Across the Bay

Friday, December 30, 2005

Bombshell: Khaddam Talks

Syria's former VP Abdel Halim Khaddam is singing. In a long interview on Al-Arabiya, only a week after Saad Hariri's devastating interview on the same station, Khaddam all but accused Bashar of being behind Hariri's murder. He confirmed all the threats made to Hariri, including one made by Bashar -- in the presence of junior officers -- and before the last meeting about the Lahoud extension (I think this is the one referred to by Hariri's former aide Nouhad Mashnouq in his interview with al-Hayat earlier in the year). This is one day after Syria's FM Sharaa denied such threats ever took place, and claimed that Hariri "made them up" in order to justify his agreement to extend Lahoud's mandate. Sharaa's remarks were loudly denounced in Beirut.

You can read Kais' English summary here, and read Al-Arabiya's Arabic summary here.

Khaddam focused more on Ghazaleh, but in a deceptive manner, as he clearly pointed the finger at, and implicated Bashar along the way. Notice also the comments about the Al-Madina Bank, this also after the Judge investigating the Al-Madina case was assaulted, beaten, and left for dead.

Here's a translation of a brief excerpt on Ghazaleh:

Rustum Ghazaleh acted as if he was the absolute ruler of Lebanon. I once learned that he insulted Prime Minister Hariri, Speaker Nabih Berri, and Walid Jumblat. I said to President Bashar: Why do you keep him [Ghazaleh] in Lebanon? He is harming you and the country. He is acting in an unreasonable manner with the Lebanese leaders and insulting the prime minister and others. He [Asad] said to me that he also insulted Najib Miqati and Sleiman Franjiyeh. I said: He insulted your friends. How do you accept that? Asad said that Ghazi [Kanaan] was to blame, because he nominated him. I said: Ghazi made a mistake. You can replace him. He said that he would talk to him and warn him. He did speak to him and he [Ghazaleh] apologized. After some time, the bad deeds increased. I said to him: Rustum Ghazaleh has taken $35 million from the Al-Madinah Bank. You certainly have the file. He said: He [Ghazaleh] is a thief. Go and see what he did in his village. He built a palace and a market. I said: You are the Commander of the Army and President of the Republic and you know that an officer has made these mistakes, so why do you keep him in his post? He once again said that Ghazi Kanaan was the one who nominated him.

After the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri; specifically on 28 February 2005, I met with Asad. I said to him: Bring this criminal and cut his throat. He is the one who created this situation in Lebanon.

[Al-Arabiyah correspondent in Paris]: Did you say this about Rustum Ghazaleh to President Asad?

[Khaddam]: Of course, I said this about Rustum Ghazaleh. He [Asad] said that Ghazaleh will be replaced soon, but he was not. The president gave a speech at the People's Assembly in which he said that mistakes were made in Lebanon. I said to him that I was seeking to protect him. I told him to form an investigation commission, to bring the officers who made mistakes in Lebanon, and to refer them to court martial. I asked him to try these people who should take responsibility for the mistakes that were committed in Lebanon. I said: Why should the state take responsibility? Why should you take responsibility? He said that it was not possible to punish any person before the [Baath Party] Congress. I also said to him: Bring the Foreign Minister [Sharaa], who got you involved in Resolution 1559, and put him in his house. He said: We cannot bring any one to account before the Congress. The congress was held. The surprise was that Rustum Ghazaleh was a member of the congress. He appointed him as the head of the security branch in Damascus Rural Areas Governorate, which is close to Lebanon. One started to ask: Why is Rustum Ghazaleh being protected while everybody knows his sins. Why is he protected if everyone knows the sins he has committed? The Syrians and Lebanese are asking this question.

I think that this actually undercuts the possibility of Ghazaleh being used as a scapegoat now. Anyway, he said outright that no security apparatus could make such a move without Bashar's knowledge. Period. This is a real powerful blow in more ways than one.

I had mentioned in my previous post on Amr Moussa's initiative how the Saudi position seems to be different from Egypt's. I think Saad's interview, and now this, makes it clear that the Saudis have started their campaign against Bashar.

This is also a fight over Lebanon, as it's clear that Bashar is trying to use Hizbullah to dissolve the cabinet and the Parliamentary majority, and get back in as the main reference in Lebanese affairs. Perhaps that would explain the timing of Khaddam's interview. The decision in Lebanon on containing Hizbullah is likely related as well.

