Conspiracy Chronicles, Lebanon

The Speaker Falls Silent

what me worry?A few days ago, a reader left the following prescient remark in the comment section of this blog:

“I’m wondering: does anybody read anything into Amal’s relative absence from the 4 Officers celebration scene? Almost as if wily Berri is trying to meet Jumblatt in the middle…”

Come, come… sounds like conspiracy-mongering to me. I mean, what could Nabih Berri possibly have to fear from another shrewd, well-spoken, charismatic, super-connected Shiite who has the support of Hizbullah and Damascus and who has dirt on every single civil servant and high-profile figure in Lebanon?

My friends, when we are not in the business of sniffing out conspiracy theories on this blog, then we are in the business of starting them. Consider the following tidbits:

New TV quipped last night that perhaps Speaker Berri is waiting for the pigeon post to arrive from the Tribunal, bringing him news of the generals’ release. The Angry Arab has a good post on the political background of the case, in which he suggests:

Jamil As-Sayyid was one of the most powerful men in the country for a while: and that pitted him again Nibih Birri who suspected (with justification) that the Syrian regime was grooming him to succeed him as speaker for parliament.  The plan was for Sayyid to run in 2005.

It is well-known that the men do not like each other. Back in 2005, al-Sayyid gave an interview to al-Hayat which, despite being 40,000 words long, still somehow managed to say almost nothing. (Leave it to a Lebanese intelligence officer to make a New England nor’easter feel like a touch of early morning frost.)  For example, in response to a question about whether Berri had tried to have al-Sayyid removed from his post, the major general had this to say:

All the reasons are similar, in addition to the fact that political leaders in Lebanon are used to having state employees “belong” to them. I don’t have this mentality. It’s not normal and it produces hostility. Each leader wants to make you “his man,” protecting you and benefiting from your services for the sake of his leadership. In Lebanon, you obtain immunity of you belong to a political leader, especially if you’re a state employee.

No, I didn’t quite understand his point either. What he seems to be saying is that Berri tried to co-opt him, and was unsuccessful because the general had his own sources of support in Damascus. And, at the end of the day, this is what makes him more than a casual concern for Berri today. While he  doesn’t need to worry about not becoming Speaker again (I can’t imagine Aoun, no matter how much he loathes Berri, throwing his support to Syria’s former no. 1 in Lebanon), Jamil al-Sayyid’s return is clearly a source of anxiety, to judge by his media silence.

Still, I would have expected Berri to compose one of his signature verses of zajal for the prodigal son, or at least send him a plate of baklawa, which is the traditional Lebanese thing to do when someone you know who was wrongly incarcerated for murdering the Prime Minister is set free. Wa lak 3ayb!
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11 thoughts on “The Speaker Falls Silent

  1. For the first time an article on this blog does not attract/command a comment even after 10 hours from its posting.
    Does that mean, no one dares to have a go at it!

    Posted by i.e. Lubnan | May 4, 2009, 10:08 pm
  2. OK, Lubnan I’ll take the challenge. I was going to make this comment but thought otherwise – felt the issue is unimportant.

    “Still, I would have expected Berri to compose one of his signature verses of zajal for the prodigal son, or at least send him a plate of baklawa, which is the traditional Lebanese thing to do when someone you know who was wrongly incarcerated for murdering the Prime Minister, is set free. Wa lak 3ayb!”


    Your tone seems to suggest that Berri has made an error! In fact, Berri didn’t even bother about any of the other Generals and not just Sayyid. So your theory of a competition between two Shiite figures seems inaccurate at best.
    I believe there is more to Berri’s silence than what you have observed. I think he believes it is wrong to celebrate the release of four generals associated with an era the Lebanese universally reject. So may be it is a Hezb mistake and a shrewd behaviour from Berri.

    Posted by Mike | May 4, 2009, 10:49 pm
  3. Indeed Mike, shrewd to say the least.

    Posted by i.e. Lubnan | May 4, 2009, 10:56 pm
  4. I forgot to mention this in my last comment. As a lawyer, Berri can read in the release order what others cannot. So he could have read something which caused him to behave mutely.
    The simple fact is we don’t really know what the court has in the 4 year old investigation.

