Monday, October 29, 2007

Electing a Lebanese President 102 - B: Sectarian Interests

On sectarian interests, there is a case to be made by the Maronite Patriarch – and those Christian political leaders who have adopted the stance – for a two thirds interpretation of the presidential clause [pre-November 12th. As mentioned in earlier posts, after Nov 12th, the election of a President by a simple majority is perfectly legal under any interpretation].

In a community paranoid about the loss of political representation and influence in a country where demographic trends have pulled at that influence for decades, that interpretation stands on the grounds that the constitution – and the amendments implemented to it up to now in the Taef – is a sectarian one at its core; and the interpretation of any articles [in general, but for now specifically] pertaining to the selection of the community’s top post must take into account the spirit with [and circumstances under] which that document was drafted.

Those circumstances [and the spirit to which is alluded] mean [to those players above] that for an accord: negotiated to sow sectarian cohesion back together after nearly 20 years of violent sectarian conflict; in which the powers of the top Christian post were drastically weakened in favour of a Sunni Muslim post (that of the Prime Minister); and in which a Parliamentary Christian-to-Muslim ratio of 6-to-5 was reduced to one of 5-to-5; it would have been ludicrous and irresponsible for the representatives [of all the sects present] to assume that the Christians would also agree to the possibility of a Muslim [+1] election of the country’s Christian President (no matter the embedded vagueness that comes with having the Syrian regime “sponsor” the accord).

And while some would argue that the agreement could just as well have entailed a Christians [+1] vote, the historical fractionality of the community [as compared to the other communities], in addition to the community's respectively decreasing demographics and the intervening circumstances of the time-period in which the Accord was drafted, might prove otherwise.

Those circumstances outlined a bloody civil war in which members of the country's Christian community fought [and led] on either side of the political divide. While turf wars were not uncommon in any community, the broad strokes of the conflict [in its dying days, at least] defined a purely Christian anti-Syrian wing against a mixed Muslim-Christian pro-Syrian one. At the time Article 73 was (re-)written at the end of the war, the Christians were divided, just as they had been at the beginning of it.

And so, it is that sectarian-based interpretation of the Constitution and its articles surrounding the Presidency that is driving the positions of the Patriarch and those March 14th Christians openly declaring their support for a position that would otherwise be incompatible with their political stances.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Electing a Lebanese President 102 - A: Political Alignments

While the previous post dealt with the constitutional constraints and procedures in electing a President, there remains the issue of why the interpretation of the constitutional text has generated so much conflict.

In looking at the positions taken by either side, it remains essential to understand the differences in intention attributed to what otherwise may appear to be common stances. These differences can be broken down to two classes: those interpretations based on precedent-setting long-term sectarian interests; and those based on the current (short-term) political alignments.

On the short-term political interests, the interpretations are easy enough to decipher. In one corner lies the March 14th Anti-Syrian Parliamentary bloc which holds enough Parliamentary seats (68/128) to claim majority [even after a series of assassinations - widely attributed to the Syrian regime - which diminished their numbers] and which has, for the most part, called for the election of a President on the basis of 65 votes or more [a legal choice by all interpretations if the election occurs on, or after, Nov 12th] .

As a political platform, the group has called for a President capable of upholding and promulgating the Cedar Revolution [which continues to seek the elimination of instruments of Syrian intervention in Lebanon's affairs – such instrutments as the use of Hizballah’s weapons to implement Syrian/Iranian regional agendas, the presence of Syrian collaborators throughout various security services, the presence of non-Lebanese armed factions on Lebanese territory (think PFLP-GC), and so on and so forth] and the international resolutions passed in support of that revolution and the establishment of Syria-independent sovereign Lebanese state [those resolutions include UNSC 1559, UNSC 1701, and UNSC 1759].

In the other corner lies the March 8th pro-Syrian opposition bloc which had called for the election of a President under a constitutional interpretation calling for that vote to take place only under a 2/3 quorom, and now [after that requirement has gone out the window due to the Nov 12th postponement of the Presidential Election session of Parliament] continues to call for it under penalty of civil strife and violence. The group's stance is largely taken as an attempt to force the Parliamentary majority into accounting for their interests [and by extension the interests of their allies in Syria/Iran] and limit the ability of the March 14th majority to elect a President directly [i.e. solely using the majority's 68 votes].

As a political program, the March 8th group is thought to be primarily interested in ensuring the election of a President incapable of implementing any resolutions [either domestic or international] that could limit the role or capabilities of Syrian/Iranian interests in the country. Those resolutions, are said by the group, to themselves be instruments of "Western intervention". The group itself views its stance as a call for "consensus" and the election of a President pliant to all "domestic" interests.

The presence of two groups, in particular, within the March 8th alliance adds yet another dimension to the stance, however. Those groups are Hizballah and Michel Aoun’s FPM.

In the case of the former, while the pro-Syrian interpretation holds firmly, it is important to recognize the group’s rejection of the national reconciliation agreement known as the Taef Accord in which the election of a President [and the revision of the constitutional framework currently in place] is embodied. To Hizballah, any breakdown in the Taef and the institutional procedures it embodies would serve to promulgate its agenda of scrapping the document all together in favour of one it can more readily negotiate/impose. This interpretation is reinforced by calls by the group’s nominal leader, Hassan Nasrallah, for presidential conventions in violation of the Accord [such as a presidential referendum]. A call for a 2/3 majority vote backed up with a threat of violence - even when the election of a President by a simple majority is constitutionally legal [after Nov 12th] by any and all interpretation – would bring about that breakdown.

In the case of Michel Aoun and his FPM, the presence of sectarian interests [purportedly, and as described in the sequel to this post] plays a major role. This does not hold out against the fact, however, that the former General had backed his presidential hopes on his group’s presence within the March 8th alliance and, specifically, its alliance to Hizballah [although Hizballah’s commitment to Aoun’s election remains highly questionable].

Friday, October 26, 2007

Add Another One to the List...

...so that makes 19 sects now?

Well, welcome to the club I suppose [get out while you still can!].

