Across the Bay

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Investigation of Hariri's Murder and its Ramifications

Michael Young discusses the latest on the Hariri murder case and its potential political ramifications:

If Fisk is right that the UN fact-finding mission will recommend an international inquiry, this could be the rare murder of a Lebanese politician that is professionally investigated, and solved. A million people might count for little with the regime, but being held responsible for covering up a crime that has united the Lebanese in opposition to Syria is an altogether different proposition. What remains of the Syrian order in Lebanon would swiftly disintegrate, and Hizbullah, which has also called for an explanation of Hariri's death, would be unable to prop it up.

In fact, nothing will prop up the present Lebanese regime once the Syrians depart. If an uneventful transition takes place, one anticipates that the next Lebanese Parliament will represent the majority of Lebanese identifying with the goals of the opposition. Such a body might be able to amend the Constitution and terminate Lahoud's mandate. However, some of the president's foes suggest this process is complicated, so that it would be better to oust him sooner, politically.

What is increasingly clear, however, is that the greatest threat to this presidency, and to the Syria-inspired edifice it represents, is an answer to the one question on everybody's lips last Monday: Who killed Rafik Hariri?

(See also his post on H&R the other day.)

This Times article, contributed to by Nick Blanford, is also following suit pointing at a cover up by the Lebanese authorities and basically fingering them and Syria as the likely culprits. What the fallout of that will be, remains to be seen.

Many have joined Walid Jumblat in turning the heat on Lahoud, calling for his resignation. Samir Franjieh, member of the Qornet Shehwan gathering, which works closely with the Maronite Patriarch, said that he would rather wait till a new parliament is elected as to ensure the election of a more acceptable president. The argument is that absent of a new parliament, the result could be the imposition of yet another pro-Syrian lackey (do I hear Sleimen Franjieh?), which will not get us anywhere. The Patriarch himself made a similar statement to LBC. Most recently, Qornet Shehwan's Butros Harb also preferred postponing electing a new president until a new parliament is elected freely with the help of international monitors.

There have been some interesting convergences in the last couple of days, signaling heavy maneuverings on the part of the loyalists with Syrian blessing.

In an interview to his party's TV station, Al-Manar, Nasrallah presented new options for the opposition, which might echo Bashar's will and his message to the upcoming Arab League summit:

1- Rejection of an international investigation. Instead, calling for a pan-Arab committee that comes out of the Arab summit in Algeria.

2- Instead of the resignation of the heads of the security agencies, as demanded by the opposition, they should be brought to trial, and if found guilty of negligence, then they would be fired.

As if on cue, the most notorious security official, Jamil es-Sayyed, stepped up and offered to submit himself and all his colelagues, accused by the opposition, to trial. Of course, the presiding judge would be Rabia Kaddoura who is essentially "one of them" so, as my friend put it, "it's tantamount to being judged by an ally."

All this is related to the UN report as discussed by Michael. It seems that it will be very harsh, and that it will point the finger at the Lebanese and Syrian agencies. I wonder if Nasrallah's proposal signals another attempt at "Arabizing" the problem in order to fend off international pressure. Bashar tried it once already and failed. I don't think it will work this time either. And if you don't yet fully appreciate the absolute impotence of that charade called the Arab League, the Lebanese crisis is not on the agenda! It will be discussed in side talks. Lahoud won't attend, and some speculate neither will Bashar!

The opposition had a very strong reaction to Sayyed's proposal, and dismissed it outright. Bahia Hariri called it a "gimmick." Walid Choucair discussed Sayyed's move:

[S]ome opposition figures believe Sayyed would not have held his news conference Thursday if he hadn't been preparing for a next step, which those opposition figures see as follows:

Security forces are in the process of taking measures to end demonstrations and sit-ins staged by the opposition in Martyrs' Square. According to some opposition MPs, Sayyed, other security chiefs, Lahoud's circles and even Prime Minister-designate Omar Karami "believe that the March 14 demonstration should be the last, especially since the Ain al-Tineh Gathering and loyalists have suspended street protests, as a prelude to ending the opposition's activities. Therefore, Sayyed's statement was paving the way for upcoming measures."

