If posts do not appear immediately, please wait for a few seconds. For some reason, the blog sometimes takes a while to load. Thanks!

On Other Blogs: From Beirut to the Beltway

On Other Blogs: Jeha"s Nail - مسمار جحا

On Other Blogs: Blacksmiths of Lebanon

On Other Blogs:The Beirut Spring

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Saddam Executed

Well it happened. The end of a tyrant. An Arab tyrant for that matter. Only one of many. In a sense it might bring closure to the many people in the middle east whose lives Saddam destroyed one way or another. He has now paid with his life.

While I think that the man is one of the worst dictators - and there have been some pretty bad ones - that have ruled in the Arab world, he has long been out of the equation. From the day that the first American bomb fell on Baghdad, it's been curtains for him. The fact that it had to end in his execution seems natural in a place like Iraq, albeit - in my opinion - wrong on so many levels. Here are some reasons why.

1) He was tried and convicted for only one of sooo many crimes he has committed or authorized, and should have been tried for every one of his heinous acts.

2a) While the trial of Saddam was conducted by Iraqis and his execution performed by Iraqis, the fact that American army boots are still on the ground in Iraq does not give the proper feel of a sovereign action.
2b) It reeks of fear. It was a quick trial for one of many crimes with a speedy execution.

3) I don't believe in execution for reasons that have no place in this post.

4) The official videos released (and aired) of his hanging and of the moments before are in such bad taste. We would have taken your word for it. A picture of him dead - still distasteful but slightly less so - would have sufficed.

5) The unofficial video shot on some guy's cellphone that apparently made its way to the Internet (and to CNN) shows his executioners taunting him and cheering for Moqtada al-Sadr and Mohammad Baqer al-Sader (Moqtada's father in law, whom Saddam had tortured and executed). Ridiculously unprofessional and unnecessary. Reinforces 2b.

6) The fact that he was taunted so badly and obviously by his Shiite executioners, supporters of Sadr, is not gonna look good. How did they get there? And wayyyyyy more importantly, how are the Sunnis going to react?

I detested the man, his actions, and their impact on the lives and deaths of countless millions, but any which way you look at the execution, it just reeeeeks.

For one Iraqi perspective, check this out.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The End of a Bad Dream and The Beginning of a Bad Reality

I originally wrote this on August 11, 2006, I am posting it now untouched.

Too many days and too many lives lost after the beginning of the sad affair that we have all experienced one way or the other, the fighting is drawing to a close. For me and for countless others dispersed in countless cities all over the globe and more importantly in Lebanon, this signals the end of a bad dream, the end of a nightmare. We have witnessed systematic destruction, death, and the force of ruthless players who view us merely as pawns in a game much bigger than we are. Now, we are left to awaken only to find that in place of the bad dream, we are confronted with a bad reality.

We look at our Lebanon only to see all the lives lost and all the destruction we have been dealt. So we look beyond, and staring us in the face are monumental challenges. Challenges the likes of which the Lebanese have seen many times before. We have an economy that has been all but shattered, an environmental disaster on our coastline, and the threat of the spread of disease. We have at least tens of thousands of refugees with no homes to go back to, and whether we like it or not some threat of worsening sectarian strife. These are challenges that we have overcome before, and with some luck, hard work and international assistance, will overcome again.

But the biggest challenge of all, the challenge that Lebanon has failed to overcome time and time again is that of averting disaster. Our nation has failed to admit that we have an ailing socio-political system, and even when it has admitted that, it has failed to cure itself. Thus, on our shoulders lies a heavy burden, the burden of responsibility to ourselves and to our country. It is up to us to make sure that none of the conditions that set us on a collision course with each other are ever allowed to fester again. It is up to us to ensure that we will never again be tools used by others, be they "brotherly" neighbors, "friendly" countries, or flat out foes. It is up to us to alleviate the squalor, marginalization and poverty that allows fanatics and fundamentalists to fester in our midst. And it is up to us to realize that no one but us will do it.

There will be great difficulty as there as those amongst us that want us to fail. They will accuse us of breaking national unity and of serving foreign interests. They will do their best for us to fail, giving speeches about pride and honor, reneging on their promises and stalling for time. Meanwhile, they form or support militias, import weapons from foreign countries and devote themselves to the service of alien agendas. We are up against a battle for people's minds and loyalties, and the equation is simple. Formation of a modern state founded on the principles of rule of law, tolerance and diversity is victory. Anything short of that, and we are back to the Lebanon of the 1980s, if not now, then inevitably in the not so distant future.

The war was our bad dream, this is our bad reality, but the future is ours to shape!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Lebanon's Unanswered Questions

As 2007 approaches, Lebanon faces an identity crisis that its 60 years of formal independence could not resolve. It also obviously faces many other crises, economic and political, and it is part of larger regional conflicts as well. However, all of the latter ones are simply manifestations of the Lebanese people's failure to define what - other than geography and an imposed border- unites them under a common flag.

Question of identity

The question of identity is a natural one for a country with 18 recognized sects, among which are 5 major ones who don't necessarily share the same version of history or the same outlook towards the future. The Maronite and Greek Orthodox Christians, Sunni and Shia Muslims and the Druze have shared this piece of land for the decades that Lebanon has been a country and the many centuries before that it was not. Over different periods, both before Lebanon was created and after, the various communities clashed and co-existed, allied themselves with various external powers and tried to dominate one another. All of them have failed to establish long lasting hegemony. However, their communal experiences and alliances have shaped their sectarian identities in different manners and in sometimes opposing ways.

Case in Point

The Sunnis have long considered themselves as mainstream Arabs and in fact- at one point- opposed the very creation of Lebanon in favour of unity with Syria and at times a greater Arab nation. On the other hand, the Maronites are a fiercely "nationalistic" bunch, in that many of them believe that they are non-Arab Christians (as opposed to many Orthodox Christians for example) allowing them to legitimize looking to the west for support... Similarly, the Druze have a strong tribal sentiment and share with the Maronites a strong geographic connection with the region (in that both Druze and Maronites are relatively localized in and around Lebanon). Moreover, several times in recent (and not so recent) history, the various sects have committed atrocities against one another in the name of honor, dignity and self preservation.

Strength in diversity? Not really !

The point here - and books can and have been written on the subject -is to highlight and remind that Lebanon is a House of Many Mansions. The founders of modern day Lebanon realized that and understood that there was a need to define what Lebanon was. Their first attempt at that was the unwritten National Pact, which basically identified what Lebanon was not but failed to give clear answers as to what it is, and moreover failed to define - in practice - the ideals that Lebanon would strive to live by. Consequently, less than 2 decades after its establishment, Lebanon faced its first major crisis in 1958 followed by many others in the coming years. Lebanon's troubles culminated in a civil war which started in 1975 and eventually ended with the signing of the Taif accord in 1989, namely calling for such things as secularization- albeit without specifying a time-frame... Post-Taif, Lebanon was dominated by a Syrian regime that stifled dialogue and prevented tackling the very questions that Lebanon to this day needs answered so that it may proceed as one country rather than an unwillingly bound cocktail of sects.

Is the past the future?

1943 came and went and so did 1958, 1975, 1989 and 2005. And now 2006 has come and will soon be gone. Over sixty years old now, Lebanon still faces an identity crisis. Seemingly trivial questions* and others that are not so trivial dealing with both identity and strategy continue to haunt the Lebanese and will do so, with disastrous consequences, until they face them once and for all.

*A very non-exclusive list of questions that 2007 will see the Lebanese fail miserably to answer is:

-Where do we stand on Arab issues (e.g. vis-a-vis various regimes), and to what extent are we willing to get involved (with their struggles against the west and oppression of their people)?

-Where do we stand on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and to what extent are we willing to get involved (armed struggle, political support, neutrality)?

-Are we a secular country?

-If so, why is civil marriage not allowed and why aren't we proceeding with secularization?

-If not, why aren't we a federation of sects rather than a centrally governed country ?

-Can we agree on answers to these questions and if not, can we agree on how to proceed from there?


Thursday, December 21, 2006

SSNP Arrests and Confiscation of Weapons

According to various news sources (e.g. reuters, naharnet and the bbc), Lebanese "police say they have arrested at least four people and seized a large amount of explosives from homes in Lebanon. Those detained were not named by police but security sources said they were members of a pro-Syrian Lebanese party, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party."

In short, illegal weapons and explosives were confiscated. There were also reports that a car that had been reported stolen by its SSNP owner was found painted with a different color and all its numbers changed. Interesting...

In response, the leader of the SSNP, Ali Kanso, warned the security forces not to "take their injustices too far" and threatened that the "patience of the Syrian nationalists has its limits" claiming that the weapons were for "resisting the Israeli enemy" and have been stored since the eighties, and accused the government of harassment. He also attempted diverting attention from the news by reminding people that an airplane from Israel had landed with 11 people on board and left with 9 on the day of Jemayyel's assassination.

Note: It turns out that the plane used Cypriot airspace and had the Portoguese foreign minister on board, and that the two people who remained were reporters. It was also confirmed by the ministry of interior that all of this had occurred under the auspices of the army aviation control.

In any case, for resistance purposes or not (I think not), the weapons should have been confiscated and the culprits arrested as they have been. Hopefully, for a change, they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and any such weapons caches belonging to any party be raided and their owners held accountable. It is high time that the law start being applied for a change. Of course, the recent actions of our speaker of Parliament do not bode well in that direction, but thats a different story.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Coup d'etat, Coup d'etat, Coup d'etat

There is no other reasonable explanation. None. In the context of the opposition's behaviour, i.e. upping the ante in the face of the "Arab initiative" of Amr Mousa, demanding early elections under a new law (to be drafted by which government and parliament pray tell?)

