Across the Bay

Monday, April 25, 2005

Home Alone

Naseer al-As'ad, member of the newly formed Lebanese Shiite Gathering, wrote a strong criticism of Hizbullah's political choices in Al-Mustaqbal (hat tip: Doha Melhem of The Lebanese Bloggers).

He highlights three such decisions:

1- the backing of Abdelhalim Mrad (strongly opposed by the opposition) for Prime Minister instead of Najib Miqati.

2- the symbolic gift offered by Hasan Nasrallah to Syria's intelligence chief in Lebanon, Rustum Ghazaleh, whom the opposition believes is directly involved in the Hariri assassination.

3- the "protection" that the Party said it would offer to the maligned Lebanese security chiefs, namely Jamil es-Sayyed.

As'ad goes through the list, pointing out the following:

1- the image that the Party is drawing for itself is one of holding on to the remains of the Lebanese-Syrian security system in Lebanon, which was supposed to be one that he didn't benefit from. Furthermore, the Party has been careful to claim that it wasn't taking sides with the former authorities.

2- by so doing, the Party is placing itself outside the compromise that led to the latest developments, i.e., the selection of a government which proclaims its readiness to cooperate with the international investigation, and which promises to hold elections without delay. This is the compromise that all the other parties in Lebanon have agreed to, both opposition and the remains of the loyalist camp.

3- the obvious question is, why does Hizbullah distance itself from this compromise, and what damage does it do to it that it rejects it? Sources from the various political centers say that the Party may have "smelled" hidden points related to it, or that it assumed that it is open to further points related to the Party to be implemented in the next stage. [Ed.'s note: In other words, the Party is paranoid and convinced that the decision to neutralize it has been taken with the complicity of the Lebanese actors whom it doesn't trust.]

4- nevertheless, even if we accept the Party's concerns, is the best way to counter such an alleged decision against it to appear as an outsider to Lebanese consensus against the collapsing police state? Or is the best way is to move towards the prevalent Lebanese position and cut a deal with it?

5- according to many sources, the performance of Hizbullah is raising concerns regarding its (at least objective) alliance with those damaged by the compromise which opens the door for Lebanon, especially after the elections, to move into a truly new epoch. The Party's apparent rejection of the new political reality baffles those sources, especially when the dominant forces of that new reality are asserting that it won't be targeting Hizbullah.

6- the sources are asking where the appointment of Trad Hamade, who is close to Hizbullah, to the Ministry of Labor and Agriculture fits in this scenario. [Ed.'s note: nevermind the quote in Cobban's pathetic Boston Review piece on Hizbullah that the Party is not yet considering joining the government.] This indicates that no one objected to the entrance of Hizbullah into the government through the appointment of one of its friends didn't raise any negative reactions domestically and internationally.

As'ad then quotes the various sources reminding the Party of certain facts which are now taken for granted, and stressing that they should be taken into consideration:

1- the Syrian exit from Lebanon that is leading to the opening of a new Lebanese page came in the context of regional and international developments, and is itself an indication of further such developments in the same direction.

2- Syria's position is no longer the same, even if the Lebanese are adamant about building healthy relations with it, and refuse to participate in anything that destabilizes and hurts Syria.

3- the country is moving because of these developments from the era of tutelage to the era of a Lebanese embrace of the constitution and consensual accord. Not participating in that represents an outdated vision.

4- the security system is taking its final breath, and no effort to revive it will work. The international investigation will almost surely confirm some dereliction of duty or complicity of these appartuses in the assassination. This is not to mention that the new government is set to restructure the entire system.

5- there will be no protection or guarantees for any party that is outside the national accord and the democratic line, and it is illogical for anyone to block the compromises that emanate from the dialogue between the Lebanese.

It's a mistake to say that the latest compromise is a "second Taef" because it's only a stage in the reconsideration of the Taef, which, when it's agreed that it is the reference concerning the consensual accord and the Convivencia, all of its points must be acknowledged [Ed.'s note: one of those is the disarmament of all the armed militias in Lebanon.]

Therefore, As'ad concludes, the sources hope that Hizbullah consider all the above because therein lies its benefit. They also hope that it quickly correct the image which portrays it all alone among the principal powers. The Party should acknowledge the new realities and changes, and, As'ad says, the collective Lebanese mind is capable of producing a formula that provides guarantees to all the parties. Whatever adjustment the Party is forced to make, As'ad writes, it will be far less costly than "bucking heads" with the obvious powerful realities, domestic, regional and international. The current image expose Hizbullah and does not provide it with cover.

On a related note, the PSP's (Jumblat's party) Wael Abou Fa'our was quoted as making the following significant statement: "the era of intimidation through raising the issue of eliminating political sectarianism is gone, and any reformist suggestion has to be consensual." Amen.

It is in this light that Michael Young's latest op-ed considers such reformist suggestions and adjustments to the Lebanese system (cf. Jonathan Edelstein excellent post on the subject). Any adjustment must be within the consociational framework. As Michael put it:

A priority is to arrive at a political system that can simultaneously satisfy demographically majoritarian communities while reassuring communal minorities. In this context, one can readily dismiss the scheme that proposes imposing simple majority democracy on Lebanon, on the grounds that this is the "fairest" system. It may be, but in a sectarian society like Lebanon's it also tends to be a source of deep divisions, particularly as there are no clear-cut majorities or minorities. That is precisely why most of the sects are willing to pursue the consociational system existing today, where Christians and Muslims are represented evenly in Parliament despite their demographic differences. But it is also worth questioning whether such a system can provide long-term political stability if demographics shift further, whether in favor of Muslims or Christians.
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Critics will complain that sectarianism and a weak state are what is wrong with Lebanon; in fact they are the only things making it democratic in a region awash with despotism, though a more supple system would allow the Lebanese to move beyond sectarianism if they so desire.

As Jonathan noted, "it seems certain that [the consociational system] will exist in Lebanon for a long time to come, and that democratization will take place within that context." And that is the most prudent and effective way to go.