Lebanon: WSN Team reports from Beirut looking for Peace, Stability, Independence

Posted in Broader Middle East | 22-Nov-07 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

WSN Editor Manuela Paraipan met the most important political groups including Hizbollah, Amal, Future Movement, Kataeb here in Beirut looking…
WSN Editor Manuela Paraipan met the most important political groups including Hizbollah, Amal, Future Movement, Kataeb here in Beirut looking for their ideas and visions for peace, stability and indepence for Lebanon.

Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud stepped down on November 24th and now the country has no President and a power vacuum. Under the constitution the functions of the President were taken over by the Cabinet of Premier Fuad Siniora. This situation places further strain on the already fragile situation in Lebanon.

Here in Lebanon I had the chance to talk - off and on the record - with individuals from various walks of life and with people who act as mediators between the March 8 bloc (Hizbollah, Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Amal, Marada, Syrian Socialist Nationalist Party and allies) and March 14 bloc (Future Movement, Progressive Socialist Party, Lebanese Forces, Kataeb Party and allies). No one can play a completely neutral role in Lebanon, but some do manage to keep away from the inter- and intra-quarrels and thus become trustworthy actors.

Each community, group and individual has its own agenda, objectives and ties within and outside the Arab world. The Lebanese problems ceased to be only theirs decades ago when that time political class, lacking any sense of preservation and wisdom, allowed the Palestinians to enter the country. A few years later, Syria was given the green light to take over the country. Since then the snowball rolled and Lebanon's problems have become regional and international.

The Presidency

The dispute around the presidency is much more than meets the eye. It is not only the position in itself that causes heated debates but also rather what it stands for. Since the Taef Agreement, the Christians lost power in favor of the Sunnis and Shias. The prerogatives of the presidential position today are very much like Etienne Saqre (nom de guerre: Abu Arz) described them, a chair with only three legs. Nonetheless, this chair is an essential symbol for the Christians of Lebanon and for those of the region.

The quest to find a consensus President started a while ago. When I asked Ali Hamdan (Amal), a close aide of Nabih Berri, why it is an advantage for Lebanon to have a consensus and thus a weak president he could not bring any valid argument, except for the well-known circular Arab diplomatic language. In pragmatic terms, a consensus president is one who is neither a March 14 man, nor a March 8 man. His ties with either side will be, at best, fragile. He will not carry enough moral or political weight to fulfill the requirements of his position. He will be constrained to please all sides and by doing so, he risks becoming a puppet in the hands of all.

Since the '70s, the Christians are in the habit of continuously weakening their position. It is grotesque, but they fight tooth and nail to accomplish this goal. An agreement is important, but that does not mean giving in to blackmail. After all, the future president of Lebanon should be representative of all citizens and should put the interests of the country above all.

Since all consultations failed, the Patriarch was asked to list a few names of individuals that may be right for the presidency. If this also fails, the Patriarch will be used as a scapegoat by all sides, and as a result the church will lose what little moral standing it has today in political affairs. In a sectarian system, state and church may be separated in theory, but not in practice, and the Patriarch often acts as a mediator between camps. As it happened before, there is always a chance a solution will be found right before the country slips into total chaos.

The media reported that the Patriarch's list includes the names of Boutros Harb, Michel Aoun, Robert Ghanem, Nassib Lahoud, Michel Edde who is Chairman of the Maronite League and Michel Khoury.

The plan is to have House Speaker Berri, representing March 8 and Saad Hariri representing 14 March achieve a consensus on one or two of the potential candidates and then go to parliament for the actual elections. Thus far, they did not reach a consensus. Another name often heard lately is that of Demianos Kattar, a young and ambitious intellectual. Sources that have asked to be kept confidential told WSN that the Vatican was in favor of Mr. Kattar.

There are ongoing discussions as to whether or not to elect a president with 50+1 vote or the 2/3 as the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Hizbollah ask. Rumors are that some from March 8 (FPM included) may break off and go with the 50+1 alternative.

