Is Prime Minister Hariri’s government about to be toppled? This is the main question on people’s minds in Lebanese policy circles, to gauge from various conversations I had in Washington DC this week.
Certainly, all signs in Beirut point to the brewings of a major clash over the government’s support for the U.N. Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). Last week, Hizbullah MP Nawwaf al-Mousawi warned that his party would deal with anyone who endorsed an indictment against members of the party as “tools of the US-Israeli invasion…[having] the same fate as the invader.” And yesterday, former minister (and Syrian megaphone) Wi’am Wahhab called on the Lebanese opposition “to resign from the cabinet and topple it as soon as possible.”
There’s no doubt that bringing down this government is perfectly doable, from a constitutional perspective. Thanks to the precedent of the Doha Agreement, the opposition holds one third of the seats in Hariri’s cabinet, and were all of its ministers to resign, it would only take one more defection to bring down the whole thing. That defection could come from one of the President’s minsters, or, more likely, from Jumblatt’s bloc.
However, the question is: what would this achieve? It would not impede the STL’s work, at least not in the short term. It would not halt the issuance of an indictment. And, most importantly, it would not undermine the legitimacy or credibility of the court, which is the main goal of the campaign against it.
Much more likely than an abrupt walk-out, in my opinion, is some kind of slow boil strategy, a wave of demonstrations organized by the opposition as a show of force and a display of public antipathy towards the “conspiracy” against the resistance. Hizbullah knows that it can’t prevent the STL from delivering an indictment: what it is trying to do is render that indictment politically meaningless by tarring the court as an Israeli tool.
Why, then, have we not seen any demonstrations yet? There seems to still be some hope that an agreement can be worked out that avoids a return to the paralysis of 2006-08. The question is: what room is there for negotiation? What the opposition wants from Hariri is very clear, and best summed up by Walid Jumblatt’s regular pronouncements on the subject:
The best way to establish justice in [former Premier Rafik] Hariri’s murder is through a united stance revealing the truth behind false witnesses and dismissing the use of the court by some states in an international game to serve their interests.
In other words, they want him to disavow the STL completely. Hariri has tried to meet the opposition halfway by admitting the existence of false witnesses who misled the investigation, but stopped short of saying that the court had no credibility. If we are to believe Nasrallah, Hariri has also offered to exonerate Hizbullah’s leadership by declaring those indicted members as “rogue elements”.
So far, Hizbullah has made it clear that it is not going to meet Hariri halfway, and so one wonders: why is he bothering to make these half-hearted concessions and send mixed signals about the STL? Is he still hoping that the “Syrian-Saudi agreement” will pressure Hizbullah to find some kind of face-saving solution for everyone involved? To judge from Walid al-Moallem’s comments in New York this week, this also looks unlikely.
If Hariri has a strategy beyond treading water until the indictments are released, its outlines have yet to emerge. What does he plan to do once the STL finally goes public? If arresting Hizbullah members is clearly out of the question (as everyone believes it is), won’t this failure to cooperate with the Tribunal put Lebanon in breach of the Chapter VII agreement that established it?
More on these matters later…
Tomorrow, the Qifa Nabki blog turns two! I’d like to thank you all for making it an engaging space for discussion about Lebanese affairs. While I foresee a lighter posting schedule in the next few months due to my professional obligations, I hope to keep the conversation going. Stay tuned over the next couple of days for my interviews with Thanassis Cambanis (author of a new book about Hizbullah), Andrew Tabler (fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy), and some thoughts on a panel discussion with Ziad Baroud hosted by IFES and USIP.
Happy Birthday to QN Blog! Beware of tantrums from now on, though…
As for the Lebanese PM,each fighter threatens with what he’s got at hand. So far, all “exit strategies” proposed to him -at least publicly- look too humiliating to be carried on without a huge erosion of his grasp on the sunni community. On the other hand, Iraq is a near and recent example of how nasty things can get whenever the sunni power is truly challenged. News like Qaeda making it to Lebanese universities in the shape of Gulf students and the like come back regularly nowadays, unveiling,(warning, threatening,choose the verb) what kind of trouble could be awaiting Lebanon. This is today’s sample: Misbah Ahdab thinks something is preparing in Tripoli.
