23 November 2007

Scenarios for Lebanon as president leaves office

Beirut - Dr. Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces has declared that if a president is not elected by midnight then article 74 of the constitution stipulates that the parliament should immediately meet .

Similarly Deputy Parlaiment Speaker Farid Makari told the parliament that since the new president will not be elected before Lahoud 's term expires then the parliament members have an open invitation to come to the parliament and should meet after midnight . "The parliament no longer needs to wait for Berri to call for a session. Each and every member should assume his/her responsibility in protecting the Lebanese constitution.

Lebanon steps into the political unknown on Friday when pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud leaves office at midnight as the presidential spokesman has said earlier confirmed with no agreement among divided leaders on who will replace him.

French-led mediation effort led by their Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner failed to reach a deal between pro- and anti-Syrian leaders on Lahoud's successor.

Parliament was due to convene on Friday to elect the new head of state but the opposition boycotted the session, denying the 128-seat chamber a two-thirds quorum. The vote has been postponed for the fifth time and the new date is set for November 30.

Here are some scenarios on how the political crisis could unfold.

Rivals continue to seek consensus president

The Hezbollah-led opposition and the Western-backed governing coalition choose to contain the crisis by holding more talks aimed at agreeing on a new president. This would leave the post of president vacant until a deal. The opposition would hold off taking any action while the rivals seek a president acceptable to both sides.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a leading opposition figure, called for a new session on November 30, showing not all bridges had been burnt between both camps. Discussion would likely focus on new names for the presidency, which is reserved for a Maronite Christian according to Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system.

The governing coalition says Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's cabinet should assume presidential powers in the absence of a new head of state. That view is supported by Western and Arab states. But the opposition has disputed the legitimacy of the Siniora government since all of its Shi'ite Muslim ministers quit a year ago. The opposition rejects Siniora's right to assume Lahoud's powers. Government will remain paralyzed.

Maronite leaders will protest against leaving the post vacant, arguing that it undermines Lebanon's Christians.

Governing coalition moves to elect president unilaterally

Some members of the governing coalition say the majority has the right to elect a new president without two-thirds of the legislators in attendance. On this basis, the governing coalition could call its politicians to gather to elect a president. The coalition has an absolute majority of three.

The election would have to be convened outside parliament because only Berri has the authority to call sessions in the chamber. The opposition has said such a move would be tantamount to a coup. It would respond, but has yet to declare what it would do. Opposition sources say such a move could lead to large-scale confrontations on the streets.

Lahoud takes action before leaving office

Lahoud, who also disputes Siniora's legitimacy, has said he will take action before leaving office unless there is a deal. He has yet to say what he would do. He may entrust some responsibilities to the army in a symbolic gesture designed to avoid escalation.

Alternatively, he previously floated the idea of appointing army chief General Michel Suleiman to head a new cabinet. The governing coalition has said such a move would be unconstitutional. Such a move would deepen the crisis. Lebanon would have one administration recognized by the West and another backed by Syria and Iran, mirroring the landscape of Palestinian politics.

According to analysts, Lahoud will abide by what Syria tells him to do ...he is Bashar el Assad's man after all ...If Syria intends to continue to destabilize Lebanon, then he could be told to take an action that could aggravate the situation, otherwise he could be told to leave peacefully.

Prospects of violence

The rival sides have accused each other of arming and training followers and the United Nations has expressed concern that they have been preparing themselves in case of a constitutional vacuum. Many Lebanese fear a further escalation in the tension would quickly spill into the streets. The army has warned against violence and deployed to guarantee security.-(yalibnan)

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.