In September when the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the FPM and Hizbollah was signed, Gibran Bassil, FPM's political officer and one of the few who were with General Aoun told WSN: "To agree on a president you have to convince us that we need to attend the session. If they say that they don't need the 2/3 and they will vote with any majority, any portion of the parliament that means they go against the constitution. It's possible. Then we won't let this president rule the country or go to Baabda Palace, or let the Siniora government rule the country. At that time we will have our own measures to take."

Hizbollah - the Party of God

Hizbollah is a strong political party, with a disciplined, well-trained militia. It is splendidly structured and organized as a service provider, championing the Shia cause. It suffices to take a look at the Shia political and socio-economic situation in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, up until Hizbollah was created with the direct support of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, in order to understand the sympathy and support it enjoys today.

Not only did the Christians, Sunnis or Druze have zaims or as we know them elsewhere, feudals: Powerful families that exercised influence over many. The Shias had them as well. Even without Israel's military presence in southern Lebanon, sooner or later Hizbollah or an organization to that effect would have emerged.

There are two aspects worth being taken into consideration when discussing Hizbollah's principles and actions. The first one is the religious attitude towards existence that has prevailed within the Shia sect since the battle near Karbala in the year 680 when Hussein, Prophet Muhammad's grandson was killed. It is almost an obsession with humiliation and honor. They always have to prove themselves. Timur Goksel called it an obsession with pride. If Israel does something, Hizbollah will have to top it. It is this mentality that makes Hizbollah constantly challenge the others, whoever they may be.

It is to a large extent an emotional and nihilistic perspective on life and reality. This humiliation is so strong, so self-devouring that it can only be quenched by an action, which supposedly will bring honor to that person, community and collective Islamic Ummah ego. In the equation of honor and humiliation appears a new element – that of revenge. Honor is truly bizarre. It has rules and definitions. Often times, it works diametrically against the rationale and feeds the beast. If we know of tools to work with, when logic dictates, there is nothing to do when faith is involved.

The second aspect is more out of this place and it has to do with the fact that Shias in general, as the Christians of southern Lebanon were neglected by their own people and by the state. Since it was created, Hizbollah managed to build a state where there wasn't one. There is no trust between the Shias and the state. This is the core problem. If this issue cannot be solved, then all the rest is futile. A compromise reached between the state and Hizbollah would merely be a treacherous calm before the storm.

In Lebanon, there are many distinct communities who have to live side by side. In most cases a middle ground can be found, but not always. Hizbollah is the perfect example that some principles, irrespective of their validity are simply not tradable. Moreover, the sectarian political system, instead of promoting largess when it comes to building citizenship and civility is pushing forward group interests over people.

Some pointed out that the government is pouring money into Beirut, in particular the rich areas of Beirut rather than, for example, the southern Beirut suburbs - Dahiye, Southern Lebanon or Baalbek. Just recently, the government spent money on the Corniche pavement and on the roads in and in the immediate vicinity of the capital and in the mountains. These investments were not a priority. Especially not after the July war and not with the growing tensions between Shias and their Christian allies on the one hand, and the rest of the Christians and Sunnis on the other.

In Bint Jbeil, Ras Maroun, Tibnin and even in Ain Ebel I heard people praising Sheikh Nasrallah and Nabih Berri for taking care of them. Each time I asked, what about the state? The answer I got was along the line, which state? Investing in southern Lebanon would not challenge the religious loyalties, but it would be a goodwill gesture to show the Shias that they too are important for the Beirut government.

Building trust is a long-term process. At first, any support from the state may be seen as a pay off, but if continued people will see it with different eyes. Hizbollah and Amal will always have their followers, but the state will be an alternative. Now, there is no other alternative. Let's not forget that Shias are a minority in Lebanon and in the region. Their primary interest is not to start wars that they cannot possibly win. That is, not to say that they will totally abandon their dreams, but not all dreams are realizable. Hizbollah has taken over the Shia sect. They have money and a well-organized religious, socio-economic and political structure. Today Hizbollah is unrivaled, but there is always tomorrow.

