Precis: Yesterday Hizb'allah and the Taliban inked agreements with the governments of Lebanon and Pakistan respectively. Who can say if the parties will abide by these treaties? Analysis of these treaties reveals significant underlying issues and changes from previous positions. Hizb'allah and the Taliban now realize they must integrate into larger systems. Both can lay some claim to victory in part, but both have been significantly diminished by the consequences of their foolish choices. Both have altered their rhetoric substantially: trading open rebellion for grudging coexistence with their enemies seems to be the new pattern.
Text of the Doha agreement
DOHA: Under the auspices of Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and in continuation of the efforts of the Arab Ministerial Committee, headed by Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani, and the efforts of Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and the foreign ministers of Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Algeria, Djibouti, Oman, Morocco, and Yemen,
And based on the Arab initiative to contain the Lebanese crisis and in implementation of the Arab-brokered Beirut agreement which took place on May 15, 2008
The Lebanese National Dialogue Conference was held in Doha from May 16, 2008 to May 21, 2008 in the presence of the different Lebanese political leaders, who asserted their will to save Lebanon by ending the current political impasse and avoiding its dangerous consequences on national coexistence and civil peace between the Lebanese, and voiced their commitment to the principles of the Lebanese Constitution and the Taif Accord.
As a result of the different meetings, discussions, and consultations that the Arab committee had with all the parties participating in the conference, the following agreement has been reached:
1 - The Parliament speaker will summon the Lebanese Parliament to convene, according to rules in force, within 24 hours to elect consensus candidate General Michel Suleiman as president.
2 - A national unity government of 30 ministers to be formed. It will comprise 16 ministers from the majority, 11 ministers from the opposition and three ministers to be named by the new president. All parties pledge not to resign from the government or hinder its work.
3 - Adopting the qada as the electoral constituency based on the 1960 electoral law, but the qadas of Marjayoun and Hasbaya will continue to be one constituency and so will the qadas of Western Bekaa and Rashaya and the qadas of Baalbek and Hermel.
As for Beirut, it will be divided in the following manner:
First constituency: Achrafieh, Rmeil, Saifi
Second constituency: Bashoura, Medawar, Marfaa
Third constituency: Mina al-Hosn, Ain al-Mreisseh, Mazraa, Mosseitbeh, Ras Beirut, Zokak al-Balat.
The parties also agree on forwarding to the Lebanese Parliament the electoral reforms that were proposed by the National Committee for Drafting the Electoral Law, headed by former Minister Fouad Boutros.
4 - All parties will commit not to resort to arms or violence in order to resolve political conflicts.
Resuming dialogue over strength ending state authority over all parts of Lebanon and defining the relations between the state and the different political groups in the country.
This dialogue has already started in Doha and resulted in:
- Agreeing that security and military powers to be solely in the hands of the state and spreading state authority over all parts of the country so that outlaws will have no safe havens.
5 - Reiteration of a pledge by Lebanese political leaders to immediately refrain from using language that incites political rifts or sectarianism and from accusing each other of treason.
This agreement was signed in Doha on May 21, 2008, by the Lebanese leaders participating in the conference and in the presence of the head of the Arab Ministerial Committee and its members.
In practical terms items 1 and 2 make Michel Suleiman the pro-tempore president of Lebanon and restore the machinery of Lebanon's government to the old 1960 rules. Note there are agreements not to resign from government: I wonder if that doesn't refer to Iraq's problems with its parliament, Sadr storming off in a huff whenever things don't go his way.
Items 3 and 4 refer to a Qada and the plural Qadas, but this isn't very good translation. The noun is qadaa, a sub-national district, ruled by a qadi, a judge, from the root word qada' to render judgment or verdict. The plural of qadaa is adqiyah, districts.
If we had to compare the qadaa to what we know in the USA, a qadaa would be a county and a muhafazah would be a state. The muhafazat (plural) roll up to form the state of Lebanon.
The qadaa is a political construct going back to the Ottomans who also imposed a political ruler on the qadaa, the kaymakam, itself from the Arabic words kaim and makam, substitute-office. The qadi judged, the kaymakam represented the next higher level in Ottoman governance, the sanjak. The Sanjak was a military area of control, and the word kaymakam has military overtones: it was a military rank equivalent to the lieutenant-colonel. Kemal Ataturk was a kaymakam at the Battle of Gallipoli.
For a more elaborate breakout, (if obviously partisan viewpoint) of the Beirut redistricting, I refer you to Tayyar.org
The summa for this redistricting gives Hizb'allah veto power over the Lebanese cabinet. This is an elegant substitute for the anarchy of the current opposition, now cluttering up Beirut with their encampments and street blockades. Yes, it does seem to give Hizb'allah more power, but they're still a minority, and likely to remain so in the upcoming 2009 elections. Everyone agrees to renounce violence, we'll see how that goes, but there's a little backstory on that recent violence, and the Druze figure large in it.
Charles Chuman, aka Charles Malik, co-founder of the Lebanese Political Journal blog, writes on PajamasMedia:
The agreement came about after the ruling March 14 Coalition essentially deliberately prodded and provoked Hezbollah into mounting its bloody Beirut backlash that occurred from May 7-11.
Why would they do such a thing? It all stemmed from the desire of pro-Western members of the ruling March 14 Coalition to elect General Michel Suleiman president on May 13.
They had threatened to use their parliamentary majority to elect him with a simple majority vote, which the opposition had long resisted.
Progressive Socialist Party Druze leader Walid Jumblatt wanted to prove to Future Movement Sunni leader Saad Hariri that there was no way the Lebanese opposition would allow the election of a Lebanese president by a simple majority of the parliament.
Jumblatt then used political savvy to prove exactly why the elected majority could not force its will on Hezbollah. He orchestrated a vote in the cabinet of ministers on two seemingly minor actions against Hezbollah: removing the Hezbollah allied airport security chief, and ordering the Army to dismantle Hezbollah's illegal, government subverting telecommunications network.
Hezbollah responded by invading Beirut.
By provoking Hezbollah to respond, Jumblatt may just have saved Lebanese democracy and the Lebanese constitution. Had the March 14 Coalition elected a president without Hezbollah's consent, the government might have triggered a full-scale Hezbollah invasion. There would have been a constitutional crisis, and Hezbollah might have been able to commit a coup d'etat.
This was something they were clearly unable to manage to achieve during the recent clashes.
After taking over Beirut and attacking the Druze community in the Chouf Mountains, Hezbollah realized that it gained nothing. Hezbollah could not occupy, control and administer Beirut and the other areas it attacked. It could not force the democratically elected government to resign over two minor decisions, especially given that the public was aware that Hezbollah was in the wrong on both accounts.
The March 14 Coalition knew it could rely on the Arab League to provide a face-saving solution. Months before, the Arab League had endorsed Gen. Suleiman's presidency, and Arab League Secretary General actively met with government and opposition leaders throughout the period of presidential vacancy. With the world watching, the government could concede the two decisions to the Arab League, not Hezbollah, and Hezbollah could make it appear like their invasion did something positive, i.e. bringing all parties to the negotiating table. Everyone looked good.
I'm not sure I buy into all Chuman says here. Never attribute to conspiracy what stupidity will adequately explain. The one lasting truth of Lebanon is this: no one party will tolerate the rise of any other. Coalitions in Lebanon are merely collusions between mutually distrustful parties against a common enemy. Hizb'allah thought it could slice through the Gordian Knot to carve out a state for itself, in accordance with its mandate from Iran. Jumblatt and the Druze allied themselves with all the other parties to drive off Hizb'allah's assault on Beirut. The resulting havoc led Hizb'allah to the negotiating table, to accept a minority role in government. Hizb'allah's nose was badly bloodied, and they have put their dreams of another Shiite Paradise on Earth on hold, lest they find themselves suddenly transported to the Paradise of the Martyr. Neither Iran nor Syria has much use for these Hizb'allah maniacs nowadays.
Hizb'allah has been exposed for what it truly is: a violent agency in opposition to the Lebanese state. Hizb'allah has some legitimacy as a political entity, but none as an insurgency. The Sunni states say little, but it's becoming clear they're sick of the Shiite hegemony in Lebanon and are now willing to intervene politically against both Syria and Iran. Syria's role in Lebanon is thereby diminished. I would not say Syria's influence has been reduced all that much, but this doesn't bode well for the Syrian nationalists. Syria is also talking to Israel through intermediaries, another sign Bashar Assad and his minions are feeling the pressure of isolation from the Sunni fold. Syria's not really Sunni anyway, Assad is Alawi. Iraq too grows increasingly irate with Syrian meddling: most of the foreign fighters still cross into Iraq from Syria. Iran's efforts, both directly and through Syria to sow havoc are now backfiring everywhere. The recent fighting in Beirut and the Chouf mountains showed Iran's bought Amal fighters obeyed Machiavelli's dicta about mercenaries:
Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy. The fact is, they have no other attraction or reason for keeping the field than a trifle of stipend, which is not sufficient to make them willing to die for you. They are ready enough to be your soldiers whilst you do not make war, but if war comes they take themselves off or run from the foe; which I should have little trouble to prove, for the ruin of Italy has been caused by nothing else than by resting all her hopes for many years on mercenaries, and although they formerly made some display and appeared valiant amongst themselves, yet when the foreigners came they showed what they were.
