.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Friday, December 30, 2005

Khaddam stops short of saying Syrian regime killed Hariri

Al-Arabiya aired a long interview with Syrian vice president Abdel Halim Khaddam, now a defector living in Paris, in which Khaddam stopped short of accusing the Syrian regime of murdering Rafik Hariri.

Khaddam said the answer to the question of who killed Rafik Hariri lies in the political smear campaign that preceded his assassination. He named Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Jamil Sayyed, in addition to former Syrian military intelligence chief in Lebanon Rustom Ghazale, as members of a circle of people who would incite Bashar against Rafik Hariri.

Khaddam confirmed that Hariri received many death threats from Syrian security officials, including Ghazale. He also confirmed that Bashar Assad told Hariri that he will crush whoever opposes his decision to extend Lahoud's term. Following his last conversation with Assad, Hariri's blood pressure reportedly rose and suffered a nose bleed.

He said he advised Hariri to leave Lebanon in a message he sent him with MP Mohsen Dalloul because his "position in Syria is complicated".

He said a decision to kill Hariri would not have been made without Bashar's knowledge, who is in complete control.

Khaddam described whomever came up with the Abu Adass (suicide bomber) story as extremely stupid. "No sane person can believe that Ahmad Abu Adass is responsible for the assassination." He said the assassination required a network of at least 20 people running such a complicated operation. What individual can arrange for something like that, he wondered. He said this must have been the work of a strong and capable security apparatus.

The former vice president of Syria had a lot to say about Ghazale and his many "transgressions " in Lebanon, which were often rewarded by Bashar. "After Hariri's assassination, I told Bashar he needed to bring that criminal and chop his head off," Khaddam said in reference to Ghazale. He added that he was surprised that Bashar would instead reward Ghazale, who acted like the "supreme ruler" of Lebanon and would regularly hurl insults at Lebanese political figures.

He said the Mehlis report is a technical and professional report. Such a report, he added, cannot reveal all so not to harm the investigation. He accused the suspects of politicising the report, adding that the Hariri murder was a political assassination.

Khaddam stopped short of saying Bashar ordered the assassination, leaving it to the UN investigation to ultimately determine the responsibility. But he provided plenty of hints and said the assassination has to be seen in the context of the Syrian campaign on Hariri and the death threats he received from Syrian officials including Rustom Ghazale.

Is Khaddam the witness Mehlis mentioned in his second report? Time will tell.

Husam Husam exposed in pictures

Elaph has published pictures of Husam Husam at the crime scene of George Hawi, who was killed on 21 June. Husam is the witness who recanted his testimony to the UN probe, claiming he was tortured and bribed by Saad Hariri. Here he is on the day of car bomb that killed Hawi, wearing a red shirt and standing very close to Hawi's family. Husam approached the UN commission in June and signed his testimony in September. He claimed he was held in captivity, drugged and threatened. You judge.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Amr Moussa and al-Qaeda's Syrian rockets

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa has reportedly suspended his "mediation efforts" between Lebanon and Syria, after accusations that he was seeking Lebanese forgiveness for Hariri's murder in exchange for an end to Syria's assassination campaign in the country.

We will have to wait some time, because our efforts have been thwarted by false accusations of a deal (with Syria) to close the dossier of enquiry," into Hariri's killing, he told the An-Nahar newspaper.... Moussa described as “completely unfounded” accusations in Lebanon that the pan-Arab body was working on an initiative whereby the probe into the February murder would be closed in exchange for an end to assassinations that have been blamed by many on Syria.
Deal or no deal, the fact that Moussa is engaged in "mediation efforts" between Syria and Lebanon speaks volumes of his intentions. What exactly is he mediating? Syria has been waging a war against Lebanon since October 2004. Lebanon is not bombing Syria, nor has Lebanon been implicated in three UN reports. I don't see a dispute between two equal parties here. I see one member nation of the Arab League conducting a terrorist war on another helpless member. Moussa has recently accused "evil hands" of trying to create a rift between the two countries. Whether or not Amr Moussa is actually pushing a deal, his flagrant denial of reality constitutes by itself an attempt to sweep the truth under the vast Arab rug of incompetence.

For only in this Arab world, where crimes and embarrassing happenings are usually blamed on vengeful gods, evil ghosts, and Israel, can three Syrian rockets find able terrorist hands to fire them into Israel, further dragging defenseless Lebanon into unwanted confrontations with the scapegoat of Arab problems. (Side note: Al-Qaeda in Iraq has claimed responsibility for the attack on Northern Israel.)

Only in Lebanon, backstabbed and stepped on by more proud Arabs than arrogant colonialists, can a religious militant group like Hizbullah arrogantly say it is investigating this appalling breach of sovereignty, leaving an embattled cabinet with little more than a condemnation.

Only in Amr's Lebanon is it permissible for armed Arab visitors to parade their weapons to the press—weapons obtained from Arab League member nations—and blame their eternal enemy for woes their own actions inflicted on their host.

And only in Amr's world of failed causes, are terrorists from al-Qaeda, whose bloody actions in Iraq never cause an Arab leaguer eye to blink, allowed to grow and be nurtured by the midwife of terrorism: Syria.

Amr must be happy that in his league, one member country takes upon itself to assign another member nation's war matters to foreign thugs, religious militant organizations run by non-Arab oppressive dictatorships, and other militants from Bin Laden's and Zarqawi's blood-soaked fundamentalist hell.

When Amr sips tea in the afternoon, he must contemplate the beauty of Syrian foreign policy: donate weapons to your neighbor's anti-government factions, kill their journalists and any politician who dares speak against Syria, and continue to claim innocence and play victim of international plots.

Amr must be proud that Syria's efforts to arm and train al-Qaeda terrorists in Lebanon are finally paying off.

Amr must also find it amusing that a Syrian proxy-group wants to assassinate the new head of the Hariri investigation, Serge Brammertz, who once defended the rights of the Sabra and Shatila victims, who were relegated to oblivion by Amr's failed league.

Amr must have missed the latest Syrian charade, which saw the rebirth of the "cooperation protocol": a delay tactic that did not work with Mehlis, but that the Syrian regime will use with his successor anyway.

The Syrian calculations were, after all, reliant on regional delusion and incompetence, embodied by Amr's money-wasting pan-Arab body. Will Amr mediate between the UN and Syria? Of course not, for he can only operate under the false assumption that no Arab country is ever at fault. And with delusional mandates like this, it is no wonder that Amr's League saw logic in spinning off another useless body: an Arab parliament with a mandate to "discuss issues related to the strengthening of common Arab action and offer recommendations for that purpose."

Common Arab action. Sure, Amr. Whatever.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

"Happy Holidays"

I am on holiday, which means no blogging until at least Thursday 29 December.

Have a great Christmas, or as they say here in the politically correct US of A, “Happy Holidays”.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Make Aoun president

For God’s sake, make Michel Aoun president of Lebanon. Just do it. We can’t bank on international support for long, no matter how it appears to be in our favor. Somebody needs to make a compromise, and given our choices, Aoun has to be won over by making him feel important. That’s what he wants in return for supporting what has boiled down to a fight against Syrian terrorism and rampant Arabo-Iranian stupidity. We need to shield ourselves against potential UN failure. We cannot place all our eggs in the US and French basket. We have to weave our own unity basket.

Just give him the chair. Let him preside over things. The worst that can ensue is a political clash but the economy will move forward and Aoun will have to support the security plan, or at least help come up with one. Better that than what we had before and what we have today: a Syrian agent for a president, and a war with a terrorist regime.

