29 September 2007

Options on selling the family silver

The UAE Federal Government recently lowered the ceiling for commercial companies to float 30 per cent of their shares on the stock market.

The UAE has opened the door for family-owned companies to float some of their stock in a public offering without relinquishing too much control, but will they take the plunge?

The UAE Federal Government recently lowered the ceiling for commercial companies to float 30 per cent of their shares on the stock market, from the 55 per cent minimum earlier, a move widely seen as a tantalising offer for family-owned businesses to seek a public listing.

"This is a massive change. I think the government has changed the regulation knowing it will increase activity in the market and re-energise it," says Amer Halawi, securities director at The National Investor.

Halawi recently wrote a report on the UAE IPO market before the law was amended, identifying the 55 per cent law as one of the seven issues to be addressed to reactivate the country's IPO market. "Reducing the minimum float would encourage more businesses to come to market, thus participating in greater depth, breadth - and ultimately liquidity - for the market," he wrote in the report.

Khalaf Habtoor, founder of the Habtoor conglomerate, was the first to heed the call, stating on Arabic TV channel Al Arabiya that Al Habtoor Engineering could be the first jewel from his group on the IPO block by 2008.

This will be the first time a family enterprise offers a public sale in the UAE. Family concerns in other Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait have gone public in the past, with mixed results.

Fawaz Abdul Aziz Al Hokair in Saudi Arabia and Nass Corporation in Bahrain were among the half a dozen family company listings in the past few years, while Kuwait's Hayat Communications Company went for a private placement before a public listing on the Kuwait Stock Exchange in 2006.

Bare cupboard

The cupboard is even barer in the UAE. Tentatively, only Future Pipe Industries, owned by a Lebanese family group, Damas Jewellery and Damac Holding, have announced their intention of going public in a couple of years, according to the Zawya IPO Monitor.

"I hope the law will mean the listing of more quality businesses," says Deon Vernooy, head of asset management at Emirates Investment Services, who manages more than Dh5 billion in funds. "I would like to see major family businesses come on the market. But these processes take a long time, there might be a one or two-year lead time." "Although it is a step in the right direction, I am not sure if it's enough on its own to spur family businesses into action."

Going public carries with it a different set of disciplines and some family businesses may not be comfortable in answering shareholders, adhering to much stricter transparency, or even handling the media attention.

Interestingly, the Dubai International Financial Exchange (DIFX), regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority, offers 25 per cent flotation, but there has hardly been a queue for listing at the exchange, as companies have to comply with much stricter rules. When launched in 2005, one of the exchange's mandates was to encourage regional family concerns to list. But the DIFX ticker boasts of only one family company, although DIFX sources say as many as 30 family businesses in the region are "seriously" considering an IPO.

There also appears a resistance to relinquish control, with some such as Husain Sajwani, head of Damac Holding, arguing that the flotation ratio should have been even lower to 20 per cent.

But that could make the stock illiquid. "We need to think of issues such as liquidity. If the stock does not trade and does not represent a substantial portion of absolute market capitalisation, the listing becomes meaningless. Also, investors will punish the stock if the company continues to be run as a private concern."

There are other things to consider as well. Lack of book-building during a company's IPO process could also impact the valuation and returns to founders who have spent years building their empires. At the moment, the Ministry of Economy determines both the price and the timing of the IPO.

Price ranges

"We are advocates of price ranges and market consultation, which allow the issuer to test the market for a given price," says Halawi. Such a practice often results in adjustments to price ranges (up or down, either within or outside a range). It also allows the issuer to gain a certain degree of confidence, and to minimise mis-pricing mistakes.

Yasmina Chraibi, senior financial analyst at Zawya.com, says that the Ministry of Economy should not outsource the valuation of a company to one of the Big Four accounting firms.

"Globally, this is done by investment banks, or lead managers, who are better equipped to value firms," she says.

Halawi argues that some UAE companies may have gone for a listing in the past few years for entirely the wrong reason.

"For many companies, public flotation is seen as get-rich-quick scheme," says Halawi.

"We suspect that the unbelievable amounts raised in a very short period of time have encouraged UAE business-owners to get into 'IPO mode', regardless of the fundamental need to raise money - in other words, going public just to get rich, or richer."

Perhaps, it's the mindset, more than the laws, that need to change.-(GulfNews)

Dinner in Beirut, and a lesson in courage

Secrecy, an intellectual said, is a powerful aphrodisiac. Secrecy is exciting. Danger is darker, more sinister. It blows like a fog through the streets of Beirut these days, creeping down the laneways where policemen – who may or may not work for the forces of law and order – shout their instructions through loud-hailers.

No parking. Is anyone fooled? When the Lebanese MP Antoine Ghanem was assassinated last week, the cops couldn't – or wouldn't – secure the crime scene. Why not? And so last Wednesday, the fog came creeping through the iron gateway of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt's town house in Beirut where he and a few brave MPs had gathered for dinner before parliament's useless vote on the presidential elections – now delayed until 23 October. There was much talk of majorities and quorums; 50 plus one appears to be the constitutional rule here, although the supporters of Syria would dispute that. I have to admit I still meet Lebanese MPs who don't understand their own parliamentary system; I suspect it needs several PhDs to get it right.

The food, as always, was impeccable. And why should those who face death by explosives or gunfire every day not eat well? Not for nothing has Nora Jumblatt been called the world's best hostess. I sat close to the Jumblatts while their guests – Ghazi Aridi, the minister of information, Marwan Hamade, minister of communications, and Tripoli MP Mosbah Al-Ahdab and a Beirut judge – joked and talked and showed insouciance for the fog of danger that shrouds their lives.

In 2004, "they" almost got Hamade at his home near my apartment. Altogether, 46 of Lebanon's MPs are now hiding in the Phoenicia Hotel, three to a suite. Jumblatt had heard rumours of another murder the day before Ghanem was blown apart. Who is next? That is the question we all ask. "They" – the Syrians or their agents or gunmen working for mysterious governments – are out there, planning the next murder to cut Fouad Siniora's tiny majority down. "There will be another two dead in the next three weeks," Jumblatt said. And the dinner guests all looked at each other.

"We have all made our wills," Nora said quietly. Even you, Nora? She didn't think she was a target. "But I may be with Walid." And I looked at these educated, brave men – their policies not always wise, perhaps, but their courage unmistakable – and pondered how little we Westerners now care for the life of Lebanon.

There is no longer a sense of shock when MPs die in Beirut. I don't even feel the shock. A young Lebanese couple asked me at week's end how Lebanon has affected me after 31 years, and I said that when I saw Ghanem's corpse last week, I felt nothing. That is what Lebanon has done to me. That is what it has done to all the Lebanese.

Scarcely 1,000 Druze could be rounded up for Ghanem's funeral. And even now there is no security. My driver Abed was blithely permitted to park only 100 metres from Jumblatt's house without a single policeman checking the boot of his car. What if he worked for someone more dangerous than The Independent's correspondent? And who were all those cops outside working for?

Yet at this little dinner party in Beirut, I could not help thinking of all our smug statesmen, the Browns and the Straws and the Sarkozys and the imperious Kouchners and Merkels and their equally smug belief that they are fighting a "war on terror" – do we still believe that, by the way? – and reflect that here in Beirut there are intellectual men and women who could run away to London or Paris if they chose, but prefer to stick it out, waiting to die for their democracy in a country smaller than Yorkshire. I don't think our Western statesmen are of this calibre.

Well, we talked about death and not long before midnight a man in a pony tail and an elegant woman in black (a suitable colour for our conversation) arrived with an advertisement hoarding that could be used in the next day's parliament sitting. Rafiq Hariri was at the top. And there was journalist Jibran Tueni and MP Pierre Gemayel and Hariri's colleague Basil Fleihan, and Ghanem of course. All stone dead because they believed in Lebanon.

What do you have to be to be famous in Lebanon, I asked Jumblatt, and he burst into laughter. Ghoulish humour is in fashion.

And at one point Jumblatt fetched Curzio Malaparte's hideous, brilliant account of the Second World War on the eastern front – Kaputt – and presented it to me with his personal inscription. "To Robert Fisk," he wrote. "I hope I will not surrender, but this book is horribly cruel and somehow beautiful. W Joumblatt [sic]." And I wondered how cruelty and beauty can come together.

Maybe we should make a movie about these men and women. Alastair Sim would have to play the professorial Aridi, Clark Gable the MP Al-Ahdab. (We all agreed that Gable would get the part.) I thought that perhaps Herbert Lom might play Hamade. (I imagine he is already Googling for Lom's name.) Nora? She'd have to be played by Vivien Leigh or – nowadays – Demi Moore. And who would play Walid Jumblatt? Well, Walid Jumblatt, of course.

But remember these Lebanese names. And think of them when the next explosion tears across this dangerous city.-(RFisk)

Beirut slashes red tape for new businesses

BEIRUT: The prolonged agony of registering a new company in Lebanon may be coming to an end thanks to a new agreement between the government and LibanPost on Friday. The new system permits an entrepreneur to hire a legal representative and prepare an application and supporting papers from any LibanPost branch where the payment is made. All these procedures, according to the government, should not take more than six days.