I wonder how many seats in Cabinet they'll threaten to burn incense all over our roads for?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Suspect Fires Return


Update: What the &^*%!

From NOW Lebanon:
A Lebanese woman was arrested today in Chekka, North Lebanon, for starting a fire that destroyed about 10,000 square meters of land over the past two days.

Internal Security Forces (ISF) said in a communiqué that investigations are underway to determine whether there is a link between this fire and those erupting at the North.
----

Three weeks after suspect blazes were lit all across Lebanon - resulting in over 200 simultaneous fires (started at different times over two days) - the same seems to be occuring, albeit on a slightly small. This from Naharnet:
Wild fires raged across tinder-dry forests of north and south Lebanon Wednesday as choppers from the nearby Island republic of Cyprus tried to help combat tongues of flame threatening population centers.

Interior Minister Hassan Sabaa pointed an accusing finger at unidentified assailants charged of starting the fires.

"The big question is: how did these fires start late at night and in areas that are not linked to the road network," Sabaa told Voice of Lebanon radio.

He disclosed that in the "Eioun al-Samak region of the Minyeh district residents observed smoke billowing from the nearby mountain, they innocently headed to the source of smoke to extinguish the blaze, but they were shot at."

"This supports suspicion that these fires are intentional," Sabaa added.

...

In south Lebanon tongues of flame shot up in the sky from pine and oak forests of south Lebanon's Bisri-Sfarai region, according to police.

Civil Defense teams operating fire engines sprayed olive and orange groves surrounding the region with water to prevent the spread of fires as other teams of volunteers tried to help in combating the spreading inferno.

An official at the Civil Defense directorate reached by telephone told Naharnet: "We are carrying out a double mission, on the one hand we combat the forest fires and, on the other, we try to prevent the blaze from reaching population centers."

He attributed the fires to the long summer and dry land.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

St. George Hotel Debate

As a person not too familiar with the issue, I am always interested in any information to come out on the St. George Hotel and the complete debacle surrounding it.

On that note, Fink Ployd, over at Blogging Beirut, has put up an interesting post about the St. George Hotel and its saga, which has been ongoing since the end of the civil war. The post is ripe with photos, videos, and a translated speech by the owner of the hotel.

The story of the St. George Hotel has proved a divisive one for years now, with many families in Lebanon decrying the tactics and business practices of SOLIDERE while others defend it and its actions and motives, claiming it is solely responsible for the regeneration of Beirut's downtown in the years after the end of the civil war.

In a post published last July, we highlighted a NOW Lebanon article tackling the issue of the Politics of Property in Lebanon. The St. George Hotel was among the properties examined as part of that article:
Despite rumors, Solidere has not prevented the hotel from renovating, nor has the company yet offered to buy the hotel property. However, the loss of the marina coupled with a lack of compensation has made restoration of the hotel financially non-viable for the time being. Solidere could not be reached for comment on the St. Georges.
Read the entire NOW Lebanon - St. George Hotel piece here. Whoever may be right, and whatever the case may be, both pieces are definitely worth a read/listen if you're interested in getting familiar with the subject (videos on Fink Ployd's post are in Arabic, with the first being from [the March 1th affiliated] LBC and the remaing three from [the Aoun affiliated] OTV).

Update: The debate continues at Blogging Beirut with the addition of two new videos (we'll let you know when the remaining two come online) chronicling the hotel's history, along with a "legal analysis" of the the conflict between Solidere and the St. George Hotel [Disclaimer: I haven't read the legal analysis and even if I had, I'm not a lawyer, so I can't vouch for how credible it is. Whatever the case may be, however, check out the videos and let us know your opinion on the matter in this post's comments section.]

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Back to the Source...

Sidon, Lebanon - Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2007: (Top) A Sheik from the Palestinian Scholars' Association, stands near the family of Shaker Youssef al-Absi, Fatah Islam's fugitive leader in front of the al-Arqam Mosque. (Bottom) A general security forces' member stands guard near families of Fatah Islam fighters in front of the al-Arqam Mosque in the southern city of Sidon, Lebanon.

Eleven families of the militant Fatah Islam group left the southern Lebanese city of Sidon Wednesday on their way to Syria following weeks of negotiations to allow them to leave, officials said but six families stayed behind, including that of al-Absi. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Hizballah's Run Around

Not to take away from the issues that Lebanese people should be discussing (i.e. the presidency), but I just had to highlight this propaganda maneuver, given all the zombie-like coverage it has received.

On Thursday, the pro-Hizballah pro-Syrian Lebanese daily As-Safir (which likes to describe itself as left-leaning despite its support for an autocratic dictatorship in Syria and a theocracy-inspired fascist-fundamentalist paramilitary group in Lebanon) reported, based on unidentified sources - of course, that the agents of Satan in the US had plans to build a military base (and Air Force base to be exact) in northern Lebanon.

Now despite the absolute absurdity of the idea (check this comments section), the story made its rounds on the blogosphere and the mainstream media. By Friday morning, however, the U.S. Embassy; the Lebanese Government; and the head of the Lebanese Army had all catagorically denied the claim. By Sunday, the Hizballah media machine had kicked into motion and the finger-waving proclamations and unabashed threats had begun.

Of course, despite all the claims (and the finger waving) we soon find that it wasn't, in fact, the alleged U.S. base that was the real target of the attacks, but the negotiation of an Army re-training and re-armament program between the US and Lebanon. A re-armament which is rumoured to be receiving significant regional and international support; and a re-armament that would do away with Hizballah's pretext for its own bases of foreign (read Iranian) influence in the country.


The finger-waving continues to today - of course, and all the meantime negotiations of another kind are ongoing. Who do these guys think they're fooling?

Electing a Lebanese President 101

News services in Lebanon are reporting rumors that Tuesday's Presidential Election - Parliamentary session - might be postponed until November (6th or 13th) in order to "give consensus a chance".

