Blow by blow

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Blow by blow

Post by Admin on Sun Apr 27, 2008 4:53 am

Member
of Parliament Michel Murr’s break with the Change and Reform bloc some
weeks ago certainly ruffled Christian feathers in the opposition. As
for the Shia in the opposition, there seem to be very tangible
divisions emerging, too, between Amal Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri,
who recently returned from a regional tour to renew calls for national
dialogue, and Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who has recently
been altogether more concerned with the Israel-Lebanese border.


With
the glue holding these disparate groups together clearly weakening, the
March 14 coalition has rather effectively been able to employ a divide
and conquer strategy, targeting one constituent element of this Change
and Reform, Amal, Hezbollah alliance after another.


Aoun’s blow

Murr’s
split with the Change and Reform bloc was a major turning point. The
MP carries some significant political clout in his Metn home, and his
influence is sure to be sought by both sides of the political spectrum
in future elections or Christian power plays. Upon his departure from
the bloc, he called for the immediate election of Amy Commander General
Michel Suleiman as president without any preconditions. Doing so
clearly distanced him from the rest of the opposition, which has been
adamant about electing Sleiman only after a cabinet has been decided
upon and an electoral law for 2009 chosen.


And
while it might be too early to fully evaluate the consequences of
Murr’s movement, it is undeniable that this is one indication of a
wider Christian split. Opposition Christian leader General Michel Aoun
has every reason to worry that his power base is crumbling. The Metn
by-elections of last year were just a hint of splits – like this one –
to come. Had Murr left Aoun at that point, as many then-hoped, the
victory surely would have gone to March 14, Kataeb candidate Amin
Gemayel rather than Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) candidate Camille
Khoury.


“I
have failed to convince the bloc’s MPs of the need to elect a
president. This is why I have decided to create public pressure in this
regard,” Murr told NBN Television on Thursday. He also expressed his
regret for former President Amin Gemayel’s defeat in the 2007 Metn
by-elections. “I voted for Camille Khoury, but my conscience was
telling me, ‘You don’t have the right to elect anyone in Pierre Amin
Gemayel’s place.’”


Aoun
today is bogged down on a number of fronts. Another is the recent
postponement of FPM internal elections. Although official FPM
statements cited logistical and administrative reasons for the delay,
many insiders have privately confirmed to NOW Lebanon that the
postponement is directly related to the growing conflict between two
increasingly divergent groups within the movement: Aoun’s inner circle
and the so-called “FPM opposition.”


Murr
must have read that the tide is turning in the favor of March 14, or at
least against the opposition. Today, he is actively opening new
communication channels with the Kataeb. Party official Selim Sayegh
confirmed on Thursday that Gemayel and Murr discussed the latest
developments in the presidential elections by phone.


On the 8th level

Likewise,
the other two key parties of the opposition – Hezbollah and Amal – are
suffering from their own setbacks. In the aftermath of Hezbollah
operative Imad Mughnieh’s February assassination, the armed party has
promised the Lebanese and the world that they plan to retaliate against
Israel, the surmised perpetrator of the hit. Despite the ongoing,
internal presidential crisis, Hezbollah has put resolving domestic
affairs on hold once more.


Speaking
to NOW Lebanon, March 14 General Secretary Fares Soueid said that
Mughnieh was Hezbollah’s spine, just as Hezbollah remains the
opposition’s spine. “In this sense, Hezbollah and eventually the
opposition has taken a very strong blow with his assassination,” he
argued.


According
to Soueid, Hezbollah has now taken upon itself the impossible task of
eliminating Israel through open war. “They are trying to compensate for
this impossibility with internal issues. Berri, meanwhile, is trying
hard to distance himself from Hezbollah’s hegemony, but he is incapable
of changing anything,” he added.


The Syrian effect

There
have been reports on new political moves in Syria, too. In an interview
with As-Safir, former Prime Minister Salim Hoss said he had met with
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Wednesday. Hoss
conveyed Assad’s willingness to delineate official borders between
Syria and Lebanon and to begin diplomatic relations between the two
countries.


Two
days later, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported a possible visit
by the Syrian president to Riyadh, a move seen as an attempt to restore
bruised Saudi-Syrian relations. The paper also revealed that there have
been a number of visits by high ranking Saudi officials to Syria.

And,
despite Assad’s statements denying any communication between Damascus
and Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Thursday that
Damascus and Tel Aviv have been secretly exchanging letters in an
attempt to reach a clarification on a peace agreement between the two
countries.


Are
things finally moving in the right direction for Lebanon? That remains
unclear. What is quite apparent, though, is that the opposition
realizes that it’s in a serious bind. To obscure their failure to make
any positive contributions to resolving the Lebanese crisis, the big
three of the opposition have therefore set their sights on
distraction. And so, Aoun goes looking unsuccessfully for mass graves
and also revives the specter of Palestinian settlement, and Nasrallah
warns the Israelis that he is bringing war to their own backyard. It’s
time for these men’s followers to ask themselves if this is really
where their parties’ priorities should lie.


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