Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Arab officials don't commit suicide (although they are on occasion made to commit suicide). Ghazi Kan`an: shot himself, twenty times in the back? (I keep my computer screen to my left turned on to the Arabic Al-Jazeera website so that I can glance at it while tossing in bed at night. That was how I learned.) This was bound to happen, I have been telling my friend `Amir this for the last few months, and he has been telling me that this could not happen, not in this time and age, he would argue. I knew that this was bound to happen. That the Syrian regime would announce that either Rustum Ghazalah or Ghazi Kan`an has killed himself. Now is this like Abu Nidal's "suicide" in Iraq under Saddam's regime, when he shot himself with an AK-47 15 times? At the time, Abu Nidal kept shooting himself all over his body until the Iraqi mukhabarat people in the room had to tell him: "Abu Nidal. Stop shooting yourself. You already are dead. Officially dead." Only then, did Abu Nidal stop shooting. Abu Nidal then moved his own body to the bedroom of the apartment. It was not known at the time whether Abu Nidal also buried his own body. Is this similar? Will they find bruises on Kan`an's body because he also hit himself all over his body? Did he also electrocute his body parts before shooting himself? Did he pull out his fingernails? Ghazi Kan`an was Syria's strong man in Lebanon from 1987 until 2002. He was Hariri's sponsor and protege at the same time. Hariri was able to "coopt" him very early on, and he was able to promote Hariri and facilitate his rise in Lebanese politics, long before people knew who Rafiq Hariri was. When Kan`an was appointed Syria's Minister of Interior, Hariri gave him the most lavish and most outlandish and most extravagant farewell party in the official headquarter of the prime minister. Hariri arranged for Kan`an to receive the key to the city. In the beginning, Hizbullah people were not fans of Kan`an: his entry into Beirut in 1987 was marked by the killing of Hizbullah members at the Fathallah barracks. That almost triggered a confrontation between Syrian troops and Hizbullah fighters. Notice that the announcement came only a day after the New TV report about Kan`an's meeting with Mehlis in Damascus (see my post from yesterday). The unusual report spoke about a whole box of receipts of checks that was retained by Kan`an, and that carried the signatures of Rafiq Hariri. The New TV report ALSO spoke about Kan`an admitting that he received (from Hariri presumably) a $10 million sum for his role in the drafting of the 2000 electoral law, which helped Hariri return to power in a major way. This summer, I wanted to meet Ghazi Kan`an. He was one of three Syrian officials that I wanted to interview to learn about the background of the Lebanese conflict. But the gates of Damascus were alas closed in my face. I did not go there, and I did not get one interview, despite early promises (and efforsts) by a decent and competent Syrian diplomat. But this I was able to learn in the course of my meetings and interviews in Lebanon: the conflict between Emile Lahhud and Rafiq Hariri reflected another intense conflict between Rustum Ghazalah and Ghazi Kan`an. Ghazi Kan`an pushed for Hariri's interests, while Rustum Ghazalah hated Hariri and pushed for Lahhud, and his agenda. But that conflict also reflected in turn factional tensions within the Syrian regime. Rustum Ghazalah answered to Asaf Shawkat, and was part of the new team of Bashshar Al-Asad, while Ghazi Kan`an was part of the old "guard"--I know that my dear friend, and Syria expert, Bassam Haddad hates the fashionable methodological distinction between "old guards" and "new guards." Kan`an was also seen by Bashshar Al-Asad as being too close to Hariri and his financial empire. There were reports that Ghazi Kan`an's kids (like `Abdul-Halim Khaddam's kids) were also "taken care of" by Rafiq Hariri. Ghazi Kan`an served Syria's interests in Lebanon: he was a better negotiator and a more "sophisticated" enforcer of Syria's policy in Lebanon than the brute and crude Rustum Ghazalah. Make no mistake: Kan`an is no nice guy. He was on top of the Syrian intelligence apparatus, and that by definition makes him (just like any mukhabarat guy in any country in the Arab world) responsible for crimes and oppression. But I have been expecting his "suicide" because that will serve the purposes of the Syrian regime, and help ease the pressure. This