Previously, starting up a business in Lebanon entailed hiring a legal representative, collecting a series of forms and documents, visiting numerous government institutions, and paying several fees to these institutions. Companies seeking registration complained in the past that the procedure used to take more than 45 days just to get a stamp of approval from the government.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Finance Minister Jihad Azour, Justice Minister Charles Rizk, Justice Minister, Economy and Trade Minister Sami Haddad, LibanPost board chairman Khalil Daoud and a representative of the International Finance Corporation (IFC)

» Research
signed an agreement at the Grand Serail Friday which aims to cut the time, cost, and complexity of the registration process by providing a simple guide to be followed by both local business owners and foreign concerns that wish to open new branches within the country.

Lebanon ranks 132nd in the 2007 "Doing Business" report prepared by the IFCIFCLoading..., the private-sector arms of the World Bank. The report provides measures of business regulations and their enforcement across 178 countries.

According to the report, it takes an average of 46 days to register a business in Lebanon, with an average cost of 94 percent of annual income per capita, compared to 11 days for registration and an average cost of 25 percent in Tunisia.

The reform is expected to boost the stagnant business function in the country.

"We are in great need of such reforms in order to encourage investments by business owners who are ill-informed and confused about the complexity of the old registration system" said Siniora.

Business-registration costs are expected to be cut down by an estimated 50 percent, according to Haddad, encouraging start-ups that create new jobs in the market.

Referring to increased competition in a globalized economy, Siniora stressed how creating a healthy and efficient economy would also encourage foreign investors to start their businesses in Lebanon. "We are a part of the global economy, in which every nation competes with one another," he said.

According to Siniora, the Lebanese government must encourage investors to come to Lebanon because other countries in the region are also racing to win foreign investments.

The Parliament, which has been inactive since November last year, did not partake in the new reform.

"The new registration system is not a product of the Parliament's legislation" the IFCIFCLoading...'s Thomas Moullier told The Daily Star, adding that each ministry had undertaken reforms to pass on the new system.

"When the Parliament reconvenes, we can expect to pass a law on business registration that would meet international standards," said Haddad, adding: "Business owners would register within two days with 90 percent lower registration costs."-(Zawya)

Why Did Israel Attack Syria?

09/27/07 "ICH" -- -- Nazareth -- Israel's air strike on northern Syria earlier this month should be understood in the context of events unfolding since its assault last summer on neighboring Lebanon.

From the leaks so far, it seems that more than half a dozen Israeli warplanes violated Syrian airspace to drop munitions on a site close to the border with Turkey. We also know from the US media that the raid occurred in close coordination with the White House. But what was the purpose and significance of the attack?

It is worth recalling that, in the wake of Israel's month-long war against Lebanon a year ago, a prominent American neoconservative, Meyrav Wurmser, wife of Vice-President Dick Cheney's recently departed Middle East adviser, explained that the war had dragged on because the White House delayed in imposing a ceasefire. The neocons, she said, wanted to give Israel the time and space to expand the attack to Damascus.

The reasoning was simple: before an attack on Iran could be countenanced, Hizbullah in Lebanon had to be destroyed and Syria at the very least cowed. The plan was to isolate Tehran on these two other hostile fronts before going in for the kill.

But faced with constant rocket fire from Hizbullah last summer, Israel's public and military nerves frayed at the first hurdle. Instead Israel and the US were forced to settle for a Security Council resolution rather than a decisive military victory.

The immediate fallout of the failed attack was an apparent waning of neocon influence. The group's program of "creative destruction" in the Middle East -- the encouragement of regional civil war and the partition of large states that threaten Israel -- was at risk of being shunted aside.

Instead the "pragmatists" in the Bush Administration, led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the new Defense Secretary Robert Gates, demanded a change of tack. The standoff reached a head in late 2006 when oilman James Baker and his Iraq Study Group began lobbying for a gradual withdrawal from Iraq -- presumably only after a dictator, this one more reliable, had again been installed in Baghdad. It looked as if the neocons' day in the sun had finally passed.

Israel's leadership understood the gravity of the moment. In January 2007 the Herzliya conference, an annual festival of strategy-making, invited no less than 40 Washington opinion-formers to join the usual throng of Israeli politicians, generals, journalists and academics. For a week the Israeli and American delegates spoke as one: Iran and its presumed proxy, Hizbullah, were bent on the genocidal destruction of Israel. Tehran's development of a nuclear program -- whether for civilian use, as Iran argues, or for military use, as the US and Israel claim -- had to be stopped at all costs.

While the White House turned uncharacteristically quiet all spring and summer about what it planned to do next, rumors that Israel was pondering a go-it-alone strike against Iran grew noisier by the day. Ex-Mossad officers warned of an inevitable third world war, Israeli military intelligence advised that Iran was only months away from the point of no return on developing a nuclear warhead, prominent leaks in sympathetic media revealed bombing runs to Gibraltar, and Israel started upping the pressure on several tens of thousands of Jews in Tehran to flee their homes and come to Israel.

While Western analysts opined that an attack on Iran was growing unlikely, Israel's neighbors watched nervously through the first half of the year as the vague impression of a regional war came ever more sharply into focus. In particular Syria, after witnessing the whirlwind of savagery unleashed against Lebanon last summer, feared it was next in line in the US-Israeli campaign to break Tehran's network of regional alliances. It deduced, probably correctly, that neither the US nor Israel would dare attack Iran without first clobbering Hizbullah and Damascus.

For some time Syria had been left in no doubt of the mood in Washington. It failed to end its pariah status in the post-9/11 period, despite helping the CIA with intelligence on al-Qaeda and secretly trying to make peace with Israel over the running sore of the occupied Golan Heights. It was rebuffed at every turn.

So as the clouds of war grew darker in the spring, Syria responded as might be expected. It went to the arms market in Moscow and bought up the displays of anti-aircraft missiles as well as anti-tank weapons of the kind Hizbullah demonstrated last summer were so effective at repelling Israel's planned ground invasion of south Lebanon.

As the Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld reluctantly conceded earlier this year, US policy was forcing Damascus to remain within Iran's uncomfortable embrace: "Syrian President Bashar al-Assad finds himself more dependent on his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, than perhaps he would like."

Israel, never missing an opportunity to wilfully misrepresent the behavior of an enemy, called the Syrian military build-up proof of Damascus' appetite for war. Apparently fearful that Syria might initiate a war by mistaking the signals from Israel as evidence of aggressive intentions, the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, urged Syria to avoid a "miscalculation". The Israeli public spent the summer braced for a far more dangerous repeat of last summer's war along the northern border.

It was at this point -- with tensions simmeringly hot -- that Israel launched its strike, sending several fighter planes into Syria on a lightning mission to hit a site near Dayr a-Zawr. As Syria itself broke the news of the attack, Israeli generals were shown on TV toasting in the Jewish new year but refusing to comment.

Details have remained thin on the ground ever since: Israel imposed a news blackout that has been strictly enforced by the country's military censor. Instead it has been left to the Western media to speculate on what occurred.

One point that none of the pundits and analysts have noted was that, in attacking Syria, Israel committed a blatant act of aggression against its northern neighbor of the kind denounced as the "supreme international crime" by the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal.

Also, no one pointed out the obvious double standard applied to Israel's attack on Syria compared to the far less significant violation of Israeli sovereignty by Hizbullah a year earlier, when the Shia militia captured two Israel soldiers at a border post and killed three more. Hizbullah's act was widely accepted as justification for the bombardment and destruction of much of Lebanon, even if a few sensitive souls agonized over whether Israel's response was "disproportionate". Would these commentators now approve of similar retaliation by Syria?

The question was doubtless considered unimportant because it was clear from Western coverage that no one -- including the Israeli leadership -- believed Syria was in a position to respond militarily to Israel's attack. Olmert's fear of a Syrian "miscalculation" evaporated the moment Israel did the maths for Damascus.

So what did Israel hope to achieve with its aerial strike?

The stories emerging from the less gagged American media suggest two scenarios. The first is that Israel targeted Iranian supplies passing through Syria on their way to Hizbullah; the second that Israel struck at a fledgling Syrian nuclear plant where materials from North Korea were being offloaded, possibly as part of a joint nuclear effort by Damascus and Tehran.

(Speculation that Israel was testing Syria's anti-aircraft defences in preparation for an attack on Iran ignores the fact that the Israeli air force would almost certainly choose a flightpath through friendlier Jordanian airspace.)

How credible are these two scenarios?

The nuclear claims against Damascus were discounted so quickly by experts of the region that Washington was soon downgrading the accusation to claims that Syria was only hiding the material on North Korea's behalf. But why would Syria, already hounded by Israel and the US, provide such a readymade pretext for still harsher treatment? Why, equally, would North Korea undermine its hard-won disarmament deal with the US? And why, if Syria were covertly engaging in nuclear mischief, did it alert the world to the fact by revealing the Israeli air strike?

The other justification for the attack was at least based in a more credible reality: Damascus, Hizbullah and Iran undoubtedly do share some military resources. But their alliance should be seen as the kind of defensive pact needed by vulnerable actors in a Sunni-dominated region where the US wants unlimited control of Gulf oil and supports only those repressive regimes that cooperate on its terms. All three are keenly aware that it is Israel's job to threaten and punish any regimes that fail to toe the line.

Contrary to the impression being created in the West, genocidal hatred of Israel and Jews, however often Ahmadinejad's speeches are mistranslated, is not the engine of these countries' alliance.