Naturally, the opposition leaders are not stupid. They realize full well that what they are asking for cannot be granted by the March 14'ers and that is the reason why they are asking for it.

Something is cooking in Tehran, and it sure don't smell good.

In the context of the regional developments, tying in Lebanon with Palestine and Hamas's acceptance then refusal then acceptance then refusal... of a national unity government, followed by Abu Mazen's apparent intention to call for an early election and the infighting on the streets of Gaza that followed... In this context, added with Syria's apparent overtures towards Israel and Bashar's meeting with Putin and the Syro-Iranians apparently banking on the weakness of G.W.B domestically (i.e. in the States), it becomes apparent that the Syro-Iranians are negotiating, playing their own game of carrot and stick with the west. With GWB in particular. But they want a price.

In the subtle mix of chess and poker that the Syro-Iranians are playing with the West, it is not yet time for appeasement in Lebanon. For that would be a loss.

The name of the game: change the rules of the game

I have argued previously, and continue to argue that it is completely unacceptable to Syria and to Hizbulla and its allies that the March 14ers control government and parliament then elect a president and thus complete their revolution. Hence, the HISHee alliance cannot back down just yet. They need to change the rules of the game to something more favorable to them. One such way is a coup d'etat.

The March 14'ers better be ready for it, coz its coming.

Update (hat tip Abu Kais)
According to various news sources (e.g. reuters, naharnet and the bbc), Lebanese "police say they have arrested at least four people and seized a large amount of explosives from homes in Lebanon. Those detained were not named by police but security sources said they were members of a pro-Syrian Lebanese party, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party."

Now to all of you out there that are demonstrating against the government, thinking that this is nothing more than a democratic means of expression pleaaaaaase know full well that no matter how well meaning YOU might be, there are those among you that have different plans and that no matter how much you think that what you are doing is in the spirit of democracy, no democratic means can justify an undemocratic end.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Crosses, Crescents and the Curse of Lebanon

This post does not discuss present day politics in Lebanon for their own sake. Rather, I just want to highlight the behaviour of the various churches in Lebanon be they Muslim or Christian, their absurdity and their negative effect on the progress of democracy. Of course now that I have stated my goal, it seems like too monumental a task for one post, so I will stick to the "highlighting" part and add some commentary.

First, the Patriarch, ever so wise and calculating and capable of transcending the moment to capture eternal truths and policies that stand the test of time. Right... Well, his holiness - the same holiness that rejected a move to Baabda to topple the president in order to protect the precious right of the maronites to the presidency, thus legitimizing the Sunni mufti's move to lead prayer in the Seraille - has declared that family values are geopardized in the protests that the opposition is holding. His argument is that the protests are "mixed", mixed gender of course. God forbid that those boys and girls trying to topple Siniora should choose to take a break and have sex in one of those conveniently sturdy tents. How absurd!!!

Next, the Sunni Mufti - the same Mufti who would not stop singing the praises of the Syrian regime when they were around in Lebanon - recently decided that since it was ok for the maronite clerics to protect the president, then it must be his natural right (if not duty) to protect the Sunni prime minister from being toppled by Shiites and Christians.

As for the Shiite clerics, where do I begin. This particular brand of beardies has decided that it is both its natural right and divinely assigned duty to bear arms outside the realm of the state and to launch cross border operations that rain death and destruction on the Shiites and the other wonderful sects of Lebanon - all to protect the honor of the umma. Sheeeeeeeesh.

Of course that is not to say that the clerics of all the sects of Lebanon are not equally bad, they are. Don't get me wrong, I believe that the people of Lebanon have the right to practice religion and to follow whichever ugly bearded funnily dressed anachronistic clown that they choose. What the clerics do not have the right to do however, is trample upon the political realm issuing "advice" here and there and protecting politicians when convenient.

I think we have a right to a country where the churches and the state are separated. Where if Siniora's government is going to stand, then let it stand - just as long as the Sunni preachers of Friday noon are not the ones who save it. If the president in Baabda is going to stay in office, let him stay in office - just as long as the Sunday morning sermon in Bkirki isn't what saves him. And last but not least, if the people of Lebanon decide to wage war on Israel or not wage war on Israel, then let them make their decision freely - as long as it is not influenced by clerics schooled in Qom and Najaf.

The proper avenue for political debate is the institutions of the state. Namely parliament. Vote whomever you want to office, then topple them if they usurp power and break the constitution. Do it using democratic means, the ballot boxes, or demonstrations if need be. But do not let the clergy make your decisions for you, and do not let them have an influence on political matters. They are divisive, destructive and believe unwaveringly in ideas that were put forth over a thousand of years ago.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Why its going to get worse before it gets better

In no particular order, the top reasons why the situation in Lebanon is going to get worse before it gets better:

1 - Because Lahoud's term is not over till late 2007.
2 - Because Hizbulla has lost its resistance card and needs to redefine itself, and has so far failed.
3 - Because Brammertz's final report is not out yet and the tribunal has not been finalized and nobody has been charged.
4 - Because of reason 3, the Syrians are worried and will do their best to impede the government and hence (they believe) the tribunal.
5 - Because Hizbulla and its external allies need access to the government to impede both Unifil and the tribunal.
6 - Because March 14 has failed to be pro-active and has been on the defensive and reactive side ever since they won the parliamentary elections.
7 - Because the Arabs have started mediating and the mediators have immediately acknowledged (implicitly) Syria's role by visiting it.
8 - Because the Arabs have no interest in a prolonged standoff and may be willing to sell out on their March 14 allies to force an unfavorable deal.
9 - Because the nature of the sectarian beast in Lebanon has made the level with which the communities detest each other dangerously high, to the extent that any compromise is unacceptable to them.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Brave Iranian Students

From the BBC,

Iranian students have disrupted a speech President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was giving at a university by lighting fireworks and burning his portrait...
According to Iran's students' news agency, ISNA, the president responded by saying: "Everyone should know that Ahmadinejad is prepared to be burned in the path of true freedom, independence and justice."

Well, the Iranian president (and his buddies on the other side of Iraq, and across the border from there) should know that the only path to true freedom, independence and justice, might require them all burning... politically if possible.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Israel and Iran: More than meets the eye

From Haaretz's english online edition:

In spite of the belligerent declarations of Iran's leaders - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeated his mantra this week that he expects the Zionist entity to collapse in the near future - Iranian representatives are holding negotiations with Israeli representatives. These are not only indirect negotiations, but real meetings. These meetings have been going on for about two decades, and concern laborious international arbitration regarding the debts between the two nations.

There are three separate litigations, which are taking place simultaneously in several European countries, all of them pertaining to a complex legal and business entity called Trans-Asiatic Oil Limited, and relating to one of the biggest secrets between Israel and Iran: the past oil connections between the two countries. Three years ago one of the arbitrations ruled that Israeli fuel companies have to pay the Iranian National Oil Company tens of millions of dollars. All the parties made efforts to maintain the secrecy of the decision and every other detail connected to the subject.

Iraq Study Group Report on Syria

"Although the U.S.-Syrian relationship is at a low point, both countries have important interests in the region that could be enhanced if they were able to establish some common ground on how to move forward. This approach worked effectively
in the early 1990s. In this context, Syria’s national interests in the Arab-Israeli dispute are important and can be brought into play...

RECOMMENDATION 13: There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon and Syria, and
President Bush’s June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.

RECOMMENDATION 14: This effort should include—as soon as possible—the unconditional calling and holding of meetings, under the auspices of the United States or the Quartet (i.e., the United States, Russia, European Union, and the United Nations), between Israel and Lebanon and Syria on the one hand, and Israel and Palestinians (who acknowledge Israel’s right to exist) on the other. The purpose of these meetings would be to negotiate peace as was done at the Madrid Conference in 1991, and on two separate tracks—one Syrian/Lebanese, and the other Palestinian.

RECOMMENDATION 15: Concerning Syria, some elements of that negotiated peace should be:
• Syria’s full adherence to UN Security Council Resolution 1701 of August 2006, which provides the framework for Lebanon to regain sovereign control over its territory.
• Syria’s full cooperation with all investigations into political assassinations in Lebanon, especially those of Rafik Hariri and Pierre Gemayel.
• A verifiable cessation of Syrian aid to Hezbollah and the use of Syrian territory for transshipment of Iranian weapons and aid to Hezbollah. (This step would do much to solve Israel’s problem with Hezbollah.)
• Syria’s use of its influence with Hamas and Hezbollah for the release of the captured Israeli Defense Force soldiers.
• A verifiable cessation of Syrian efforts to undermine the democratically elected government of Lebanon.
• A verifiable cessation of arms shipments from or transiting through Syria for Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups.
• A Syrian commitment to help obtain from Hamas an acknowledgment of Israel’s right to exist.
• Greater Syrian efforts to seal its border with Iraq.

RECOMMENDATION 16: In exchange for these actions and
in the context of a full and secure peace agreement, the Israelis
should return the Golan Heights, with a U.S. security guarantee
for Israel that could include an international force on the
border, including U.S. troops if requested by both parties."