Now, guilty or not of having financed or organized sunni armed radicals in the past, Hariri the son embodies until further notice the figure of the unifying and moderating sunny federator, like his father did once.This is indeed his major card, and one that I am not sure anybody, be it the Syrian power, HA or a Saudi faction for that matter, can or want to take from him.
You up there in the North, are you that blind? You are in a rolling revolution,one way,step by step by step, the comming visit of Hamenizad with the stoning of the little devil,in the Ed. Said style, included. Should I clean my shelter? Should I store water in the basement? Should I get from the civil defence office my chem. war kit?
The minister of interior thinks a solution is still possible:
We would all love to hear the recipe from Super Ziad…wait a minute, Qifa, weren’t you suppose to give us a briefing on that conference?
And you see Qifa, Hariri is not the only one who loves traveling more than he fears his country going down the drain…the Minister of Interior travels too, and the President is out of the country right now, I believe. Who knows, maybe that’s a good sign -see how Lebanese I have become? I’m reading signs, for Smokin’ Cow’s sake! As for us, humble people living in this piece of land without private planes, we hardly leave the neighborhood, fearing that on the way back we might find our street blocked by tanks and RPG exchanges instead of the daily ash’a…
mj and Rani, you guys are speaking in riddles.
Rani, who is Hamenizad, what stoning are you talking about, what is “Ed,” which “Said” are you talking about?
mj, which piece of land without private planes do you live on? Egypt? you say minister of the interior but the link mentions foreign minister.
And, here’s the link you meant to post (I presume) in comment #1: http://tinyurl.com/3alx4j8
Wake up folks, smell the hummus (or khoommoos as they say “down there in the south”), and sharpen your dilettante disposition.
Let me try this:
Translation from Yiddish…
Ed. said= Edward Said
How did I do?
Thank you, danny. You da man 😉
I guess I have more jargon to learn. I take it Amjad means Ahmadinejad?
Thank you all for the correct transliteration. I have the picture of Ed. Said and his son stoning Israel. As you know he could not go to mount Arafat in KSA, so he went south, to the nearest fence. Later to get along in NY he had all kind of stories about it, he was good with stories.
I do not know a word in Yiddish. We speak Hebrew, a strange unknown semitic jargon, to use HP words. Some of you also, once, long time ago, spoke such strange local semitic jargon, do you at least remember the name?
What about my questions? shelter and such.
HP, unfortunately for me, it is not a disposition: I AM a dilettante, the coffee was weak, and the links didn’t work as I meant to (I swear Super Ziad’s picture was in the page I pasted the link for, it read “Baroud Rejects Stability Vs. Justice Theory”. As for the rest, “we” are the ones without the private planes, not the land, and I was of course referring to Lebanon in general, and Beirut in particular.
Rani, “do you at least remember the name?”:
mj, ok, here is the link you meant to post in #3:
It’s the old Professor in me that makes these corrections. Sorry folks, I’ll try to stop doing that.
I hope Hizballah knows what it is doing because games of brinkmanship can quickly go out of control. Sometimes if you play on the edge, you fall off the edge.
From their actions so far, it is clear they will leave the government once the indictments come down, unless the government condemns them. Since this is not likely to happen, one should expect civil strife leading perhaps to early elections.
Yes, there is a chance for civil war but in my opinion the chances are very small. Why? Because Hizballah, even if it wins, will lose. Hizballah know that as a governing entity they will have neither internal legitimacy nor external support (except for Iran and Syria). The former will lead to Iraq style consequences and the latter to Gaza like consequences. So, they will quash all local conflagrations and make sure they do not spread.
In essence, Hizballah is playing a high stakes game of poker. They are trying to convince Hariri that they will take over unless the STL is repealed when taking over is not really an option for them.
