Analysis – The Lebanese Presidential Candidacy Confusion December 2015

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The recent nomination of the deputy Sleiman Frangieh took everyone by surprise because of the seeming ripple of movement that it generated in an otherwise stifled environment surrounding the election of a President in Lebanon.

Let us start in the beginning where suddenly out of nowhere, rumors began circulating about a secret visit between Frangieh and former Prime Minister Saad Harriri in Paris. As is the case in Lebanon, there is very rarely smoke without fire and the rumor finally emerged as being correct.

There has been much speculation about how this meeting came about; Whether the meeting was planned or spontaneous and whether Frangieh communicated the relevant information of this encounter to his strongest ally Hezbollah ahead of time is still debatable, but what is clear is that after the meeting he certainly informed them about the discussions that were held and the seriousness of Hariri’s proposal.

The talks between the men covered the details of his presidency including the matter of an electoral law which would be vital in the formulation of the overall package.

The news of the meeting triggered a flurry of reactions and the shock waves of this Parisian encounter spread out into the Lebanese political pond.

While some navigated the news eagerly, including the international community who saw an acceptable opportunity to resolve the political vacuum, others were rocked at their core by the implications of such a possibility.

The outcome of all the deliberations is that the only clear thing about Frangieh’s candidacy to-date is that it is unclear. It is unclear for many reasons including:

1- General Aoun firm rebuttal:

The validity of Frangieh’s candidacy is being rebuffed with the “silent treatment” by the General with the belief that if a candidate with Frangieh’s affiliations are acceptable then the preference goes to General Aoun.

2- Saad Hariri’s slowness to declare:

The delay in the Announcement by Hariri has fueled the belief by his contesters that he does not have the means of his politics. This remains to be seen.

This lack of any declaration by Saad Harirri to-date can lead to believe that he has not received the reassurances he needs, both financial or otherwise, to push this deal through at this time. The Prime Ministership would bring with it financial rewards and it is fair to note that with the change of leadership in Saudi Arabia, the question begs to be asked: How much favor does Hariri really carry today with the King and specifically with the Crown Prince?

On the other hand the postponement of Hariri’s visit to Lebanon seems to be linked to the larger implications surrounding the continuing matter of his security.

3- Hezbollah’s silence:

This is a reflection of their own conundrum confronted with one of their favored candidates becoming problematic. This dilemma was brought about because of their engagement with General Aoun and the fear of his retaliation and retrenchment into a Christian-only front if challenged by Frangieh’s accession to the presidency.

For Hezbollah, this would lead to their loss of a powerful ally on the ground and create a dangerous confessional polarization at a time when Lebanon can least afford such antagonistic stances. In Parliament this would also fragment their voting coalition and leave them without Christian representation. If they are to reconsider Frangieh’s candidacy it would certainly be tied into their insistence on a new electoral law which would not perpetuate the existing parliamentary balance of power.

3- Samir Geagea’s isolation:

Geagea is certainly not a proponent of Frangieh’s candidacy in light of their bloody history and they rivalry in the North of the country. Frangieh’s nomination has left Geagea publicly isolated from his own political bloc confronted with the uncoordinated nomination of a candidate from “the other side” by Saad Hariri, the leader of his block.

This attempt has also revealed tensions that had been suspected for some time between Geagea and Hariri. This has forced Geagea into a retaliatory stance where he is measuring the consequences of displeasing his Saudi sponsors and gambling with the option of nominating General Aoun to avoid Frangieh.

To sum up why things are so unclear, it is because the usual lines of identification have been crisscrossed. The leader of the March 14 movement proposed a March 8th candidate unilaterally, and the allies of each group lost their points of reference in the process. It would seem therefore that the hard sell for both Frangieh and Hariri is from their own camps as they are in fact being undermined mostly by their allies.

On the scale of Lebanon, Interestingly this latest attempt has placed the March duality into the mixer and whatever will come out now in the next week or so, will never be the same. Expectations have been shattered and feathers ruffled on all sides.

It will take some time for this dust to settle but if it does settle into nothing again then the matter of the election of a President will also turn to dust, which would be a lost opportunity for Lebanon to resolve the vacuum and safeguard the State’s institutions.

