14 June 2008

* Post-Doha Decision Analysis

Since 2005, Lebanon has gone through various stages of what have described as a cold ‎conflict. The reason has been, and remains, the two competing visions espoused within the ‎country. On one hand, we have the so-called March 8th vision embodied by the political and ‎armed wings of Hezbollah, which uses Lebanon to strengthen Iran's regional role and promote ‎the ideology of the Islamic Revolution.. On the other hand, we have the vision of March 14th. ‎Though far from being a perfect group, this ideology sees Lebanon as a sovereign, multiethnic ‎state independent from its neighbors and based on democratic principles. ‎

After 18 months of political deadlock, and a so-called "civil disobedience" movement led by ‎Hezbollah and the Shia party known as Afwaj al-Muqawmat al-Lubnaniyya (AMAL) --staged ‎largely to remind Lebanese leaders and other involved parties of the group's military might--the ‎two sides agreed to a compromise in Doha, Qatar. Many observers, however, agree that ‎though, the Hezbollah and its allies obtained what they asked from the very beginning. ‎
As part of the arrangement, Hezbollah agreed to dismantle the tent city that closed many ‎businesses in and around downtown Beirut, and promised to refrain from (again) using its ‎weapons internally. In return for its extraordinary good will it received the veto power over the ‎new national unity government. In its most recent formation, Hezbollah led opposition hold 11 ‎seats, the majority 16, and President Michel Suleiman will nominate three ministers. ‎Furthermore, Hezbollah was left with its arms, autonomous communication system, control over ‎the Beirut airport, and perhaps most importantly, the idea that it can do whatever it wants with ‎little or no repercussions. Negotiations and compromise are preferable to internal conflict, but ‎does Hezbollah's bullying offer Lebanon a stable foundation to move forward? Most agree not.‎
In a recent speech, Hezbollah's Sheikh Nasrallah's denied any such allegations. "If we wanted to ‎stage a coup, you would have woken up this morning in prison, or in the middle of the sea," he ‎said. Hezbollah, however, did stage a coup, but its political and militant leaders had little interest ‎in throwing the Lebanese into the sea. Walid Jumblatt, a leader of the Druze bloc, pointed out ‎this confounding question, wondering aloud what Hezbollah would do following a hypothetical ‎military occupation of Beirut.‎

The Khomeinist Islamic Revolution reached its peak in Lebanon. It cannot go any further ‎without starting a Sunni-Shia conflict. From now on, the Shia political leadership should look "to ‎redefine its role within the system far from resistance and open struggle with Israel," emphasised ‎Nadim Koteich, a Lebanese political analyst. "Hezbollah 's problem is that it embarked on ‎‎'mission impossible'. There is no way for its political and ideological project to prevail in a ‎country like Lebanon where even tiny sectors have the ability to veto less dangerous projects. ‎These are facts that Hezbollah is having problems grasping. Sooner or later Hezbollah will be ‎going through a very complicated transformation, however it is still unknown what price we ‎would have to pay before the party understands this fact." ‎

Aside from militias roaming the country, a major problem for Lebanon is the complex and ‎sectarianpower sharing system reminiscent in some aspects of the European Middle Ages. The ‎leadership of political parties and movements is hereditary, passed on from father to son, with ‎few exceptions.. Not surprisingly, clan leaders are more concerned with their own well being ‎and wealth than that of the people. The immediate consequences are the lack of accountability ‎towards the constituency, and the severe political factionalism that has plagues Lebanon ‎throughout its history. ‎

"The immediate challenge is to get the state institutions back to functionality. Electing the ‎President of the Republic was a big step in this direction. The government has to be formed and ‎the electoral law finalized for the parliamentary elections of 2009. These are necessary steps in ‎order to replace the violence in the streets of Beirut and Mount Lebanon with political and ‎democratic dispute within the institutions," said Nadim Koteich. "The long-term challenge will ‎always be the ability to reach a national consensus over Hezbollah 's weapons. This issue has ‎been weakening the state and the prospects of peace and stability in Lebanon since May 2000. ‎Now that the region is witnessing dramatic shifts, be it the Syro-Israeli talks or the U.S.-Iranian ‎understandings over Iraq, it is essential that Hezbollah comes to common terms with fellow ‎Lebanese on the weapons and the future of struggle, truce or peace with Israel,"

Neither the political system nor the mentality that sustains it will change overnight. Nonetheless, ‎the best bet for Lebanon to truly become what it already claims it is, an independent state, and ‎not a protectorate of countries that are on imperialistic quests. Only by continuing to fortify state ‎institutions, encouraging development and transparency, and keeping the country neutral can ‎such goals be attained.‎

(foreign policy association)

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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.