer alignment with Syria would then be justified in the face of Israel’s continued aggression against Lebanon.

Today, several weeks after this theory was first brought to my attention, the country continues to be deeply divided amongst the different elements embodied in it. There continues to be a drive by one side to rid Lebanon of Syria’s influence, while another continues to receive their orders and instructions from Damascus. Meanwhile, the UN’s investigation into who really killed Hariri continues.

A Unifying Theory: Part I

Several months ago, as panicked tourists rushed to their embassies and whimsical observers mused about the correlation between Italy's World Cup successes and Israel's invasions of Lebanon, a theory was laid at my doorstep. This theory, murmurings of which you can still find in the quarters of the city not already entrenched behind party/sectarian lines, sought to reconcile the contradictory statements and actions of a group whose existence and presence (in its current form) was supposed to bring strength to the country, not jeopardize it.

Several weeks ago, as the country braced for yet another crisis, yet another theory was strewn across my doorstep. Like its predecessor, this theory sought to impose on the Lebanese a degree of continuity of the frame of mind bread through years of tutelage and occupation. Like its predecessor, it incorporated the realities on the ground today with a touch of mystery and intrigue.

This new theory - eagerly pronounced with the usual atonements to confidential sources - sought to finally, without any doubt, and to the satisfaction of all of Lebanon's political affiliations (no simple task to be sure), completely explain and put to rest the mystery of 'Who Killed Rafic Hariri'.

The theory went as follows:

Prior to his death, former Lebanese PM Rafic Hariri had undertaken a grand plan to topple the current autocratic Syrian regime and replace it. The New Syria would be ruled by a government more amenable to the Western powers known to have been supporting him in this plan (namely the US and France), and to his own Lebanese and Saudi political and financial interests in the region.

In undertaking this plan, Hariri had two primary allies within Syria itself, Ghazi Kanaan - the former head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon (known for having popularized the term ‘suicided’ by his own multiple shots to the head 'suicide'), and Abdel Halim Khaddam - one of Lebanon's most brutal repressors and Syria's former Vice President now in self-imposed exile after witnessing the deaths of Hariri and Kanaan (Kanaan's brother also apparently ‘suicided’ himself, this time by throwing himself in front of a speeding train in Syria).

The crux of the theory held that (this is where it becomes tricky so pay attention): French intelligence discovered that; Israel's Mossad Agency had uncovered Hariri's plan and, knowing the Syrian regime would react in the “way that it did”, let them in (indirectly of course) on Hariri's plan. The Syrians, historically paranoid and hysterical when it came to issues of their own survival, moved to eliminate Hariri and succeeded in doing so on February 14th, 2005.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Fear of US Hegemony

The threat of a complete alignment of Lebanese interests along a purely American agenda, has been one of the most moving and passionate media weapons used by the pro-Syrian opposition in Lebanon. These claims have sought to play on the passions of thousands deeply affected by the recent July war, and dangerously misinformed about its roots and causes. But for the more rational observers, and perhaps supporters of the opposition, these calls have centered around two issues, Lebanon’s relationship with Syria, and the disarming of the resistance. In each case, however, the government has acted in a manner that has reinforced national integrity and sovereignty in the face of regional and international pressures.

Perhaps the most notable misrepresentations of the government’s stances have been centered on the arms of the resistance, and the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559. A resolution strongly supported, and heavily lobbied for, by the only member of the opposition currently giving the Hizballah-led opposition a significant degree of sectarian and political cover, Michel Aoun. This incredibly contradictory position within the ranks of the pro-Syrian opposition stands in stark contrast to the unwavering commitment to Lebanon’s defense with which the government has sought to approach the issue. At every instance the government has sought to find an agreement with Hizballah on how to disarm, while strengthening Lebanon’s defensive capabilities. At every instance, this government has defended Hizballah, and has granted them political cover in the international scene. It has done this out of national duty, and in the face of Hizballah’s abandonment of the National Dialogue talks on disarming and a comprehensive defense strategy. Perhaps most importantly, the government has done this even in the face of the devastating war started by Hizballah at the behest of regional powers whose hegemony has been experienced first hand by the Lebanese.

The other issue on which the pro-Syrian opposition has sought to attract sympathizers has been that the actions and overall attitude taken by the government towards Syria will have a devastating effect on the relationship between the two countries. Much of their concern has been based on a fear that only negative consequences can come out of this government’s perceived support of what will inevitably be a failed US agenda for the Middle East.

