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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Landis: let them have "50 per cent justice"

In his response to my post, Joshua Landis said Saad Hariri should meet Syrian demands and accept “50 per cent justice” in order to escape being assassinated by Syria. If he accepts, Syria will allow him to return to Lebanon, where he can allegedly “continue his father’s legacy and vindicate his death by fixing an independent Lebanon.”
What is more, only Saad’s return and an end to the cabinet crisis will mean progress and prosperity for Lebanon, two things that Rafiq held higher than even his own welfare and safety. Those are the goals that Saad should be willing to sacrifice a hundred percent justice for. In the end, they are achievable and they are the ultimate recompense for his father’s death. The welfare of Lebanon is justice. That was Rafiq Bey’s goal and wish.
In other words, Saad’s unrealistic stubbornness and reliance on the US is hampering progress in Lebanon. He should instead submit to the demands of the terrorists and exchange his country’s sovereignty for his own personal safety. And as long as he behaves, Bashar Assad will not take him out.

Landis argued that this "compromise", supposedly facilitated by the Saudis, is the only realistic option available to Saad, who is being the "odd man out" in a region that is leaning towards saving the Syrian regime from collapse and economic sanctions.

The problems with Joshua’s post are many, one being a misrepresentation of the Saudi offer, which he says goes as follows:
The UN investigation will go forward and continue to isolate, embarrass, and discomfort Syria, but President Asad will not be asked to testify and presumably he and his family members will avoid conviction, and Syria will avoid UN sanctions. This is what most Middle East states seem to be pushing for and what is most likely to be the outcome of the investigation. Let us suppose that Syrian security chieftains, such as Ghazale and Juma Juma, will be convicted. Hizbullah will also be allowed to keep its arms into the immediate future, and Hariri will have to write off the remaining articles of Resolution 1559. He will also have to soften his demand for an international court even though Western leaders believe, Mehlis has stated, and most Lebanese aver that Asad ordered his father’s death.
Of course the above does not accurately reflect what is being offered to Lebanon, which was rejected by most Lebanese parties expect Hizbullah.

The proposal called for halting the Syrian attacks on Lebanon in exchange for demarcation of the border except the Shebaa farms, exchanging embassies, forming a joint Lebanese-Syrian security committee and coordinating foreign policies. The Saudis (at least the camp in Saudi Arabia favoring this so called compromise) and the Egyptians are adding to what is essentially a Syrian proposal the condition that Assad be spared the humiliation of being interrogated by the UNIIIC.

Joshua argues that by accepting what he termed as “50 per cent justice”, Syria will spare Saad’s life and Lebanon will prosper. Never mind that the country Saad would return to will be back in Syria’s orbit, and the Syrian regime will return to calling the shots and setting Lebanese policies.

Joshua also does not explain how the UNIIIC can simply skip the part about Assad’s involvement in the Hariri assassination.

I suppose what is offensive about Joshua’s post is the way he victimizes the Syrian regime and holds Lebanon responsible for Syria’s woes. For instance, it’s “Saad war with Assad.” And Saad started it: “he boxed Syria out of world affairs” so in return Syrian “boxed him out of Lebanon.” And Rafik Hariri was killed "because he supported resolution 1559, which called for the complete withdrawal of Syrian troops and the disarming of Hizbullah and an end to resistance against Israel.” So Lebanon started it, and should satisfy itself with has been achieved so far, mainly that” Syrian troops are out of Lebanon and the country is no longer occupied, which is a lot.”

So accoding to Landis' analysys, the least Lebanon can do now, which is apparently being held hostage by Saad Hariri, is to “repair its relations with Syria,” which it had screwed up in the first place. After all, Josh writes, “Syria paid a large price for Hariri’s death; it was not in vain.”

And Rafik Hariri would have approved, Joshua argues. “Hariri was never opposed to Syrian influence, as such; rather, he was opposed to Syria hindering Lebanon’s development and prosperity.” Assuming this is true, what has changed since Hariri’s assassination to convince Saad that Syria will now be working towards Lebanon’s development and prosperity? And why is it anathema to the Syrian regime for Lebanon to want to pursue those goals independently?

It is incredible how nearly identical Landis’ thinking is to the Syrian official propaganda. The Syrian press and Bashar have been telling us for almost a year now that Saad is the one sleeping with the devil, betraying his own father, and pursing anti-Syrian policies that will harm his own country’s interests. And like the Syrian press, Landis finds Michel Aoun the least objectionable, because he “distinguishes between independence and accommodating Syrian interests.”

So Joshua Landis wants Saad Hariri (note, it’s not Lebanon, it’s Saad) to forgive Bashar his crimes or risk being assassinated like his father. For no Western state now wants the regime to fall. I don’t recall Saad ever demanding regime change in Syria. In fact, this is really about Lebanese national interests, not the well being of the Syrian regime, which deserves all that is allegedly suffering. The Lebanese, Joshua thinks, risk being manipulated by the US in their conflict with Syria.

By not compromising, we Lebanese, Joshua claims, are being “unrealistic.”

My dear Josh, compromise is a two-way street. The Syrian regime has made none, while the Lebanese continue being assassinated. You said Syria paid a high price already, I say the Syrian regime (and I make this distinction) has not paid anything. Lebanon has paid in blood, Bashar had a few nightmares.

You said that the perfectionist policy of no-compromise will provoke even greater extremism in the region, and you cite elections in Iraq, Egypt and Palestine as examples. How about you apply this to the Syrian regime? Why can’t the Syrian regime compromise with the Syrian opposition? Why can’t they reduce the powers of those extremists by actually withdrawing support for radical organizations, and end the persecution and imprisonment of secular (and non secular) opposition leaders? If Syria has free elections tomorrow and the Muslim Brothers win, whose fault would that be? Whose fault was it in Egypt? If they had stronger secular and moderate parties then the outcome would have been different. Like the Egyptian regime, the Syrian regime views the natural enemies of those extremists as a threat.

And you know what? If Lebanon settles for that “50 per cent justice” you prescribe, Syria, meaning the Syrian people, will get zero justice. The only winner here is Bashar Assad, and the losers are the Lebanese and Syrian people. Is it realism to sanction the continued theft of people’s most basic rights? I think not.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Joshua Landis' commentary on Lebanon

I found Joshua Landis's commentary on Saad Hariri's visit to the US rather insulting. Joshua continues to interpret events through the Syrian regime's prism, which is unfortunate. This particular piece contained many presumptions and factual errors.

According to Landis, "Hariri wants to go back to Beirut. He will need Bush's help to do it, unless he is to accept the Jeddah formula and make peace with Bashar al-Asad and Hizbullah, which seems to be off the table for now. Junblat undercut that move quickly, but it looked as if Saad Hariri was ready to sign onto the Saudi deal and bow to Hizbullah."

Of course Joshua is conflating two separate things: the Saudi proposal to end the "crisis" between Lebanon and Syria and the Jeddah agreement to settle the cabinet crisis, which has to do with Hizbullah's status in the country. Saad may have backed out on the second after giving what could best be described as a conditional approval, but he never agreed to the Saudi proposal, which would have given Syria control of Lebanon all over again.

Of course, if you subscribe the Syrian agenda, you will be prone to mix things up like Joshua did. And I don't know where Joshua got that Saad was ready to sign Lebanon away and "bow to Hizbullah" if Jumblatt hadn't intervened. Oh wait, I think we know where that came from.
So Hariri came to Washington after Junblat and Dick Cheney scuttled the Saudi attempt to broker a truce between Shiites and Sunnis in Lebanon.
Again, the Saudi proposal is what the US shot down. It was also rejected by Siniora and the March 14 alliance, or do they not count? And when did war break out between Sunnis and Shias in Lebanon?

This is an unfortunate attempt to skirt the real issues and portray the Syrian offensive on Lebanon as a domestic Lebanese struggle between Sunnis and Shias!

And then this:

Maybe Washington will give Hariri more arms so he can fight Hizbullah?

Only in Joshua's mind is there a war between Hariri and Hizbullah that justifies this alleged need for arms! Saad might have gone to seek technical and military assistance for the Lebanese army, a national institution, but fighting Hizbullah??

If I didn't know better, I would say this commentary was an attempt to incite sectarian strife in Lebanon.

Josh continues:

The fact that regional sentiment is blowing in Asad's direction was made clear by the Saudi attempt to broker a sulha between Syria and Lebanon. It was confirmed by General Aoun's recent statement that "his Free Patriotic Movement's closest ally in Lebanon was Hizbullah, as the two held similar views with regards to reform and other internal issues.
Wait. Aoun said he had similar views with Hizbullah on INTERNAL issues, not on issues regarding a truce between Lebanon and Syria. And speaking of that, truce?? Syria needs to halt its uniltareral war, Lebanon is not conducting any war to need to negotiate a truce!