Nonetheless, the political significance of the justifications for the Israeli air strike is that both neatly tie together various strands of an argument needed by the neocons and Israel in making their case for an attack on Iran before Bush leaves office in early 2009. Each scenario suggests a Shia "axis of evil", coordinated by Iran, that is actively plotting Israel's destruction. And each story offers the pretext for an attack on Syria as a prelude to a pre-emptive strike against Tehran -- launched either by Washington or Tel Aviv -- to save Israel.

That these stories appear to have been planted in the American media by neocon fanatics like John Bolton is warning enough -- as is the admission that the only evidence for Syrian malfeasance is Israeli "intelligence", the basis of which cannot be questioned as Israel is not officially admitting the attack.

It should hardly need pointing out that we are again in a hall of mirrors, as we were during the period leading up to America's invasion of Iraq and have been during its subsequent occupation.

Bush's "war on terror" was originally justified with the convenient and manufactured links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, as well as, of course, those WMDs that, it later turned out, had been destroyed years earlier. But ever since Tehran has invariably been the ultimate target of these improbable confections.

There were the forged documents proving both that Iraq had imported enriched uranium from Niger to manufacture nuclear warheads and that it was sharing its nuclear know-how with Iran. And as Iraq fell apart, neocon operatives like Michael Ledeen lost no time in spreading rumors that the missing nuclear arsenal could still be accounted for: Iranian agents had simply smuggled it out of Iraq during the chaos of the US invasion.

Since then our media have proved that they have no less of an appetite for such preposterous tales. If Iran's involvement in stirring up its fellow Shia in Iraq against the US occupation is at least possible, the same cannot be said of the regular White House claims that Tehran is behind the Sunni-led insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. A few months ago the news media served up "revelations" that Iran was secretly conspiring with al-Qaeda and Iraq's Sunni militias to oust the US occupiers.

So what purpose does the constant innuendo against Tehran serve?

The latest accusations should be seen as an example of Israel and the neocons "creating their own reality", as one Bush adviser famously observed of the neocon philosophy of power. The more that Hizbullah, Syria and Iran are menaced by Israel, the more they are forced to huddle together and behave in ways to protect themselves -- such as arming -- that can be portrayed as a "genocidal" threat to Israel and world order.

Van Creveld once observed that Tehran would be "crazy" not to develop nuclear weapons given the clear trajectory of Israeli and US machinations to overthrow the regime. So equally Syria cannot afford to jettison its alliance with Iran or its involvement with Hizbullah. In the current reality, these connections are the only power it has to deter an attack or force the US and Israel to negotiate.

But they are also the evidence needed by Israel and the neocons to convict Syria and Iran in the court of Washington opinion. The attack on Syria is part of a clever hustle, one designed to vanquish or bypass the doubters in the Bush Administration, both by proving Syria's culpability and by provoking it to respond.

Condoleezza Rice, it emerged at the weekend, wants to invite Syria to attend the regional peace conference that has been called by President Bush for November. There can be no doubt that such an act of détente is deeply opposed by both Israel and the neocons. It reverses their strategy of implicating Damascus in the "Shia arc of extremism" and of paving the way to an attack on the real target: Iran.

Syria, meanwhile, is fighting back, as it has been for some time, with the only means available: the diplomatic offensive. For two years Bashar al-Assad has been offering a generous peace deal to Israel on the Golan Heights that Tel Aviv has refused to consider. This week, Syria made a further gesture towards peace with an offer on another piece of territory occupied by Israel, the Shebaa Farms. Under the plan, the Farms -- which the United Nations now agrees belongs to Lebanon, but which Israel still claims is Syrian and cannot be returned until there is a deal on the Golan Heights -- would be transferred to UN custody until the dispute over its sovereignty can be resolved.

Were either of Damascus' initiatives to be pursued, the region might be looking forward to a period of relative calm and security. Which is reason enough why Israel and the neocons are so bitterly opposed. Instead they must establish a new reality -- one in which the forces of "creative destruction" so beloved of the neocons engulf yet more of the region. For the rest of us, a simpler vocabulary suffices. What is being sold is catastrophe.

27 September 2007

Syrian plot to kill Lebanon's MP Ghanem exposed

Beirut - Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Seyassah has reported very disturbing information on the assassination of former MP Antoine Ghanem, including the preparation of the booby trapped car and the execution of the assassination.

The Al-Seyassah sources in Syria were able to link the assassination of Ghanem, his bodyguards and 3 others to the opening of the Arida and Dabussiya border crossings between Lebanon and Syria on September 17, 2 days before the assassination took place.



The Al-Seyassah sources also revealed that the opening of the crossings was to facilitate the entry of the assassins with their equipment and the Mercedes car that was booby trapped at the Syrian intelligence base of Kfarsoussah near Damascus including all the forged documents required.

The whole operation was coordinated by Bassem Emad, a Syrian intelligence officer that reports directly to Assef Shawkat, head of the Syrian intelligence and President Bashar el Assad’s brother-in-law.


The assassination was performed by Syrian intelligence agents after detailed monitoring of Ghanem’s movements and the roads that he used to use. These agents rented two apartments, one near the residence of Ghanem in Qlei'at and the other near the crime scene in Sin el Fil.The killers also rented a third apartment in Tripoli three months ago using forged documents.

The sources revealed that the killers left Lebanon immediately after committing a crime, completely disguised as Syrian workers.

The March 14 leading majority has accused Syria of the murder of Ghanem, but Syria denied any involvement.

Al-Seyassah was the first newspaper to reveal the names of the Lebanese generals who were linked to the murder of former PM Rafik Hariri in 2005. All 4 generals are now in jail awaiting trial.-(YL)

Lebanon cannabis farmers

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon - For a poor Lebanese farmer, the cannabis plant sprouting from the fertile ground of the Bekaa Valley is a blessing from God. For his country, it symbolizes the dwindling authority of a state weakened by factional conflict.

Surveying a field of the spindly leafed plants, he explained how the government usually sends tractors to destroy the valuable but illegal crop. But this year, they never came, allowing him to reap his first harvest in years.



Praise God -- he wanted to compensate us," he said, declining to give his name. "It's been 12 years -- farmers have been going backwards, debts have been mounting up."

With Lebanon's government paralyzed by political conflict and its army bogged down in a war with militants, farmers have made the most of a security vacuum to grow what locals describe as one of their best cannabis crops since the 1975-1990 civil war.

In the chaos of war in the 1980s, Lebanon emerged as the Middle East's main source of narcotics, producing up to 1,000 tonnes of cannabis resin annually and 30 to 50 tonnes of opium, from which heroin is made, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

For Bekaa Valley farmers, those were the good old days, said Ali Hamiyeh, mayor of the village of Tarayah.

"The financial situation was very good. People could do everything, there were no economic restrictions," he said.

"Now things are different."

The end of the civil war and reconstruction of the state spelled the end for large-scale farming of narcotics, which during the conflict had found their way by land and sea to the streets of Europe. The smaller quantities produced since the war are mainly consumed locally, farmers say.

Anything Goes

Lebanese and Syrian security forces eradicated the crops between 1991 and 1993, UNODC says. Unable to make a decent living from wheat or barley, farmers would plant limited areas with cannabis in the hope it would go unnoticed.



"They would farm a bit here, a bit there. This year they farmed a lot," Hamiyeh said.

The farmers were emboldened by a sense the government was losing its grip, weakened by conflict between anti-Syrian factions and others allied to Damascus. The army, meanwhile, was busy fighting Islamist militants in north Lebanon in a bloody battle that dragged on from May to September.

The control Damascus used to exercise over security in the country ended in 2005 when Syrian troops were forced to withdraw.

"Respect for the state has fallen across Lebanon. With the political conditions and divisions, anything goes," Hamiyeh said.

The cannabis crop is sold directly to local producers of hashish, the resin made from the plant which is usually smoked.

"They come, cut the crop and pay," explained the farmer. A cannabis field of 1,000 square meters is worth $1,000 to its owner, against $50 for the same area of wheat, he said.

Ignored by State

The farmer this year only planted a fraction of the cannabis he used to grow during in the civil war, but said he might sow more next season: "We'll monitor the situation and see.



"The great thing about cannabis is that it doesn't need anything. Two kilos of seed cost 10,000 Lebanese pounds ($7)," he said. The plant hardly requires water and can grow without fertilizers or pesticides which add to the cost of other crops.

Farmers have no choice other than to grow cannabis "so that we don't fall into debt and are forced to sell our land," he said. "The state has turned its back on farmers."

The Ministry of Agriculture admits it has few resources to subsidize cultivation of other crops.

"The budget of the agriculture ministry is very, very limited, meaning the ministry cannot offer anything to these people," said Samir el-Chami, director of planned resources at the ministry. Projects launched in the early 1990s and aimed at finding alternatives to cannabis farming have failed, he said.

Security forces were destroying cannabis crops this season, as in previous years, he said. But farmers would continue to farm the plant as long as it is profitable and there are few alternatives.

"People will keep the view that 'whenever I get the chance and I can escape the state, I will grow this crop."-(R/YL)

25 September 2007

Lebanon's presidential election adjourned till October 23

Beirut- Lebanon 's House Speaker Nabih Berri adjourned Tuesday's crucial parliamentary session to elect a new president till October 23. "The session has been adjourned till October 23 at 10:00 am"

24 September 2007

Lebanon's leading presidential candidates

But the election has been postponed, since so far there is no agreement on a consensus candidate.