Monday, December 04, 2006

The faltering hopes for a Lebanese democracy

It's starting to dawn on me that Lebanon is not ready for modern democracy. While some of us aspire to the establishment of a true democratic system in which everybody is equally represented, at least a third of the Lebanese people not only have no faith in such a democracy, but are seeking their turn to dominate everybody else. Judging from several comments by Hizballah supporters in the blogosphere, which by the way are not solitary opinions but are rather widely shared within the shiite masses, the current events are viewed as:
1- A historic moment at which shiites will finally break sunni domination.
2- An opportunity to avenge the many years of marginalizing the shiite community in the Lebanese social and political arena.

The point to make here is that while the remaining two major communities, namely the maronites and sunnis, have had the opportunity to dominate, oppress and fail, the shiite community hasn't had its turn to oppress other communities or to be oppressed by other shiites.

Hizballah has a lot at stake here and the shia feel empowered by them. The alliance with Syria is not merely one of a master-slave relationship. Syria is a supply route, a regional power, and shares Hizballah's aspirations to perpetuate the state of war with Israel. So blocking the Hariri tribunal is a small cost they're willing to pay (assuming they had no hand in the murder) to maintain their relationship with the Syrian regime. To do so, Hizballah needed to mobilize the shiite masses against any agenda that conflicts with theirs and the approach they've chosen for this mobilization is one of sedition.

The question now is what are the other communities to do in the face of this new shiite coup? Blood has already been spilled with the death of the Amal supporter. It won't be long before we hear voices within the shiite camp crying against "an apartheid against the shiites" and the need for shia members to take up their hidden arms to protect and preserve the community.

One answer would have been to promote the culture of life instead of death (sounds a bit cliche now), but I think we're way beyond that point. The Shia are angry and they want revenge by blood and power, not only for the slain demonstrator, but for the thousand shia that were killed during the summer war (while the sunni controlled Arab states rightfully criticized the 'dignified and just' Hizballah for triggering the war), and for the last 60 years of being the underpriviledged community in Lebanon.

It's time for Hizballah to be discredited. Nasrallah has so far delivered on his promises. By foiling this coup, a memorable promise would be broken. Whether it's through international and mainly arab pressure on Iran, I'm still not clear about the means to end this standoff, but March 14 cannot give in. If this coup fails, I don't see the shia getting as excited about another one as they are about this one.
After all, broken promises are never forgotten.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

They are not playing with fire... they are the fire!!!

According to naharnet, one person was killed (a shia) while others were wounded in clashes between sunnis and shias in a predominantly (poor)sunni area of beirut. The question that one must ask himself is why are the members of the opposition, namely HA so bent on playing with fire. They are fully aware that they are intimidating and antagonizing the Sunni areas of Beirut. They are fully aware that the Sunnis are extremely upset and feel like this is a Shia coup directed at them, otherwise why would the Sunni mufti lead prayer in the Seraille.

Also recently, a Syrian national was arrested (source needed) after he had cursed at Nasralla in front of the latter's supporters and then fled towards the predominantly Christian are of Ashrafieh... I wonder what that was about.

Its time to wake up and smell the coffee, and the stench of a coupe d'etat... Its time to see the Syrian plot for what it really is: a plan to spread chaos to lebanon. What better way to escape all the troubles that they are facing, than to plunge Lebanon, after Iraq into chaos... I don't know if they are calculting properly or not, because I am not sure about the reaction in Syria, but thats a different story.

For the time being it is time for this coup d'etat/counter-revolution masquerading as a demonstration to end, in any way possible, while a war is still avoidable. If it doesn't end soon, march to baabda. It just might be the best way to direct the tension and turn the tables.

Friday, December 01, 2006

March 14, shape up or shut up...

Alright so Hizballa, Berri and Aoun have taken to the streets in huge numbers (regardless of the relative participation of each). They have shown what we already know, i.e. that they have the support of most of the Shia community and some of the Christian community.

I have previously argued, and continue to argue, that it is not politically intelligent for March 14 and government supporters to "stay home" as Jumblatt urged the March 14ers to do yesterday. A successful foreign initiative (doubtful) not withstanding, I have no doubt in my mind that the March 8 camp will continue to hold protests, camp out in downtown and escalate (as they themselves have promised numerous times) until Siniora's government falls.

You see, one has to be able to differentiate between the isolated demonstrations (even though they were huge) that March 14 organized after the Karami resignation and after each political assassination on one hand, and the sustained, continuous demonstrations, sit ins and political escalation that the aptly named current opposition (to everything not them) is planning and holding. March 14's post-Karami protests were just that, protests. This is sustained political pressure to achieve a well defined goal, and it is at its best.

At this rate, I don't think that Siniora's government will be able to hold for long if HA is to continue escalating. They look weak, and they look dependent on foreign support, and that is a recipe for failure. But the appearances are false. The Siniora government has the support of most of the Sunni and Druze communities and a lot of the Christians, it has the support of most of the upper middle class and of many of the seculars and academics, and it should show that to the world, and more importantly to the Lebanese. To the March 14 movement I say this:

If a million Lebanese people repeatedly took to the street to protest against the assassination of a person, why can't the same million people and more take to the streets to protest the assassination of hope, the prospect of democracy, and the dream of a stable prosperous future. The assassinated politicians were killed because, to their supporters, they were the symbols of that hope, now hope itself is being targetted. Is that not reason enough to mobilize? Have no doubt, this battle is for the future of Lebanon, and not taking action today will affect our tomorrow.

I still believe that if the opposition plan is to topple Siniora, then the best defence of the March 14 government is an offensive against the president. Bear in mind that if Siniora's government falls, then the country is indefinitely in the hands of the opposition, which also owns the positions of presidency and speaker of parliament, and thus practically no longer an opposition but a ruling party. Again that is simply unacceptable. If there is going to be a vacuum in the executive branch, then it should go all the way up. Prime minister for president, the simplest of equations. Then everything is in parliament's hands...

Restated briefly, there will be no civil war if March 14 takes to Baabda. The opposition is enforcing an equation: "Its my way or not at all". In response,
I think its time for March 14 to shape up and take action or shut up and abandon their cause, for good. The idea of a "Beirut Spring", a la Samir Kassir, is what gave me hope for the future, and I interpreted the independence uprising of March 14 partly as an embodiment of that hope. The so called opposition wants to hijack our future and align us with an axis of perpetual struggle. I prefer my struggles to be for a prosperous future, not ones initiated and sustained indefinitely by ideologues, demagogues, mullahs and dictators. If a peaceful future is the future that March 14 wants, then it is time to act. If the dystopia of "1984" is acceptable to them, then so be it, keep talking and don't take action. Either way, let us know, so we can abandon hope.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The cards have been dealt... Time for the showdown

In keeping with my tradition of diverging from the title of the post, I can't help but notice a convergence of the omens of doom, single file, in military formation under the leadership of the bearded one awaiting what has been dubbed the "zero hour"... On to the omens.

It seems that the flu of divine ligitimacy has spread to his holiness, general Aoun, who said (assafir) that they had reached the "stage of holy anger" (مرحلة الغضب المقدس) and added that "there will be no bloodletting, those who want to kill us can kill us, martyrdom is not only for Muslims" (wow and the guy is "secular"...), declaring that "our option is merge with our environment" (Syria? Iran? Political retro-Islam?) "because it protects everyone..."... Give me a break herr general...

Meanwhile, the other general, the one who sits at the helm of this wretched country of ours justified civil disobedience by government employees, citing disobedience in India at the time of Ghandi (So who exactly is Ghandi here? and who is the foreign oocupation? and since when has our beloved general turned president been a spiritual-intellectual figure?... Give me a break herr general...

About the same time, more signs whats to come "emanated" from Berri, who has shown his true colors and mettle yet another time, by declaring that there is no way now "to avoid the street even if its unwanted" (Really? Last I heard, free will was key, but then again that presupposes that you have it, and that you really don't want to hit the streets. I think both presuppositions are wrong...)

At this time, my only hope is in one of the institutions that I have a strong dislike for, the army. It is up to them to hold the peace, prevent rioting, clashes, and protect the government. What doesn't go for Lahoud, can't go for Siniora. Plain and simple. In the meantime, March 14 should finally grow a pair other than Jumblatt's and act rather than keep reacting, usually to murder, and by mass demonstrations whose numbers keep dwindling and by international whining. Enough!!!

The lines are drawn, and its obvious who is about to cross them. I suggest that March 14 pre-empt any "opposition" moves and mobilize its own public to camp in downtown, in defence of the Siniora government. The Siniora government should prove that it is worth defending, by appointing new ministers to replace the resigned 6 and murdered 1 and then wait for the general in baabda to sign, which he won't. At that point, it would be time to march to baabda... Take the initiative goddamnit...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Brinkmanship: you blink you lose...

A recent post, "To hell in a handbasket..." by Raja from lebanesebloggers, macabrely argues that the scenario by which Syria strikes a deal with the west and many prominent heads from the March 14 movement roll, may be the best for Lebanon's future. Such a conclusion pre-assumes that the alternative is nothing short of "tectonic plates colliding", i.e. civil war.

That in turn assumes that the parties involved, or some parties involved, are willing to take the country down that road. Ok, so lets look at who the parties involved are, and why none of them stand to gain from a civil war in Lebanon. If one agrees with the analysis that noone will take the last step towards such a bloodbath then you will also agree that the party that blinks first in this standoff, loses. But I am jumping the gun, so lets see why no-one wants a war:

Internal Forces

March 14 Unarmed, recently succesful at kicking the Syrian army out, looking forward to a stable country that they can rule, massively outgunned and outtrained by HA, has nothing to gain and everything to lose from a war.

