Political Chaos in Lebanon

Rick Moran
At the stroke of midnight last night, pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emil Lahoud, his extended term finally at an end, walked out of the hilltop Baabda Republican Palace and waved goodbye to the assembled photographers and journalists.

What he left behind was political chaos that threatens to engulf the country in civil war.

That's because the majority government forces in parliament led by Said Hariri, son of the beloved ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri who was murdered in 2005 and the opposition led by the terrorist group Hezb'allah have been unable to reach agreement on a consensus candidate to replace him:

Lebanon woke up Saturday a state without a president, a government termed "illegitimate" by the Hizbullah-led opposition and an army guarding social order with consent of the feuding parties.

Foreign powers called for calm and speed up of efforts to elect a new head of state, while Iran cautioned that Lebanon is "so close to civil war."

Former Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud left the hilltop Baabda Republican Palace at midnight Friday, ending a controversial term of nine years in office after Parliament failed to elect a successor hurling the nation into power vacuum.

"Lahoud's term end to a republic without a president," the daily an-Nahar headlined its front page. "Political and security guarantees govern the transition era," it added in the eight-column double headline. "Lahoud walked out," shouted al-Moustaqbal daily, which is affiliated with MP Saad Hariri, leader of the largest parliamentary bloc that opposed Lahoud.

"A republic without head .. protected by organized vacuum," outlined as-Safir in its front-page banner.
That "organized vacuum" protecting the "republic without a head" is the Lebanese army. Just prior to his vacating office, President Lahoud transferred the responsibility for security to the army. And while Prime Minister Siniora has rejected this move as unconstitutional, both sides for the time being seem content with the idea that neither controls the troops in the streets:
An air of organized vacuum was evident in the streets of Beirut late Friday evening where partisans of Hariri's al-Moustaqbal Movement celebrated the end of Lahoud's term with fire crackers and chants of "Lahoud out, out" in Tarik Jedideh district while supporters of Hizbullah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's AMAL movement maintained calm in the adjacent district of Barbour.

An army captain in charge of checkpoints along the Kourniche Mazraa thoroughfare, which separates the two neighborhoods, told reporters:

"Things are under control. Both sides know that we are here and we will not tolerate disturbances."

Businesses and public institutions were open for normal services Saturday as calm prevailed over Lebanon, amidst calls by the United States, The European Union and the United Nations to maintain calm and speed up efforts to elect a new head of state.

The only difference observed, however, was that Lahoud's pictures have been removed from offices of some government institutions in areas traditionally hostile to the ex-president and the pro-Syrian opposition.
It is just one manifestation of a highly volatile and dangerous situation. Who controls the army?

At issue is the presidency who by law is elected by a 2/3 majority in parliament. Failing to achieve that super majority, parliament by law can then elect the president by simple majority. However, the March 14th forces who control parliament have been reluctant to take that latter step because the opposition has made it known that they would view any president elected by simple majority as illegitimate. Hence, the strenuous efforts to find a consensus candidate who would enjoy the support of both sides.

However, as the weeks and months dragged on, it became apparent that Hezb'allah was not interested in consensus but rather chaos. They have rejected every plan, every formula, every candidate offered by the majority as well as those offered by respected, non partisans like the Maronite Patriarch
Nasrallah Sfeir. Hezb'allah will have it all or nothing when it comes to the choice for president.

What next? More negotiations, more of the same. Eventually, most observers believe that the March 14th forces are simply going to have to bite the bullet and elect a president by simply majority. At that point, Hezb'all may very well name their own president who would, in turn, name a prime minister and cabinet.

Two governments backed by two factions - a recipe for civil war.

The future is dark and unknowable in Lebanon at the moment. The people are on edge - hugely disappointed in their politicians who they blame for the impasse. But perhaps their anger should be directed toward Damascus where President Assad sits, spinning his webs of intriuge and confusion, all designed to maximize Syrian influence in that tiny, divided nation.
At the stroke of midnight last night, pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emil Lahoud, his extended term finally at an end, walked out of the hilltop Baabda Republican Palace and waved goodbye to the assembled photographers and journalists.

