Friday, September 22, 2006

Two takes on the Lebanese crisis

The newspapers Al-Hayat and Al-Akhbar focus on two different parts of the brewing political crisis in Lebanon, the first focusing on the Hizbullah-arms issue, the second on aid and reconstruction. But they both illustrate what is fundamentally the same point: For people in the South, dissatisfaction with the central government makes direct action the preferred alternative. While on the arms issue Hizbullah is subject to demonization in much of the Western media, the fact is that in aid-and-reconstruction the issue for the South is exactly the same: Relying on the central government is demonstrably not a good idea.

Al-Hayat, on Friday September 22, spells out what it says is the core issue responsible for the escalating tensions since the beginning of this month between Hizbullah and the governing majority, citing what the journalist calls neutral political and parliamentary sources. Clause 8 of the UN resolution 1701 calls for the zone between the Israeli border and the Litani River to be free of arms and armed personnel except for the government Army and the UN forces (Unifil), and Clause 11 calls for the UN force to cooperate with the Lebanese army in seeing that this is the case. The key issue, this journalist says, is this. Prime Minister Siniora says the Army has the right to seize any Hizbollah arms it finds out about, and this would mean that Unifil could tell the Army about weapons locations, and the Army could act on that and seize them. Hizbullah and its supporters say a series of cabinet meetings resulted in agreement that any disarmament issues are to be taken up "internally", meaning via Lebanese inter-party negotiations, and this should be kept separate from implemention of Resolution 1701. The Hizbollah position is that in connection with implementation of 1701, they agreed not to display weapons in the South, the idea being that only displayed weapons could be seized.

The journalist says relations between Hizbullah and the governing majority have been getting worse over this point since the beginning of the month. Normally, he says discussions between Hizbullah supporters and Future movement leader Saad Hariri have been able to provide a forum and "ventilation" for this kind of thing, but he says that relationship has recently been cut, and that is something particularly worrying.

Al-Akhbar, for its part, has been focusing on the implementation of reconstruction aid as a way of illustrating the Hizbollah-government tensions. On Tuesday Sept 19, it ran a big front-page piece offering several examples of what it said look like government obstructionism, either in order to allocate funds to its political allies to the detriment of the afflicted South, and/or to extract political concessions from would-be recipients. The main specific issue is PM Sinoira's insistance on channeling aid money through the Higher Relief Council (HRC), a political body often associated with corruption, and more generally channeling money through the government's general budgetary account, to help make the fiscal books look better. One donor, Qatar, refused to make the check out to the HRC for its $300 million contribution to rebuilding Southern housing, and instead did its own needs assessments and engineering work,
and disbursed the monies directly, following discussions with groups local to the regions being helped. Other stories are left hanging: A big UAE aid offer went unanswered for 15 days and Nabih Berri had to intervene three times with Sinoira to get him to reply; Saudi Arabia is described as wanting a meeting first with Hariri before disbusing its funds (the writer seems to be hinting at Saudi political pressure for something in connection with this); bridge-construction orders haven't gone out yet, while Ministries continue to allocate pieces of the pie; a Saudi food-donation intended for the South got allocated to groups supporting the governing majority (i.e., not in the South), and to add insult to injury, some of it was held back to give these government supporters special gifts during the holy month of Ramadan.

Each example is a little different, but the one theme is clear: Funneling aid through the central-government institutions, as Sinoira is intent on doing, means for Southerners a very high risk of aid intended for them getting diverted elsewhere. Qatar isn't the only foreign donor that is balking at this approach. And the writer says this is the reason why, according to a recent statement by Sinoira, the government has only actually received $124 million (of the over $1 billion pledged). It isn't that donors are welshing, it is that some, like Qatar, are going the direct route, and others are still looking for satisfactory guarantees that their funds will be used as intended.


Blogger markfromireland said...

Greetings :-) I've just posted a fairly lenghty "Guest piece" by a chap who was one of my sergeants when I was a peacekeeper in Lebanon. (In fact he was the best sergeant I ever had the honour of commanding.)

He was at the rally on Friday and is of the opinion that a massive shift is underway of which the rally is just one sign.

He's a shrewd observer of current day Lebanon. His "take" is that ultimately pretty well everything is going to be funneled via the Hizb.

8:25 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Mark, thanks for the heads-up. That is a very powerful piece. As I noted in a comment over there, maybe you can find a way for him to post from time to time from Lebanon. It would be a help to have somebody there, would it not?

5:35 PM  

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