Whatever the case may be, and barring any late developments, several things need to be kept in mind. According to the Constitution:

1) For an "ordinary" [and not necessarily "presidential"] parliamentary session to be convened, only a majority of the MPs must be present - and not a 2/3 majority (given all the blabber it surprised me too, but here is the text, check it yourself). As shown below, constitutionally, an ordinary session of Parliament should be called this Tuesday;
Article 32[Ordinary Sessions]
The Chamber meets each year in two ordinary sessions. The first session opens on the first Tuesday following 15 March and continues until the end of May. The second session begins on the first Tuesday following 15 Oct; its meetings is reserved for the discussion of and voting on the budget before any other work. This session lasts until the end of the year.

Article 33 [Extraordinary Sessions]
The ordinary sessions begin and end automatically on the dates fixed in Article 32. The President of the Republic in consultation with the Prime Minister may summon the Chamber to extraordinary sessions by a Decree specifying the dates of the opening and closing of the extraordinary sessions as well as the agenda. The President of the Republic is required to convoke the Chamber if an absolute majority of the total membership so requests.

Article 34 [Quorum]
The Chamber is not validly constituted unless the majority of the total membership is present. Decisions are to be taken by a majority vote. Should the votes be equal, the question under consideration is deemed rejected.
2) The Parliamentary session called for the election of a new President must take place at least one month before the expiration of the current President's term - that is to say, it must take place before [and up to] October 23rd (check it here).

Any failure, by the Speaker of Parliament, to convene a session before [and up to] that date opens the route up for a meeting - at a venue outside of Parliament (think Pheonecia Hotel) - by the simple majority and the election of a President according to that simple majority. This should take place anytime starting ten days before the term of the current President expires [i.e., starting Nov. 12th].

Now this is all in the Constitution - and it is there in order to provide for an absence of a void in the executive branch if no consensus is reached.

With respect to the quorum needed to open the "presidential session" (and I'm no constitutional expert), there is nothing explicit about the number of MPs needed to be present for the session to be in order. That is to say that it could very well be the case that only a simple majority of MPs are needed to open the session, but the first round election of the President is contingent on a two-thirds vote. Or, it could be the case of there being a need for a 2/3 quorum in order to even open the session.

The interpretation of the clause, and the precedent it would set, should [in theory] not rely on the intentions and/or judicial knowledge of politicians interested in securing short/long-term political aims [as it stands today] but rather on a Constitutional Council dedicated to the study of such matters. As the constitution stands today [and due to a 1990 amendment to Article 19 of the Constitution], however, it is Parliament that is tasked with interpreting the constitution.

So why doesn't Parliament convene? The blame for that anomaly rests on the shoulders of the Hizballah-allied pro-Syrian Speaker of the Parliament, who broke the constitutional law by failing to convene the year's first Parliamentary session [that move led to the establishment of UNSC 1757 under a Chapter 7 mandate]; and on the pro-Syrian President of the Republic, who continues to refuse to call an "extraordinary" session of the Parliament for - well - anything!

As November 22nd nears, one thing should be kept in mind: consensus is all nice and good, but if it is not reached - no matter the cause - it is everyone's national duty [as citizens adhering to the constitution] to abide by its letter without recourse to violence. And as that letter stands, if November 12th is reached without "consensus", whether that failure comes in the form of failed 2/3 votes or a lack of a session at all, we are all morally/legally/patriotically bound to live with a simple majority President - no matter how uncomfortable the thought of that may be.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Presidential Debate

Here it is, the final version of the Presidential Debate/Questionnaire initiative we first launched here some months ago.

We've already published quasi-answers to some of these questions in our reports about interviews with Harb, Lahoud, and Aoun in this post (and its comments section) but we thought it would still be important to ask these questions as we saw fit.

Our original plan had been to email these questions to the respective candidates, and we still intend on doing just that [READERS ARE INVITED TO SUBMIT THE EMAIL ADDRESSES OF THEIR PREFERRED CANDIDATES], but we'd also like to hear what you think about these issues!

So anyone and everyone is invited to choose those issues which interest them the most and give us their 2 cents about them. Give us your take on the issues and tell us who you think would handle each issue best!

Don't worry about grammar or structuring an argument (although proper use of both would be greatly appreciated!), just put down your thoughts and maybe we'll be able to generate a positive discussion on what ails this country and what can be done to move it forward [and if no debate is generated at least people will have started to think about the right questions]!

So without further ado, I present you with our questions:

Defense, Security and Foreign Affairs
  1. What is your position on Hizballah's weapons given today's internal, regional, and international circumstances? Do you envision a role for the group, as an armed paramilitary organization, in the defense of Lebanon's borders? Would you push for the group's disarmament through adherence to UN resolutions, through a purely internalized mechanism, or a combination of the two?


  2. Would you welcome or oppose diplomatic efforts at placing the contested Shebaa Farms under a UN mandate, and if asked of you, would you call for a cessation of Hizballah's paramilitary activities (similar those declared by groups such as the IRA, over the years) in return for the successful implementation of this Shebaa initiative and its extension to other Lebanese-Israeli bilateral issues (Ghajjar, water rights, prisoner swaps, raparations)?


  3. A recently completed survey of the Lebanese-Syrian border suggested the formation of a multi-agency organization tasked with patrolling the border in conjunction with state-of-the-art monitoring equipment and 'international experts'. The recommendations were presented in light of the report's alarming findings on the poor security conditions along the border. In light of Syria's threats on the subject (most notably threats to declare a state of war between the two countries, and to unilaterally close crossing points along the border, if such measures are implemented), would you support these UN recommendations?


  4. The Lebanese action group SOLIDE (Support of Lebanese in Detention or Exile) has, for the past 15 years, pushed and lobbied for the extraction of hundreds of Lebanese citizens currently imprisoned in Syrian jails. As President, what actions would you take to address the issue of Lebanese prisoners in Syrian jails and to bring these prisoners home? Given that Syrian authorities have in the past denied the presence of these prisoners (despite undeniable proof to the contrary), would you encourage the embodiment of the issue within an international framework or would you address it as a purely bilateral one?


