Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Logic predicts quiet

After the failed talks of Amr Moussa in Lebanon, the threats of certain Arab countries to boycott the Arab Summit meeting in Damascus and the expectation of Hezbollah retaliating against Israel for killing its main operative Imad Mughniyeh, the Lebanese fear the worst. While they might be right, logic would predict otherwise.

Assuming logic still works in Lebanon, admittedly a huge assumption, the March 8 camp has no real incentive to let things spin out of control. In fact, all is going hunky-dory for them and there’s no need to ‘rock the boat’. Lebanon has come to an effective stand still, Arab countries are advising their citizens to avoid Lebanon, most recently Bahrain joined the club, and foreign investments are plummeting.

Most importantly, Aoun is doing what he should be doing: scuttling the negotiations. By putting new demands on the table every time it seems a solution is within reach, he effectively prevents the talks from going anywhere.

First, March 8 suggested Michel Suleiman to become president, only to qualify its support after March 14 accepted Suleiman as well.

Tis was followed by demanding that March 14 would not have a 2/3 majority vote in the new government. Even this was granted by March 14 when they accepted 13 seats for them, 7 for the opposition and 10 under control of the president. Sure enough, Aoun came up with yet another batch of conditions: certain important ministries should be given to March 8.

All of the required ministries, Justice, Interior and Foreign Affairs are related to the upcoming UN Tribunal, so it was no wonder for many Lebanese who was really behind that demand. Nasrallah even stated during his last speech that Hezbollah is now officially against the UN Tribunal.

Another contended issue is the electoral law. In a surprising move, March 14 has rejected the 1960 law, which would give Christians more influence due to smaller electoral districts based upon the kazaas. Using smaller districts allots more weight to regional size as opposed to demographic size and thus would favor the Christians who, despite their small number compared to the Muslims, are spread out and would thus be assured of more seats in Parliament.

The Beirut Spring blog has an interesting article on this angle and mentions the all-but-forgotten Boutros Election Law. Remember that one of the first decisions taken by Siniora’s government was to install a committee to come up with a new law? Well, it seems their work was in vain as March 14 is ignoring it.

Coming back to the issue of more violence in the near future, it would appear to be unlikely that March 8 has any reason right now to stir things up. Sure, there might be the occasional fighting and riots, but those will be carefully controlled events, designed to send a message and certainly not intended to develop into something more serious.

Given that March 14 has no incentive to create mayhem in the streets of Lebanon either and that Damascus will not be easily intimidated by threats of boycotting the Arab Summit in Damascus end March, expect a relative quiet period…unless logic has gone missing in this country.


nicolien said...

two questions:
- wasn't it March 8 who proposed Suleiman for president in the first place, a proposal rejected by March 14?
- why are you so convinced that for March 8, the current situation is a favorable one? 'In fact, all is going hunky-dory for them and there’s no need to ‘rock the boat’. Lebanon has come to an effective stand still, Arab countries are advising their citizens to avoid Lebanon, most recently Bahrain joined the club, and foreign investments are plummeting.'
I can see why politically this is as far as everyone thinks March 8 will get (meaning they won't get any more power, so the best they can do is blocking the others), but what do they have to win with the current economical situation? Honestly?

Riemer Brouwer said...


You are correct that March 8 first suggested Suleiman, I have updated the article accordingly.

As for March 8's long term strategy: Many people from March 14 would say that it is to frustrate any real development in Lebanon in order to bring about chaos which would require a strong (Syrian) hand to restore order.

Also, the recent statement from Suleiman Franjieh that the downtown occupation serves only to harm Hariri's economic interests, indicates that a negative strategy is currently being pursued.

Your question as to what does March 8 expects to win other than renewed Syrian influence, is a good one. Wish I had the answer.

Jeha said...

March 8'th effective goals are the return of Syria to Lebanon, whether they are motivated by fear of "Sunni hegemony", or a desire to keep their weapons... It does not matter what the marionettes really think. So, in that respect, a destruction of the economy can only help, and a civil war would be better, as it would replay the scenarios of yesteryear.

However, the world has changed, and the United States now appears to have a Lebanon policy, as M. Young noted. It is simply that "no Syrian troops will be allowed to return to Lebanon", and Hezb'O will not be allowed any more gains... At least as long Iran remains a problem.

So, in this respect, you are right; nothing will really happen. But situations like ours have a way of deteriorating, and the system could just as easily break, forcing all in a war nobody really wanted. In a sense, they have all done their darnest to "facilitate" war.

Solomon2 said...

You've forgotten the power struggle for leadership of Hezbollah between Syria, Iran, and Nasrallah now that Mughniyeh is dead. Nasrallah, who mostly seems to has served Mughniyeh in the way a showgirl distracts the audience from what the magician's hands are doing, may be feeling redundant and fearful for his life - unless he can assert his leadership. If he decides to do that through violence, Lebanon is doomed. But Nasrallah still has some capacity for thinking left. If he opts for a Khuruschev-like mea culpa things might get very interesting.

Lalebanessa said...

Hi Riemer,

You seem to be in a particularly optimistic mood, so sorry to burst your bubble, but I think when the Damascus summit is canceled (or even if Saudi/Egypt just don't show up), someone will have to pay. Guess who it will be?