Despite the Western press' screaming about Hizb'allah rampant, this is not so. Even the mighty Hizb'allah has been humbled, and by proxy Iran has been dealt a terrible setback. Though Hizb'allah has not given up its arms, nor its communications network, the casus belli for the latest round of fighting which led all to Doha did not play out as Iran had hoped. Lebanon's government proved more resilient than even I could have hoped. Hizb'allah can have all the arms in the world, but it cannot import mandate from afar. Now Suleiman has mandate and Hizb'allah has veto power, a solution entirely congruent to the military and political realities on the ground. How will this play out? Until now, nobody could agree on who could be president of Lebanon: that impasse has been broken.
Michael Young, writing in Lebanon's Daily Star opines:
Like most compromises, the Doha agreement has created winners and losers on all sides - but remains nebulous enough so that the losers still feel they might gain from it. But it's difficult not to interpret what happened in Qatar as a definitive sign that Syria's return to Lebanon is no longer possible. No doubt the Syrians were in on the arrangement, and the suspicious delay in establishing the Hariri tribunal until early 2009 makes one wonder whether a quid pro quo is taking shape behind the scenes. Reports of a breakthrough on the Syrian-Israeli track, the Iraqi Army's entry into Sadr City, certainly with an Iranian green light, and signs that a truce may soon be agreed in Gaza, suggest a regional package deal may have oiled the Lebanese deal.
If there was one message emerging from the recent fighting, it was that Syria could not conceivably return its army to Lebanon without reconquering the country. Hizbullah committed several mistakes, of which two were especially egregious for Syria: The Sunni community, like the Druze and many Christians, are mobilized and will fight any Syrian comeback; and the Lebanese file is more than ever an Iranian one, because Hizbullah's destiny is at stake. Syria's allies, other than Hizbullah, were ineffective in Beirut and the mountains, in some cases even siding with the majority. This confirmed that Damascus has less leverage than ever when it comes to employing those smaller armed groups it completely controls.
The election of a president, even if he is the troubling Michel Suleiman, opens a new phase in Lebanon, one in which it is possible to imagine consolidating a state gradually breaking free from Syria's grip. That's the priority today, and has been the priority since April 2005 when the Syrian Army withdrew from the country. Whether Suleiman likes it or not, from now on he is a president, not a candidate maneuvering to become a president, which will require him to take a strong position on defending the sovereignty of the state both vis-à-vis Syria and Hizbullah. That could either push him closer to the position favored by March 14 and most Lebanese, or it could damage him if he proves to be indecisive.
Will March 14 survive after this? It probably will in the face of an armed Hizbullah and Syria's foreseeable efforts to regain a foothold in Beirut. But the parliamentary majority may transform itself into a looser alignment, united on the large issues but with its leaders behaving parochially when it comes to elections and patronage. Once Suleiman is elected, he becomes an arbiter, an axial figure, in the political game. Politicians will have to position themselves either for or against him, as the president strives to build up a power base for himself in the state, particularly in Parliament. Expect Suleiman to use the army as his bludgeon, which would be regrettable, and expect tension between the officers and traditional politicians.
The entire article is worth the read, though some of the names may be unfamiliar to the Western reader. A useful Who's Who can be found here. The logjam in Lebanon has broken: the metaphor is exceedingly apt used in this context, for what follows the breakup of a logjam is a wild rush of pent-up forces. Now that Lebanon again has a president, however terrible he may be, a status-quo ante has been restored, and Lebanon's feuds now assume political, not merely military dimensions. Whatever you may feel about Hizb'allah's seeming rise to political power, I would rather see these struggles waged within the framework of a government from which none may withdraw than with bursts of heavy machine gun fire in the streets of Beirut.
Could a package deal for the entire region be in the works? I am intrigued by this possibility, and you should be, too. As the hideous civil wars in Iraq, Gaza and Lebanon burn down to cinders, deprived of fuel, the smoke is clearing and a new Realpolitik emerges. The Doha communiqué should not give anyone too much hope, not yet, but it represents something new and substantial: a political framework erected congruent with military realities.
This essay has grown long, and I will cut it short here, with a promise to address Pakistan's rapprochement with the Taliban. I'll give the précis now: As with the Hizb'allah in Doha, the Taliban has been obliged to come to political terms with Pakistan. As with Doha, this agreement is not a defeat for the Taliban, and is certainly not in the interests of the West, but it does represent some interesting concessions on both sides.