  5. Do you believe there is a need for a restructuring of the Lebanese Army as it stands today, and if so, under what guidelines would you encourage such a restructuring?


  6. What is your position on the status of Lebanon's Palestinian refugees? Do you believe there is need for a restructuring of security arrangements within the refugee camps, and if so, what role do you envision for Lebanese, Palestinian, and international interests in the provisioning of security? What priority would assign to the dismantling of PFLP-GC [and other non-Lebanese groups'] bases and do you envision international assistance in their dismantling?
Constitutional and Institutional Reform
  1. The Lebanon of today currently finds itself facing deep running divides which run across both sectarian and party lines. These divisions have resulted in numerous vacancies across the country's institutions, from the Constitutional Council to the country's diplomatic postings oversees. If you are elected President what measures would you take to try and bridge this divide and unite the country under a unified interpretation of the Constitution and its implementation throughout the country's political and administrative systems?


  2. The Taif Agreement characterises the abolishment of political sectarianism as a "fundamental national objective". The Accord also calls on the formation of a Senate representative of all "spiritual families", and charged with addressing "crucial isses", in the aftermath of the election of the first non-sectarian Chamber of Deputies (Parliament). How committed are you to the pursuit of this avenue of political reform, and what time frame do you envision for the implementation of these clauses?


  3. In your opinion, will the Taef Accords suffice as a legal reference in the augmentation and reform of Lebanon's institutions or will there be a need for the pursuit of an 'alternative' or 'complementary' legal reference and accord among the Lebanese in the charting of a new era for the state? What issues would such an accord address and what changes might it entail for the way in which the country is governed and administered?
Public Policy
  1. Despite rapid post-war growth and monetary stability, Lebanon today finds itself ladened with massive debt and pervasive discrepancies in wealth and income. Do you support a policy of privatization of state assets as a solution to the country's economic woes?


  2. What policies will you support in the administration and reform of the country's welfare, health care, and educational policies? What role do you envision for the state in the provision of these services?


  3. Will you adhere to an urban-centric developmental policy or will you seek to endorse a policy of rural development? What steps will you take to support governmental policies in this regard?


  4. Governmental and administrative corruption has continuously ranked as a top concern for everyday Lebanese. In the past any attempts at tackling the issue have resulted in highly partisan drives that seem to have only exacerbated the problem. What steps will you take to address this situation; to ensure that any progressive steps taken with this respect are institutionalised within the government's administrative framework and are applied in an unbiased, non-partisan method?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Beirut Blood Suckers

"As it turns out, a Lebanese vampire movie not only makes perfect sense but is also the best thing to happen to the genre in a long time."

A Laughable Letter

Bashar's latest letter to Ban Ki Moon is laughable at best. Lets take a look at the Syrian characterization of what plagues Lebanon today.

"Syria is completely ready to establish full diplomatic relations with a Lebanese government that believes in friendly relations and not hostile ones like the current Siniora government," the letter said.

Hm. How friendly is friendly? Having the Syrian President describe the Lebanese President as his representative in Lebanon sounds pretty friendly. Having Syrian intelligence apparatuses 'lean' on Lebanese Parliamentarians sounds pretty friendly to me. How about basing 40,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon, does that sound friendly enough for Mr. Assad?

Funny then that throughout the 15 years of Syrian domination of Lebanon - in which all of the above took place - not a single effort was exerted by the Syrian regime to establish formal diplomatic ties with Lebanon. On the contrary, in every instance that they could, the Syrians forced onto the Lebanese a recognition of the "brotherly" ties between the "sisterly" nations of Lebanon and Syria. They did it in the Taef Accords, they did it in our reconstituted Army's charter, they've done it at every Arab or regional conference we've attended, and they've done it with every Lebanese government in which their cronies have been involved. In place of embassies, the regime established the Syrian-Lebanese Higher Council - a defunct grouping of regime cronies without a single beneficial contribution to their name in over fifteen years.

Lets move on.

"The question of establishing diplomatic relations and demarcating the border can be settled by mutual agreement between the Syrian government and a Lebanese government which does not act as an enemy of Syria."

Oh, I see. So then given that the Syrian regime controlled every government in Lebanon from December 1990 up until July 2005, it should stand to bear that there were absolutely no border disputes throughout out that time. Too bad reality doesn't actually conform with the "hot dish" the Assad regime continuously tries to serve the world (a dish swallowed whole by many, mind you).

Shebaa anyone? Oh theres many examples but lets start with that one. To this date, and starting in 2000!, the Assad regime refuses to formally declare their stance on the sliver of land on which Lebanon's entire regional and defense policies were formulated [by the regime for us, of course] from 2000 to the Syrian withdrawal and, in part, to today. The Lebanese government has been demanding (ever since they regained the capability to demand anything from the Syrians) for mutual delineation of the border, and specifically Shebaa, since its formation in 2005.

Three percent. Three percent of our territory, thats how much Lebanese land Syria still occupies. That is the estimate given by a UN committee sent to investigate the state of the Lebanese-Syrian border. That committee also found wide evidence of weapons smuggling from Syria into Lebanon - to groups affiliated with the Syrian intelligence apparatus and through cross-border bases manned by Syrian controlled PFLP-GC militia fighters.

What else...

"Syria notes with regret that certain Lebanese parties with the support of foreign powers have adopted extreme attitudes, which do not at all allow the establishment of the better relations desired by Damascus".

...yes, I suppose seeing your Parliamentary colleagues getting blown up and shot up by Syrian assassins does tend to put a sour note on things. But then again maybe its the assassinations ordered by the Syrian regime - and not the attitudes in response to them - that should be corrected...

...just a thought.

