QN to Beirut in time for Independence Day fireworks?

I’m off to Beirut this weekend to do some work on a research project I’ve been developing at Stanford’s Program on Arab Reform and Democracy. The project deals with the challenge of establishing an upper legislative chamber in Lebanon, which is called for by the Ta’if Accord. I’ve written on this subject in the past, and we’ve held some good debates about it here at QifaNabki. The results of the project will be made available at some point in the spring, at which point I’ll look forward to getting some feedback from the readership.

I’m not sure how much time I’ll have for blogging while I’m on the go, but I’ll weigh in if anything interesting happens. (Rumor has it that a Mikati resignation is a distinct possibility in the near term, particularly if Hizbullah decides to play hardball on STL funding or the situation in Syria gets much worse.) Stay tuned…
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43 thoughts on “QN to Beirut in time for Independence Day fireworks?

  1. Have a safe, pleasant and productive trip.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | November 19, 2011, 1:00 am
  2. Please, have a safe trip and come back with the news and the rumors,

    Count me as supporter of the upper house or Senate for Syria and Lebanon,

    Posted by Norman | November 19, 2011, 6:31 pm
  3. 1) Have a safe trip to Lebanon and back.
    2) Can’t wait to read the results of your study.
    3) Re: Rumors of Mikati resigning if HA continues to play hardball about funding the STL. Too early to call it. But do I need to go dig up my much maligned comments from 3 months ago when I said that “It was always about the STL” and when push comes to shove about the STL, the Mikati government would fall? 🙂

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 20, 2011, 1:43 am
  4. BV
    How does one find the archived statements on this blog? Is that done randomly or is there a more refined way that I am missing?

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | November 20, 2011, 7:10 pm
  5. Oh. I bet QN has a way of doing it. Me, I’d just go back through the archives and look for my name. It should be somewhere in the blog entries right when the government of Hariri was toppled.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 20, 2011, 9:19 pm
  6. Greetings from Paris where I’m in transit. That comment was never maligned. It was the one about how no govt would ever be formed. 🙂

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | November 21, 2011, 2:10 am
  7. Nawarite beirut 🙂

    GK, I usually use search on the right hand side column.


    Posted by rm | November 21, 2011, 5:59 am
  8. Rm,
    Thats what I was looking for. I guess I did not scroll down far enough. Thanks.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | November 21, 2011, 12:38 pm
  9. The search function doesn’t seem to cover the comments though. I just tried it and only got articles.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 21, 2011, 1:36 pm
  10. BV, I am able to search comments with this integrated search engine…

    Posted by rm | November 21, 2011, 4:50 pm
  11. Maybe I’m not doing it right then 🙂 Wouldn’t be the first time.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 21, 2011, 5:10 pm
  12. Ok. I went back and did some digging for my old comments. Found the following written in June.
    You guys can tell me if I was pretty close to the mark or not 🙂


    Look for comments #8, #9 and #38 in that thread.

    A few passages (of my otherwise uber-long comments):

    The draft law in Congress is most definitely a warning shot. I can tell you now what it is meant to accomplish (and we’ll get confirmation from your sources): It is meant to make it clear to Mikati and HA that contrary to “the past” when the west “overlooked” Lebanon harboring terrorists, etc…the STL is serious business, and the west will NOT accept Mikati or anyone else “walking the proverbial tightrope” that AIG referred to.
    This is precisely what I’ve been trying to argue and why I predict that eventually, despite HA’s attempt at still having a Sunni cover, they will have to jetison Mikati and go back to the “vacuum” formula.
    We’re not there yet. I’ve been referring to that scenario as “when push comes to shove” in my previous comments. But a time will come where Mikati will be faced with making a clear cut choice, and where dragging feet, delaying tactics and half-ass cooperation will NOT be acceptable anymore to the West. When that time comes, it will be a very clear choice, not unlike the one that HA put in front of Hariri back in January.
    This time, it will be the west saying “Disavow the STL at the risk of sanctions, no more loan rolling, no more aid…etc.” And when that happens, HA will have no choice but to bring down Mikati (because HA, as well as everyone else in Lebanon, cannot face the economic mess that would ensue if Lebanon were declared a pariah state).

    (Read the other 2 comments i refer to, for some context)

    This was in reference to some draft law in the US congress regarding threat of sanctions, etc.

