29 May 2008

*Michel Sleiman

Michel Sleiman or Suleiman (Arabic: ميشال سليمان‎) (born November 21, 1948) is the current President of Lebanon. Before assuming office as President, he held the position of commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces (the "LAF"). After LAF commander Émile Lahoud took office as president in November of 1998, Sleiman succeeded him as Army commander from December of the same year. Sleiman was later elected President and was sworn into office on May 25, 2008.

Early life, education and family
Sleiman was born in Amchit. He joined the Lebanese Armed Forces in 1967 and went on to graduate from the Military Academy as 2nd Lieutenant in 1988. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and Administrative Sciences from the Lebanese University. He is married to Wafaa Sleiman and has three children. His mother tongue is Arabic and he is also fluent in both French and English.

Military career
During his military service, he progressed from an infantry platoon leader to a Battalion Commander, and then assumed the position of a trainer in the Military Academy and in the non-commissioned officer School. From December 4, 1990 until August 24, 1991 he was appointed as the Chief of the Intelligence Branch of Mount Lebanon. On August 25, 1991 he was reassigned to the post of the Army Staff Secretary-General until June 10, 1993. He was Commander of the 11th Infantry Brigade from June 6, 1993 to January 15, 1996, a period that witnessed violent confrontations with the Israeli forces in the West Beqaa Valley and South Lebanon regions. On January 15, 1996 he was appointed as Commander of the 6th Infantry Brigade and remained in this position until December 21, 1998 when he was appointed as the Commander of the Armed Forces.

On May 19, 2007, the Lebanese Army entered into a prolonged conflict with Fatah al-Islam, a terrorist organisation that was based in the Nahr al-Bared Refugee Camp in northern Lebanon. The conflict lasted until September 2, 2007 and ended with the Lebanese Army taking complete control of the Camp and the complete defeat of Fatah al-Islam. 170 Lebanese soldiers, 226 members of Fatah al-Islam, and 64 civilians (mostly Palestinian refugees) were killed in the fighting. As a result of a number of factors, including balancing the interests of Lebanese citizens, concerns for the safety of Palestinian refugees, and respecting the delicate political balance that existed in Lebanon at the time, Sleiman was forced to proceed in the conflict with extreme caution and managed to do so succesfully, backed by a vast popular and political support for the lebanese army.

On May 7, 2008, an ongoing political crisis between government loyalists and the opposition quickly spiraled out of control when Hezbollah announced that the government's decisions to declare the group's private telecommunications network as illegal and to relieve the head of security at Beirut International Airport (an alleged Hezbollah sympathizer) of his duties amounted to a "declaration of war". Fighting immediately broke out throughout the country, with members of Hezbollah and its allies in the Amal Movement and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party quickly bearing down on their enemies in the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party. The fighting lasted until May 14, 2008, when the Lebanese government canceled its two decisions after the proposition of Sleiman to do so. As the crisis ended, Sleiman was the subject of criticism by some commentators and politicians since the Army did not directly intervene in the armed clashes that took place but instead tried to separate between fighters and protected political figures. On the other hand, others defended his stance by arguing that the only way to preserve the Army's unity and prevent another civil war was to ensure that it remained uninvolved in the fighting against the lebanese citizens.

Path to the Presidency
On November 23, 2007, the term of Emile Lahoud, the 11th President of Lebanon, came to an end. At the time, the Lebanese political spectrum was deeply polarized, with virtually all parties being divided either in the government loyalists (known as the March 14 camp), or the opposition (known as the March 8 camp). The two camps could not come to an agreement as to who should become the country's 12th president, and so, as a result of a provision in the country's Constitution, the powers of the Presidency transferred to the Government in the expectation that an agreement would be reached shortly afterwards.

Several names were advanced as potential candidates for the presidency, including Michel Aoun, Nassib Lahoud, Boutros Harb, amongst others, each of whom was affiliated either to the March 14 or March 8 camps. It soon became apparent however that only an independent candidate would be acceptable to both sides. Michel Sleiman was generally accepted as being the only possible candidate and as a unifying candidate. Most Lebanese commentators and policy makers agreed that Sleiman had successfully won the trust of both the government and opposition camp, and that of most countries in the Arab region, as well as most Western countries. However, his election could not take place until a number of fundamental disagreements between the March 14 and March 8 camps could be resolved, including the issue of whether a government of national unity should be formed, and what specific electoral law should be passed in preparation for the parliamentary elections that were to take place in 2009. These difficulties were eventually resolved during the negotiations that took place in Doha, Qatar from May 17 to May 20, 2008. The negotiations were attended by senior representatives from all of Lebanon's major political parties, and the agreement confirmed that Michel Sleiman would be the preferred candidate in the presidential election.

