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Friday, July 01, 2005

The Strategic Implications of Berri's Legacy Will Haunt Lebanon for 2 Years

No matter how you slice it, dice it, explain it, justify it or make-believe it, Berri’s re-election as Speaker of the Parliament exemplifies the typical aberrations that are indigenous of the political system in Lebanon. Strategically, Berri’s legacy will continue to affect Lebanon for at least the next two years.

Aside from its pre-event drama, the Berri re-election points to deep-rooted systemic problems facing the Lebanese political process. The persona he represents is exactly what we thought would be part of Lebanon’s past and not its future. His omnipresence along with Lahoud’s proves that the remnants of the pro-Syria era were harder to dissolve than originally expected.

Lame excuses and low expectations
One of the primary excuses given for his re-election was that the Shia’ had felt isolated after March 14 and therefore, not selecting Berri would have further alienated them from the Lebanese community. Ahmad Fatfat (newly elected Future Movement Dinnieh MP) confirmed this “excuse” by saying that the alliance with Berri was vital in order "to complete the national unity that took place on March 14 and include the Shia’ in the reconciliation process." I really didn’t know that the Shia’ were pretty upset about not being part of the March 14th event. Didn’t they get dragged by Hezbollah and Amal into another counter-event one week earlier than March 14th, in support of Syria’s presence in Lebanon? This rhetoric sounds more like “Hezbollah-speak”, instead of mainstream Shia’ language. Is Berri’s nomination the only way to get Lebanon closer to the Shia’?

In reality, Berri is the one that has been isolating the Shia’ community from the rest of Lebanon, since he acts as their de-facto spokesperson and exclusive gatekeeper. LP describes very eloquently Berri’s practices in this blog.

In addition to his role as the Shia’s bridge into Lebanon, Berri is supposedly also the “protector of Hezbollah”. But protection from whom: Israel? Hezbollah's fears about "protection" are hard to understand and so overplayed. When there is peace, it’s peace. It means no more fighting. Therefore, a deterring force isn't really needed. Look at Jordan and Egypt: Israel has not violated the peace agreement with these two countries since it was signed. If Jordan and Egypt aren't good enough examples for Hezbollah, who is? If a strong Lebanese government negotiated a peaceful settlement with Israel, wouldn’t that fulfill Hezbollah’s goal? Does Hezbollah prefer to remain a continual enigma relating to their intentions? If Hezbollah’s goal is the destruction of Israel (or even an extended state of war) as they often imply, then it’s a suicidal mission that the rest of Lebanon does not wish to partake in.

Saad Hariri is on the line
Via its spokesperson, the Hariri bloc has justified the Berri’s nomination: "The extension for Berri is going to take place on the basis of his agreement to cooperate with the program of reforms: the application of the Taif agreement, a fair election law, etc."

It seems that Berri made some promises to Hariri regarding dealing with these “hot issues”. Someone from the Future Movement camp told me “let’s hope Berri doesn’t let the Lebanese people down”. My response was “let’s hope Berri doesn’t let Hariri down”. That deal was between Hariri and Berri. Berri gave his “word” to Hariri that he would deal with reforms, corruption, Geagea’s release, UN 1559, etc. My question is why couldn’t ANY other Speaker hold the same promises? Aren’t these tasks expected from the new Parliament, anyways?

So, Hariri faced a dilemma. On one hand, he was contemplating the easy thing, i.e. siding with Berri, pleasing Hezbollah and alienating Kornet Chehwan, OR blocking Berri and facing Hezbollah directly,- which would have been a first in Lebanon’s recent history, i.e. a Lebanese government dealing directly with Hezbollah with a tough stance.

Hariri took the easy way out, thinking perhaps that it was simpler to later reason with Aoun and the KC (those that didn’t vote for Berri) than to start dealing with Hezbollah. He has opted, in typical Lebanese fashion in the “delaying tactics”. Basically, if you ignore a problem long enough, either it eventually stops being a problem or its level of priority will dwindle down such that you will have in essence avoided it.

Hezbollah is stronger
In reality, this move has emboldened Hezbollah and made feel stronger. Now, the Lebanese government will be dealing with Hezbollah from a position of weakness, rather than from strength had they started by isolating them in the Parliament.

The Iran elections were undoubtedly another factor in Hezbollah’s toughening stance. In essence, they tipped the Lebanese Parliament in their favor, “blackmailed” it using the Chia’ cause as a shield for their intentions, and to further “thank Hariri” for trusting them, they liberally took advantage of the fragile border situation in South Lebanon.

Even if we assume that the recent Israeli incursion into Lebanon was just an accident, by firing directly at Israeli soldiers, Hezbollah showed poor judgment and proved that they can’t be trusted with their arms. Their goal does not appear to revolve around reaching peace, but rather to promote a perpetual state of war. Did they really think that Israel was invading Lebanon with a patrol of five soldiers?

A Ray of Hope
The Taef agreement stipulates under a paragraph entitled “Political Reforms” that:
In the first session, two years after it elects its speaker and deputy speaker, the chamber may vote only once to withdraw confidence from its speaker or deputy speaker with a 2/3 majority of its members and in accordance with a petition submitted by at least 10 deputies. In case confidence is withdrawn, the chamber
shall convene immediately to fill the vacant post.

So, it is conceivable that when Lahoud’s term “expires”, Berri’s reign might as well come to an end if the Parliament applies the above Taef clause.

Until then, mediocrity rules
Until Lebanon’s political leadership is totally above board in terms of their transactions and deal-makings, Lebanon will remain a third world country where accountability, competence and national duty are taken rather lightly. Five-star hotels, designer’s shops, fancy cars and Zegna suits do not a developed country make.

It’s been said that Lebanon is so unique that its solutions are also unique. But going beyond logic defies gravity. Why lower our standards and accept things by the way they are "explained" or “justified” to us, or not by the way they should be?

Despite all the justifications and explanations, June 28th was a sad day for Lebanon.

Yes, Lebanon is the land of “consensus”, but too much consensus leads to mediocrity because you have to keep lowering your standards until you reach absurd agreements that avoid dealing with the tough issues and hence perpetuate the awful and unshakable status quo of mediocrity.


Blogger Now what said...

I am Israeli

I see good in you,

May god give you the strenght to proceed.

4:58 AM  

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