Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Meanwhile, in the other "people's revolution"

Updated Nestled safely under the heading "be careful what you wish for" comes news that the political crisis in Lebanon continues.

Pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karami* had been forced to resign the end of February, along with the rest of his government, in the face of protests following the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. But then, in an apparent slap to the anti-Syrian opposition, just 10 days later he was brought back by pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, supposedly to form a "national unity" government. Now, less than three weeks down the road, he is out again, AP reports on Wednesday.
Lebanon's pro-Syrian prime minister said Tuesday he would resign, unable to put together a government, and the head of military intelligence stepped aside in new signs the anti-Syrian opposition was gaining momentum in the country's political turmoil.

Prime Minister Omar Karami's decision comes amid a deadlock over forming the government, which must be completed before parliamentary elections can be held. Elections are scheduled for April and May, and the opposition - which is expected to win them - is eager to see them held on time.

It was unclear whether the resignation would end to the standoff. It could delay the ballot because it means the process of finding a leader for the government must start again from scratch.

But it could also be a signal that the pro-Syrian leadership is ready to bend to opposition demands, which would clear the way for the quick formation of a new cabinet and the organizing of elections.
The fighting has not been limited to words, either. The BBC reported on Sunday that
[a] bomb has exploded in a mainly Christian area of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, wounding at least six people.

The blast in the city's industrial eastern suburb tore through a number of buildings, starting a blaze that destroyed several workshops. ...

Two blasts in the past week have killed three people in areas opposed to Syria's presence in Lebanon.
Karami's decision also came in the wake of the report of a UN fact-finding mission looking into the murder of Hariri. While the report said it couldn't assert a particular motive for the killing "until after the perpetrators of this crime are brought to justice," it was sharply critical of the Lebanese security services and Syria and questioned the government's interest in solving the case:
[T]he Mission concluded that the Lebanese security services and the Syrian Military Intelligence bear the primary responsibility for the lack of security, protection, law and order in Lebanon. The Lebanese security services have demonstrated serious and systematic negligence in carrying out the duties usually performed by a professional national security apparatus. ... The Syrian Military Intelligence shares this responsibility to the extent of its involvement in running the security services in Lebanon.

It is also the Mission's conclusion that the Government of Syria bears primary responsibility for the political tension that preceded the assassination of former Prime Minister Mr. Hariri. The Government of Syria clearly exerted influence that goes beyond the reasonable exercise of cooperative or neighborly relations. It interfered with the details of governance in Lebanon in a heavy-handed and inflexible manner that was the primary reason for the political polarization that ensued. ...

It became clear to the Mission that the Lebanese investigation process suffers from serious flaws and has neither the capacity nor the commitment to reach a satisfactory and credible conclusion.
That from the Executive Summary of the report, printed in the Daily Star (Lebanon) for March 26.

But it's unclear if either Karami's resignation or Syria's promise to withdraw its troops from Lebanon before the upcoming parliamentary elections - both of them called evidence of gains by the opposition - will actually resolve anything or bring a real peace. So much attention has been paid to the role of Syria that many have forgotten those who make up the opposition, some of who have their own questionable histories.

For example, Anna Ciezadlo, writing in the March 28 edition of The Nation, notes that one of the "cornerstones" of the opposition is
the Free Patriotic Movement. A mostly Christian political party, the FPM is loyal to Gen. Michel Aoun, the exiled former chief of staff of Lebanon's army. In 1988 Aoun declared a separate government in East Beirut, and the city was split in half, with two separate governments, until the Syrian army bombed him out of the presidential palace, effectively ending the war.
For some of us with longer memories, some of the names which current events in Lebanon conjure up, names such as Aoun, Bashir and Amine Gemayel, and Samir Geagea (whose notoriety as Lebanon's most famed political prisoner has raised him to the status of mythic adored hero) do not bring a great deal of comfort.

The UN report said that
Lebanese politicians from different backgrounds expressed to the Mission their fear that Lebanon could be caught in a possible showdown between Syria and the international community, with devastating consequences for Lebanese peace and security.
While that is undoubtedly true, it's wise to keep in mind that this is another of those too-common situations where good and bad are not so easily labeled or even disentangled.

*To anyone who would object to the terms "pro-Syrian" and "anti-Syrian" as displaying some hidden (or perhaps not so hidden) bias on my part, I say that pro-Syria v. anti-Syria is the basic political fault line in Lebanon now. That makes the labels not only valid but useful.

Updated with the news that Karami has stalled on actually resigning, saying he will not do so until after political consultations with pro-government parties later in the week, although he did say that after the meetings "I will call his excellency [President Emile Lahoud] to officially inform him of my decision to step down."

However, the opposition argues that
he aims to draw out Lebanon's political crisis and scuttle parliamentary elections his camp fears it could lose.
There must be a government in place in order to arrange for elections in April and May, a schedule that now appears in doubt. The mandate of the current parliament expires on May 31.

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