When the vote was finally held in Parliament on May 25, 2008, Sleiman was elected with a majority of 118 votes out of 127. He was indirectly elected by the Lebanese Parliament, which hadn't had a session, as a result of the ongoing political crisis in the country, for 18 months. The Parliament's session was attended by senior representatives from across Lebanon, the Arab region, the United Nations and the European Union, the United States, European states and many other countries. In his acceptance speech which was welcomed by all political figures across the country, the arab region and the rest of the world, Sleiman spoke of "uniting and working towards a solid reconciliation of the country. We have paid dearly for our national unity. Let us preserve it hand-in-hand". He also made reference to the long-standing crisis between the country's two main political camps when he said that "the people have given us their confidence to fulfill their aspirations, not to afflict them with our petty political disputes".

The Presidency
On May 28, 2008, President Sleiman reappointed Fouad Siniora as Prime Minister. Siniora was the parliamentary majority's candidate for the position, and Sleiman appointed him in accordance with the country's Constitution and with a majority of 68 MPs who named him.

Decorations, medals, awards and honors
  • National Order of the Cedar, knight grade and grand cordon grade
  • Lebanese Order of Merit, 3rd, 2nd and 1st grades
  • Decoration of Military Pride, silver grade
  • Medal of War
  • Decoration of Military Valor, silver grade
  • Decoration of the National Unity
  • Decoration of the Dawn of the South
  • Syrian Order of Merit, grade of excellence
  • Certificate of Honor of the Arab Union
  • Decoration of Arab Union for Military Sports, 2nd degree (commander)
  • Medal from the President of the Ukrainian Republic
  • Medal from the Defense Ministry of the Republic of Russian Federation in 2007
  • Military Medal
  • Internal Security forces’ Medal
  • General Security Medal
  • State security Medal
  • Commemorative Medal of Conferences for the year 2002
  • Citations of the Armed Forces Commander, 4 times - Felicitations of the Armed Forces Commander, 18 times - Felicitations of the Brigade Commander, once

Military training courses
       A training course in Belgium from 7/1/1971 to 4/7/1971 
    • A training in Staff techniques in France from 9/2/1981 to 17/7/1981
    • A Staff training at the Command and Staff College starting 6/6/1988 for 52 weeks
    • An International Defense Management course in the United States of America from 22/6/1995 to 25/7/1995

Military achievements
Fighting terrorism and extremism, notably through the following operations: 
  • Discovering and fighting terrorist organizations in the high and barren mountains of North Lebanon in 2000, eliminating most of their members, dismantling their cells in all Lebanese regions and arresting their members.
  • Attacking the organization of Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp on 5/20/2007 in reaction to an armed robbery of a bank and an attack on two Lebanese Army posts on the camp's perimeter. Fatah al-Islam was totally defeated by the LAF, which led to a surge in popular support for the Army in general and for Sleiman in particular.
  • Protected anti-Syrian protests and pro-Syrian counter protests in 2005.
  • Completing the Army redeployment operation all over the Lebanese territories following the withdrawal of the Syrian Armed Forces on April 26th 2005 in addition to the disturbances and security violations during the year 2007.
  • Restructuring the Lebanese Army after the amendment of the military service law.
  • Dedicating the Army to protect democracy and not as to be the Army of the Authority repressing its political opponents, but rather an Army that preserves the security of the citizen and his rights. The Army clearly assumed its national role of maintaining the security of the protestors, public and private institutions and liberty of expression all through the year 2005 following the assassination of the Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and during the year 2006 till now.
  • Discovering Israeli spying networks, most lately the network discovered during the “dawn surprise” operation carried out on June 6th 2006.
  • Confronting the Israeli Army and supporting the resistance until the liberation of the south in the year 2000.
  • Offering a plan to end the Israeli war against Hezbollah which happened in July 2006, with a compromise solution for all parties. This plan included the planning and the preparation for the deployment of Lebanese Army in the south and on the land and sea crossover, this operation carried out accurately and faithfully and at the conclusion of the operation on the second of October, the Lebanese flag was hoisted on the hill of Labbouni adjacent to the southern border indicating the return of the Lebanese sovereignty to the south.

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

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

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

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

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

Introducing Beirut

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

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

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