Of course, you may know that back in late September-early October, there were rumors flying around about Khaddam and Shihabi (both Sunnis, close to Hariri, and on bad terms with Bashar) meeting in France with Saudi and French officials, to discuss the post-Asad era in Syria. This now once again turns the spotlight on Kanaan's "suicide" in October.

Khaddam noted Bashar's and Sharaa's (and Khaddam repeatedly slammed Sharaa, and mentioned that he [Khaddam] was against the Lahoud extension, and advised Bashar against it) misreading of US policy on Lebanon (and Iraq). Although, one can't be too hard on Bashar or Sharaa for that, especially when you have luminaries like Flynt Leverett (who also attended the Baath Congress, by invitation) and Josh Landis regurgitating the same nonsense. Hell, Leverett was seen recently at an event at the Stimson Center still trying to peddle that line telling his audience why should the US "care about flag-waving Lebanese"? But that's why Leverett is at Brookings, and will not be at the NSC anytime soon. Khaddam mentions Indyk's visit too. Remember what Indyk said about Bashar.

Indyk and especially Leverett seem to have played a very pernicious role by convincing Bashar that the US does not care about Lebanon (this misconception was mentioned by Khaddam when he talked about Indyk). Bashar's policy, as shown by his last speech and the rumors that Syria is generating, is still based on the idea that the US will acknowledge Syrian hegemony over Lebanon. Indyk and Flynt care only about cutting a deal on the Golan -- everything else is derivative, and Flynt would gladly give Bashar Lebanon in return. Now Indyk has seemingly abandoned this line with Bashar. Flynt has not (that's all he did in the 90s, and that's his entire career). As such, he shows just how silly and useless his view is, and how badly he understands the ME. Unfortunately, this is an entire school, entrenched in some policy circles and academia. Bashar has used (and would love to continue to use) the Golan card to dangle it in front of people like Leverett to get away with anything. That's why he dangled it back in March when he tried to get the Egyptians to tell the US that he's ready for a deal with Israel. I.e., leave me Lebanon. The Saudis, French, and the US told him to dream on: get out of Lebanon. No deals. That's the summary of his rough meeting with then-Crown Prince Abdullah in Riyadh on March 3. Abdullah then stopped at Damascus airport (and spoke to Bashar at the airport) after he came back from the US and probably told him that he can forget the "Peace Process" business (even when Bashar offered to endorse Abdullah's initiative from the Beirut summit, which he had sabotaged). Abdullah didn't get out of the airport. Just delivered the message and left for Jordan. But people like Leverett, who understand nothing, would jump on this kind of nonsense, and Bashar knows it, so he plays them for fools. And they never fail to bite.

Furthermore, Khaddam talked about how Bashar snubbed France repeatedly and pissed off President Chirac. So he not only misread American policy, he completely mishandled the French as well. I find this amusing of course given how much Bashar's cheerleaders are still talking about the "rift" between the US and France when it comes to Syria, and are still betting on that!

As for Bashar's "reformist impulses" being hampered by the "Old Guard" (that pathetic myth I've spent a year debunking), Khaddam said that it was a creation of the security services (read Asef Shawkat?). Khaddam also said that Bashar was completely, in fact, exclusively in power. In other words, as we've been saying all along, and contrary to all the cheerleaders and Bashar propaganda, the circle of decision making is very narrow with Bashar very much at the helms, and it excluded people like Khaddam (hence the utter fallacy of the "Old Guard" theory).

And it's interesting Khaddam mentioned Asad's "friends" Miqati (who was trying to maneuver to replace Seniora during the cabinet crisis) and Franjieh. The latter, along with Syria's tool Charles Ayyoub of ad-Diyar newspaper, launched a tirade against Khaddam a few weeks ago. You could tell the camps were fighting each other in the Lebanese press. It could have been a message, a threat to Khaddam.

There were also Sunni overtones in the interview, especially when talking about Bashar's displeasure with Hariri "gathering his sect around him, which is harmful for Syria."