Lebanon and Syria have a symbiotic relationship and we will have to work together in the future in order to develop and prosper. But we can never forget, in these strained times, that it is the current Syrian regime that is the aggressor and not us. For everything coming out of Lebanon now is a reaction to more than 20 years assassinations, bombings, kidnappings, rapes, beatings, and humiliations that a majority of the country had to endure. Today, the impetus is on Syria to extend its hand of friendship to the Lebanese, not through pretty words but with real gestures. These could include a commitment to a joint review of the status of the Shebaa Farms, and the establishment of a proper diplomatic relationship respective of Lebanon’s sovereignty. Of course, the settling of these issues could not be characterized as a comprehensive solution to the Syrian-Lebanese crisis as it stands today, but it would signify an important step forward aimed at building a new relationship between the countries. A relationship based on trust and the respect of each country’s sovereignty.

Scenes From This Weekend's Demonstrations

As news breaks this morning of a possible resolution to the cabinet crisis, we bring you some photos of the demonstrations and counter-demonstrations held across the country this past weekend.

We start in the north of the country, where hundreds of thousands gathered in Lebanon's second largest city, Tripoli, to show support for the beseiged Prime Minister on Sunday.


Also on Sunday, opposition leaders and supporters gathered in Beirut one last time in a bid to showcase their popularity before accepting a previously suggested compromise by the Arab League envoy, Mustafa Ismail.

Despite the large numbers, however, the opposition march on Sunday seemed to receive limited media coverage, a possible indication of frustration and fatigue among local, regional, and international media outlets, with the opposition's actions and agenda. Nevertheless, the day passed without incident and many security fears, heightened by a week's worth of isolated street clashes - resulting in one death, were laid to rest.



Saturday also proved to be a day of protest as thousands gathered in the mountain resort town of Aaley to show support for the government. Waving the flags of the Progressive Socialist Party, led by a leading member of the governing March 14th coalition - Walid Jumblatt, supporters chanted pro-government slogans.


Pics courtesy of news.yahoo.com

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Mufti Al Jouzou calls for Nasrallah to be Prosecuted

The Mufti of Mount Lebanon, Muhammad Ali Al Jouzou insisted yesterday on fulfilling the request of the Leader of Hizballah:

" He [Hassan Nasrallah] called for a judicial probe into his allegation [against the gov]. We now insist on establishing an Arab-Lebanese commission to prosecute him and make him accountable for his numerous mistakes against Lebanon. Also, the commission ought to inquire about the funds that he receives from Iran, which are used to buy up loyalties of numerous clients working as propaganda specialists, pseudo religious scholars and petty agents. "
"Lebanon is not the sole property of Hizballah so that its leader can unilaterally dictate the destiny of the Lebanese people and lead them into calamities. He has no right to fan sectarian tensions and cause all this destruction. So the question is: when will this Arab-Lebanese tribunal be established in order to fulfill his urgent wishes?"

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Hizballah Bought Military Uniforms in Large Quantities

Annahar Lebanese daily reported in today's issue that Hizballah bought military uniforms in large quantities. The uniforms are of the same kind as those currently used by the Lebanese police and army. According Annahar's online affiliate, Naharnet:

...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."

This, the official explained, is "a very, very serious matter. It reminds us of the mysterious kidnapping in the 1980s of four professors from the U.S.-affiliated Beirut University College (BUC) which was carried out by armed elements wearing police uniforms and driving police vehicles."

A pro-Iranian faction had claimed responsibility for kidnapping the BUC professors.

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."


http://www.annaharonline.com/
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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Seniora Replies

On Friday, December 8th, the Prime Minister of Lebanon issued a statement which sought to rectify the wrongs inflicted upon this nation's honor and integrity by another man's speech, only several hours earlier.

Unfortunately, we could not bring you live coverage of this truly impressive speech (each contributor had his own peculiar set of circumstances on this day, whether it be travel, conferences, finals, deadlines at work, etc...) but we are more than happy to recommend the coverage provided by our friends and fellow bloggers at Lebanese Bloggers.

"Seniora questioned whether some folks want to truely liberate the Shebaa Farms. He said that during the hiwar 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!"
For more coverage please follow the links below:

Friday, December 08, 2006

Brammetz Covering for Assad


German magazine Stern, has accused senior UN investigator Serge Brammetz of neglecting key information and of delaying the UN investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafic Hariri. According to the magazine, Brammetz wilfully neglected much of the evidence gathered by his predecessor Detlev Mehlis pointing to the Syrian regime as the prime suspects in the assassination. Stern also reported that "Mehlis asked Brammertz to arrest Syria's former head of intelligence in Lebanon, brigadier Rustom Ghazaleh, as he was one of the main planners of the Hariri killing".
The magazine also levelled serious accussations against the current Under-Sectretary General of the UN, Ibrahim Gambari, claiming that he leaked crucial details of Mehlis' investigation to Syria's ambassador to the UN, Faysal Mekdad. Following the leak, "The Syrians then knew what to do: delay the whole process".