    It’s no coincidence that we’ve been hearing more and more in the news about different western governments warning Lebanon of the consequences of not funding the STL.
    And now this story floating about Mikati’s resignation.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 21, 2011, 5:22 pm
  13. BV.

    You are in the running for a gift certificate for a free pie from Pizza Hut!


    Posted by lally | November 21, 2011, 7:22 pm
  14. Bah! I don’t eat Pizza hut. I make my own pizzas…

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 21, 2011, 7:43 pm
  15. Lally you got that bug too? we are used to the resistance crowd only making such accusations.

    Posted by Vulcan | November 21, 2011, 7:56 pm
  16. What accusations, Vulcan?

    BV is not MY idea of a homesick American intelligence asset…….if that is what your incipient paranoia is whispering to you.

    FTR, I’m much more inclined to “suspect” QN’s friend, Abu Exum:

    DavidKenner DavidKenner
    Beirut tweeps, where is that Pizza Hut where all the spooks gathered? Google maps tells me there’s one in Zarif; is that the only one?
    6 hours ago
    in reply to ↑

    Andrew Exum
    @DavidKenner There are several, including one in Chiyah and two near-ish the U.S. embassy.
    6 hours ago via TweetDeck

    BTW, Americans are generally acknowledged to be great conspiracists. It’s an American tradition; perhaps related to our proud history of resistance.

    Posted by lally | November 21, 2011, 8:40 pm
  17. Vulcan…lally knows as she was there. 😀

    Posted by danny | November 22, 2011, 9:02 am
  18. I hope you have an interesting and resourceful trip to Lebanon.

    I am not sure what an “upper legislative chamber” is, or how that can objectively improve life or justice in general on the ground in Lebanon. Will it be a computer generated entity like the “HAL program of 2001: A space Odyssey”?

    Looking forwards to reading how you propose putting something like that together and the criteria that defines those “Lebanese” eligible to comprise it.

    Posted by R2D2 | November 22, 2011, 12:46 pm
  19. What do you guys think about this:

    Does it look credible and make sense?

    Posted by AIG | November 22, 2011, 12:48 pm
  20. AIG,

    As a mature, fervent, observer of Lebanese and Lebanese politics … does it look credible and make sense to you?

    Posted by R2D2 | November 22, 2011, 1:28 pm
  21. AIG,

    I don’t know if I buy that story. I mean, we all know that HA has the ability and the willpower to take military action against fellow Lebanese. They’ve done it before.
    But I don’t think that simply having the Assad regime fall is enough of a trigger to cause that. I don’t see what they have to gain by unilaterally launching an attack on Beirut with no real justification or pretense.
    Now, in different conditions, maybe…

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 22, 2011, 2:06 pm
  22. BV,

    The question is what replaces the Asad regime. If it is clear that it was replaced by a regime heavily influenced by the Saudis, then Hezbollah may be forced to take power in Lebanon and negotiate some modus vivendi from that position instead of being subjected to a death of 1000 cuts.

    Posted by AIG | November 22, 2011, 2:15 pm
  23. AIG,

    I think it is more of a trial balloon to see how feverishly HA will deny any allegations. It is simple that HA has control over the LAF and most likely other security apparatuses and they own the government. They’d rather use “legal” forces to dominate initially. FPM are nothing but a gucci crowd…Maybe the Marada could help…

    Posted by danny | November 22, 2011, 3:00 pm
  24. AIG,

    I don’t think that view you describe matches up the reality (then again, what do I know).
    Even if the Assad regime is replaced by, let’s say, a pro-Saudi regime of some sort (doubtful, but let’s assume that premise).
    I still don’t see HA militarily hurtling down Beirut streets…To do what? Take up positions? And then what?
    There is no specific threat. HA already exercises control over Lebanon in a mostly non-direct way. Stationing guys with guns at Beirut street corners does what exactly? The people walking the streets of Beirut are not the threat to HA. The Saudi-backed Syrian regime is not on the streets of Beirut. It makes no sense.

    Now, behind the scenes, that’s a different story. You can bet that HA will be wrangling for infiltrating the military, intelligence etc, and jokeying for position with this new pro-Saudi Syrian regime. But a military “occupation” of Beirut doesn’t make any sense to me.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 22, 2011, 5:05 pm
  25. BV,

    Of course, I am not sure what will happen either. However with a new Saudi backed regime in Syria you can be sure that the Saudi’s will attempt to take out Hezbollah power sources gradually. Their bases in Syria will go first. Then the smuggling networks, then the financial networks and so on and so forth. Hezbollah cannot win a long term war against Syria and its foes in Lebanon combined.