Khaddam also affirmed that his trips to Lebanon after the attempt on Hamadeh, and then to Hariri's funeral, were made on his own, not at Bashar's behest. He also had a lot to say about the pro-Bashar clique in Lebanon and how they were pushing for the assassination of Hariri (which is what we heard about the circle around Lahoud and as-Sayyed and former MP and Syria's pitbull Nasser Qandil). It's interesting to hear this because this is Bashar's legacy in Lebanon! You see ever since 1998 (when Khaddam lost the Lebanon file, as he mentioned), Bashar was responsible for propping up a "B-team" in Lebanon to pressure the traditional political elite, and keep it in check. He relied on that B-team when he took over power in Syria and maintained his animosity towards the "A-team," so to speak. It was his way to carve out a team of his own, loyal to him, and not linked to any other figure in Syria (i.e., it was as much directed towards his rivals in Syria as towards the Lebanese political elite). Their mediocrity reflected his own. That harvest, and his overall contempt for Lebanon, is what he himself sowed.

Anyway, I'll post the full transcript of the interview when it comes out. But what a way to end the year. Just when Bashar thought he had regained the upper hand after the Tueni murder (again, another reason, perhaps, for the timing of the Khaddam bombshell), and tried to flood the scene with rumors about a "deal" both with the Americans and the Arabs (with the Amr Moussa initiative). We even saw threats by fake pro-Syrian Islamist groups threatening the new head of the UNIIIC! But it was clear the Saudis were up to something when Saad went on Al-Arabiya and reassured the anxious Lebanese that there will be no deal, and remarked that even if the Syrian regime thinks it can breathe, it will soon sink as it was "swimming alone in a raging sea."

The waves just got higher, maties. I'll have more on this in the new year, which is to say in a few days.

Addendum: Lazarus has an English summary as well. See also another summary at the Lebanese Political Journal.

Update: Ammar Abdulhamid has a lengthy commentary on Khaddam's interview. His comment intersects with mine on various points.

Update 2: The Lebanese Bloggers and The Beirut Spring both comment on Khaddam's interview.

Update 3: For those of you who missed Khaddam on Al-Arabiya, here is the transcript of the interview (Arabic).

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Howdy Ho!

My friend Stacey decided to go with the Peanuts theme. I on the other hand feel more comfortable with Eric Cartman!

So as we prepare for a magical Christmas adventure, and sing songs about sleigh rides with Santa, I join Eric and Mr. Garrison in wishing you a Merry Christmas! (or "Cool Yule" as Hitch put it!)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to make a mean pot roast.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Big Pimping

I just heard Ghassan Tueni on the news. He spoke to journalists after meeting with Orthodox Patriarch Hazim, who came to offer his condolences. He started by saying that while he said that he has buried hatred, that does not mean that he has buried justice, rights, and the dignity of his son. He added that the lawsuit against Faysal Mekdad presses on.

He was then asked about what he thought of Amr Moussa's initiative. Tueni replied: "'akrateh," which roughly translates as "pimping." (The connotation is of something low and crappy.) Very apt, I thought.

Speaking of which, Moussa spoke to LBC yesterday and downplayed the whole thing after the stern rejection with which it was met in Lebanon, not to mention that the Saudis are clearly not on board. Moussa said that it wasn't even an "initiative" and that he didn't carry any proposals. Rather, he simply listened to the various views and conveyed them.

This is not an "Arab" way out for Syria.

Update: Naharnet has English excerpts of some of Tueni's remarks to the press.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Those Days Are Gone

Earlier today, I posted on the FM Fawzi Salloukh's decision to recall Lebanon's chargé d'affaires at the UN Ibrahim Assaf, presumably under Syrian pressure, for suspicion that he may have been the one who leaked Faysal Mekdad's "dog" remarks about Gebran Tueni.

Well, it's not going to happen. An-Nahar reports that PM Seniora has interfered personally and asked Salloukh to suspend his decision and keep Assaf on in his position, even extend his service by a few months. I also heard that Assaf was even asked not to take his two-week vacation right now so that it would not be interpreted the wrong way.

An-Nahar commented on the oddities surrounding Salloukh's move. For instance, it noted that he personally signed on the request, which is routinely signed by the Secretary General of the Foreign Ministry.

Another somewhat related bit of news is the supposed Egyptian initiative to ease relations between Syria and Lebanon. Earlier today, Al-Balad quoted anonymous Syrian sources who claimed that the Mubarak-Assad talks were positive and will result in an attempt to ease relations. The conditions laid out by the Syrians were that Seniora would go to Damascus for talks. In return, anonymous Arab sources in Damascus said they expected the regime would pressure Amal and HA to return to the cabinet.