Friday, October 19, 2007

UNSC Resolution 1559: Full Text

Full Text of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 on Lebanon
Adopted by the Security Council at its 5028th meeting, on 2 September 2004

The Security Council,

Recalling all its previous resolutions on Lebanon, in particular resolutions 425 (1978) and 426 (1978) of 19 March 1978, resolution 520 (1982) of 17 September 1982, and resolution 1553 (2004) of 29 July 2004 as well as the statements of its President on the situation in Lebanon, in particular the statement of 18 June 2000 (S/PRST/2000/21),

Reiterating its strong support for the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon within its internationally recognized borders, Noting the determination of Lebanon to ensure the withdrawal of all non-Lebanese forces from Lebanon, Gravely concerned at the continued presence of armed militias in Lebanon, which prevent the Lebanese Government from exercising its full sovereignty over all Lebanese territory,

Reaffirming the importance of the extension of the control of the Government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory,

Mindful of the upcoming Lebanese presidential elections and underlining theimportance of free and fair elections according to Lebanese constitutional rules devised without foreign interference or influence,

1. Reaffirms its call for the strict respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity, and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon throughout Lebanon;

2. Calls upon all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon.

3. Calls for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias;

4. Supports the extension of the control of the Government of Lebanon over all Lebanese territory;

5. Declares its support for a free and fair electoral process in Lebanon’s upcoming presidential election conducted according to Lebanese constitutional rules devised without foreign interference or influence;

6. Calls upon all parties concerned to cooperate fully and urgently with the Security Council for the full implementation of this and all relevant resolutions concerning the restoration of the territorial integrity, full sovereignty, and political independence of Lebanon;

7. Requests that the Secretary-General report to the Security Council within thirty days on the implementation by the parties of this resolution and decides to remain actively seized of the matter.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The League on The Lebanon

Meanwhile in Baalbek...

Bulldozers work on the construction of a highway in Baalbek area in eastern Lebanon October 15, 2007. (Ahmad Shalha/Reuters)

Read more on Iranian-funded property and construction projects - and the allegations and controversy they've generated - here. A news abstract on Iran's announcement of up to 33 (some of which are harmless) projects in Baalbek can be found here.

Hizballah can pretend they're dealing with the other Lebanese parties [and the state] all they want - when it comes to the real work they're unilaterally doing exactly what they want: from exchanging prisoners with another state to undertaking construction, telecommunication and "defense" projects. Oh and did I mention they start wars whenever they want too?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Upgrading + Vote on New Poll!!!

Well since we've started getting comments on the poll here I've decided to you use this post to officially announce it and discuss the previous poll.

Starting with the new one, despite all the Berri "initiatives" and the Bkirki-sponsored "joint committees", Hizballah continues to utter threats if there is simple majority vote (something which will be legal one way or another starting November 12th) and Jumblatt and Geagea continue to hint that any other option looks unlikely.

So here is this week's question, should November 12th come around and a simple majority election were to take place, what would be your reaction?

The poll can be found on our RIGHT sidebar (thats right, we now have two!) in the same place as usual.

The poll replaces a recently ended Blacksmiths of Lebanon poll asking voters whether they truly believed that Hizballah would support Aoun's candidacy for the elections. This blogger, among others, had argued in the past that Hizballah had no interest in seeing Aoun in the presidential chair. Out of the 134 respondents to the poll, 71.6% agreed.



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And finally, I think I'm pretty satisfied with the blog's format now so I'll be taking down the under construction sign.

I present you with the new Blacksmiths of Lebanon 3-column template!

Pretty much, the same links and widgets are present as before - minus a few links that I never used (Daily Show, etc...) and plus a revived Cedar Mountain (my Analysis warehouse) feed.

A major change, however, is the use of a Feed-Digest rss feed aggregator as opposed to the single feed widgets available with blogger. The free feed-digest aggregator allows up to 10 feeds so I tried to put up feeds from blogs I regularly read and which, I find, have interesting material. Blogs with low updating frequencies were excluded, however.

The greatest advantage is the functionality of the upgrade is the functionality of the 3-column format, allowing me to use the empty space that used to dominate the left side of the screen and providing users with far quicker access to links, feeds, and resources. The Lebanese blogosphere feed (left sidebar) is now juxtaposed with a list of the Lebanese blogs to which I link (right sidebar) so that if your favorite blog isn't on the feed you can quickly access it.

Anyway, if you have any comments, suggestions or complaints, please feel free to leave a comment in this post's comments section. I hope you'll all enjoy the new look as much as I'm enjoying it!

Oh, and keep an eye out for a Nick's Picks of posts (and maybe news items) widget that might make its way onto one of the sidebars!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Seventeen Years Ago Today - Lebanon Sacrificed

In tribute to the fallen soldiers of the Lebanese Army, Walid Phares writes a recount of the final battle which established the Syrian dominance and hegemony that would rule Lebanon for the next fifteen years.

Phares' article (extracts for which can be found below) highlights the international green light granted to the Syrians and their final assault on the Presidential palace, at the time occupied by Gen. Michel Aoun who had been appointed interim Prime Minister by departing President Amine Gemayel.

Phares touches on Aoun's role in the battle by highlighting the General's abandonment of the troops - being smuggled in the trunk of a car to the French embassy where he sought refuge - but fails to highlight the pivotal role the General's policies as Interim Prime Minister played in providing the international community with the internal chaos - which ultimately served the Syrians - that allowed them to give the green light for the invasion. Instead, Phares chooses to place the blame squarely on the international community and its need for Syria's goodwill in the run-up to the first Gulf War.

Whatever one's opinion of that battle, one cannot help but admire the bravery and ingenuity displayed by those units of the Lebanese Army who fought the invading Syrians. A bravery and ingenuity played out once again over the past summer when units of the Lebanese Army once again fought Syria's armed goons - this time in the guys of fundamentalist insurgents and not Syrian Army soldiers.

One also cannot help wonder how the sacrifice of these men can be claimed by the man who abandonned them then and who continues to smear their memory today by aligning himself with and providing political cover for those who continue to sing the praises of the Assad regime which murdered our soldiers. Shame.

--

In September 1990, Secretary of State James Baker gave the green light to the Syrian dictator to launch an invasion into Mount Lebanon in return of his participation in the Gulf War against Saddam. By October 12, twenty thousand Syrian troops with hundreds of Special Forces, dozens of artillery batteries, 300 tanks and with the support of pro-Syrian militias and Hezbollah have encircled the enclave. The Lebanese Army, trained mostly by the US had lined up about 4,000 soldiers and few old tanks with the support of batteries, dispersed in the valleys.

