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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Siniora vs. the obscurantists

The public quarrel between Siniora and Berri has degenerated into a pure power struggle, with both sides exchanging lectures on how the country should be run and how executive decisions should be made.

Siniora’s Wednesday response to Berri’s obtuse “Lebanon is not for sale” affirmation made it clear that Siniora does not intend to seek the approval of Berri before every step, as it had been the norm in the past when Rafik Hariri had to run everything by Berri, Lahoud and of course the master Syria. Speaking to reporters before his Washington meetings, Siniora said the parliament (meaning Berri) should get used to practicing the principle of separation of powers, and threw in a reminder that the chamber of deputies only has the authority to hold the government accountable for its decisions and not play the role of an executive partner.

Berri, whose dramatic rejection of privatization shifted the focus back to Lebanon from NY and DC where Siniora and Hariri were lobbying for aid, hurried with a response published in as-Safir accusing the prime minister of unilaterally making “hasty” decisions that could send the country into the “unknown.” What is remarkable here is that Lahoud, perhaps unwittingly, lent support and constitutionality to Siniora’s international activities by announcing that the prime minister was coordinating with him every step of the way and that his actions were complimentary to the president’s own actions at the UN (whatever these were). Berri’s claim that Siniora was not acting within his constitutional rights is false, as he went there as head of the Lebanese government and with the backing of the council of ministers.

The rejection of privatisation is going to generate a massive headache for Siniora who, though patiently big on dialog, seems intent on fully exercising his constitutional prerogatives and not waste time getting stuck in Berri’s webs, which of course is an incredibly difficult thing to avoid. Berri is already showing signs of reneging on promises he made to Hariri’s bloc that he would not stand in the way of reform like he used to in the past, even if he personally didn’t think selling certain public sectors was a good idea. With Jumblatt and Hizbullah humming similar tunes, Berri will find it easy to forget any promises he made and carry on being the old stubborn and obstructionist politician he has always been.

What’s alarming at this point is that the campaign on Siniora is taking on another aspect that is tragically reminiscent of the Syrian sponsored campaign on Hariri before his assassination, which painted the former PM as a traitor who is selling his country to the US and Israel. Even Jumblatt and his followers have released (and then pulled) a statement warning of any caveats in the international support for Lebanon that might require Lebanon to give in to American demands regarding UNSC resolution 1559, something that could jeopardize, according to the PSP statement, Lebanon’s “Arab standing and the country’s stance towards the Arab Israeli struggle.“

That Siniora had to remind them that “there would be no foreign interference in Lebanon's affairs” and that seeking aid did not mean Siniora signed on to disarming Hizbullah is both insulting and a sad indicator of the decaying, hypocritical and unprogressive nature of Lebanese politics. I think Berri and co have proven that they are unqualified to pass bills let alone reform without the interference of another country, so they should be the last to talk. This whole episode makes Saad Hariri and Siniora appear like the only politicians who are attempting to deal with and are aware of the realities of international affairs. Although it appears that Siniora is in a difficult position regarding 1559 and the issue of Hizbullah, it seems like he has succeeded in, at least temporarily, convincing the US and the EU that Hizbullah is an internal affair that would be settled in due time and that economic aid should not be contingent on disarming them. That’s something he needs to be commended on and not pre-judged.

Berri, Hizbullah and Jumblatt clearly have to stop clutching onto policies that are no longer useful in post-Rafik Hariri Lebanon. Surely there must be ways to safeguard that “resistance” while establishing an overdue rule of law in the country. And surely there must be a way to accept economic aid and implement reform without fearing Lebanon would stop being “Arab” or be forced into peace with Israel. I hope Jumblatt especially realizes that by sounding the resistance alarm every time there is talk of privatization or foreign aid, he sounds like those dictators who use the Arab Israeli struggle as a permanent excuse for not implementing reform.

Somewhere in Riyadh, now a father of 3, Saad Hariri, is finally experiencing what his father went through. Perhaps now he is coming to realize that his father’s policy to keep everyone happy and bite the bullet did not even help him stay alive, let alone implement his project to carry Lebanon into the future. Saad needs to be rethinking his alliances in light of this vitriolic and reactionary attack on Siniora’s government. Perhaps now he knows that Rafik Hariri’s killers weren’t just the Syrians and their puppets. Rafik Hariri was also killed by some of his allies and political protégés whose feudal mentalities and obscurantism assassinated his vision before his person. And now these same people who wept in his funeral are trying to dispose of the resurgence of hope that his tragic death ironically gave birth to.


great post Kais!
I will add your blog to my links list
We should be careful about privatizing at any cost. Some national cies. are in no shape to be sold. EDL in its present state for eg. will go for next to nothing. The public sector needs a massive overhaul, and the administration must be made more efficient before we start a fire sale. The danger here is to end-up like Russia after the fall of communism where influential people got assets for almost nothing. Just remember how Hariri tried to get a cellphone network for $100 million. With the KSA awash in cash
they will buy us on the cheap and make our good friend Dr Victorino-Maroun de Montesquieu look like a visionary.

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