Tracy Chamoun

Baabda –

The politics of obstructionism – Lebanon forgotten

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The dissension among the ruling blocs has become personal to such a degree that they automatically veto each other’s proposals just as a matter of principle. The confrontations are no longer even expressed on sectarian or political lines but seem to be completely personality related with one leader hating another and obstructing him out of spite or spreading malicious rumors just to score points over each other.

On the other hand, there are extremely urgent matters at hand, which need consensus urgently, including most importantly the matter of the solution to the crisis of garbage collection, but also, the health dangers which this situation poses, the safety of the water, the lack of electricity, the lack of jobs, the collapse of the economy, the Syrian displaced, the matter of wages and salaries, the cost of living. These are some of the few essential survival issues confronting Lebanon and the population today.

And yet the bipartisanship is centering around the issue of giving Lebanese immigrants the Lebanese nationality, which by the way fails to address the major issue of Lebanese women giving their nationality to their children if married to a foreigner, and the elaboration of an electoral law which though important will not stop people from dying on the streets of the plague due to the rats and rotting waste everywhere.

You have to ask today: Why would the Lebanese abroad even want a Lebanese nationality? When the country is in such a shameful and disgusting mess.

As for a new electoral law? It is very important certainly, but the Zaims won’t even agree on the geography of landfills, how are they going to agree to a law that promises to weaken their hold on their regions.

These polemics are preventing the Parliament, as illegal as it is, as well as the Cabinet of Ministers from coalescing and taking any practical decisions. These deputies who had the audacity to extend their own mandates continue to add offense to injury by getting paid to do nothing. As for their salaries unlike the rest of the poor deprived population, it seems that the matter was solved with one wave of their magic self-serving wand – Yet again!

This is an untenable situation and the constant bickering and petty obstructionism is costing us our nation. The deputies have one essential job to do today: Elect a President! But there are no deadlines, no attendance requirements, no penalties for absenteeism, no consequences for ineptitude! The bottom line is that there is no leverage mechanism to force them to comply! So they do what they do best: Nothing.

This politics of obstructionism is shameful and betrays the concept of statesmanship, which is so lacking today: The idea that there is a moral obligation to overcome one’s ego for the greater good. As we are carried along on this fateful period of continuing and unabated internal discord and brinkmanship, we may as well dig two graves one for us and one for Lebanon…

Consensus versus competition in the formation of a Lebanese Government.

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In support of Minister Jumblatt’s efforts to coalesce the different Lebanese factions into agreeing on a formula to govern the country, I feel that it is important to engage in pro-active steps towards continuing the process to form a government of national representation.

The reasons for pushing for the formation of a legitimate government are obvious though presently being dismissed for the profit of political polemics.

Suffice to say that a “de facto” government which would not secure the confidence of parliament and which would bring about the resignation of more than half the representation of the country is a dangerous proposal since, in the absence of balanced opposition, it would usher in a period of uncontrolled reforms by one group only. This is why such an attempt has also been referred to as a “coup” and unconstitutional.

However, getting back to the only viable solution to save the country today which is the formation of government of national unity, if this is going to happen, it has become important to examine the form of the dialogue before we can even address the content.

So far, the process has been entirely reactive with one side reacting to the other, which has led nowhere. Therefore we need to move away from a situation of reactivity and create the proper conditions for affirmative action. In order to do this, we have to conceive of ways of elevating the level of the dialogue and the quality of interaction.

The first step in that direction is a willingness to engage. This threshold was crossed the minute that the modified 8-8-8 formula was accepted by all parties as a possible blueprint for a government.

The second step consisting of the distribution of power has been the source of the ensuing problems and the inability to reach any agreement.

For this level to work there has to be trust. However in the absence of trust there has to be a constitutional reference. Unfortunately the constitution is deliberately vague and has been amended so many times that it has also lost its preemptory powers.

Therefore, the question becomes how do you move from mistrust to consensus building? You do this by choosing to move beyond the elements that divide towards focusing on the elements that unite.

The main reason to do this is that the greater good must at some point supersede the egoistic good of the different parties concerned. The greater good in this case is not the generic concept of Lebanon but instead the greater good is the specific welfare and the safety of all Lebanese.

