A few notes:
1. Defense strategy: Mara Karlin, the former Pentagon Levant director, has an interesting piece about U.S. military assistance to Lebanon, in The Daily Star:
“One year ago, my first effort after leaving the US Defense Department was to publish a piece in a major Israeli newspaper explaining why Israel should support a strong Lebanese military. As one of the architects of the United States’ program to re-build the Lebanese Armed Forces, a concept Israel has resisted, I thought it vital that the Israeli public understand how important this effort was for regional security.
“I now realize that I was wrong, not in terms of substance, but in my audience. Instead, I should have written a piece for the Lebanese media explaining why Lebanon should support the effort.
“After a host of meetings I held in Beirut this month, it is painfully clear to me that the American program to train and equip Lebanon’s armed forces is misunderstood. Its purpose, substance, and pace were criticized by nearly every political or military leader with whom I met while on my trip…”
2. Hezbollah and the STL: There is a great deal of speculation about what Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah is going to say in an interview tomorrow night with respect to the rumors regarding the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and its questioning of Hezbollah members.
A source tells al-Akhbar that Nasrallah intends to send the message that any attempt to accuse the party will lead to a “political May 7”, referring to the events of May 7 2008, when Hezbollah forces took over Beirut and forced the Saniora government to rescind an order to dismantle the party’s private communication network:
ويوضح المرجع المذكور «أن الرسالة الفعلية التي يريد السيد نصر الله إبلاغها الجميع في لبنان والعالم هي أن التورط في مسألة اتهام الحزب سيقود حتماً إلى 7 أيار سياسي». ولفت إلى أن نصر الله الذي قال قبل أيام إنه «سيقول المناسب من الكلام في هذه المرحلة» يعطي إشارة إلى أن لديه الكثير من الأوراق في جعبته، وهو يحاول تنبيه الآخرين إلى خطورة ما يقدمون عليه. لكن المرجع نفى علمه بما إذا كان نصر الله سيكشف عن خفايا بعض الاتصالات التي جرت بشأن هذا الموضوع مع حزب الله من قبل جهات محلية وخارجية».
3. Arab Democracy: The 2009-2010 Arab Democracy Index has been published. Lebanon now ranks fourth out of the ten countries surveyed, and made the biggest leap forward between 2008 and 2009, in terms of democractic reforms adopted. I’ve posted the recommendations below, but you can download the entire report here (PDF).
1- Reform the election system by adopting an election law based on proportional representation and not the sectarian register. The new law should reduce the voting age, adopt a quota for women at least in the nomination process, and give the Election Commission (which oversees elections) administrative and financial independence as well as judicial authority. The Commission should not be affiliated with the Ministry of Interior; it should organize and oversee elections independently.
2- Implement the Municipal Law, passed in 1977, with amendments to provide direct election by the people of chairperson and vice-chairperson, to shorten the terms of the municipal councils, and to remove obstacles that hinder their performance. This should be accompanied by ratification of the Administrative Decentralization Law to ensure administrative and financial independence for municipalities and curb central surveillance, in order to activate local participation. A comprehensive development process is also required, which should limit the influence of politicians in local development.
3- Adopt a law to protect individuals who uncover corruption, and create a monitoring institution, such as an ombudsman, to promote administrative reform and combat corruption in public institutions.
4- Finalize the process of transferring jurisdiction over prisons from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Justice; prosecute and punish in accordance with the Lebanese Penal Law those who commit torture in Lebanese prisons; and release detainees arrested without judicial warrant.
5- End prior censorship of publication and free publications and periodicals from the obligation to obtain a license.
6- Amend the Constitutional Council Law to give the Council authority to interpret the constitution, and not merely to monitor the constitutionality of laws and to settle parliamentary contestations. Appeals to the Constitutional Council must be facilitated, and its independence, initiative, and ability to review laws must be supported. The right to review laws – which Article 19 now limits to the President, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of Parliament, ten members of Parliament, and the heads of the recognized sects in Lebanon – should also be reconsidered. Under the present system, a political accord can lead to agreement on unconstitutional laws when the required majority to contest them is not available. Another very important recommendation here is to amend the selection process for members of the Constitutional Council, increasing its independence and immunizing it from political intervention and political attractions.
7- Confirm the independence of the judiciary and strictly enforce guarantees fully protecting judges from intervention from any source. This should involve comprehensive reform to enhance the status of the judiciary as an authority parallel to the executive and legislative authorities, as well as constitutional and legal amendments to protect the judiciary and judges from interference in their judgments and from external pressure. This can be achieved by changing the mechanism for the appointment of members of the Higher Council of Justice and by giving it authority to appoint and move judges from one place to another.
8- Enact an amendment to the Citizenship Law to entitle Lebanese women, like men, to pass Lebanese citizenship to their offspring, regardless of the spouse’s citizenship.
9- Establish a social security network with the power to draft a law for pensions, social security, and care for the elderly through serious, active dialogue among relevant parties (the state, laborers, and employers.)
10- Adopt an economic and financial plan to encourage productive sectors in industry, agriculture, and handicrafts in order to reduce unemployment and achieve comprehensive development in the country.
11- Special interest should be paid to education, especially the issue of school drop-out, and increased government expenditure on education.