...

The Soviet-trained Syrian commandos assaulted the Lebanese Special Forces, Maghaweer, in Beit Mery. Until 8 AM, not one single front was pierced despite the massive bombardment. At 8:10 AM the Lebanese state radio aired a brief statement by Prime Minister Michel Aoun. He –stunningly- gave the orders to his army to surrender to the Syrians.

...

Despite the orders to surrender given by Aoun, young officers decided to continue the war on their own.

On the Beit Mery axis, the Syrian Special Forces were pushed back down the valley. Meanwhile the Lebanese artillery was waging a counter battery forcing the Syrian armor to stop. But the most illustrious episode took place at Dahr al Wahsh, east of the Presidential Palace. The Lebanese units executed a maneuver, allowing the advancing Baathist forces to move forward before they were encircled and destroyed. More than 300 Syrian attackers were eliminated, their ranks broke, and the Lebanese units were on the counter attack.

...

At a very high altitude, two Israeli jets were observing the fight without intervening.

According to Lebanese army officers the night before, resisting the Syrian offensive for 72 hours would suffice to break the will of the attackers. But with a balance of power 5 to 1, and all supplies roads cut off by land, air and sea, the Lebanese Army had no reason to survive the blitzkrieg. However in reality the battle of October 13, 1990 showed that those units were able to withstand the Syrian and Hezbollah forces combined, even without the guidance of a commander in chief who quit the battlefield and considered the war over.

...

For until 3 PM that day, and despite a cataclysmic shelling by hundreds of artillery pieces of all civilians areas and military zones, the Syrian offensive had failed and the first 12 of the 72 hours were about to pass as a victory by Lebanese military.

...

As of 2:30 PM phone calls were being made to the Lebanese officers who were holding their positions or commanding the artillery units. They were told that “their” Government was disbanded and that the Prime Minister has left his office and took refuge in the French embassy, that the Syrian were sending more forces to join the battle, that Hezbollah controls the lines south east of Baabda, and more importantly that no international force would come to their rescue.

...

At that point, the decision was made by these anonymous officers (their names will be revealed in a historical documentation) to stop.

...

But the drama was not over yet. The Syrian forces have a tradition of reigning terror and revenge after they capture enemy positions. At first, they used Lebanese military under their control (and commanded by the future President Lahoud) to convince the Lebanese Army to surrender to the Syrians. However, as soon as they did, particularly in Dahr al Wahsh, the Syrian officers and soldiers lined up the Lebanese prisoners and executed them. Reports from that time mentioned torture against a number of Lebanese officers and their troops. Hundreds of civilians, including two monks, were kidnapped, tortured and killed. Many citizens and soldiers were transferred to the notorious Syrian jails, some have vanished since.

--

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Constitutional Council - What Happened?

Finally! NOW Lebanon provides a respite from the verbal diarrhea - "dialogue", "national unity", "referendum", "divine victory", and the not naming of names - clogging the nation's media outlets to provide a valid and critical question: Where is the Constitutional Council?

For those who have followed the country's developments since 2005 (and before) the answers and issues raised in the article should come as no surprise. Afterall, we're still dealing the effects of fifteen years of Syrian hegemony and the corrosion of the state institutions it has entailed.

The article highlights a clear timeline of events leading up to and beyond the crippling of the Constitutional Council, starting with: the post-Taef amendment of the council's original mandate; to the Syrian-backed imposition of pro-Syrian magistrates on the council through Syria's tool, Emile Lahoud; to the string of controversial decisions which rendered the body completely illegitimate; to the Cedar Revolution and a new Parliamentary majority; to the resignation of the pro-Syrian magistrates in view of the Syrians' retreat; to the drafting of a parliamentary bill to restore the deserted body, fill the constitutional and judicial vaccuum left by the pro-Syrians' flight, and implement a standardized mechanism for the appointment of new magistrates to the council; and finally to the blockage of those attempts by the pro-Syrian opposition which refused to sign bills - through Lahoud, refused to convene parliament - through Berri, ignited a war - through Hizballah, and provided cover for that war and all the other counter-institutional efforts undertaken by the pro-Syrians - through Aoun, all the while calling the government's legitimacy into question and mounting a violent street campaign to bring down the government and bring back (in one form or another) Syria's hegemony over the country.

Read the article and let us know what you think in this post's comments section.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A Comical Interlude

Below are a couple of videos that will, hopefully, allow some people to see the more ridiculous side of our politics and politicians before its too late (and they end up with their pictures all over the internet).

One video I particularly wanted to put up, after Nasrallah's ludicrous speech yesterday, was of a Lebanese comedy skit in which a comedian impersonates Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and a conversation he is having with American Ambassador to Lebanon, Jeffrey Feltman. Here is a loose translation:

Berri: Who is assassinating the March 14th politicians?
Feltman: I can't tell you who exactly, but I can tell you its a neighborly country who's name starts with the letter "S"...
Berri:...SSSSssssssraeeeeeeeeeel???


Enjoy the vids:



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Friday, October 05, 2007

Intelligence Apparatus on Militia Training

Al-Akhbar, a Lebanese daily closely linked to Hizballah and to pro-Syrian elements within the Lebanese Army, revealed today transcripts related to a seven hour cabinet-security meeting held in the wake of the assassination of Lebanese MP Antoine Ghanem last week.

According to the paper, Lebanese Army Intelligence chief, Gen. George Khoury, reported on the presence of Bekaa camp operated by Hizballah and used to train members of former General Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the Syrian Socialist National Party (SSNP), and partisans loyal to pro-Syrian politicians: Wiam Wahab, Talal Arslan, and Zaher Khatib.

The paper also reported that Internal Security Forces Intelligence chief, Gen. Wissam al-Hassan, revealed that a camp setup by the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) in the Chouf town of Baaklin - and used to train former wartime militants of the group - had been shutdown. That decision, according to the paper, came after al-Hassan personally intervened with the PSP's leader, Walid Jumblatt, to that end. Al-Hassan also confirmed Khoury's assertions on the (above-mentioned) Hizballah training camp and its attendance by SSNP and FPM partisans.