The opposition wants to make sure that a consensus candidate is agreed on before they will show up in the parliament hall.

In other words the election , if it will ever take place will be just a formality.

The opposition is insisting on a quorum of 2 thirds of the parliament members. There are 128 MPs

The pro government majority is down to 68 members after the loss of MP Antoine Ghanem who was assassinated last week.


The term of current president Emile Lahoud expires on November 23. The deadline for electing a president is November 24, 2007

The majority is counting on electing a president with simple majority ( half +1) of the March 14 alliance within the last 10 days of the deadline if no consensus candidate is agreed on by November 14.

There are many declared and undeclared candidates for the presidential election. Professor Chibli Mallat has declared his candidacy , while former president Amine Gemayel, MP Nayla Mowawad, MP Samir Franjiyeh, etc. have not declared their candidacy. The leading candidates are hereby listed in alphabetical order. All are from the Maronite Christian community for which the presidency is reserved in Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system.

Michel Aoun ( first row second from left )
Aoun was born on February 19, 1935 in Beirut (Haret Hreik) and is the nominal head of the Free Patriotic Movement. Aoun was elected a deputy from Kesrouan in 2005 and served as commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces from 1984 to 1990. From September 1988 to 1990, he was empowered by outgoing President Amine Gemayel to lead one of Lebanon's two opposing governments but was defeated by Syrian forces in October 1990. He took refuge at the French embassy in Beirut and was forced into exile to France for 15 years. Aoun returned to Beirut in 2005, after the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. While expected to side with the majority, which would press for a Syrian military withdrawal, Aoun signed a controversial memorandum of understanding with Hezbollah in February 2006. He has won several tactical victories both in the 2005 parliamentary elections as well as the August 2007 Metn by-election, which transformed him into a controversial and colourful contender.

Still, Aoun frequently wonders why he is rejected by those affiliated with the majority, who do not trust him and refuse to acknowledge his record is less than stellar. His supporters say that no personal ambitions motivate their "General", whereas the majority perceives him as an opportunist who places his glory ahead of the state's interests. More importantly, many of his early supporters have deserted him and his two-year long record in Parliament is also considered weak. Should he be elected, some wonder whether he will continue to rely on colourful language, which is certainly entertaining but seldom presidential.


Robert Ghanem ( second row first right)
Ghanem was born on June 18, 1942 in the Bekaa valley and is a member of parliament. Interestingly, Ghanem won his 2005 seat on the "National Resolve List", a rare phenomenon backed by Hariri's Mustaqbal (Future) Movement, Nabih Berri's Amal Movement and Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party. He is the son of former Army Commander Iskandar Ghanem and considered a constitutional authority.

Boutros Harb ( first row second from right )
Harb was born on August 3, 1944 in Tannourine (Metn) and has served as a member of parliament. Best known for his repeated attempts to run for president, Harb issued a detailed programme during a well-attended news conference on August 31, 2007, in which he outlined a six-year plan to unite various factions under the authority of the head of state.

His platform rests on the premise that the Lebanese president must uphold the 1989 Taif Accord without shunning national leaders who reject particular aspects of the agreement. This articulate contender insisted on national unity, declared his opposition to contemplated naturalisation for the estimated 400,000 Palestinian refugees, as well as the transformation of Palestinian camps into security zones that have so far been outside the state's authority. Harb reiterated the importance of liberating the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms, underscored his commitment to all UN resolutions (from 1559 to 1701), the deployment of UNIFIL+ in Southern Lebanon and the empowerment of the military to defend the country from all foes. He called for dialogue with Syria based on established traditions, but wished to strengthen them further by insisting on mutual respect for sovereignty and independence.

Nassib Lahoud ( first row first left )
Lahoud was born on November 23, 1944 in Baabdat (Metn), is a trained engineer with a degree from the United Kingdom. He founded Lahoud Engineering and served as ambassador to the US (1990-1991) before running for Parliament. He won three consecutive four-year terms before he was narrowly defeated in 2005 by an Aounist candidate. He is the president of the Democratic Renewal Movement, which was founded in 2001, and is a reform-mandated opposition group that is widely supported among the country's intelligentsia.

A distant cousin of President Emile Lahoud, Nassib situated himself early on in the anti-Syrian camp and while he opposed former premier Hariri's economic policies, he agreed with the latter about the need to end Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs. Significantly, he was one of the few parliamentarians who voted against constitutional amendments to extend the mandates of both presidents — Hrawi in 1995 and Emile Lahoud in 2004.



Jean Obeid ( second row first left)
Obeid was born on May 8, 1939 and has served in several governments, most recently as foreign minister in 2003-2004. Obeid also served as a deputy from Tripoli .
He was close to the late Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and to Hariri.
Obeid is seen as one of the likelier consensus candidates. He was an adviser to the late President Elias Sarkis and to President Amin Gemayel on Syrian and Arab affairs

Charles Rizk ( first row first right )
Rizk was born on July 20, 1935 in Maad (Jbeil-Metn), and served as minister of justice in the Siniora government. The former head of Tele Liban, the state's official broadcasting vehicle, Rizk gained admiration for his painstaking negotiations with United Nations envoys to help establish the international tribunal that will identify and try individuals implicated in the murder of Rafik Hariri. The gregarious Rizk is well liked on both sides of the aisle, though his uncompromising stand on the Hariri tribunal may work against him.


Riad Salameh ( second row second from left)
Salameh was once the late Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri's private banker. He has served as central bank governor since 1993 and might also need a constitutional amendment before he could be elected president.

He is credited with maintaining a safe monetary policy, building up foreign currency reserves and stabilizing the Lebanese pound in the face of political assassinations and in the aftermath of the Israel-Hezbollah war.

In 2006 the U.S. finance magazine Euromoney chose him as the world's best central banker of the year.

Electing Salameh would require a constitutional amendment to allow a senior public servant run for office, a major hurdle.


Michel Suleiman ( second row second from right)
Suleiman, 59, has been army commander since 1998. On his watch, Israeli troops left south Lebanon in 2000, Israel and Hezbollah fought a war in 2006 and the army battled al Qaeda-inspired militants in north Lebanon this year.

The general has been credited with keeping the army neutral during domestic splits and violence over the past three years.

He gained national popularity during the army's 15-week struggle to defeat Islamist fighters in a Palestinian refugee camp. March 14 leaders remain wary of him, partly because he did not order troops to suppress anti-government street protests.

Like Salameh, electing Suleiman would require a constitutional amendment to allow a senior public servant run for office, a major hurdle.

23 September 2007

Israel claim seize of North Korean nuclear material from Syria

Elite Israeli forces seized North Korean nuclear material during a raid on a secret military site in Syria before Israeli warplanes bombed it September 6, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The Sunday Times quoted well-placed sources as saying the commandos seized the material from a compound near Dayr az-Zwar in northern Syria and that tests of it in Israel showed it was of North Korean origin.

Israel had been surveying the site for months, according to Washington and Israeli sources quoted by the newspaper which gave no date for the commando raid or details about the material seized.

An unidentified senior American source quoted by The Sunday Times added that the US government sought proof of nuclear-related activities before allowing the air strike by F-151 ( right) warplanes to go ahead.

The raid by the elite Sayeret Matkal was personally directed by Ehud Barak, Israel's defense minister who once commanded the unit, the newspaper said.

It said he had been preoccupied with the site since assuming his post on June 18.

The White House insisted Friday that it was "clear-eyed" about North Korea as it stonewalled questions about an Israeli strike allegedly sparked by nuclear cooperation between Pyongyang and Syria.

If true, transfers of atomic technology from the Stalinist state would cast a dark cloud over US policy towards North Korea, which US President George W. Bush, weighed down by the unpopular war in Iraq, has hailed as a success story.

North Korea has angrily denied sharing atomic know-how with Damascus, and some news reports have suggested that Israel's target was actually tied to missile exports from the cash-strapped regime to Syria.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino flatly refused to confirm or deny media reports that Israel struck a nuclear site but sharply rejected suggestions that the incident showed Washington had been naive about Pyongyang's intentions.


Initial reports by foreign media said the Israeli target on September 6 was either the arms meant for Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon or a joint Syrian-North Korean nuclear project. Syria has denied both but announced an incursion, but Israel has refused to comment.

Israel considers Syria one of its greatest enemies and accuses Damascus of backing the militant organizations Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon . Despite the recent tensions, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert last week called for the reopening of peace talks, without conditions, between the two adversaries.

Past negotiations broke down over Syria's demand for the return of the Golan, a strategic plateau Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.

Israel offered to go back to the international border, but Syria insisted on also controlling another small strip of territory — the east bank of the Sea of Galilee, which Israel captured during the 1948-49 war that accompanied its creation.

Talks also faltered over the extent of peaceful relations Syria would offer.-(STimes, AP,YL,BDC)

Lebanon - The wait for a leader

Eleven men have held the post of elected president since Lebanon gained its independence from France on November 22, 1943.



Bisharah Al Khoury was followed by Camille Chamoun, Fuad Chehab, Charles Helou, Sulaiman Franjieh, Elias Sarkis, Bashir Gemayel, Amine Gemayel, Rene Moawad, Elias Hrawi and Emile Lahoud.

