Across the Bay

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Young on What's Next for the Opposition

Michael Young's op-ed in tomorrow's DS deals with what lies ahead for the opposition. The next step is how to deal with Lahoud:

What's next for the opposition? Unity first, which will take concessions on all sides, but also seeking the right rhythm for a confrontation with President Emile Lahoud. Nobody wants to give the president an opportunity to play sectarian politics by depicting his alleged persecution as that, also, of the Maronites. There is also the fact that Lahoud earlier agreed with Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir to resort to smaller electoral districts in parliamentary elections, and few want to embarrass the patriarch by making it appear that he two-timed the president.

But Lahoud is undeniably the next target, though a considerably tougher one than the shuffling Karami. The reason is that the president's extended mandate was the project of Syrian President Bashar Assad. If Lahoud were ousted, Assad's judgment would again be doubted. So, the Syrian leader will fight on for his dreadful brainchild, even as the public bays for more heads. Already, the opposition has done the elegant thing by demanding the resignation of security service officials for failing to prevent the assassination of Rafik Hariri (and some have suggested more). In this way, the theory goes, Lahoud will become irrelevant once denied the vital crutches of his authority.

Michael wonders whether Lahoud has lost the army, which was very accomodating of the protesters, and whether its commander, Michel Suleiman "has read history, and perhaps is calculating, as did his predecessor Fouad Chehab in 1952 when Bishara al-Khoury was ousted by the so-called "White Revolution," that there is always political opportunity in distancing oneself from a disintegrating regime."

The there's Hizbullah. Michael writes:

Domestically, the joker in the pack continues to be Syria's last line of support in Lebanon, Hizbullah. The meeting yesterday between Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah and opposition envoy Ghazi Aridi will have worried the authorities. However, it's unlikely that Nasrallah will realign Hizbullah in a significant way before the outcome of the crisis becomes clearer. He has made a point of playing the middle locally, while siding with Syria on Resolution 1559, which targets Hizbullah. By refusing to participate in the pro-government rally planned for last Monday, Nasrallah effectively scuttled the event. But it's also true that disarmament of the militia remains a red line if decided under a United Nations, particularly an American, ultimatum.

It also seems that the US is willing to give the opposition time on Hizbullah, and not undercut them, which is something I have hinted at before. So this is good news, as Michael notes:

What Satterfield appeared to imply was that the Hizbullah hurdle could be dealt with down the road, internally, after the issue of the Syrian presence was resolved and a legitimate Lebanese government took over power. If this interpretation is correct, it works well within the context of the opposition's strategy, which is to break the link between Syria and Hizbullah and resolve the matter of the party's future, including its disarmament, through an internal Lebanese dialogue.

The Shiite Higher Council has made its position clear. The two basic points are the disarming of Hizbullah (hence no to 1559 yes to Taef) and good relations with Syria, but without saying that its presence was "necessary." So, it conforms well with how Michael portrayed it.

David Ignatius had an interesting theory in his op-ed yesterday. He wrote: "Hezbollah must fear that Assad is about to cut a deal with the United States; meanwhile, Assad must worry that Nasrallah will make a deal first."

Perhaps this is in the back of Nasrallah's head, but he won't commit just yet. (Michael has touched upon many of the general points I wanted to deal with in my upcoming Hizbullah post, but I'm still waiting for a friend's piece to go up before I post mine. Perhaps by then nothing I say will be original, but what the hell!)

I'm not sure I agree with Michael's characterization of the LF or even the Aounists (who have worked well with Muslims in student body elections on various campuses in Lebanon). In fact, the LF have shown a lot of maturity and openness to their Muslim bretheren, as clear from report in the Lebanese daily As-Safir a couple of days ago (Arabic). But Michael's point about setting aside sectarian frustrations in order to maintain the unity of the opposition, is well put:

For any kind of a successful and cohesive national future, there must be agreement on good relations with Syria following a full withdrawal, though not necessarily with this particular regime. There must also be a jettisoning of the divisive symbolism of the war years, and that goes as much for the devotees of Samir Geagea as for those of Hizbullah and Walid Jumblatt.

I think all groups have shown surprising maturity and restraint. Let's hope it continues for the good of all groups in Lebanon.