Just make that compromise and make Aoun President. We need unity, even if it’s on pretend grounds. We need the Aounists in this fight. Syria will not be cowed otherwise. When they assassinated Hariri, they banked on the fragility of the Lebanese opposition. Don’t prove them right. Just make Aoun president.

I don’t want him to be my president. But I don’t want to wait for Godot either. Just make him president damnit.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

On electing God and the resistance

With Lebanon suffering the fallout from the decision to empower Hizbullah politically by allowing it to join the government, you would think others would learn from the Lebanese experience and prevent groups such as Hamas from fielding candidates in the upcoming Palestinian election, or limit the participation in Iraq’s election of groups with links to sectarian militias or the so-called “resistance.” Sadly, that is not the case.

Unfortunately, people vote for what they know, and in the Palestinians' case, they know of two choices: the religious or the corrupt. Hamas, like Hizbullah, is becoming a state within a state, a de facto alternative to whatever the Palestinian Authority is failing to become or to obtain from the Israelis. Today, the Israelis said they will not allow Palestinians to vote in Jerusalem because Hamas, a group that tries to destroy Israel, is participating in the election. While I am no fan of Israeli policies towards Palestinians, I can’t say I blame them. They do not want to give Hamas political authority.

In Iraq, Shias voted in large numbers for candidates from the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) party, whose armed militia, Badr, is said to have infiltrated the interior ministry. Some of the Sunni groups who ran also have known links to the Iraqi “resistance”, which is responsible for the killing of many innocent Iraqis.

I think the US administration is finally realizing the damage a fledgling democracy can incur from empowering groups such as the SCIRI. Ambassador Khalizad recently said that “you can’t have someone who is regarded as sectarian as the minister of interior.” Khalizad was referring to the Iraqi interior minister Bayan Jaber Solagh, a Shia hardliner with links to Badr who is accused of turning a blind eye to the abuse of Sunni detainees in secret interior ministry jails.

As far as I know, no electoral law in the region prohibits candidates with links to armed groups from running. What we have now in Lebanon, a religious and armed group engaged in politics for the sole purpose of keeping the country in an endless state of war, is bound to happen in Palestine and Iraq if electoral laws do not bar militants from standing in elections.

Many of these groups also use religion to sway voters. To get Sunnis to vote in Iraq, Sunni Imams described the vote as a religious duty and directed their electorate to vote for groups affiliated with Sunni fighters (and with a flip of a switch, the militant groups heeded the calls of the Imams and ceased violence for a day). In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood campaigned under the slogan “Islam is the solution” and won an unprecedented number of seats in parliament. They would have won more had it not been for voter obstruction by the Egyptian authorities. The secular opposition was too weak to mount a real challenge. In fact, in Egypt and Syria, secularism was hijacked by the ruling party and became synonymous with oppression and corruption.

Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, who is falsely considered by Western journalists as a spiritual guide to Hizbullah, has warned against the use of religious authority for electoral purposes. Here’s a relevant quote from the ICG report on Lebanon:
A Fadlallah political adviser told Crisis Group that religiously-inspired instructions are acceptable only when pertaining to the "strategic," not "organizational or tactical" level: “God granted the individual. ... reason. A man of religious learning can advise Muslims, for example, "not to vote for corrupt candidates." But it is still up to the individual himself to decide who is corrupt and who isn't. Hizbullah violated this principle. ... Shiites were made to feel endangered, so they felt compelled to vote. And that's dangerous, as now the Shiites think the resistance's weapons are theirs.”
In a region of military dictatorships, it's hard to convince people not to vote for religious groups or militants riding sympathetic causes. And with dictators bent on destroying the secular opposition, militant religious groups automatically rise in power until they become the only alternative to corruption and injustice. And we all know what some of those groups have given birth to: terrorism.

Giving militant and fundamentalist groups political authority does not strike me as democracy. When these groups reach power, the first thing they will do is cancel the free vote in the name of conformity. Iran here is a good example. After all, nobody should have to give up their Beethoven, Radiohead and Fairuz.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Jumblatt: Syria trying to change balance of power

In a interview with Orbit Sunday night, and in reference to the spate of killings and attacks in the country since October 2004, Walid Jumblatt said the "murderers' objective is to kill enough MPs to bring about a change in the balance of power within parliament and make the country ungovernable. "

"A change within parliament may be the prelude to a return of Syrian domination," Jumblatt said, adding that "Syrian intelligence networks were not dismantled with the pullout of Syrian military forces in April and that sleeper cells, in place for decades, are still ready to strike."

Lazarus from Letters Apart was able to catch the interview and posted a bunch of quotes. According to Jumblatt, Lahoud is the reason many of the security appointments have not been made yet, including the head of airport security. He charged that after 30 years in Lebanon, the Syrians "had the networks they needed, and had the money. They had the money, from Iraq's oil, from the Baath, from Saddam, and from Bank Medina - one of the reasons for Hariri's assassination is the Medina scandal," Lazarus quoted Jumblatt as saying.

Jumblatt also claimed the commander of the Lebanese army received threats from Assef Shawkat, Syrian military intelligence chief. (In an interesting development, the Lebanese army Sunday permanently closed the infamous military route into Syria. This comes after reports that a suspect in the Tueni bombing used the special road to cross into Syrian hours after the assassination.)

On asking for Hizbullah's protection:
They have the best military strength. The Lebanese security forces aren't strong enough yet, so I asked for their help, at least for political protection ... I welcome Hezbollah to ask Syria 'To where' [ Ila Ein]"
And then this:

Enough of blaming America or blaming Israel. Enough of blaming the Arab-Israeli
conflict ... Why should Lebanon remain hostage to the Arab-Israeli conflict? Open up the Golan front."

Jumblatt has been escalating his verbal war against the Syrian regime since Tueni's assassination. Last week, he called for regime change in Syria.

"This time this regime should change and should be tried," he told CNN last Tuesday, adding that "this guy (Bashar) in Damascus is sick. If he stays, we won't have stability in the Middle East. Anyone who opposes the Syrian regime is assassinated. They execute you then they cry for you; walk at your funeral. They will try to invent all kinds of excuses."

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Aoun is not playing ball

Aoun gave a press conference on Saturday in which he lashed out at the Lebanese government and held it responsible for the deteriorating security situation in the country.

We ask the government to respond to the words of the martyr because after his martyrdom, the government owes it to him. Indeed, the government is responsible but the culprit will not come out to the open and unveil his identity. Of course the finger is pointed mainly towards Syria and to other parties as well, although to a lesser extent. But in all cases, this is still the government’s responsibility.
I agree with Aoun that the government bears the ultimate responsibility for what has happened. The interior minister should have held daily briefings. Better security arrangements should have been taken to protect the lives of officials and citizens.

But Aoun decided to up the ante against the cabinet, which would have been fine had it not for the presumption that the country is like the Hariri-Jumblatt run dictatorship Hizbullah claims it is.
As for the other issue raised by the late MP Tueni, our national unity, I have noted the proliferation of a discourse that harms national unity more than anything else and that insults the real representatives of the people in an attempt to shift the incumbent responsibility towards other parties.
You would think Aoun was referring to Hizbullah, which has been holding the country hostage to their fallacies and shameful defense of a murderous regime. Aoun instead tries to prove he was right all along and puts the blame entirely on his political opponents.
Who asked for the government to set up a security plan? Who asked the minister of interior to give us a map of where we can circulate safely in the country? We are still awaiting the answers. MP Tueni himself stood in parliament and supported these demands.

Who blocked the discussions with Hizbullah, with the Palestinians and the Syrians, is it the FPM? Who initiated today the issue of the presidency, is it also the FPM?