And Josh continues misrepresenting Aoun on this issue, making the General's alliance with Hizbullah and opposition to the government look like it's motivated by a rejection of Lebanese government policy on Syria! Aoun's politics may be disappointing and obstructionist, but a supporter of the Syrian regime he isn't!

And then this conclusion:

So what did Saad Hariri get from Washington that may permit him to return to Beirut? It doesn't seem like much besides words - and perhaps some arms. My guess is that Washington will have to start sending arms to show that it is willing to support Hariri with more than words. He has to be able to deliver something to his supporters to prove that Washington hasn't abandoned him. What will Washington do about Hizbullah if it won't let Hariri compromise with the militia backed party? Building up the Lebanese army is a risky strategy, but one that will have to be undertaken if Washington is going to fight "terror."
Why is building the Lebanese army "risky strategy?" And why is helping the Lebanese army part of a US policy against Hizbullah? Only in the Syrian imagination is such an attempt be interpreted as an attempt to destabilize the country and start a civil war, which is what Joshua is basically saying. Saad Hariri here appears like a traitor who is engaged in a war with the Shia in his country, and who is trying to procure US arms to fight them.

Absent from this analysis is Saad's father, Rafik Hariri, who was killed by Syria in the Syrian terrorist war that Landis keeps forgetting. Actually, Rafik was mentioned… by mistake in the first paragraph.

…Rafiq Hariri has been in Washington to meet President Bush.

Here's one of Josh's readers commenting on this Freudian slip:

Dear Josh,

Although Rafiq Hariri is dead and the person who was in Washington and at the Woodrow Wilson Institute was his son Saad, your Freudian slip makes perfect sense.Maybe the Syrian regime should adopt your line and not only deny that they killed Hariri but also deny that he is dead. The Syrian mukhabarat should start spreading rumours that Rafic Hariri was seen eating falafels at Sahyoun in downtown Beirut. And he was even seen in Israel at Lahd's restaurant.Josh you are a genius.

Bashar Assad should have invited you to attend the Arab Lawyer's conference. You could have clapped for him in Damascus instead of Washington DC and shouted at the top of your voice "I saw Rafic Hariri in Washington...He ain't...Assad you're a saint...you can bring back people from the dead".

Take Care


AUB unblocks "From Beirut to the Beltway"

AUB has finally unblocked "From Beirut to the Beltway" after I submitted a request to their computing department yesterday. An anonymous reader informed me on Wednesday that my site and a number of other Lebanese political blogs were “blacklisted” and could not be accessed via the AUB network.

AUBnet users got this message when they typed my URL:

403 AUBnet Blacklisted Site

The site you are trying to access via AUBnet was blocked by an automatic content matching process.

AUBnet relies on URLBlacklist.com, a commercially-managed URL blacklist service that provides human verified and maintained URL categorization.

Access to this site is blocked...

Target group = porn
As you can see, Beirutbeltway.blogspot.com was categorized as “porn” and was automatically blocked.

The AUB person who restored access to my blog told me that “in general, blogspot.com subdomains are all listed under http://urlblacklist.com/. However we can exempt some sites upon users' request.”

According to the company's website, URLblacklist.com allows anybody to submit requests to categorize URLs as anything from “kids time wasting” to “pornography.” Someone obviously hated my blog and tried to manipulate the system by classifying it as porn.

Urlblacklist.com claims their black list is human verified. Removing sites from that list is not easy. First you need to use their search feature to locate the site. My site could not even be found, even though, at least according to AUB, it was blacklisted!

The fact that this site was accessible before makes me believe that this was done recently. To AUB’s credit, their computing services department acted on this immediately when I notified them. I do think, however, that they should not rely on this service, which as you can see, can be easily manipulated by people with political agendas.

In any case, welcome back AUB students and faculty!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

May Chidiac to take on Aoun?

According to as-Safir today, the March 14 alliance will nominate LBC journalist May Chidiac to fill MP Edmond Naim's seat in the Baabda-Aley district. The idea was reportedly proposed by Saad Hariri and it seems to have gained the support of both both Jumblatt and Geagea. Chidiac survived an assassination attempt in September 2005. She lost an arm and leg, but apparently not her fighting spirit.

If Chidiac agrees, it will deal a blow to Aoun, who, less than a hour after Naim's death, announced that he "will fight the electoral battle along with Hizbullah". Until now, Aoun and Hizbullah's chances for winning the election were very good, given Hizbullah's electoral weight in that district. But May will probably attract most of the Christian vote, putting Aoun and his supporters in a rather embarrassing situation: Will the Aounists really ally themselves with a pro-Syrian party against a victim of Syrian brutality?

May won't fill the void left by Gebran Tueni, but the symbolism of her running in the election will give the March 14 movement a much needed momentum. In addition to putting Aoun in an unenviable position to field a candidate against a popular anti-Syrian journalist, it should serve a reminder to Hizbullah that they are not the only party in Lebanon that suffered at the hands of an oppressor.

UPDATE: Never mind, Saad Hariri has denied the as-Safir report, describing it as a "fabrication".

UPDATE 2. And May announced Friday that she will run!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Bashar and the axe of Arab nationalism

In his speech on Saturday, Syrian president Bashar Assad said “national sovereignty is the most significant thing and not UN resolutions," and lashed out at a "global plot" that is targeting "Syria and Lebanon," Iraq and Palestine, as well as “the Arab peoples” and the “Islamic nation.”

Assad spoke to an audience of Arab “lawyers” at an Arab legal conference in Damascus, in front of a backdrop which read "Defending Syria is National Right and Duty" in English. In Arabic, it read “Defending Syria is an (Arab) Nationalist right and duty.”

Assad’s speech contained your usual combative and nationalist statements that earned him standing ovations and ecstatic cheers and applause from the audience. He held the Lebanese responsible for the deteriorating Lebanese-Syrian relations, alleging that certain Lebanese want to see their country destroyed. He said his cooperation with the UNIIIC “must be made by respecting principles of national sovereignty, the neutrality of the inquiry and on a legal basis." He dismissed the UN probe as a “condemnation commission” that relies on “made-up testimonies by certain traitors”, in reference to his VP Abdel Halim Khaddam, who accused him of ordering the Hariri assassination. He wondered why the world was focusing on the Hariri assassination and not the “Arafat assassination.”

Domestic reform again took a back seat to the global plot and need to preserve “stability.” "The road is long, and perhaps reforms are being done slowly, but we want to accelerate them as fast as possible, without harming (the nation's) stability," he said, limiting future reforms to those “consistent with domestic requirements, and we refuse to accept them being imposed from abroad."

Bashar’s speech reeked of ignorance. It was a hodgepodge of nationalist statements that made no sense combined.

The Syrian president claims to know and understand Lebanese and Palestinian affairs better than Lebanese and Palestinians. After all, he is the supreme Arab leader, protector of Arab causes and identity, the one who must not fall, because if he did, the Arab regimes’ house of cards will collapse. Or that’s what he says.

Just like Bin Laden and his dispersed cohorts appointed themselves the rulers of a fictitious Islamic land, the novice Syrian dictator has made himself the commander in chief of an imagined Arab nationalist empire.

Bashar’s attitude towards Lebanon resembles Jamal Abdel Nasser’s attitude towards Syria as the northern province of the failed United Arab Republic in the late 1950s. Nasser didn’t know much about Syria and he treated Syrians like lower class Egyptians. All that Nasser knew was the necessity of a centralized authoritarian system with him in absolute control. It is ironic that Bashar would act like the guardian of an extreme brand of Arab nationalism that his own father helped destroy. Compare Lebanon’s situation to Syria’s in the late 1950s when the Nasserites “relegated the majority of Syrians to the rank of traitors, governing by terror and trampling on the honor and dignity of citizens.” These were the words of ex-Syrian President Shukri al-Quwatly.

Of course Bashar is no real Arab nationalist, or at least his Arab nationalism is just a cover for his dictatorship, a formula that most Arab leaders employ successfully. For as soon as the logical requirements of such an imagined union with Lebanon and the rest of Arab world present themselves, Syria’s “sovereignty” pops its head right on time to spare the regime any duties towards that imagined union, including cooperating for the sake of strengthening the union, as opposed to strengthening the authoritarian regime.The regime’s convenient dual use of both Arab nationalism and “nationalism based on sovereignty (qawmiyya and wataniya) is pathetic, and unfortunately, it eludes most of Syria’s ignorant clappers. Bsshar wants to force a Nasserist Arab nationalist union on Lebanon while subscribing to a reduced version based on Syrian sovereignty. All the regime had to do to make this paradox appear logical was to accuse Syria’s enemies and Lebanon of doing Israel’s bidding. And then the conspiracy theory is complete and logic dies at the altar of honor and ignorance.