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and his godfather Bashar Assad. "It is not only the position of the President that causes…
Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and his godfather Bashar Assad. "It is not only the position of the President that causes hot debates but also rather what it stands for"
If there is a way to keep Lebanon out of inter-conflicts, this is it. In spite of the ideological and religious ties between Ayatollah Khamenei and Hizbollah's leadership, there are differences between Persian Shias and the Arab Shias. By working on building trust, Hizbollah's monopoly over the sect will be pushed aside. It’s not the social support the Shias need from the state. This will keep them in their current, dependent status. Don't give them fish; teach them how to use the fishing rod.

After the war, Hizbollah distributed thousands of dollars in advance payments to all those who lost their houses. From a socio-economic perspective, Hizbollah takes care of its own. The irony is that much of the hardship of the sect is because of the patriarchal, or bluntly stated, the mafia style of the party. Nonetheless, when one is the direct recipient of this help he or she feels compelled to follow in the footsteps of the leader.

Hizbollah's relationship to Syria has not been as smooth and friendly as people make it to be. During the conflict provoked by the Palestinians and incorrectly called a civil war Syria endorsed and armed Amal against Hizbollah. In the mid-1990s, a number of Hizbollah's members and supporters were presumably killed by Syria. Damascus also used to keep track of

Hizbollah's weapons stockpile locations. While not agreeing with Syria's plans for Lebanon, Hizbollah focused on its initial agenda, that of fighting Israel.

After the passing away of Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran adopted a slightly different policy towards Lebanon in general and Hizbollah in particular, and lessened its financial support for the party. It was never a type of relationship where Ayatollah Khamenei picks up the phone and orders Sheikh Nasrallah to do this or that. Sheih Nasrallah has a margin of movement, but in the end, he is part of a hierarchical structure of Ummah. Nowadays, Hizbollah prides itself that is almost entirely self-sufficient.

Although, the details remain to this day in the dark, Hizbollah has an impressive network of businesses and investments all over the world, not just in Lebanon. In Lebanon they usually invest in small- and middle-size of businesses. Such action has two purposes: 1) To keep the Shia rally behind it. Money and ideology make together a powerful mix; 2) to help locally the economy, which in itself is a positive aspect.

Last year, in November, Hizbollah withdrew its ministers from the government and asked for a government of national unity and veto power. Asking for a national unity government was just one of a long line of deceitful maneuvers, since they already had ministers in the government. By asking for veto power Hizbollah trespassed the common sense line. Since when and based on what ground, is a minority entitled to ask to control the majority? It was ludicrous and unattainable from day one and the party and its allies knew that. Why did they do it then? To buy time, to stir tensions while posing themselves as the victims of the corrupt, evil system of which, they too were part of since 1992.

To make it look as if they accept compromise, Hizbollah through its representative House Speaker Nabih Berri focused on the presidency. This was a matter blown out of proportion to lure attention from the core issues. In an artful manner, Sheikh Nasrallah tested the waters in one of his very recent speeches by suggesting that a president should be directly elected by the people. According to the Lebanese constitution, the parliament elects the president. Nasrallah comes and markets a democratic idea after all standards. If we are to do it for the people, then why not let them decide on this matter?

Such a popular stance can only win the hearts of the people. The implication is that in spite of what Siniora's government and others are saying, Hizbollah wants what the Lebanese want. Consequently, this should be proof enough that Hizbollah is not an Iranian proxy but rather a veritable Lebanese resistance. The timing to launch this appeal is crucial. The party does not expect it to have an immediate success, but now that it is officially out in the open it can be built upon, in time.

Islamists have the patience that most normally lack. They waited since Karbala to regain honor through revenge. If they could wait that long, a few more years or decades are just a drop in the ocean. Hizbollah claims that it does not seek to impose an Islamic republic. Why use force when they can use the democratic process to do so? This is what Sheikh Nasrallah tested publicly. For the time being, Hizbollah pledged to abide by the democratic competition. This does not mean that they agree with the non-Islamic nature of Lebanese politics, but they tolerate it and play by the rules of the game looking to achieve the initial goal, that of implementing what today is called political Islam, when the time is right. Hizbollah does advocate a change of the present political system. They want an end to seats being divided by sect.

