The Lebanese political talk show Bi Mawdu`iyya recently hosted an interesting debate between two young political operatives, `Uqab Saqr (a March 14 MP) and Ziad Abs (an official with the Free Patriotic Movement, whom I interviewed in May of 2009).
The two-hour discussion covered several topics, but the most interesting bits dealt with the much-anticipated indictment by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is expected to come out in the next month. Abs’s comments on the indictment were revealing, in my opinion, insofar as they reiterated the FPM’s proposed exit from the crisis. Here are the relevant clips (with paraphrased translations for non-speakers of Arabic):
Clip 1: There are two views on how to handle the indictment. One view holds that if this indictment is issued and it is based on shoddy and unscientific evidence — or even if it is based on scientific evidence — Saad al-Hariri should simply declare that he renounces it, and that he’s ready to turn a new page. The second view holds that given the clear indication that certain people have tried to mislead the investigation, let’s transfer the false witness file to the judicial council so that we can say, if the indictment comes out: “There are false witnesses who are still being prosecuted, and the indictment is now suspended as far as we are concerned…”
Clip 2: By not prosecuting the false witnesses, what we are really saying is that the forthcoming indictment is legitimate and honest. Timing is tremendously important here. Once the indictment comes out, it will be too late, as far as public opinion is concerned. What’s going to convince people otherwise?
Clip 3: If an indictment is issued [against Hizbullah], then we might see Sunni takfiri groups emerging in the North and the Bekaa who use it as their justification to launch a counter-attack. Even if the indictment is not based on false witness testimony, this is irrelevant. The security of the country is more important… I see another Ain al-Rummaneh bus attack [i.e. the beginning of another civil war]. In 1975 nobody thought that the Ain al-Rummaneh incident would lead to a 15 year war.”
In brief, Abs is arguing that whether or not the STL’s case is legitimate, the consequences of an indictment against Hizbullah would be so grave (leading to an Iraq-type conflict) that nothing short of a complete torpedoing of the Tribunal by the Lebanese government would prevent a major disaster. What’s worth noting is that Abs precisely did not say that the FPM regards the STL as an outright conspiracy (as Nasrallah has argued). He said that it doesn’t matter whether it is legitimate or not: what matters is that its consequences would be too explosive for Lebanon to bear.
Let’s not forget that this conversation between two politicians did not take place in a smoky back room. It was held on live primetime television. Think about that. What Abs is saying is: even if X is true, let’s all agree to say that X is false. There’s something so deliciously honest and yet so dissembling about this position. Thoughts?