will follow: it will quickly or gradually be announced that the Syrian government's investigation revealed that this Kan`an was responsible for so many things and so many abuses of power that happened in Syria and Lebanon, and maybe he will also be blamed for the massive corruption in the state bureaucracy, for the collapse of the damn in Syria a few years ago, for the brutal crushing of Hamah, and for whatever else the Syrian regime was responsible for over the years. The question, however, is whether the regime will pin the blame on him for the assassination of Hariri. That is a risk. One thing for sure: this Syrian regime (like the regime of Hafidh Al-Asad) will not volunteer information, but may provide useful information if an evidence was provided about some Syrian role in the assassination of Hariri. Well, that depends too. If the Mehlis report provides a damning evidence that the Syrian government can't refute, then the regime would be able to blame Kan`an. It will have to depend on what is contained in that report. This suicide will strengthen, not weaken, the resolve of the Syrian regime. There is now a dead man, on whose shoulders blame can be pinned for whatever is revealed about Syrian "actions" in Lebanon. This will not prevent the possibility of another suicide. If I were Rustum Ghazalah, I would remove all sharp metal objects and weapons from my vicinity, lest I get the temptation to "injure" myself really badly. I turned to Syrian TV, and as I expected, there was no atmosphere of mourning or sadness. Ramadan festivities continue to fill the screen of Syrian TV. There is the usual (really funny) Syrian serial, and Arabic singing. Right this moment, I saw a singer singing Qudud Halabiyyah (Aleppo style traditional singing). This is odd, but not really in the context of the regime. But most revealing is the release of an audio tape that Ghazi Kan`an managed to send to Arab media before his "suicide." In it, he blasted Lebanese media, and named specifically New TV. That is unusual. All sorts of things are said, (including lies and fabrications) about Syria in Lebanese media on a daily basis, and yet this one report raised the ire of Ghazi Kan`an. Why? I felt that there was something important in that report yesterday, and that is why I posed on it. Which particular element was the one that angered him? I don't know the source of New TV report, but it was read with an air of complete confidence. It clearly came from a reliable source. Is it possible that the source came from Syria to embarrass Kan`an, and that was a signal to him, against him? I noticed that the New TV report did not mention Rustum Ghazalah, who really was an enemy of the station ever since he arranged for the arrest of the owner of New TV, Tahsin Khayyat 2 years ago. New TV is not some right-wing or anti-Arab Lebanese nationalist station, and it thus has more credibility on things Arab. But the new twist in this case (the release of an audio-statement that Kan`an released to Lebanese media) gives us more information. In it, Kan`an rather quickly spoke about Syria's role in Lebanon. He ended the tape by saying that "this maybe the last statement I make." But there was no sad emotion or signs of distress in his tone when he said that? Was he made to read the statement? He did go through it rather quickly, but I don't know his usual manner of speech. But it was noteworthy that he referred to Rafiq Hariri as "martyr" and that he admitted that Syria "gave and took" from Lebanon, which is in contradiction with the standard official line of the Syrian government, according to which the Syrian government only gave and sacrificed for Lebanon. A member of the Syrian parliament, Muhammad Habash, told Al-Arabiyya TV that he saw Kan`an the other day and that he did not seem distressed at all. I don't know what will happen next, but I am inclined to believe that this will help ease pressures on Syria. Of course, the US government and its allies in Lebanon (especially the Hariri Inc) will heap so much praise on Kan`an, and make him a "martyr for peace and democracy" especially if the Syrian government decides to pin all the blame on him.
PS: Lebanese TV stations reported that the audio statement by Kan`an was made in a phone call with Wardah on Voice of Lebanon. Having listened to the entire statement, it sounded more spontaneous. He praised Wardah, and specifically mentioned that his statement was intended as a direct response to New TV's news report from yesterday.