Hizbollah has brought about a revival of the Shia in an unprecedented way and is only second to the Islamic revolution in Iran. The party's performance, both politically and otherwise peaked in 2000 and the aftermath of what it calls “the liberation”. They used their popular boost to increase their influence in the government. Too bad the Sunnis and the Christians went along, each for different reasons and having in mind only immediate gains. This is how the bayan wizari, i.e. the cabinet statement, came about in which the government fully endorsed Hizbollah as a resistance movement that has the right to actively resist in pursuit of liberation of the Shebaa farms and prisoners.

This happened before the July 2006 war and the statement still exists unaltered. This government blames Hizbollah for having a private militia but stops short of calling it an alien implant in the country. The government seems to be under the impression that by compromising on truth it will maintain the country calm and safe. Although reality proved otherwise, the government maintains the status quo. Despite its Lebanese participation, through its agenda, Hizbollah is the Iranian Pasdaran in Lebanon. In July and on other occasions, it acted in coordination with its patrons (Iran is the main ideological patron while Syria could be called a second-rate patron only because Hizbollah has to use it to get weapons and fighters), not with the Lebanese government. In any other country, this would be considered high treason.

The national unity government, the veto, the presidency, all these are important to Hizbollah, but they come as a cover for something else, namely UN Resolution 1559. Hizbollah never intended to give up arms, regardless of the incentives offered. Neither Hizbollah nor its patrons are in the position of power to challenge the world. The rhetoric is filled with veiled threats and the HISH (Hamas-Iran-Syria-Hizbollah) alliance as Dr. Barry Rubin calls it can create mayhem and even win battles, but not the war.

For the time being, Hizbollah is doing all it can to avoid turning weapons against fellow Lebanese. That would be the end of the mighty and holy resistance and they know it. What do to then? The only solution as they see it is to keep on going with the resistance message, increase social support in order to maintain the loyalty of the masses, keep friendly ties with the Palestinian militias and make sure Hizbollah still has a say in the country.

Telecommunication Lines

Back in August, both the national and international press reported about Hizbollah's private communication network. The government apparently found out about it by mistake. In case the intelligence service in its subordination is not completely idiotic and totally compromised, the government must have known about it for quite some time. Hizbollah's actions are not a surprise, after all they always proved to be very resourceful, but the state inaction is a surprise.

When I asked the Minister of Information, Ghazi Aridi about the telecommunication lines, I was confident that the state cut them off. I remember clearly reading that the government took care of the problem. I was astonished to learn that in fact the government did nothing and the lines are still in place in Beirut, and in all Hizbollah's dominions. As I understood, the army, which is or should be subordinated to the government tried to plead with Hizbollah, without success.

Here are two important things to consider further:

1) The government ordered the army to take care of the problem and basically to respect the laws of the country and the official hierarchy. What does the army do? It contacts Hizbollah, and Hizbollah says that the lines remain in place. Conclusion? The army goes back to the government to say that it is not the time to act against Hizbollah's will and that’s that.

Minister Ghazi Aridi said: "The army is trying to do something to convince Hizbollah to solve this issue. But in the end if there is a problem between the army and Hizbollah, they will say this is not the right time to do anything. This is the question and the problem with Hizbollah."

2) This being the case, logic dictates that the army's leadership loyalty is not 100% with the government. Now there were the communication lines in discussion, but I ask, what if tomorrow the government comes to its senses and orders the army to disarm Hizbollah as asked for in the Taef Agreement and UN Resolutions 1559, 1680 and 1701? Would the army do it? Probably not. Not under this leadership, anyway. This problem needs to be addressed and solved. The sooner the better.

