Elections, Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanon, March 14

Saad Hariri Takes the Plunge

Cozily ensconced on the fifth floor of Widener Library, surrounded by musty tomes and post-it notes, I’ve finally found a moment to check on the old blog after a fortnight’s hiatus.

Saad_Hariri_180Luckily, there is actually something to talk about. Saad al-Hariri has finally put together a cabinet proposal and submitted it to President Suleiman for approval. The response from the Free Patriotic Movement has been predictably hostile, with General Aoun calling all FPM ministers-designate to boycott the new cabinet, which reportedly gives the party five seats including (sources say) the Industry, Social Affairs, Public Works, and Education portfolios.

Several questions come to mind.

  1. Why has it taken Hariri sixty-nine days to put together a cabinet that spurns Aoun’s demands? In other words, if he was going to deny him the Telecommunications and Interior ministries, why didn’t he do it a lot earlier?
  2. Hariri would have had to secure Jumblatt’s approval for this proposal before going forward with it. Does Jumblatt’s approval of a cabinet lineup that the opposition will almost certainly reject suggest that he is returning to the March 14 fold?
  3. When the opposition does reject this proposal, what will Hariri’s next move be? Is he prepared to call the opposition’s bluff and say, “Well I tried to form a national unity government but you rejected it, so tough luck,” or will he return to the drawing board?

I’m hoping that one of the many excellent Beirut-based political journalists who read this blog will get on the phone to the various party offices and answer these questions for us. In the meantime, here are my own musings.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve found myself deeply puzzled by the behavior of Lebanon’s political elite. On the one hand, you have the leaders of the Free Patriotic Movement, who talk about being persecuted by Hariri and being denied their “rights.” What rights are these, exactly? I’ve scoured the Lebanese Constitution searching for a hint to what Aoun and Bassil are talking about, but my efforts have been fruitless.

As strange as the FPM’s rhetoric is, however, Hariri’s behavior has been all the more mystifying. Practically from the start, the PM-designate has behaved like his coalition lost the election, going from one meeting to another, listening to every demand, threat, and insult. Not to use a March 14 talking point, but what really is the point of winning an election if you can’t be the final arbiter of who gets what in the cabinet? (By the way, I would have felt the same way had the tables been turned and a March 8 PM-designate’s efforts were being blocked by the LF or the Kata’eb.)

At the end of the day, the question is: “What is Hariri afraid of?” Why is he committed to a national unity government? Is this a condition imposed upon him by the Saudis, or perhaps by the more independent, pro-Syrian wing of March 14 (like Jumblatt, Miqati, Safadi, Murr, etc)?

Or is Hariri worried about a return to the bad old days of 2006-08, with an opposition sit-in disguised as some kind of benign labor dispute, with the goal of bringing down the government?

I asked a well-connected political analyst these questions recently and he responded as follows:

Essentially, no one wanted to go back to the majority-opposition dichotomy of the years before, not the Saudis nor Saad or March 14. Yes, it’s too polarizing, and it doesn’t fit into regional alignments, with the Saudis and the Syrians still wanting to take advantage of their so-called (and uneasy) reconciliation. They disagree over Lebanon, but they don’t want to divorce because of this. So national unity was the catchword.

With Saad al-Hariri now saying that “there is one majority in Lebanon,” perhaps the Saudis have decided that they’re tired of being conciliatory.

Any thoughts?

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Discussion

53 thoughts on “Saad Hariri Takes the Plunge

  1. My very amateur and candid opinion is that in Lebanon, the “majority rules” approach does not work, simply because that would imply the denial of “the other”. The elections are a disguise, because no matter what the results are, the government would have to be formed in a way that satisfies both camps, because of the sectarian division. Which is impossible. And which is why the whole process takes so long.

    Posted by maya zankoul | September 7, 2009, 4:20 pm
  2. “What is Hariri afraid of?” Why is he committed to a national unity government?

    How about Hezbollah, their weapons and a repeat invasion of Beirut? It scared Walid Jumblat enough to change camps and call for a National unity gov also!

    On a separate note I am back home from a month long so called vacation in Lebanon after a couple of decades of self imposed exile. I have one thing to say about this God forsaken place
    “kisssssssssss ekhtttttttttttt el se3a”
    Never again! This place is truly sick

    Posted by V | September 7, 2009, 5:06 pm
  3. QN, why are you playing the “naive” blogger role?

    You answered the question a few posts ago with the whole “where else in the world does a coalition win the popular vote but lose an election” post.

    Hariri knows he has the legal mandate but not the popular one. And while the legal mandate calls all the parliamentary shots, in Lebanon at least, the popular mandate counts for a lot. You can already feel the tension in the air in Beirut that this action has caused.

    Hariri wants it all. he wants the opposition in cabinet so that he can avoid the tension but he wants them there as a facade and allow his “allies” to keep all the ministries that can be skimmed the best.