The whole thing was a trap and didn't smell right. First of all, Mubarak and Assad did not issue a joint statement after their summit, and no Egyptian official gave any hint about any such agreement. Furthermore, after his own meeting with Mubarak, which preceded Bashar's, Saad Hariri came out with the usual criticism, the refusal to compromise on Rafiq Hariri's murder, and asserted Mubarak's support for Lebanon and its stability. Again, it would seem that Mubarak's initiative (preceded by Amr Moussa's) isn't really working. Besides, the Saudis have seemingly not joined this initiative. Rather, they've been helping in getting the Seniora cabinet back on its feet by mediating with HA. Furthermore, the Saudi Ambassador in Lebanon asserted that there was no Saudi initiative. (Papers are reporting this initiative as being signed on to by the Saudis. I'm not sure I agree. There are signs, some of which I noted here, that point in a different direction.)

In any case, the conditions laid out by those anonymous Syrian sources were met with total rejection by the Hariri bloc, Jumblat's bloc, and the Lebanese Forces. Geagea said that such a move would be disastrous, as it returns us to the days when a foreign party (read Syria) would assemble or dissemble a cabinet. Geagea said he was with an Arab initiative that would ease tensions, but not one that would undermine Lebanese sovereignty and independence. Besides, Geagea expressed skepticism over this particular set of conditions, as no one had actually confirmed it and laid it out, which is what I noted earlier.

Al-Balad itself led its Thursday issue with the headline, "The Cairo settlement has been aborted." This is not to mention Saad Hariri's interview on al-Arabiya, to air Thursday night, where he said that a war was being waged against the Lebanese by a terrorist regime. It's not us who seek to change the regime in Syria, Hariri added. Rather, it is the Syrian regime that seeks to change Lebanon's democratic system. Hariri poured it on saying that the Syrian regime is "all alone in a raging sea." That people had offered it advice before February 14, but they chose to ignore them. Now they must reap what they sowed.

The Syrians are trying to give an impression of a "deal" with both the Arab players as well as the West. I'll come back to that one later. In brief, it's all nonsense. For instance, note the immediate US response: there is no deal, Amb. Scobey is not returning to Syria, relations are still bad, and all these are baseless rumors.

Update: Al-Hayat has more on the Egyptian talks.

Also, readers will want to read this exceptional piece by Michael Young, which touches on the Salloukh-Assaf business, and much more. I will have to come back to it in depth as it touches on really important issues.

Update 2: English versions of most of the stories I linked to in the post are now up at Naharnet, here (Salloukh), here (Geagea), here (Jumblat), here (Hariri), and here (US reaction to "deal" rumors).

Throwback to the Good Ol' Days

The Faysal Mekdad fiasco keeps getting better. This story in ash-Sharq al-Awsat says that Lebanon's Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh summoned Lebanon's chargé d'affaires at the UN Ibrahim Assaf and relieved him of his duties under Syrian pressure. According to the story, the Syrians suspect that it was Assaf who leaked Mekdad's "dog" comment about slain MP Gebran Tueni to the NY Sun.

Salloukh, who is part of the HA-Amal bloc currently abstaining from participation in the cabinet, claimed the recall was "routine." However, An-Nahar quoted anonymous government officials who were wondering why this move involved Assaf alone, and why was the pro-Lahoud Amb. Farid Abboud still in DC, even when the conditions of recall apply to him? They added that the timing of Assaf's transfer came after his participation in the activities of the Lebanese diaspora in NY, in memory of Gebran Tueni, and in condemnation of his murder. Assaf reportedly opened a condolence book at the delegation's headquarter, "while the Embassy in Washington didn't budge."

With Farouq ash-Sharaa once again saying that the Lebanese political elite opposed to the Regime is being moved by the hands of foreign powers, and closing the door on the prospects of border demarcation until "bilateral relations improve," you can imagine what they have in mind: silencing any voice critical of the Regime, and attempting to change the political players in Lebanon. But then again, they've been saying that all along.

Update: Naharnet's English summary is available here.

Stability? What Stability?

Former US Asst. Sec. of State for NE affairs, and current president of the Middle East Institute, Edward Walker jumps on the regime change bandwagon with an impassioned op-ed urging the US to stick by Lebanese democracy, forget any [Landis/Leverett-type] "deal" with Damascus that would come at the expense of Lebanon, and not be afraid of working to dethrone the Assad family, which, as Walker put it, is assassinating the soul of Lebanon.

