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Lebanonese Leaders should acknowledge their responsibilities 9/8/07

Back in the late 1970s' and into the 1980s', countries plagued by instability and security problems dreaded the characterization in the media as "running the risk of Lebanization" which suggested chaos and civil war. No city in the world wanted to be another Beirut. Then came the Taef accord sponsored by the United States and the Arab World with dominant input from Saudi Arabia and Syria. The Lebanese impressively returned to normal civilized life, buried their differences and rebuilt their country at a pace that earned them admiration and support of most world countries. However, the Lebanese resurgence occurred with Syrian presence and during the 1990s' into the early twenty first century, politicians frequently depended on Syrian guidance to resolve their differences and the Taef accord was implemented only very selectively. Many Lebanese politicians went too far in cozying to the wishes and desires of intelligence officers and Syria's role became increasingly heavy handed, so that more and more Lebanese inside and outside Lebanon characterized it as an occupation. The process culminated in the unpopular extension of President Emile Lahoud's term, despite UN resolution 1559 which warned against such move.

This triggered a broad political movement uniting new anti-Syrian leaders with older anti-Syrian politicians to challenge Syrian influence and interference in Lebanon. The martyrdom of Prime Minister Hariri further galvanized the anti-Syrian feelings in Lebanon, resulting in the March 14 movement that triggered the abrupt exit of the uniformed Syrian troops from Lebanon. Until today, nobody knows for sure if or how many intelligence personnel are secretly left behind and how many Lebanese are still working as Syrian agents.

Despite a free parliamentary election performed according to a bad Syrian inspired electoral law (the 2000 electional law) and the formation of the Seniora government without direct Syrian input, Lebanon has continued to suffer from significant insecurity and instability. Unfortunately a series of assassinations and other terrorist acts have remained unaccounted for despite reflex and undocumented accusations against Syria. An international tribunal has been approved in principle, but has not yet become operational. The country is approaching the deadline for the election of a new President after the completion of President Lahoud's extended term, and yet it remains divided and polarized with neither the governing majority nor the opposition minority having enough votes to impose their will with regard to the election process.

There are also acute differences in the interpretation of an ambiguity in the Taef Constitution. While it is clear that two thirds of the Parliament Members are needed to elect the President in the first voting round, it is not clear whether the vote is constitutional by simple majority on the second round, if two thirds of parliament members failed to show up during the first round. Nevertheless, some leaders are calling for a Presidential election by simple majority outside Beirut if the Parliament Speaker, the security situation, or other factors did not allow the vote to take place in the House of Parliament. Other opposing leaders have warned against such action which in their opinion could trigger chaos or a new civil war. Many ordinary Lebanese are now worried that Lebanon despite American input and support could become another Iraq and Beirut another Baghdad. Nobody questions the fact that the Seniora government depends on the support of the US, Europe and the moderate Arab states and the opposition dominated by Hezbollah is inspired and supported by Syria and Iran. The average Lebanese are frustrated that despite the "so called" newly recovered sovereignty, their destiny appears to be totally in outside hands. They are very concerned about the uncertainties and dangers that could result from an unfilled vacuum in the presidency or even an election by simple majority that could be violently challenged by the opposition.

The expatriate community in general and American Lebanese Foundation (ALF) in particular wish to remind the Lebanese and especially their leaders that despite influences, support and/or interference from East or West they still can have the final say about their destiny. They can also turn the current world interest and attention into a positive factor for stability and prosperity. The most important step towards such goal is to reach consensus on electing a new president. As we have stated before, we reiterate that there are politicians within both the majority and the opposition that could qualify as unity candidates. However, if consensus can only be reached on a truly independent non politician, there are also outstanding potential candidates, although some may necessitate a constitutional amendment.

ALF in principle is against constitutional amendments to accommodate individuals, same as the US administration, the Lebanese government and most Lebanese leaders including Patriarch Sfeir, the highest moral authority in the Maronite community, to which the Lebanese President is assigned. We note however that the US State Department as they stated their opposition to constitutional amendments also added that if the Lebanese people took a decision to amend their own constitution that is a decision that the US and the international community would have to respect. Patriach Sfeir and others have also stated that if the only way to save Lebanon is by a constitutional amendment, so be it. ALF interprets the US State Department position as against any imposed constitutional amendments, but will accept whatever is best for Lebanon through the free will of its people.

We therefore feel strongly that in Lebanon all legitimate, peaceful, free and democratic pathways should be kept open for the election of an intelligent, stable, courageous, patriotic and unifying candidate with proven integrity and leadership ability. However, if such a person is elected by a divisive or controversial mechanism, it will be very difficult for him or her to secure the necessary support for success in these difficult times. We realize that some of us are dreaming of a miraculous process that will secure the election of an ideal president. That notwithstanding, we all agree that the new president will have to start working promptly on implementing the decisions reached unanimously during the dialogue process and set the stage for bringing Lebanon back into full international legality through compliance with existing UN resolutions. We are convinced, however, that these goals will be attained much easier by a unity president, than one elected by a mechanism open to challenges. Further, a president elected by consensus may help implement UN resolutions by a process similar to the one in progress in North Korea regarding the nuclear arms, while a president elected by a controversial or divisive mechanism could lead to challenges and difficulties like those encountered in Iraq.

Despite all the problems which plagued the recent security or political history of Lebanon, we wish to point out that there are important observations that lead to some hope and optimism.

1. All the tragic assassinations and terrorist acts, to date, have failed to trigger runaway violence or civil war, attesting to the maturity of the Lebanese people, and their desire for peace and the survival of their country.

2. The Lebanese army and its leadership have presented a noble prototype of unity and patriotism that was able to transcend the divisions and polarization that plagued the political process.

3. Lebanon has won a major victory against terrorism as a result of its army unity and the support it was able to secure from both the government and the opposition.

4. The declared candidates for the Presidency whether from the 14 March majority or the opposition minority are wisely jockeying to present their selves as unity or consensus candidates.

5. The speaker of Parliament has started an important initiative to facilitate dialogue towards the search of a consensus candidate. We hope this initiative will be given full consideration and serious dialogue will begin sooner rather than later.

Keeping the focus on all above positive factors should facilitate the election of a Unity President with the qualifications needed for this sensitive period in Lebanon's history. Success in electing the appropriate candidate should put Lebanon on a path towards stability, security and prosperity.


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