    Posted by Mike | May 4, 2009, 11:16 pm
  5. what also comes to mind is the symmetry between Berri and Joumblatt.Berri has tuned down his attacks on m14 and has been emphasising a unity govt etc.While Joumblatt is also professing the middle way.Incase of M14 victory, Berri would be the bridge between the two sides and subsequently keep himself alive and running, while Joumblatt in case of M8 victory,we also play the bridge and keep himself alive.I mean what other priority do these two shrewd hustlers have other then to maintain survival in the jungle.
    Its interesting to see these two stalwarts play it out towards the elections and after.They might be the most despised and most untrustworthy but they are the most experienced hands on, in internal affairs and dark alleys of Lebanese politics.

    Posted by Maverick | May 4, 2009, 11:54 pm
  6. QN:
    Your homework now: Who will the Opposition choose as PM? They’re win is imminent, and maybe not as close as we’ve come to believe!

    so… the haggling now (among march 8th barons) is on the PM’s choice …

    get to work!

    Posted by F | May 5, 2009, 1:45 am
  7. Ya ikhwan,

    Whatever Berri’s reasons for not celebrating the generals’ release may be, the point is that he has conspicuously avoided doing so. Who knows why? The baklawa thing was just a joke.


    You’re much better situated to answer that question!

    I tend to agree with Nasrallah about the elections, though. The districts that were locked up remain locked up; it’s still going to come down to Zahle, Beirut 1, and the Metn (and perhaps also West Bekaa).

    My guess remains Miqati. What do you think?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | May 5, 2009, 8:06 am
  8. QN,
    Your last comment contradicts your premise of the main article. You did expect Berri to behave in a certain way. You actually wanted him to reinforce Hezb’s ‘mistake’ just for the heck of it. In order perhaps to create some parallel to post Feb 14 2005 events. Isn’t that what Hezb is trying to accomplish by celebrating the Generals release? Obviously Berri shrewdly knew that what Hezb wants to accomplish is not achievable and precisely because what these generals represent in terms of them being the symbols of a hated Syrian occupation era. If the ‘Istez’ speaks out for the Generals then there is nothing to stop Aoun’s demagoguery and the snowball will start rolling. It then follows that M14 will have to respond by mobilizing into Freedom Square particularly May 7 is not too far off, and presto the whole country is again polarized. Hence, Berri is shrewd without even having to read the court release order – a suspect who has not received a not guilty ruling from a formal court proceeding is STILL a suspect, EVEN though he may be released on the basis of a technical court procedure. So who does the Sayyid (Nasrallah) think he is fooling? Actually, he and quite few others have been publicly prosecuting themselves since 2005 by using the same method used by the Syrians during occupation – always run forward and create new circumstances in order to avoid the obvious. So the more speeches he and others will make, the less there will be need for actual prosecution!!! He is basically indicting himself!!!

    As for the next PM, M14 and M8 are currently even with their sure wins. They will be disputing less than 20 seats. So it could go either way. Nevertheless, Mikati made it clear he will only accept nomination based on consensus. In other words he wants Saad’s blessing. So only if Saad decides not to become PM, Mikati will be PM. But the government will not be different from a government formed by Saad, i.e. NO VETO to Hezb and Company.

    Posted by mike | May 5, 2009, 8:55 am
  9. What I got lately from both camps:
    * Metn: Even abou Elias (the other) is “in danger”. Sarkis Sarkis has more luck than Sami Gemayel.
    * Kesrouan: Tsunami in the making, perhaps Mansour Ghanem il Bawn “ounctures”.
    Jbeil: Not as easy as we think: Fares S3aid and Nazem il Khoury concoction could be catalyst for people to vote Orange (or not)
    * Batroun: 50/50 both camps

    Posted by F | May 5, 2009, 5:14 pm
  10. I think the PM position will be offered to Hariri whoever wins the majority. It will be against the interest of March 8 to isolate the Sunnis like that if they win. But if he (i.e. KSA, US, etc.) turn it down, it will probably be given to Miqati.

    Posted by Innocent Criminal | May 5, 2009, 8:42 pm
  11. Is this the best rumor you can start?

    Berri does not fear Jamil As-Sayyid. He is staying there until the end*.

    Besides, “support from Damascus” is too subtle these days to make someone like Berri worry about different options.

    * Unity with Syria : )

    Posted by Alex | May 5, 2009, 11:17 pm

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