Across the Bay

Friday, June 03, 2005

Jumblat's Playing with Fire

Michael Young's latest op-ed is a must read, as it gives an insight into the failures of the Lebanese political class. Lebanese blogger ("lebanon.profile") has discussed it and another Lebanese blogger (Mustapha) has discussed closely related issues, including the diastrous sacking of General Aoun from the ranks of the opposition.

I don't have time right now to go into it in depth, so I will refer you to my comments to Mustapha's post. I am reproducing them here [slightly edited] for your convenience:

The sacking of Aoun is disastrous, because it will push him to ally himself with Lahoud. If Jumblat is bringing Berri back and providing cover for Hizbullah, that will also be disastrous, not just for the rest of the Lebanese, but for the Shi'a in particular, whose voices are crushed by these two. Jumblat is playing with fire simply to remain relevant as a middleman.

Saad needs to realize this and act independently. The center in Lebanon is the Christian-Sunni alliance. That alliance gives strength to independent Shiites, and of course, it's the natural place for the Druze to be. All the above constitute not just a political, but also a numerical majority. That centrist consensus is needed to move forward, to remove the figures like Berri and Lahoud, and to disarm Hizbullah.

This is yet another indication of the poor performance of our political class. A real shame.

Also one has to be careful to see whether Jumblat's haste (and Berri's agreement) to sack Lahoud is not related to the "corruption" issue that you raised in your comment about Aoun. Are they trying to make sure that Lahoud doesn't expose their own corruption and take them down with him? Is that the reason why the Patriarch has held on to the Lahoud card? For leverage over Jumblat, knowing that Jumblat was likely to turn on him? Who knows... Aoun would certainly seize on that, and that's why he will de facto become Lahoud's enforcer should Jumblat and Berri gang up to take down Lahoud.

Don't misunderstand me. I want Lahoud in jail. But I also want Berri out of office, and also, if possible, in jail. I also want Hizbullah disarmed. Jumblat's moves will achieve none of the above.

The notion of a majority in parliament to take down hizbullah and Berri would be totally destroyed by these moves. Berri will be back as a price for taking down Lahoud. And Hizbullah will also exact a price regarding its weapons. The result would be the cementing of these two's grip on the south, and cementing Berri as a dictator over parliament, and a fixture of the Syrian influence. Not to mention the possible sectarian backlash of sacking the Maronite figures but leaving the Shiite figures that have dealt with the Syrians.

It's a disastrous move. Samir Qassir, God rest his soul, was against boycotting in the south. He was for running against Hizbullah and Amal to give support ot the independent Shi'a and the Leftist parties. Jumblat thinks he can outsmart Berri and Hizbullah, but they can easily gang up on him and spit him out. It's not like they haven't done it in the past. They will find people like Aoun eager to do that. The result would be them playing people off each other to maintain their respective illegal privileges. They're already doing that in the elections, with Hizbullah keeping ties with Aoun and Jumblat at the same time in different places.

Jumblat and Hizbullah don't trust each other for shit. But Jumblat is the weaker one because his natural camp is the Sunni-Maronite camp. But his dilemma is his size. If he accepts the Sunni-Maronite camp, he becomes a junior partner. If he plays them off each other, he remains the vital middleman. That's been his game all his life.

In the middle of all this, Saad's novice status and the Maronites' incoherence is hurting us all (and empowering Lahoud and his security goons, and Berri and his corrupt goons, and Hizbullah).

Update: The Lebanese Bloggers also join in on the discussion. Notice however how Raja lays the blame on Aoun. I dislike Aoun, don't get me wrong, but what this means to me is that Jumblat's risky demagoguery (he's the one who blamed it all on Aoun, who, let's face it, is an easy target) is working. If so, Aoun and Lahoud will find themselves using each other (and later, if it needs to, Hizbullah might use Aoun against Jumblat). Aoun thinks he can use Lahoud to get what he wants, then turn on him and become president. The problem is, Aoun was never known for his intelligence or mastery of political trickery. Chances are Lahoud will be the one to come out on top from this, and that's a disaster, unless of course, the move works, and Lahoud is thrown out. In that case, the winner would be Berri, and that's also a diaster! But don't blame it all on Aoun. A lot of blame should go Jumblat's way as well, who's using Saad for his own maneuvers. The Christians are also in disarray. That's why the Lebanese are disgusted with their political class. Only they're taking it out on the Lebanese system, which is incredibly unwise. Abolishing the system (as Stacey Yadav noted in the comments to my post "Lebanon's System and the Elections" below) will not abolish sectarianism. It will strengthen it, and will leave the groups (and minorities) without a mechanism for representation. The Lebanese should focus their frustrations properly. Forget stupid journalists and the "cliche du jour" about Lebanon's system being the root of all evil. That's Helena Cobban's and Annia Ciezadlo's, and AAK's spiel. Don't buy it. It's garbage. Read that comment by Theodor Hanf below.

Update 2:: Reader/Blogger Doha of the Lebanese Bloggers floats an interesting idea that Berri could be used also to bolster a consensus in parliament to disarm Hizbullah. Berri is Hizbullah's main rival, and might be persuaded to join a coalition in parliament to weaken his rivals. However, it's equally possible that Berri is likely to keep himself indispensable to both. That's why Hizbullah ran to him for cover (as opposed to "running away" with the elections like many thought -- wrongly -- they would). He will cement himself in parliament that way, keep the south under the monopoly of the coalition with the Hizb (and thereby avoid a show of strength), and blackmail and extort the rest (as he's made a career of doing). This will be a cutting of losses on the Hizb's part, in that they maintain the monopoly too (as opposed to face a potential embarrassment to various independents) and avoid handing in the weapons. If that is the way it plays out, and it is a possibility, Jumblat would've alienated the Maronites, hamstrung Saad, and got nothing in return, save perhaps for Lahoud's head, if he actually succeeds in dethroning him. (Btw. here's the link to Naseer Asaad's article that Doha alluded to.)

Update 3: I said in my comments that the center in Lebanon is the Sunni-Christian alliance (in partnership with the Druze, and independent Shiites). Josh Landis agrees: "The Christian-Sunni alliance is the true measure of Lebanon at this delicate turning point in the country's history."