With plenty of illiterate citizens in Bashar's empire putting off free thinking till Judgment Day, Bashar finds plenty of cheerleaders to enslave and parade to the world as proof of his popularity. It also helps him when men and women with law degrees choose the rule of ignorance over the rule of law, making it easier to turn poor people into cattle, and to present slaughter houses as places of worship and sacrifice.

In this regional order of hypocrisy and delusion, seeking truth and sovereignty for the purpose of independence becomes a great sin. Bashar can shamelessly use his country’s "sovereignty" to protect himself from retribution, and then somehow portray repercussions from Syria’s mistakes as foreign plots to redraw the Arab nation. When Lebanon seeks sovereignty, it is viewed as an attack on the Arab nation. Very few see Syria's attempt to impose on Lebanon what most Arab countries have rejected and destroyed: Nasserist Arab nationalism. The situation is now such that the road to Lebanese sovereignty (and Syrian freedom) will have to pass through the rejection of all political pan-Arab ideologies, especially when they are made as basis for a solution to the country's problems. This sounds logical, yet difficult to perceive by many in this region, who unfairly expect Lebanon to guard what their leaders only use to keep them in check. For as long as the dictators are allowed to hold the ideological axe of Arab nationalism over our heads, there will be no progress in Lebanon, Syria or any other part of the region.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Breaking Hizbullah's monopoly

One of the aspects of Hizbullah’s monopoly over the Shia opinion in Lebanon revealed itself on Thursday when Hizbullah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah lent his support to Sheikh Afif Naboulsi, a pro-Hizbullah scholar who issued a fatwa prohibiting any Shia from outside the party of God or Amal from joining the Lebanese cabinet.

While this problem is endemic in Lebanon, where sect leaders can approve or reject political appointees based on their loyalties, Hizbullah takes it further by using religion to safeguard and extend its monopoly.

Lebanese Shias, if they don’t subscribe to Khomeini’s version of Shia Islam and Hizbullah’s extremist doctrine, find themselves ostracized from Lebanese politics. This is a travesty, for none of the other parties in Lebanon require their members to be fundamentalist Muslims or Christians in order to engage in politics. I shouldn’t have to be a supporter of Hizbullah or even Amal before I can dream of a post in government. There should be no religious edicts limiting my political aspirations.

A lawsuit has been filed by a group of Lebanese, some of whom are Shia, against Naboulsi for “identity theft, threatening and terrorizing in an attempt to obstruct the practice of civil rights, instigating sectarian differences and portraying political disputes as disputes between religions and sects."

According to the Daily Star, the complaint was submitted to Beirut's first investigating judge, Magistrate Abdel-Rahim Hammoud. The 8 plaintiffs who signed the complaint said Naboulsi was not entitled to “issue a fatwa and prevent the Shiite citizens from practicing their constitutional rights.”

On 21 December 2005, and following the cabinet crisis that resulted from Hizbullah and Amal suspending their participation in the cabinet, Naboulsi made the following statement:
There are foreign attempts, which some local forces comply with, to put Amal and Hizbullah away and to bring new Shia representatives [into the Cabinet]. Consequently, we forbid any Shia political party to replace Amal and Hizbullah representatives.

We stress that the entrance of any Shia political party is illegal, because it does not represent the people… We address a precautionary fatwa to every Shiite politician, who tries to take advantage of the ministerial crisis.
The lawsuit againt Naboulsi was filed by Talal Husseini, Youssef Zein, Fares Sassin, Fahmiya Sharafeddine, Nada Sehnaoui, Mona Fayyad, MP Ghassan Mokheiber and Mohammad Farid Matar.

Nasrallah denounced it, claiming it was an "attack against Muslim Ulama, who freely voice their views and positions."

What Hizbullah and its secretary general are saying is that "freedom" is only for pro-Hizbullah religious scholars to issue fatwas legitimizing the party's monopoly. It is not for the community, which is being denied the basic right of free political expression. Since the Party of God does not believe in democracy, this is to be expected. However, this does not mean that Lebanese Shias should forfeit their rights and let fundamentalists speak for them.

This lawsuit marks the beginning of a lengthy process to reclaim the Shia voice.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Nasrallah: Lebanese can't manage own affairs

A day after organizing a protest against alleged foreign meddling in Lebanese affairs, Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah told al-Hayat that the cabinet crisis he created "proves that it is difficult for the Lebanese to manage their own affairs."

Here is some of what he said, courtesy of AFP:

"The situation in Lebanon is bad and has dangerous repercussions," Nasrallah told the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat. "We launch our final appeal for the intervention of our Arab brothers."

The involvement of other Arabs is necessary "not only to ask them to help Lebanon and Syria to surmount the crisis, but we also need the intervention of wise Arab leaders to overcome our internal problems."

Lebanon's government has been virtually paralysed since December 12 when Hezbollah and the country's other Syrian-backed Shiite movement, Amal, ordered their cabinet members not to participate. Nasrallah said this crisis "proves that it is difficult for the Lebanese to manage their own affairs."

The Hezbollah chief added that he "rejects agitation in Lebanon for any war against Syria," referring to calls by anti-Damascus politicians for regime change in Damascus. "That is dangerous not only for Syria but also for Lebanon. We consider that any political, security or media war that certain people want to drag Lebanon into is contrary to Lebanese national interests," he said.
Nasrallah's Arab brothers have proposed to sell Lebanese sovereignty and security back to Syria. The crisis is Syrian made, and the cabinet crisis is Hizbullah's doing. If God's alleged party cares about Lebanese national interests (as opposed to Syrian), then perhaps it should not object to border demarcation, prosecuting the killers of Hariri and others, and yeah, protecting Lebanon from the fangs of its blood thirsty vampire "brothers" and "sisters".

For in Hizbullah's dictionary, true Lebanese citizens cannot have selfish interests. They are freaks of nature who put the interests of others ahead of their own. Their country has open and vulnerable borders, it orbits at least two other nations, and gives its youth death and illusion instead of life and hope. These ideas put modern science to shame.

As for this alleged war on Syria from Lebanon, I seem to recall quite the contrary taking place! Nasrallah won't allow calls for regime change in Syria, but he has no problem with Syria massacring people in Lebanon. Does Nasrallah believe Israel was justified in attacking Lebanon, and that a war should not be waged against the Zionists? What? Too much common sense? Being someone who lived under both Israeli and Syrian occupations, I fail to see why I cannot pick full independence over a stupid choice between one of the two. But then, my honor is not attached to a gun, so I can't blame Nasrallah for wanting to defend his Russian/Iranian-procured honor.

We all wondered what the Saudis were thinking when they proposed to give Lebanese security back to Syria, as a way to "defuse the tension" between Lebanon and Syria. Their proposal, as well as Nasrallah's skewed notions of national interests, were explained by Michel Kilo in a recent article. Here are some excerpts. Precious words that deserve to be reproduced in full.

In an article published in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Syrian intellectual Michel Kilo, who resides in Damascus, attacked the Syrian regime, comparing it to the Soviet regime, and hinted that it was responsible for the assassination of Lebanese public figures.

The following are excerpts:

In a Cairo [press conference], Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Al-Shara' announced a new principle of modern Arab diplomacy, which might be called the 'Al-Shara' principle.' [This principle] limits Lebanese sovereignty, links this sovereignty to the Syrian regime, and states that a free and independent Lebanon is necessarily a center and a base for plots against Syria...

"The Al-Shara' principle is reminiscent of the principle once [established] by [Soviet leader Leonid] Brezhnev, which stated that the various socialist states had [only] limited sovereignty vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. [These states] could not act as they pleased, but had to give priority to the interests and security of the Soviet bloc in any measure they took and in any means they employed. This principle established the Soviets' right to take over the internal affairs of the socialist states, and legitimized Soviet military intervention against them...

"The Al-Shara' principle is reminiscent of the Brezhnev principle. [since the Syrian regime] - like [the Soviet regime] - thinks that Lebanon should formulate its policy according to Syrian interests. Moreover, the Syrian regime requires [Lebanon] to coordinate all matters, great or small, with Syria, since the minute Beirut becomes independent [of Damascus], the situation in Lebanon becomes an international affair. And in such a case, [Syria believes that it] has the right to intervene [in Lebanese matters] in order... to prevent Lebanon from becoming a center for conspiracies against it..."

