Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Lebanese government looking for a security-related solution to a political crisis

No doubt there are readers who know a lot about Lebanon, and those who know little, like myself. The general strike yesterday, in the opinion of everyone, represented an important new stage in the controntation between the government and the opposition, so it seems like a good idea to try and orient the know-little party including myself, via this summary of the meaning of yesterday's events by a widely-read Lebanese columnist. He makes three main points: (1) The standoff in the country is in part geographical, with areas yesterday under the control of the strikers, other areas not, and other areas mixed; the patchwork nature of this, underlined yesterday, contributes to instability. (2) Not only does the government not control the country as a whole geographically, it doesn't even control major "national" institutions, many of which have severed their relation to central authority, so what the government is defending is not a true government, but a phantom government. (3) The government sees the problem as one of the good citizens versus the scoundrels and the criminals and the terrorists, hence is looking for a security-related or military solution to the problem; luckily in this case the military authorities are the more politically sensitive. But this does not make for stability, rather for further buildup of tensions.

Joseph Samaha writes in Al-Akhbar about the general strike yesterday in Lebanon:
My first point is that there was deliniated a political (military?) map that was quite clear, with areas comletely participating in the general strike, those not participating, and those conflicted about it, with new lines of contact, and so some degree the tensions rose with any interactions between the areas, and the conflict penetrated within sects themselves pitting one part against another.

Secondly: The opposition accusation against the government to the effect that it monopolizes power needs to be modified, because it was obvious yesterday that there are areas, neighborhoods, towns and cities where the authority of the government is practically non-existent. The government is unable to administer the national life generally, and in fact it is unable even to call together all of the members of its parliament...There are ministries and national institutions that have severed any connection with the government, making it impossible for the "center" to operate or to have any oversight over them [the ministries and national institutions in question]. And the most starkly obvious case of that is the gap between the government and the security forces, and we will come back to that point [below in point 3].

It was made obvious yesterday that the opposition is able to prevent the government from governing, in other words they are able to demonstrate the full scope of the fictitiousness of its "authority", so the logical upshot would be to have the government restructure itself so as to include more of the elements that are now outside of it, thus becoming more in line with the actual reality of the country. What president Fouad Siniora is doing, and at great cost, is not the defence of authority (sulta: in this case meaning governmental authority), but rather a defence of a phantom of authority.

Third: Since the first announcement of this general strike, the PR and political machine has mounted a campaign to put extraordinary pressure on the security forces, and this reached a climax yesterday with March 14 leaders making accusations aganst the military [for not doing enough]...but the role that they [purport to] assign to the military is based on a fundamentally wrong view of the crisis: The government side says this is an eternal battle between the tradesmen and fellow-citiens and government employees and students and persioners on the one side, and on the other side the crooks and the coup-schemers and the troublemakers and the mercenaries and the terrorists and the highway robbers, and this kind of designation leads to an obvious conclusion in terms of "orders of the day".

By contrast, it appears that the army leadership itself has a better grasp at the political level of what the country is facing.... In other words, the political invitation to solve this political question via security measures has not met with the consent of the military leadership.
Samaha adds this situation only leads to further buildup to dangerous levels of tension, as long as the government side continues to see the crisis in the above-described way.

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