Thursday, August 26, 2004

Lahoud's Term Prolonged

It is bad news for Lebanon. It seems that Bashar al-Asad will insist that Lahoud have a second term of three or four years. The constitution will not be changed. Evidently the head of the Maronite Church Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir was opposed to the notion of changing the constitution and chose the lesser evil of prolonging Lahood’s term for three or four years - the same as was done for President Elias Hraoui in 1995.

He said that under such critical circumstances, Syria's allies ought to stay united to face all dangers. He also said that the nature of the regional battle led by Syria requires that Lahoud would direct the Syrian alliance in Lebanon.

Bashar painted a dire picture of two choices for politicians in the region, according to those who had been in negotiations in Damascus: either they are with Syria during its time of trial and need, or they are with America and France, which are opposed to the Syrian camp. It is therefore up to Syria's allies in Lebanon to opt for one of these two alternatives.

Zeina Abu Rizk has written an interesting article in the Daily Star on the behind the scene negotiations. It will be a sad day in Lebanon. Just as the Lebanese were beginning to regain their self-confidence as a nation, they are reminded of their unhappy reliance on Syria. Many deputies have already begun to speak out in Syria's favor, formost is Kandil.

Many Lebanese will undoubtedly be torn between two emotions. On the one hand they will curse their politicians who have rolled over and negotiated this compromise with Damascus, for being spineless. On the other hand, some will find hope in adversity and begin plotting how Damascus may have overplayed its hand. Perhaps it will galvanize the Lebanese resistance?
Some my calculate that:

In the end, it's still important that the Lebanese are unafraid to voice their displeasure. Syria's heavy handedness could lead to many more wins on the local level for the opposition. If Jumblat actually sticks with the opposition he can hurt both Lahoud and Hizbullah (who are the new Syrian allies now in cahoots with each other) in the Shouf and Baabda area elections, where without his help they would have lost to the Aounist candidate. Perhaps Jumbatt will once again try a rapprochement with the Maronites and the Christian opposition.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who insisted that he would not go along a constitutional amendment some days ago, had his Thursday meeting with Assad cancelled.

But even were Jumblatt to tempt the fates and his father's memory by rebuilding the Christian-Druze alliance that gave some backbone to the Lebanese state in the pre-civil war days, it would not be enough. The political balance of power has turned so much in Lebanon since the 1960s. The Shiites present a totally new force that makes the old calculus inoperative. The Sunnis would have to get on board with the Christians as well.

Everyone in Lebanon is waiting to hear from Harriri. The bets are that he will deliver the Sunnis to Damascus if he is given another term along with Lahoud. Then the Christian opposition will be caught out in the cold, just as it has been since Taif. Jumblatt's sympathies will be small consolation.

Nevertheless, Syria will pay a price for this. The US will be raging mad at Bashar for embarrassing them yet again. Only days ago, a team of congressmen asked Bashar not to do this. The US it is still trying to push "Democracy now" in the Middle East. Bashar's fiddle in Lebanon will underline, once again, how nothing seems to be going Washington's way in the region - certainly not democracy.


At 8/26/2004 07:54:00 PM, Blogger Anton Efendi said...

Just a couple of points on the Shiites and Hariri and the Sunnis.

On the Shiites you write:

The Shiites present a totally new force that makes the old calculus inoperative. The Sunnis would have to get on board with the Christians as well.That's only half true. The Shiites are in no way homogenous politically. Berri, the traditional and faithful Syrian ally, isn't happy with Hizbullah prominence and his humiliation by Syria. Also, the Asaad family, the relic of older times, is also not happy with Hizbullah either or with Syria's intervention. Furthermore, these two do not really play the mass politics that Hizbullah wants. They pretty much stick with the traditional formula, as long as they get a healthy, bigger than before, cut. Berri has certainly achieved that, despite his views on elections, which will not materialize any time soon, if ever.

As for the Sunnis, you write:

Everyone in Lebanon is waiting to hear from Harriri. The bets are that he will deliver the Sunnis to Damascus if he is given another term along with Lahoud.There's a nuance here that you leave out. Hariri does not want to get stuck with Lahoud again. At the same time, he still wants to hold power, so that Lahoud doesn't run away with everything. That's why he's sulking now. He contemplated resigning, but renegged, and that's why you deduced that he'll deliver the Sunnis. I'm not sure if that's going to be the only thing he does. He might in fact play the game that you think Jumblatt might play (at least temporarily, unless the Syrians really threaten them) and work, even if clandestinely, with the opposition (perhaps also in local elections?).

As for the other pro-Syrian Sunni players, they're cowed, but they're not happy with the Lahoud deal, especially if Hariri will stay on, which leaves them totally out. How they decide to play their cards remains to be seen. Dogs like Qandil and other low level hounds are expected to bark out loud to annoy people and sniff Syrian butt for a bone, but their weight is feather light.

Let's see what happens. I wonder where the "normal Syrians" are in all this!

At 9/01/2004 05:59:00 AM, Blogger A Syrian In The Far East said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9/02/2004 06:19:00 PM, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Joshua here: Sept. 2
Syrian In The Far East, many thanks for your observations during the past two weeks and thanks for clarifying my point on the political prisoner debate.
Best, Joshua


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