Walker and the MEI are hardly "Neocons" (and this comes after Martin Indyk dumped Bashar as well). Nevertheless, Walker had the following to say:

Why do we all have so little confidence in the people of Syria? They have been led by a tiny minority clique that has the advantage of being utterly ruthless. So this minority profits by the assumption in civilized countries that no one could be so amoral or so ruthless as to assassinate Rafik Hariri and Gebran Tueni and the other recent victims of violence in Lebanon. The minority profits by the Louis XV syndrome of "after me, the deluge." But the French nation did not fall when Louis XV fell. And neither will Syria if the "family" in Damascus is dethroned. Is it not better to have the Syrian "family" collapse than to be complicit in the failure of democracy in Lebanon?

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said a few months back that stability was not America's goal. Well, let us prove it. Allowing people, Islamists, secularists, Muslims and Christians to govern themselves may be messy and may lead to instability and chaos, but President Bush, if Iraq is the right war as you have said, than standing up for democracy in Lebanon is equally right.
...
How many more Lebanese heroes must die before the world takes action? Who is next on the Syrian hit list that everyone in the Arab world is talking about? Must Saad Hariri be next?

So with all due respect to Greg Djerejian, it's not just "the kiddies" who are talking. And there's a reason. Quite a few of them, actually.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Mehlis: Syria Behind Killing

In a talk with ash-Sharq al-Awsat (English version here), Prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, who is to be succeeded by Belgian Prosecutor Serge Brammertz as head of the International Commission, told the paper that he is certain that the Syrian authorities are behind the assassination of Hariri.

He also reiterated what he told CNN on Thursday that there are links between all the assassinations and attempts that have taken place in Lebanon in recent months.

As for Syria's demand that the report be rewritten after the Hussam fiasco, Mehlis said that this demand is "extremely stupid." Between stupidity and murder, I'd say Mehlis has the Syrian regime pegged.

On a separate note, PM Seniora told the press, after meeting with Maronite Patriarch Sfeir, that he considers the perpetrators of these killings, whom he believes to be the same ones that killed Hariri, are "enemies," whoever they may be.

Also, beside his decision to sue Syria's ambassador to the UN Faysal Mekdad for reportedly calling Gebran Tueni a "dog," Ghassan Tueni also lambasted Syrian Minister of Information Mahdi Dakhlallah who said that Gebran was perhaps killed by creditors who were after him for money. Ghassan asked the Syrians to not insult our intelligence, and to please stop incriminating themselves with such stupid statements.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Press in Lebanon in Danger

This is from AFP:

The head of media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for world mobilisation after the slaying of anti-Syrian Lebanese press magnate and MP Gibran Tueni.

"All the anti-Syrian press in Lebanon is in danger. Not just one newspaper or two," Robert Menard told a press conference at the headquarters of Tueni's An-Nahar newspaper.

"There is an urgent need for the international media to mobilize. We cannot be mere spectators because other journalists will be killed," Menard said.

"We must press the European Parliament and the Council of Europe to act," he added.

Tueni was killed Monday in a devastating car bombing, in the latest attack against critics of Damascus. Many Lebanese have blamed Syria for the bloodshed, claims it has strongly denied.

Anti-Syrian columnist Samir Kassir was killed in a similar attack in June while anchorwoman May Chidiac was mutilated in a massive bomb attack in September.

Undemocratic countries like China, Russia, Algeria, Egypt, etc. may find this unobjectionable, but the rest of the free world should take a stand. This is why what Michael wrote yesterday is so important (see post below). Or else, it's open season on free voices. It already is.

Lebanon has no way to counter this, and no one in Lebanon has the mindset (forget the means) of responding in kind. What we have is freedom and the pen. The murderous thug in Damascus has car bombs (and cover from useful idiots and other despotic regimes).

Or is it that the free world only takes stands against America?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Open Season on Arab Democrats

Michael Young warns of the backlash against democratizers in Lebanon and calls for the "internationalization of Lebanese security when it comes to Syria."

It's very clear that the thug in Syria will go after every single prominent figure (or, the "dogs," as that shyster Faysal Mekdad reportedly called them) that led to Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon. We will not have a moment of peace until this goon is removed.

Hoda Husseini writing in ash-Sharq al-Awsat agrees with Michael on internationalization of security vis-à-vis Syria. See also the comments by Lebanese Shiite cleric Hani Fahs on this very issue.

It's very simple, even Joseph Smeha (yes, even him), with all his Arab nationalist leftist baggage, figured it out (once you sieve through his usual, and unavoidable, stupidities):

In reality, tying Lebanese stability to knowing "the truth" [about Hariri's murder] passes, necessarily, through change in Damascus.

