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Friday, May 25, 2007

On Inevitability - Revisited

In a previous post, I tried to tackle the issue of the inevitability of certain outcomes, once something monumental takes place. Saddam's eventual (violent) demise was one example I had in mind, and I tried to extrapolate to Iran. My point was that if Iran continues to play this game of cat and mouse with the international community, namely the Americans, eventually it will pay the price - in the form of military intervention ( whether American or Israeli... ).

In any case, in this post the "inevitability" that I have in mind is slightly different in nature. I have been pre-occupied with the inevitability of the Syrian regime being a detrimental force in the region for as long as it exists (hence the inevitability of its own demise- but that is not my point for the moment).

Michael Totten , in the comments section of a recent post on his blog insightfully states that "... the Syrian regime wouldn't survive without being in a state of cold war or proxy war with Israel. It can't survive peace, and it can't survive hot war."

In fact, the Syrian regime of the Assads has a history (and a method of survival) of living in the grey area between peace and war with Israel.

In the era prior to the Hariri assassination, the Syrians could not afford to sign peace with Israel, lest they lose their pretext for occupying Lebanon. After all, what are the Golan Heights, economically and politically, compared to their smaller neighbor.

In the era following the Hariri assassination, the Syrians inevitably lost Lebanon, but does that mean that they can negotiate a peace with Israel? I really wonder. It seems that the number one priority for the Syrians right now is regime survival at any cost - to Syria's neighbors of course. From acting as a transit route and haven for terrorists heading to Iraq, to inflaming the situation in the Palestinian territories via its manipulation (in conjunction with every one's favorite Mullocracy) of Palestinian factions, to inciting its allies in Lebanon to unreasonable escalation, to exporting Jihadi terrorists to Lebanon as well (as highlighted by the tragic events in Lebanon this week)... the Syrian regime has to ensure its survival by making itself "relevant".

By doing so, however, the Syrians may have become too relevant. It is becoming more and more understood that one of the main common factors of the three unstable neighbours of Syria, is ... well ... Syria. The regime wants to negotiate, and as the Americans refuse to negotiate, the regime raises the stakes higher and higher.

Eventually, one of two things will happen - one more likely than the other of course.

Either the Americans and the Europeans will concede, handing Lebanon back to the Syrians, and naturally emptying the international tribunal on the Hariri killing of any substance, paving the way to the Syrian signing of peace with Israel. In return, the Syrians will tighten border security, expel Hamas and co from Damascus, cut off logistic and political support for Hizbulla, and so on...

I see such an outcome as unlikely, others may disagree (more on this in a later post).

The other possible eventuality is that as the Syrians dig deeper into this ever spiralling game of sowing uncertainty and instability in their surroundings, they risk severe blow back. After all, three neighboring countries in a (current/possible future) state of civil war, will inevitably have consequences on the Syrian interior. More importantly (on the short term), the more the Syrians make themselves "relevant", the more their "peskiness" becomes a threat. And as that happens there will be an ever growing bulls-eye on the regime's back.

In the meantime, they have no choice. Syrian Peace with Israel without the regime regaining Lebanon or at least resolving the tribunal issue is impossible. By the same token, war with Israel is regime suicide... but so is an indictment of regime officials in a tribunal on the assassination of a former prime minister of a neighboring country.

Consequently, destabilizing Lebanon is a priority for Syria; the tribunal -to them-must become irrelevant, or at least negotiable. Viewed from that lens, the recent madness they unleashed from the refugee camps in (for now) the north of Lebanon and the sporadic explosions rocking Lebanon's cities become less surprising though no less appalling, or despicable...

An eventuality to ponder on here is whether or not the (alleged (for now)) Syrian assassination of Hariri will prove to be the fatal mistake that will eventually be the Assads' undoing - just as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was Saddam's eventual undoing - despite all the macabre maneuverings of the Syrian regime at the expense of the blood of the innocent in at least three of its neighboring countries...

Monday, May 14, 2007

The cost of political dissent in Syria*


BEIRUT - Six leading opposition figures jailed in Syria warned on Tuesday that the “repressive climate” in their country was worsening and called for the release of all political prisoners.
“Our situation as prisoners of conscience is part ... of the crisis of public freedoms and human rights in Syria, which started with the state of emergency imposed 44 years ago,” they said in a joint letter from Adra prison near Damascus.
“The crisis has reached its climax today, with increased repression and suppression of freedoms,” they wrote in the letter published in Lebanon’s leading An-Nahar newspaper.
The signatories are Anwar Bunni, Michel Kilo, Kamal Labwani, Mahmud Issa, Faeq al-Mir and Aref Dalila. The newspaper did not disclose how the letter was smuggled out of the Syrian prison.

Dr. Kamal Labwani:
sentence: life time in prison with hard labor (reduced to 12 yrs)
charge : “undermining national security”

Michel Kilo:
sentence: three years in prison
charge: “spreading false information, encouraging sectarian strife and weakening national sentiment”

Mahmoud Issa:
sentence: three years in prison
charge: “spreading false information, encouraging sectarian strife and weakening national sentiment”

Aref Dalila:
sentence: ten years in solitary confinement

Anwar al-Bunni:
sentence: five years in prison
charge: “spreading hostile information and joining an illegal political group.”

Faek al-Mir:

*information partly from here

Thursday, May 10, 2007


From Annahar's front page... For some reason I find it hilarious. :):):)

Monday, May 07, 2007

"Spare a Thought..."