The state institutions are heavily infiltrated by both Syria and Hizbollah. In southern Lebanon, people spoke proudly of the ghosts. The ghosts being Hizbollah's members and supporters. No one knows who they are and where they are, but experience demonstrates that they are everywhere.

The south and north of Litani, Baalbek and Bekaa Valley are known as Hizbollah fiefdoms. Journalists such as Daniel Williams of Bloomberg and Charles Levinson, analysts such as Elie Fawaz, Tony Badran and Toni Nissi among others, wrote about signs on roads that actually warn that entry is forbidden in Hizbollah's areas. I was told that if I want to go to southern Lebanon, especially to Bint Jbeil (also known as Hizbollah's southern stronghold) to talk with people and take pictures, I needed Hizbollah's approval. I managed just fine without the party's green light, but the question remains: Is it Hizbollah's country to allow or forbid people to enter a place? How did it get to the point that Hizbollah exercises such power and influence in Lebanon?

Not long ago, stories about Shia businessmen that purchase land from poor Christians and Druze surfaced, yet the government did not come publicly with a statement condemning it. Does it realize that by sitting idle it actually supports Hizbollah's agenda of undermining the state of law? Thus far for Hizbollah, playing democracy is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Much can be said about the party, but not that its leadership is foolish. That is why, after the disaster it brought upon the country, Sheikh Nasrallah should understand that some favors to its patrons come with a price that is too high to pay. If the leadership has some consideration for the average citizen, then Hizbollah should distance itself from Iran's regional ambitions and act solely as a Lebanese political actor.

Free Patriotic Movement and Hizbollah Cooperation

The fantastic, as economist Sami Nader called it, Beirut spring started not in 2005 but rather in 2003 with the Syrian Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty act (SALSRA). This signaled a change in US policy towards Lebanon. If by the end of 1975, beginning of 1976 the US authorized the Syrians to enter Lebanon, now the US wanted Syria out. In all this time

Lebanon almost collapsed under Syrian dictatorship and US interests in the region have come to suffer because of Assad's regime alliances. When SALSRA was voted, many of today's March 14 leaders were silent and some even opposed it. Perhaps out of fear, but that does not excuse their actions. At that time, General Aoun was among the few visible and well-known Christian leaders that opposed Syria. While in exile, the general's rhetoric vis-à-vis Hizbollah was always as harsh as that against Damascus.

In April 2005, talking with WSN, Michel Aoun said that Hizbollah has a role to play in Lebanon, if its "ready to return the exercise of that sovereign authority and obligation to the state." He went on asking: "Are they ready to become strictly a political and social movement? Or do they want to remain a militia and maintain the untenable proposition of sharing sovereignty with the national army?" These are very good questions that have remained unanswered by Hizbollah to this day. This, in spite of the MoU that was signed in February 2006. The MoU is a good document and a start toward building confidence between the Christians represented by the FPM and the Shias represented by Hizbollah.

There are basically points that they have in common and then it leaves enough space for other issues where these two parties, don't see eye to eye. Those who want to crucify Aoun for his ties with Hizbollah should remember a few things:

1) Since 1992, Hizbollah was active on the political stage and it had members in parliament and ministers. To name just two, Walid Jumblatt and Hariri never complained about Hizbollah. On the contrary. After all, it was because of Rafiq Hariri's relentless lobbying that France and the EU did not put Hizbollah on the terror list, as the US did. Hizbollah's relationship with Iran and the velayet e faqih (rule by jurisprudence) concept it holds dear were known from its inception. If Hizbollah is an undermining, terrorist entity now, wasn't it a terrorist entity years ago?

2) The bayan wizari stating that the government condones all actions taken by the Resistance.

3) In politics one uses all available strategies to get to power and stay there.

MP Ibrahim Kannan of the FPM beautifully explained why the MoU is necessary: "Because Hizbollah is the other side. It is not an alliance. First of all, it is an understanding. When you want to make a compromise you make it with the other side - someone with whom you have contradictions. We have considered and continue to consider Hizbollah to be the other side in Lebanon. We were the heart of the 14 of March movement for 15 years. We were alone. Later, others joined us. We consider that we have to have dialog with the other Lebanese people and we have to try to bring Lebanon and its people together. We believe that we cannot preserve its independence and sovereignty without an understanding among the Lebanese."