    Therefore taking over Lebanon and marginalizing its internal foes completely makes sense. Then, from this position it will attempt to reach some power sharing agreement with the Saudis in exchange for restoring their proteges in Lebanon to their former positions. It just makes more sense then knowing you are going to bleed to death from 1000 cuts.

    Posted by AIG | November 22, 2011, 5:52 pm
  26. AIG

    That sounds like a ludicrous scenario to me.

    A military takeover of Lebanon would end the political fortunes of any occupying power, let alone Hizbullah, which does not have the option of retreating behind a border. This is silly Saudi scaremongering.

    Even if Assad falls, Hizbullah will not bleed to death from 1000 cuts. It will mean the end of the resistance project as it currently exists, but HA will find a way to adapt. Taking over Lebanon gets them nowhere.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | November 22, 2011, 6:05 pm
  27. I agree with QN on this one. The whole thing sounds completely preposterous. There is “taking over” the country. That doesn’t make sense in a realistic sense. There is no foreign occupation.
    It’s like my saying “The IDF is going to take over Tel Aviv”. What’s that mean exactly? They’re going to post a bunch of tanks and personel on street corners to watch over the same every day Joes going to their jobs? There is no one on the streets of Beirut that’s controlling anything that HA needs to wrest control of. Just a bunch of traffic, taxis, and pedestrians getting around their daily lives. Posting tanks on street corners does not change anything or buy you “control” of anything.
    The real control is in the government levels and decision making circles. And in that dept. HA is already pretty set.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 22, 2011, 7:13 pm
  28. Knockout to QN & BV @ 30seconds of the first round. AIG you sounded like your American counterpart lol. 😀

    Posted by danny | November 22, 2011, 8:21 pm
  29. QN and BV,

    I hope you are right but allow me to disagree on a few issues:
    1) The end of resistance is the end of Hezbollah. Without resistance they are not useful to Iran and will not get Iranian money. Yes, they may become a successful political party with the name “Hezbollah”, but that still means the end of Hezbollah not an adaptation.
    2) The IDF taking over Israel is simple to comprehend. It means the chief of staff of the IDF and his staff hold all power. It means Israel becoming a dictatorship. It means the IDF deciding who fly in to and out of Israel. It means the IDF taking a cut of profits of all businesses and any permission for new businesses going through them. It means the IDF decides who the banks can and cannot loan to. It means the IDF decides how the government budget is allocated. I can go on, but just imagine the Assad regime and you get the idea. Hezbollah does not have that kind of control yet.
    3) Yes, holding Lebanon will not be easy for Hezbollah. But will trying to stand up to Syria and internal foes be easier if Hezbollah is not willing to lose its armed wing and huge autonomy on large swaths of Lebanon?
    4) You assume that Hezbollah would prefer to change to only a political party instead of risking taking over Lebanon. I wouldn’t be too sure. Read Thanassis Cambanis’ book. It is just not in their DNA to do so.

    Posted by AIG | November 23, 2011, 12:18 am
  30. AIG,

    I think you are old enough to remember who Geagea and the LF were in the 80’s.

    Look at them today.

    It wasn’t in their DNA to end up the way they did either back then. Was it?

    Posted by R2D2 | November 23, 2011, 12:58 pm
  31. R2D2,

    The LF were defeated by Syria and their supporters in Lebanon. The LF is a cautionary tale for Hezbollah. When Syria is not on your side, you need to worry as a Lebanese militia. Nevertheless, I hope Hezbollah goes through the same process as the LF but I doubt it. (can you imagine Nasrallah being put in a Lebanese jail for 10 years? I can’t)

    So what does Hezbollah need to do to escape LF like fate? What I suggest makes sense. Any other suggestions are welcome.