Both Bashir Gemayel and Rene Moawad were assassinated before they could serve, and three candidates acceded to power following constitutional emendations (Al Khoury, Hrawi and Lahoud), which permitted them to extend their constitutionally mandated terms. One man refused an extension (Chehab), another left politics for philanthropy and writing (Helou) while one supervised (some say, accelerated) the 1975 civil war (Franjieh). Another was powerless vis-à-vis both Syria and Israel (Sarkis).

Amine Gemayel replaced his brother — who had been murdered — but left the office vacant after General Michel Aoun assumed prime ministerial functions when the country operated under two competing governments.

Gemayel's term witnessed an Israeli invasion and occupation and an ill-advised, US-drafted and imposed peace treaty with Israel, which was never ratified. Hrawi, the most unpretentious president, acted as a powerbroker after he secured the critical Taif Accord to reformulate the 1943 National Pact. He was more than a caretaker leader as Lebanon emerged from two decades of internecine wars.

Failed by the leader

The present officeholder assumed the presidency in 1998 amid overall optimism. He managed to accomplish little during his regular six-year term, and though he took credit for the Israeli withdrawal in 2000, Lahoud embroiled the country in a major crisis in 2004 when he consented, perhaps under Syrian duress, to a three-year constitutional extension of his mandate.

Lebanon elects its president in Parliament, which, since the 1989 Taif Accord, is composed of 128 deputies divided equally between Muslims and Christians. The president normally serves a six-year term although three men served for longer. Between 1998 and 2000, when Israel was literally emasculated by Hezbollah in South Lebanon, Lahoud appeared as a competent leader. Still, it was Hezbollah that was responsible for the withdrawal, which ended an 18-year occupation and which significantly strengthened the Party of God on the domestic scene.

Goaded by both Damascus and Tehran, Hezbollah enhanced its presence throughout the South while denying the regular armed forces the right to deploy on the international borders.

Amid a raucous call for change, the Parliament extended Lahoud's term in 2004, after Rafik Hariri, then a member of parliament, sought and received international assistance to end Syrian interference in the country's internal affairs. Beirut was then put on a full-scale reconstruction programme that reopened the war-torn country to the rest of the world. Needless to say, Hariri and many other Lebanese concluded that Damascus, which had maintained a large military presence in Lebanon since 1975, hindered this progress.

Hariri managed to internationalise the country's plight with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, which was quickly opposed by Syria, perceiving it as a Western ploy to weaken and isolate it from the larger Arab-Israeli arena.

The Franco-American Resolution 1559 was adopted on September 2, 2004 and called upon Beirut to establish its sovereignty over its territories. It also invited "foreign forces" (interpreted as referring to, but not limited to Syria) to withdraw troops, end sophisticated intelligence-gathering deployments and stop the economic strangulation that chiefly benefited corrupt high-ranking officials.

The resolution admonished the Lebanese to disband all militias (targeting Hezbollah, which was the last such major actor that maintained weapons independent of the legal armed forces). It further declared its support for a "free and fair electoral process" that, presumably, referred to the presidency. This key resolution remains at the heart of all disputes between Hezbollah and everyone else. While the Lebanese agree on most issues, they strongly disagree on Resolution 1559, which takes a new direction.

Few of Lahoud's accomplishments during his regular term stand out other than his rejection of Resolution 1559. When Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated on February 14, 2005, Lebanon entered a new phase in its political life — a virtual roller coaster. Hundreds of thousands participated in his funeral precession, Muslims reading Al Fatihah and Christians making the cross over his burial tomb.

The Hariri national memorial service turned into an anti-government rally that mobilised the reluctant and warned the blasé. Around one million Lebanese (mostly Shia supporters of Hezbollah) gathered at Martyrs Square on March 8, 2005 to support Damascus. Hariri supporters perceived this demonstration as being in poor taste — given its proximity to the slain leader's tomb — as well as a challenge. A counter-demonstration on March 14 drew more than 1.5 million at the same venue — renamed Freedom Square — to demand a Syrian withdrawal.

Poll debut

As the Cedar Revolution garnered support and the tide turned against occupation forces, Syria started a rapid pullback in April 2005 as Beirut scheduled parliamentary elections — executed in four rounds between May 29 and June 19 — to elect a new chamber. This was the first election in three decades that occurred without the presence of foreign military forces.

The 2005 Parliament was divided into three main groups: a majority of 72 seats led by Sa'ad Hariri and his late father's Future Party, 35 seats within the Resistance Bloc, which grouped the two Shia parties Amal and Hezbollah, and the 21 Change and Reform Bloc members. Along with its 36 deputies, the Future Movement grouped 16 Progressive socialists (Jumblatt), 6 Lebanese Forces, 6 Kataeb, 5 independents and 3 Armenians. Amal alone won 14 seats as did Hezbollah (14). Two Syrian Social Nationalist Party deputies and 5 others, including a lone Armenian Tashnag deputy joined the Resistance Bloc.

Change and Reform was composed of the 14 Free Patriotic Movement members, 5 deputies beholden to Elias Skaff and 2 to Michel Murr. After the August 2007 by-election, the majority was reduced to 71, and the Aounist forces increased their count to 22.

In other words, on September 25, 2007, 71 deputies from the majority will face 57 opposition parliamentarians. It is they who will elect the next president and both sides face the challenge of maintaining discipline within their respective ranks.

Assuming that all 71 deputies from the majority will be present, a quorum will require the physical presence of an additional 15 parliamentarians (for a minimum of 86). Will there be 15 or more opposition deputies in Parliament at 10.30am on September 25? Naturally, without an understanding, or even a compromise candidate, there are no guarantees that a quorum will be met. As an alternative, deputies could be bussed to the chamber but might refuse to vote, which will automatically postpone the session. The most likely scenario is for everyone to actually enter the Parliament building without entering the chamber proper, which will be interpreted as patriotic fervour. No one can realistically force a vote even if a quorum is established.

Today, the main dispute is over the identity of the candidates. While the opposition nominally supports General Aoun (even though Hezbollah has yet to make a formal announcement), and while the majority may yet choose a single candidate from among a slew of contenders, there are excellent chances that two final candidates will simply cancel each other out.

In fact, even if a quorum is established, it is impossible for Aoun to gather either two-thirds (86) of the votes or be elected by a simple majority (65) because the majority was not ready to give up seven votes. Likewise, even if the majority candidate won in the second round with at least 65 votes — more likely 71 — that would still be shy of a clear two-thirds required to govern the country effectively.

Compromise candidate

In short, neither the March 8 nor the March 14 coalition can win with a candidate with broad support even if a president can technically be elected by a simple majority in a second round or later ballots. Under such circumstances, the majority and opposition leaders — probably goaded by both international and regional actors — will settle on a compromise candidate, who might be either Riad Salamah (Central Bank) or, more likely, Army Commander General Michel Sulaiman.

While Salameh is a competent administrator, he lacks the political backbone to muzzle Lebanon's warring factions. Moreover, his personality is subdued, something that was noticed by the Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir — the ultimate decision maker on such matters — in previous encounters. Michel Sulaiman, on the other hand, could well be the surprise choice. Born on January 21, 1948 in Amchit, Sulaiman became Commander of the Armed Forces on December 21, 1998. He recently announced that he would reluctantly accept a transitional role in the event of a deadlock. Still, he stood as the ideal compromise candidate among all political factions by virtue of his impeccable patriotic credentials, especially after the tragic events of Nahr Al Bared.

It is important to note that unless both sides agree on a compromise candidate, there will probably be no elections on September 25 or at later sessions. Both sides will enter a period of testing, which will further widen the gulf separating them, because no single candidate will achieve the comfortable margin of 86 votes.

Naturally, a candidate could garner from 65 to 71 votes, but such a president will probably be even more isolated than Emile Lahoud in his well-appointed but politically barren Baabda "Palace". Even if the majority will not be responsible for such an outcome, a president elected with a simple majority will quickly lose his cachet, well ahead of the problematic 2009 parliamentary plebiscite. He will be a lame duck even before wearing the official presidential seal.

Should Lebanon's 128 deputies agree to amend the constitution and elect Michel Sulaiman — a career officer who joined the army as a cadet officer on October 4, 1967 and who was regularly promoted until his appointment by President Lahoud — many fear that the country would distance itself from democratisation. While Sulaiman is credited for remaking the military, strengthening its nationalism and deploying it against terrorist forces, the next president — Sulaiman or another candidate — faced critical security choices that went beyond democratisation. The choice was to be either like Fuad Chehab or pursue the Hrawi model. Both addressed democratisation but from different perspectives.

Chehab and Hrawi Models

Like Chehab, Sulaiman could play the nationalism card, focus on reconstruction and restore legal authority. In fact, Sulaiman's most important contribution before this past summer occurred on March 14, 2005, when he directed the army to desist from preventing a gathering of more than 1.5 million people in Freedom Square. Added to his 2007 record, a Chehab model will most likely mean law and order, with a significant boost in the country's defensive capabilities, as well as further strenghtened international support to fend off the country's foes.

Sulaiman could opt for the Chehab model by focusing on domestic matters and encourage reconciliation and prosperity. Like Chehab, he will rely on the military to muzzle the opposition (with Syrian approval), to restore the country's privileged relations with Damascus in exchange for certain compromises on the United Nations Hariri Tribunal and aim at restoring what the people clamour for most — security.