"The Arab Baath regime ideologically considers Lebanon to be part of the historic Syria."
"The Arab Baath regime ideologically considers Lebanon to be part of the historic Syria."
Is there a contradiction in the fact that General Aoun uses this alliance to accede to power with the fact that MoU is a step in the right direction? For a long time I thought so, because I was always considering the moral, ethical dimension. Politics is seldom if ever moral. Most likely, Aoun did it to secure two objectives: Peaceful coexistence with the Shias and to obtain more power.

This still leaves the question of why Hizbollah signed the MoU.

Realistically, Hizbollah needed a Christian cover to counter attack UN Resolution 1559. Something it could push in front and say, look, the Christians, those who admire the manmade democracy, allied with us. This shows that we are not the bad guys you think we are.

Did Hizbollah win more than the FPM from this alliance? Most likely. The FPM was being labeled as pro-Syrian which is nonsense, but this is due to its rapprochement with Hizbollah.

Many said that who knows what would have happened with the Shias in July, were it not for the MoU? Stereotypes aside, the Lebanese are warm and hospitable people. They would have helped their fellow citizens with or without the MoU. In the worst-case scenario this support might have been slightly delayed. At the time, there were some who made bitter comments, saying that maybe the Shias seeing how Christians, Sunni and others live won't go back to their own areas and will simply take over the country. What actually happened and few talk about it is that right after the armistice, Sheikh Nasrallah asked the Shias to go back to their areas and homes. One million came and one million went back in a matter of days. This is an aspect that should also be kept in mind.

When asked about the strategy behind the MoU, Sami Nader, a former Aounist said: "It’s a tactical move from Aoun to block the 14 March camp because they did not back him up to promote his candidature. This is why he is losing a lot of ground. He used to be supported by 70% of the Christians." Christians did in fact sanction the alliance and it all came in the open during the Metn elections, when the FPM's Kamille Khoury won, but only by a very small margin and only helped by Armenians and the vote of others. Some FPM members left the party because of its alliance with Hizbollah. However, only few joined Samir Geagea's party.

After the General Aoun’s recent meeting with Saad Hariri in France, Hizbollah has suddenly proclaimed him as its candidate for the presidency. Everyone knows that although an ally of FPM, Hizbollah was rather reluctant to endorse Aoun's candidacy. It would have preferred a candidate closer to Syria and more sympathetic to its organic ties with Iran. In a way, it was like the general served its purpose and now it’s time to move on. By going public, Hizbollah managed to keep Aoun from disassociating himself from the Syrian-Iranian stance.

In the eccentric social fabric of Lebanon, the term militia was rapidly dismissed by the FPM and quickly adopted by its rivals. More so, when pictures from the FPM training camps surfaced in the media and the ISF (Internal Security Forces) office corroborated the story. When compared with Hizbollah's forces, the FPM's are at best a quasi-organized and trained group of loyalists who carry weapons. The party denies it has a militia, but admits it has a security force. I was told once that weapons are home gadgets in Lebanon; therefore, it is not at all surprising that everyone carry light weapons.

Why did the FPM resort to such action? The general said from day one that only the army should have weapons. That line seems to have changed in practice. The danger of the FPM carrying weapons, aside from the fact that it trespasses the law, is that it will turn not against Shias or Sunnis, but against fellow Christians. It happened during the conflict with the Palestinians and Syrians and there are no guarantees it won't happen again.