Lebanon Must Keep in its Place... If it Forgets, There are a Thousand Ways to Remind it

"What is the meaning of the Al-Shara' principle, and where might its implementation lead the two countries?

"First of all, Syria wishes to treat Lebanon as a marginal [party] while the Syrian regime [is perceived] as central. [This means] that the center will take the decisions and the periphery will obey, or else [pay the price].

"Secondly, the Syrian regime is determined to adopt the Soviet model,... [and] has taken military and political control of Lebanon. It tried to usurp the PLO's [authority] in taking decisions regarding Palestine, and wanted to control the PLO according to [its own] political guidelines and interests.

"In addition, it has forced Jordan to respect [Syrian] hegemony and control over the Arab East, and has compelled Saudi Arabia to accept a division of labor in which Saudi Arabia's role is to provide the funds and Syria's role is to call the shots, intimidate the neighboring countries, and keep them quiet. This comes in addition to a tragic series of oppressive actions against very large sectors of Syrian society.

"Lebanon, peripheral and marginal, is required to keep in its place even after the Syrian army has withdrawn from its territory, and if it forgets, there are a thousand ways to remind it - either through dialogue or through operations in the field.

"Another implication [of the Al-Shara' principle] is that nobody may reprimand Syria for performing (what is sees as) its national duty towards Lebanon... Syria has an obligation to liberate Lebanon from subordination to foreigners, which is very dangerous [for Syria, since] it is aimed against [Syria], and against its role as the last bastion standing fast against America and Israel."

Syria Leaves Lebanon With Only Two Options: To Accept the Return of the Syrian Forces, or to Risk Constant Escalation of the Situation

"According to Syrian propaganda, Lebanon is the arena of a struggle... to save Syria's brothers [i.e. the Lebanese] and to protect the Syrian regime. If [Lebanese] are hurt in the course of [Syria's struggle for their sake], this is [only] because their country has become a base for foreign [forces] that must be eliminated. [Moreover], as everyone knows, liberty comes at a price, and the price is sometimes paid by innocent people. But even if [these innocent people] are killed by their [Syrian] brothers, they are... victims [of the foreign interference in Lebanon],... [since] Syria has the right to defend itself in any way and by any means against the Lebanese leaders, who cannot be anything other than foreign agents.

"Another implication [of the Al-Shara' principle] is that it leaves the Lebanese with only two options: either to [accept] Syria's return to their land, or to be subjected to a variety of ever-escalating [measures], in which [Syria] is entitled to use any [available] means to achieve its goal of protecting itself against Lebanon. This will be achieved either by the return of the Syrian forces into Lebanon, or by bringing Lebanon to the point where it agrees to [Syrian] limitations on its sovereignty, and accepts [Syria's] right to determine [Lebanon's] policy and interests, and even to control [Lebanon].

"This is the Al-Shara' principle. Therefore, do not expect any breakthrough or improvement in Syrian-Lebanese relations unless the Arab [states] - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, etc. - invest tremendous efforts in modifying this principle and [Al-Shara's] mentality towards Lebanon. Moreover, the Al-Shara' principle will not be the last escalation, and the painful events recently experienced by the Lebanese [people] will not be the last [either]."

So here you go, Sayid Hassan, Syria and your Arab (and Iranian) brothers want your country to continue being their ever-willing prostitute, not an independent and sovereign state with the right to choose. Lebanon's national interests you say?

Luckily for Lebanon, PM Fouad Siniora and some of the March 14 parties caught on to this paradigm that is being imposed on Lebanon by Syria and the rest of the "brothers."

Lebanon said Wednesday a Saudi plan aimed at defusing tensions between Beirut and Damascus falls short of expectations as the pro-Syrian Hezbollah movement appealed for Arab help in ending the crisis.

The plan is based on Syrian proposals and does not meet Lebanese demands for full sovereignty, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said.

"They are Syrian ideas conveyed by (Saudi Foreign Minister Prince) Saud al-Faisal ... that cannot resolve the problems with the Syrian brothers," he told reporters.

"Most Lebanese want healthy relations with Syria based on mutual respect, recognition of Lebanon's independence and sovereignty, and consequently the Syrian proposals do not respond to their ambitions. That does not mean we are hostile toward Syria, on the contrary. An independent Lebanon can cooperate better with Syria than a dependent one," the prime minister said.

"First we must insist on the question of security, and the killing machine must stop."
The confrontation between Lebanon and the Arab regimes has begun. At stake is Lebanon's independence and sovereignty. With this rejection of the Saudi plan, Siniora is emerging as one of the few leaders in Lebanon's recent history to base policy on national interests, and not the intersecting interests of alleged brothers. Let us hope he sticks to his guns.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Rami G. Khoury analyzes Future TV

Rami G. Khoury’s has discovered a hidden aspect of Arab media, and that’s the “power to deliberately mobilize masses in order to achieve political objectives.” In his most recent Daily Star article, he draws the conclusion that the Hariri-owned Future TV played an important role in “fostering mass street action” and bringing about “political change” in the country.

Mr. Khoury’s article suggests that “activist” media, in particular Future TV and An-Nahar, helped “compel the Syrian army to withdraw from Lebanon last April, to arrest and indict top Lebanese security officers, to elect to Parliament a majority, and to create a climate where the United Nations initiated an international investigation into the Hariri murder.”

A “thematic analysis” of Future’s coverage, he wrote, showed that their coverage passed through “several successive intriguing stages.”
At first the broadcasts "nationalized grief," highlighting the trauma impacting the entire country, showing the crime as being directed against all Lebanese, not just a family or party. Then it "personalized the loss," making every viewer share the impact of the act and the loss. After that it built up a dynamic between "the personal and the political," promoting individuals to translate their personal grief into political action. And finally it "mobilized the masses to march," resulting in a million or more people in the streets on March 14.
Khoury concludes that other Arab media companies will "embark on this same path, moving from expressing political sentiments to mobilizing for political change.”

Titled “From Future Television, a lesson in mobilization”, this article is a lesson in media illiteracy.

I am not discounting Future TV’s role in calling for mass mobilization, but an objective study of the results this alleged activism produced will reveal that Lebanese media has not set foot outside the box of those who pump the cash. It has some democratic qualities, sure, but the extent of the political message was determined from the start, and so were the intended objectives, which were revolutionary by accident rather than intention. Whatever Future TV did, it’s what it didn’t do that will count in the long run. Just look at what’s happening today, and the continued shift in the direction of the coverage. There is no model here to follow. If anything, there is an absence of method.

Let me clarify something for Mr Khoury. Nobody at Future Television or any Lebanese media for that matter has the demonstrated intellectual ability to organize productions around controlling ideas, especially not ones intended to change the “tendency of many Arabs to be politically subdued and laid-back”. The apparent thematic progression was less a progression than a punctuated equilibrium of the sort controlled by the moods of the politicians who own the stations, and dictated by fast political developments. In other words, there was no set evolutionary or activist agenda to mobilize citizens for patriotic purposes. Future TV’s activism was accidental, and it never rose to the level of responsible journalism.

A real media analyst would look at Future TV and An-Nahar and still see cases of poor journalism and general lack of ethics. While they allow for more freedom of expression than most other Arab outlets, that by itself is not enough, and it doesn’t make them any more professional. It also does not make them less “Arab” in their excessive use of sensationalist techniques and unsourced claims.

The Arab world already uses the media to achieve political objectives. What we need is media to liberate the minds of people and encourage them to think outside the box. Forget revolutions. Encourage freethinking.

In fact, if you compare Future TV’s coverage in 1996 during Israel's Grapes of Wrath operation to their coverage in 2005, you’ll find the same elements of sensationalism and manipulation present. The real questions aren’t being asked, and politicians are not being properly interviewed, nor their motives and answers contextualized. At the end, and despite the short-lived satisfaction from such coverage, the Lebanese citizens pay because their media made them even more susceptible to manipulation by transient heroes and opportunistic politicians. Had Future TV and other stations asked the right questions instead of marketing political alliances, the Lebanese public would have been more informed and yes, more politically active.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Hizbullah and the Lebanese flag

Thousands of supporters of Hizbullah and other pro-Syrian parties, many inconsequential, organized a demonstration outside the US embassy in Awkar today. What is striking about this demonstration is how it copied the March 14 look and feel. Lebanese flags were everywhere, and protesters even painted their faces with the colors of the flag.