The "besieged fortress" [Syria] is acting as if its resistance to change within passes through the stymieing of the change that has taken place in Lebanon, even rolling it back. No Syrian official would take the responsibility of saying that stability in Damascus is organically tied to a measure of instability in Lebanon.

And that's precisely why the Bashar cheerleaders from Landis to Leverett always keep silent on Lebanon when talking about a "deal." It's the assumed price that they are very willing to pay. While Landis is duplicitous on this issue, Leverett has come out and said it openly. Indyk pointed it out as well.

It's as simple as that. As we've (by we I mean Young, Abdulhamid, Smith, and I) said countless times, this regime is not a guarantor of stability as many have fooled themselves into believing. It's the exact opposite.

Addendum: See this important article by Hazem Saghieh on this issue: "It is therefore difficult to imagine relations between the two countries stabilising without change in Syria itself."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Breaking The Assassins

I already put this up in Quick Links, but it deserves to be highlighted. An inspiring piece by David Ignatius, reflecting on Gebran Tueni, who was buried today.

There are a lot of excellent passages in there, including a quote by Ghassan, Gebran's father, whose majestic posture at his son's funeral today brought tears to my eyes and broke my heart.

An excellent read.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Appeal by Syrian Intellectuals

Ali al-Abdallah and Yassin al-Haj Saleh have issued a statement condeming Tueni's assassination and the political murder of politicians and journalists.

Here's my translation of the text of the appeal:

The assassination of Lebanese journalist and MP Gebran Tueni on the morning of 12/12/2005 was a link in a chain of monstrous assassinations and murders that have recently targeted a number of Lebanese politicians and journalists: Rafiq Hariri, Samir Qassir, George Hawi, and others.

Opposing a different point of view or political position by blowing up those who hold it with explosives is something that cannot be accepted or tolerated. Politically-motivated murder is an assault on human values: freedom of thought and expression, and the right to differ. These are rights for which humanity has paid a high price in lives and toil before they were acknowledged and enshrined in modern society.

We the undersigned Syrian intellectuals condemn the crime of the assassination of Gebran Tueni and express our unequivocal rejection of the assassination of politicians and journalists, and consider it a crime against all noble human values. We also call on the forces of freedom and democracy in the Arab world and the world beyond to stand in solidarity against this monstrous phenomenon, on the road towards a free, dignified and humane life, which guarantees every human freedom of thought and expression, and the right to differ.

Damascus, 12/12/2005

I've received a list of the signatories that's longer than the one on the site. It includes Ali al-Abdallah, Yassin al-Haj Saleh, Burhan Ghalyoun, Muhammad Ali al-Atassi, Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni (MB), Michel Kilo, Anwar al-Bunni, Suheir al-Atassi, Abdelhamid al-Atassi, Bahiyya Mardini, Razan Zeytouneh, and various others.

Many of these signatories were given a free and open forum by Gebran and Samir in An-Nahar. As Michael Young wrote yesterday about the Assad-Makhlouf-Shawkat Baathist thugocracy:

For them, the real danger has always been independent thought - against which they can only muster media that threaten, crowds that threaten, and security services that best them both by implementing the threats. Ideas are absent from their endeavors; human development is absent; amelioration is absent; self-determination, freedom, imagination are all absent, crushed by a regime that can only warn that if it goes down, the region will go down with it.

For a collection of reactions in Arabic, check out Elaph and ME Transparent.

Addendum: By the way, Al-Mustaqbal has published reactions by various Lebanese personalities to Tueni's murder (see also here). I found the quote by Shiite cleric Hani Fahs (who's at odds with Hizbullah) rather interesting: "Lebanon has become in dire need of international protection, and this international protection needs to be an element of stability in Lebanon, meaning, there needs to be an understanding about it. This means that everyone should agree about Lebanon's priorities, because instability will not leave a safe place for anyone. Once again, as always, yes for historic settlements based on mutual compromises in the interest of Lebanon."