When I asked MP Hagop Pakradonian how he perceives the MoU as an Armenian Christian and as a political player, he said the following: "General Aoun has tried to bring Hizbollah more to the Lebanese ideology and to a Lebanese political presence. We should not forget that there are lots of Christians in the Bekaa, Baalbek and southern Lebanon where the Shias are present. (...) It was the first time that Hizbollah agreed that the Lebanese who are in Israel should return to Lebanon. Before this, Hizbollah considered them to be traitors. It was also the first time that Hizbollah spoke about the Lebanese prisoners from Syria. Everyone in Lebanon knows that the problem of Hizbollah's weapons cannot be resolved through pressure and through war. Hizbollah should have some Lebanese guarantee that they can give back the weapons to the authorities but they have felt that this guarantee is a Christian guarantee. Hizbollah felt more relaxed knowing that it has a Christian cover in its resistance against Israel."

When asked about the Christian gains, if any, MP Pakradonian responded: "Regarding Israel, we were accused as Christians, not as Armenians, of being allies of Israel. We showed the Christians that we are really Lebanese and we consider Israel an enemy. This also relaxed the Christians living in the Shia area. We want the various communities of Lebanon to have good relations. We must try to strengthen Lebanon and recognize that we are all Lebanese citizens. Until now we have failed to recognize Lebanon as our homeland - to form a state in Lebanon and to have a real citizenship. Our citizenship is our community, the state is our region and our homeland is the village. The idea of one state, one nation and one citizenship is very important. (...) Through the MoU it is not that we already reached that target but it's a step forward."

Tent City in Downtown Beirut

The tent city is nothing else than a failed coup d'etat and an embarrassment for the FPM. Why not admit failure and go home? I visited the tent and I was told by one of the guards that fighters of Hizbollah were there and that is why if I want to talk to them and take pictures inside, I need the party's approval. Later on, news that Hizbollah is preparing the tent city for the winter made me reconsider the fact that fighters are in the camp. Are there weapons, too? I did not see any, and I never read about that, but would it be unrealistic? Nothing ever is with Hizbollah. The FPM should take precautions and stay away from whatever Hizbollah intends to use the tent city for.

These are extraordinarily tense times for Lebanon. If they manage to get through without resorting to street clashes then there is still hope for Lebanon and its multicultural culture.

Christians need to reassert their priorities and stand united or they will continue to lose ground. All parties have to understand that aside from the religious goals of the Shias, Iran did not establish, train, finance and arm Hizbollah to the teeth so that after almost 30 years, Hizbollah gives it all up. If the Lebanese leadership of Hizbollah will ever agree to maintain solely a political and social role and find a way for its fighters to join the army, then the process is going to be extremely difficult and demanding if all are involved in the negotiations. It is not impossible, but it is highly unlikely.

Sunnis want to know who killed Rafiq Hariri or as many say, they know but they want the culprits to be punished. Apart from this, its little they have in common in respect to secular, democratic principles with the Christians or with the Shias, for that matter. That is why this momentum should be used to create a common vision of Lebanon, away from the feudal lines and outside loyalties.

Syria and Iran are allies in the region but in respect to Lebanon these regimes do not share a 100% common interest. Assad's regime plan is to reincorporate one way or another, Lebanon into its area of control. Iran on the other hand has to be careful not to start a war it cannot control between Sunni and Shia that will spread like fire in and outside the region.

Everyone talks of compromises. But what exactly is at stake here? One should not compromise all principles only to buy time. Make no mistake: If sovereignty and independence are being used as merchandise to trade, it won't be long until new internal conflicts come along. Today's sect and party leaders have to put the interests of all before their own petty squabbles. After all they have been through since the 1970s people simply want to move on with their lives in a calm environment where they enjoy political transparency, social openness and economic growth. If these leaders are not capable of serving the population, then they should step away and let others do the job. None have been sent or put by God in that specific position, thus not one of them is indispensable.

Recommendations

  • Have elections on time and based on the constitution
  • Continue to stabilize the country and draw investments through Paris III
  • Strengthen the army
  • Disarm immediately all militias and resistances from the Lebanese territory
  • Make concessions, as long as they do not affect Lebanon's sovereignty and are a prelude to building a national conscience
  • New parliamentary elections
  • A new election law
  • End the Taef Agreement’s favoritism and come up with a genuine Lebanese national project

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