I wonder if the car bomb in a residential Christian neighborhood this morning is part of this message of intimidation. Lahoud followed the bomb explosion with a call for the opposition and loyalists to start "immediate dialogue" to form a "national unity" government. There might be a message that the jig is up. If you continue yours demands of resignation things will get ugly.

That's why so-called "third party" people like former PM Salim Hoss accused the opposition of driving the country to chaos and a political vacuum. He evoked the bankrupt formula of "no victor, no vanquished," which essentially means don't push your luck trying to embarrass people.

Hoss is trying to broker a deal that would gain Syrian blessing. But he's brushing over the details, and essentially restating what Nasrallah said only in a less inflammatory manner. Hoss' claim is that the loyalists, the opposition, and his "third way" party agree on all the essentials: the withdrawal of the Syrians according to the Taef agreement which is what the loyalist camp and his party had asked for, while the opposition had asked for it according to 1559. Hoss said that this has taken place and Terje Roed-Larsen was satisfied so that's the end of that. Of course this is incomplete, as the Syrians are still in the Bekaa, and haven't fully withdrawn yet.

Hoss' second supposed point of consensus is the investigation of Hariri's murder, which he says everyone agrees on. Yes, but Hizbullah and the loyalists don't want an international committee, while Bahia Hariri and the opposition insist on that. Hoss says that that will be settled when there's a new government in place. That's nonsense as the opposition refuses to join the government until that demand is met. So Hoss' position is Syria's position and it's a trap.

The third point is the disarmament of Hizbullah, which according to Hoss everyone opposes as long as there's war with Israel. Well yes, but not quite! The opposition is willing to let Hizbullah keep its weapons, but it has made its position clear on the armistice, on the closure of the Lebanese front, and on its opposition to any plans to "liberate Jerusalem" Hizbullah might have, as long as Lebanon is the only front in that war, and as Jumblat said, the Syrians need to provide documents proving that Shebaa Farms are Lebanese. There are other unclear points with regard to this issue, so it's hardly a point of consensus. And since Hoss is fond of quoting Larsen, it was Larsen who said that 1559 will not be fully implemented until Hizbullah disarms, no matter when that takes place. So at best, Hizbullah is buying some time, and the opposition is willing to give it that time, but with the clear understanding that the front with Israel is closed. I.e., the regional role is over, and only the local option is available.

So what in Hoss' view is the sticking point? The security officials, and he's calling for them to resign, or, echoing Nasrallah and Sayyed, for them to be brought before a government committee, by the future government, that will investigate them and dismiss them if it detects any deriliction of duty. I.e., it will be an inside the family thing. It means that the opposition will have to join the government first, before anything is done regarding the security chiefs, and they will be dealt with internally. This will of course preempt the potentially disastrous results of the UN investigation. The opposition won't agree to that. Besides, Hizbullah would face a dilemma if it agrees to one international role and not another (1559).

The Shiite power centers have also toed that line. The Vice President of the Higher Shiite Council Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan gave an over-the-top Arabist speech that chastized the opposition. He also refused calls for the resignation of the president. The ultra-Arabist line basically echoed Nasrallah's interview. I'll have more to say about that interview in an upcoming post, but the use of maximalist Arabist rhetoric is always the sign of a party in trouble trying to sound the alarm and mobilize support (that's exactly why Bashar used it in his speech). I'll elaborate later.

Nasrallah tried to reach a compromise with Bahia because she used some Arabist rhetoric in her speech, but she rejected his "Arab investigative committee" proposal, and insisted on an international investigation. Again, different uses and definitions of Arabist rhetoric, like I mentioned in my post on Arabism the other day. Both Bahia and Butros Harb (and of course Jumblat, so Druze, Maronites and Sunnis) are still insisting on the international investigation and the resignation of the security chiefs.

This is why all these maneuverings are taking place (at Syria's behest) trying to get them to reach a compromise, "no victor no vanquished," and to solve the murder case "internally" and buy the Syrians and the Lebanese cronies time, and possibly get them off the hook through some bogus Arab initiative.

The Shiites are siding with the status quo, where they benefitted the most, and are afraid that what comes next will exclude them or isolate them, so they're adopting a defensive line. I'll have more about that in my upcoming post.

Update: Raja of The Lebanese Bloggers comments on today's bombing and Jamil es-Sayyed.