The other available model is that of former president Hrawi, who worked hard to end conflict, encourage tolerance and open a new page in intra-communal life. Should Sulaiman opt for this model, he is likely to significantly reduce internal tensions, although this option required both Saudi and Iranian approval to coerce and buttress beholden local actors.

Lebanon is at the dawn of a new age and only a strong leader can restore legal authority. Only the military can command unquestioned respect throughout the country and — this must be stated as clearly as possible — only the army can persuade Hezbollah to turn over its weapons to Lebanon's legal authorities.

While reconciliation is a necessity, the next president of Lebanon must opt for a combination of the Chehab and Hrawi models. Such an outcome will allow the prime minister (who, under the unapplied Taif Accords enjoys far greater privileges than the president) the freedom to govern and meet internal demands, while the president helps restore glory to the country's blemished image.

Presidential hopefuls

According to the unwritten 1943 National Pact brokered between Lebanon's established Maronite, Sunni and Shia leaders, the office of president was "reserved" for a member of the Maronite community. Today, several Maronite contenders have either declared their candidacies or are considering it. Mostly, contenders are existing or former parliamentarians, with the exceptions of Army Commander General Michel Sulaiman and Governor of the Central Bank Riad Salamah. However, by virtue of their high-ranking posts, both are not eligible unless a constitutional amendment adjusts their ranks.

Given alphabetically are brief introductions of these and other likely contenders:

General Michel Aoun was born on February 19, 1935 in Beirut (Haret Hreik) and is the nominal head of the Free Patriotic Movement. Aoun was elected a deputy from Kesrouan in 2005 and served as commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces from 1984 to 1990. From September 1988 to 1990, he was empowered by outgoing President Amine Gemayel to lead one of Lebanon's two opposing governments but was defeated by Syrian forces in October 1990. He took refuge at the French embassy in Beirut and was forced into exile to France for 15 years. Aoun returned to Beirut in 2005, after the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. While expected to side with the majority, which would press for a Syrian military withdrawal, Aoun signed a controversial memorandum of understanding with Hezbollah in February 2006. He has won several tactical victories both in the 2005 parliamentary elections as well as the August 2007 Metn by-election, which transformed him into a controversial and colourful contender.

Still, Aoun frequently wonders why he is rejected by those affiliated with the majority, who do not trust him and refuse to acknowledge his record is less than stellar. His supporters say that no personal ambitions motivate their "General", whereas the majority perceives him as an opportunist who places his glory ahead of the state's interests. More importantly, many of his early supporters have deserted him and his two-year long record in Parliament is also considered weak. Should he be elected, some wonder whether he will continue to rely on colourful language, which is certainly entertaining but seldom presidential.

Fares Boueiz was born on January 15, 1955 and served as a deputy from Kesrouan until 2005, when he withdrew from the race. A son-in-law of former president Elias Hrawi, Boueiz was minister of foreign affairs from 1990 to 1998 except for a few months in 1992 when he was temporarily replaced by Nasri Maalouf.

Amin Gemayel was born on January 22, 1942 in Bikfaya (Metn) and is the head of the Kataeb (Phalange) party. Gemayel entered the political arena in 1972 by winning a by-election in the Metn. He was elected president of Lebanon (1982-1988) after his brother was assassinated. In August 2007, he narrowly lost to Camille Khoury in another by-election, called to fill the post left vacant by his slain son, Pierre, who was both a member of parliament as well as minister of industry.

Robert Ghanem was born on June 18, 1942 in the Bekaa valley and is a member of parliament. Interestingly, Ghanem won his 2005 seat on the "National Resolve List", a rare phenomenon backed by Hariri's Mustaqbal (Future) Movement, Nabih Berri's Amal Movement and Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party. He is the son of former Army Commander Iskandar Ghanem and considered a constitutional authority.

Boutros Harb was born on August 3, 1944 in Tannourine (Metn) and has served as a member of parliament. Best known for his repeated attempts to run for president, Harb issued a detailed programme during a well-attended news conference on August 31, 2007, in which he outlined a six-year plan to unite various factions under the authority of the head of state.

His platform rests on the premise that the Lebanese president must uphold the 1989 Taif Accord without shunning national leaders who reject particular aspects of the agreement. This articulate contender insisted on national unity, declared his opposition to contemplated naturalisation for the estimated 400,000 Palestinian refugees, as well as the transformation of Palestinian camps into security zones that have so far been outside the state's authority. Harb reiterated the importance of liberating the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms, underscored his commitment to all UN resolutions (from 1559 to 1701), the deployment of UNIFIL+ in Southern Lebanon and the empowerment of the military to defend the country from all foes. He called for dialogue with Syria based on established traditions, but wished to strengthen them further by insisting on mutual respect for sovereignty and independence.

Ghattas Khoury was born on December 27, 1952 in Ksar Nis and earned a medical degree from the University of Madrid. A practicing physician in Beirut, he entered politics on an affiliation with Rafik Hariri's parliamentary bloc. Khoury voluntarily stood down from his seat in 2005 to ensure that Solange Gemayel (the widow of slain president-elect Bashir Gemayel) was secure on her seat.

Nassib Lahoud, born on November 23, 1944 in Baabdat (Metn), is a trained engineer with a degree from the United Kingdom. He founded Lahoud Engineering and served as ambassador to the US (1990-1991) before running for Parliament. He won three consecutive four-year terms before he was narrowly defeated in 2005 by an Aounist candidate. He is the president of the Democratic Renewal Movement, which was founded in 2001, and is a reform-mandated opposition group that is widely supported among the country's intelligentsia.

A distant cousin of President Emile Lahoud, Nassib situated himself early on in the anti-Syrian camp and while he opposed former premier Hariri's economic policies, he agreed with the latter about the need to end Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs. Significantly, he was one of the few parliamentarians who voted against constitutional amendments to extend the mandates of both presidents — Hrawi in 1995 and Emile Lahoud in 2004.

Chibli Mallat was born in 1960 in Baabda and is a licensed attorney as well as a well-known scholar of contemporary Lebanese political affairs. His claim to fame was established in the prosecution of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in a Belgian court, most notably for the latter's role in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres. Although a brainy contender, Mallat lacked the imprimatur, as well as Cardinal Sfeir's blessing to enter the vicious intra-Maronite arena.

Nayla Mouawad was born on July 3, 1940 in Bcharré (Metn) and is both a member of parliament from Zghorta-Tripoli and minister of social affairs in the Siniora government. She is affiliated with the Democratic Forum, established after her husband Rene Mouawad was assassinated in 1989. Although she announced her candidacy for president in 2004, Mouawad withdrew when President Emile Lahoud's term was extended. More importantly, and while a pillar of the Maronite community, she is widely believed to be setting the stage for her son, Michel (born in Jbeil in 1980), a civil engineer with an MBA from the ESSEC Business School in France, to eventually run for high office.

Jean Obeid was born on May 8, 1939 and served as minister of foreign affairs in the government of former prime minister Salim Al Hoss in the 1980s. Obeid also served as a deputy from Tripoli and is considered a dark horse.

Charles Rizk was born on July 20, 1935 in Maad (Jbeil-Metn), and served as minister of justice in the Siniora government. The former head of Tele Liban, the state's official broadcasting vehicle, Rizk gained admiration for his painstaking negotiations with United Nations envoys to help establish the international tribunal that will identify and try individuals implicated in the murder of Rafik Hariri. The gregarious Rizk is well liked on both sides of the aisle, though his uncompromising stand on the Hariri tribunal may work against him.

Articles 34, 49 and 79

Constitutional experts offer various interpretations for the required quorum to elect a president according to three articles in the constitution.

Article 34 clarifies:

The chamber is not validly constituted unless the majority of the total membership is present. Decisions are to be taken by a majority vote. Should the votes be equal, the question under consideration is deemed rejected.

Article 49 identifies presidential powers and in Section 2, states that:

The president of the republic shall be elected by secret ballot and by a two-thirds majority of the Chamber of Deputies. After the first ballot, an absolute majority shall be sufficient. The president's term is for six years. He may not be re-elected until six years after the expiration of his last mandate. No one may be elected to the presidency of the republic unless he fulfils the conditions of eligibility for the Chamber of Deputies.

Article 79 declares (Part 1):

When a draft law dealing with a constitutional amendment is submitted to the chamber, it cannot discuss it or vote upon it except when a majority of two thirds of the members lawfully composing the chamber are present. Voting is by the same majority.

How does one interpret these clauses? Is a quorum required to elect a president? Yes, say opposition leaders. No, respond members of the majority since a simple majority will do after the first ballot. Still, while the necessity for a quorum may be subject for interpretation, established traditions compel politicians to opt for a consensus driven preference.-(YL)

20 September 2007

Fear turns Phoenicia Hotel into residence MPs

The March 14 alliance has rented Beirut's plush Phoenicia Hotel and changed it into a bastion-like safe residence for its threatened parliamentary deputies who would take part in electing a new president for Lebanon.



The sea-side hotel is now off limits to all non-authorized personnel and would not accept any guests until after the presidential elections, a senior source told Naharnet.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said "even MPs representing the opposition and non-March 14 factions would not be allowed into the hotel. This is a private property."

"It is more of a castle now," he said of the hotel, which is across the street from site of the explosion that killed ex-Premier Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005.

The source said some of the March 14 MPs "have already moved into the Phoenicia which was totally screened, searched and checked in the past 48 hours."