In order to move this dialogue forward for the formation of a new government some general rules must apply, namely:

  •  Ministries are National Institutions above partisan divides.
  • No man is greater than the institution he serves.
  • Power sharing must be understood as cooperation and not competition.
  • Dialogue should be geared towards consensus not discord.

A possible solution is that our “Leaders” should personally sit down all together at a round table and not be allowed to leave the room until an agreement is reached. A neutral and safe ground should be found were this meeting can take place. They must agree on a set of priorities for the country before they decide who gets what, because the present situation calls for altruism and sacrifice.

We are confronting the biggest political vacuum we have faced and in the present violent context surrounding us and contaminating us, this can only lead to disaster and chaos before long. As a Lebanese I will continue to say we want our country back and I will urge those in power for once to see how their fates are in fact all inter-connected.”

Reflections on the unintended consequences of the recent chaos in the Middle East

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In scientific thought, a main component of “Chaos Theory” is the idea that even very small events can cause very complex results. It also posits that these events can never be sufficiently articulated to allow for long-range predictions.

With that in mind, my return to Lebanon two years ago coincided with the escalation of the war in Syria and the subsequent chaos that has followed in both countries – Lebanon and Syria. Who could have imagined that the systematic destruction of a nation like Syria could lead to a series of such monumental unintended consequences, as we are witnessing today?

Some of these unintended consequences are:

  • The changing role of US foreign policy concerning Israel.
  • The dominance of Russian Diplomacy in the Middle East.
  • The rise of Persian and Shia influence in the area.
  • The breakdown of the decades long Saudi–US alliance.
  • The spread and organization of Al Qaeda and their affiliates in the region.
  • The destabilization of Lebanon with the unregulated influx of over a million refugees representing one fourth of the population.
  • The breakdown of the Lebanese political system.
  • The survival of President Bashar El-Assad against all odds.

To name but a few…

In hindsight, from the beginning I could see that things were not as they were portrayed, and that behind the Syrian crisis was the planned destruction of a nation led by extremists who’s foreign sponsors manipulated the world media to justify their actions.

This strategy formed the basis for a long-range directive to fragment the region into confessional enclaves. The latest Shia / Sunni divide is a by-product of such a man-made crisis in the region. The raging conflict and terrorist based strife that it has generated, has played into the “divide to rule” adage, which has systematically been at the forefront of Zionist tactics in the Arab world since Israel’s inception.

Naomi Klein describes these man-made crises in her book “The Shock Doctrine” as a strategies to facilitate the financial and political exploitation of war-torn, socially destroyed nations, in order to push through controversial change and exploitative policies, while citizens are too weak to create an effective resistance.

In any event, the western medias’ portrayal of the systematic breakdown of the traditional Arab leaderships in the Levantine world (Note I am not referring to the Arabian Peninsula where the most repressive regimes still exist impervious to popular uprisings) and their ensuing chaos has been from the outset propagandist distortions of the realities on the ground. The western media cleverly dubbed the fracturing of nations an Arab spring!

Neither in Libya, Egypt, or Tunisia can we call the outcomes spring-like at all. In Egypt we witnessed instead the planned takeover of the Moslem Brotherhood who had been preparing in hiding for this day, for decades. When finally, the opportunity came with Qatari backing to exert their power, what had been portrayed as a popular uprising, became an opportunity for these religious zealots to impose their rule. The Egyptian army subsequently overthrew them and quashed their ambitions with the acquiescence of the West, where ironically, the military intervention in a popular uprising was accepted for Egypt, but was not so for Syria.

In Jordan, interestingly the political thrust of the Moslem Brotherhood was contained. To an outsider, one could speculate that a line in the sand had been drawn as far as, toppling a monarchy with ancestral origins that linked them to Mecca and the Prophet. Maybe, the Saudis and Qataris could not risk setting a precedent by the toppling a historic monarchy for fear that it could ultimately happen to them. King Abdullah had a close call, but the attempt of the Moslem Brotherhood to topple him for was temporarily eliminated. However, Syria was not so lucky.

For whatever reason the problems escalated in Syria, including:

  • The initial mismanagement of the government forces’ use of violence to repress unrest.
  • The underestimation by the government of the scale of the problem at hand.
  • The initial miscalculation by the government of the degree of implication of foreign powers in the financing and arming of the rebellion.
  • The commitment of the West to continue to escalate the violence by sending foreign fighters and technology to Syria, in order to topple the Assad regime.
  • The tactical usurpation of the rebels’ cause by extremist factions funded by Qatar and Saudi Arabia to pursue their Jihad.
  • The reluctance of Saudi Arabia to concede defeat in the call for Assad’s resignation and their continued funding of the war.