I think Hariri is aware of this and will not allow himself to be bullied.
you may be right in your analysis but perhaps HA now (After giving up on Hariri)is willing to fully take over, they have Aoun’s support and they can make him president and some other Sunni leaders such as Karami or Miqati will gladly take on the PM post, in essence they can install their puppets. As for the Gaza scenario I don’t think the comparison holds. Many Europeans and even the US will eventually play ball with a HA government in Lebanon.
What will an early election change ?
AIG, very interesting analysis.
However, you don’t give us a scenario as to what is likely to happen. You say HA is bullying for now but will not allow strife nor take over the government. You say Hariri will not allow himself to be bullied. So what is the scenario of reconciling these two? Could it be that basically they agree to disagree, in that Hariri will declare the accused to be completely rogue and non-reflecting of HA and HA will declare that this is all a political accusation and is invalid and they won’t produce anyone to stand trial, and then, take those accused into hiding somewhere so Hariri won’t have to explain why he can’t turn them over to the STL, and then everything gets forgotten in time and goes back to normal?
Is that it? or is there another scenario?
V, on “the US will eventually play ball with a HA government in Lebanon,” I think this will be very difficult (although not impossible) for many reasons:
– HA presumed (and likely) guilt in the 1983 marines barracks bombing
– Highly effective representation that HA is a terrorist organization – promoted by very strong and powerful lobbies in the U.S.
– Israel’s view that HA is the same as Hamas in terms of danger to its existence (an extension of Iran) and hence its expected tremendous pressure on the U.S. not to “play ball” with HA
On the other hand, GMA may indeed play a determining role in this if he succeeds in getting formal and verifiable and guaranteed (by Iran? Syria?) commitments from HA to merge with the LAF with a time table and after certain conditions are met.
Also, despite strong arguments to the contrary from AIG, I personally still believe that advances in the Palestinian-Iraeli negotiations and an eventual peace agreement will be a tremendous relief valve for the internal conflict involving HA in Lebanon. Remember, HA calls themselves the “Resistance.” If the issue is settled, what is there to resist against?
The most likely scenario is a governmental crisis similar to the one leading to the Doha agreement. After months or perhaps years of stalemate, another Doha like agreement will be hammered out and it will hold until the next crisis.
Naturally Hizballah will install their puppets but they will not fool anyone. To start with, Lebanon will be in breach of a chapter 7 UNSC resolution. Then, Hizballah will want to kick out the UN forces in the south. Furthermore, Lebanon is dependent on the West and Saudi for loans and a stable currency. Hard to see that happening after a Hizballah take over.
All that, before Iran like sanctions which certainly would be popular in the US Congress if they take over.
Elections will not change anything but will be a good face saving mechanism to gain a few months of “normality”.
I was actually taking you seriously until I read the last two paragraphs. In which century are you expecting these two events to happen? Lol
More seriously, my feeling is that the negotiations that are presently taking place are the ones between the US and Iran, and the Israeli Palestinian track is just a cover. Given the political circumstances conditioning both sides, I don’t see how anything concrete or positive could be produced by talks between Netanyahu and Abbas in the short term.
The beef must be being cooked somewhere else. Lebanon is the rattle only, the real problems are Iraq and Afghanistan, where
Iran holds basic keys, and the US must have realized it by now. Israelis are pushing them to decide if it will be war or a broad settlement. Obama seems to favor a settlement, but he is in a weak position because war is not conceivable now, no more than it was in Bush’s last days in office.
Iran has its own weaknesses, the greatest of them being, in my dilettante opinion, the fact that its push for more power/hegemony in the region will always be tainted with the accusation of sectarian aims.
HA has been Iran’s main proof of the honesty of their intentions and whereabouts, compared to the crooks in the Arab regimes governing sunni majorities. Thanks to Israeli brutality, HA has scored more points in the Muslim sunni hearts than Iranians could never dream of. Syria helped a lot. But in Iraq Syria and Iran are maybe not in the same line. There comes Turkey, so active lately, to “help Syria” too, but its sole presence signals to Iran that it has another big sunni country to deal with, a country with a legitimate government, unlike many others. It goes round and round, the circles get bigger and bigger, the stakes higher and higher. Lebanon’s boat is a little one in this tormented sea, a tiny boat that anybody can shake because it rattles loudly. I fear the worse.
