Meet the Lebanese Press: All the prime minister’s men

Size doesn’t matter when it comes to political pies in Lebanon. However, which piece of the pie you get does. This is what the second step in implementing the Doha accords, forming a government, has apparently boiled down to. Despite the short life expectancy of this government in the run up to parliamentary elections in a year’s time, re-appointed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has so far failed to form a cabinet that will gain the simultaneous approval of the March 14 camp he belongs to, the opposition camp lead by Hizballah, and the newly inaugurated president Michel Suleiman. The disagreement has centered on divvying up what are termed “sovereign ministries,” namely the posts of interior, defense, finance and foreign affairs.

At one level, the rush to secure one of these positions by politicians of all stripes is a reflection of the age-old client system of governance in Lebanon in which heading a ministry translates into personal gain and the accruing of benefits based on favoritism and nepotism as opposed to citizenship. However, the tug of war over these ministries is also an indication of the huge lack of trust between the two camps, so much so that not having “their” man in one of these posts is seen as possibly jeopardizing the security or the future political clout of their group. This complete lack of trust is a reminder that the Doha Accord remains extremely fragile and success or failure to form a government is based more on the political will to implement or derail the accord rather than a genuine failure to find the right formula of who gets what.

Efforts to form a government come against the backdrop of a surprise visit by US Secretary of State Condolezza Rice and intermittent armed clashes between loyal and opposition groups in various parts of the country, mainly the central Bekaa region. Rice’s visit, stalling the implementation of the Doha Accords, as well as regional developments including announcement of a truce between Israel and Hamas and Turkish-mediated Syrian-Israeli “peace” talks could be seen as efforts to sideline Iran’s allies in the Arab world in preparation for a possible showdown between Washington and Tehran.

Hiyam Kossayfi of An-Nahar explores the possibly changing dynamics of the Syrian-Iranian relationship. While the foundation of that relationship is stronger than what the article might suggest, its future is worth pondering. Meanwhile, Suleiman Takkiyyedeen of As-Safir reemphasizes the impossibility of a long-lasting solution to the Lebanese crisis without turning to political and social reform and points out the inadequacy of the Doha Accords in that regard.

An-Nahar, 16 June 2008, Hiyam Kossayfi, “Syria counters the isolation of Iran with open doors: Two attempts, American and French, to neutralize the weapons factor”:

Lebanese officials cautiously await the Iranian position vis-a-vis the overall developments that the region is witnessing, including the Iraqi-American deal [regarding long-term status of American troops in Iraq], the situation in Gaza and Lebanon, and most importantly developments on the Syrian-Israeli and Syrian-European front. And in the opinion of ministerial sources, there is a big question surrounding the existence of a real discrepancy between Iranian and Syrian positions regarding the Lebanese crisis, especially after talks are growing of a distinct Syrian approach towards several files including the relationship with Hizballah.

Since the assassination of Hizballah’s military commander Imad Mughniyeh [in Damascus], there was talk of a slight disturbance in relations between Damascus and Tehran. But there were no illusions among any of the Lebanese officials of the possibility of undoing this relationship. But since the events of Beirut [the recent military operation by the Hizballah-led opposition], questions surrounding this relationship began to resurface, particularly in light of … [l]eaked information speaking of a Syrian role in passing on information regarding the procuring of weapons into Lebanon through routes other than through Syria.

And sources among the majority [March 14 camp] claiming that this information coincided with the emergence of trouble at Beirut’s airport [the decision to replace the airport security chief] that led to the eruption of clashes in May.

Meanwhile, the resurgence of Syrian-Israeli negotiations via Turkey came to the fore. Lebanese sources say diplomatic information currently available confirm the seriousness of these talks and the formulation of a quasi-final settlement regarding borders and security arrangements and allocation of water resources while postponing the normalization of relations until future years …

Therefore, these sources point out that the Iranians have cause for concern. For while the margin of maneuver for Tehran regarding its nuclear file narrows, and the American rhetoric calling for imposing sanctions on Tehran with the approval of the five permanent members of the Security Council escalates, Syria is pushing in the direction of an open doors policy.

As-Safir, June 10 2008, Suleiman Takkiyyedeen, “No peaceful coexistence without reform”:

To say that the conflict is political and not confessional or sectarian is to beautify an ugly reality that cannot be embellished. Lebanon today is hundreds of republics. The sovereignty being fought over is now at the borders of each sect and town and village and road. The Lebanese truly wish to live in safety and security and stability. But they have not reached the point of understanding the conditions required to achieve such a state and of abiding by these conditions … All crises arise [from] the rejection by the Lebanese of the idea of equality of rights and duties among themselves. They themselves compete over accruing privileges to the group they belong to. This is sectarianism as a system of interests and privileges and not simply a moral perversion of a cultural shortsightedness or a deplorable fanaticism …

Postponing reform, under this or that excuse, has become nothing more than a form of deception to sustain the status quo and prolong the suffering of people and control their fate. The Doha Accords scuttled the possibility of renewing the political elite or adjusting its leanings or appetite towards reform. The electoral law that was agreed on [at Doha] violated the principles and guidelines laid out by the Taif Accords [that ended the Civil War] in a way that turned an electoral district into a framework for sectarian representation. This law needs to be declared a one-time-only law and a new law needs to be formulated in the upcoming house of parliament according to true democratic standards.

Meet the Lebanese Press is The Electronic Intifada’s regular review of what is making the rounds in the Lebanese press and the pundits’ take on it.

Hicham Safieddine is a Lebanese Canadian journalist.