Saturday, April 7, 2007

Roundup of Lebanese news – Long Version

The long version of what happened in Lebanon is mostly a matter of replacing cynicism with narcissism, in the sense that I, great blogger Riemer Brouwer, would be capable of understanding the various Lebanese politicians and even try to analyze their statements to somehow extract a pattern. And what’s more, to assume that anyone cares about it. How narcissistic, indeed!

FWIW, here it goes. The pro-government members of parliament have tried now during three consecutive Tuesdays to convince House Speaker Nabih Berri to open parliament for a session in order to discuss the UN Tribunal. More specifically, the goal of the session would be to formally vote on the law drafted by Siniora to hold the Tribunal. The opposition, however, does not recognize the current government; therefore Berri has so far refused to accept any incoming draft law from Siniora.

In an almost comedy-like setting, Berri’s office was firmly closed (apparently, even the mailbox was nailed shut) so the “postman” could not deliver the draft law, which gave Berri the opportunity to say that he never received a proposal so formally he doesn’t know about anything. It’s like a little kid who closes his eyes to make believe papa is no longer there.

In reaction, the pro-government parties have hardened their position. Hariri and others have said publicly that the Opposition will never get a blocking vote, which is their key demand. It has become clear that the cozy fireside sessions Hariri had with Berri have resulted only in widening the gap between them.

In another alarming development, the pro-government Members of Parliament have decided to write a letter to the UN asking for a so-called Chapter 7 resolution for the UN Tribunal. This would mean that the UN no longer needs the consent of Lebanon to hold the Tribunal. Instead, the UN will setup the Tribunal all by itself.

This basically implies that the government supporters are giving up on dialogue and want to bypass the political system in Lebanon. Obviously, this has triggered fierce reactions from the Opposition who accused the pro parties of exactly this. Never mind that they first were bypassing parliament by refusing to have sessions, but that didn’t stop Aoun e.g., to accuse each Member of Parliament who supported the request to the UN of high treason.

The new chairman of the UN, Ban, has given mixed messages. On the one hand, he supports the UN Tribunal and says that everything should be done to make it happen, while on the other hand he prefers that the Tribunal be accomplished via constitutional means. In other words, he is not yet ready to go the Chapter 7 route.

This is quite understandable because Hezbollah, which for now has given guarantees for the UN troops in the south of Lebanon, could easily see a Chapter 7 resolution as an aggressive act. If they would feel stripped of their sovereignty, then perhaps the UN soldiers might be considered fair game. But that’s speculation since Hezbollah has not even hinted towards anything like this.

However, the opposition has threatened to boycott the parliament sessions to elect a new president, scheduled for November this year. If they all would stay away, parliament would not reach the required quorum and could therefore not decide on the new president. This point is rather moot right now anyway since parliament is not meeting, but that didn’t stop the Opposition from making the threat.

The latest development is that Berri has asked Saudi Arabia once again to organize mediation talks. You have to admire the stamina of the Saudis for hosting yet another round of talks. The irony of it all is that these talks, with the purpose of strengthening the constitutional process, in other words, to prevent further bypassing of parliament, will be held outside of parliament.

Easter 2007 is thus not a very hopeful page in Lebanon’s history. The government is pushing to get the Tribunal accepted via the Chapter 7 option. If this succeeds, it would mean the Opposition is left with little democratic options to voice their concerns. One can only fear what other options they might consider next.