Across the Bay

Friday, November 23, 2007

Seniora Government Stays

Last night I was going to write about the spectacular French incompetence and foul-up, the details of what happened in the negotiations between Berri and Hariri (especially over Edde and Ghanem), as well as Aoun's pathetic "initiative," but too much turkey and wine dictated otherwise. In any case, I'll likely come back to discuss the French failure because it is an absolutely perfect example of what "engaging" Syria is like and what it leads to: embarrassment, failure, and nothing in return. Moreover, the situation is so fluid that today's events have already moved on.

Let's start with a recap of where we are right now, followed by a brief commentary.

1- Lahoud is leaving Baabda right this minute. Contrary to the fears of many, he went out with a fizzle. He did nothing, and he couldn't do anything. As Mustapha correctly noted, he did not declare emergency law, and the military is not taking over.

2- The Seniora government stays and assumes, as per article 62 of the constitution, all presidential powers.

3- The opposition is unlikely to take any drastic measures on the ground. According to al-Hayat, Berri is said to have given assurances that the opposition would not take street action against the Seniora government continuing in office.

So where does this leave us?

First, none of the scenarios Lahoud threatened materialized. The best he could do is say that the Army takes over all security responsibilities, which is completely meaningless. Lahoud's intention is to unconstitutionally deny the cabinet control over the military and the defense council. But he doesn't even have the authority to do this. Moreover, Minister Qabbani told al-Arabiya that the Army commander Michel Suleiman relayed to Prime Minister Seniora that the Army will abide by the government's decisions.

In other words, as many of us thought, Suleiman was not going to burn himself for an outgoing president. Suleiman wants to keep his credentials in the hope of becoming president. He wants to play it smart, try to ingratiate himself to March 14 and keep his options open.

It's also thought that Hezbollah urged Lahoud to take some action, but the threat of international retaliation deterred Lahoud. Or, after Suleiman refused to participate in any such scenario, Lahoud's options were essentially nil. Furthermore, it appeared that March 14 was waiting for Lahoud to make a move in order to proceed with the simple majority election.

Secondly, while the threat of security breaches exists (both the Iranians and the Syrians have threatened it in statements to the media and editorials in state-run papers, in order to jack up their blackmail price), it is not very probable for the opposition to take such action against the Seniora government, once again triggering Sunni-Shiite clashes. It's unlikely that the parties concerned would find it worthwhile to do so over the Presidency. Walid Jumblat seems worried that as a result, there might be some trouble in the Shouf instead, and so he is urging discipline among his followers so as not to be provoked into a trap.

Under such circumstances, and in light of the apparent willingness of the Army to interfere, it seems that such provocations would be undercut and quickly contained should they happen.

Finally, the Seniora government gets to stay, with international backing. Already Egypt's Hosni Mubarak has declared to Seniora his support for "the democratic system and constitutional norms." In other words, he supports the constitutional delegation of presidential authority to the Seniora cabinet, and is opposed to any push against the government. In other words, it's the same position the Sunni Arab states took last winter at the time of the Hezbollah putsch attempt.

Similarly, the US and Europe have declared support for the Seniora government constitutionally continuing in office.

As such, March 8 and Lahoud are essentially neutralized for now, and the Seniora government continues until further notice. It's unclear what the fate of the Patriarch's list is now that the candidates on it have been compromised, and if we're going to now see a new set of names.

The next session is scheduled for next Friday. While a lot could happen before then (and thankfully, the Annapolis fiasco would be over), something tells me that the Seniora government will still be governing the country.

Addendum: A good editorial on the situation over at NOW Lebanon.