Hizb Despite having a militia and hence the capability to wage war on the internal front, such a tactic would detract from their image in the arab world as freedom fighters and all that jazz and put them on the Shia side of a Sunni-Shia civil war. Moreover, this will take away precious resources that they would prefer to allocate to their "struggle" with their sworn enemy. It would embarass their lifelines in Iran and especially Syria and as I mentioned, isolate them in the arab world... On the other hand their "totalitarian" style ideology which seems incapable of adapting to or accepting the confessioanal nature of Lebanon, has put them in a situation where they cannot strategically gain without breaking March 14 completely. The question is how far can they go, and how clearly are they thinking...

Michel Aoun Ever the presidential wannabe, his entire polity is directed and governed by that dream. I do not see him gaining anything from a civil war.

Syria's Cronies It is completely pointless to analyze them individually, as they will simply follow Syrian orders.

External Forces

The US I cannot think of a reason whereby they would want to destabilize Lebanon, thereby increasing the chaos in the region especially with their pridicament in Iraq. Add to that I don't think they would want their ally Israel to have to deal with a volatile Lebanon where their northern border would be "uncontrolled"...

France The Chirac administration has proved to be an invaluable ally to the March 14 movement and whoever wins the election might be less enthusiastic towards supporting Lebanon, but in any case the fact that they have troops in teh South indicates that they would be genuinely interested in preserving a stable and safe environment there.

Syria Another Sunni-Shiite civil war on another of their borders, with them on the Shiite side and 70% of their population being Sunni, is nothing short of signing their own death sentence.
Moreover, in my opinion, their eggs are all in one basket. Killing the investigation and/or toppling the government and/or killing the March 14 leadership while trying to avoid a civil war that might be too much to handle and to check. In short desperate obstructionism... However the rationality of their decisions and the extent to which they are cornered might prove decisive in how crazy they might behave. Still history has shown them to be masters of brinkmanship without ever crossing the line. They realize that once the line is crossed, there is no turning back.

Iran The great unknown... also definitely the most influential player governing HA's decisions along with Syria. Notably however, they are the ideological parents of Hizb while Syria is onlt a strategic partner, a very crucial one though. That said, I wonder how connected are the timings of the G8 summit discussions on Iran and HA's cross border operation to capture the 2 israeli soldiers. Also, one has to wonder how cohesive the Iranian leadership is in its treatment of HA and how far they are willing to go in using HA as a pressure card against the west. Of course, I am sure they realize that by actually accepting a civil war in Lebanon, their card is burnt. So here again assuming a rational decision process implies that this player has stakes in avoiding the turmoils of internal war in Lebanon...

In Short

Under the very crucial assumption that all the internal and external players on the Lebanese arena are relatively rational and reasonable, the chances of any one of them pushing towards an escalation and a civil war is relatively small.

The only danger in my opinion is in the alliance of Syria, Iran and Hizbullah, not because they want a civil war but more because they might not see an alternative to it. In the case of the Syrian regime, desparation might (in the medium to long-range future) lead them to a point where they might decide to bring Lebanon down with them, or to think that a burning Lebanon might for some reason salvage their anomalous control of Syria. In the case of Hizbulla, the fact that they have been pushed away from the borders with Israel and are separated from their arch-enemies by thousands of international and Lebanese troops might challenge their very "raison d'etre". Moreover, the fact that they are armed to the teeth with nowhere to use these weapons and no enemy to channel them against might lead to them redefining the enemy internally. We are already seeing signs of that. Which brings me to Iran. They are the side I am worried about most, simply because they are in a situation they have never been before, and we have never seen them act under similar situations. What I am referring to is their new-found regional superpower status. With influences in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Bahrain, and perhaps even Kuwait, the Mullocracy has the power to both create and destroy which had been previously always checked by Saddam. To what extent are they willing to use Hizb in Lebanon, and would they push to a civil war? Their experience in Lebanese politics is more limited than other players and this lack of experience might cause decisions that are not hampered by previous pains...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Michel Sleiman's "Order of the Day"

From Assafir
<أيها العسكريون، ثقوا بأن انتشاركم على امتداد الحدود اللبنانية، البرية والبحرية، إنما يسهم في اقفال الابواب أمام رياح الحروب التي عاناها اللبنانيون طويلا، ويشكل حافزا قويا لاستكمال تحرير ما تبقى من ارضنا المحتلة في مزارع شبعا وتلال كفرشوبا وبلدة الغجر، ويعكس تعزيزا للامن والاستقرار في الداخل، ويهيئ مساحة رحبة للتلاقي والحوار بين ابناء الوطن وتحصين وحدتهم الوطنية. وإذا تعذر على شعب يعاني الفتن ان يحرر ارضه ويحمي استقلاله، فمن المتعذر ايضا على اي شعب حدوده مستباحة وساحاته مفتوحة لمختلف الصراعات، ان ينعم بالسلام والطمأنينة والاستقرار>.
"Soldiers, trust that your deployment along the Lebanese borders, land and sea, closes the doors against the winds of war that the Lebanese have suffered from for long, and forms a strong incentive for continuing the liberation of what remains of our occupied lands in Shebaa, Kfarshooba and Ghajar, and reflects a reinforcemnt of internal security and stability, and sets the stage for dialogue between our countrymen and reinforces their national unity. If it is not possible for a people that suffers from internal strife to liberate its land and protect its independence, then it is impossible also for a people whose borders are violated and its arenas open for various struggles to enjoy peace and stability."

In light of recent developments, I can't help but notice how much this sounds like nothing more than voices on the wind?

How many more to go? The Syrian Strategy in Lebanon

Yet another minister and member of the March 14 group in Lebanon, Pierre Jemayel, has been assassinated. Lebanese bloggers have picked up on the story and there is an abundance of posts on the calamity (see for example Abu Kais's entry or Doha's entry...). In the meantime the cycle continues.

What I want to focus on -assuming the obvious, i.e., that perpetrators are agents working for the Syrian regime or for their stooges in Lebanon- is the strategy that Syria seems to employing in Lebanon. For those who have offhandedly previously dismissed the regime as merely bloody and stupid, I beg to differ. The claim that it is bloody is obviously true; on the other hand, they may deserve more credit for strategy and tactics. This should perhaps lead to the Lebanese anti-Syrians to rethink their own strategy...

In any case, I believe that the Syrians are playing a very cynical game in Lebanon and Iraq, whereby in their smaller neighbour they harvest a policy of assassinations to weaken their enemies. The idea is to decapitate, debilitate and demoralize their Lebanese foes. Simultaneously, this strategy delivers a message to the international community that they are willing - and able - to outlast the "internationals" in Lebanon. They will do whatever it takes, bloodletting included. All the while, they meddle in Iraq, exporting Jihadis to their already volatile larger neighbor in an attempt to destabilize it. The goal you might ask?

As long as the Americans are tangled up in Iraq, and as long as they can eventually understand that they will not accomplish anything in Iraq without the Syrians (and Iranians) cooperating, the Syrian regime can eventually extract a price from a future US administration for said cooperation. That price is domination of Lebanon and possibly less importantly retrieval of the Golan and peace with Israel. To achieve that goal, the regime reckons that all it needs to do is outlast the US (and French) administration in Lebanon by maintaining a healthy arsenal of allies while systematically picking off its foes. If they can bring the Americans to a breaking point in Iraq, whereby Syrian cooperation is a must, then they can force their hand in Lebanon, making the Hariri tribunal disappear. With only a bloodied anti-Syrian group with no international support in Lebanon to oppose them, they will be in prime position for re-establishing hegemony and perpetuating their regime.

Perhaps it is not that stupid after all ?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Lebanon's Demographics Revealed

Last Monday, Annahar publishedan article reporting on a census conducted in Lebanon, revealing the changing demographics in a country, where the true numbers were previously held from the public. The census was conducted by a Yussef Shahid Aldweihy "يوسف شهيد الدويهي" by going through all the birth records (sijillat alnofous), leading to a clearer picture of how the Lebanese public is distributed according to age, religion, and geographical location. I personally can't wait to get my hands on Dweihy's complete results which are reported to contain 210 charts...
In the meantime, we have to settle for a summary of the results that annahar published.

Accordingly, Lebanon's population is 64.29% Muslim and 35.33% Christian.

Of the Christian population, the Maronites form the majority at 19.47% followed by the Orthodox Chrisitians at 6.85% and the Catholics at 4.55%, with Armenian Orthodox Christians at 2.27%.

On the other hand, among the Muslims, the Sunnis and Shias pretty much evenly split the pot at 29.6% and 29.5% respectively. In distant third are the Druze at %5.38, and then the Alawites with less than a percent.

The more telling statistic in Dweihy's report is that among those under the age of 20 , the Christians form only 23.31% compared to a whopping 76.59% for the Muslims.

Meanwhile, geographically, and using the traditional five Muhafazat, as opposed to the administrative eight currently used, Dweihy notes the following.
The Nabatieh and South Muhafaza contains 24.19% of all Lebanese, compared to Akkar and the North which contain 23.63%, and Mount Lebanon which contains 22.53%...

Which brings me back to an old point that I raised on this blog concerning sectarianism and minorities...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Samir Kassir's: "Being Arab". Will we get out of the "Malaise"?

Recently, a friend of mine and I were discussing the sad state of affairs that the cultural world of the arabs finds itself in. We noted how a vibrant nahda period around the late 19th and early 20th century when arab writers, poets and artists were extremely productive has become - 100 years later - nothing more than a thing of the past. We tried to understand what brought that sorry state of affairs about, and I suggested that the rise of Arabia (as in the gulf), after the discovery of oil, allowed countries that had previously been on the fringes of culture (and more or less political influence) to exert much more influence on their more cultured neighbours.