Therefore, we reject the sensitive issues that move the battle from one camp to the other in order to conceal the responsibility of unveiling the crime and protecting the
What I don't understand, and cannot forgive Aoun for, is why continue to presume the country is under the complete control of the Hariri-Jumblatt alliance and the rest of the "March 14 parties" minus Aoun's FPM. From what I can see, they have had little sway on the course of events since they reached this alleged power. Aoun ignores Hizbullah's obstructionism as well the effects of the remnants of the security regime that demonstrably are still eating at the country's ability to protect and defend its citizens.

Aoun would have sounded like a real national leader had he not ignored the underlying causes of the government weakness in facing and dealing with the threats. In his speech, he goes as far as siding with Hizbullah on the issue of the tribunal, despite giving Siniora his approval the week before the cabinet decision was made.
We have to sit all together on a round table of talks and let each party open their cards so that we can come up with a clear plan of action in Lebanon to protect the Lebanese people. None of us would like to mourn every day and lose our friends and Lebanese citizens. But these issues cannot be solved in an arbitrary manner in such a way as creating an internal conflict concerning a topic that they have considered at the beginning as external.

The above is classic Aoun. The call for a "roundtable of talks" masks a familiar and desperate cry for inclusion and parrots Hizbullah's obstructionist line. For someone so concerned about security, it is unfathomable why he would refer to a decision to seek international assistance as an "external issue." In a perfect Lebanon, the security forces would have been able to do without international help. I am not a believer in outsourcing security, in fact, I think Siniora and his team should show the same public firmness regarding cleansing and rehabilitating the security forces that they reserve for efforts to bring Hariri's murderers to trial. On this, I could not agree more with Aoun. But given the current situation, I think we will need all the help we can get. Also, one cannot ignore the links between the Hariri killing and the other terrorists attacks. Our journalists are being targeted and so is anyone who dares speak against Syria. By killing Gebran Tueni, the message to anti-Syrian figures was the following: you are not welcome in your own country. We are in a state of war, and Aoun needs to wake up to that fact.

In short, Aoun's criticism does not appear to be aimed at bettering our defenses, for it ignores the nature of the threats and the devastation caused by the perseverance of anti-Lebanese politics by parties such as Hizbullah, which with Aoun, are providing a political cover for the killers.

Sadly, Aoun has not caught up to his declining popularity among Lebanese people, which apparently translated into anti-FPM chants by Tueni mourners during the Wednesday protests.

On the other hand, the FPM recognizes and implements social values in all occasions, so in funerals, we mourn the deceased, we weep, we present our condolences; we do not whistle and chant slogans that offend other mourners and participants.
Aoun blamed this on a "perversion in thought, media and behavior that prevailed this week has to come to an end and we are ready to face it" and then lapsed into his usual defensive talk:
No one can point the finger at us after the 15-year-struggle we led against the Syrian occupation, while the Syrian troops were on Lebanese soil. And while our activists were being beaten up, all the others were at the service of Syrian officers. And until the very last moment, no one dared even talk to us because we were far beyond the allowed “Syrian ceiling”.
In Aoun's opinion, the solution to this crack in national unity is for others "to control their masses, because national unity starts from the base, when the people live together. National unity is not achieved by triggering hatred at the level of the people and in this case 'nice talk' at the level of the leadership is nothing but lies and deceit.”

If winning national unity is achieved by playing with the base in mind, then, and as evidenced by this speech, Aoun is making his team lose by constantly throwing the ball back towards the pitcher.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

"Hizbullahizing" the state

Efforts are underway to convince Hizbullah to send its ministers back to the politically gridlocked cabinet. After Monday's cabinet decision to ask the UN for a Hariri "tribunal with an international character", five Hizbullah and Amal minister decided to boycott the cabinet, pending a decision from their "political leadership", which is euphemism for--let's stop kidding ourselves-- the Iran-run Hizbullah Shura council.

With the Iranian leadership busy denying the Holocaust and wishing Europe would move Israel to Germany or Austria (or somewhere near Alaska... maybe Canada), the Saudis are reportedly spearheading mediation efforts between the boycotters and Fouad Siniora. Thanks to these efforts, a meeting was arranged between Siniora and Nabih Berri.

Yes, you heard it right. The Saudi ambassador intervened in Lebanon to arrange for a meeting between the parliament speaker and the prime minister.

The problem here is decision making in the cabinet. Can decisions be made through a vote? Here's what the Lebanese constitution says on this:

The legal quorum for a Council meeting is a majority of two thirds of its members. It makes its decisions by consensus. If that is not possible, it makes its decisions by vote of the majority of attending members. Basic national issues require the approval of two thirds of the members of the Council named in the Decree forming the Cabinet. Basic national issues are considered the following:

The amendment of the constitution, the declaration of a state of emergency and its termination, war and peace, general mobilization, international agreements and treaties, the annual government budget, comprehensive and longterm development projects, the appointment of Grade One government employees and their equivalents, the review of the administrative map, the dissolution of the Chamber of Deputies, electoral laws, nationality laws, personal status laws, and the dismissal of Ministers.
Hizbullah MP Mohammad Raad articulated his party's position as follows:

Hizbullah's Nabatieh MP Mohammad Raad said during a ceremony held by the party in the southern city of Sidon that the only way the party will end its boycott is if the government returns to applying the national consensus formula, which bans taking decisions on critical national matters on the basis of majority and minority. "The decision that was taken in the name of the majority was a huge mistake, and this mistake should be corrected," Raad said. He added: "If our presence or absence from the Cabinet is the same, then what is the need for our attendance?"

He then went on to describe the political majority in Lebanon as a "dictatorship."

"This is not a ruling majority, this is a dictatorship that is imposing its hegemony over the country," he said.
Of course, this last statement is ridiculous. Lebanon is a dictatorship because a majority of elected representatives voted on a decision, but Hizbullah is a democratic party that manipulates religion to reach political power, protects despots, and defends the interests of other nations!

The cabinet's vote is of course constitutional. An absence of "consensus" never prevented past cabinets from resorting to this allegedly vile method of…voting!

As for Hizbullah's rejection of a majoritarian system, it's laughable, considering Hizbullah's constant waving of the Shia majority card, which at best could be described as illegal:
Nasrallah's resort to taklif as-Sharii also was controversial among Shiites. Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, whom many Lebanese Shiites consider their "model for emulation" (marjaa at-taqlid), publicly denounced such use of religious authority for electoral purposes. A Fadlallah political adviser told Crisis Group that religiously-inspired instructions are acceptable only when pertaining to the "strategic," not "organizational or tactical" level:

God granted the individual. ... reason. A man of religious learning can advise Muslims, for example, "not to vote for corrupt candidates." But it is still up to the individual himself to decide who is corrupt and who isn't. Hizbullah violated this principle. ... Shiites were made to feel endangered, so they felt compelled to vote. And that's dangerous, as now the Shiites think the resistance's weapons are theirs.

Some Shiite observers also wondered how many more times Hizbullah would successfully mobilize community voters on a plebiscite to prevent disarmament. Interestingly, a not insignificant number of Shiites voted for non-endorsed lists, an outcome that reportedly infuriated Nasrallah and led him to castigate supporters for lack of discipline. (Source: International Crisis Group report on Lebanon)

For that, I doubt Hizbullah will quit the cabinet. This latest stunt is part obstructionism, part self defense. After all, that was the whole point of joining the cabinet: "counting on political gridlock" to preclude any dramatic vote that would hurt Hizbullah interests.

With Syria out and pressure for disarmament growing, Hizbullah seeks alternative forms of protection. Retreating to its natural constituency is one; having a role in government is another. As a first line of defense, it counts on political gridlock and natural rivalry among politicians to preclude a dramatic move...

Participation in government adds several layers of protection. First, it bolsters Hizbullah's image as a legitimate national player, complicating efforts to put it on the EU terrorism list, for example. With Syria no longer as able to shape domestic politics and act as guarantor, Hizbullah also is intent on having a direct say, putting itself in a stronger position to shape internal debates on 1559 and pre-empt potentially harmful developments.

Quoting Amal Saad Ghorayeb, The ICG report on Lebanon sums up Hizbullah's attitude as follows:

Their attitude [on joining the government] is a dramatic change from the past. But they are going to instrumentalize the state to protect the resistance. They know how difficult it will be for the U.S. and Israel to mess with them. The party is not becoming "Lebanonized; rather it is "Hizbullah-izing" the state.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Aljazeera and the click democracy

An Aljazeera poll on Syria's involvement in the Lebanon attacks has created an online frenzy among some Lebanese, who are forwarding e-mails and running web ads urging participation in the vote.

Do you believe Syria is involved in the Lebanon explosions?
1. Yes
2. No

The following is from an e-mail I received this morning urging me to vote:
AL Jazeera.net is conducting a Vote, to see if Syria is responsible of the Explosions in Lebanon or not ?

What do you think ?????????

Syrians are voting by the loads, that they are not responsible....

the vote will finish this saturday, let all ur friends vote

Long Live Lebanon ...
Naharnet is even running a banner calling on its readers to "make a difference... vote in Aljazeera Poll."

Last I checked, the pro-Lebanon camp was losing. I could claim here that the loss is predictable given the leanings of "Arab public opinion" . But I won't, because Aljazeera.net will most likely do that on Saturday. After every poll, that site publishes a story claiming the vote is a reflection of people's opinions. I and many others disagree with such a claim.

Here's what CNN prints after every online poll or "quick vote":

This QuickVote is not scientific and reflects the opinions of only those Internet users who have chosen to participate. The results cannot be assumed to represent the opinions of Internet users in general, nor the public as a whole. The QuickVote sponsor is not responsible for content, functionality or the opinions expressed therein.
Add to the above that anybody can vote an infinite number of times after clearing the browser's cache and cookies. I personally voted at least 5 times.

So by all means go and vote, but let us not turn it into a patriotic duty. It is just going to make us mad when we see Syria acquitted by some smug and scientifically-challenged online editor.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

All martyrs, no heroes

Lebanon has plenty of martyrs, but do we have any heroes? Are we a culture that draws strength from martyrs?


1 a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion 2 a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle 3 VICTIM; especially : a great or constant sufferer


1 a a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability b: an illustrious warrior c: a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities d: one that shows great courage

2 a the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work

3 an object of extreme admiration and devotion



They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This is one picture that has been haunting me since Monday.


Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Syria's ambassador to the UN likens Tueni to a dog

Fayssal Mekdad has reportedly called Gebran Tueni a dog.
Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Fayssal Mekdad, likened slain Lebanese legislator Gibran Tueni to a dog yesterday and indicated that Israel leads American policy on his country.

Mr. Mekdad blamed Israel for his country's increased isolation and dismissed the Lebanese Cabinet's request to expand the Hariri investigation to probe six other alleged political assassinations...

"So now every time that a dog dies in Beirut there will be an international investigation?" Mr. Mekdad said to an Arab diplomat during a closed-door council session, according to a diplomat who heard the conversation but asked to remain anonymous.

Better a loyal, smart and courageous dog than a descendant from a dastardly species of half-men.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The second Mehlis report: summary and remarks

Detlev Mehlis Sunday submitted his second progress report to the UN security council, after six months of unprecedented investigative work aimed at assisting the Lebanese government in finding and eventually prosecuting the killers responsible for the Hariri assassination.

In 25 pages, the second report outlined the progress since the last report, which had concluded that the crime could not have happened without the knowledge and perhaps complicity of high ranking Syrian officials. Since then, the UNIIIC has been pursuing and building on many lines of enquiry, as well as "cross-checking" and "evaluating" the statements of 500 witnesses and 19 individuals so far identified as suspects.

The report points to new testimonies, one of which "strengthens the evidence confirmed to date against the Lebanese officers in custody, as well as high-ranked Syrian officers."

A number of new witnesses, whose testimonies are under evaluation, have provided the commission with "potentially critical information about the assassination." However, a new witness, who "has been assessed to be credible and the information he has submitted to be reliable", submitted in late October "a comprehensive and coherent statement regarding plans to assassinate Mr. Hariri."

The detailed information points directly at perpetrators, sponsors and organizers of an organized operation aiming at killing Mr. Hariri, including the recruitment of special agents by the Lebanese and Syrian intelligence services, handling of improvised explosive devices, a pattern of threats against targeted individuals, and planning of other criminal activities.
Perhaps as significant as the above, the UN report found links between the Hariri assassination and the wave of killings that has been targeted anti-Syrian figures.

It was reported to the Commission that, after the assassination of Mr. Hariri, a high-level Syrian official supplied arms and ammunition to groups and individuals in Lebanon in order to create public disorder in response to any accusations of Syrian involvement in the Hariri assassination.
The significance of the above lies in that the above mentioned groups have been enabled by the Syrian regime with the means to attack any target they deem hostile to Syrian interests in Lebanon, without the necessity of a direct intervention from Syria. This is not different from the way the Syrian regime has enabled terrorists in Iraq to wreak havoc, all in the name of resistance to occupation.

Also worth noting is the revelation that Syrian intelligence has burned all documents related to the Hariri assassination. The Lebanese military intelligence has also reportedly erased archives of transcripts of phone calls intercepted by the agency between October 2004 and March 20005.

The UNIIIC has embarked on an ambitious attempt to understand the modus operandi and motives of all possible perpetrators. Section D in the report speaks of a "steady pattern of converging circumstantial evidence related to the motive for the crime." More importantly, the commission "has not found any significant evidence that alters the conclusion of probably cause which is set out in the previous report concerning the involvement of top-ranked Syrian and Lebanese officials."

There was little probability that a third party could have undertaken the necessary surveillance of Mr. Hariri, and maintained the resources, logistics and capacity to initiate, plan and commit a crime of this magnitude.
The report then goes on to detail how the commission is going about pursuing the different lines of enquiry and what remains to be pursued, which is a lot and requires a long period of time.

On Syrian cooperation and the Syrian Judicial Commission

UNSC resolution 1636 gave the UNIIIC the "same rights and [authority] vis-à-vis the Syrian Arab republic as it has been granted in Lebanon, and the authority to determine the location and modalities for interview of Syrian officials." The report describes the torturous road to Syrian cooperation in lengthy detail.

The report then raises doubts over the exact role of the Syrian Judicial commission. While it welcomes its establishment, the UNIIIC had to often remind the Syrian regime that the Syrian commission cannot invalidate or substitute for UNIIIC's own work. Its function, as viewed by the UN commission, should be to "share their part of the responsibility and… help establish the truth" as it is "only the actual and continuous responsiveness of the Syrian authorities that will remove any doubt about Syrian substantive movement in the case."

Unfortunately, the Syrian commission proved to be part of the attempt to "hinder the investigation internally and procedurally."

The Syrian Commission organized a press conference with a Syrian witness who
gave journalists an opportunity to question him before the Judicial Commission
could do so, and who contradicted prior sworn evidence given to the commission.

The UNIIIC report said it has evidence of threats made against relatives of Husam Husam, who is "being manipulated by the Syrian authorities, raising serious questions about whether the Syria Judicial Commission is committed to conducting an independent, transparent and professional investigation." Last month, Syrian state television aired the retraction of Husam, a Syrian intelligence agent who claimed he was bribed and tortured by Hariri's son Saad to falsify his testimony. (See my previous posts on this here, here, here and here)


The report will not satisfy those who want to see fingerprints and photographs of Assad fitting the Mitsubishi van with explosives to entertain the possibility of his regime's guilt.
Many commentators continue to attack the Mehlis reports for alleged lack of evidence, despite the enormity of the task ahead, the amount of work achieved so far, the lack and at best slow-paced Syrian cooperation, and the fact that no criminal investigation anywhere in the world can do what the Syrian regime's supporters and other dishonest commentators expect the UNIIIC to do: reveal all evidence to the public before the trial.

Only one investigation is capable and has been engaging in that sort of legal heresy: The Syrian Judicial commission. The Mehlis critics out there continue to hold his commission to the low standards set by the Syrian regime; standards that can only stem from ignorance and delusion.

Ask yourself this question: Which criminal investigation displays all its witnesses on the pages of papers and on television screens before they are interrogated and before they get their day in court? Which commission has become a platform for smear campaigns against anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians, who are being assassinated one after the other?? The Syrian commission.

Which criminal investigation is conducting a systematic and methodical investigation and still uses terms like "may have been involved" when referring to individuals it calls "suspects" who are "presumed innocent until proven guilty after trial." The UNIIIC.

For some reason, people expect a professional commission of international experts to follow the Syrian model, which uses TV screens and torture chambers to "investigate" murders.

You do not need a law degree to know that no criminal investigation would ever publish all of its findings in a public report before trial time. The conclusion that there is no strong evidence is to be determined by the court, not by the commission and certainly not by the self-appointed pundits. When crimes are committed, a court decides on the guilt or innocence of involved parties. Not pre-trial reports by the prosecution or the defendants!

Some people are so naïve they let themselves be led to the false notion that no court is needed if the prosecution doesn't present "convincing" evidence in the open. This masked rejection of justice has managed to convince people that justice lives in the safe corridors of the media. It's a pathetically ignorant and shameless yet highly contagious line of thinking that is symptomatic of the selective sense of justice prevalent in this region and elsewhere.

DC candle light vigil

Tens of Lebanese and non-Lebanese sympathizers braved the cold DC weather and held a candle light vigil Monday night for Gebran Tueni in front of the Lebanese embassy. We were all there to remember a man whose only crime was free speech. His killers spoke the language of murder. They should be the ones to shut up.

Here are a few pictures.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Mehlis 2 report available for download

Download a PDF format here.

Mehlis 2: New witness "strengthens" evidence against Lebanese and Syrian officers

It looks like the UN commission wants to avoid another Husam stunt. Quotes courtesy of AFP:

UNIIC (The UN international independent investigation commission) has been approached by a number of witnesses with potentially critical information about the assassination ... Given that their information is still in the process of being evaluated and the need to protect their identities to ensure their safety, this report does not detail the information they have provided.

In late 0ctober 2005, the commission was approached by another new witness, who has submitted a comprehensive and coherent statement regarding plans to assassinate Mr. Hariri... The witness has been assessed to be credible and the information he has submitted to be reliable.

The statement from the witness strenghtens the evidence confirmed to date against the Lebanese officers in custody, as well as high-ranked Syrian officers.

It's all still a work in progress:
From 7 October to 10 December 2005, 52 witness statements, 69 investigators' notes and eight suspect statements were issued...A total of 37,000 pages of documents have been entered into the case file. Fourteen investigators from 10
different member states have been involved in the commission's investigative work, as well as a number of external experts.

To date, UNIIC has interviewed and obtained the statements of 19 suspects. Analysts are in the process of reviewing these statements, focusing on any significant issues or leads that can be identified, for the purpose of cross-checking those issues that can be identified. One of the specific areas of focus is information related to the planning of the assassination, including locations, dates, times and participants in meetings.

Mehlis 2: Syrian intelligence burned documents

From Reuters:

The report said it had identified 19 suspects but did not name them. It said five Syrian officials questioned by U.N. investigators in Vienna this month were suspects.

It complained that Damascus was trying to cast doubt on the investigation's findings, and said it had asked to interview a sixth Syrian official, also considered a suspect, but that session had to be postponed.

"This was, at the least, an attempt to hinder the investigation internally and procedurally," it said.

The report said statements made by two of the Syrian suspects "indicated that all Syrian intelligence documents concerning Lebanon had been burned".

Second UN Hariri report implicates Syria

According to AFP, the second interim report "implicates" Syria in the killing of Hariri and calls on Syria to cooperate. Here's the only quote I have so far:
The commission relies on the full and unconditional cooperation of the Syrian authorities in the next period of its enquiries, so that all aspects of the case under investigation may be ascertained.
Watch this blog for more posts on the report.

Strugglers for "unity and freedom" killed Gebran!

A secular-minded, Arab nationalist/Syrian nationalist sounding "group" calling itself "The Strugglers for the Unity and Freedom in al-Sham" has claimed responsibility for Tueni's assassination. (Arabic text here)

"We have broken the pen of Gibran Tueni and gagged his mouth forever, turning An-Nahar into a dark night," it said. "He who contemplates attacking those who have sacrificed everything for the sake of Arabism and Lebanon will face the same fate as ... Tueni," it added said.

The group said Gebran Tueni was "spreading poisons and lies despite our repeated warnings to him."

It is funny how "unity and freedom" in alleged Syrian/Arab nationalist context translate into murder and gagging mouths!

Is Bashar defending Syria till the last Lebanese?

They didn’t waste any time. As soon as journalist and MP Gebran Tueni returned from his Paris hideout, they assassinated him with 2 others including his driver and an unidentified corpse. Over 30 were reportedly wounded.

The technique was similar to that which killed Rafik Hariri:

A police source speaking on condition of anonymity told Adnkronos International (AKI) that the technique used in the attack was similar to that which killed former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in February. Hariri and 20 others died after a bomb was detonated in a Beirut suburb as the former premier's motorcade passed by.
Jumblatt has blamed Syria:

Gebran Tueni and An-Nahar were being threatened for a long time by the Syrian regime... we got the message. We will persevere." Jumblatt said: "They killed Gebran Tueni today because Mehlis will present his report today. This is a message to the international community and the Lebanese community."
Chibli Mallat’s 3 solutions (interview with Future TV):

Lahoud’s ouster

International tribunal to try those responsible for all the assassinations in Lebanon since the attempt on Hamade

International military protection for Lebanese people

Rafik Khoury, al-Anwar's editor in chief, said in an interview that there is no council of ministers in Lebanon, there is a divided group of people who meet but can't agree on the basics.

Saad Hariri fingered the same "parties that killed Rafik Hariri and the others and that were mentioned in the UN report."

Future TV is airing bits from his March 14 speech:
You built Lebanon’s independence.

Independence is being reborn in Martyrs’ Square…

You are one and united... there won’t be civil war in Lebanon.

Repeat this oath:

We swear by God

Muslims and Christians

We will stay united

Until eternity

Defending Lebanon the great

Long live Lebanon

Friday, December 09, 2005

Hizbullah's Mujahedeen face evil on their own

Hussein Assaf, identified as a Hizbullah member, miraculously escaped assassination today when his car exploded "seconds" after he left it and went into the house of Sheikh Mohammad Yazbek in Hizbullah-controlled Baalback.

Lebanese police confirmed there were no casualties and then sat and watched as "Hizbullah guerrillas cordoned-off the roads leading to the blast site."

We already know who did it.

"We blame the Zionist enemy for planning and executing this attack," a Hizbullah statement said.

Hizbullah vowed to "do all ... necessary to cut off the hands that target its Mujahedeen with evil ... and defend Lebanon and its people."

Don't expect Hizbullah to use FBI expertise or call for an international investigation to solve this riddle! Whatever for? The "state within a state" has its own security organ and its courts are ready to judge and sentence the would-be killers to death if necessary.

Watch this timely incident become an excuse for continued "resistance" and going at it alone. There will be plenty of across-the-board condemnation but little geniune sympathy, as you can probably tell.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Allah, Iran and their party in Lebanon

My post comparing Hizbullah to the Basij militia sparked a lively debate at the Future Movement political forum (hat tip Khaled). It stirred up a range of issues from the representational power of Hizbullah to its status as a Lebanese political party that should command respect. In a comment to my Naharnet post, fellow blogger Anton Efendi also posted a long article from al-Seyassah claiming fissures within Hizbullah's ranks. The article depicted an internal Iranian tug of war over who will succeed Nasrallah as secretary general, with the latter allegedly belonging to former President Rafsanjani's current and lacking the hardline qualities Ahmadinejad requires in his leaders. Raja on Lebanese bloggers went as far as raising the possibility of military conflict within Hizbullah similar to what happened in 1998 when former secretary general Subhi al-Tufeili led a failed revolt against Nasrallah along with 200 of his supporters.

Beginning with the debate at the FM forum, my critics are right in that Hizbullah is more than Basij, and for the record I didn't say Hizbullah's organizational structure was modelled after the Iranian militia. My analogy served to show that Lebanon cannot copy the Iranian model by delegating matters of defense to a paramilitary group, like Iran does.

What is Hizbullah?

One of my critics rejected calling Hizbullah a militia. "Hizbullah is a political party with a military wing fighting against occupation," he said. That's a false characterisation. Ahmad Nizar Hamzeh in "In the Path of Hizbullah" defined Hizbullah as a "jihad movement that engages in politics, and not a political party that engages in jihad." It is "an Islamic political party but neither its leadership or its organizational structure is equivalent to conventional secular parties such as those in the western democratic or socialist system."

Hizbullah does not believe in democracy, be it western or Lebanese. It also doesn't believe in and engages in "jihad" against the following concepts: nationalism, socialism, liberalism and women's rights. These are concepts it considers alien to Islam. In many ways, it is a mini-Iran with authority and control concentrated in a seven-member Shura council. The highest authority in Hizbullah's world is the Wali al-Faqih, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. It's not the Lebanese cabinet, and certainly not the president. The party’s representatives in parliament and in the cabinet answer to the Shura council and act according to its instructions. Nasrallah is quoted in Hamzeh’s book as saying that ”being a member in parliament does not mean that Hizbullah’s elected representatives are above the authority of the Shura council.”
In other words, the party and its members are completely and directly under the control of its clerical leadership, which answers and is "guided" by the supreme leader of Iran.

It follows from the above that the Party of God represents only its interests and those of the Iranian clergy. This reduces Hizbullah into an armed religious movement that engages in politics.


The votes that elected Hizbullah's MPs did not stem from real democratic choices. Many of the party's Shia followers did not partake in the vote out of democratic duty. They did it out of religious duty. Hizbullah's ideologically committed constituency voted under "Taklif sharii of the wilayat" (the religious commands of the Guardianship). There is no democracy involved here. Other Shia voters went to the polls to re-elect the only power that offers them social services, education and hospitalization. Again, this is not a democratic choice, this is a failure of a weakened state that failed to take care of its own.

You could argue that if that's how Hizbullah and their followers want it then by all means let them have it their way. It's not like other parties in Lebanon adopt democratic principles and hold primaries to open the door to competition within the party ranks. You could also argue that very few political parties in Lebanon or the rest of the world for that matter do not put their party loyalty first. That's a valid point if Hizbullah were a national party that wasn't funded by a different country and that didn't seek Jihad to establish some sort of Islamic Zion in Lebanon.

It is never fair to allow a religious entity to field candidates because its followers will vote like they're voting for God. And when that party is connected to a foreign entity, it makes allowing such a party to enter elections criminal if not an act of treason. Had Khamenei been a apolitical cleric, things would probably be different. But we're talking about Iran here, where religion and politics are one and the same.

That is why I believe Hizbullah, in its current shape and form, has no place in Lebanese politics. It is not freedom to let them field candidates who are going to win by virtue of being what the cleric and the doctor ordered. So next time you catch yourselves saying Hizabullah represents Shia through free elections remember how Hizbullah does not believe in that freedom you attach to their so called electoral victory. Does Iranian style Shia Islam represent Iranian style Shia? Yes. Does it mean anything when the cleric runs in an election and wins? No. Empowering religious men, let alone arming them, is a recipe for destruction.

Hizbullah and Ahmadinejad

According to Hamzeh, Hizbullah has been adopting a “gradualist-pragmatic” mode since the death of Khomeini and the election of Rafsanjani. The Rafsanjani-Khamenei combination was instrumental in pushing the party into the Lebanese political scene. In fact, it is said that Khamenei’s strategy has been to encourage Hizbullah to gain a foothold in the Lebanese political system. This was part of the party’s “political Jihad” as Hamzeh pointed out in his book, an “opportunity to seek power” by penetrating the parliament. For Hizbullah does not believe in western democracy, nor is the party a political party in the western or socialist sense as I mentioned above. Being in parliament is just part of that jihad stuff.

So does it make a difference that Iran has a new ultra-conservative president? Will this split Hizbullah into two camps or worse, harden its policies further? Logic leads us to believe that If Ahmadinejad gets his way with his Lebanese-based party, he will encourage the Hizbullah leadership to rely on the numerical strength of its constituents, who outnumber those of Amal, to consolidate power within the Shia community. Ahmadinejad’s style is to expedite the political jihad by purging moderates and spread a “Basij culture.” He wants to take on the world and is allegedly close to developing a nuclear bomb. With the Syrian masters gone, Hizbullah is no longer forced to compromise or strike electoral alliances with Amal. In that regard, Al-Seyassah's claim, which is that certain pro-Ahmadinejad Hizbullah MPs are already working on creating wide divisions in Amal's ranks in a bid to take over the party, seems plausible.

But would this have happened anyway given Hizbullah's course of jihad and the departure of Syria, which would have protected Berri and tried to weaken Hizbullah*? My guess is yes, eventually. In that sense, the worse Ahmadinejad can do is expedite the jihad. This should be a wake up call to those who still think a party like Hizbullah is a national party and not a time bomb about to explode in our faces. Whether or not the street sweeper of Tehran will overcome Khamenei's authority is not important anymore. Measures should be taken to limit the influence and political participation of entities that pose as Allah's own army.

I am not calling for its immediate elimination. We don't want civil war. The state must reclaim the people who live under Hizbullah's rule. And it must reclaim them by adopting national policies that accommodate all Lebanese sects so not to alienate or enrage other groups. It's not a "dialogue" we need; it's the vision and will to win Lebanese people back. The electoral laws should bar parties running in elections from receiving foreign aid, let alone carry arms. But most importantly, Hizbullah's Shia followers have to be won back. Hamzeh said it best in the conclusion of his book:
…the future course of Hizbullah will depend on the ability of the Lebanese state to accommodate both Muslim and Christian interests under the Ta’if formula, and to bring some measure of economic prosperity to all social classes, in particular the poor classes, regardless of sectarian affiliation.

