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Lebanon needs more realism and patriotism

Lebanonwire.com 3/13/06

There is no question that Lebanon has missed again and again important opportunities to build itself into the state that the overwhelming majority of its citizens have aspired for. Being the small, diverse and open country it has always been, it certainly needs the support of the Arab and International community to consolidate its identity and attain stability and prosperity. Since the independence effort from France was launched and until this day various leaders with the vision to reach such goals have emerged, but most of those were either blocked by outside interference or assassinated. The prescription for success includes achieving national unity, fighting corruption, reassuring all sectors of the Lebanese population and avoiding being dragged into polarizing rivalries within the Arab community or on the world scene.

Since March 14, 2005, a unique opportunity emerged brought about by two main factors. In the background there was a series of Syrian policy mistakes leading to a coerced extension of President Lahoudís term, and the formation of a government where loyalty to Syria dominated over any intent for reforms or solving the countryís problems. In this explosive environment, the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri triggered the remarkable national phenomenon that came to be known as The Cedar Revolution.

The exit of the Syrian army, and the fact that the Lebanese have resisted all attempts to reignite factional violence have injected new hope in the spirit of all the population whether inside Lebanon or in the expatriate community. Yet, there is still a divided government and any efforts at reforms are stalled. Further, nobody responsible for the assassinations and terrorist crimes has yet been convicted and punished.

The reunion under one roof of all the diverse political leaders with conflicting ideologies and agendas, without foreign sponsorship, is a remarkable achievement. This demonstrated that the communication gap among Lebanese can be successfully bridged. However, this process may not lead to success unless more realism and patriotism are displayed by most, if not all, in addition to a spirit of sacrifice and selflessness. The interests of the nation should take precedence over selfish or external motives.

The various attacks perpetrated against major leaders, by proxies, analysts or the media are not helpful, even if based on some legitimate facts. There is a consensus that dialogue is the valid path to solutions, and we cannot agree more. However, the genuine Lebanese national interest should override all personal and outside considerations. Lebanon has sacrificed more than any other country in the area, fighting for the various causes that prevailed in the neighborhood, and it is time to use its resources towards solving its own problems first. With the world attention focused positively on Lebanon, we should not miss the opportunity to secure the identity of a free, independent, diverse, democratic and sovereign country over all its territory. Some leaders are warning against being dragged into fighting for the interests of Syria or Iran. Honest dialogue necessitates sincere discussion of the matter rather than reflex accusations of serving other countriesí agendas. Lebanon needs peace, unity and stability to rebuild its identity and its economy. No risks should be taken to satisfy any neighborly or distant interest. If the Taef Accord and 1559 are almost identical as stated by Mr. Jumblatt and others, how can we all accept one and reject the other and thus confront negatively the international community that is trying to help us. The Shebaa Farms issue can be settled within a reasonable time frame diplomatically or through an international court.

There is unity around the need to determine and punish the assassins of Prime Minister Hariri. The pro-Syrian factions can certainly use their good offices to have the Syrian government expedite cooperation to reach closure in that matter. Once this issue is settled, there is consensus that all Lebanese want good brotherly relations with Syria with full respect of the interests and sovereignty of both countries.

The only issue that would remain unsolved is the Presidency. The parliamentary majority needs a constitutional pathway to elect a new President. President Lahoud is said to be prepared to step down if a consensus candidate emerges for the succession. Most Lebanese agree that there are risks if a vacuum is created by the removal of the President while the country is divided about who the successor should be. Naturally, the parliamentary majority can constitutionally elect a president if the position is vacated. However, the possible divisions that may result will negate any potential benefit of such possibility. While everybody agrees that General Aoun is a competent and valid option, if unity cannot be assured around him, we all know that there are at least half a dozen competent alternatives being mentioned amongst known politicians and may be a couple more impressive leaders in the economic community who can be considered. Since Lebanonís system does not have primary elections to determine the final candidates, and since most Lebanese would trust Patriarch Sfeir to support a Maronite who has enough credibility and backbone to reassure the Christians that he can protect their interests while he can work comfortably with all the other Lebanese communities: Sunnis, Shiites and Druze, to secure all Lebanese interests, a mechanism should be sought to solve the problem of the Presidency with the help of Patriarch Sfeir. Further, Saad Hariri, Waleed Jumblatt and Nabih Berri have said at various times that the problem of the presidencial succession should be coordinated with the Patriarch, and I doubt that Sayed Hasan Nasrallah would resist or antagonize such process. However, the Patriarch is widely known to avoid the name game. The question would then be: is there a scenario that could be implemented, which may empower these factors and help solve the problem.

Certainly, any final initiative should be left to the Patriarch to decide if feasible.

Nevertheless, discussions with a number of Lebanese American Leaders, prompts us to propose the following theoretical scenario. Since in the Lebanese Constitution, the Parliament elects the President, any Maronite known as a politician or economic or community leader can qualify if any one Member of Parliament nominates him or her. Maronite deputies can also nominate themselves if they so desire. All nominees, regardless of the extent or type of support they have, should publicly pledge to accept and support the choice that emerges from whatever deliberations can be worked out in Bkerke. Major non-Christian leaders could confidentially whisper their preferences to the Patriarch who I believe is more than worthy of such confidence. The Patriarch can use a confluence of confidential information from Christian and non-Christian leaders to guide the group of nominees into converging around one name who will then be proposed as the consensus candidate for election in Parliament. Hopefully, such process, if successful, will reassure everybody, and the country will move from the transitional stage into the real sovereignty and unity stage. The national focus can then be directed towards the necessary reforms and the rebuilding of the economy that will help achieve the stability and prosperity we all want for Lebanon.

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