This comes after the comment made by Ibrahim Muhammad Shamseddine, the son of the former president of the Higher Shiite Council, the late Sheikh Muhammad Mahdi Shamseddine, about the international tribunal (I linked to it in my Quick Links, but L'Orient-Le Jour's links are temporary). He too went against HA, saying that the argument held by HA that we should wait until the suspects are named before calling for an international tribunal does not hold water. Here's the report from L'Orient-Le Jour once more:

«L’argument selon lequel la décision de former un tribunal international doit être prise a posteriori, une fois les suspects désignés, et non a priori ne tient pas.» C’est ce qu’a affirmé samedi Ibrahim Mohammed Chamseddine, le fils de l’ancien président du Conseil supérieur chiite, cheikh Mohammed Mehdi Chamseddine. «C’est, dit-il, comme si l’on disait que les tribunaux ne sauraient exister qu’une fois les prisons peuplées d’assassins et de criminels.» À l’issue d’une rencontre avec l’ancien chef de l’État, Amine Gemayel, au siège du parti Kataëb, M. Chamseddine a indiqué: «Au regard des développements actuels, il est important de consolider le dialogue interne entre toutes les parties en présence, en vue de l’entente entre les Libanais. À condition, dit-il, que ce dialogue soit axé sur des questions nationales à caractère général et non personnel, en fonction des craintes exprimées par certaines parties.»

This once again goes to show that HA does not equal "the Shi'a." And if you look closely at Fahs and Shamseddine (see his father's book), the crux is that their political worldview is built on consensus, compromise and the power-sharing formula. It's becoming clearer every day (for some, it's always been clear) that these concepts are simply not acceptable to HA, which sees itself as a vanguard, thus placing it at odds with the rest of the country, which is what we are seeing today.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Tueni Assassinated

Journalist and MP Gebran Tueni was assassinated earlier today.

It's very difficult for me to write right now, and I'll have to come back to this later. For now, I'll quote Walid Jumblat: "Someone told Russian TV that imposing sanctions on Syria would destabilize the Middle East. It looks as if the destabilization has started. But we will respond by continuing to demand the truth."

I'm also listening live to PM Seniora: "We will not succumb. ... The will to live has never been and will never be defeated in Lebanon."

Update: Although I haven't had the ability to blog today, I've been updating my Quick Links with related links. Take a look.

Also, don't miss the commentary of Kais, The Lebanese Bloggers, The Lebanese Political Journal, Mustapha, Stacey Yadav, Caveman, and Ammar Abdulhamid. Also, Lazarus has been updating regularly. For more from the Lebanese blogosphere, head over to Open Lebanon. I will come back with commentary of my own asap.

PS: I also see Michael Totten is back.

Update 2: Michael Young pens Gebran's eulogy. Alas, it wasn't long ago that he eulogized another An-Nahar columnist and fiery critic of the Syrian thugocracy, Samir Qassir.

Update 3: For better or worse, my numbness has placed an involuntary guard over my mouth. So, for now, I'll refrain from commenting on this. But the comment is coming.

Update 4: Ammar Abdulhamid beat me to the punch.

Addendum: It's morning now in Lebanon, and I went to check An-Nahar for news. They posted a letter from the poet Adonis to Ghassan, Gebran's father, on the first page.

My heart has been palpitating all day. Then I clicked on the link for the op-ed columns. And I was overcome with overwhelming sadness, such as the one that overtook me when I listened to PM Seniora's moving word live earlier today.

You see, quickly browsing the major Lebanese papers is my daily routine. The An-Nahar op-ed page is a daily stop. Needless to say, I didn't always agree with everything Gebran had to say, or when or how he used to say it. But looking over today and seeing the column he wrote a few days ago still there, never to be updated, made the silence deafening. The finality of it hit me, and it was a very sad moment. My heart continues to palpitate.

Addendum 2: Usually, Byzantine music manages to completely take my mind off things. Not quite today. But since Gebran was Greek Orthodox, let me share this with you (.wma 472 Kb), as a "rahme" (mercy), as we say, for his soul.

Update 5: More on the Byzantine theme from Leila Abu Saba.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

My nominee for the Bulwer-Lytton Contest:

The pipe dreams spring eternal, but they are mirages. In the near to medium term, those Americans who rush through the desert sands in the torrid miasma of the Iraqi midday sun, seeking to throw themselves into the shimmering lakes of peace and prosperity just over the horizon, will be found later at the foot of a dune, lips cracked and skin blackened, their eyeballs the food of scorpions and lizards.

I wish I could say stick to political analysis.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

New Feature

I've finally succumbed to the idea of "Quick Links." Given how work often hampers regular blogging, I've added the "Quick Links" feature to this site (to your right). This way I can still share some interesting items I may find without necessarily having to blog them if time doesn't permit.