    But to answer your questions:
    1. He probably thought he could get Aoun to swap quality with quantity. There was always the faint hope that the problems would cause a schism in “the understanding”

    2.Jumbaltt, if I know him, will have approved it (assuming that he did) precisely because he knows the opposition wont give a damn about it. I doubt you can read much into his approval of it. If he thought the move was contentious I dont believe he would have been involved.

    3.I honestly think he is trying to be clever and he thinks he is actually calling their bluff with this move. The fact is what bluff? Considering we are talking a coalition that represents over 50% of the votes and over 50% of the nation in secterian terms, what bluff are we talking about? Is he going to have any credible Shia in the cabinet without Hizballah and Amal? Is he seriously going to say his cabinet truly represents the Christians without Aoun?

    Posted by mo | September 7, 2009, 5:07 pm
  4. I think Hariri is waiting for the indictments of the tribunal. He probably has information we don’t about the direction of the indictments and believes that putting together a government after them would be easier. Or, that in any case the government would fall after the indictments so it is better to continue with the care taker one.

    Posted by AIG | September 7, 2009, 5:20 pm
  5. I think your analyst is broadly correct. Hariri might have won the election, but he lost the war — quite literally. After the drubbing HA gave the Future Movement in May ’08, neither Hariri nor Saudi wants to go back to the polarization of ’06 – ’08. This isn’t exactly a secret to March 8. Hariri, deprived of the threat of forming a March 14-only government, isn’t able to leverage his electoral victory into concessions from the opposition.

    The FPM’s decision-making process is a little more opaque. I assume Aoun believes that, after railing against the assorted March 14 za’ims for years — and particularly his competitors within the Christian community — he simply can’t make nice and participate in a national unity government without, essentially, their admission that he is the preeminent Christian force in the country. Participating on equal footing with the Kataeb and LF would decrease his prestige; he needs to be the dominant partner. Obviously, that’s not a prospect that Hariri can sell to the Christians within his own coalition.

    But what does Hezbollah think of all of this? It’s hard to see how this continued impasse helps them: Hariri’s getting frustrated, and there’s a chance that he and the Saudis will finally throw up their hands and move back into confrontation to Hezbollah. Much better, it seems, would be to form a broad-based government coalition with the “tamed” Future Movement and PSP (in essence, a return to the Tripartite Alliance of yesteryear). These groups would have their own interests, of course, but they would not actively threaten Hezbollah’s weapons or its control in the South. If Aoun objects and refuses to join the government — well, too bad, but better for Hezbollah to hitch its star to Hariri and Jumblatt, who actually won the past election, than a General who appears to be aging and in political decline.

    The problem seems to come down, as it often does, to a lack of trust. The FPM-HA alliance may not be the most beneficial to Hezbollah at the moment, but at least they are fairly certain that Aoun isn’t going to abandon them at the first bump in the road. If HA burns their bridges with Aoun, are they certain that Hariri and Jumblatt won’t turn on them if the US or KSA indicate that they’re willing to move against Iran and, by extension, Hezbollah? I wouldn’t be. Also, if Hezbollah isolates Aoun, they will simultaneously be empowering the Kataeb and the LF in the Christian community. Can Hezbollah win over those parties to at least a grudging acceptance of their right to remain a “resistance” movement? Unlike Hariri or Jumblatt, I’m inclined to believe that these groups are irreconcilable with Hezbollah.

    So, the situation remains deadlocked. What fun.

    Posted by dbk | September 7, 2009, 5:28 pm
  6. I think there is a famous Jewish story that is relevant for the situation:
    A baron in a small Polish fiefdom has a dog that he loves dearly. One day he offers 1,000 zloty to anybody who can teach the dog to talk. Nobody of course steps up except Abe a local Jews. He tells the baron he can teach the dog to talk but it will take 10 years. The other Jews come to Abe and tell him: Are you crazy? The baron will kill you when he finds out you are fooling him. To which Abe replies: Don’t worry, either the baron will die or the dog will die.

    I think Hariri is waiting for something to happen. What exactly I am not sure, but as I wrote above, I think it is the indictments of the tribunal.

    Posted by AIG | September 7, 2009, 5:45 pm
  7. I agree MO!

    I think the real issue here is that for all the talk of accepting the result of the 2009 election the only ones that really accept it are members of the March 14 bash, America and Saudi Arabia. America has as much credibility in the Middle East as a prostitute in a nunnery and Saudi Arabia is almost unanimously held in contempt by non-Sunnis. March 14’s mantra that they won the election seems more like an attempt to convince themselves rather than a statement of reality. For all March 14 bravado Hassan Nassrallah’s speech following the election in which he distinguished between the popular majority and the parliamentary was a shot across the bow that Hariri and his backers couldn’t ignore.

