Saturday, December 09, 2006

Saad al-Hariri, Fouad Siniora Attack and then Woo Hizbu'llah

In an exclusive interview Thursday with Al-Sharq al-Awsat, a leading Arabic and English language daily, the head of the Future Movement in Lebanon, Saad al-Hariri [right], followed a delicate balancing act between criticizing Hizbu'llah for leading the National Opposition in massive protests against the government of embattled and ineffectual Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora of which Future is a part and maintaining an open door for dialogue. Hariri, the son of the late assassinated former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri (a Saudi national originally), is perhaps the most photogenic of the leaders of the so-called "Cedar Revolution" that, along with heavy international and Arab pressure, forced Syria to withdraw its troops from the country in May 2005. Syrian troops has entered Lebanon in the 1970s and remained through the 1990s to ensure peace between the country's warring factions, with the tacit approval of the Arab League and the United States.

Although Saad Hariri reiterated U.S. and Sunni Arab claims that the National Opposition is acting on behalf of Syrian and Iranian interest and again promised not to bow to popular pressure, he was careful in his language about Hizbu'llah, praising them at times for their resistance against "Israeli aggression."

"[What is currently taking place is] a genuine coup project against the Lebanese legitimacy...The essence of the current Lebanese crisis is the presence of an Iranian-sponsored Syrian plan that aims to regain control of the Lebanese legitimacy," he said. "The operation order was issued at the end of the Israeli war on Lebanon on August 15 when [Syrian President] Bashar al Asad [left] openly said that what was needed was a change in the political formula in Lebanon, and the toppling of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government."

"There is no way that we would to go back in time to accept any plan that is aimed at infiltrating the authority in Lebanon by Syrian intelligence and its henchmen," said Hariri. "Thus it is rejected regardless of their mobilization for it. After driving the Syrian troops out, Lebanon will not accept to be the object of a new plan that seeks to dominate its political and economic destiny.”

Despite his criticisms of both Hizbu'llah and AMAL leader and parliament speaker Nabih Berri [right], Hariri said, "We have no alternative to dialogue."
Hariri recognized Hizbu'llah, as his father did in the past, for its resistance against the Israeli occupation of Lebanon and later southern Lebanon from June 1982 to May 24, 2000 and the party's surprising military prowess against the Israeli invasion this past summer. Hariri urged Hizbu'llah leader to return to the negotiating table and stressed his brotherly ties with the Shi'i party. "We stood by Hizbu'llah and defended its right to bear arms as long as it was a Lebanese party that represents a Lebanese resistance in the face of Israeli aggression," he said. “We are reaching out to Hizbu'llah and [its leader] Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah [right] to cooperate with us for this national and Islamic goal instead of letting his military propaganda incite this dissention through al Manar television channel and the faulty slogans that the crowds chant at the gates of the government’s headquarters and in the proximity of the tomb of the martyr Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Such slogans [during the protests] are inappropriate in accordance with the Sayyid's [Nasrallah] manners, which we have known throughout our relation with him."
"We deal with Hizbu'llah as a Lebanese party that resisted Israel and as one that cannot under any circumstances fall hostage to an external plan aimed at subjugating the national and political decision in Lebanon," said Hariri. “How could we ever forget the blood of the martyrs who confronted the Israeli aggression, and disregard the magnitude of the destruction that befell Lebanon?"

Hariri in effect pleaded for Hizbu'llah and its allies to return to dialogue with Siniora and Future, which makes up the most powerful bloc in the beseiged government. "Let them [Hizbu'llah] stop manipulating the people’s instincts and nerves. Lebanon is a country that has long suffered from minor and dirty wars," he said. "It does not need a new war launched between any of its sons, sects and regions. Lebanon needs protection from the Israeli enemy through the application of Resolution 1701 [the text unanimously passed by the UN Security Council that aims at ending the conflict between Israel and Hizbu'llah in Lebanon] and from political terrorism by forming the international tribunal. It also needs to reconstruct what was plundered by Israel and to jumpstart its economy by ensuring the success of the Paris III conference."

Hariri closed by urging all Lebanese parties to fulfill what he said were his father's dreams of a unified Lebanon.
Photo: (center) Rafiq al-Hariri with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud (left) and Nasrallah (right).

To read the entire article/interview in al-Sharq al-Awsat, see:
Meanwhile, the oafish Siniora [left]struck a more discordant tone in a speech in response to allegations against him made yesterday by Hizbu'llah leader Shaykh Nasrallah. While Nasrallah's speech was watched by tens of thousands of Lebanese in downtown Beirut on massive TV screens, Siniora spoke before hundreds of his supporters in his office, where he's been holed up since last weekend. He denied that he had aided Israel in its new invasion of Lebanon. Siniora also accused Nasrallah and the National Opposition of working on a coup d'tat against his government.

"His [Nasrallah's] position yesterday showed that he is trying to work on a coup, or at least he is threatening to carry out a coup," said Siniora. "Last night was an unnecessary fit of anger and rudeness that we don't accept."
"The [Lebanese] army responded to that [Nasrallah's] accusation," said Siniora, "and I will not speak any further on this, as Nasrallah knows who Fouad Siniora is... Siniora is the one who did everything he could to protect the resistance during and after the war."

"Who made you [Nasrallah] a judge over us to decide who is a traitor or a nationalist or who is right and who is wrong," asked the prime minister. "How can [Nasrallah] talk about openness, dialogue, democracy and peaceful actions? All this is sloganeering because his speech contains threats and the seeds of discord."