*It is believed that the Syrians encouraged former Hizbullah secretary general Subhi al-Tufeili’s revolt in 1998 in order to weaken Hizbullah in Lebanon by splitting it into two parties, keeping one in the south to fight Israel, and another in the Beqaa under Tufeili and the Syrians [Hamzeh cites Norton, Hizbullah in Lebanon]. This failed, and my guess is that it was another Syrian gamble to make sure it has the upper hand in Lebanon, and not Iran, despite the Iranian-Syrian agreement in the 1990s.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Naharnet responds: we report on feelings!

The Naharnet webmaster responded to an e-mail I sent them after they published an article identifying the entire Shia community with Hizbullah and Amal. (Read my Naharnet post here.)

Here is the Naharnet response:

Dear Kais,

The story was simply trying to depict the general feeling in Lebanon about the showdown orchestrated by the two main Shiite factions in the Council of Ministers. We concede that Amal and Hizbullah do not represent the whole of the Shiite community but this is the feeling of the rest of the people in Lebanon.

Admittedly, the concluding paragraph of the story has inadvertently portrayed the whole Shiite community as acquiescent to the Amal and Hezbollah rhetoric. Although we are certain that this is not the case, we await the time when scores of independent Shiites would rise and give theiropinion openly.

We sympathize with your outrage and share your feelings, but we do not think that an apology or retraction is warranted, because this reflected the general feeling in town that was generated by such action.

Thank you for your valuable comment.

Naharnet Webmaster

And here my response to their response:

Dear Naharnet webmaster,

Thank you for the reply, and I apologize for my earlier outburst. As a fellow journalist, I will allow myself to make the following comments.

You did not cite any sources reflecting the "feeling of the rest of the people in Lebanon." As an online news site, you cannot appoint yourselves the representatives of one segment of the population against another. You also cannot blame what you did on feelings the rest of the population allegedly has against an entire community. Let me put it this way: "feelings" are not reliable sources in the world of professional and objective journalism.

And then you say: "Although we are certain that this is not the case, we await the time when scores of independent Shiites would rise and give their opinion openly." Who are you and what is Naharnet to wait for something like that? And since when journalists wait for something to happen? You go and you find it and you talk to people. You use quotes and evidence and you cite sources. Not sentiments of the town! I mean did you take a poll? You cannot accuse people of silence when you yourselves do not report statements.

I am very disappointed and I do hope that you change your minds and apologize for reporting on your own feelings rather than facts.

Feelings and sentiments!!!! This is journalism?

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Who is allowing Hizbullah become Lebanon's Basij?

Hizbullah has colossal powers in Lebanon. It is a militia with growing political authority. By allowing it to keep its arms, the Lebanese political leaders, many of whom claim to be anti-military, don't see the dangers in letting a group carry arms and play politics at the same time. Those leaders are helping Hizbullah become the equivalent of Iran's Basij militia, a nine million-strong group controlled by the revolutionary guards that "helped" Ahmadinejad reach the presidency.

Basij is everywhere in Iran, in mosques, schools and government institutions. Just like Hizbullah, they claim to represent the Shia and have enough followers to back that claim. Their legitimacy comes from the Iranian constitution and the constant support of the Iranian government. Even reformist President Mohammad Khatami would often say that there is no "reconstruction" in Iran without Basij.

Basij is a paramilitary group composed of "volunteers" that was founded in the 80s during the Iran-Iraq war. Their role evolved through the years from defending Iran against external threats, which at the time meant Iraq, to guardians of the clerical regime. Although the constitution bars them from interfering in politics, they have been doing so more these days, and it is believed that Ahmadinejad, a former revolutionary guard, "won" the presidential election with their "support" on the ground. The militia is widely feared, and they are now being used by the revolutionary guards to silence reformist and quell student protests. Their authority is being expanded to include police and enforcing Islamic codes. The head of the Guardians council yesterday even gave them the credit for "winning" the fight against the International Atomic Energy Agency. In other words, this small militia has become a tool to maintain a fundamentalist regime and silence dissenters.

Hizbullah, which has many links to Basij and is believed to be hosting some of them in Lebanon, is also a militia on a defense mission, among other goals. Following Khomeini's heretical Wilayat al-Faqih, which transferred the powers of the occulted Imam to the temporal authority embodied by the supreme leader, it was able to challenge the traditionally apolitical Shia religious authorities and legitimize its pursuit of power.

Although Hizbullah's "pragmatism" is often highlighted by certain "experts", much of it comes from the flexibility of Shia Islam, and in Hizbullah's case, it has only allowed the party to adapt to changing circumstances without any significant change in the party's ideology and long-term aim to create an Islamic order in Lebanon modeled after Iran. So while most Shia await the return of the Mahdi, Hizbullah's Shias are also waiting and working towards for the Islamic order.

In the 1990s we were asked to view them solely through the resistance prism. Nobody paid attention to what Hizbullah was creating in the towns it controlled: a mini-Islamic order. This isn't freedom of religion, this is oppression of an extremely moldable community with a history of persecution and neglect by the government and its self-appointed leaders. Hizbullah found it easy to fill the vacuum in those areas and lure some of the disenchanted youth into its ranks (I should add Hizbullah was very "generous", thanks to Iranian funding).

Removing the feudal lords and the Syrian puppet Nabih Berri was not difficult, because deep down the Shia of Lebanon are not great fans of the Syrian regime, and for a long time, neither was Hizbullah. The Shia of Lebanon have long been the most undereducated of the sects, and their leaders liked to keep them that way. Former parliament speaker Kamel al-As'ad would often joke that educating his son was enough for the entire community.

When in the 1980s Hizbullah fought its way to power, many, including yours truly, viewed them as a dark force destroying everything in sight. My Beirut neighbourhood was traditionally split between Amal and the PSP, whose members often clashed and used our 1st floor balcony to shoot at one another. During the Amal-Hizbullah conflict, we had members of the same Shia family fighting one another in the street, something that at the time struck me as surreal. For many of us, who weren't exactly Amal supporters (who really liked those militias except those who profited from them?), Hizbullah was like an unstoppable plague. We had to wait for the Syrian army to come in and stop the fighting and help draw the ridiculous borders within the Shia community, which forced people to either choose between two evils or find a Sunni leader to follow. Many of Hariri's supporters are Shia.

Coming back to my point, Hizbullah's militancy mode allowed it to defeat Israel in the south and at the same time consolidate its power in the community and the country. With the Israelis gone, their "militant mode" lost its legitimacy. But Hizbullah continues to be a paramilitary group that applies Islamic laws in the areas where it has deligitimized traditional Shia Islam and state institutions. After Hariri's assassination, Hizbullah asserted itself as major player on the Lebanese scene that can be ignored at one's own peril.

In the 1990s, Syria kept Hizbullah alive to proxy-fight Israel in the south. The party was allowed to run in parliamentary and municipal elections, which legitimized and expanded its control over many Lebanese towns and cities. Many in Lebanon and the Arab world like to sing the song of the people's legitimate right to resist occupation. They then stupidly remind Europeans about the French resistance and so on. In their excitement (I should add ignorance), they overlook the dangers of letting your resistance fighters run in elections and reach power. With many Arab countries living under military regimes, the concept of banning the military from politics is probably alien to those Arabs.

In Lebanon, where people go out of their way in saying the army should be shielded from politics, a militia that is doing an army's job is allowed to field candidates and deligitimize state institutions. You can blame the Syrians for this, but the Lebanese are also to blame, as Mustapha pointed out in his response to my Naharnet post.

To give you an example, let's look at Jumblatt's latest interview in al-Shiraa. Now this is a man who says he is fiercely opposed to military men becoming officials or interfering in politics:
Hizbullah is the guarantee of national unity and Arabism in the confrontation
with Israel. It is silly to say that operations should be sanctioned by
the cabinet… Hizbullah is part of the military and political defense system.
This is rubbish, of course. Unfortunately, it is also not far from the public Hariri line, though the Harirists often add "disarming Hizbullah is an internal matter."