    Hariri is now attempting to prove that he is the ruler of all he surveys. He trying to prove that regardless of accusations that “a lot” of Saudi money was spent and of massive irregularities, Hassan Nassrallah was wrong. I don’t believe Jumblatt was aware of this move; he’s worked too hard to ingratiate himself with Hizballah and other opposition groups to throw it all away on this gamble. Hariri is relying entirely on the backing of the Patriarch, the Christians of March 14, and on the cornering Michel Suleiman thus forcing him to take sides. He is, however, forgetting that such heavy handed tactics were possible, indeed demanded, when his father was alive because he had the Syrians to enforce his decrees, but Lebanon without its “big sister” has to be governed differently: 2005 to 2009 proved it. Also between 1975 and 1990 the Maronites felt the full wrath of what may pass when one sect tries to marginalise others. Not saying this will lead to another civil war, but Hariri’s action in 2008 indicate that he has no qualms about seeing Lebanese die in the streets

    Posted by GG | September 7, 2009, 5:46 pm
  8. Nice to see that you all haven’t gotten a life in the past two weeks; I was full expecting nobody to show up and comment.

    Will respond fully tomorrow.

    But in the meantime, a question for Mo and GG.

    When you guys talk about the importance of the popular vote, you are implying that it actually means something. We already know that it means nothing, constitutionally speaking. So what does it mean, practically speaking? What exactly is Hariri afraid of, in your opinion?

    Let me put it in the form of a thought experiment. You’re an opposition leader. You’ve just received word that Hariri has responded to your rejection of his cabinet proposal by giving you 48 hours to reconsider, or he will appoint 10 non-aligned technocrats in the places of your ministers.

    What is your plan, after rejecting his offer? What good is the popular majority once you’re out of the government? How do you parlay it into some kind of political weapon? Do you hold demonstrations, sit-ins, etc.? If so, on what basis do you declare the government illegitimate?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 7, 2009, 10:07 pm
  9. I generally ignore politics and am in no way in a position to analyze, so take it for what it’s worth, but perhaps it took him this long to seek, and fail to find, a win-win solution, so the one way out of the quagmire was to just take the lead?

    Posted by Joumana Medlej | September 7, 2009, 10:54 pm
  10. “If so, on what basis do you declare the government illegitimate?”

    Based on a primary mandate enclosed in the INTRO of the Lebanese Constitution:

    ي – لا شرعية لأي سلطة تناقض ميثاق العيش المشترك·

    Ref: http://www.conseil-constitutionnel.gov.lb/ar/arabic/constitution.htm

    Posted by PN | September 8, 2009, 12:57 am
  11. I think he simply wanted to form a national government of unity, he tried, he cannot give up everything, after all, his party won the elections, he tried again and again and it didn’t work and he’s just plain sick of it. Sometimes when you’re too nice things don’t work out. Will it make things better? not necessarily, but hey, who ever expected to actually have every party on board agreeing? it’s actually wrong. 10 years ago, did the opposition have a place in the cabinet? actually ken 7adan yestarje ye7ke? at least right now people can say what they think about, and the majority (electoral and not the popular) should have the final say (whoever the majority are, and in 2009, its the March 14 or what’s left of it)

    Posted by Liliane | September 8, 2009, 2:05 am
  12. PN, then I guess no cabinet until now was legitimate.

    Posted by Liliane | September 8, 2009, 2:07 am
  13. “Won the elections”, “popular vote”…etc, all fine words if we lived in a civilized part of this world. I witnessed the elections and most Lebanese should have their voting right revoked. Lebanese since independence never casted their votes for a political program, but always for za3im, beik, sheikh…etc.
    I would not like to be in Hariri’s shoes for no matter what he does he will be blamed by one side or the other (if not both). I was for the formation of the government in the span of two weeks, representative of election results; and that would have led to another 7th of May. I never though that Hariri was politically mature enough to undertake such a task and still don’t. I guess the president has a big role to play now and I sure hope that he will show some b…s, but I do not see anything hapening soon. The winds of change are still blowing but they have not reached us yet. I think we will witness a very tumultuous begining of winter.

    Posted by Marillionlb | September 8, 2009, 2:47 am
  14. Its funny how intelligent people like Mo, GG, and PN, fall face down into these slogans of pure demogagy and deceit. So if Aoun, a loser in the elections, does not get his demands to join the Government, its against the principles of “common living”. But if Nasrallah retains his weapons against the will of the majority of the Lebanese, as per the election results, and not only that, but continuously takes pride in using those weapons against them in May 2008 and threatens to bring them back to those days if they dont abide by his rules, then its all good.

    In May 2008, in the aftermath of the Doha agreement, Michel Aoun proudly declared the “election law was his birth child”, and that it is the law that will allow the Christians to “regain their rights”.

    In December 2006, Hassan Nasrallah said, and I quote this verbatim: “Let the elections happen, and if they win, we promise to remain silent until the next round.”

    These views were also reflected by all my opposition-supporting intellectual friends who emphasized that they will abide by these guidelines, despite my insistence that it will not be acceptable to the arrogant mentalities of their egomaniac leaders.

    In June 2009, elections happened, based on “Michel Aoun’s law”, but the armed-to-the-teeth parties, failed to accept the results, and again subjected the Lebanese to their blackmail tactics, somehow, all in the name of democracy, and the constitution.
    There’s an Arab proverb that fits the Lebanese so-called opposition just right:
    إن أنت أكرمت الكريم ملكته وإن أنت أكرمت اللئيم تمرد

    Posted by Purple Monkey | September 8, 2009, 3:05 am
  15. I think Lebanon can be very proud of its traditional cabinet forumulation – the bloc with the most seats get the big porfolios like Finance (and chooses the PM), while the one with the minority bloc gets minor portfolios. That is far superior than the tradition in Europe where 30 or 40 per cent of the voters get no representation at the Cabinet table just sterile opposition meaninglessness.

    But in terms of how things have developed it is all going according to script. Mr Harri had to publicly be seen to try his hardest to stick to the traditional way of doing things.

    The FPM had to be publicly be seen as a “martyr” – suits it long term role as the “Maronite party”.

    Hizbullah was vetoed way back by Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

    All is good.

    Posted by CZ | September 8, 2009, 4:10 am
  16. QN,
    Practically speaking it means that if the opposition is not in cabinet, every decision must be second guessed so that the opposition cannot translate it into popular discontent and all that “might” go with that.

    Posted by mo | September 8, 2009, 4:48 am
  17. I don’t think anything done publicly by the Prime Minister-designate indicates he is particularly afraid – he is doing his job properly, publicly being seen to be inclusive after the election and being seen to bend over backwards to reach an accommodation, while knowing he is pretty safe about the opposition parties not ultimately accepting the conditions of coalition.

    The FPM is also playing its part – they will be publicly seen to be the “victim” for the Christian masses – stitched up by a deal that keeps Saudis, Mubaraks and assorted folk having more say in Libanon than the “man in the street” in the mountain.

    Just like the 1969 Cairo Agreement and just like 1989 and 1976 etc.etc.

    As for Hizbullah, we were told before the election from Tel Aviv that it could not join the cabinet again. That was a given.

    So we have a government, but it does not have the majority of support among people living in Lebanon – just like the previous government and as is not uncommon with the winner-takes-all voting system.

    Every party elite is happy – no question about that.

    But I hope in the future we will have a proportional system – with i hope a Senate of the 18 communities as a protection. i’m counting on the Interior Minister again being a hero of Lebanon and all Lebanese!

    Posted by Sofia | September 8, 2009, 5:16 am
  18. V – Walid Jumblatt’s main reason in switching sides is due to the fact that his role as an M14 spoiler will gain his sect more leverage than being an unnecessary ally in M14

    Mo – Your view might be right or wrong depending on how looks at it. one might argue that the oppositions discontent can never be that “popular” because the majority did not vote for them. On the other hand, and i tend to lean toward this view, there is a regional and national understanding that unity government is necessary to please a) the militarily superior opposition and b) the “popular majority” in lebanon who are being sidelined by the country’s electoral system. i.e. M8 supporters have more followers in numbers but are restricted with the fact they tend to mostly come from one sect.

    Posted by Innocent Criminal | September 8, 2009, 5:54 am
  19. Purple Monkey,
    If you are in Lebanon you will know that the opposition has not made it a “give us our demands or else” situation. There demands are a condition of joining the cabinet. If Hariri doesnt want them in cabinet he is welcome to go it alone.

    But he cant ask the opposition to help him govern and then not accept any conditions of their joining.

    No opposition in the world would help its opponent govern if it there is no quid pro quo. Its politics 101.

    Posted by mo | September 8, 2009, 8:45 am
  20. Mo said:

    Their demands are a condition of joining the cabinet. If Hariri doesnt want them in cabinet he is welcome to go it alone.

    But he cant ask the opposition to help him govern and then not accept any conditions of their joining.

    I agree with this point, Mo. But explain to me how one is supposed to arrive at an acceptable compromise. Hariri has already accepted a major condition of the opposition’s, namely: the condition of forming a national unity government with a de facto blocking third (due to the presence of a Shiite minister among the President’s share).

    Where does one draw the line? Who determines which demands are reasonable and which ones are unreasonable? This is the whole problem. You can’t govern effectively when everybody feels entitled to to make any demand whatsoever.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 8, 2009, 10:02 am
  21. I agree QN but I don’t think the opposition trust the President enough for them to conceivably agree with you that they have a blocking third; The Shia minister will have the cover of the President to vote against the opposition.

    I dont think everybody is making endless demands. Hariri has invited the opposition into govt. and they have told him what it would take. If he thinks the demands are unreasonable he would or should have said so and walked away – This os the Arab world after all, he should know how to haggle. the fact that he hasnt walked away suggests that he doesnt think the demands are unreasonable but is playing the old “wait them out, let them blink first” technique.

    By the way, Gemayel has also just rejected this cabinet line up.

    Posted by mo | September 8, 2009, 11:30 am
  22. In my opinion Saad was named by the Saudis only to buy some time and test the waters. Their true candidate is Laila Al Solh. For the past year or so, she is being groomed for the prime ministry, if the expression is allowed for a lady.