To many, this constitutes a robbery of national symbols. The flag is being prostituted to serve essentially unpatriotic goals.

Yet the irony of the situation should not escape us. Hizbullah, criticized for being an Iranian militia acting against national interests, is in humiliating self-defense mode. The party has never been a fan of the Lebanese republic's national symbols. Its ultimate goal being an Islamic Shia state ruled by clerics, it has, in the past, refused to even wrap the coffins of its martyrs in a Lebanese flag.

During the last years of the Israeli occupation, when more Lebanese became sympathetic to their fight against the occupation in the south and the Bekaa, their yellow flag with the gun and God's name in the center often reminded Lebanese that Hizbullah's fight was selfishly and exclusively theirs. Even when Future Television and Tele Liban would refer to the resistance as a "national resistance", Hizbullah's al-Manar never did, and more frequently than not, it became difficult to accept that resistance into the national fold when it constantly renounced national symbols.

Lebanese support for the resistance was, at times of alleged great national unity, nothing more than spite directed at arrogant Israel. It was never a unanimous call for arms, and it certainly never equated Lebanese honor with those arms (as Hizbullah's secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, did yesterday).

In fact, Hizbullah was always alone in its choice to fight. Whether this was fortunate or unfortunate is beside the point. The majority of the Lebanese after the civil war—and this includes the Shia-- were tired of violence, period. Hizbullah's short-lived fortune came after Israel stupidly bombed Lebanese infrastructure, creating enough spite to temporarily legitimize the resistance's shaky national raison d'etre. And if it weren't for Syria, one could argue, Lebanon would have resurrected the armistice treaty with Israel a long time ago.

Today Hizbullah has been adding a hypocritical dimension to its political identity. The sea of Lebanese flags that confronted alleged American interference was a desperate attempt to portray the increasingly isolated party as a national party with legitimate rights. Yet I'm afraid Hizbullah has already lost the fight for Lebanese hearts and minds. Hariri's assassination ended all illusions regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Arab regime's sincerity and competence in waging such a struggle. No amount of cedars painted on noses will convince people that Lebanon should return being Syria's card against Israel, let alone join Iran's folly. One could even predict that Hizbullah's demise will be at the hands of that fake Lebanese nationalism it flaunts, which is eating away at the party's yellow Islamist project.

Hizbullah's affront today lies in hypocritical calls for no foreign interference in domestic affairs, while pledging allegiance to Iran and Syria, and praising terrorists in Iraq, who massacre Shias on a daily basis.

Many bloggers and commentators have rightly pointed out Hizbullah's shameful disregard for Syria's murders in Lebanon. Nasrallah yesterday even challenged the March 14 parties to present him with evidence of Syrian complicity in the murder of Hariri and other anti-Syrian figures. Nasrallah is not known for being stupid, but he chooses to play dumb at the expense of the country he claims to want to protect from foreigners. His shameful defense of Syria is not unlike Ahmadinejad's pathetic denial of the Holocaust. But why go that far. Next time you hear Hizbullah doubting Syria's role in terrorizing Lebanon, point to a poster of one their martyrs and ask: what is your proof that Israel killed him?

(Photos: AFP)

Friday, January 13, 2006

Syria agrees to border demarcation, halting attacks, huh?

With the Lebanese media today dismissing the talks of the last few days as failed Syrian maneuvering, al-Arabiya reported this afternoon that the “Arab mediation efforts that took place recently between Syria and Lebanon bore fruit with a Syrian agreement to demarcate the border between the two countries, including the disputed Shebaa farm… and this was done according to a deal with the Lebanese side. The bilateral efforts also produced a Syrian declaration to stop media campaigns and attacks against Lebanon.”

Al-Arabiya did not cite any sources. They did say that the above alleged agreement between Lebanon and Syria came after Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora’s meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and French efforts. Saudi Arabia was not mentioned in the report.

End of report.

An-Nahar and al-Mustaqbal today dismissed much of what emerged from these so called mediation efforts as Syrian maneuvering. An-Nahar spoke of a "Syrian paper" to demarcate the border, halt the attacks, exchange embassies, form a joint Lebanese-Syrian security committee and coordinate foreign policies. The “Syrian paper” does not mention the Hariri investigation. But it seems that Syria wants, in exchange for the aforementioned, to spare Bashar Assad in the investigation.

Also according to an-Nahar, Hosni Mubarak presented the above proposal to Siniora, who rejected it. And we already know that the US did as well. Al-Arabiya today is suggesting French complicity, which I doubt considering that Chirac does not want to compromise.

So how do we read this Arabiya report, which is claiming that there is a deal with the Lebanese side? Notice the security agreement was dropped. Has something changed? Is this the Saudis hitting back at the Lebanese for insisting on going all the way with the investigation?

Meanwhile, ponder this:

Five trucks carrying weapons and ammunition entered Lebanon ten days ago through the Syrian border and were unloaded at a farm belonging to a “party official”, reported An-Nahar, citing official sources.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Egyptian carrier pigeon shot dead, Saudi 747 jet grounded

The United States has shot down the Syrian attempts to delay the Hariri investigation and portray their terrorist campaign in Lebanon as a "crisis" that needs a security agreement.

Secretary Condoleeza Rice on Wednesday expressed her country's "grave and continuing concerns about Syria’s destabilizing behavior and sponsorship of terrorism."

Referring to continued (and future) Syrian delay tactics, Rice called on Syria to "cease obstructing the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri and instead cooperate fully and unconditionally, as required by UN Security Council resolutions. We call upon the Syrian regime to respond positively to the requests of UN Independent International Investigation (UNIIIC). We intend to refer this matter back to the Security Council if Syrian obstruction continues. "

In other words, the recurrent Syrian demand for a cooperation protocol between Damascus and the UNIIIC will be clearly seen as obstruction.

Rice saw through the latest Saudi and Egyptian initiatives:

The United States stands firmly with the people of Lebanon in rejecting any deals or compromises that would undermine the UNIIC investigation, or relieve Syria of its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions. We are firmly committed to seeking justice and pursuing the investigation to its ultimate conclusion.
As for Hizbullah and other militias:

The United States also calls for the full implementation of all parts of UN Security Council resolution 1559, including the disarmament and disbanding of Hizballah and other militias. Syria’s continuing provision of arms and other support to Hizballah and Palestinian terrorist groups serves to destabilize Lebanon, makes possible terrorist attacks within Lebanon, from Lebanese territory, and impedes the full implementation of Security Council resolutions.
And yes, Rice accused Syria of killing Gebran Tueni and others:

As Resolution 1559 demands, Syria must once and for all end its interference in the internal affairs of Lebanon. Continuing assassinations in Lebanon of opponents of Syrian domination, including most recently the murder of journalist and Member of Parliament Gebran Tueni on December 12, 2005, create an atmosphere of fear that Syria uses to intimidate Lebanon. Syria must cease this intimidation and immediately come into compliance with all relevant Security Council resolutions.
You know what, as far as I am concerned, this is the best statement on Lebanon I have heard in a long time. Ms. Rice, you rule. Thank you.

Meanwhile, the Syrian information minister told Egyptian radio that Bashar will not agree to an interview with the UNIIIC. Later, he changed his mind.
Asked if Syria rejected a meeting between Assad and the investigators, Dakhl-Allah told Egyptian radio: "Certainly, because the issue is related to Syria's sovereignty."

"Syria is committed to its independence and sovereignty. This is a red line that cannot be crossed," Dakhl-Allah added.

The interview was monitored by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Asked about his remarks, Dakhl-Allah told Reuters it was taking it out of context to say Assad refused to meet the inquiry team and suggested that he was willing to receive a visit so long as it did not represent a breach of sovereignty.

"There is a difference between a questioning and an audience. The president receives visitors from Syria and outside Syria," he said.

He repeated Syria's demand that it signs a legal framework with the inquiry "that entails the procedures of dealing with Syria at all levels with affirmation on respecting Syria's sovereignty".
The Syrian regime, that is, will continue to hold Syrians hostage until Bashar gets some help from his one and only friend, the Iranian street sweeper gone nuclear president. Now that Ahmadinejad is even being castigated by the Russians, I am sure his upcoming visit to Damascus will bode well for the Syrian people.

Lastly, and because you won't be reading this on any Saudi-sponsored media (which will be busy reporting the shameful and totally unnecessary stampede), Khaddam, for the second time this week, said that "In my belief, yes, my personal belief is that he ordered it."

Satan calling Bashar: your chamber is ready.

