A leader with no government (Lebanon)

Al-Ahram Weekly, Egypt
July 11 2008

A leader with no government

Horse-trading seems to be the major occupation of Lebanese
politicians, says Hanady Salman in Beirut

Michel Suleiman was sworn in 45 days ago as the 12th president of the
Republic of Lebanon after a political crisis that left the presidency
seat empty for almost a year and half. Yet, these were days spent
without a government. There is only one way to read the delay:
preparing the grounds for the upcoming general elections in May 2009.

It took 40 days to reach an agreement with the opposition parties over
the seats they required, which was later reversed. In fact, it took 40
days, a prisoners’ exchange deal between Israel and Hizbullah, and an
air of openness between Paris and Damascus. Just as much as filling
the presidency seat required a "mini-civil war" that led to an
agreement in Doha, sealed by the concerned international players.

The ball is now in the camp of the 14 March parties. However, filling
the remaining governmental seats is proving to be harder than
expected. Or probably, as hard as expected since the mission requires
a certain amount of sharing and understanding between allies, and that
seems to be lacking the 14 March group.

The Doha agreement sealed in May divided the 30 cabinet seats between
the major political players in Lebanon, giving the president of the
republic the right to name three ministers: defence, interior and a
minister of state. The opposition was given 11 ministers and the rest
of the cake was to be shared between the components of the 14 March
coalition.

The main political players in the country decided that there are two
kinds of ministries: one that provides services (crucial in a pre-
electoral year) and one that pertains to sovereignty such as the
defence, interior or foreign ministries. Those ministries were needed
for political influence.

There was no problem in dividing the seats between the members of the
opposition parties among themselves; namely, Hizbullah, the Amal
Movement headed by Speaker Nabih Berri, the Free Patriotic Movement
headed by Michel Aoun and a number of other small parties. The major
obstacle was the number of seats Prime Minister Fouad Al-Siniora was
willing to give to the opposition. For Aoun, what he will get was
crucial in deciding the results of the next general election.

Here’s how this country chooses its MPs: each is chosen along
sectarian lines. Sunni Muslims choose Sunni Muslim MPs, Druze do the
same and so on for all the rest. The electoral law of 1960 agreed upon
in Doha seals the deal: each region (i.e. religion) chooses its own
people.

In this case, everybody’s share is guaranteed except for that of the
Christians. Nobody will challenge Walid Jumblatt’s political influence
in the Druze Mountains, and his party’s seats in parliament are
guaranteed.

In the South, in the eastern Bekaa, and in the southern suburb
(predominantly Shia regions), there are no opponents to Hizbullah and
its major ally, the Amal Movement. Saad Al-Hariri will get at least 25
seats from Beirut, the north, and the western Bekaa (Sunni
areas). Hence, there will be no electoral confrontations on the Muslim
scene.

The major electoral campaign will be among the Christians. And that
will be a crucial "battle" since its outcome will decide the whole
political scene in the four years that follow the elections.

The two main opponents are the pro- opposition Free Patriotic Movement
(the opposition Christians), and pro-Hariri (so far) Lebanese Forces
(the Christians of today’s majority).

The movement, headed by Michel Aoun, had a surprise victory in the
elections of the year 2005. Its alliance with the Popular Group of
Zahle, lea by MP Elias Skaff, and the Armenian Tachnag Party led to
the creation of the "Change and Reform" group that includes 21 MPs
representing the regions of Zahle (Bekaa), Metn, Kesrouan and Jbeil.

The Lebanese Forces Party, on the other hand, due to its alliance with
both Al-Hariri and Jumblatt, and thanks to the electoral law used in
2005, managed to get five MPs, one of them in the Druze mountain (on
Jumblatt’s list), and four from the north, who had run on Al-Hariri’s
list.

Late last week, Al-Siniora reached an agreement with the opposition,
by which Aoun’s group will get five cabinet seats (agriculture,
communication, power, social affairs and the vice-president of the
prime minister), whereas Amal and Hizbullah will get the ministries of
foreign affairs, industry, health, work, youth and sports and a state
minister.

What’s left today is the share of the majority. Sixteen seats are to
be filled by the different components of the mosaic called the 14
March coalition.

Suddenly, the not so hidden differences came to surface: the Lebanese
forces say they want as big a share as Aoun’s. So in this case, what
would be left to their Christian bigger "ally", the Kataeb? And what
do the other 14 March Christians (close to the Maronite Patriarch)
get?

On top of all that, Jumblatt is requesting the right to name a
Catholic Christian, a Shia, and two Druzes, and refuses to let the
Ministry of Roads go to anyone outside his group. And then, there is a
mini-battle ongoing between Al-Hariri and Al-Siniora on naming Sunni
ministers. Al-Hariri wants the upper hand in naming all the Sunni
ministers, and a Christian one, too. This leaves no room for any Sunni
minister to be named by the Sunni prime minister himself. Sixteen
seats to be filled, including six Sunnis, seven Christians, two
Druzes, and one Shia.

The Republic of Lebanon is waiting for the 14 March group to agree
among themselves. The president of the Republic of Lebanon has to be
in Paris on 12 July — the second anniversary of the July war with
Israel — on an official visit to the Mediterranean union summit where
he will meet with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Will he go as a
president without a government?

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS