Lebanon

Egypt Selling Lebanon Down the Nile?

An astute reader of this blog sent me the following commentary, which speculates about the significance of several curious little signals coming out of Egypt.

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Egypt and LebanonIn a sudden cloud burst of optimism, the Cabinet Alert Level was raised to orange Monday evening, only to come crashing down on the rocks of further demands by Michel Aoun on Tuesday morning. Signals now are about as mixed as the preceding metaphor but the question remains – after four months, what has finally happened to kick things into motion?

If Naharnet is right about the proposed deal (FPM retains the Telecommunicaitons Ministry but gives up Bassil as its head), this then sounds like a back-down by the Hariri camp.

Hadi Hobeich adds to that sense:

“Hobeich also said that the adopted cabinet formula suits all parties, adding that Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri has made concessions for the sake of forming a national-unity government.”

And you’ve got Naim Qassem boasting on Sunday that “external parties” have given up obstructing things, and I think we can assume he’s not talking about Syria or Iran.

So which external party is this? Might it be Egypt?

This theory is somewhat thinly sourced, but Jumblatt’s column from this weekend was oddly Cairo-centric:

“Jumblat urged the need to return to a minimum of Arab-Arab rapprochement after the Syrian-Saudi summit put its first pillar. Adding that “the Syrian-Saudi-Egyptian axis has to be the containing Arab vessel… “

Jumblatt continues to go on and on about Egypt and its regional role in the piece. Out of character for the Man from Moukhtara?

The real mystery clue though is this:

“Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abu Al Ghayt said that Hizbullah’s arms have nothing to do with the fact that Lebanon has failed so far to reach a Cabinet formation considering that “the Internal Lebanese balances on one side and the foreign visions on the other are what’s weighing heavily on this government and its formation.”

On the other hand, Abu Al Ghayt announced in a statement in Al-Siyasa newspaper that he has taken a look at the reports referred to the Security Council found in the court file regarding President Rafik Hariri’s assassination. “There are no indications or criticisms pointing at Syria; on the contrary, there’s an international confession of Syria’s cooperation in the matter,” he added. “

That’s quite a change of tone, considering Egypt is still in the middle of prosecuting (and allegedly torturing) a vast Hezbollah network for planning terrorist attacks on their soil.

Egypt has historically been a second-tier player in Lebanon, though they pop up in interesting ways here and there. In mid-October, Tripoli Alawi leader Rifaat Eid blamed an attack in his community on Egyptian intelligence, rather than his usual foes in the Sunni district. Sunni Sheikh Malek ash-Shaar blamed unnamed “foreign parties” for the attack, though he left it ambiguous as to exactly who he had in mind.

More directly relevant here, there were rumors in August about disagreements between Saudi Arabia and Egypt over Lebanon as the Saudis were gearing up for a rapprochement with Syria.

And as early as July, Hezbollah accused Egypt of holding up that rapprochement. Egypt was also reportedly in favor of keeping Saniora as prime minister, suspicious that the opposition had so readily agreed to Hariri in the role (Egypt denied the report, and in early June denied trying to influence the elections).

But now, kind words for Hezbollah’s weapons and Syria’s role in the Hariri assassination? If Egypt was possibly the last hold out pushing Hariri not to give Telecom to Aoun, did Egypt just “sell out Lebanon?” And if so, for what?

(Commentary for QifaNabki.com by Philippe Bou Rached)

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Further reading material:

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Discussion

3 thoughts on “Egypt Selling Lebanon Down the Nile?

  1. Sounds interesting Elias.

    I am not sure the Egyptians and Syrians are ready to hug and kiss, but I am sure there is tremendous pressure on both to reach an understanding regarding Lebanon and Palestine.

    For almost a year now, Egypt has been trying hard to announce its success in reaching an agreement among the different Palestinian factions and is expecting total Syrian cooperation without offering Syria any credit. Egypt wants to retain the Palestinian “card” that it held in the 90’s until Syrian backed Hamas pulled ahead of Egypt’s ally, Fatah, in popularity and effectiveness.

    Syria won’t deliver Hamas on a silver plate …. not in exchange for Egyptian cooperation in Lebanon (Egypt is a minor player there). Syria has been making it clear this year that it has no burning desire to see its allies empowered in Lebanon … and Syria will certainly not compromise its long held positions on Palestinian issues in exchange for Cairo’s blessing for an agreement in Lebanon.

    What Syria can do for Egypt, if Egypt is interested, is to help with Hamas and Fatah … but only if Egypt makes it clear it is willing to recognize some of the constants that guide Syria’s long-held regional strategic policies. This is beyond Lebanon … Syria wants to benefit from Egypt’s considerable weight where it counts, in the Arab Israeli conflict and the peace process … not in Lebanon.

    Posted by Alex | November 4, 2009, 3:51 pm
  2. Something does not add up. The Egyptians today also sold the Palestinians and have taken the US line that stopping settlements completely should not be a condition for resuming peace talks.

    Egypt is not interested in aggrandizing itself by foreign meddling like Syria. I think the Egyptians are focusing on their internal problems and have given up on Palestinian unity.

    The other factor that should be taken into account is that the Israeli action against Iran is nearing and that will shuffle all the cards.

    Posted by AIG | November 4, 2009, 5:56 pm

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