Update: Friday's issue of al-Mustaqbal is devoted to whitewashing the Saudi and Egyptian initiatives, which were painted by Hariri's newspaper as part of Syrian manoeuvering tactics. They quoted a slew of Lebanese political figures who exonerated the Saudis especially of any intentional plotting against Lebanese interests. Whether or not Bashar "tricked" the Saudis and Egyptians, as Naseer al-Asaad wrote, by proposing cooperation in exchange for a return to ruling the country (only idiots would let themselves be tricked like that), it is all over now. We are back to square one and the Syrian regime can no longer get away with this, nor can the Saudis and Egyptians afford to give Bashar the benefit of the doubt, or whatever it was they did.

Update 2: Jumblatt accused Syria of terrorising Arab regimes and "scaring them with a variety of "instruments and terrorist factions". Did Bashar really scare the Saudis and the Egyptians? Anton has more.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

From carrier pigeon to Boeing-747

Citing diplomatic sources, Al-Arabiya is reporting that Bashar Assad is studying a bunch of “ideas” that emerged after meetings he had in Egypt and Saudi. One of which involves a written response to questions from the UNIIIC.
One of the proposals is for Assad to send an emissary to receive questions from the UNIIIC and then return the answers at a later time.
Al-Arabiya did not specify whether the emissary would be an Egyptian carrier pigeon or a Saudi Boeing-747 jet fitted with a jacuzzi.

The cited diplomatic sources denied that Egypt and Saudi Arabia had agreed to the idea of questioning Bashar, adding that “no Arab country would agree to such a violation.”

Right. Let’s leave it to the able legal minds in the regimes of Saudi Arabia and Egypt to resolve this “crisis” between Syria and Lebanon. Yes, the Syrian terror campaign is now a crisis between the killers and the victims. Read on.

Another Saudi “initiative” that the Saudi foreign minister took to the Elysee proposes the formation of a joint Lebanese–Syrian security committee with the task to issue early security warnings and take the necessary precautions to pre-empt attacks in Lebanon. Yes, give Lebanese security back to the Syrians.

And then more on an Egyptian initiative:
The diplomatic source added that the Egyptian role is trying to find a formula to save the Syrian regime’s face so that it doesn’t look like an interrogation by the [Hariri] investigation committee. The Egyptian contacts with France are focusing on the consequences of interrogating an Arab president, and what that can cause in resentment on the Arab street, setting a dangerous precedent that could lead to terrorist attacks, according to the Egyptian vision…
So this “Arab street” (you know, the one that runs from democratic Damascus to open Cairo via liberal Riyadh, skipping oppressive Beirut, New Baghdad, and a bunch of other inconsequential capitals) would turn terrorist if the prince of thugs was interrogated for killing another Arab leader. Yes, death and terror will ensue if justice ever prevailed on this cursed Arab street, thinks Mubarak.

I wonder if we can still file this under classic Arab politics? Classic as in classically useless and stupid perhaps? Next time I ascribe intelligence to an Arab regime, shoot me.

Update. Meanwhile, BBC reports that "several influential Arab media outlets have been instructed [by Saudi Arabia] not to carry more statements by former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam, who has called for the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad."

We don't want to disturb Bashar during this time of crisis now do we. He needs the focus to ace the UNIIIC exam on Hariri's assassination:

1 question.
Duration: A couple of years
Instructions: Circle an answer, return in sealed envelope via carrier pigeon or Saudi 747 jet. DO NOT attach to car bombs.

Who killed Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri?
a. I did it, may God forgive him he pissed me off
b. It's God will, and only He knows
c. The devil
d. Israel

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Protecting the devil's pillar

Over 2 million Muslims stoned a big pillar symbolizing Satan today, after praying for mercy and forgiveness yesterday at the scene of the Prophet's last sermon.

The pillar, known as Jamarat al-Aqabah, has stood firm despite millions of pebbles hurled against it over the years. The pillar is ironically better maintained than many other Islamic sites in the holy city, which are being destroyed by the Wahabis in charge.

Maintaining the devil's symbol for the sake of a yearly stoning ritual seems to be consistent with the Kingdom's policy towards Bashar Assad: stone the devil left and right but keep him in good shape to withstand the pressure. And yeah, to preserve "stability" in the region.

For the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques had this to say after meeting a desperate Bashar on Sunday:

A joint Saudi-Syrian statement issued after the summit in the Red Sea city of Jeddah said Abdullah "asserted the need to consolidate and strengthen Syrian-Lebanese relations."

Lebanese-Syrian relations should be improved "in all sectors in order to protect the interests of the two brotherly countries and the security of the region," said the statement read on Saudi state television.

Taking this at face value, it is quite insulting to hear a joint Saudi-Syrian statement on "Syrian-Lebanese relations" in the absence of Lebanon. It is also amazing that Abdullah is suggesting a new penal code: Punish murder by improving relations between killers and their dying victims. Saudi Arabia will no longer be beheading murder convicts!

And then there was this from a Saudi official who singled out the "voices in Lebanon calling for regime change":

In Riyadh, a Saudi official on Sunday slammed the war or words between Lebanon and Syria, "particularly the voices in Lebanon which have called for regime change in Syria". "Regime change in Syria is not required. Even the United States and France do not call for regime change in Syria ... the aim is to find the assassins of Rafik Hariri and bring them to justice," he said.
The details of the Saudi-Egyptian efforts are still sketchy, but it is becoming apparent that the Saudis and the Egyptians are trying to invent a formula for full Syrian cooperation with the UNIIIC, end to Syrian terrorism and interference in Lebanon, demarcation of the Lebanese-Syrian border, disarming the pro-Syrian Palestinian factions—all that without bringing about regime change.

Can the devil really change his ways? Can Satan renounce Satanism? Metaphors aside, can Bashar cooperate fully without putting himself in jail?

Jumblatt has given up on him. And with Khaddam testifying that he is fully convinced Bashar ordered Hariri's murder, I don't see what Saudi Arabia and Egypt can do for the butcher-in-training.

It is no longer a question of whether a regime change is required or not. Regime change is inevitable. And all this talk of mediation is hollow and lacks genuineness. What can the custodian of Mecca and the devil's pillar do to prevent the self-inflicted collapse of the criminal?

Even Bashar knows that he is in purgatory and that sooner or later, he will have to negotiate a safe passage to… hell. No amount of begging for "Arab support" can help him find the road to paradise. After all, he has already handed over some of his responsibilities to his step-brother in satanism, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

See what happens when you put your faith in murderers and hope for "a change in behavior?" Perhaps now the Saudis and the Egyptians can convince al-Qaeda to renounce terrorism.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Khaddam: Bashar is a traitor, Hafez was weak, the regime killed Hariri

Former Syrian vice president Abdel Halim Khaddam upped the ante against the Syrian regime in an interview with Asharq al-Awsat that was published on Friday.

Khaddam gave several interviews this week, including one to AP and another to France 3. In those interviews, he said that the Syrian regime has outlived its time, and held Bashar Assad responsible for Syria's isolation and weakening.

"The most important thing is to save Syria from this regime," he said, adding that "those who were behind the assassination in Lebanon continue to kill because their goal is to create chaos in the country".
In the Asharq al-Awsat interview, Khaddam's answers left no doubt that Bashar ordered the assassination of Rafik Hariri. In response to a question on whether Hosni Mubarak is seeking to keep Bashar away from being interviewed by the UNIIC, Khaddam said:

The problem is the responsibility in the Hariri assassination cannot stop at a certain level because such a decision cannot be taken without the president's knowledge. The decision comes from the top of the pyramid. Why would Rustom Ghazaleh want to kill Hariri? Was he competing with him over the premiership?
Khaddam's answer clearly assigns the responsibility for killing Hariri to Bashar. He makes it clear that the regime cannot get away with this murder by using a scapegoat like Ghazaleh. In other words, the regime is stuck and there is no way out for Bashar. No deal can save him.

Khaddam spent most of the interview arguing that the Syrian regime cannot be reformed, and that the only option left is to overthow it. He described Bashar as a "traitor" who should be put on trial. He also confirmed that he received death threats, and that he will testify before the UNIIIC. Here is a summary of the rest of the interview:

Bashar and his family plundered the country

Khaddam said the regime's response to his interview revealed that the sole role of the "fake" constitutional institutions in Syria is to cover for what Bashar says.

The scene at the People's Assembly was saddening for Syrians who wondered: does this assembly represent us? They [the MPs] were repeating insults like parrots. They were insulting a person who had the principal role in elevating Syria's stature for 30 years… Until 1998 Syria was at the peak and all Syrians spoke of its foreign policy and praised it, while criticizing the domestic policy… Is criticizing Bashar, who pushed the country into this predicament, apostasy?
Khaddam accused Bashar of nepotism and of allowing his family and friends to plunder the country and its neighbor. He said he knows for a fact that Rustom Ghazaleh stole 35 million USD from al-Madina bank.