More recently, I started reading Samir Kassir's "Being Arab" (published after his death) which in one of its chapters forwards a similar argument. He supplies various examples of how the mini-renaissance (he doesnt call it that) that was being experienced in various arab cities around and after the late 19th century, was eventually turned back due to the rising "cultural" influence of the arabs of Arabia proper.

In any case, the moral of the story (if there is one) is that the rising tide of political Islam (a product exported largely from the gulf) is a danger that threatens to nip the cultural development of the arabs. In fact, it has already done extensive damage to all forms of expression, be it cinema, literature, music (to a lesser extent), theatre... However, it is not too late to salvage the dying renaissance and to present it as an alternative to the fanaticism of politicized religion on one hand, and to complete subjugation to the West on the other. The idea is to promote the evolution of a modern cultural identity that is not un-necessarily confrontational and simultaneously a source of pride to people. What better than a flurry of writers, painters, poets, directors, artists, and sculptors producing high quality works that appeals to people, to rid us of the backwardness and despair that political-religion brings.
So... pull out a piece of paper and start writing, or a canvas and start painting. Its time to get to work!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Beware the Sectarian Divide: The Jumblatt - Hizbulla Split Manifests in Inter-Sect Relations

According to Annahar, the new head of Druze religious establishment (the Sheikh El-Akel) was accepting congratulations on his new appointment.
Notably, representatives of the religious establishments of all the major sects -all but one that is- were present, and so were "rebel" Shiite clerics like the mufti of Tyre, Ali El-Amine. However, there was no one to be seen from the Shiite religious leadership (fadlallah, kabalan,...).
Such moves are inflammatory and even outright dangerous. It is completely acceptable and fully reasonable to expect that the political leadership of various Lebanese sects not see eye to eye, and even to completely disagree and as such be political opponents. On the other hand, it is completely not acceptable that such disagreements between the various "civilian" or "secular" sectarian leaders, reflect on the relationships between the political establishments. For that is when things can take a turn for the worse. The absence of the major Shiite clerics from such an event can only be seen as a slap in the face of the Druze establishment, which may cause a reciprocating slap in the face. This can easily get out of hand and with the political leaderships of these two sects at odds, no good can come out of the religious establishments boycotting each other. Beware...

Note: I am an ardent secularist, and believe in the separation of church (in all its forms) and state. Moreover, I believe in the separation of church and politics. On the other hand, I believe that Lebanon is far from this ideal and that the actions of the various churches have direct consequences on the polarization of the masses. As such, I am only warning against irresponsible behaviour on the part of the churches.

Irrelevant Update: "Suicided" Syrian minister Ghazi Kanaan (who was once in charge of the Lebanese file for a long period of time), apparently shares the bug with his brother Ali, who was recently found "suicided" as well - on railway tracks (Wow, how creative!). Give me a break.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The one statement that Saad Hariri said that matters

From Almustaqbal :

وعن دخول النظام السوري على الملف السني اللبناني لاختراق الشارع قال: "ان شاء الله يتمّ اختراق الساحة السنية في سوريا، وليس في لبنان".

Rough Translation
...and on the Syrian regime trying to achieve a breakthrough into the Lebanese Sunni street, Saad said: "Hopefully the breakthrough will happen in the Syrian Sunni arena, not the Lebanese one"

Was he only referring to the fact that the Syrian regime has little support among the Syrian Sunnis, or to opponents of the Syrian regime being able to agitate the Sunnis there against the regime? I wonder... But at this point, it might be a good strategic option. The question remains, if thats the strategy, what are the right tactics to pursue?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Its on ! Is it on ?

It looks like its on. The final showdown, or a big bluff by HA, who knows. But assuming that they are planning the final showdown, it has to end with the emasculation of either HA and allies or of March 14. It is becoming clear that the March 14 gang will indeed agree to go to the stupid "mushawarat", albeit with an ammended agenda. In other words, March 14 is saying "fine, you want to waste time lets do it". Aware of that, HA in the words of its lunatic in chief, has set a one week deadline on the dialogue (consultations to be precise), after which they threaten to resort to the streets and lay siege to ... all state institutions. As you may have guessed, a countermove was declared by the opposing camp, and by none other than the unconstitutional president's son in law. Elias Murr, the defence minister, has announced (Annahar, Thurs Nov. 2) that 20,000 armymen from the special forces (wow, i didnt know we had that many), would be deployed in Beirut where they would confront any attempt at riot. And protect people's constitutional right to demonstrate...

Simultaneously, the US is warning of an attempt by Syria, Iran, and HA to topple the government while the Syrian press is launching an attack against the March 14 leadership...

Tense times east of the Mediterranean, as it becomes more clear that the battle for Lebanon is on. Will there be a confrontation and who will win? If not who will fold first, and concede defeat? Of course, Lebanon being Lebanon, there is always the possibility that some stalemate "deal" will be cooked up, only to delay the inevitable...

Monday, October 16, 2006

French UNIFIL contingent to fire at IAF overflights?

According to a report in Haaretz, Israeli defence minister Amir Peretz told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee that "Commanders of the French contingent of the United Nations force in Lebanon have warned that they might have to open fire if Israel Air Force warplanes continue their overflights in Lebanon".

While such a threat is highly unlikely to have come from UNIFIL, and more unlikely to be fulfilled if it was ever made, it would be quite an interesting development if it were true. In fact, it would be quite useful for the Lebanese majority to quote as an argument against the bias that Hizbulla and allies claim that the UNIFIL inherently has towards Israel...

"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

-THe Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1

Friday, October 13, 2006

Sectarianism in Lebanon: A Threat to Minorities

Contrary to what may appear as true at face value, the Lebanese sectarian system is a threat to the existance of the very minorities it aims to "protect". In fact, it is a threat that grows by the day and that must be dealt with as quickly as possible. Otherwise the consequences may be catastrophic to the "spirit" of Lebanon as a country of minorities.

Rough estimates of the sectarian makeup reported in some sources put Christians at about 35 to 40% of the population (see for example wikipedia's page on the demographics of Lebanon)with the Maronites being the biggest Christian sect followed by Greek Orthodox, among other sects like Catholic, Armenian Othodox and Armenian Catholic, and smaller groups like Syriac, Coptic... Similarly the Muslim sects forming a combined 60-65% of the population are divided mainly among Sunni, Shia, Druze, and Alawite. Among the Muslim sects, the Sunnis and Shias form the bulk of the population mass, with roughly equal numbers, possibly with the Shias having a few percent more... The Druze constitute a minority and the Alawites number even less...

It quickly becomes obvious from just looking at the range of sects and numbers in the preceding paragraph that the demographics in Lebanon are rather skewed to the Muslim side, namely towards the Shias and Sunnis. This observation becomes more more relevant when we note that in 1932 Christians constituted over 50% of the population (amazingly on the website of the Lebanese embassy to the US) and have been decreasing in proportion since then. The reasons for the demographic shift are many, but the main point is that it is happening and thus we must deal with it as a fact on the ground.

On the other hand, representation in Lebanon - including in parliament, in government and in particular with the posts of prime minister and president - is governed by a strict sectarian quota whereby the President has to be Maronite, Prime Minister has to be Sunni, the Speaker of the House (Parliament) has to be Shia. Moreover, parliament is also devided among the sects with Christians and Muslims getting 64 seats each for a total of 128. Even more specifically, Maronites get 34 seats, Sunnis get 27, Shias 27, Greek Orthodox 14, Catholics 8, Druze 8, Armenian Orthodox 5, Other Christian 3, and Alawite 2. Add to that, the sects vie for high level public sector jobs following a similar specific sectarian subdivision.

The reason that such a system is a danger to the minorities that it over-represents is exactly that. The mere fact that some sects are over-represented automatically implies that others are under-represented. A quick look at the numbers would immediately reveal that the under-represented sects are the Shias and the Sunnis, who have a combined 54/128= 42% of parliament while possibly constituting close to 60% of the population. Similarly, I suspect that Sunnis and Shias are under-represented in public sector positions and diplomatic positions if the sectarian guidelines are followed (eventhough the Maronite Patriarch was recently implicitly complaining that the opposite is true).

That said, it is also important to note the above observations in the context of the geo-political situation and changing social fabric of the sorrounding Middle East. More specifically, many Shias, disenfranchised with the system, have turned to the fundamentalist and militant Hezbollah which is mainly funded and sponsored by the regime in Iran. The Sunnis on the other hand were previously led largely by the late Rafic Hariri whos absence arguably makes the Sunni community much more permeable to influence from radical and fundamentalist groups.

So the main things to note here are that the Sunnis and Shias (most probably) together constitute a majority in Lebanon. Moreover, under the current system they are under-represented in parliament as well as (probably) public sector jobs. Add to that, the majority of the Shias currently follow a radical group sponsored by a regime like Iran, while the Sunnis with the death of Hariri are more open to influence from religious populist groups.

Reading the situation as it is laid out above, it becomes clear that the sectarian system as it currently stand is not sustainable. Under the weight of population growth, and hence increasing poverty and under-representation, the large Muslim sects could gradually become less and less tolerant of the status quo. Which is where things could get dangerous. If the other sects refuse to acknowledge those facts and decide to selfishly stick to the system as it currently is, the wrath of larger sects whos religious identity is open to growth might be hard to handle. Mix that with the tensions currently seen between the Sunnis and Shias and you are left with a complicated and volatile situation that nobody could predict or manipulate effectively as the last Lebanese civil war amply proves.