Items will probably be more about Lebanon and Syria (though not exclusively), and many will be in Arabic (again, not exclusively).

Anyway, I hope you find it useful.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Ignatius on Arab Journalists

David Ignatius honors the memory of the late Samir Qassir and gives Michael Young a rave review. The staff of al-Arabiyya also gets a thumbs up.

Speaking of which, Arabic readers may find this report about the leading Arab satellite stations interesting. (Update: English version now available.)

Ignatius' remarks about the Pentagon are similar to Hitchens'. Take a look.

Finally, Arabic readers may want to read Bshara Sharbel's piece on that Dubai conference attended by Ignatius, where he criticized people like Amr Moussa of the Arab League. A sample:

The lecturing officials who declared that they were for an Arab media message that would respond to the West's allegations and its stereotyping of the Arabs' image, and equating them with terrorism, have themselves misled public opinion by jumping over the central problem in the Arab world, which gives birth to this failure or this distorted and underdeveloped media, and that is the absence of democracy. No one among the central figures of the conference decided to confront the difficult question: why is Arab media lagging behind, and what is the political environment in which it is living? Not one of them asked an important question about the possibilities of producing real free journalism in societies that don't allow for opposing opinions, and that refuse pluralism, and where the forbidden abounds.

It's a long slog, especially when the media itself is still infested with maximalist, conspiracy mongering Arab nationalists (inter al.). Ironically, that's precisely what Amr Moussa wants to see more of to "counter the West"! Just clone Buthaina Shaaban.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Total Recall

Recently, Josh Landis flashed the following bit of fantasy sent to him by one of his readers:

Coincidentally again, a story is being circulating that Total (the French oil giant), is in talks with the Syria n government regarding building an oil refinery in Syria. Maybe this is the olive branch that Syria extended to Chirac (btw: a lame duck president). But Total would not have started such talks with the Syrians without a green light from the Elysees, and in return the Elysees would not have given that green light had Chirac not started to turn the page on the Mehlis episode. This is also a strong signal that sanctions may not really be a top priority, and if this is coming from France, then... (however, this story still needs confirmation).

Similar to most of what Josh has been writing lately, it's rather uncritically eager and at times close to downright silliness.

France's Total has denied any discussions with Syria over building a new refinery.

The fake story was being circulated by the Syrian media, I'd say probably following the exaggerations of the "regime reformer" Abdullah Dardari.

As for that olive branch to France, not so much. Did you catch Bashar's interview (Arabic excerpts here) on French TV? Bashar pulled a Farouq ash-Sharaa and lashed out at Chirac and accused France of being part of the conspiracy being woven against his innocent regime. What's really funny is that Bashar, who is in no position to make such statements, echoed the snide remark about Chirac by Josh's friend. Only Bashar, being the genius he is, managed to take it even further, pissing on France's entire role in the ME! Simply brilliant.

Given how every time a Syrian official makes a statement, he or she (read the "brilliant" Buthaina) cannot help but issue a threat somewhere in there, maybe Bashar should've gone into character and went with Arafat's "don't let the olive branch fall from my hand," and wagged his finger at the audience. Just sayin'... After all, Arafat managed to dupe people much more successfully than Bashar and for a lot longer. Somehow Bashar can't sell it. I mean it's quite a remarkable achievement to be able to piss away all that capital that various political leaders had invested in him (it was all self-delusion of course. People saw what they wanted to see, not what was there) in less than five years!

On the question of sanctions, take a look at Andrew Tabler's piece in the DS.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Comments Section

A reader alerted me that something was wrong with my comments section, and indeed there was. I've reinstalled Haloscan, and it should work now. Unfortunately, all the old comments have been lost.

I look forward to the return of lively debate and your thoughtful comments.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Hizbullah as Basij

Fellow Lebanese blogger Kais has quite an interesting post comparing Hizbullah to the Iranian Basij, and noting their negative impact on the Shiite community in Lebanon, and on Lebanon as a whole.

Criticism of Hizbullah has been growing more bold and vocal, and I've noted and linked to several of the most devastating articles. The more they continue like this, the more they will continue to lose support in the Shiite community. But that's why they have made sure to silence all voices of Shiite dissent, and why they will not give up their weapons. They know that's their only source of power.

Only Hizbullah could hijack and blackmail a consensual democratic system. They are that undemocratic! Don't you just love those twits who called them the most "democratic" force in Lebanon!?