All these elements have succeeded in ushering in a series of unintended outcomes that have completely overturned the balance of power on the world stage, and have introduced a new order that will have untold repercussions in the whole region.

The question becomes when do unintended consequences become an opportunity for positive change? And how does one take control of one’s destiny in the reshuffling of the deck?

Reflections On the Up-coming Lebanese Presidential Elections

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In a discussion with an eminent constitutionalist lawyer, he pointed out to me that a law cannot be introduced to alter the constitution, however, you can elaborate on existing constitutional laws to refine their interpretation. In other words, the constitution is sacrosanct.

However there is this strange matter in Lebanon of historical precedents. In common law, a precedent is a principle or rule established in a previous case that is either binding on or persuasive for a tribunal when deciding subsequent cases with similar issues.

In the short history of Lebanon there have been constitutional precedents that have become “tradition”. One could say that these traditions have come to resemble the allegory of Plato’s cave, as described in his opus “The Republic”. In other words, the unwritten traditions of Lebanese constitutional practice have become the shadows that most of us perceive as real.

These precedents include the extension of official mandates, and the naming of the head of the army as head of government in times of national distress. Both these matters are not permitted in the Taef version of the constitution, but they both represent constitutional practices that have precedent and therefore have reality. Especially, since the matter of mandate extensions has already been applied in violation of the written constitution.

In the spring of 2014 there is a presidential election scheduled. The question is therefore, will the application of the written law dictate our future, or will tradition prevail.

In the first instance of constitutional application, we are confronted with two choices:

1-    A weak president who would be a figurehead and not more. This would play into the theory of keeping Lebanon on the back-burner until the Syrian crisis is over.

2-    A strong president who could usher in parameters of safeguard for the nation and be a figurehead for the Christian community, which has become threatened by the radical presence of the jihadist wave in the region. However, a strong president would also activate all the areas of concern and reform that most politicians dread.

In the second instance of traditional precedence, we are also confronted with 2 choices:

1-    The extension of the mandate of the existing President which from all appearances, is not displeasing to the International community who would like to maintain the “Status Quo” in Lebanon regardless of the violation of the constitution. The excuse for this suspension of affairs in Lebanon is the need to distance Lebanon from “The Syria Effect”, and it also freezes the matter of the apportioning of the natural oil and gas resources, which has not yet been concluded.

2-    The naming of the Head of the Army as interim Prime Minister and head of the executive government, as happened in Egypt recently. In this case, the army is pushed forward as the guarantor of security in increasingly alarming conditions, until the business of running the country can resume favorably.

All in all, we are entering an interesting phase. The only thing I am sure of is that we do not have sovereignty over this quintessential matter. How the game will be played out regionally will determine the “a la carte” choice for the outcome of the presidential elections. My favorite option is of course, a strong nationalist president.

When will the incompetence end?

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I read this morning in Stratfor in an article entitled: “Are there Moderate Salafists and Jihadists”, that the United States is trying to recruit moderate Salafist-jihadist rebels in Syria for its fight against al Qaeda.

I don’t know what to think anymore. This an oxymoron, not to mention a moronic action. Have we become so blinded by the goals that the means, however abhorrent, are justified?

As I sit at my desk in Lebanon, I fear the repercussions of swath politics. More and more Lebanon is becoming like Iraq. Jihadists in Iraq experienced a great deal of success after the 2003 U.S. invasion of the country. In 2004, one of the largest of these groups — Jamaat al-Tawhid and Jihad, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — became an al Qaeda franchise group and renamed itself al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers (Iraq). In Syria, jihadist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, now perhaps the strongest jihadist group operating in Syria changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. As far as I know Lebanon is part of the Levant, so this does not bode well for their future commitment to destroy the country.

I have to ask therefore why is the USA so blind to this threat? You cannot tame a terrorist. It is time that whatever distorted understanding the foreign intelligence services have about the games of mice and men that they play, they should stop and look at their track record in the Middle East.  When will the incompetence end?