Friday, November 23, 2007

Lebanese politicians reach agreement!

Today was another day of hope as leaders from both March 8 and March 14 reached an agreement. Not on the president alas, still some issues to work out there, but they are in full sync with respect to postponing the vote with yet another week to November 30. Who said Lebanese politicians don’t agree on anything?

Well, enough irony for now, back to reality, although it’s difficult to tell the difference these days. First, there was the road show of Bernard Kouchner who thought he could single-handedly mold those pesky Lebanese into a model of democracy. Little did he know. He started out happily enough, ignorance is bliss, alright. But every additional day he spent in Beirut’s kaleidoscope, the grimmer he became.

Another big shot negotiator who nobody really took all that serious was Arab League secretary Amr Moussa. Normally, this guy is one huge beacon of optimism and it’s next to impossible to hear him say anything even remotely close to being downbeat. Imagine yourself in a typical “the rain won’t stop and the car won’t start”-situation, only to hear good old Moussa in the back of your mind, saying: “hey, cheer up, at least you got a car!”

There is literally nothing that can bring this guy down. Or well, nothing...two days around Lebanese politicians and Moussa, perhaps for the first time in history, told the press that the situation was hopeless. That sure sent a clear message to the Lebanese that the situation must be really, really bad.

Apparently, this realization also hit home with Michel Aoun who yesterday renounced his candidacy. He must have felt that the situation called for drastic measures to force an opening and so he made a bold move: he would step down as a candidate, in return for electing a neutral president, a neutral prime minister and a unity government with the pro-Syria parties having 45% of the seats. That seemed a tall order to fill, but given Aoun’s immense desire to become president, it sort of made sense.

What was interesting, though, was how Bernard Kouchner described Aoun’s proposal to the press yesterday: “Earlier today Michel Aoun made a proposal, the sincerity of which I leave for you to judge…” Here was a man speaking who had given up faith in the Lebanese. In other words: another Westerner bites the dust.

It must have been a puzzling experience for Bernie, after all, it would be so easy to think that the Lebanese with all that Arab blood flowing in their veins, are big on pride. Take one look too long at anyone’s daughter or sister and you could be having big problems. But somehow, the idea of speaking the truth has not yet been linked to pride and respect. In the western world, being called a liar is about the worst thing that can happen to you, but here they really don’t care too much about a few broken promises here and there.

Was it true what An Nahar wrote earlier that Westerners will never understand Lebanon and thus are not suitable as negotiators? It would only seem reasonable since the Lebanese logic, its norms and values are sometimes opposite from the West. However, it would imply that the Lebanese do understand the situation themselves; a rather hopelessly idealistic notion. Hence, it would be safe to conclude that a western negotiator would be as good or as bad as an oriental mediator.

Despite Aoun’s big step to give up his presidential aspiration, March 14 was quick to dismiss his proposal. That was to be expected since they have been rallying against a union government ever since parliamentary elections two years ago. For March 14 to let go of its dreams at the last minute was just too much to ask.

The result is a postponed Parliamentary session to elect the next president. In the mean time, Prime Minister Siniora and his team take over the presidential responsibilities and function as a care-taker government until the next president takes office. The Opposition has let it known that they will not oppose Siniora as long as they don’t elect the next president with a simple majority vote.

For now, that is good news since it means that no riots, or worse, will take place. The bad news is that the uncertain situation keeps on dragging on. Just like removing a band aid: the slower you tear it off your skin, the more it hurts. Perhaps it would be better to call Hezbollah’s bluff and see if they really want to stage a coup d’├ętat. Then again, the repercussions could be disastrous in case they actually would do just that.

It’s just my personal impression that Hezbollah supporters might be reaching the limits of their patience. Their Tent City hasn’t resulted in anything, time after time the majority doesn’t seem to listen to their concerns and Shiites in general don’t have as much political power as their sheer number would justify. On top of that, their Divine Victory of last summer didn’t translate either in additional influence. Can you truly blame any Shiite who claims they have been left out in the cold and that all their talks got them nowhere? There is this sense that a large part of the Shiites, and possibly Aoun supporters, too, want nothing more but some real action. “Enough talking already, time to kick butt”, seems to be an increasingly strong current among the Opposition.

All in all and for better or for worse, March 14 should not try to force their presidential candidate upon the Opposition and instead keep the communication lines open. Or, as Amr Moussa would say in his happier days: “The current situation provides a wealth of opportunities for improvement!”


nicolien said...

Good post, really enjoyed it!

(to let you know I don't come here here just to find faults or critize you :) )

Riemer Brouwer said...

Hehe, thanks! Good to hear that some readers actually come here on purpose, not by accident:-)