"All the entrances to the hotel, its basements and parking lots have been blocked. Security Personnel, waiters and administration employs have been checked, and some of them given paid leaves and replaced," he added.

The source disclosed that Phalangist MP Antoine Ghanem, who was assassinated by a car bomb explosion a few hours earlier, was "supposed to move into the hotel this evening."

Ghanem returned to Lebanon from Abu Dhabi two days ago.

The Phoenicia Hotel is hardly one kilometer south of Parliament compound, where legislators are invited to elect a new head of state as of next Tuesday to succeed pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud, whose extended term in office expires on Nov. 24.-(yalibnan)

19 September 2007

Explosion near Horsh Tabet

At around 5:20pm, an explosion occured in approximity of Horsh Tabet, near Rond Point Al Hayek, near Antoine Library...


















Sources said it's Antoine Ghanem, DOB 10/8/1943, Kataeb supporter depty! Plate#133 in black chevrolet-(LBC)

Koleitat Accused Husband of Embezzlement

Lebanon's Al-Madina Bank scandal heroin Rana Koleilat accused the bank's fugitive chairman Adnan Abu Ayash, whom she claimed to be his wife, of embezzlement.
"I feel I was a victim in this case," Koleilat said in an interview published by the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper on Wednesday.

"If I had stolen money … I wouldn't have paid depositors from the properties and real estates registered under my name," Koleilat said from her prison in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Koleilat said Abu Ayash "stole the money from the bank and caused its collapse," denying allegations that she was transferring money from the bank to accounts in the names of "Lebanese or Syrians."

She accused Abu Ayash's family and relatives of "supervising these transfers."

Koleilat's case highlights the corruption that has ravaged Lebanon for decades. Paying off Syrian intelligence officers and providing gifts to influential politicians and business people was common during the period when Syria influenced everything in Lebanon, from picking a president to harassing a political foe, and even cutting a business deal or finding a stolen car.

Koleilat was freed on bail less than two months before the February 2005 assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, allegedly under pressure from Syria's intelligence chief in Lebanon, Maj. Gen. Rustum Ghazale. She was whisked out of the country before the Syrian army withdrew in April and reportedly spent time in Egypt before going to Brazil.

Abu Ayash later filed a lawsuit accusing Koleilat, Ghazale and three of the Syrian's brothers of laundering and theft of more than $70 million in depositors' money. Lawyer Jean Azzi claimed Koleilat would withdraw money from the bank and transfer it to accounts she opened in the names of Ghazale and his brothers.

Now once again in prison -- this time in Brazil -- Koleilat may be connected to something more sinister: Hariri's assassination.

U.N. investigators have told police they want to question her in the assassination. Brazilian police said investigators want to know whether money allegedly diverted from Al-Madina Bank, where Koleilat once worked, was used to finance the slaying.

"It's vital that Miss Koleilat submit herself before the U.N. commission for questioning," Joseph Sayah, Lebanon's consul general in Sao Paulo had told investigators.

Koleilat spent time in prison in Lebanon in 2004, but then jumped bail on fraud charges in a banking scandal and fled the country, allegedly with Syrian help. She was arrested by Brazilian police in March 2006.

Brazilian authorities said they arrested the 39-year-old Koleilat after an anonymous tip.

Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Brazil, where Koleilat also faces charges of trying to bribe police officers to release her. Prosecutor General Saeed Mirza reportedly was trying to find a legal basis to demand that she be handed over, and Lebanese judicial officials told the AP authorities will seek to focus on the bank fraud charges.

Koleilat's Brazilian lawyer said she told him she knows nothing about Hariri's assassination or the bank's missing money, and that she offered no bribe to police.

During 12 years at the private Al-Madina bank, Koleilat rose from a clerk to an executive, and she quickly became the center of the scandal after it broke in July 2003. After detecting a cash deficit of more than $300 million, along with other irregularities, the Central Bank stepped in and took control of Al-Madina.

A lawsuit accused Koleilat of issuing a bad check for $3 million and of forging bank documents with the aim of embezzling. Several depositors also have filed suit against her and the bank's owners.

Koleilat was interrogated and jailed for several months in 2004.

She became a celebrity at the height of the banking scandal, with the media scrutinizing her lifestyle, purchases and gifts. Koleilat reportedly handed out expensive cars, apartments and houses to powerful people in Lebanon and in Syria.-(naharnet)

15 September 2007

Presidential Elections: Nassib Lahoud & Charles Chidiac joined

Declared candidates now includes:

  • MP Michel Aoun
  • MP Robert Ghanem
  • Prof. Shibli Mallat
  • MP Boutros Harb
  • Charles Camille Chidiac

Undeclared candidates

  • MP Nayla Moawad
  • MP Samir Franjieh
  • Michel Suleiman
  • Riad Salameh

13 September 2007

Opposition Leader Sees a Way Out for Lebanon



With Lebanon in political paralysis for almost a year, Nabih Berri, the speaker of Parliament and a leader of the opposition, on Wednesday pressed for agreement on his plan to restart negotiations and warned that Lebanon was headed toward chaos without a deal soon.

The political process has been caught between a demand for more power by the Hezbollah-led opposition and the American-backed government, struggling to maintain its authority. After threats of sectarian violence earlier this year, the situation grew calmer. But a resolution of the issues was never reached, and the need for one has become more urgent because President Émile Lahoud’s term ends in November.

Mr. Berri’s proposal would have the opposition drop its demand for a unity government if all political factions agreed by Sept. 25 to negotiate to select a new president by consensus.

But the proposal is mired in the familiar back-and-forth between the opposition and the American-backed majority. Each side says it wants to compromise for the benefit of Lebanon, and each charges the other with making unreasonable demands that threaten to push this sliver of a nation into “the unknown,” as Mr. Berri said Wednesday.

“Why am I in a hurry?” Mr. Berri, leader of the Shiite Amal movement, said to reporters from The New York Times and Le Figaro in his Beirut office. “I don’t like this situation around Lebanon. Here we are on top of a volcano.” It was an unusual moment: Mr. Berri rarely allows interviews with the Western press.

If Parliament does not agree on a new president by 10 days before the current president’s term ends, the Constitution would allow the governing coalition to elect its candidate. But many here believe that could lead the opposition to set up a parallel government, dividing the country and perhaps igniting factional violence. So far, there is little public optimism that a deal will be reached, though there have been intense behind-the-scenes negotiations with many foreign diplomats visiting Beirut to try to head off a crisis.

“There isn’t any movement, any creative energy,” said Oussama Safa, general director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, a nonpartisan research center. “There is no new item offered on the agenda, no movement worth noticing on it. Berri has the power to push for a deal, but we cannot forget that he is a partisan actor.”

Mr. Berri has tried to present himself as the peacemaker, saying that his offer is straightforward and, most important, the last chance.

Though Mr. Berri deflects questions on the issue, his proposal offers the opposition — in particular Hezbollah, the Shiite militia that has been pressing the Sunni majority for a bigger role in government — a face-saving way out of the immediate standoff. Late last year, Hezbollah organized an open-ended protest in the center of Beirut, vowing to keep it going until the government fell. The government continues in office, and the protesters’ tents are still crippling the center of the city.

But Mr. Berri has also made it clear that he thinks the majority is reluctant to compromise because it has the support of the United States. “They have help from your government and from the Security Council,” he said in the interview. “If I know that my father is going to help me, I don’t care about my brother.”

The majority says that Mr. Berri’s proposal has a catch: He will allow Parliament to convene only if two-thirds of the members attend. He says that is a constitutional requirement, but the majority contends that all that is needed is a simple majority; the two-thirds requirement for meeting, it says, would effectively require it to have support of two-thirds of the members to elect a president, instead of a simple majority.

Under the power-sharing agreement among sects here, the prime minister must be a Sunni, the Parliament speaker a Shiite and the president a Maronite Christian.

The majority may be especially sensitive to the proposal for a two-thirds requirement since aides to Michel Aoun, a retired general and Christian leader who split the Christian factions when he aligned with Hezbollah, have said he is a potential consensus candidate.

“It is not necessary that the consensual candidate be neutral,” Mr. Berri said during the interview. “He can be from the majority, and he can be from the minority. As long as there is a consensus around him, then he will be the strongest.”

Elias Atallah, a member of Parliament in the majority bloc, said that the governing coalition of Sunni, Druse and Christian factions “will agree on the initiative, but with our conditions.” He also said that “it is impossible that we agree on General Aoun as a consensus candidate.”

The majority at one point offered to give in to the opposition’s demand for a national unity government with veto power over all decisions, if all issues were resolved together: the choice of a president and support for an international tribunal that would investigate the killing of a former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, and the many other bombings in the two years since. (Investigations ordered by the United Nations Security Council have uncovered evidence implicating Syria in the assassination, though Syria has denied any involvement.)

The opposition did not accept that offer from the majority.-(nytimes)

Hizb's illegal networks in Lebanon removed

Beirut - Private communication networks installed illegally in Beirut by the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah have been removed, a cabinet minister said Wednesday. "Minister of Telecommunications Marwan Hamadeh

11 September 2007

Why did Israeli planes enter Syria?

A mysterious incident involving Israeli jets over northern Syria last week has revived fears of war between Israel and Syria, just as months of tension between the bitter foes had appeared to be subsiding.



