Tony Badran at Across the Bay has an interesting post on the new Shiite political gathering ("The Lebanese Shiite Gathering") which has emerged as an alternative voice in the Shi'a community, clearly distinguishing itself from the two main Shitie parties, Hizbullah and Amal.
Naharnet gives a summary of President Bush's 10 minute LBCI interview.
From a Syrian point of view, the interesting parts are that Bush reiterates his enmity toward Hizbullah as an armed militia, which he called a "dangerous organization."
More importantly though, he seems to be offering a peace dividend, not only to the Lebanese in the form of generous financial support if the opposition continues to push out pro-Syrian deputies, but also to Syrians.
For Syria to improve relations with Washington Damascus must leave Lebanon and stop supporting Baathists in Iraq -- "stop those people in Syria who are funneling money and helping smuggle people and arms into Iraq," Bush said.Here is the transcript of the Syria part of the interview:
He expressed hope that diplomatic pressure on Syria would make Damascus change course, apparently ruling out military action.
Q: Mr. President, we all know that Syrian-American relations are at their lowest now. Is there a road map for Syria to improve its relationship with the United States?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Syria has heard from us before. We have made it very clear that -- what we expect, in order to be able to have relations with us. First on the agenda, right now, there's two things immediately that come to mind. One is to stop supporting Baathists in Iraq -- stop those people in Syria who are funneling money and helping smuggle people and arms into Iraq. They've heard that message directly from me. And secondly, of course, is to completely withdraw from Lebanon. Syria must shut down Hezbollah offices. Hezbollah not only is trying to destabilize the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, but Hezbollah, as you know, is a dangerous organization.
Q: But those offices are in Lebanon, they're not in Syria.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, they're in Syria, too. And Syria has got to do its part about making sure that Hezbollah doesn't receive support from Syria.
Q: What if the diplomatic effort and the sanctions fail in changing Syrian attitudes? Is there another option?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the government will feel the international pressure. We're just beginning. And, obviously, diplomacy is the first course of action. And we hope -- I think diplomacy will work.
Q: Mr. President, for the last four or five decades, Israel was seen as a country trying hard to be accepted by its Arab neighbors, and signing peace agreements with them. Nowadays we hear someone like President Bashir of Syria complaining that all Syria's attempts to relaunch peace talks with Israel were not taken seriously. Are you doing something to intervene and maybe to put the two parties together?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, Syria and Israel have got current obligations. Syria has got a current obligation to get out of Lebanon. And again I'll repeat this, because I want it very clear what I mean by "get out of Lebanon." I mean not only troops, but intelligence services, as well. And we expect that to happen. Syria has also got to stop inciting or providing -- allowing people in their country to incite violence against Iraqi citizens and our coalition troops.
Israel has got obligations under the current road map to help the Palestinians. Israel is getting ready to withdraw from Gaza, and we expect the government of Israel -- and want to work with the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to make this withdraw successful. And so there's a lot of obligations that these two countries have right now in order to affect world peace.
'Elections on Schedule, Hizbullah Disarmed, Syria out Completely'
President Bush has insisted anew that Syria should "get out completely" from Lebanon and let the Lebanese people decide their own future in internationally monitored elections on schedule and free from external influence or intimidation.Naharnet also has an article explaining that:
Bush pledged, then, to drum up global monetary assistance to help "this country back on its feet."
In a rare direct address to the Arab world, Bush also said in an interview broadcast by Beirut's LBCI television network from the White House he wanted the Assad regime to shut down Hizbullah's office in Syria, asserting the Party of God should disarm in Lebanon.
"The United States can join with the rest of the world, like we've done, and say to
Syria, get out -- not only get out with your military forces, but get out with your intelligence services, too; get completely out of Lebanon, so Lebanon can be free and the people can be free," Bush said in the 10-minute interview.
The Syrian withdrawal should include people who "have been embedded in parts of government" to allow Lebanese -- "not another government, not agents of another government" --to decide the country's fate, he said.
Bush's interview, with Arabic subtitles, was aired late Tuesday. A transcript was provided by the White House press office. It grabbed page-one banner-lines in the Beirut.
Jumblat has expressed disenchantment over the small share of the opposition in Mikati's cabinet, saying it should have taken one half, or even more, of the 14 portfolios and complaining that President Lahoud took the lion's portion of the new government.Michael Young of the Daily Star lays out some very sensible suggestions for how Lebanon can move forward in his article "What's next?".
"The loyalists have won a round," Jumblat said, lamenting the opposition's rejection of his campaign to take part in Mikati's government.
He argues that Lebanon must "arrive at a political system that can simultaneously satisfy demographically majoritarian communities while reassuring communal minorities."
In this context, one can readily dismiss the scheme that proposes imposing simple majority democracy on Lebanon, on the grounds that this is the "fairest" system. It may be, but in a sectarian society like Lebanon's it also tends to be a source of deep divisions, particularly as there are no clear-cut majorities or minorities. That is precisely why most of the sects are willing to pursue the consociational system existing today, where Christians and Muslims are represented evenly in Parliament despite their demographic differences. But it is also worth questioning whether such a system can provide long-term political stability if demographics shift further, whether in favor of Muslims or Christians.A number of Syrians have also suggested that a bicameral legislative body would work for Syria as well. They argue that having a senate or upper body that would protect minority rights through sectarian apportionment and a lower body elected by Muhafaza or districts with no regard to sectarian representation would be a way to maintain a clear national agenda while still guaranteeing a voice for the different religious communities.
One idea that might be discussed is to have Parliament better reflect communal demographics (which would involve a new census, though on what grounds should be agreed to), but only after setting up a new body where the religious communities are represented evenly. Taif, for example, outlines the election of a Parliament on a nonconfessional basis in parallel to the setting up of a Senate "in which all the religious communities shall be represented," with the task of deciding on "major national issues." A Senate would provide continuity where Parliament could be set up in such a way as to adapt to the social transformations in the society...
Critics will complain that sectarianism and a weak state are what is wrong with Lebanon; in fact they are the only things making it democratic in a region awash with despotism, though a more supple system would allow the Lebanese to move beyond sectarianism if they so desire. With Syria gone, the country must move ahead of the wave of change if it wants to avert the wipeout that will come in the event political rigidity and dogmatism again become the order of the day.
As Young argues for Lebanon, such a solution would also shift power away from the capital city and allow the provinces to look after their own interests in a more equitable fashion.
The Oxford Business Group reports on the Lebanese economy claiming that "there has been a bullish financial response to both the announcement of Mikati's cabinet and to the central bank's issuing of dollar certificates of deposit (CDs)."
The long-term prognosis for the economy is more uncertain, however. Without wanting to come to any rash conclusions, many economists are still in a wait and see mood. The Economist Intelligence Union (EIU) has recently revised its real GDP growth prediction for 2005 from 4.5 to 2%, but has also noted that with the establishment of prolonged political stability there would be a strong potential for growth in 2006.
On a more local level, several sectors that depend on Syrian workers for cheap labour have begun to feel a pinching effect, as there has been an exodus of Syrian nationals over the past two months.
Loss of revenue in Lebanon's growing tourism industry, which brought in around $700m last year, is obviously a continuing concern as the summer season draws nearer. There was only an 18.5% drop in tourists to Lebanon in February, year-on-year, with this figure still above 2003 levels, according to ITP Business Magazine.