    Unfortunately, she may be accepted too quickly by all parties at face value without realizing that she is another Saudi implanted figure just as her predecessor Rafik Harriri. (Similar footsteps, she has been channeling donations to all the different confessional NGOs on a DAILY basis, and certainly to be seen manner.)

    Posted by i.e. Lubnan | September 8, 2009, 1:34 pm
  23. Sami Gemayel doesn’t want to be Tourism Minister?

    Give him Youth & Sports.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 8, 2009, 2:15 pm
  24. Here’s the Washington Post’s article on Hariri’s proposal.

    Anybody else find this quote hilarious?

    “We do not consider what happened to be appropriate, either with our democratic values or in how to deal with us. We were demanding from (Hariri) to present a draft that is acceptable to our demands in order to negotiate over it,” said Gebran Bassil, a Christian opposition politician, after meeting Suleiman.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 8, 2009, 2:37 pm
  25. Personally I would fire all those in charge of PR and Communications for Harriri and March 14. They have done a terrible job in communicating their message and their position. This is the information age no matter how many guns Nassrallah has. Yet, Nasrallah and Aoun get this but March 14 does not. Time to clean house in my opinion.

    Posted by MM | September 8, 2009, 4:07 pm
  26. QN (#25)

    The quote in English does sound a bit hilarious. Funny though that the Washington Post/Reuters could not have picked a more proficient translator/correspondent.

    Being an expert in the language, one would expect you to note the messed up translation (perhaps intended as such)of his statement delivered in Arabic (link on tayyar.org main page).

    Salam

    Posted by PN | September 8, 2009, 9:19 pm
  27. QN,

    I think what you said about having an election with one man one vote is the best that can happen to Lebanon as the voting block will determine the majority and the minority without having a real count ,
    One more way to make things equitable is to have a Senate which can start with areas separated on ethnic or religious lines but with anti discrimination laws in housing and employment the composition of these areas will change with time.

    i miss your input on SC,
    You should have some articles there and we can call you a visiting contributor, What do you think?.

    Posted by norman | September 8, 2009, 10:30 pm
  28. QN The short answers to your questions:
    (1) Sa’ad Hariri like Saniora before him before him suffer from a “jelly fish” disease related to the under-development of the vertebra.
    (2) Walid Bey is not in the mood to alienate anyone. He believes in survival at any cost.
    (3) Sa’ad Hariri will be reappointed and will form a cabinet that is essentially from the March 14 coalition.

    No one should negotiate with a demagogue. Aoun fits the Mencken definition: “A demagogue is a politician who preaches ideas that he knows are not true to men that he knows are idiots”.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | September 9, 2009, 12:46 am
  29. QN,
    I highly encourage you to read this article, and think about Lebanon in the process:
    http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?250418

    Posted by Joe M. | September 9, 2009, 3:27 am
  30. I also add recommended read for QN as well as to miss Orange spokswoman at QN’s blog i.e. PN.
    Once again Mervet wins the prize by catching the spirit of the moment with hilarious humor (eat your heart out PN, she outperforms tayyar team in its entirety and even if QN decides to lend a hand).
    Make sure to watch the accompanying photo with the ‘precious’ eyes staring straight at your soul begging you to ponder over the question: “what is so wrong with me and my ‘beautiful’ eyes? (beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, of course, and mon general mon father in law) after all I’m a communication engineer for a reason!, ain’t I?”

    http://www.14march.org/news-details.php?nid=MTYxODQ0

    Posted by mike | September 9, 2009, 3:53 am
  31. Ya Ammo Norman

    I wish I had more time to write pieces for SC so that I could be subjected to cruel and unusual torture in the comment section again. 🙂

    Ghassan, while I agree with your recent post about Aoun, isn’t demagoguery the lingua franca of all Lebanese politicians?

    Joe, I’ll try to take a look at some point, thanks.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 9, 2009, 8:04 am
  32. “If you are in Lebanon you will know that the opposition has not made it a “give us our demands or else” situation. There demands are a condition of joining the cabinet. If Hariri doesnt want them in cabinet he is welcome to go it alone.”

    Mo,
    I agree, and this is the same extortion and blackmail tactic used by the opposition, I’m not saying otherwise. Give us what we want, or go at it alone, (and by extention, suffer the wrath of our militias occupying Beirut.)

    “Before Doha, Lebanon was only ruled by one sect”, “Lebanon cannot be ruled like Switzerland”,and “any ruling team would have to include members of all the different confession based parties” are all quotes from the same speech Nasrallah gave in February 2009 in response to Hariri’s announcement that he will not join a government if the opposition wins.

    The quotes in the same effect given by Berri and other opposition figures on the importance of national unity governments to safeguard “common living” prior to the elections are too many to count. “Lebanon cannot be ruled by one party, or two, or three or even five. Lebanon must be governed by all Lebanese” insisted Berri on so many occasions.