The Israeli government is maintaining a rigid — and uncharacteristic —silence over the affair, which has drawn threats of retaliation from Damascus and a vow to take the matter to the U.N. Security Council. Speculation is rife, but facts elusive, over why Israeli warplanes were over above the arid plains of northern Syria early Thursday. Syria's official news agency last week quoted a Syrian military official saying that Israeli jets had entered Syrian airspace from the Mediterranean, and broke the sound barrier before coming under fire from air defenses. The Israelis, according to this account, had "dropped munitions" over deserted areas before departing. The report did not specify whether the Israelis had bombed any targets. The following day, fuel tanks were discovered inside Turkey near the Syrian border. Other jettisoned tanks were reportedly found inside Syria.

"They dropped bombs over Syria and they dropped fuel tanks on Syrian soil," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said in Ankara Monday, while briefing Turkish officials on the incident. Turkey, which has strong military and diplomatic ties to Israel, described the overflights as "unacceptable," and has demanded an explanation from the Israeli government.

The Syrians are suggesting that Israel had, albeit discreetly, moved preemptively to reassure Damascus of its intentions before the incident. Muallem told European ambassadors in Damascus at the weekend that last Wednesday — the day before the incursion — he had received a "calming message" from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, sent via a top EU official, according to the Arabic Al-Hayat newspaper. Israeli officials have lately sought to defuse tensions by making clear Israel has no plan to attack Syria and reducing troop numbers near the border. But Muallem told the diplomats that Olmert's message was a "preparation for the penetration of planes into Syrian skies, just hours later," Al-Hayat reported. Israeli aircraft routinely breach Lebanese airspace, in defiance of U.N. resolutions, mainly to monitor the activities of Hizballah, and on rare occasions, usually connected to tensions in Lebanon or the Palestinian territories, they have also entered Syrian skies.

But northern Syria is a long way from the traditional Arab-Israeli front line, suggesting that the mission was of sufficient importance to endanger air crews and risk a serious escalation of tensions with Damascus. Mohammed Raad, a senior Hizballah official, suggested that the overflight was an attempt to "identify an aggressive aerial passage" for an air strike against Iran. Analysts long have pondered the potential flight routes Israeli bombers would take in the event of a decision to target Iran's nuclear sites. Given the limitations of aircraft range, one option would be to fly directly across Jordan and/or Saudi Arabia and through U.S.-patrolled Iraqi skies. Neither the Saudis or the Jordanians would shed tears if Iran's nuclear capability were destroyed in an air strike, but they could not afford to be seen as having granted the Israelis safe passage though their skies.

An alternative would be to follow the Turkish-Syrian border eastward to Iraqi Kurdistan, and then on to Iran. According to John Pike of globalsecurity.org, the many technical and political factors in play make it difficult to predict which route the Israelis might choose. "At this level of technical detail, one starts to get thinking about what sort of weapons would be carried, and what sort of drag this imposes and how that affects combat range," Pike told TIME.

Even if it were not related to a bombing route, the purpose of Israel's unusual air mission last week may yet be related to Iran. In August, Syria reportedly received from Russia the first batch of 50 Pantsyr S1E short-range air defense systems, part of an alleged sale worth almost $1 billion. The deal is said to have been financed by Iran, which reportedly will receive from Syria some of the Pantsyr units and deploy them to protect its nuclear facilities. The recently developed Pantsyr, which its Russian manufacturers claim is immune to jamming, includes surface-to-air missiles and 30mm Gatling guns, providing complete defensive coverage for a range of 11 to 12 miles and 6 miles in altitude. Pantsyr batteries could pose a serious challenge to either an Israeli or a U.S. air strike on Iran. So were the Israeli aircraft playing a perilous game of chicken to assess the capabilities of the Pantsyr system in response to their countermeasures? Some in Syria believe so.

"There seems to be a consensus here that the Israelis were testing Syrian air defense systems," Andrew Tabler, Damascus-based editor of Syria Today, told TIME.

Whatever their purpose, the overflights appear to have dashed hopes of cooling Israeli-Syrian tensions. Having absorbed the lessons of Israel's failure to crush Hizballah during last summer's month-long war, Syria has been building up its military capabilities in recent months, purchasing advanced anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. Veteran Hizballah instructors have been helping train crack Syrian commando units in guerrilla warfare, according to Lebanese intelligence sources. Syria's growing military confidence has been further bolstered by defense agreements with Iran. Some Israelis worry that Syria, sidelined by the U.S. and Washington's Arab allies in regional peacemaking efforts, could launch a lightning strike against Israel in order to push to the top of the diplomatic agenda its ongoing quest to recover territory captured by Israel in 1967.

Hizballah, meanwhile, has spent the past year frenetically restocking its war-depleted arsenal, preparing new lines of defense and recruiting and training hundreds of eager volunteers in anticipation of a second round with Israel. Commentators in Lebanon and Syria believe that Israel's need to restore its battered military deterrence has heightened the prospect of an attack on Syria. Writing in Monday's Syrian state-run Tishreen newspaper, Ezzieddine Darwish said that the Israeli government is seeking to provoke a war with Syria to "wash away the shame of Israel's defeat in Lebanon". Indeed, many Lebanese, Syrians and Israelis are no longer asking if a war will happen, only when and how.-(time/yalibnan)

Hariri bribe to buy witness to uncover soon

Georges Malbrunot of the French daily Le Figaro wrote in an article published Monday that "it seems that the anticipated report of Serge Brammertz, the chief investigator into the assassination case of Former PM Rafik Hariri, will reveal Lebanese MP Saad Hariri's bribary to create a false witness to testify in the case.

Malbrunot began his report with a quotation by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to the feuding parties in Lebanon. The French reporter's article said:

"I have known you for 30 years, you are unable to achieve concord among confessions," Kouchner said during a dinner in Beirut, illustrating the new and real approach of the French diplomacy, in a country crippled by successive crises to distribute authorities.

From behind words appear deeds. Since President Jacques Chirac's departure after sentimentally dealing with the Lebanese file, France has been approaching Lebanese political groups, including Hezbollah and General Michel Aoun, the two essentials of the Lebanese opposition (Shiites allied with a part of Christians) facing the anti-Syrian majority of the March 14 bloc (where Sunnis, Druze and the other part of the Christians gather), and Paris had until last May considered the latter as its sole interlocutor.

The March 14 powers treasured its victory as "legitimate" and resulting from a triumph in legislative elections against "putschists"; this is what gained the approval of the west, according to a diplomat in Beirut. However the opposition retorted saying that the consensus in Lebanon on which power is based was no longer existent, and therefore "we demand the formation of a national unity government with a blocking one third minority." This argument gained the support of a large portion of the Lebanese people, according to the same diplomat in Beirut. Paris will from now on take this matter into consideration, as French Ambassador Bernard Emié, and just before the end of his tenure, made a "courtesy" visit to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, whom Paris had boycotted since 2004. For his part, french envoy Jean-Claude Cousseran, charged with a fence-mending mission to restore inter-Lebanese dialogue, breached one of the taboos when he visited Damascus; the first such visit by a Senior French official since at least three years.

A senior French diplomat said that Paris is seeking to balance its relations without becoming pro-Syrian. "Our objective continues to be the sovereignty of Lebanon and justice in the assassination case of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

For years, the French position zigzagged as to Syria's role in Lebanon. Until 2004, the instructions were: "No peace with Syria". After the extension by Syria of President Lahoud's term as head of state, the priority became "no peace in Lebanon with Syria."

On the other hand, a new approach is needed away from emotions. Quai d'Orsay asked: "Are the Mach 14 powers manipulating us?" It seems that what has been circulating about bribery paid by Saad Hariri (the head of the Future Movement and heir of late PM Rafik Hariri) to buy a false witness since 2005, will clear up soon, after Judge Serge Brammertz presents his anticipated report on the Hariri assassination case. The question of the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp can be included within the same framework. The Lebanese army has been engaged in battles with dozens of fighters coming from Syria. Paris had initially considered that the Bared incidents are a response for the UNIFIL forces deployed in south Lebanon. Today, the Salafi Jihadists are under the authority of Damascus, according to some, and to Sunni leaderships in Lebanon, according to others.

Today, pro-Syrian terrorists, Salafi Jihadists and some brigands obey only Damascus.

According to some, the ramifications will lead to a Lebanese Sunni administration, and it will not be displeased about the powerful authority at its disposal in case of a Sunni-Shiite fracture that would see a civil war in the country; a specter that the French diplomacy is no longer afraid to bring up with Lebanese officials.

Look at how battles in the Nahr al-Bared began, noted a senior military officer on his way back from there. He continued saying that they began with an attack against the Mediterranean Bank in Tripoli, owned by the Hariri family. "The aggressors wanted to take vengeance because they hadn't received money for quite a time," the officer continued. After Israel liquidated an "agitator" in the Ain el-Helwe Palestinian refugee camp, near the city of Sidon in south Lebanon, MP Bahiya Hariri, the sister of late PM Rafik Hariri, persuaded, with financial means, a group of angry radical Sunnis to stop traveling north to Nahr el-Bared.

To absorb the crisis that may result from electing a new president of the Lebanese republic, Paris hopes to organize an international conference over Lebanon that would gather "first class leaders" from Syria and Iran. However, the conference's chances of success remain dim. The solution of the Lebanese dilemma is dependent on other regional crises."-(Le Figaro)

Lebanon Time-Line

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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.