If we want to resist this alleged Israeli "occupation", then we should either let the army take care of it, or, if we must use another group, strip the resistance group of any political power. You cannot delegate that duty to what is essentially now a political party with a set ideology to transform the country. If that's what the parliament's majority wants, then they should push for a constitutional amendment delegating defense matters to a militia. Of course they would never do that, and Hizbullah would never agree, because that would force them to give up political power in the absence of a supportive clerical regime. In fact, Hizbullah derives its legitimacy from its fight against Israel—any resolution of the Arab Israeli conflict, including a deal with Syria, would threaten Hizbullah's political force in Lebanon.

Because a militia is allowed to freely roam the political scene, Hizbullah can bully and veto anything they want. Nobody dares run against them in elections. Everybody, from Aoun to Jumblatt and Hariri seek their approvals on everything. This is democracy? No political party now can even entertain the idea of openly opposing them without looking like traitors. Hizbullah, in fact, has more political freedom than all other groups in Lebanon. They can criticize whomever they want, but nobody dares criticize them because they are the "resistance." They are on the road to becoming Lebanon's Basij, half powered by other countries, and half by an ideology that seeks to install an alien order in Lebanon. And the Lebanese "leaders" are helping them become it.

Hizbullah is also destroying the Shia community in Lebanon. Nabih Berri is utterly useless. The community needs new faces, but that won't happen with the current system allowing Hizbullah to be a seperate "state and army" within a state with no effective army.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Naharnet must apologize to its readers

Naharnet has hit another low. Somebody must altert An-Nahar about their English language publication's unprofessionalism and increasingly sectarian tone. Something like the following would never be published in an-Nahar, or any other professional publication:

Shiites Seemingly Fighting a Lost Cause for Syria in Lebanon

A showdown seems inevitable between the Shiite community and the rest of Lebanon over how to try ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassins. The five Shiite cabinet ministers in Premier Saniora's government have openly threatened to resign if the Premier insists on pushing for an international tribunal to try Hariri's suspected killers.…

Spokesman for Saad Hariri's Future Tide bloc, which is the single biggest in parliament and which represents the overwhelming majority of the Sunni Muslim sect, have made it plain their leader would never budge an inch in seeking to bring his father's assassins to justice before an international court. Lebanese Forces executive chief Samir Geagea also supports an international tribunal as well as the Qornet Shahwan coalition of center right Christian politicians.

General Aoun said in a newspaper interview published Friday that he prefers a mixed Lebanese-international tribunal to handle the trial of Hariri's assassins outside Lebanon.

All this goes to show that desperation of the Shiite community in seeking to get President Assad off Hariri's assassination hook represents a very small minority population-wise and parliament-wise.

Ok, I know plenty of Shias who are against Hizbullah's and Amal's pathetic stance. Although we seldom hear their voices, it is a gross exaggeration to claim the "desperate" Shia community is seeking to get Assad off the hook. Whether this is a case of bad writing or not, it's utterly disgraceful and unethical to publish those words. It's lousy journalism. They are misrepresenting an entire sect. It's against the spirit of Lebanon which they claim to defend.

Naharnet must retract this article and issue an apology and clarification as soon as possible. This is totally unacceptable. Shame.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Pessimistic take

The situation might be a lot worse than we thought. Syria is reportedly preparing to stir things up in Lebanon in response to the inevitable arrest of some of its officials in Vienna. With Lebanon set to issue arrest warrants against the Syrian suspects upon the recommendation of the Hariri commission, the Syrians will find themselves "humiliated" and their standing as a major player in the region further weakened. Damascus has been struggling to regain its prestige in the region following the damage of the last few months through a series of unsuccessful televised attempts to discredit and derail the UN investigation. These attempts might prove successful (to some weak minds) in the short term but will not provide the Syrian regime with a way out of their rut.

Al-Seyassah Friday quoted a diplomat in New York as saying that the Algerian representative at the Security Council is pessimistic about the repercussions on the “Lebanese internal situation” should Mehlis recommend the arrest of the five suspects. The diplomat quoted “colleagues” at the UN Security Council as saying that Syria has been openly paving the way for the situation in Lebanon to explode, as evidenced by Bashar’s war declaration and threat to spread chaos from Lebanon and Syria to the entire region. This threat was repeated by Husam in his press conference Monday, when he warned that any indictment of Syria will be the spark that will “detonate the security and stability” of the entire Middle East region (Read the short article on Husam on the page I linked to. Note how it says he worked for the Syria army's tenth division in Lebanon. The same division that he said brought the white Mitsubishi van into Lebanon.)

The diplomats took notice of a recent speech by Assem Qanso (link anybody?), the chief of the Baath party in Lebanon, which predicted an imminent war in Lebanon at a time security forces found a booby-trapped-ready car with forged license plate and engine identification number in his apartment building. Citing Lebanese sources, the article accuses Qanso of running training camps for militants in Lebanon and preparing for an armed conflict. (Qanso might want to know that Assef Shawkat and co. are smuggling their dollars out of Syria, another demonstration of patriotism and evidence of the plot against Syrian regime innocence!)

This reading of the situation is consistent with what Jumblatt told al-Shiraa weekly on Thursday. He warned that the Syrian regime has weakened itself internally and might resort to following-up the Husam comedy “with something that is being put together in Lebanon”. He urged the purging of remaining “Ghazaleh mercenaries” in the Lebanese security forces.

The above is unfortunately consistent with an older post about Syria's plan of attack. The same source I used for that post, al-Watan al-Arabi, is today talking about a Hizbullah plan for a military coup in Lebanon. It's far fetched, I think, but who knows. I am only trying to present all the different possibilities so we're all aware.

Update: Read Jumblatt's full interview in Arabic here.

Syrian smear campaign, episode II: Saad supporting terrorists in Syria

Days after it accused Saad Hariri of killing his own father and torturing a Syrian intelligence officer into blaming Syria, the Syrian regime will now accuse him of supporting an Islamist group to "carry out terrorist acts" in Syria, Cham Press reported today, adding that Syrian television will soon broadcast another "fresh surprise" confirming Saad's role in destabilizing Syria:

This time will be a full confession of the extremist Islamic group who were preparing to carry out terrorist acts in Syria with a support by the same chairman of the Lebanese front (Al-Mustaqbal Block) which tempted Hussam to give testimony against Syria before the International Investigation Committee.
"Reliable Syrian sources" told Cham Press that "Damascus has eventually understood the game in the region in this period. So it entered the game and [is] playing with the same method its opponents play in the region. At any rate... Syria ... succeeded to make a shock in the region and imposed itself as a major player in any game." (Bad English, but you get the gist)

Apparently, Syrian television has been sitting on "confessions" by these Islamists for quite some time, and will air them soon.

So here's the Syrian regime's modus operandi: they accuse people of doing what they do best. They say writers should write about what they know—well, desperate Syrian officials tap into their own repertoire of crimes in waging their propaganda war.

Pretty soon, this organization that Saad is funding will turn out to be the same one that claimed the Hariri assassination. Or better, some high-ranking Syrian official will be eliminated by this fictitious group. Or worse, what Jumblatt has claimed: that Syrians are preparing more terrorist attacks in Lebanon, possibly in coordination with Lahoud and the remnants of his security regime.

Coinciding with this, Damascus is "testing its air raid sirens for the first time in years, as though preparing for an invasion," Michael J. Totten reports on his blog, quoting a friend who lives in Syria. Fear tactics? What's being cooked?

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?