    Posted by AIG | November 23, 2011, 1:25 pm
  32. AIG,

    I disagree with QN on the matter of what happens to HA after Assad falls.
    I don’t think HA is capable of existing as a non-armed faction or a political party. But that’s an entirely different discussion.
    I don’t know what HA will do or how it will maneuver once Assad falls.
    I was commenting specifically on this notion that HA armed troops would suddenly descend on Beirut and post up at street intersections. I don’t see that as being realistic at all. It just makes no sense because it does not accomplish anything for HA. It does not buy them control over anything (in Lebanon, controlling the civilian street means nothing).
    That doesn’t mean I think HA will sit on its hand and do nothing. I think they will have to react to Assad’s departure by consolidating their grip on power (which they hold right now already). This power is not exercised by posting armed thugs on street corners. Trust me.
    Let me ask you this: Why is it that Lebanon’s current government does exactly HA’s bidding without a single armed thug appearing on the streets? Why is it that the Lebanese government votes pro-Syria in the Arab League when there are no HA thugs visibly holding a gun to the foreign minister’s head? Why is it that HA continues to bully their way into various villages, taking property, installing telecom equipment, and so on?
    They haven’t had to post armed troops in Beirut to do any of that!
    The simple truth is, HA’s control mechanism, while based on bullying, is NOT exercised through actual armed presence (at least not in the traditional sense of posting tanks and troops at street corners). It is exercised through various threats and pressures behind the scenes on the LEADERS.
    HA does not threaten the civilian population. The civilian population goes about its business in Beirut and has done so under PLO occupation, IDF occupation, and Syria occupation various militia occupation, over the years.
    I and others here have lived through those years and can attest to this. You who probably have not been in such a situation may not grasp that. But life goes on in Beirut, no matter who’s flag sits atop that tank parked at the intersection of Mazraa and Cola. There’s been a metaphoric tank there and since 1975 (and I’m betting there may still be one there today).
    It may not register all too well for someone who’s lived in a country where seeing a tank on a screen corner is surreal. But in Lebanon, that means nothing. That’s not where actual power is exercised.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 23, 2011, 1:29 pm
  33. I have to agree with BVs assessment here. To prove his point, there is a tank and a few APCs on the Cola/Mazraa intersection carrying the Lebanese flag, representing a government that has no real power in its ‘sovereign’ domain.

    Posted by Johnny Seikaly | November 23, 2011, 4:35 pm
  34. BV,

    I took the tanks as a metaphor to mean that Hezbollah will take control of Lebanon like Asad used to have of Syria. They do not exercise such control now. For example, it is not a done deal that Lebanon will not pony up for the STL. There are large swaths of Lebanon in the north and in Christian areas where they exercise little control. They also don’t control the Lebanese central bank and much of the economy. They do not control the press or the media.

    All that may change. If the Alawites controlled Syria for so many years, don’t deceive yourself that the Shias in Lebanon with the help of half the Christians cannot control Lebanon. It is not going to be pretty if it happens, but I seriously doubt it is not an option Hezbollah and Iran are contemplating if Syria is lost to them. The way to recuperate that loss and make sure not to lose what they have in Lebanon, is to preempt and take absolute power in Lebanon.

    Posted by AIG | November 23, 2011, 4:37 pm
  35. The fall of the Syrian Ba’ath irrespective spells nothing but trouble to Hezbollah. As soon as the Ba’ath falls then many of the Lebanese politicians and political parties would be in a sense orphaned. Many of them have wagered with all their chips that Bashar will not fold.

    I am convinced that this is a losing bet. The Baath has already lost. There is nothing that can save it. Once this becomes clear then a huge vaccum will occur in Lebanon and Aoun, Arslan, Frangieh, Wahab, Amal and HA will be looking for cover because then those who have had the courage to stand up with the Syrian people will be demanding accountability. What would be the reaction of HA? Probably to fight like a cornered cat for all that it has . Will it occupy Beirut outright? Maybe or maybe not but it will put up a fight. However the fight will be short lived. Democracy in Syria will usher democracy in Lebanon and HA and democracy are not compatible.

    Coincidentally I have a longer post on this that I wrote 3 days ago:


    Posted by Ghassan Karam | November 23, 2011, 4:52 pm
  36. AIG, HA may preempt the threat to the Assad regime by attacking Israel, of course if that happens the whole region will erupt and the world will find itself rushing to negotiate a ceasefire, this is the only game that will save Assad and the most plausible scenario for the near future.

    Posted by Vulcan | November 23, 2011, 4:54 pm
  37. Vulcan,

    Anything may happen but what you are describing is highly unlikely because it will guarantee that both Lebanon and Syria are lost to Iran and Hezbollah. Does Assad really want Israel taking apart his army, that only thing keeping him in power? Does Hezbollah want a fight with Israel when it needs all its strength to withstand the new regime in Syria and internal Lebanese foes? Will Hezbollah want to alienate the Lebanese that support them by attacking Israel first and causing great harm to Lebanon? The answer to all these questions is no. But we shall see.