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The report comes amid continued demonstrations and sit-ins by Syrian allies in Lebanon. Many analysts believe these actions are aimed at stalling the Lebanese government's ratification of the UN Tribunal and so provide further cover for the Syrian regime.

Nasrallah's Speech: An Opinion


In a very politically charged speech delivered yesterday, Nasrallah did not adopt a conciliatory tone, but rather a highly confrontational one. The most striking features of the speech being the accusations put forth against PM Sanyoura and the ruling majority. This is an opinion piece trying to address Nasrallah's words.

Perhaps the only positive aspect of the speech was Nasrallah's reference to the declarations of the maronite council (a council of the Christian maronite religious figures headed by Patriarch Sfeir) which called for the adoption of the international court, early presidential elections, the implemetation of the Taef agreement, and the formation of what the council referred to as an "entente" government. After hearing Nasrallah's speech, it is hard to believe that he or the opposition even read that declaration. In fact, when the maronite council referred to the implementation of the Taef agreement, one can safely assume that they primarily (I say primarily, because obviously the maronite council also cares about the adoption of a new electoral law that would be fairer than the latest law) meant disarming all militias, including Hizballah. Further, the maronite council called for changing the current President of the Republic, a staunch pro-Syrian (and by proxy, Hizballah) ally as conditions for the formation of the so-called "entente" government.

On another note, Nasrallah rejected the "roundtable talks" as a waiste of the opposition's time. Why is the opposition so keen on not waisting any time in negotiations? Is it because they fear that the government will be able to pass a resolution approving the international court that might indict their allies? The most alarming parts of the speech were Nasrallah's accusations which crossed all red lines. It is unheard of in democracies to accuse a ruling Prime Minister and a government of treachery without supplying proof, or even worse while offering to partner with them in a national "unity" government. This is not only paradoxical, but hypocritical.

It is of utmost importance that Nasrallah provides proof for claims he made about the PM and the majority. In fact, Nasrallah's words were not only uncalculated, but also dangerous. Hizballah's strategy always evolved along one main line: Accusations of treachery being thrown left and right wihtout any proof. For all the negatives that one might perceive whithin the March 14 group, it is to their credit that they are asking for a proper legal process with regards to former PM Hariri's assassination. It is desirable that Hizballah learns to follow suit with their accusations. In the remote case that such accusations are authenticated, Hizballah need not demonstrate since the government will lose its popular support swiftly. Until then, Nasrallah's words will resonate as dangerous sectarian claims that further divide the Lebanese and further complicate an already tense sectarian divide.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Nasrallah's Speech (Dangerous Accusations)

Hizballah's Hassan Nasrallah delivered a live video speech in front of the demonstators today (actually a few minutes ago). The highlights of his speech are the following:
- The Lebanese government is acting in unison with Israel which is even willing to give up the Shebaa farms and Ghajar to corner the opposition.
- The proposal put forth by the maronite council has a lot of merit and should serve as a starting point for any negotiations between the opposition and the government, he remarks.
- Nasrallah says that the demonstators will stay in the streets until a compromise that the opposition finds acceptable is reached.
- Nasrallah claims that negotiations are welcome, but that the opposition is not willing to go back to the "roundtable talks" . These talks were used by the majority to waiste time and were not meant to be productive in terms of finding solutions.
- Hizballah is not interested in any civil wars, he says. The other militias (which he did not specify) that killed a protester and are hightening sectarian tension are the ones interested in civil war.
- Some "militias" loyal to the ruling group sent armed men to harrass and kill the protestors, he claims.
- Nasrallah states that the ruling majority is brainwashing the Sunni street, and by consequence all the Arabs. They would like to tarnish Hizballah's image throughout the Arab world, he adds. He asks that whoever is promoting Shiite-Sunni tension be tried as a traitor in front of the Arab league or the council of Islamic states.
- Nasrallah asks whether the Arabs would like to support a government praised daily by Olmert and Bush.
- Nasrallah accused the ruling majority (government, March 14) of lobbying the Americans and Israelis to go into the latest july war.
-Nasrallah claims that Hizballah is not accountable for the latest damages and casualties from the war, but it is those of March 14 who lobbied for this war who should be held accountable.
- Nasrallah accuses PM Sanyoura of acting to stop the arms supplies from reaching Hizballah during the war. Nasrallah also claims that PM Sanyoura tried to use the army for that purpose.
- Nasrallah accuses the Lebanese security forces of investigating his whereabouts during the July war and of tracking his and Hizballah's positions as ordered by the government.
- Nasrallah states that Hizballah is not interested in bringing down the government but is asking for a national untiy government. This offer is a temporary one only, since the opposition will give up this demand and will not accept any March 14 figure to be Prime Minister in the future, he says. Instead, the opposition will ask for early parliamentary elections that will overthrow this majority and install another "national " Sunni as PM.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Video: If You Think Lebanon is Messed Up....