On the subject of the Lebanese Forces (LF), the two generals disagreed with Khoury claiming former militants of the LF were undergoing training in mountainous areas in the districts of Jbeil, Bcharre and Kesrouan, and al-Hassan claiming that that information was inconclusive.

Partisans of the Future Movement (FM) were known to have independently purchased up to 500 rifles, according to al-Hassan, while the party itself was said to have been setting up private security firms.

On the subject of the Hizballah-led downtown sit-in, Khoury claimed "he didn't know" whether or not protesters occupying Beirut's Riad el Solh square had acquired weapons, but that the Army was ready to move on the protesters and search their camps if ordered to do so by the government. The government, according to Information Minister Ghazi Aridi, has not signaled its intent to give such an order.

No Laughing Matter

Meanwhile, the ISF issued photographs of FPM partisans engaged in paramilitary training activities after the group launched a media attack on the security service for its arrest of two of its partisans.

According to the Naharnet news website, FPM MP's representing the Jbeil constituency issued a statement terming the ISF's intelligence branch a "militia", and declaring that it had "kidnapped" two of its partisans.

The website also reported that,
The military judiciary, in charge of cases related to state security, ordered the arrest of the two suspects and issued a warrant for the weapons' owner, the police statement added.

It stressed that it was releasing the photographs of the suspects to inform the Lebanese people of the evidence that led the force to shoulder its responsibility in preventing any one from fiddling with the nation's security.
For its part, the FPM described the pictures (the rest of which can be found on the LF website - of course) as old and having been taken on a cell phone and described those in the pictures as belonging to FPM leader Michel Aoun's personal bodyguard...

...decide for yourselves:

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

March 14th Candidates Talk

Two of the county's leading presidential candidates, both Cedar Revolutionaries from the March 14th camp, gave interviews to Lebanese english-language websites this week. Below are links to former MP Nassib Lahoud's interview with Lebanese weekly Monday Morning and MP Butros Harb's interview with NOW Lebanon:

Butros Harb -- Nassib Lahoud

Firefight

A helicopter dumps water on a forest fire in the northern village of Qubayat, Lebanon Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2007. Aircraft from Cyprus, Jordan and Italy arrived here Wednesday to help this Mediterranean nation fight one of the worst waves of wildfires in years. (AP Photo)

Refer to the post directly below this one for in depth coverage of yesterday's fires and the battle to put them out.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Breaking News: Brush Fires Ignited Across Lebanon

Fires burned throughout the night in Qobayat (Akkar - North) as firefighters struggled against windblown flames in a terrain near-inaccessible to landbased vehicles. Below are images from the night time and day time fires that burned through the area all day today,they were taken from a Facebook group dedicated to the region and this latest tragedy. Our hearts go out to the residents, civil defense officers, and Lebanese Army soldiers fighting the fires:


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Update 2:
The Italian government has announced it is prepared to dispatch 5 firefighting planes to Lebanon to aid in the fight against a series of brush fires striking the country throughout the day. The planes could arrive in Lebanon as early as tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the FPM website declared that Civil Defense forces have up to 80% of fires contained and that those proving most difficult lie areas inaccessible by fire engines in the Qobayet (Akkar - North) region of the country.


A man inspects a house affected by a forest fire in Deir al-Qamar village, southeast of Beirut October 2, 2007. (Reuters/Ali Hashisho)
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Update 1:

Lebanon's Interior Minister has reportedly requested aid from the Italian government in battling the fires raging through the country. Reports also indicate that contacts are being undertaken through the UNIFIL force deployed in the south of the country for the use of firefighting planes or helicopters - possibly stationed on UNIFIL naval vessels patrolling international waters off the coast of Lebanon.

Smoke billows from pine trees in the village of Deir al-Qamar in the Shouf mountains, east of Beirut (AFP/Ramzi Haidar).
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Lebanese news services are reporting the ignition of numerous brush fires across the country, causing residents in some areas to flee and taking a high economic toll on farms and orchards across various regions.

Resident have been evacuated from the Deir Mar Abda village in Deir el Qamar (Chouf - Mount Lebanon). Fires near the town of Amchiit (Jbeil - Mount Lebanon), have been reportedly brought under control - damage in that area has been reported to over an area of 5000 meters squared.

Fires were also reported in the Dhour el Shoueir (Metn - Mount Lebanon), Rashmaya (Aley - Mount Lebanon), Dhour el Abadieh (Aley - Mount Lebanon), Kfar Amay (Aley - Mount Lebanon), Qobayat (Akkar - North), Beit Eddine (Chouf - Mount Lebanon), Al Aarbaniya (Metn - Mount Lebanon), Salima (Metn - Mount Lebanon), and Ain Jarmaq (Hasbaya - South)


The Lebanese Civil Defense directorate has requested that all private water tank trucks lend assistance to civil defense teams in the above mentioned regions. Army units hunting Syria-sponsored Fatah al Islam terrorists in the North have also joined the fight in the region of Qobayat (Akkar - North).

Lebanese chief of Civil Defense declared that there was no natural reason or cause for the pattern of fires witnessed, leading to speculation that they were intentionally set.

If the fires are found to have been caused by arson, it would define a new phase in the terrorist war being waged on the country. A terrorist war behind which Syria has been the primary mover.

According to the YaLibnan news website, the Lebanese government has contacted the government of Cyprus with an urgent request for firefighting helicopters.