The Lahoud Extension

The former VP, now labeled traitor by the Syrian regime, revealed new information on the extension of Lahoud's term, all in the context of Bashar's poor foreign policy skills:

After Bashar made the decision to extend Lahoud's term, I warned him that Syria cannot handle the repercussions of that decision. He [then] had and lost an pportunity to prevent UNSC 1559 from being issued. He asked [Syrian FM] Farouq al-Sharaa to contact the Spanish foreign minister, [Miguel] Moratinos, to help Syria in preventing that resolution in exchange for giving up the extension. Moratinos asked that Bashar contact the Spanish premier. Bashar did that. For his part, Moratinos conducted a series of talks with Chirac, Blair, Schroeder and Bush, after which it was decided to abandon the resolution on the condition that the Lebanese parliament speaker [Nabih Berri] cancels the parliament session. Moratinos conveyed that to Sharaa who insisted that he [Moratinos] personally contact Berri. And after he did, Berri responded: "Lebanon is an independent country and Syria cannot curry favor with us." The session was not canceled. Two hours later, the UNSC passed the resolution.

Here I ask: Why did Assad change his position? Look at the results: UNSC 1559, Hariri's assassination, the Syrian forces withdrew from Lebanon humiliated, relations with Lebanon deteriorated and Syria is suffering international and Arab solation. Isn't that harming Syrian interests? Isn't that treason? If anybody needs to be put on trial, it's the head of the regime.
Khaddam here blames Syria not only for Hariri's murder, but for UNSC 1559 which was supposedly blamed on Hariri by Syria and its allies in Lebanon. He confirmed that the Syrian regime pretty much dug the hole that it is in right now. It created the context for the murder, and then killed Hariri using that context as a pretext. In Khaddam's version of events, the Syrian regime is not only murderous but also very stupid.

On Hafez and the Assad family

Perhaps realizing that the public is wondering about his own criminal record during Hafez's reign, Khaddam distanced himself from Hafez's domestic policies, which he says he didn't always agree with. And for the first time, he signaled that Syria's problem lies in the Assad family.

I left the regime during Hafez's time in power. I agreed with him on all foreign matters, but disagreed on domestic issues. President [Hafez] Assad was an important man in Syrian history, but he was weak towards his family. He left the chance for the Assad family to engage in all kinds of deviancies on the coast and [the hinterlands].
Khaddam said he was against Bashar inheriting the presidency, but he had no choice but to help him because Hafez arranged for the succession before his death. Hafez, Khaddam revealed, made all the necessary security and military arrangements for the succession to take place "by force".

Khaddam for president?

Khaddam said he is not concerned with becoming president, but that he has a "political program" to save the country and not to become its president. He added that Syrian "national unity" suffered because of the regime's isolationist policy. He said all the powers in Syria must seek national unity and reach agreement.

"The basis is [regime] change," he said, welcoming all parties who are willing to walk down that path, including the different Islamist groups that he says are currently being excluded.

As for the Baath party, Khaddam said that in its current ideology it cannot achieve any of its "far goals". "There needs to be a fundamental change in thought and method," he added.

He proposed to empower Syrian people with the "ability to confront the mistakes that were committed", as a way to weaken the grip of the security services in Syria. He ruled out a military coup as a way to bring about that regime change.

In conclusion, Khaddam is seeking regime change through what seems to be a media campaign and full support for the Hariri investigation, which he uses to prove the invalidity of the Bashar regime. It is still unknown whether he is backing his words with clandestine activities inside the country. To me, it seems like he is banking on the regime change to come through Lebanon, the country he lost one day in 1998, when another group of thugs took his treasured place. Regardless of his power aspirations, Lebanon stands to benefit from all this, if only to empower the Hariri investigation and finally expose the Syrian regime's continuing murderous policies. In that regard, Khaddam is the perfect witness. But he should be nothing more.

UPDATE 1: AFP translated a part that I missed:

He told Asharq Al-Awsat he was "working to bring about the suitable conditions for Syrians to pour into the streets and act to overthrow the Syrian regime so that things go well"... However, he said he has not asked other nations to help Syria's opposition. "I did not contact anybody because change has to come from within. If the main vector for change is external, then the interests of the country are harmed."

UPDATE 2. Khaddam gave another interview to Newsweek. In it, he repeats what he said in past interviews. He does, however, give more details on the degree of animosity towards Hariri in Syria. He said that after Hariri's extension conversation with Assad, in which the latter threatened to crush him if he disobeys his will, Hariri said “I will never visit Damascus again in my life.” Khaddam repeats what he told other news organizations about how Bashar would always accuse Hariri of cooking up UNSC resolution 1559.

In one of the past party meetings, the Politburo was discussing the U.N. Resolution 1559. Assad said, “This resolution was cooked by Prime Minister Hariri and [French] President [Jacques] Chirac, and Hariri is working against the interests of Syria.” He said that Prime Minister Hariri tried to gather the Sunnis around him, and this is against the interests and security of Syria.”

Ten days before the assassination took place, President Bashar Assad started calling his friends in Lebanon to come to visit him … A lot of Lebanese close to the Syrian government started questioning the patriotism and nationalism of Rafik Hariri.

And then more on Lahoud's role:

Where do you think Bashar Assad got these ideas about Hariri?
It is the Lebanese security forces around Lahoud. They are writing reports against Hariri. President Lahoud sends those reports to President Assad. President Assad resends those reports to Rustom Ghazaleh to check them out. But Rustom Ghazaleh and Jamil Sayyed [a Lebanese security chief, now in jail] are the ones who initially made those reports, so after checking with Rustom Ghazaleh, the answer is, "Definitely, it matches, it’s authentic information.”
And then Khaddam reassures everyone that regime change is coming soon, and so is democracy. And there is no basis, he says, for fearing an Islamist takeover, which has always been the argument for keeping Bashar's regime in power.

What is the actual picture you have of the way things will develop in the next few months.
When the scenario starts to materialize all the people are going to see it. [But] if there is a big political agenda it is not feasible to make it public in the press.

Does your vision of Syria include any members of the Assad family?
The Assad family is one family in Syria. Whoever rules Syria will be decided solely by voting and ballots. Whoever gets the ballots, he will make the decision along with the Syrian people in that regard.

You’re not afraid that the Muslim Brotherhood will get all the ballots?
No. In Syria, Christians and Muslims have a religious consciousness, but they are not fanatics. It’s a kind of mosaic of religions in equilibrium. And the Muslim Brothers now have enhanced their way of thinking, and they have come up with a new liberal agenda. And naturally when we talk about an open and democratic state, everyone is welcome to present his agenda.

Read the Newsweek interview in full here.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Husam linked to Hawi's murder

The family of slain politician George Hawi today released more pictures showing Husam Husam at the site of the blast that killed Hawi on 21 June 2005.

In a statement read by Hawi's stepson today, the family said it was perplexed as to why a Syrian agent who had just contacted, or like he says tortured by, the UN investigation team, was hanging out at the site of Hawi's assassination, hours after the blast (around 6pm, the statement estimated).

According to the statement, Husam apparently also visited Hawi's widow's clinic on 20 September, after the UNIIC said he signed his testimony, accompanied by another guy and claiming poor eye sight (she's an ophthalmologist). He and his buddy were carrying handguns and Husam identified himself as Abdel Mohammad Hassan (b. 1985).

The statement added that Husam was also spotted near the New TV station on 21 November.

The Hawi family will now ask the Lebanese authorities to interrogate Husam as a suspect in the murder of Hawi.

Here are the new pictures. Find the ones released by Elaph last week here. Read the transcript of Husam Husam's interview here (Arabic). In it, he details how he was held in captivity, terrorized and captured for nearly four months. In these pictures, we see him as a free man, hanging out at the crime scene of a murder his Syrian intelligence bosses are believed to have ordered.

Also, note the similarities between a sketch of a suspect in Hawi's murder and Husam's picture (hat tip Ya Libnan).

The Daily Star unites Christians

Nada Bakri in a "special" article written for the Daily Star headlined her 4 January opus as follows:

Christians: Siniora represents all of us
Leaders say they are not being excluded from decision-making process
Huh? After Naharnet’s blunder and generalization about the Shia and Hizbullah, poor editing strikes again, this time at Lebanon’s only English-language daily.