    Posted by Purple Monkey | September 9, 2009, 8:42 am
  33. My personal issue, as I am neither Aoun nor anyone else in the opposition is not in the cabinet distribution, simply because the vote in the cabinet counts no matter what, and there can be clear oversight in terms of bad governance. My issue is with the fact that the names of the cabinet ministers were imposed.

    Posted by Edgard | September 9, 2009, 9:28 am
  34. Dbk No.5
    I did enjoy your analysis. All sounded plausible except when you reached the part about Hizbulla’s possible options re. Michael Aon.

    Irrespective of whether one agrees with the General’s politics, indeed his style of practicing that art; more importantly whether HA has political affinity to the Patriotic movement or not (and here I will say that the affinity is boundless), the SHN would never abandon Aon and the Hizb will always ally itself to the Front. Anyone who closely observes HA and studies its ideology and thinking would be dead certain that it will be steadfast behind the General come what may.

    Away from social psychology and ideology, and a more practical front, any return to any kind of alliance, be it 3 sided or 4 will not see the light of day any time soon. The Hizb has learned its lessons from 2005. Hariri for his part is in no position, now that Jumblatt is veering ever closer to 8M (yes, I do believe that the Druze leader has made up his mind and there is very little prospects of returning to M14) to upset too much his Christian allies.

    I myself am finding understanding Hariri’s latest move quite a challenge; unless there is something we do not know that has to do with President Suleiman.

    Regards

    Posted by QuestionMarks | September 9, 2009, 11:30 am
  35. PMonkey,
    Are you suggesting that the opposition agree to join the cabinet and accept whatever posts Hariri decides they can have?

    Posted by mo | September 9, 2009, 11:40 am
  36. When I read anything about the ongoing cabinet formation process, I come to three conclusions.
    1- There is no difference between the press and the blogosphere. Same wording, same approach, same analysis.
    2- Geopolitics is a national sport! Everyone indulges in it to such an extent that politics is completely subsumed, digested and evacuated. What is left of politics is approached as a soap opera (will Eduardo leave Sabrina, will Esmeralda express her rage…)
    3- Analytical categories are always used in a prescriptive and normative fashion (i.e. discussions on majority, opposition, democracy…).

    It’s rather tiresome, don’t u agree?

    Posted by worriedlebanese | September 9, 2009, 1:32 pm
  37. Ghassan (#29):

    [No one should negotiate with a demagogue. Aoun fits the Mencken definition: “A demagogue is a politician who preaches ideas that he knows are not true to men that he knows are idiots”.]

    I get from your comment that you consider Aoun’s people base and supporters as “idiots”.

    I’ve been following your posts on Ya Lubnan and your comments on other blogs for a while now; not that I agree with most of their content, but just to get exposed to other points of view. What I find perplexing is that you constantly preach about progressive political thinking and application, yet you do not practice what you preach.

    I honestly can not see how you believe that the same platform and policies implemented by the political camp you’re supporting (which have failed us in the past 3 decades) would lead to the progress you aspire for (as stated in the last paragraph in your latest Ya Lubnan post).

    As such and from the above quoted statement, it seems that you are so much entrenched in the same political mind frame that you never seize to criticize. Maybe, I’ve misunderstood you, but please convince me otherwise.

    Shou QN?

    Mike (such a kid in post #31) thinks we need some help. Apparently, you’ve switched in full gear to the other camp. maoul!

    yallah, we need a supportive Qnion piece soon.

    Best.

    Posted by PN | September 9, 2009, 1:34 pm
  38. Habibti PN

    You should know by now that I’m not in any camp. But I’ll work on a “supportive” Qnion piece la 3younik.

    😉

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 9, 2009, 2:01 pm
  39. QN,

    Agreed! Of course it means nothing to you or me. The UK runs a first past-the-post system, which inevitably leads to distorted results, but apart from the odd grumble there is no real drive to change it. Lebanon is a different case altogether. It is a country with numerous sects all vying for political power; a country that fought a bloody civil war on the basis of “who is now the majority”; so the notion of the popular majority will always lurk under the veneer of the political system. Again I point to Hassan Nassrallah’s speech: you will recall March 14 and its allies in the press reaction to it.

    How the opposition will translate the popular majority I cannot say, but by doing what he’s done Hariri may have opened a can of worms that I believe both the Sunni and the Christians would rather have left buried. Popular majority / vote (call it would like)is a most powerful weapon that can be wielded most effectively in Lebanon. After all Syria’s stooges (including Hariri Snr.) did it for 30 years to justify its presence in the country. And the opposition used it effectively between 2005 and 2009 and arrived at the Promised Land (that’s Doha to you and me).

    Side bar. Did you note Jouzo’s comment earlier this week which rejected restoring the president’s powers? Reminds me somewhat of Hussein Kouatly and Mufti Hassan Khaled’s comments in 1975 that Muslims could not support a non-Muslim regime in Lebanon and that the Maronites were tolerated but things would have to change (or something along those lines). This must be sending shivers up the collective spine of March 14 Christians and discredit their electoral campaign demonising Hizballah – or do you think I’m reading too much into it?