Harir should not resign and he should call HA’s bluff. All the rhetoric and finger waving tactics of Nawwaf Mussawi and his ilk is just that – a bluff. HA is bound by the Doha agreement, at least in theory, and any military action they do only removes any tiny legitimacy they may claim to their arms.
I would rather see President Sulaiman and Walid Jumblatt step up, if they have the balls, and join Hizballah in toppling Harriri than Harriri giving them his resignation on a silver plate. Harriri’s modus operandi should be turned to the Christian street, as it should have been ever since he was elected PM, to win the hearts and minds of the SCORES of FPM loyalists who are disillusioned by the old guy in Rabieh on a daily basis and who are WITH the STL and are HIGHLY suspicious of HA not in the Rafic Harriri investigation but as a threat to their livelihood – and you can take that to the bank.
The only solution I see to end this crises is for the March 14 camp to propose a national referendum on the fate of Hezbollah’s arms and militia.
Play the democratic game.
If the HA try to torpedo a national referendum … so be it and good luck during the next general elections.
If the HA wins the national referendum … so be it.
It would have to pass by a 60% majority (which would be a miracle at this stage) and could lead to positive debate and a way forward and buy time.
A national referendum would not solve the immediate crisis. What does popular support for Hizbullah’s weapons have to do with the STL?
mj, your coffee has kicked in now. This why I’m so interested in this blog. With my complete lack of expertise in all these issues all I have to do is make some simple observations based on news and common sense and out come interesting analyses pointing to aspects and considerations that are not normally transparent from a simple reading or following of the news. What I often wonder is whether the intelligentsia plotting the various political courses in the various countries and groupings actually reason the way some of the analyses here go. It would be nice to be a fly on the wall during politburo deliberations at HA, at the Iran supreme council, within the inner circle of President Assad, etc.
To some extent I follow and identify with reasoning coming from some of the former March 14, e.g., the late Gibran Tueini, and from the original FPM principles (which I find to have been compromised now), and I can pretty much make reasonable guesses about the deliberations of the Israeli government. On the other hand, Syria, Iran, HA, are a mystery as far as what the end goal for them is.
Talks of a national referendum on HA’s militia would turn the debate into an internal issue which is what it has to be.
If 60% of Lebanese feel more secure with Hizbullah and Aoun running Lebanon and its and their fates …. then let that be it.
You won’t be forced to breed with them if you don’t want to.
As far as what Hizbollah weapons have to do with the STL … I think Sa’ad Hariri is in a good place to answer that for you.
Indulge me with this hypothetical scenario.
A. Hariri murder did not happen and STL never existed but
B. Lebanon; politically and every other way is the Lebanon of today.
What would be the challenges facing each group?
Would anything be different? For example; would HA be less beligerent and more receptive in becoming a purely political organization? Would Iran be benevolent as to let the Lebanese live instead of declaring the Southern border as Iranian front line against Israel?
Would the antagonism between sects be less?
Would Lebanon be what everyone dreams about (or hallucinates) a democratic demilitarized zone?
If we can find clear answers to these we can also figure out the “endgame” as well!
Just a few thoughts.
I actually fully support the idea of national referendums. On not just HA, but several other issues. Sadly, I don’t see that happening in Lebanon in our lifetimes.
The reason it makes sense (and yes, it has nothing to do with the STL) is that it would simply put a final stamp on whatever the people ask for, as opposed to the current state of affairs where everyone insists on TELLING us what the people want (with all the contradictions).
I mean, HA and co. tell us the people want the resistance to protect them.
Geagea tells us the people don’t want an armed militia.
Jumblatt tells us the people want whatever Jumblatt happens to be spewing no that day, and so on.
We’re also told the Lebanese don’t want to naturalize Palestinians.
We’re also told the people don’t want sectarianism.
And so on and so forth.