Nothing but support for this message from Jeha and for the subjects of his message.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

On the Presidency

While it may be true that there we will see some level of perpetuation of the political paralysis in Lebanon even after Lahoud's term is over, it is also true that Lahoud himself has been an exceptional obstruction. Moreover, it is true that with the coming end of his term, Lebanon has to potentially deal with a new crisis stemming from the very divisive issue of electing a new president.

As previously mentioned, Lahoud has been a huge obstructive factor in Lebanese political affairs. He has refused to sign many many bills, refused to accept many foreign ambassadors (while he has also not outright rejected them), impeded the appointment of Lebanese ambassadors to foreign countries and obstructed the hiring and promotion of high level public servants, and so on and so forth...

That could all change with a vacant presidency or a March 14 president.

Moreover, huff and puff and do what they may, March 8 realizes that the government is legit. The constitution is clear and everything else is propaganda^. In fact, what we are seeing on their part is desperate politics. Hizbulla is desperate to protect its Syrian ally/master from the tribunal and to protect itself from the possible evolution (for better or worse) of Lebanon and its transition into a stable (?) post Syrian era. It needs to find a formula that guarantees its ability to operate within a framework as similar as possible to the one it operated in during the Syrian era. They are fighting tooth and claw for that.

Similarly, Aoun is desperate because he is seeing the deadline for the presidency approach and his chances for the post are not increasing.
Both are fighting an uphill battle against the forward motion of time.

But what can they all do? The March 8 alliance knows that within the rules of the game, i.e, the constitution, all they can ever hope to do is impede the election of a president, pending an agreement or compromise that does not seem likely, or that will come at Aoun's expense. As I might have mentioned before, that vacuum in the presidency leaves the president's authority in the cabinet's hands*. That explains one aspect of the need that the March 8 alliance sees for "breaking" the cabinet by denying it legitimacy and trying to force it to resign.

But once again, then what? March 8 until now has no constructive strategy from within the bounds of the constitution and the law.
Not to be restricted by such ridiculous things as laws and constitutions, their alternatives are simple. Early elections, transforming Lebanon's parliamentary system into a presidential one (for one time only of course)...

At this point, I give up...
March 8 must know that their demands are unreasonable and more importantly unacceptable to the "ruling majority". What matters now is that the presidential endgame is approaching. However, try as I might I can't find a logical strategy that March 8 can pursue in the endgame.

Short of spreading chaos.

Footnotes From the Lebanese Constitution:
- المادة 95 (المعدلة بالقانون الدستوري الصادر في 9/11/1943 وبالقانون الدستوري الصادر في 21/9/1990) على مجلس النواب المنتخب على أساس المناصفة بين المسلمين والمسيحيين اتخاذ الإجراءات الملائمة لتحقيق إلغاء الطائفية السياسية وفق خطة مرحلية وتشكيل هيئة وطنية برئاسة رئيس الجمهورية، تضم بالإضافة إلى رئيس مجلس النواب ورئيس مجلس الوزراء شخصيات سياسية وفكرية واجتماعية. مهمة الهيئة دراسة واقتراح الطرق الكفيلة بإلغاء الطائفية وتقديمها إلى مجلسي النواب والوزراء ومتابعة تنفيذ الخطة المرحلية.وفي المرحلة الانتقالية: أ- تمثل الطوائف بصورة عادلة في تشكيل الوزارة. ب- تلغى قاعدة التمثيل الطائفي ويعتمد الاختصاص والكفاءة في الوظائف العامة والقضاء والمؤسسات العسكرية والأمنية والمؤسسات العامة والمختلطة وفقاً لمقتضيات الوفاق الوطني باستثناء وظائف الفئة الأولى فيها وفي ما يعادل الفئة الأولى فيها وتكون هذه الوظائف مناصفة بين المسيحيين والمسلمين دون تخصيص أية وظيفة لأية طائفة مع التقيد بمبدأي الاختصاص والكفاءة.

- المادة 62 (المعدلة بالقانون الدستوري الصادر في 21/9/1990)
في حال خلو سدة الرئاسة لأي علة كانت تناط صلاحيات رئيس الجمهورية وكالة بمجلس الوزراء.

In English:

Article 95 [National Committee](1) The first Chamber or Deputies which is elected on the basis of equality between Muslims and Christians takes the appropriate measures to realize the abolition of political confessionalism according to a transitional plan. A National Committee is to be formed, headed by the President of the Republic, including, in addition to the President of the Chamber of Deputies and the Prime Minister, leading political, intellectual, and social figures.(2) The tasks of this Committee are to study and propose the means to ensure the abolition of confessionalism, propose them to the Chamber of Deputies and the Ministers, and supervise the execution of the transitional plan.(3) During the transitional phase:
a. The confessional groups are to be represented in a just and equitable fashion in the formation of the Cabinet.
b. The principle of confessional representation in public servicejobs, in the judiciary, in the military and security institutions, and in public and mixed agencies are to be cancelled in accordance with the requirements of national reconciliation; they shall be replaced by the principle of expertise and competence. However, Grade One posts and their equivalents are exempt from this rule, and the posts must be distributed equally between Christians and Muslims without reserving any particular job for any confessional group but rather applying the principles of expertise and competence

Article 62 [Vacancy]Should the Presidency become vacant for any reason whatsoever, the Council of Ministers exercises the powers of the President by delegation.