What he left behind was political chaos that threatens to engulf the country in civil war.

That's because the majority government forces in parliament led by Said Hariri, son of the beloved ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri who was murdered in 2005 and the opposition led by the terrorist group Hezb'allah have been unable to reach agreement on a consensus candidate to replace him:

Lebanon woke up Saturday a state without a president, a government termed "illegitimate" by the Hizbullah-led opposition and an army guarding social order with consent of the feuding parties.

Foreign powers called for calm and speed up of efforts to elect a new head of state, while Iran cautioned that Lebanon is "so close to civil war."

Former Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud left the hilltop Baabda Republican Palace at midnight Friday, ending a controversial term of nine years in office after Parliament failed to elect a successor hurling the nation into power vacuum.

"Lahoud's term end to a republic without a president," the daily an-Nahar headlined its front page. "Political and security guarantees govern the transition era," it added in the eight-column double headline. "Lahoud walked out," shouted al-Moustaqbal daily, which is affiliated with MP Saad Hariri, leader of the largest parliamentary bloc that opposed Lahoud.

"A republic without head .. protected by organized vacuum," outlined as-Safir in its front-page banner.
That "organized vacuum" protecting the "republic without a head" is the Lebanese army. Just prior to his vacating office, President Lahoud transferred the responsibility for security to the army. And while Prime Minister Siniora has rejected this move as unconstitutional, both sides for the time being seem content with the idea that neither controls the troops in the streets:
An air of organized vacuum was evident in the streets of Beirut late Friday evening where partisans of Hariri's al-Moustaqbal Movement celebrated the end of Lahoud's term with fire crackers and chants of "Lahoud out, out" in Tarik Jedideh district while supporters of Hizbullah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's AMAL movement maintained calm in the adjacent district of Barbour.

An army captain in charge of checkpoints along the Kourniche Mazraa thoroughfare, which separates the two neighborhoods, told reporters:

"Things are under control. Both sides know that we are here and we will not tolerate disturbances."

Businesses and public institutions were open for normal services Saturday as calm prevailed over Lebanon, amidst calls by the United States, The European Union and the United Nations to maintain calm and speed up efforts to elect a new head of state.

The only difference observed, however, was that Lahoud's pictures have been removed from offices of some government institutions in areas traditionally hostile to the ex-president and the pro-Syrian opposition.
It is just one manifestation of a highly volatile and dangerous situation. Who controls the army?

At issue is the presidency who by law is elected by a 2/3 majority in parliament. Failing to achieve that super majority, parliament by law can then elect the president by simple majority. However, the March 14th forces who control parliament have been reluctant to take that latter step because the opposition has made it known that they would view any president elected by simple majority as illegitimate. Hence, the strenuous efforts to find a consensus candidate who would enjoy the support of both sides.

However, as the weeks and months dragged on, it became apparent that Hezb'allah was not interested in consensus but rather chaos. They have rejected every plan, every formula, every candidate offered by the majority as well as those offered by respected, non partisans like the Maronite Patriarch
Nasrallah Sfeir. Hezb'allah will have it all or nothing when it comes to the choice for president.

What next? More negotiations, more of the same. Eventually, most observers believe that the March 14th forces are simply going to have to bite the bullet and elect a president by simply majority. At that point, Hezb'all may very well name their own president who would, in turn, name a prime minister and cabinet.

Two governments backed by two factions - a recipe for civil war.

The future is dark and unknowable in Lebanon at the moment. The people are on edge - hugely disappointed in their politicians who they blame for the impasse. But perhaps their anger should be directed toward Damascus where President Assad sits, spinning his webs of intriuge and confusion, all designed to maximize Syrian influence in that tiny, divided nation.