Well, let’s put all this crap to the test.
Once the people speak, none of these clowns will have any leg to stand on making up stuff about what we do or do not want.
A true peaceful revolution in Lebanon would come under the form of a referendum on the following.
– HA’s weapons/resistance/outside the state: yea or nay?
– Abolishing sectarianism today. Entirely. 100%. Yea or nay?
– Presidential elections by popular vote. yea or nay?
Put it to a popular vote.
Our problems go away just like that.
Sadly. That won’t happen.
danny, no, no, no, no, no, and no. 🙂
V, yes, yes, and yes. 🙂
Hey, surveys and counting start with counting the first vote, no?
V, sorry, I meant, no, yes, and yes.
You threw me off with you yea and nay thingys. OK, so once again, V, my answers are nay, yea, and yea.
See. That’s pretty simple.
– No weapons outside the state.
– Yes to abolishing sectarianism.
– Yes to presidential popular vote.
I’d be curious how such questions would perform in today’s Lebanon.
Care to venture some guesses?
I’d say that No to weapons outside the state would win 60% easily.
I think presidential popular vote would be close…not sure.
And I’d think that abolishing sectarianism would fall way short of the 60% needed. Because I’m still convinced that even though most Lebanese like to say they’re against sectarianism, when push comes to shove, they will in fact, vote to keep sectarianism around, out of fear.
Be careful what you wish for. A referendum with Aoun FPM supporters and the Hizb/Amal vote will surely be a majority in favor of HA.
Why should there ever be a referendum to legitimize weapons outside the control of the state?
If that’s what 60% of the Lebanese population wants. Then so be it. I’m willing to accept that.
At least, it will be nice to know that it’s really what they want (and all the consequences that may ensue, including a devastating war with Israel).
To be honest, I much prefer someone make a clear choice and accept the consequences over the current state of affairs where no one seems to know what the people really want and we get patronized over and over by leaders who insist on putting words in our mouths.
Life would be so much simpler. Lebanon wants a militaristic warmongering society? Fine. Let them have it. Bravo to them.
Nawwaf El-Butthead and Hassan Nassrallah and the clown of Rabieh can deal with the ensuing consequences. And they won’t have Geagea, Gemayel, Hariri, Jumblatt or anyone else to blame next time the bombs start to fall. Let them deal with their own mess. If I’m Geagea or Hariri, at that point, I say “You wanted HA, you got HA. Don’t look at me.”
That’s the beauty of accountability, see. That’s what the Lebanese are completely missing out on. People in Lebanon are so detached from any notion of making their own choices that it’s extremely easy to blame everyone else but themselves when things go wrong. After all, who can blame them?
But it’s an entirely different story when you put the decision on someone’s shoulder.
Us adults, in the real world, experience this on a daily basis. Simple example: It’s very easy to spend money left and right when it’s daddy’s money and you’re a teenager.
But once you have a mortgage and a family to support, you’re a lot more careful about how you manage your finances. That’s sorta how I see Lebanon. The Lebanese people are a bunch of immature spoiled brats who haven’t had to make a meaningful decision in their lives. So they have absolutely NO understanding of consequences and responsibilities. So they sit around arguing pedantically about academic and conspiratorial theories to which they have no concrete input. How pitifully sad.
It’s high time we let this teenager go out in the world and make some decisions on their own.
Does the No vote win? In 1995 the “No”s won in Quebec referendum and it stayed in Canada. 😀
Yes, danny, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”
WordPress doesn’t like long links. Here’s the link I posted (just to explain the French phrase):
Isn’t an Arab country with “press freedom” maddening thing? This article seems to be a bomb, but why is it Al Akhbar the one carrying it? This morning I would swear I saw an English translation of it in Annahar (“I thought I saw a pussicat”?)but I cannot find it anymore. On the other hand, Akhbar’s article has been retaken
on Friday Lunch Club’s site (with a completely opposite reading of course, FLC inferring from Al Akhbar’s article’s that Hariri’s team is threatening Lebanon with “armaggedon”, while Annahar’s pick highlighted the shocking series of events that the article supposingly reveals.I don’t read arabic well enough to judge by myself.