So world Christians are speaking with one voice these days, ay?
The Christian political community denied on Tuesday they were being excluded from dialogue over the country's decision-making process, saying that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora represents all Lebanese and stressing the importance of resolving national issues inside Parliament. "There is a crisis in the government and Siniora is holding talks with the different political players to resolve it and is representing the Christians," said Social Affairs Minister Nayla Mouawad.
The article then quotes another “Christian” , former president Amin Gemayel, as saying "the government has the right framework..." etc

And then:
But several Christian MPs believe a chasm has opened between them and other political players, and are demanding to be included in the dialogue.
So much for ALL Christians claiming “Siniora represents all of us.” But wait, it was not all Christians who said that, it was one Lebanese Christian who is an ally of Siniora. And guess what, some "leaders" did say that they ARE "being excluded from decision-making process."

The piece descends into chaos and goes on tangents, which are characteristics of many Daily Star articles these days.

I understand deadlines. I also understand the difficulty of editing the work of novice writers with poor English skills. But that's why soda and coffee are popular in newsrooms! Drink up or hire better editors (and reporters)!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Lebanon alive and well

Raja from Lebanese Bloggers recently wrote about a “law of unintended consequences” as something that is bringing Lebanese together despite the terrorism that is being inflicted on them by the likes of Bashar Assad and his cohorts. Commenting on a report of a thwarted bomb attack on a holy Druze shrine in the Bekaa valley, Raja wrote that “efforts to destabilize the country” have so far failed because of this unwritten law:
In Lebanon, our salvation lies in that law.

Hariri's assassination brought about March 14.

Other assassinations brought us closer together rather than farther apart.

The political elite's desire to foment popular support rejuvenated patriotism and discourse on democracy like never before.

The drive to bring Bashar el Assad and his clique to justice, as opposed to simply attempting to overthrow him, has probably hammered in a new idea of justice to Lebanese and (hopefully) Arabs.

These unintended consequences, as well as others are what I am counting on for Lebanon. Hopefully, this attempted murder of hapless Druze sheykhs and sheykhat, will bring us even closer together.

Raja’s post reminded me of a recent time when most Lebanese bloggers came together to condemn the failure of the Arab press and the Arab public opinion in general to come out in support of the Lebanese cause. There was near-unanimity in rejecting all attempts to dismiss the Lebanese pursuit of justice as a foreign plot against a regime many Lebanese believe is murderous and not worth defending. From that point onwards, and despite our different experience and backgrounds, many of us dropped the shackles of expired historical arguments and allowed our discourse to progress and evolve. In a way, the seeds of Lebanese unity are found in the posts and comments of the Lebanese blogs.

If this is indicative of anything, it is that at times of great tragedy, just like warring radio stations unwittingly preserved Lebanese identity by airing Fairuz songs and Ziad Rahbani plays, the Lebanese blogosphere became a symbol and promoter of that identity.

I have no scientific study to back up what I said above, and I am fully aware that the blogosphere has limited influence within Lebanon. But I do believe that it is a reflection of Lebanese public sentiments inside the country. Confirming this is a recent poll conducted by Zogby International. The results of the poll are not all positive or encouraging, but they do reveal an unprecedented level of consensus in the country about Lebanese identity. James Zogby wrote:

The best news for Lebanon however, is the degree to which Lebanese, from all groups, self-identify with the country – higher than in any other Arab country. When asked to describe their principle identifier, more than 70 percent say “being Lebanese” –double what it was in 2002.

While they remain divided over several political issues, our poll found strong points of consensus among Lebanese of all background: a strong identity with the country, a growing optimism about the future; a consensus to fight against corruption and expand employment; and the need to reform the political system, while protecting Lebanon’s pluralism.

The Lebanon that Fairuz sang about, the Lebanon that we bloggers worry about and defend—our Lebanon is alive and well in the hearts and minds of its people. It’s a comforting thought to carry into what will be a challenging new year.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Khaddam’s defection increases Hizbullah’s isolation

Hizbullah always makes a big deal about its allegedly crucial role in securing electoral victory for Hariri and Jumblatt and the “March 14” parties in the 2005 parliamentary elections. Some have gone as far as suggesting that without such support, Hariri and Jumblatt are doomed to lose in future elections. This prediction is based on a false premise laden with assumptions. The first of these assumptions is that the electoral law will not change and the districting would continue to favor pro-Syrian parties. The second assumption is the belief that Hizbullah can survive without an alliance with Sunni and Druze parties in the country.

Al-Seyassah published an article recently claiming that Hizbullah went against Syria’s advice of forming an alliance with Michel Aoun during the election, opting instead to ally itself with Jumblatt and Hariri in Baabda-Aley, where a Hizbullah-Aoun ticket could have weakened the Jumblatt-backed list. Hizbullah reportedly followed Iranian advice to secure backing and legitimacy from an alliance with other Muslim parties in the country, so as not to appear as a lone Shia party running against the rest of the Muslims in the country. With the Sunni support, the party’s activities appear more legitimate in the eyes of Lebanese and, more importantly, other Sunnis in the region. I don’t think Ahmadinejad will or can push Hizbullah into abandoning this strategy. For the street-sweeper Iranian president himself is busy building pan-Islamic support by pandering to the Sunni-based anti-Israeli and anti-American sentiments in the region. Despite what Iran’s role in Iraq might imply, the Islamic republic and its Lebanon-based militia need the Sunnis to justify and support their anti-Israeli and anti-American policies.

For that I doubt that Hizbullah can continue suppressing its Lebanese dimension without incurring serious political damage. Jumblatt and more importantly Saad Hariri, realizing that Hizbullah is constantly using their political alliance against them, have now asked Nasrallah to make a choice between Lebanon and Syria. This means Hizbullah can no longer obstruct cabinet decisions and aid the Syrian destabilization campaign by playing the “consensus” card.

Hizbullah now is more isolated than ever. It can no longer hope to cow the majority through intimidation and escalation of the Shebaa front. Any unilateral attack on Israel will now be widely condemned in Lebanon. With the Syrian regime bombing campaign in high gear, Hizbullah can no longer convincingly justify its support for a regime that wants to kill and terrorize Lebanese people. Through their increasingly vocal anti-Syrian stances, Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt have created a treason cloud over Hizbullah. Walid Jumblatt is now openly calling on it to Lebanonize itself and its weapons. Marwan Hamade on Sunday said any military escalation in the south would be seen as a part of the Syrian attempt to destabilize the country.

The “Party of God” can turn to Aoun, but I am not sure how far Aoun can go with it without alienating his base and further angering the US, France and Saudi Arabia. A long-term FPM-Hizbullah alliance is unmanageable, and in any case, Hizbullah cannot hope to manipulate it much. Strategically, I think Jumblatt and Hariri are better natural allies for Hizbullah, something the party’s leadership knows very well.

Khaddam’s recent defection has strengthened the Hariri-Jumblatt camp. His endorsement of the Hariri investigation will weaken Hizbullah’s argument against an international tribunal. I expect it to also put a strain on the Hizbullah-Amal “alliance”, if one can call it that. I do not want to be in Nabih Berri’s shoes right now. I think we will see further efforts by the parliament speaker to resolve the cabinet crisis. After’s Khaddam’s accusations, Berri should be praying for a way to send his ministers back into the cabinet without suffering political decapitation at the hands of Hassan Nasrallah. His membership in Bashar’s Lebanese circle is at best opportunistic and pragmatic. It remains to be seen how much longer he can pretend to be a “Basharite” in order to save himself from political irrelevance. I think Berri should seize this historic opportunity to lead some of the Shia away from Syria’s “lap”, and back into secular/sectarian politics (as opposed to religious).

Khaddam’s defection made it clear that to the Syrian regime, eliminating Hariri was domestic policy, part of Bashar’s coming of age as a dictator. After all, to the Assad family, Lebanon is a province and not a separate country. Some reports suggest that Khaddam coordinated his bombshell with other figures some of whom are still in Syria. We could very well see a similar surprise from former Syrian army chief of staff Hikmat al-Shihabi. It is hard to tell at this point how this is really playing in Syria. Ammar Abdulhamid downplayed its effect on the Syrian regime. Anton Effendi saw it as an indication of a power struggle over Lebanon between Damascus and Saudi Arabia, among other things. Regardless, the effect on local Lebanese politics is empowerment of the fractured anti-Syrian camp, which, and for the first time since Hariri’s assassination, is finally putting pressure on Syria’s most prominent ally, Hizbullah.

With the US reportedly moving to propose a resolution specifically condemning it, Hizbulllah has two options: work it out with Hariri and Jumblatt, or go to war. Stonewalling is no longer allowed.

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