Which leads to a very simple conclusion. To protect the existance of minorities in Lebanon, and thus the religious diversity it exhibits, these minorities have to make concessions. In fact, one could argue that these "concessions" do not necessarily have to be painful ones. To the contrary, they could take a form whereby short-term losses would be more than compensated for by a system that leaves Lebanese sects satisfied in the long run. I argue that such a system necessarily has to be non-sectarian, preferably outrightly secular. Otherwise, over the years as the demographics of Lebanon continuously change and the sects compete for control and hegemony, breaking point after breaking point will be encountered and turmoil will be the order of the day for a long time to come. It is time that we take responsibility and develop a system that ensures a stable future guaranteeing the rights of all religious groups, while simultaneously being sufficiently secular to automatically compensate for demographic changes.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Information, Misinformation and the Hints of Impending Doom

Browsing the wide array of Lebanese newspapers daily, I cannot help but notice the discrepancy in the reporting and editorials between the newspapers. A recent unfortunate shooting involving security forces and locals building illegal housing in the suburbs of Beirut left children dead, with claims that the security forces were the source of the lethal shots and conflicting claims that the bullets were of a type that the security forces did not use... Similarly, newspapers are increasingly becoming more polarized in their editorials, reflecting the tensions that seem to be so permeant in the country. Accusations of treason are being thrown around left, right and center, and the tensions are starting to find an outlet on the streets.
Mainly, it is the Sunni-Shia schism that is to be feared the most. The only warning that I have at this time is that if the choice is going to be made for that battle to be fought, then aside from Iraq, Lebanon is the next choice for battleground. Saad Hariri is showing less and less restraint in the face of HA's verbal provocations, and HA is becoming more and more vocal in its opposition to the government.

It doesn't look good.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

MorAouns and The Convenience of Sectarianism

When a certain MorAoun struggles with his support in a certain community he tends to remind the community of the war and of the atrocities of the war in an attempt to fan the flames of sectarianism, while others (definitely not out of the goodness of their heart) pursue a path of reconciliation...

Of course, this particular morAounic nature is not unique (though extremely obvious in the afore mentioned MorAoun), and in fact sectarian leaders display it when their level of support in their particular sect is threatened. Nothing like good old fear and hatred of the other to "rally the troops"...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Danger of The Divine Victory "Parade"

Friday is the parade "celebrating" the divine victory claimed by Nasralla and his party of God. Everything else aside, the organizers of the parade, as reported by Assafir, are trumpeting the upcoming parade as the biggest in the history of Lebanon. I am writing this post probably hours before the parade itself and I am sure that the danger that lies in such an event is not lost on everyone. In either case, I want to briefly analyze it.

In my view, this might well be a breaking point for March 14. After having lost the initiative when they abandoned their demands for Lahoud's resignation, and then slowed down to a near halt when they acqueisced to HA's blackmail time and time again, the "victory parade" might well do it for them.

Previously, March 8 created March 14 by spurring people on to show that the independence uprising crowd also existed and had a voice that wanted to be heard. There was anger at Hariri's assassination, and resentment at the betrayal of HA.

Now, how do you counter a demonstration of the size projected by HA, and under what pretext? What will mobilize a million Lebanese, many of whom have seen their hopes dashed and their faith in their leadership diminished. What will ensure that their morale will not be crushed when they see hundreds of thousands of HA supporters marching and chanting and celebrating and flaunting their nonchalance to the rule of law and even to the very existance of a state... I say nothing...

On the other hand, and this is a very distant possibility, the demo might fail and few people might show up, in which case this may be an indication that HA's support is on the fall. Like I said, I doubt this possibility, but it has to be included for the sake of completeness I guess.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

May they all go to heaven and leave us in hell.

I have the following quotation extracted from Arthur Koestler's 'Darkness at Noon'. Please generalize this comment to all religious establishments:

"When the existence of the Church is threatened, she is released from the commandments of morality. With unity as the end, the use of every means is sanctified, even cunning, trachery, violence, simony, prison, death. For all order is for the sake of the community, and the individual must be sacrificed to the common good.
Dietrich Von Nieheim, Bishop of Verden:de schismate libri III, A.D. 1411"

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Leaving a restaurant - leaving a country

Today, I decided to grab some Lebanese food from a newly opened restaurant close to my house. Inadvertently, a discussion with the Lebanese store manager about the old TV show "Fame" somehow turned to discussing the movie Syriana and the assassination of the prince at the end of it. By some mysterious influence (Lahoud?) the manager started drawing comparisons between the assassination of that prince and the assassination of Hariri. He was clearly hinting that the Americans had either killed him or greenlighted it. After a few split seconds of me debating with myself whether to shut up or shut him up, I decided on the latter. Pretty soon, he started spewing off one conspiracy theory after the other, providing "alternative" versions of ancient history, modern history, and present day politics (One example of his ramblings is that the US and the UK supported Khomeini against the Shah whom they wanted to get rid of...). I struggled hard to understand what he was saying, to find the logic in his claims. Naturally I found none.
How do you debate or discuss with someone who will have a conspiracy theory to explain every event, every calamity that befalls us? I tried in vain to explain that we need to stop blaming others for our misery, to stop allocating responsibility to everyone but ourselves. I argued and argued and argued. I argued that we have to fault ourselves for failing to build the democratic state that we (I?) desire. I argued that no one internal group should have the right to dictate war. I argued that it was the responsibility of the elected representatives of the people to do so, only through state institutions and legal means. I argued that given the lack or weakness of such institutions and of such a truly democratic process, it is our duty to strengthen them and create them... I got nothing! More deluded versions of past and present, some abstract references to throwing ourselves in the arms of the west, more abstract references to dignity.
Finally, I asked him if the entire war was worth it. I asked him if the "price" we paid for an action most of us did not endorse was worth the "value" that we all received for it... I got the answer I should have expected. We maintained our dignity so it was worth it.
At that point I realized there was no point discussing this anymore. There is no way that I could convince him of my point of view because he simply did not want to listen. That is fine, he wasn't going to convince me either. On the other hand, he had no problem endorsing the imposition of a point of view and its consequences on me(via endorsing the actions of an organization operating outside the realm of the state).
I thanked him for the discussion and left his restaurant, just as I had left my country years before - disappointed.

PS: The man was in his forties or fifties and had lived in the US and Canada since he was in his twenties...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Ziad Majed (2): On an aborted independence uprising

... On the 14th of March 2005, one month after the assassination of PM Rafic Hariri in a terrorist crime that changed the landscape of Lebanon, a million citizens gathered in Martyr's Square in Beirut heeding the call of the independence uprising against Syrian hegemony and the allies of the Syrian regime, especially those who had gathered on call from HA on the 8th of March. The crowd was record settings by all standards and crowned a month of demonstrations and gatherings and youth and citizen action led well by the wide opposition front, leading to breaking the wall of silence and fear that had "domesticated" and imprisoned most Lebanese and to re-establishing the bond between the people and public affairs in Lebanon. The "uprising" Lebanese made use of international support, at a time when the Syrian regime was under strain due to its assassination of Hariri and to the end of the American given mandate to run the Lebanese file. So Omar Karami's government fell and the fall of the heads of the security apparatuses began, and the country was liberated from a wide "intelligence" rule, and the Syrian army withdwrew on the 29th of April, 29 years after invading Lebanese soil and occupying political life on it. However, this large popular victory did not transform into a decisive political victory. More precisely, it did not cause internal ramifications that reflect its exceptional "external" victory and its liberation of Lebanon from Baathist rule. Between missing the opportunity of forcing the president to resign (as the PM had been) due to the position of the Maronite Patriarch who refused overthrowing him (on the street, before agreeing on a substitute), and accepting (quickly) the conditions of the Shiite political block of conducting elections based on the law of the year 2000, to Jumblatt's change of direction (against himself) and accepting HA's weapons and aligning himself with Saad Hariri and HA, to Aoun's withdrawal from the movement that had taken the name of the famous day, March 14 and his "opening fire" on all those in it and flirting with his newfound allies of the (non-Shiite)symbols of the elapsed Syrian era, arriving to the parliamentary elections taking place between the end of May and the end of June 2005, and the way it was controlled by sectarianism, and finally to renewing "the faith" in the speaker of the "Syrian-era parliament" who was elected speaker of the "Independence era" parliament... political confusion ensued and confusion in founding the new republic as well, and then this came to new heights with the formation of a new government "giving" (president) Lahoud a Christian cut to be added to the Shiite cut monpolized by HA and Amal.

If the sectarian system in its structure and philosophy can explain the high ability for blackmail by the two SHiite organizations being the "exclusive" representatives of one of the largest sects, thus giving legitmacy to the rule if they participate and removing it if they don't, then the logic of lack of trust and narrow sighted calculations and the obsessions of sectarian "weakness or prestige" and the loss of a political compass and the preparations for the postponed presidential battle, and accepting the advice of some arab and international regimes at the founding moment probably explain all the events resulting from them. A new government was founded with its PM and most of its ministers belonging to the new majority, but also involving the two Shiite poles of the minority and the representatives of the president! In other words, it rules based on a "disturbed" agreement with a minority (holding two of the three positions of the presidential troika), and an obscure compromise with those it is supposed to remove!