    Posted by GG | September 9, 2009, 3:11 pm
  40. GG

    I did not see Jouzo’s comments, but I am personally opposed to restoring the president’s powers, as long as the presidency is reserved for one sect.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 9, 2009, 3:46 pm
  41. PN (#38)
    I am sure that if you have been reading some of my posts you will agree that I am opposed to the architecture of the Lebanese political system but I find that some groups are more at fault than others, it is a matter of degree.
    Lebanon will not survive if the Lebanese citizens are not going to hold the politicians responsible for their acts no matter whose side they are on. It might be true that demagoguery is the lingua franca of Lebanese politics, as QN, stated earlier but the fact that it is does not make it acceptable or less egregious.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | September 9, 2009, 4:04 pm
  42. That wasn’t the reason I drew your attention to it. Irrespective of my or your opinion on whether the powers of the presidency should be restored Jouzo’s comments demonstrate clearly the Sunni stance in Lebanon. They have nominated themselves (with the help of Syria of course) as rulers of Lebanon at the expense of other religious groups. When the Maronites did this it ended in disaster. Perhaps it will end in disaster again. Lebanon can’t be ruled in this way.That’s why Hariri will fail and fail again.

    Posted by GG | September 10, 2009, 2:15 pm
  43. GG

    I think it is a serious stretch to imagine that Jouzou represents the Sunni stance in Lebanon, or that the Sunnis have Syria’s backing at the moment.

    In my opinion, it is actually consensualism that has failed. I personally do not have a problem being “ruled” or represented by a member of a different sect.

    Why not make the presidency, the premiership, and the speakership open to any member of any sect. Would that work for you?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 10, 2009, 2:42 pm
  44. QN

    No one is suggesting that Jouzo represents the Sunni community, but if you think that what he expressed doesn’t reflect a deeply held belief then you are flying in the face of the country’s history.

    I didn’t claim that the Sunni community still has the support of Syria, but if you believe that the Syrians did alter the balance of power in favour of the Sunni community then again you are ignoring the country’s history. Taif was a Saudi- Syrian agreement that benefited one community and one community only. A revolution didn’t bring it about and it wasn’t organic; it was imposed on the country by force. That is why it will eventually collapse and a genuine Lebanese formula will have to be agreed on. With all due respect (and I genuinely mean this because you have been nothing but respectful), when you comment on an event or respond to a comment you do so in isolation; you take no notice of the country’s history and how we came to be where we are.

    Finally to get to the point to which the above is tied: correct this is a breakdown in consensual politics because March 14 introduced the language of victor and vanquished, majority and minority. This doesn’t work in Lebanon. I couldn’t careless who rules it as long as it is ruled according to secular and democratic norms. Unfortunately, I am realistic enough to understand that Lebanon isn’t developed enough to be governed by any method other than consensual. If Hariri chooses to go down the route you advocate chaos with soon ensue.

    Posted by GG | September 11, 2009, 2:42 pm
  45. QN

    With the due respect, your analysis is fundamentally flawed for one reason.
    You are using boolean (binary) logic (0/1, true/false, good/bad, friend/foe) to frame a process that is based on ternary logic (there is “0”, there is “1”, and there is “neither 0 nor 1”).
    Your problem here is not political strategy or ideology. It’s epistemology.

    Posted by Wa law | September 11, 2009, 9:08 pm
  46. Epistemology? Is that the study of pistachios?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 12, 2009, 8:08 am
  47. QN 47,

    Epistemology: THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE
    The branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, in particular its foundations, scope and validity.

    Regards

    Posted by QuestionMarks | September 12, 2009, 8:12 am
  48. Question Marks

    I think you’re mistaken. I’m almost positive that epistemology is either the study of pistachios or epistles.

    I say “almost positive” because one can never be too sure.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 12, 2009, 8:46 am
  49. GG

    “if you think that what he expressed doesn’t reflect a deeply held belief then you are flying in the face of the country’s history.

    I’m not sure what the problem is with what he said. As I said, I’m sympathetic to this view that rejects restoring the president’s powers.

    Taif was a Saudi- Syrian agreement that benefited one community and one community only.

    As far as I know, the Ta’if Accord also gave more power to the Speaker. (Prior to Taif, he was elected to a two-year term, and confidence could be withdrawn from him more easily).

    That the Sunnis benefited disproportionately from the Accord is a matter of debate. Some argue that it all depends on the person holding the office. Omar Karami was not a very strong PM, while Emile Lahoud managed to deploy his powers quite effectively as President.

    I agree that the PM position has more power, constitutionally speaking, but what do you think a true “Lebanese solution” should be? I’ll ask you again: should we make the three positions of the troika open to members of all sects? That is surely the fairest way to do it.

    “I couldn’t careless who rules it as long as it is ruled according to secular and democratic norms. Unfortunately, I am realistic enough to understand that Lebanon isn’t developed enough to be governed by any method other than consensual.”

    “Isn’t developed enough?” Then what was Michel Aoun talking about for all those years in exile, when he was calling for Lebanon to be ruled according to secular and democratic norms?