Self-correction to # 36:
“a” maddening thing, that is. As for the unclosed parenthesis, it should end after “supposedly reveals”. Because “supposingly” doesn’t exist as an English expression, mind you (my pc was not smart enough to give me the correct option, but I still have my dictionaries at hand). And now let HP correct the rest of mistakes that I certainly overlooked . Damn morning. Damn coffee. Damn English.
I’ll have an analysis of this interesting piece later today.
mj, mornings, coffee and English do have an effect on post quality 🙂 Or at least on grammar.
On a different note, I have to say i agree with Bad Vilbel. It is high time we (and Syria, wink wink) let the Lebanese decide what’s right for them, be that war or whatever.
It must be the decaf. Here’s the link in Naharnet:
However, I see an Apocalypse discussion with Michael Young (by HA though as they possess the weapons of “mass destruction”).
I must’ve angered powers to be…In moderation for the first time! I feel like being busted bringing in .25l extra alcohol through the customs.
danny, you go immediately in moderation if you put more than one weblink in the same post; I figured that correlation some time ago; sorry, but nothing about you, buddy. You’re not that special 😉
Habibi, mj, I can’t really be the one to lecture about and correct typos when it took me once 4 consecutive posts of self-correction to get something right!
It would be nice to share a mezza some day, normally in the p.m. or evening, but hey, if it works for you we can do it in the a.m. too!
Maybe real food will redress the torpor better than coffee.
Thank you gentlemen for being so considerate with my shortcomings.
HP, that would actually be “habibati”,in correct Arabic (although I have noticed some gender incoherences in the use of “habibi” when used in spoken language). I’d love mezza, of course, any time, but for the torpor thing, I’d put it more on my sheer ignorance of English grammar than on decaf.
Habibati, mj, ;-), a deep bow and hat off to you, milady. Forgive my prior ignorance of your gender and our tendency to always use the masculine as a default. Delighted that we have some diversity on QN. Salamat…
Somewhere deep inside me still and proud to be a Lebanese. On the other hand, The events, thoughts and opinions spread out uncontrollably ….. drive you to the point where u ‘r discussed, irritated and full of hatred to your own Lebanese brothers. Is this what we all want ?????? I don’t discriminate my fellow citizen !!!! But look around you ….. who is getting the points???? who is winning ????…… Using arrogant respond on any puplic or political reaction or behavior will certainly lead us to a confrontation we all don’t want or “”do we”” !!! ….. but who is fuming the dead fire….. Is it pursuing the truth ?? or accusing deliberately whomever fits the suit. FOR WHAT !!!!! These behavior don’t lead to the real killers but sadly it lead to self elimination. Please,, I urge you don’t let the animal instinct rules.
SAM, The Lebanese are not always at fault here…There was major operations conducted on Lebanese soil since 1998…
Remember that after 2000, there was also major covert operations in play…starting with 9/11 onwards…most centering on the ME and Central/South Asia…
The assassinations in Lebanon started in earnest in 2002…and the Hariri assassination was the major blow, obviously midwifed by the NEOCONS…who were able to Bamboozle SYRIA into carrying it out…simple covert operations 101…you trick your enemy into doing your dirty deeds unknowingly…
Then, in 2008, SYRIA redeemed itself by offering Imad F. MOUGHNIEH’s head on a silver platter to CIA/MOSSAD/DGSE… and they were redeemed, nurtured and protected from STL and more….
The Lebanese are so gullible, they will never fathom that reality and keep arguing because of total ignorance of the reality of covert operations and disinformation campaigns and cut-outs and plausible deniability etc.
“The assassinations in Lebanon started in earnest in 2002…and the Hariri assassination was the major blow, obviously midwifed by the NEOCONS…who were able to Bamboozle SYRIA into carrying it out…”
There’s that word again “obviously”….
i agree there’s nothing obvious about it. We’re all busy speculating and guessworking, aren’t we? 🙂