What is more is that the "lackluster performance" occurred at a time when the country was under a Syrian vengeful attack using a variety of different economic and political weapons, with several assassinations and assassination attempts occurring in its shadow, "dropping" in six months Samir Kassir, George Hawi, Jubran Tueni and his companions, injuring May Chidiac (as it injured Elias Murr, for different reasons, and killed and injured many innocent citizens and foreign workers).

These terrorist assassinations and HA's defense of their perpetrators lead to blowing things up between them and Hariri and Jumblatt and exacerbating matters with all the parties of the parliamentary majority, leading to a governmental crisis, where the SHiite ministers abstained from attending in objection to expanding the international Hariri investigation to inclide the rest of the ensuing assassinations, before returning (even with the continuations of the disagreement) after Hariri resumed holding talks with them, and SIniora declared in parliament that the "resistance" in the south was a national one.

Then came the Aounists' striking of a deal with HA in February 2006 to change much in the political arena in Lebanon. THeir alliance (combining the selfproclaimed father of resolution 1559 and the American bill(?) against Syria with those who accuse - from their position in the Syrian-Iranian axis both- the resolution and the bill of Zionism and serving Israeli interests!) formed a spearhead in the confrontation with the governemnt (eventhough one of them was participating in it) and a shield to protect its "opponent" Lahoud. THis allowed them to form a new sectarian alignment (albeit temporary) in Lebanon to loosen the siege against HA, and tickling AOun's presidential delusions, and balancing the scene that emerged between Feb 14 and March 14 2005. More importantly, it relieved the Syrian regime from the strains of the Lebanese "inside" and transformed itself into a support system for it and its policies, guaranteeing responses to the parliamentary majority in its attack by a "National" alliance combining Muslims and Christians with popular legitemacy.

Except, this alliance, in addition to its political oddities, was founded principally on mutually shared illusions between those who want to regain a position they believe that the christians had lost and who sees that revenge against "personal" damage is by making it public (?), and between those who aspire to remain in a political and military society outside the state but connecting with other sects for Lebanese societal necessety.

In March 2006, what was called the National Dialogue started with the poles of the sects, MPs and heads of parliamentary blocks, continuing to go nowhere on the issues of the presidency, HA's weapons and the defence strategy as well as its procurement of the decisions for war and peace and the relationship with Syria. The "dialogers" failed to arrive at clear agreements and to translate what agreements they did arrive at into policy and implementable decisions.

On all this course, from the day of the uprising to the day of the defunct dialogue, Lebanon missed ,once again, a golden opportunity to build the project of the state due to Sectarian calculations and connections to regional axes and international politics. At this time, the region was witnessing dangerous escalation in sectarian conflict in occupied Iraq and Israeli terrorism in Palestinian land, and in international concern about the Iranian nuclear file. So the Lebanese situation became open to many possibilities most of them coming from its surroundings and founded in its institutional weakness and its sectarian tension, making it easy to affect its political environment.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Ziad Majed on Missed Opportunities in Lebanon

This is an article by Ziad Majed of the Democratic Left movement in Lebanon, the same party to which Samir Kassir belonged. The original article is in arabic and can be found here. I think it is worth reading. Below is the first part.

Lebanese political alliances only offer evidence of lacking any nationally responsible behaviour, and to lacking any awareness that could lead to the establishment of a modern state in a country which in addition to having a complex sectarian nature, has a tragic political landscape. Perhaps the important events in the last six years, starting with May 25th 2000 (liberation of the south) and passing by March 14th 2005, when most Lebanese rose against Syrian hegemony, and finally arriving at July 12th 2006 when Hizballa captured two Israeli soldiers signalling the beginning of a barbaric Israeli agression - these events all indicate an amazing ability to pass up on chances to acquire the tools needed to build a state deserved by so many citizens of this country .

On the libaration left uninvested in
Lebanese land was liberated in 2000 from Israeli occupation lasting 22 years. Land was liberated in a precedent in the Arab-Israeli struggle, due to factors ranging from armed resistance started by the National Resistance Front and crowned by the Islamic Resistance with a victory that could have been used to signal a new political era in Lebanon returning to the Lebanese interior the idea of the state that was missing completeness after the Taif accord, meaning reachieving the soveriegnty that lacked due occupied land, and the independence that was robbed by Syrian hegemony. However, the connection between the "interior" and the "exterior" and the regional care shown to keep the Lebanese south under the mercy of resolution 242 on the one hand and the sectarianism of the ruling political class as well as the control of the "security" factor of the Lahoud/Sayyed reign on the other hand, prevented this transition to the stage of building political institutions that are "accpetable" by legal and sovereignty standards.

Preserving the "struggle" in the Shebaa farms suited Israeli, Syrian and Iranian interests of controlling the possibility of localized tension, and of maintaining the means for transmitting political message on an occupied land whos legal standing is internationally obscure. Moreover, the Lebanese authority, controlled by intelligence services, did not consider altering its internal politics to absorb tensions let alone trying to find a new form for the relationship with the Syrian regime, which in turn and with its well known stupidity, missed the opportunity for changing its behaviour in Lebanon in an exceptional moment of strength. So we awoke after the elections of September 2000 on a new political scene that laid the foundation for causing a popular uprising against the Syrians and for creating more distance between a HA that is victorious in resistance but that accepted militarily transforming to a "regional mailman" and many Sectarian and non-Sectarian Lebanese powers with different calculations and interests.
That way, Lebanon remained for years as if its south was never liberated (despite the celebrations on Liberation day), and witnessed internal struggles that were similar to other struggles taking place inside the Syrian regime between civilians and military men who had run the Lebanese "file" for years and new intelligence (people) who had a growing stranglehold on its political and monetary affairs.
On the other hand, the national opposition, personified in Qurnet Shahwen and the "Minbar Dimocrati", could not balance the scale of power internally, and matters remained in eb and flow, political life dropping to new lows, until the Syrian extension of Lahoud's mandate and the issuing of resolution 1559 which opened the door - despite the severity of their effects - to radical change wide open.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hariri and Jumblatt's Press Conferences

Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt both held press conferences....

Saad spoke of national unity but stressed the importance of the state, the sole authority in the country. He refused that the state be a synonym for weakness, its institutions discarded and abandoned. He strongly affirmed that the Lebanese cannot have dignity without their state and warned of the dangers that lurk as a result of the latest Israeli aggression, reitirating that it would no longer be allowed for the state to be the weakest player in the country.
He referred to the dangers that originate from the wreckless speeches coming from abroad, an obvious reference to Bashar's speech, citing it as all the more reason for rallying behind a strong state. Saad also spoke of the army, looking forward to the role that it, with the help of the international community, will play in the south. He further attacked Bashar, describing the Syrian president's latest speech as heavy shelling and bombing of a different kind. He described it as a speech inciting hatred and not becoming of the position of the president of Syria, interfering in Lebanese matters, giving lessons in patriotism and resistance while his Golan heights are occupied. Saad then addressed the Syrian people contrasting their love and friendship towards the Lebanese to their regime's hatred and lies, reminding them again of the occupied Golan. He accused the regime in Syria of trading in the blood of the children of Qana, Gaza and Baghdad to further its own goals. He also sympathized with the Syrian people's plight, and with their quest for freedom as they have to watch their dictatorial regime attacking democratically elected governments.
He warned that Lebanon is flanked by two neighbors that it should be wary of, for different reasons, and ended his speech by stressing national unity...

In short, Hariri focused on the need for a strong state and dedicated some time to replying to the Syrian president's tirade against lebanon.

Jumblatt started his press conference by referring to US president G.W. Bush's policy of pre-emptive strikes, and his invasion of Iraq and the insuing chaos over there. He also referred to the Iranians and their nuclear program.
He said that wars should not play out in Lebanon, whether initiated by Syria and Iran or the US and Israel.
He then reminded Nasralla of the fact that he and others of March 14 who defended the resistance at various occasions on the international scenes, but asked who the "resistance" pledges loyalty to.
More importantly he referred to Nasralla's claims that the Americans and Israelis had this all planned out from before, asking him whether the government deserved to know of such information. Jumblatt went on point by point referring to Nasralla's various speeches highlighting his blatant disregard to the Lebanese state.
Jumblatt then pointed out that it was easy for Nasralla to rebuild the destroyed homes using Iranian money, but that it would not be that easy to rebuild the destroyed trust in Lebanon. He also reminded that not once in any of his speeches did Nasralla mention the Taif accord or the Lebanon-Israel armistice agreement, two very important documents in Jumblatt's opinions. He then asked again, now that the army was heading south... whether it would be possible to finally apply the armistice agreement, or would we have to fight till eternity while not a shot is fired from the Syrian Golan heights... Jumblatt then addressed the topic of dignity, asking whether the only path to dignity is by adhering to the Iran/Syria axis, adding whether a country's "dignity" is achievable without state institutions.
Jumblatt returned to the issue of the army heading south, calling the agreement by which such a move was authorized vague (in reference to the cabinet meeting and decision). He pointed out that Nasralla on the one hand says yes to the army, and on the other maneuvers against it. He then referenced Nasralla's veiled questioning of the Taif state, saying that this was uncalled for. He refuted Nasralla's argument of protecting Lebanon by remaining outside the state institutions by citing all the destruction that fell on the state and the people despite those intentions.

He then asked whether we were destined to be like Abu-mazen and Arafat's authority in Palestine? He pointed out that one day Olmert would fall and Netanyahu would take his place, and the cycle of violence would continue, only in Lebanon the one field for everyone's war games. He addressed the resistance crowd, i.e. the Shia, to respect the feelings of the rest of the Lebanese, who do not want to see their country destroyed... He ended this part of his speech by saluting the fighters, and the people who held strong during the crisis.