The website also reported the hospitalization of 16 people with second-degree and at least 50 cases of smoke inhalation as a result of the fires in Deir al Qamar (Chouf - Mount Lebanon).
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NOW Lebanon on today's raging fires:
...Richard Antoon, head of the Deir al-Qamar Red Cross center, told NOW Lebanon, “We got our first call at 4:20 a.m., but that wasn’t the first incident, as we know that at 1:30 fires were already set off.”
...
Within a few hours, over 200 firefighting posts in Lebanon had been mobilized to battle the blaze. By early afternoon, helicopters from nearby Cyprus had arrived to provide assistance. The army and security forces were mobilized to aid the firefighting effort and keep order. Local volunteers were also called in and assisted emergency crews in ensuring the fire stayed put out.
...
From the scorched hilltop of Deir al-Qamar, multiple independent fires were visible in the valley farmlands below. With hundreds of meters of untouched green fields and trees between the blazes, each appeared to be a separate incident. The usual reasons – villagers looking to make some cheap coal, young people getting into trouble, summer heat and sun sparking dry brush into flame – do not seem to fit.

There are far too many simultaneous fires – each of which sprung up in the evening of October 1 or the early morning of October 2, all across Lebanon – to be explained by carelessness or accident. Summer heat and the blazing sun aren’t credible culprits after sunset. Farmers wanting some cheap coal would not be setting fire to their olive groves. Even the possibility of an electrical fire seems remote, as the electricity had been shut off in the affected areas....
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The Dailystar has the following take on the day's events in its Wednesday issue:

...
Civil Defense workers, backed by Lebanese Army helicopters, struggled to extinguish blazes in the North and in the Chouf Mountains east of Beirut.
...
About 85 fires started on Tuesday and more than a 100 on Monday, the head of the Lebanese Civil Defense, Brigadier General Darwish Hobeika, told The Daily Star.
...
An estimated 3,400,000 square meters of woodland were destroyed by fires in the Chouf region and around 200,000 square meters in the North.
...
Hobeika said almost 80 percent of fires had been contained but blazes still raged in the Northern town of Andaqt.
...
The blazes were worst in the area around Deir al-Qamar, a well-preserved Christian town in the Chouf that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
...
"Replanting the 2,000 hectares would cost $10 million. That amount alone would have been enough on an annual basis to fund the establishment of a national forest agency," Bou Ghanem said, adding that such an agency could have pooled resources and coordinated firefighting operations in a more centralized and effective manner.

He said Parliament in 2003 made a recommendation to the government to set up such an agency but the proposal was deemed unnecessary and shot down. Bou Ghanem said such an agency would have coordinated between local fire brigades, the Agriculture Ministry, the army and aerial fire-fighting assets.


Readers are invited to provide comments and UPDATES in the comments sections of this post!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Peace in Lebanon and Trouble in Syria?

An attack on Syria may come sooner – rather than later.

That at least is the general trend being set by the multitude of stories about that country's illicit activities that have emerged over the past month. Stories long known to those now releasing them.

Two events point in that directions:

Rumblings in Syria

The first is the mobilization of the Syrian Opposition which, according to a Washington Times editorial:
“In a rare and daring sign of defiance … posted hundreds of large placards of exiled Syrian leader Farid Ghadry and the executive committee of his party on streets of major cities in, including Damascus, Aleppo and Idlib”
The move came days after the establishment of a ‘secretariat general’ for members of the Syrian Opposition in Beirut. Meanwhile, the Alawite regime in Damascus has started to move against radical Sunni elements it has previously exploited but which could pose a danger to it if any instability were to unfold.

In a region where communal and sectarian allegiances have proven to be remarkably steadfast in the face of alternative political ideologies, the dictatorial rule of Syria’s Alawite minority (making up less than 10% of the total population) over a Sunni majority (of about 80%) stands out as a glaring example of inequity and potential instability.

Relief in Lebanon

The second, perhaps more subtle indicator are the Lebanese Presidential elections.

While Jumblatt and Geagea continue to worry about the establishment of balance-tipping precedents through various compromises, Saad Hariri's stance vis-a-vis the election of a President - who despite all of the Patriarch's wishes and desires will only have the post-Taef powers to sign or not sign onto decisions undertaken by the legislative branch in parliament and executive powerhouse of the cabinet - comes after a rumored meeting between the Saudi and Iranian Foreign Ministers New York last week.

While Ahmadinejad was fumbling over existential questions pertaining to his country's gay and transgender community, other - more powerful - members of the theocratic regime's guard were busy calming Saudi nerves.

In the tradeoff borne of those talks, Lebanon would receive a presidential election uninhibited by Hizballah's threat of a January 23rd repeat - with the added bonus of a raiding of ministerial offices - and the issue of Hizballah's weapons would be contained in the cabinet - to be newly formed after the election of a new president would have significant representation for the group.

For Syria, any talks between Iran and Saudi on Lebanon have the net effect of sidelining its interests in the country. Those interests had relied on the disruption of the Presidential elections and the use of the resulting chaos to spread civil strife.

On January 23rd 2007 it was Hizballah - on orders from Iran and in light of that countries "consultations" with the Saudis - who called of the rioters and thugs unleashed onto the streets, even while Suleiman Franjieh and Aoun were on the air declaring the "strike" a success and vowing that it would last a week – as was originally envisioned by the Syrians and their local allies. If disruptions are to be unleashed once again, Syrian arms shipments to their quislings in the country will have ensured a speedy degeneration so that no amount of Saudi-Iranian intervention could hit the brakes this time.

Sweating Bullets

Subtle as these two events might have been however, there was one event in which subtlety was not the focus. With the airwaves of the autumn of 2007 now sounding a lot like the build up to the war with Iraq - the Israeli strike on Syria is sending heart beats racing and blood pressures rising in Damascus. While the issue of Syria's "nuclear" activities may have been an added bonus of the Israeli strike, the main focus was a test of a recently installed Iranian-funded air-defense system. All indications pointed that that system proved a remarkable failure.

And while the Syrians might have previously relied on Hizballah's ignition of the Lebanese border with Israel as a method of response to an Israeli assault, the Saudi-Iran talks have given the regime pause to reconsider.

One thing is for certain, however, if the current mood holds out, more high-level assassinations in Lebanon will only serve to turn up the heat on the regime - leaving the "option" of civil strife as its only weapon in Lebanon. Something that the maneuvering on the Presidency will hopefully have avoided.
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