Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Four Lebanese Generals are released: who cares?

The Four Lebanese Generals.

This was a powerful team which ruled Lebanon on behalf of the Syrian regime for more than a decade, but in full cooperation with the symbols of the so-called Cedar and Potato Revolution, like Rafiq Hariri and Walid Jumblat. Jamil As-Sayyid was one of the most powerful men in the country for a while: and that pitted him again Nibih Birri who suspected (with justification) that the Syrian regime was grooming him to succeed him as speaker for parliament. The plan was for Sayyid to run in 2005. The generals were finally released today and the spectacle was beyond the expectations: it was well orchestrated and choreographed—to mobilize and inspire the opposition and to tweak and antagonize the March 14 camp. And Jamil As-Sayyid is one tough and shrewd man, and he is one of the best in propaganda in the lousy republic of Lebanon. I strongly believe that the Hariri family (which ruled Lebanon after 2005 on behalf of the American and Saudi regimes just as it ruled prior on behalf of the Syrian regime) put them in jail because they feared their formidable political and intelligence skills, especially the skills and network of Jamil As-Sayyid. And the March 8 camp does not have intelligent figures (except, Nasarallah, Birri and `Awn but their rank is not unified) and As-Sayyid can fill a void, especially in tactical matters where March 8 is pretty dumb while the other side employs a variety of PR and advertising firms in its service. The Lebanese military-intelligence apparatus is of such low caliber that those four represented (and maybe still represent) the elite and the best of the military-intelligence establishment. One of them, `Ali Al-Hajj, was a personal bodyguard of Rafiq Hariri before a conflict arose between them—not on principles, never on principles with the trader Hariri. But I was cautioning friends: you should not assume that this propaganda victory for the opposition will necessarily translate into an electoral victory. No event—no matter how big—will change the basic sectarian stance of the Sunnis and Shi`ites in Lebanon. There are no undecided in Lebanon to speak of, except among a section of the Christians. We know exactly how Sunnis and Shi`ites will vote but the question is the Christians: and the choice there is not between candidates as much as it is between a Christian alliance with Sunnis versus a Christian alliance with Shi`ites. We can speak of only a fraction of the Christian community (let us say some 20 or 25% of the population) who may not be solidly behind `Awn or the Lebanese Forces. So the ability of one event to change basic political realities is very small, if not negligible. And the second factor is money: Hariri family rules not only by virtue of its representation of strong and powerful patron, or by virtue of its skills in acute sectarian agitation and mobilization, but also by its dispense of financial rewards. But this release yesterday is a big event: Jamil As-Sayyid could easily become the brain behind the opposition. This is a very formidable opponent that Hariri family has to contend with. The speech of Sayyid (and of the rest, including the low key Raymond `Azar) was quite strong and impressive, as was his demeanor, if measures by the standards of Lebanese politics. They all sounded strong and unvanquished, and determined to go after their enemies. They now operate with the full knowledge that they will not be arrested again, no matter what. Now let us not go too far in estimation of their skills lest my assessment be misunderstood as praise: these are not some rosy angels: they were part of a government structure that was corrupt and repressive, but so is the present-day government in Lebanon. I can criticize both because I oppose both, but for Walid Jumblat or Hariri to speak from a standpoint of liberty and democracy is like Dahlan speaking about virtue. It can be said that the repression of Hariri government after 2005 exceeded the repression of the Sayyid rule before 2005—you can measure it by the number of people killed on the streets (by government fire) or by the numbers of people killed in Lebanese jails—but Human Rights Watch is busy with the health and welfare of Israeli collaborators and spies to notice. But As-Sayyid and `Azar ruled on behalf of the Syrian regime (with Jumblat and Rafiq Hariri) and they implemented Syrian orders in Lebanon, and helped impose its order. Politically, As-Sayyid is not grateful to the lack of support (until a few months ago) from Hizbullah and its allies who remained silent for more than 2 years after the arrest of the four generals. But As-Sayyid needs Hizbullah and the March 8 opposition needs a leader who is not Birri and who is not Hizbullah (and who is Shi`ite). The Hariri machine must be in tears or in great embarrassment: mini-Hariri, who always appears fumbled and tattering and hesitant and incompetent and clumsy and inarticulate and illiterate, appeared more so today in his statement that he read (he always reads, and very badly and very erroneously). He looked as if he was announcing death in the family. Of course, this comes as a great blow to the prestige and standing of the Lebanese judiciary: as if it was ever credible in the history of Lebanon. I remember when growing up when Lebanese politicians would call individual judges to free murderers and rapists if they happened to belong to the supporters of this Za`im or that Za`im. The Hariri family went too far in its accusation and charges without evidence, and in fabricating evidence: the International Court did not yet deal with the manipulation of two witnesses by individual who work directly for Mini-Hariri. Personally, I don’t believe that there is such a thing as international justice in the age of US domination. No court is immune from US influences and interferences, and those fools in Lebanon and Syria will now rush to praise the court will be disappointed soon. After the release of the four generals, for example, the court issued a special statement in which it said that it could re-arrest the generals if evidence is found against them. There was no need for that statement, and it merely stated basic facts and axioms but it was clearly designed to help the sagging fortunes of the Hariri coalition in Lebanon, as was the silly statement that came from Washington, DC. It was clearly a response to the propaganda blow that its camp suffered in Lebanon. The TV images were quite vivid and the generals were smart in talking about “the innocent poor prisoners” in jail—a clear reference to Sunni fundamentalist prisoners. Hariri family is lucky in inheriting billions: but the family is quite unlucky to have somebody of the caliber of mini-Hariri (I really can’t think of a more incompetent and more unqualified person) to head the family and manage its political affairs. But to be incompetent and have the charisma of a potato is a double misfortune. Personally, I don’t care to know who killed Rafiq Hariri—that is the least of my concern. I care more about finding the identity of the person who planted the potato that now sits in my fridge. The question is a political one, first and foremost just as the Bush administration acted as if it really cared about Hariri and as if it really grieved over his death when Bush humiliated Hariri back in 2002 (I think) when Rafiq met with him to ask for US financial help (for one of the Paris conferences for Lebanon). A person who was present in the Oval Office in that meeting told me that it was embarrassing how much Bush humiliated Hariri. He bluntly told him: why not use your own money, or why not ask your friend King Fahd. But I am told that Rafiq Hariri defended the Syrian regime and Hizbullah in that meeting, just as this duplicitious person did all his life in public. In private, he always played game and lied. It is all a matter of political exploitation. I am not sure that we will know who killed Hariri. The chief of Internal Security in Lebanon (a Hariri man, Ashraf Rifi) never believed that the four generals were guilty, but he was not a decision maker. He did not even think that Syria’s intelligence chief in Lebanon, Rustum Ghazalah, was involved. He was convinced that the Syrian regime (at the highest level) dispatched a special team for the assassination and that it did not even consult with or inform the Syrian intelligence or military apparatus in Lebanon at the time. It could still be a fanatical fundamentalist network of some sorts. That is possible too. It is not clear what will happen: the electoral prospects remain largely unchanged but the credibility of the Hariri family remains weak especially among the Christians and it is more uncredible now. The Hariri family has mortgaged the future of Lebanon and Lebanon will continue to pay the price for intrigues and conspiracies that Rafiq Hariri (politically and economically and militarily) imposed on Lebanon. Oh, and lest I forget: there were other developments in the Hariri tribunal yesterday: blah blah blah blah, and blah.