Jumblatt then moved on to discuss Assad's speech. He reminded the Syrian regime that Jumblatt had chosen to move past his father's assassination (by Syria), in order to protect both the Lebanese and Syrian people against a surrender to Israel (May 17). He asked whether the only way Assad knew how to conduct resistance was by using Lebanon to improve your negotiating position with the US. He stressed that the Syrian game is clear, pausing to ask Nasralla whether the consensus on the international tribunal on the Hariri assasination still held. Pointing out that criminals usually go back to the scene of the crime, he noted how Assad refers to the Hariri investigation. He also pointed out how Assad was exporting militants to Iraq, wondering whether that will be our destiny in Lebanon as well.
Jumblatt ended by quoting former Iranian president Khatami who had said that promoting moderate islam and moderate christianity reduce the risk of confrontation, and that Lebanon is a model of such moderation... Khatami had also said that Israel sees no problem pursuing some of its historic goals; thus, she should be given no excuse to allow her to do so... Jumblatt then referred to another Shia, the very well respected late sheikh Shamsiddine who had asked the Shias to immerse themselves in their countries and not to create for themselves different paths than those of their compatriots... and not to heed the calls that promise to differentiate between them and others... and to stay firm ... on the Taif path ...

What makes Lebanon so special

In a comment on Abu Kais's BeirutBeltway blog, one reader questioned why we Lebanese patriots take pride in our army and hold such nationalisitic feelings toward Lebanon. This post is my answer to him.

We take pride in our army because it was the same army that refused to oppress the Lebanese citizens during the massive expression of patriotism on March 14, 2005. Unlike the armies of the neighboring Islamic and Arab regimes that exist only to deprive their people of the right to freedom.We, the patriotic Lebanese, believe in a Lebanon that does not discriminate between Muslims, Christians, Jews, Taoists, or Buddhists. It is this Lebanon that we strive for and I can't see a more noble cause to embrace.
We refuse to be the slaves of archaic Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Arabism, or Phoenecianism. We have come out to demand and obtain our freedom on March 14 and we will not hesitate to stand up for our rights again. From our ranks have risen Samir Kassir, George Hawi, Gebran Tueini, and Rafic Hariri, and like them, thousands more will rise until we achieve our goal.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Lebanese Army Heads South

The Lebanese army has finally started deploying in south Lebanon,Reuters among many others sources, are reporting.

A column of more than 100 trucks, troop carriers and jeeps, flying red-and-white Lebanese flags, streamed through a makeshift bridge on the Litani to the town of Marjayoun. Some vehicles towed artillery pieces, others carried troops and equipment...
..."We are very happy. How can anyone deploy in his own land and not be happy," said a soldier who did not give his name.

That is all great, but what remains a cause for concern is that
...while the army will not allow the presence of any armed group, the cabinet decision did not mention any withdrawal of Hizbollah's fighters or the rockets they rained on northern Israel during the conflict.

Meanwhile progress is slow with assembling the new and improved UNIFIL force as the BBC reports.
Unifil is already under French command and Ms Alliot-Marie (defense minister) confirmed that France would continue to lead it once it grew in strength. But she refused to be drawn on the number of French troops that would be sent.
"Today, it's not 'How many troops and when?', it's 'To do what and how?'" she said on French TV. She added that only once a clear mandate had been established would it be clear which other countries would join the larger force.
So thats about it, the army is heading south, we are waiting for the UNIFIL troops, as well as the Israelis to withdraw. Meanwhile, we don't know what the deal is on the weapons south of the Litani. Ain't it grand being a citizen of Lebanon?

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Decapitator's "Victory" Speech

Hizbulla chief, Hassan Nasralla or the Decapitator, as Abu Kais likes to call him, has made yet another TV appearance declaring a strategic and historic victory. He had a lot to say about his appreciation for the sacrifices of the Lebanese people, and of the HA fighters. More importantly and dangerously, his beardedness has declared the launch of a drive to rebuild 15,000 housing units and to provide funds for families that have lost their homes to relocate while the reconstruction procedes...

The most dangerous aspect of his speech, by far the most frightening of all, is his reference to Lebanese politicians who spoke out against him during the battle. He played on sectarian sensitivities highlighting the fact that most of the casualties and destruction were in Shia territories. He stressed that these politicians made a "mistake" by publicizing the internal debate in time of conflict, affecting the psychology of civilians being slaughtered and of the fighters. He made a direct reference to Jumblatt without naming him.

Moving on in the list of dangerously inflammatory statements the decapitator flung in our faces. He addressed the issue of HA weapon's, reminding (read threatening) that HA came out victorious and that not even Israel has gone so far as to expect HA's disarming. He asked those who want HA disarmed whether or not they brought back the Shebaa farms or the prisoners, and whether they are capable of protecting Lebanon. He dismissed the concept of disarming HA as too hasty and simplistic. He agreed to spreading the sovereignty of the state, which he said they were part of, but said that he wants a strong and just state to spread its sovereignty. He the asked if this state fulfills those requirements.

Finally, he asked that the debate be moved to its natural position (the hiwar). He reminded that the two ingredients to the success of Lebanon are the resistance and national unity, asking that we not waste such assets. He described those as precursors to building the strong state he "desires".

In other words, the decapitator is in attack mode, his threats and his bullying continue at all but an accelerated pace. He has declared "victory" on both the frontlines and domestically and is acting as such. He will unabashedly compete with the state for reconstruction, he will not disarm, he has threatened the politicians of Lebanon demanding "unity". The man is talking like a representative of a state, his growing power becoming a threat to a sovereign Lebanon.

We are back to where we started before this war, except that we have a more emboldened HA maneuvering for the upper hand in Lebanon. It is time for democratic Lebanon to act, the initiative cannot be left in the hands of these thugs.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Tense Ceasefire in Effect

8:00 am Lebanon time, a tense cease-fire goes into effect. One hour into it, the ceasefire seems to be holding, eventhough Israel is saying that it will maintain its blockade of the ports and airports in Lebanon. Also, the Lebanese government meeting yesterday was cancelled, possibly over disagreement over the disarmament of Hizbulla.

Very tense times and uncertainty looms large, but there is hope yet.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

And the victory goes to...

The Lebanese government unanimously adopted UN resolution 1701 today. Although the support vote was unanimous, HA ministers had reservations on some of the details which have not been disclosed yet. I will, however, jump the gun and predict these reservations in the following points:

  • Complete evacuation of the area south of the Litani of HA weapons
  • Monitoring air, sea, and land ports for arms smuggling
  • No mention of the Shebaa farms
  • No call for a ceasefire
  • Recall of UN resolution 1559

Information Minister Ghazi Aridi, announced after the cabinet meeting that the UN resolution 1701 was a resounding victory for the diplomacy undertaken by the Lebanese government, an opinion shared by Saniora a few hours earlier. Aridi went further to announce that HA has agreed to respect the full implementation of the resolution, including the weapons free zone south of the Litani. However, a low level HA official declared during an interview on Al-Arabiya that it is unlikely that they (HA) will "give Israel what it could not achieve through war".

Prior to the cabinet meeting, Nasrallah came out of his cave again to claim the victory. His victory is seen from a "slightly" different perspective than that of Saniora's though. Nasrallah only saw his militia's survival on the battlefield and the casualties inflicted on the IDF as his source of pride. True as that may be, his speach was somewhat benign in a sense that he did accept resolution 1701 with reservations, acknowledged the Lebanese people's steadfastness, and committed to a ceasefire as soon as the UN declares one. His true intentions, however, emerge in a comment that some parts of the resolution are considered "an interference in Lebanon's internal affairs." This particular comment takes Lebanon back to pre July 12th with the difference that Saniora's government has the Lebanese army in the south, a reinforced UNIFIL, and a violent 30-day war experience which the government should use to tip the balance against HA. The following few days will show how these positions unfold.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Possible UN resolution by Friday.

A breakthrough in the negotiations has been made on the international arena between the French and US teams to reach an agreement on a UN resolution by Friday

The breakthrough is based on the inclusion in the call for a cessation of hostilities for a progressive Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese territory to go simultaneously with the deployment of the Lebanese army backed by reinforced UN peacekeepers
reported Haaretz.
The reinforced UN peackeepers will primarily be backed by French soldiers. Moreover, the area south of the Litani river is to be devoid of Hizbullah guerillas and weapons.

It seems the Israeli maneuver of widening the ground invasion worked its magic. The threat has convinced the Lebanese government (and Hizbullah) to agree to a progressive Israeli withdrawal as opposed to calling for an immediate and complete withdrawal to end the fighting for fear of not reaching a solution. Israel showed that it is ready to take on more casualties by following through with a major escalation in the ground invasion. It's also worth noting that Saniora's initiative to send the Lebanese Army to the south had been a keystone in reaching the possible settlement.

So would it have been possible for both teams, Hizbullah and Israel, to have reached this same conclusion two weeks ago? I don't think it was. Both parties were pumped up with way too much ego, that it took two full weeks of bloody combat to realize neither group can win the military battle. Israel was banking on its ability to destroy Hizbullah in a swift invasion, but was proved wrong. Hizbullah was relying on internal pressure from within Israel to stop the invasion, and was also proved wrong.
I would hope that an agreement is reached by Friday. There are talks that such an agreement would also include details on resolving the Shebaa Farms issue. However, there has been no mentioning of the fate of the captured Israeli soldiers and Hizbullah fighters or the Lebanese prisoners yet.