...Then wait 'til you get a load of these guys!

Its a little off-topic I know, but this video totally freaked me out! Anyway, I guess the point to be made here is that we in Lebanon are quick to pour ridicule and contempt on our political and social systems while ceaselessly praising the systems of far away countries, be they the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Libya. Perhaps we need to take a closer look at ourselves and appreciate some of the things we've got (and haven't got)!!!
Scenes from the movie Jesus Camp

Sunday, December 03, 2006

"Shiite-Sunni Confrontations in Beirut, Four Wounded" - Updated!

Monday

Update:
The Dailystar has corroborated rumours that several Syrian nationals had been detained by Lebanese security officials following Sunday night's clashes in the Tarik Jedideh neighbourhood.

Breaking News-Update:
Renewed violence on the streets of Qasqas on Monday night, with 2 injured. The army is actively pursuing the instigators.
Source: NewTV


Protestors have again blocked off the road to the airport. Details to come.
Source: FutureTV

Sunday

"Security sources said four people were wounded in the clashes which took place in the densely-populated Tarik Jedideh neighborhood and on the Badaro-Qasqas highway."

Article

Update:
"One person was killed and three other were wounded in two separate confrontations between opposition and government supporters in Beirut – one in the densely-populated Tarik Jedideh neighborhood and another on the Badaro-Qasqas highway, security sources said. Witnesses said the two sides fought with stones, sticks and knives. They said sporadic bursts of automatic gunfire could be heard in Tarik Jedideh before army toops and policemen stepped in to disengage the opponents."

Source: Naharnet.com

Update:
Video of aftermath of street clashes (not that great, sound kicks in about 1 min into video)

United Under One Flag? Which Exactly ?



Our guest writer Marc writes: " Today there is something very significant that is new in Lebanese history; the Lebanese are holding the Lebanese flag whatever side they are on".
Unfortunately, this was not the case in December 1st protests held by March 8.

Watch Video...

Guest Writer: Many Enemies, One Country

My good friend Marc asked me to publish this for him on the blog. I encourage everyone to read it and reflect on the ideas he is trying to communicate. Enjoy:

By Marc

Dear all,

I am of the political opinion (generally speaking) held by FPMers (and the December 1st demos) and all of the points held between the FPM and Hizbullah in their so-called ‘war2at el tafahom’. I am very grieved at the hostility that I am experiencing with friends and even family because of politics these days and the division that has besieged Lebanon. Yes, I do have strong political views but I not only respect the others’ view but consider them to be brothers.

I want to seize on something that Aoun said in his speech. Namely, that he had wished that the current ministers were with him and that he wishes to partner with, and not eliminate, the other factions. I consider that this is very significant. I know many consider Aoun to be a loose cannon, and I heartily disagree with them, yet its not Aoun or whoever that I wish to talk about.

Today there is something very significant that is new in Lebanese history; the Lebanese are holding the Lebanese flag whatever side they are on. In the late 50’s they were burning the Lebanese flag in some parts of Lebanon, for example. Instead of seizing on this fact we are branding eachother traitors and losers... we need to understand eachother if we wish to build our nation.

It was the Shi’ites and southern folk who bore the brunt of Israeli occupation and Palestinian activities in the south for decades and they bear the trauma of this. In terms of both violence and the length of violence, it was the Christians of Mount Lebanon and other regions who suffered and bore the brunt of Syrian occupation and many Palestinian militias. There is no doubt that the Sunni’s and Druze and Lebanese suffered in both of these occupation and that Lebanon as a whole suffered from all foreign and domestic forces and corruption.

Somebody in a forum once said that we need to first agree on who is our enemy... I did not realize the importance of this then, but today I realize that Lebanon is divided based on who the Lebanese perceive as a threat... Its very sad when we can not (or will not) understand the traumas of occuapation and the way it manifests itself in society as a whole. Syria and Israel are both threats, they are different though and we can not act and behave as if only one of them exists. I think this is due either to indifference or ignorance on the part of the Lebanese people who hold to a view whereby only ‘Syria and their allies’ or ‘Israel and their allies’ are enemies.