Siniora said he did not appreciate being labeled a stooge of foreigners, though he and his supporters have leveled similar allegations at Hizbu'llah and seem to support the American Neo Conservative and Conservative line that they want to prevent an international tribunal to hear the case against those accused of orchestrating the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri. Although this has not been proven to be the case conclusively, I believe that the National Opposition should come out publicly in support of such an international tribunal as long as it is fair. This would undercut Siniora and Hariri's counter claims.
Former United Nations spokesman Timor Goksel believes Hizbu'llah is walking a delicate line in Lebanon with regards to Syria. "By harping on the tribunal, they are seen as staunch defenders of the Syrian cause in Lebanon, and this is not going down very well with the public here," he noted. "And it's a very touchy subject for Hizbu'llah, to be seen as the sole representative of the Syrian interest here. This is one thing they don't want to be seen [as], because they were never all that close to Syria anyway. They had a convergence of interests over the years."

After his initial outburst, Siniora moved back toward the center, calling for the National Opposition and the government's supporters to show restraint. As I noted yesterday, the opposition was not the side that resorted to violence first, it was the militia connected to Hariri's supposedly democratic and Western-friendly Future Movement.

In truth, both sides receive a lot of foreign support and are most likely influenced to a degree by their foreign backers, Hizbu'llah by Iran and Syria (though it is not a stooge despite idiotic Western reports and claims) and Siniora and Hariri by Sunni Arab autocrats and "big brother" America and the former colonial power, the increasingly irrelevant France. Both sides, however, are Lebanese, though their vision for Lebanon differs. Siniora then denied that his government was overtly hostile to Syria, saying, "Syria is dear to me, after Lebanon." The prime minister then urged Iran to donate not only to Hizbu'llah but directly to the Lebanese government to assist rebuilding the country's infrastructure, which was shattered indescriminately by Israel this summer.
Photo (below, from left): Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader (faqih) Ayatullah 'Ali Khamanei.
"Our hand and heart is open and we will continue," said Siniora. "We won't dig trenches in Beirut streets; we will build bridges of love among the Lebanese, Christian and Muslim. There is no such thing as victory for Lebanon by one team winning over another. It's only a victory when all sides win together. The Lebanese have had enough, they want to live."

Despite ending their speeches on seemingly conciliatory notes, it is clear that both Siniora and Hariri are beginning to feel the pressure from the National Opposition's protests, which show no sign of abating. If the opposition succeeds in bringing hundreds of thousands of protestors to the streets of Beirut again this Sunday, the pressure on the Siniora government will only increase, despite hollow support from secular Sunni Arab leaders like Hosni "Anti Shi'a" Mubarak and the clumsy religious "fundamentalist" encouragers, the Saudi and Persian Gulf royals, who are all too busy repressing their own people and remaining in power to be of much actual assistance.

For more information on the current crisis, see:

On Friday, the Sunni grand mufti (chief government-appointed religious leader) of Lebanon, Muhammad Rashid al-Kabbani [right], led congregational prayers at Siniora's headquarters. Kabbani, a personal friend of the late Rafiq al-Hariri who was appointed to his current position with Syrian acquiescene, predictably called for an end to the protests. "Fear has gripped the Lebanese," he said. "The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but trying to overthrow the government in the street is a call for stirring up discord among people, and we will not accept this."

For more information, see:

However, not all Lebanese Sunnis support Hariri and Siniora. Shaykh Fathi Yakan [left], a Sunni imam (prayer leader) led thousands of Sunnis and Shi'is in mixed Friday prayers. In his fiery sermon, Yakan urged all Lebanese to resist American designs in Lebanon, touching on a nerve within the majority of Arabs and Muslims (not synonomous groups) about U.S. President George W. Bush's so-called "democratization" doctrine (the one that's working so well in Iraq and Afghanistan.)
Shaykh Subhi Tufayli [right], a former Hizbu'llah leader who was expelled from the party in 1997 after refusing to recognize Nasrallah as the new, elected leader of the movement, has criticized the party for becoming "Iranian proxies." Tufayli, who has said such things for 9 years since his expulsion from the party's ranks, was against participation in Lebanese politics in 1992. In other words, he was once the radical leader who did not want the party to become more involved in post-Ta'if Accord Lebanon. Now he's simply a bitter, bitter man who should be reguarded as a pathetic reminder of why one shouldn't be a sore loser.

A friend of mine, with whom I often disagree on a whole array of international issues, asked me what I think should be done in Lebanon. Although I cannot answer this question completely, I can say that I strongly believe that the 1958 constitution, which was essentially imposed by force from the outside, should be thoroughly rewritten. The constitution, which requires the country's president to be a Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament a Shi'i Muslim and the parliament to be divided 50/50 between Muslims (including the Druze) and Christians, is not democratic in any real way. Christians, who today make up between 30-40% (probably closer to 30%) of Lebanese, should not be guaranteed 50% of the seats. None of the chief governmental posts should be guaranteed to any particular sectarian group. The president, prime minister, and parliament speaker should be chosen through direct elections. Would this mean that the Shi'a, Lebanon's largest single group at 40-55%, would get a bigger say? Yes. Welcome to democracy. Say you support democracy? Put your money where your mouth is or shut the hell up.
Photo (below):
Democratic Protest at Work, $4.
800,000 protestors, priceless.

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