    The imperative of “consensual politics” is just a smokescreen, in my opinion, for the machinations of the self-interested political elite. Ordinary Lebanese are perfectly able to get their heads around the idea of elections, fair play, and the rules of the game. It’s the politicians who talk up the bugbear of sectarianism and then rush in with their consensual formulas.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 12, 2009, 9:04 am
  50. “ should we make the three positions of the troika open to members of all sects? That is surely the fairest way to do it.”

    Ideally yes, as long as secular and democratic norms are the foundation of the system. But as I survey the country’s neighbours (including Israel) I hold little hope at this point that such a system wouldn’t lead to conflict. Lebanese would first have to learn to live together and set aside their religion. Until then all offices should carry equal power and unity governments should be what is strive for. It’s about time the Shia got at least an equal share of power. The problem now is one of domination: Sunni prime minister trying to impose his will, while shuffling from the President to the Speaker pretending to seek unity when in fact he’s looking to isolate one man, who represents the majority of his sect. Does none of this seem vaguely similar to pre-1975 Lebanon, when the Moronites were dominating? Do you not think that what Hariri is doing now is a recipe for disaster?

    “As far as I know, the Ta’if Accord also gave more power to the Speaker. (Prior to Taif, he was elected to a two-year term, and confidence could be withdrawn from him more easily).”

    These are token powers and meaningless. In fact I remember both Amal and Hizbullah rejecting the Taif at first. Was it not Hafez el Assad threats that got Hizbuallah to grudgingly agree? Taif had one aim: weaken the Christians and strengthen the Sunni’s.

    “That the Sunnis benefited disproportionately from the Accord is a matter of debate. Some argue that it all depends on the person holding the office. Omar Karami was not a very strong PM, while Emile Lahoud managed to deploy his powers quite effectively as President.

    I hardly think so. Only since 2005 have we seen Taif operate without Syrian interference, and so far it lends weight to what I’ve said. Prior, it depended on who the Syrians favoured. Emile Lahoud isn’t exactly a good example is he? He was favoured because he was Bashar’s biggest and best cheer leader.

    “Then what was Michel Aoun talking about for all those years in exile, when he was calling for Lebanon to be ruled according to secular and democratic norms?”

    I don’t know; you’ll have to ask him. I’m not his counsel. He was misguided enough to believe they were ready. Judging by the amount of covert abuse and accusations levelled against the Shia community, particular by the Patriarch he was obviously wrong.

    “Ordinary Lebanese are perfectly able to get their heads around the idea of elections, fair play, and the rules of the game. It’s the politicians who talk up the bugbear of sectarianism and then rush in with their consensual formulas.”

    Again, obviously the Lebanese are not because if they were they would have dismissed 100% of March 14 electoral campaign. Listening to idiots like Geagea, Gemayel, Fatfat and the other clowns made me cringe. These despicable people demonised an entire community. I recall Norman Cohn’s description of how the Nazi used the Jews: “They were exploited first to help the party to power – then to justify a régime of terror – then to justify war – then to justify genocide – and finally to postpone surrender to the Allies.” Maybe an extreme example but treatment of the Shia during the election was disgusting.

    Posted by GG | September 13, 2009, 7:57 am
  51. GG

    If the Shiite Speaker’s powers are mere tokens and meaningless, then how did Nabih Berri manage to shut down the government for a year and a half?

    If doing so was not within his legitimate powers, then the March 14 people are right when they say that Berri acted illegally. If doing so was within his powers, then it seems like the Shiite speaker holds a virtual veto over any issue deemed threatening to his community.

    Your description of March 14’s electoral campaign is totally overblown. They “demonized an entire community”? Hardly. They demonized one particular party because of its policy of perpetual resistance and the nature of its relations with Iran. Didn’t Aoun complain that “pretty soon they’ll start calling Saydet Lubnan ‘Saydet al-Hariri'”? Don’t FPMers refer to Saad al-Hariri almost 100% of the time as “Saadoun” and “Saadein” etc, just like the Maronites used to refer to the Palestinians as Sunni “monkeys” back before/during the war? The demagoguery is present on both sides.

    I’m confused about your argument. You believe that the current situation is unjust because the Sunnis dominate the system, just as the Maronites did before 1975. This, again, is overblown. The Sunni PM enjoyed fewer powers pre-1975 than the current President. Also, the Maronites dominated BOTH the legislative and executive branches, AND the military before 1975. Today, Christians continue to enjoy legislative power disproportionate to their numbers, and I frankly don’t see how the Sunnis qua “community” dominate the rest. Sure, Saad is a Sunni, but how has that translated into concrete forms of domination (as we see in Maliki’s Iraq today)?

    Finally, you were taken aback by Jouzou’s comments about restoring the President’s powers. I’m confused about this. If you’re against a return to the pre-1975 status quo, then why would you be so shocked by Jouzou’s argument? You should support it!

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | September 13, 2009, 10:47 am

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