    Posted by AIG | November 23, 2011, 5:09 pm
  38. GK,

    I hope you are right but I can’t share your optimism. What you are saying about Assad, people said about Mugabe. We could still be six months to a year from saying goodbye to Assad. I really hope I am wrong.

    Posted by AIG | November 23, 2011, 5:14 pm
  39. AIG,

    Your original question was SPECIFICALLY about a story that floated around 2 days ago that HA would militarily occupy Beirut in the event of Assad’s downfall.
    My response was to that specific scenario. I maintain that I think it extremely unlikely.

    Now you’ve broadened the scope of the discussion to “What will HA do if Assad falls” and you’re talking about controlling the economy, and STL funding and general government policy. That is a completely new question and discussion. I think this one is a lot harder to answer, except to say that I generally agree with Ghassan that without Assad, a lot of Lebanon’s politicians will find themselves without cover. This has never happened in the history of modern Lebanon, so I have no idea how that would play out.

    I think you’re still showing your “outsider” status in the very language you are using (no offense is intended here, I assure you). But it is really hard for non-Lebanese to understand some of the dynamics at play in Lebanon. I’ll say again that HA will not militarily occupy Beirut. At least not without other factors at play beyond simply the fall of Assad.
    I also re-iterate that for all intents and purposes, HA already dictates, in large part, Lebanon’s foreign policy, as well as its intelligence and telecom sectors. The rest is for the most part immaterial.
    Finally, I have stated before (as have others) that HA does NOT need to control Lebanon in a direct way. In fact, it does not serve it to do so, because the only way HA keeps its followers (specially if the Assad patronage disappears) is by having a semblance of local economy at play. The day HA officially takes over Lebanon is the day the West puts us under sanctions, turning us into another Iran or North Korea from a commerce perspective, and this will kill HA (and everyone else). HA’s interest is, and continues to be, in pulling the levers of powers, from behind the scenes (or rather, from the depths of a bunker) while keeping a somewhat “western-friendly” figurehead in place (ala Mikati) to keep the economy and everything else turning.
    It’s no coincidence, believe me, that HA has never bothered to officially take over or enter the government, and has always insisted on accomodating patsies (no matter if it was an opponent like Hariri, or a middle of the road guy like Mikati or a downright patsy like Karami).

    The dynamics are not those of simple “military control” over a city or a country. it’s not that simple. Never has been. Never will be.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | November 23, 2011, 6:36 pm
  40. “But it is really hard for non-Lebanese to understand some of the dynamics at play in Lebanon.”

    BV. Despite your reasonable explanations, it’s particularly hard for zionists & Co. to understand the dynamics @ play despite the decades of Israeli experience in Lebanon.

    Non-Lebanese who eschew viewing The Situation through the compromised zionist kaleidoscope aren’t so bound by the conflict-induced myopia.

    Posted by lally | November 23, 2011, 7:58 pm
  41. Fascinating conversation. Since there was talk of DNA, if the LF looked in their “good” days like a crossing of eagle and wolf, HN has the charisma of both. Moreover, in what concerns the structure of his organisation there is a lot of the mole and the ant. The non-mammal part makes it very difficult to understand fully, and therefore to fight. I don’t see how the history of the LF could be a cautionary tale of the destiny of HB. HB seems not to have military match in the region right now, besides Israel. I don’t think it was never the case with the LF? Crumble they will, one day, as everything human, but not tomorrow, or next year, and not because of any “external” factor, be it Lebanese or Syrian…Now if Iran was to “fall”, that would be a different matter, but then we enter right into the La-la land fields, don’t we?

    Posted by mj | November 24, 2011, 7:50 am
  42. Well, I think we have a big differences in judgement of what the future will bring. The fall of Assad in my opinion is one of those events after which there is no “business as usual”. It is a major turning point in our little corner of the world. I am sure Hezbollah and Iran understand this. I am quite sure that the interactions and methods of Hezbollah will change. We shall soon see who is right.

    Posted by AIG | November 24, 2011, 1:18 pm
  43. “Business as usual” certainly is a modus operandi that no longer has a future in the world we live in today.

    Be it in our little corner of the world, or the vaster one we all inhabit.

    Israel doesn’t seem to what to come to terms with that reality.

    Posted by R2D2 | November 24, 2011, 1:45 pm

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