This must not continue. What Aoun (of March 14) initiated with Hizbullah (of March 8) in his so-called memorandum of understanding was a great political step at bridging these two sides together... for the first time you had Hizbullah agreeing to a system whereby former SLA’ers (South Lebanese Army, proxy militia of Israel before until 2000) and their families were repatriated to Lebanon and you had them talking about Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails. Likewise, there was a strong affirmation from the FPM that Israel is a great threat and the State must devise a viable strategy to defend itself against such an enemy with a powerful and violent military. Such an understanding must be initiated from the bottom up as well...

I have written this because Harriri and his allies say Syria is the number one threat... Hizbullah and their allies say Israel is our main threat... Of course, it is what their supporters think that I am addressing today. We can not defend ourselves againgst one enemy at the expense of allowing another to take hold.

I hope that we can start from here in building bridges between brothers in order to build a Lebanon where justice and true freedom prevails from Aakkar to Bint Jbeil.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Video: Franjieh's Disgusting Remarks



For those of you who haven't heard it yet, here is the video of former Minister and pro-Syrian ally Suleiman Franjieh, making dispariging and insulting remarks about the leader of the Maronite church in Lebanon, Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, in an interview on Hizballah television station Al-Manar. Literally translated, the Maronite former minister's remarks read as follows:

"...they are too scared to move, they even sent their women to Bkirki. I don't know, yesterday, I think the Patriarch got aroused by the sight of all these women in Bkirki,..."
The former minister has since tried to back down from his remarks, attributing the huge negative reaction he received to a misinterpretation of his words. To those readers who don't understand arabic, the connotations of his words (even though literally they could be taken to mean something else) and the intonnations of his voice as he was making the remarks, leave little doubt as to his real intentions and meaning.
Notice the giggling in the background as he made the remarks. As the media outlet for a political party with fundamentalist undertones, Al Manar is seen as a television station with a religious tint, all female broadcasters appearing on the station are required to wear the traditional muslim hijab. As such, the remarks have taken on even larger negative connotations for a majority of the country's sectarianly defined population.

"Poll Shows Divide Between Shiites and Other Communities"

Take a minute to answer these mostly yes-or-no questions taken from a survey conducted from November 11-16 by Zogby International polling firm, on behalf of the University of Maryland's Sadat Chair for Peace and Development. After you're done, click on the link below to see what the 600 Lebanese surveyed had to say.

1) Who was the biggest loser in the July war, Lebanon or Israel?
2) Should Arabs continue to fight Israel even if Israel returns all Arab lands captured in 1967?
3) If the US withdrew immediately from Iraq, would the civil war accelerate or would the Iraqis solve their differences?
4) Does Iran have a right to its nuclear program?
5) Would your view of the US improve if a peace settlement is reached in the Middle East that leads to an independant Palestinian state?
6) Will the Democratic party's victory in the recent mid-term elections change US foreign policy in the Middle East?
7) How much confidence do u have in the US?
8) Is democracy a real US objective in the Middle East?
9) Which country is your preferred super power (e.g. US, France, GB, China, Russia, etc..)?
10) Who is your most admired foreign world leader?
11) Which 2 countries pose the biggest threat to Lebanon?

Please feel free to leave your answer in the comments section. Please DON'T provide your sect!

Results

Friday, December 01, 2006

Comic Relief

To help lighten the mood a little amid the harrowing events that have gripped the country these past hours, days, weeks, and months, we'd like to provide our readers with a taste of the comic relief that is permeating the country and which helps people take things, we hope, a little less to heart.

So to everyone who needs a break from it all, and to all of you who get your panties in a bunch everytime someone makes fun of Nasrallah, this one's for you!
Oh, and for those interested, please do scroll down for more serious coverage of today's events!

More pics!!






Can Aoun Survive Taking to the Streets?

"Aoun's foolhardiness could prove devastating to Christians. Not for the first time, the general may be about to drive his partisans, and the community at large, into a brick wall.[...]

If it's not too late, however, the Christians in March 14 must rapidly open new channels to the Aounists. This is easier said than done; the general is obstinate. But he is also surrounded by sensible people in his parliamentary bloc, even if their influence pales before that of Aoun's military comrades. At the street level, the March 14 approach to the Aounists must be exactly the opposite of what happened at Sassine. Instead of provoking them, leave them to face the consequences of their actions. Aoun is his own worst enemy. Build a safety net for his followers, but let the general hang himself with his own rope, if he insists on doing so."

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Pictures of Today's Demonstration

Courtesy of http://news.yahoo.com/
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