Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Middle East — Rick Moran @ 7:39 am

Despite the frantic efforts of Middle East diplomats, it appears almost certain that the March 14th Forces and the opposition led by Hezb’allah are headed for some kind of confrontation - possibly in the streets of Beirut - over the continuing cabinet crisis brought about by the resignation of the Shiite bloc of ministers.

Compromise plans to head off the escalating crisis have come from a variety of sources including the Saudi Arabian ambassador who huddled with Iranian officials yesterday in order to draft a plan that would be acceptable to both the anti-Syrian majority in government led by Prime Minister Siniora and the opposition bloc made up of Hezb’allah, the Amal Party, and the mostly Christian Free Patriotic Movement led by ex-Prime Minister Michel Aoun.

Based on reports from local media, the Saudi plan, which would seem to have the blessing of the Iranians, would include a call for immediate resignation of pro-Syrian President Emil Lahoud and his replacement by a candidate not connected to either side. The next step would be a reform of the outdated electoral laws that tend to favor Christians and Sunnis at the expense of Shia representation in Parliament. This would be followed by a Presidential electoral contest and a pitch for early Parliamentary elections after that.

There have also been calls from western diplomats to restart the discussion for a unity government in the context of the National Dialogue. Breakdown in these talks is what precipitated the cabinet crisis in the first place.

But it appears almost certain that Hezb’allah has no intention of returning to the talks:

Resigned Labor Minister Tarrad Hamadeh ruled out any possibility Thursday of Hizbullah resuming national talks, saying “peaceful street protests” were likely. “This dialogue is a waste of time and does not yield any good results,” Hamadeh, one of two Hizbullah members who resigned from Cabinet, told The Daily Star.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt have called recently in separate statements for the opposition to resume the talks.

“The only way out of the crisis is to sit at the dialogue table and deal with our fears and worries,” Siniora said during a televised interview on Wednesday night

Indeed, one might wonder why Hezb’allah leader Hassan Nasrallah would consider any kind of compromise at this point; not when it is clear that he holds the whip hand both politically and psychologically.

Any compromise offered brings the March 14th Forces closer to total capitulation. And, like any good gambler, Nasrallah appears ready to double his bet as he ratchets up the fear and tension in Lebanon by threatening to practice “civil disobedience” in the streets:

[A] senior Hizbullah official warned that the Shiite group was “putting the final touches on its choice toward resorting to the streets.”

This solidified another statement by Hizbullah’s politburo member Ghaleb Abou Zebib who warned that “civil disobedience is a legitimate option.”

He assured that any attempt by the interior minister to refuse licensing demonstrations or sit-ins by Hizbullah and its allies “will not hamper our actions or activities.”

Acting Interior Minister Ahmad Fatfat has stated that no group has asked for permission to protest yet. But he added that any such demonstration would be considered “an uprising against the government.”

Another compromise plan floated by the Siniora government itself would expand the cabinet to 30 ministers and grant Hezb’allah and its allies “at least” 10 seats according to Walid Jumblatt, an important member of the March 14th Forces. This would seem to give Nasrallah everything he wants. But the canny Siniora included a deal breaker in the compromise; the opposition would have to accept the formation of an International Tribunal to try the criminals who assassinated ex-Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

The Tribunal in a very large sense is the root cause of this crisis. The United Nations Commission looking into the assassination has pointed the finger at high level Syrians (including President Assad’s brother in law Assef Shawkat, head of Syrian intelligence) as well as several prominent Lebanese. The revelations of Syrian involvement in the assassination of the beloved Hariri would have reprecussions both internationally and domestically for President Bashir Assad as well as harm those in Lebanon seen supporting him - namely Hez’ballah and Amal.

It appears that the UN is ready to authorize the Tribunal now that Siniora’s Shia-less government approved its formation on Monday. But President Lahoud has called the cabinet’s action “unconstitutional” given the resignations. And Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri who heads up the Amal party also has called the cabinet’s approval of the Tribunal illegitimate despite his statement last Monday that he believed that as long as 2/3 of sitting Ministers approved, the action by the cabinet was indeed constitutional:

“Any (cabinet) session held now is unconstitutional because it would be in breach of Lebanon’s national pact,” which guarantees a representation for the country’s different religious communities in the government, Berri said

The fact that Berri just returned from 4 days of talks with Iranian leaders probably had something to do with his abrupt about face.

The Iranians, for their part, are willing to bide their time, confident that Lebanon will fall into their lap like a ripe piece of fruit. And Nasrallah can continue to manipulate the fears of the populace over a renewal of the civil war, forcing the March 14th Forces into a political corner where they will either have to accede to his demands for cabinet control or face the fact that his thugs and bully boys will take to the streets. Tensions are high in the capitol and the people are apprehensive of the future.

The next act of the drama may play out in the Parliament as Siniora sends the enabling legislation for the Tribunal to Speaker Berri for action. It is thought that there will then be mass resignations of MP’s loyal to Nasrallah that will force Siniora to call for early elections.

If that happens, anything is possible - including a wave of political violence that would pull down the March 14th Forces and bring Hezb’allah to power. In the uncertainty fostered by Nasrallah, anything can happen.


I contacted Lebanese blogger Anton of the great blog Across the Bay and asked him to double check the translation of Hezb’allah’s proposed “civil disobedience.” I thought the term very western and not something Nasrallah would embrace. Here is his thoughtful response:

Hi Rick, and thanks for your email.

The translation is correct (although their transliteration of his name is wrong. It’s Ghaleb Abu Zaynab, not Abu Zebib). He was asked what kind of measures Hezbollah might resort to, sit-ins, rallies, etc. Then he was asked if they would resort to civil disobedience, and he said that it was possible.

They intentionally are trying to paint this in a democratic and peaceful light. There are reasons for this. One, obviously, is to make it look legitimate, and not a military coup (as they are being accused of doing). Two, they couple this with preemptive accusations against the majority that if any security incidents were to occur it would be the majority’s doing, not theirs (pro-Hezbollah and pro-Syrian papers in Lebanon prefigured this by running stories about how the US embassy was smuggling weapons material — e.g. silencers — to embassy grounds, and training “special forces” on embassy grounds. Others said that the majority leaders had sent their kids abroad in anticipation of security incidents. All this is a set up, to paint any security breach as a plot by the majority and the US and Israel. I wrote about this on my blog in brief.) Three, I think they want to show that they could cripple the government economically through these types of movements. Four, they really are afraid on one level of this move, because it could easily disintegrate in chaos, which would be harmful to them, and could turn into Shiite-Sunni sectarian fighting, which they would want to avoid. The thing is, the Syrians could easily plant people to do precisely that in such rallies.

In other words, it’s supposed to sound “western”! Nasrallah openly said, that you (March 14) took to the streets to topple a government (and the West looked kindly on that), we could do the same. It’s obviously a distortion of reality and a perversion of democratic practice — a fig leaf — but there are enough gullible Third Worldist journalists and writers to buy it and support it.

Bookmark Tony’s blog. His perspectives on Lebanon (and Syria) are valuable additions to our understanding of what’s going on in that confusing part of the world. Also, he was just recently interviewed by Michael Totten for a podcast you can find at Pajamas Media. You can listen here.

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