Across the Bay

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Sfeir and Federalism

Patriarch Sfeir, who seems more than ever behind Aoun, has echoed Aoun's rejection (see post below) of a "federalism of sects" (English story here): "some have attributed to us that we're calling for a federalism of sects, and that is not true. We call for coexistence, which should be strengthened. Lebanon is a small country that cannot sustain a federalism of sects. It cannot be that every sect builds a state of its own." (Emphasis added.)

I don't know what's behind this, but I think it's probably related to Hizbullah and the current situation they're forcing on the country. I also wonder if this is not part of an unofficial bargaining of sorts with Hizbullah. At the end of the day, a possible substitute for Hizbullah's weapons (if we accept that logic) is to maintain a hold on the south and be able to run their affairs unchallenged as they are now. One wonders if the maximalist rhetoric from both sides won't result in a settlement that might end up precisely with a federalism of sorts. I think there are a lot of other issues at stake in Hizbullah's weapons, but I also happen to think that there is no way in hell Hizbullah can even dream of taking the whole pie. They know that this is the best they can hope for. So I wouldn't be surprised to hear Hizbullah call not just for a form of federalism, but for keeping the sectarian system intact. In fact, if you contrast the bombastic statements of a HA representative in that piece of crap article by Helena Cobban, and statements they made more recently, saying: "Lebanon cannot be ruled by a majority" (because, you see, they are not the majority in Parliament!), you'll see that it's already happened.

Anyway, I don't really susbcribe to that logic of substituting the weapons, because at the end of the day, as I've said before, all substitutes are fluid and not guaranteed for the long term. Once you open up the political field for Shiites to compete against Hizbullah, even in a quasi-federal structure, and they no longer feel the need to hang on to Hizbullah as a way to safeguard gains and a sense of empowerment, rivals will rise, and Hizbullah's influence may very well be threatened. That's why it'll be interesting to watch the debates over the election law, because Berri will push for proportional representation in order to have a way in with or without a coalition with Hizbullah (which itself cannot be always guaranteed). I'm not sure Hizbullah will be too keen on that. Let's see.

Speaking of Hizbullah, Naim Qassem was quoted in that same article as accusing Israel of sowing the seeds of strife (fitna) between Sunnis and Shia. You know things aren't going well between Sunnis and Shia when you have to blame Israel! But that's related again to my earlier post "The ME as it Really Is" (see below), on which I'll elaborate soon.

Qassem accused Israel of fabricating the recent threat issue by Qaedat al-Jihad fi bilad ash-Sham (al-Qaeda in Syria) which called for the assassination of key Shiite figures in Lebanon. Interestingly, in a story (which I'll come back to later) in al-Mustaqbal on Monday, Nassir al-As'ad (who perhaps along with Fares Khashan, is the paper's best reporter) quoted an anonymous source as saying, based on information from a "Western diplomat," that it may have been Syria who was behind that document, as part of a strategy to counter the possible repercussions of the Mehlis investigation.

Conspiracy theories galore, but the one thing that's true is that Shiite-Sunni relations regionally are incredibly tense, to say the least. Hizbullah's weapons certainly funciton within that framework.