Across the Bay

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The French Connection

So what is Nabih Berri doing in Paris? What was Jumblat doing in Paris? The story is ducking until the Mehlis report is out, in fear of assassinations.

Well, perhaps. But in all likelihood, what Jumblat was doing was trying to get Saad on board to "select" a new President, now that Lahoud's days are numbered, with the Maronite symbols, the Patriarch and Michel Aoun, lifting all cover from him.

Jumblat had declared triumphantly that he (oh, and Saad, Geagea, Berri, Nasrallah, and what's their name again? Yes, Qornet Shehwan) will decide who the next Lebanese president will be. This is not only Jumblat's major complex (like his father) but it's also been his goal from early on when he was cajoling Faris Boueiz. Jumblat's acolytes have been issuing almost daily statements about how the next president shouldn't come from the military establishment (wink wink: no Aoun).

I've been saying for a while that Saad needs to seriously distance himself from Jumblat's insanity. Afterall, it's Saad who's the senior partner in this alliance, not Jumblat. Leaving the choice of president to Jumblat (and Berri), would signal disaster for Lebanon, as it would seriously disenfranchise the Christians. Yet, readers shouldn't be surprised. Jumblat never had a problem with the Syrian order. Jumblat had a problem with Lahoud. And now, Aoun. Now that the Syrians are gone, all the better. Provided... that he gets to basically maintain the status quo as it was under the Syrians, but without the Syrians.

This in part means no strong Christian role in the country, only a role he gets to basically dictate. This explains all his (and the two main Shiite parties' moves since March). At the height of the fervor in March, what does Jumblat do? The minute he secures that the Syrians are leaving (after coming back from Saudi Arabia), he immediately torpedoes the March 14th alliance. He cuts a deal first (and most importantly) with Berri and then Nasrallah. Then dupes Hariri to get on board that horrible decision. But he underestimated Aoun, who almost humiliated him. He hasn't lived that down, and wants to basically eliminate Aoun from the picture by making sure no Aounist becomes president, regardless of the fact that the Aounists are clearly the most popular party among Christians. Of course, Jumblat and Berri were natural allies in that regard as both of them held two very beneficial portfolios: the fund for the south, and the fund for the displaced. Notice how they still have them. In fact, Berri's coming on board this deal to remove Lahoud probably is going to be in exchange of a free hand with the fund, and no inquiries into corruption, waste of public funds, or reforms. Jumblat obviously seeks the same, but that's a given.

This is why I keep speaking about a Sunni-Christian center that will be crucial for Lebanon in this stage, one that will force Jumblat to either join it, or make his fortunes with Hizbullah (which is not to his liking). This center most definitely needs to be appealing and open to the Shiites as well, but needs to also hold a leverage to solve the issue of Hizbullah's weapons. In fact, it's necessary to empower the other moderate forces in the Shiite community who perhaps don't want their future tied to Hizbullah's weapons and their agenda, and to continue to be isolated from the rest of the Lebanese, or even be forced into a conflict over Hizbullah's weapons, which serve only their narrow interests. Furthermore, the unnatural squashing of the other voices in the Shiite community should've already ended in this past election, had it not been for that Jumblat-Berri deal.

I will try to explore this theme (of a new social contract) in an upcoming post. For now, let's just hope that Saad doesn't fall for Jumblat's disastrous plan.

Update: This interesting bit from Al-Mustaqbal. Jumblat decides to "postpone" the matter until the Christian powers decide on a name that is acceptable to them, providing that the person "has our backing, holds on to the constants, i.e., the resistance, Taef, and excellent relations with Syria regardless who's ruling in Syria. ... Let them provide us with a name, and we'll see if we accept or not. ... Yes for the truth, but also yes for the constants." (Emphasis added.) And here's Ghazi al-Aridi, Jumblat's protégé: "the parliamentary majority cannot decide on its own the existential issues of the country. There are other powers and primary reference points. ... The decision of salvaging the country must be nationally comprehensive. ... The position of the Patriarch is essential." As for Aoun, he's quoted as saying: "we want a president of the Republic who's a real president, not a toy in the hand of those who corrupted the country."

Jumblat's statements came after meeting with Nasrallah. The ever-paranoid Hizbullah doesn't want to get rid of Lahoud. They're intimately linked to the military intelligence, and are close to Lahoud and his people. So clearly they're vetoing it for very different reasons, as they fear a purge of their people from the military intelligence and the security apparatus. That explains Jumblat's remarks as well.

An interesting set of statements. Does this mean Saad didn't bite? Let's hope so.