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    Middle East
     Dec 5, 2006
Page 1 of 2
The anti-Siniora craze in Beirut
By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS - The image of slain prime minister Riyad al-Sulh, co-founder of Lebanese independence, stood over the massive demonstrations that began in Beirut last weekend aimed at bringing down Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora. The demonstrators surrounded his famed statue in the heart of the Lebanese capital where he stood in silence, arm on vest with his fez slightly tilted, watching his countrymen attempting again to bring down his


Sulh, one of the most celebrated founding fathers of Lebanon, was a formidable man indeed. His arrest by the French in 1943 had triggered similar massive demonstrations in Beirut, although for very different reasons than the ones taking place now. He did not live long enough, however, to watch other demonstrations bring down his colleague, president Bshara al-Khury, on September 18, 1952. Sulh was assassinated in Amman in 1951.

A master of street politics under the French Mandate, Sulh knew that the Lebanese street was dangerous. Losing it can be fatal for even the finest of leaders. If it brought down president Khury, the father of Lebanese independence, then it certainly can bring down Prime Minister Siniora.

But what if Sulh had been alive on December 1, 2006? Would he have approved of what is happening in Beirut? Living Sunni ex-prime ministers have supported the anti-Siniora demonstrations, including Salim al-Hoss (who was Siniora's instructor at the American University in Beirut), Najib Mikati and Omar Karameh.

Although Siniora, like them, is a Sunni (from Sidon), he has nevertheless alienated scores of Lebanese politicians since coming to power in July 2005. The March 14 Coalition that supports him accused all independent Sunni leaders who were not supportive of the late prime minister Rafik al-Hariri of being the creation of Syria. Hoss, for example, is by no means a creation of Damascus. Nor is Omar Karameh, who inherited family leadership in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, from his brother Rashid and his father Abdul Hamid (both former prime ministers).

Karameh and Hoss, who have supported the anti-Siniora movement, believe that Lebanon cannot survive if it continues in a confrontation with Damascus to please the United States. Nor can it survive if it alienates Sunnis who are not supportive of the late Hariri. Among those supporting the movement are Druze leader Talal Arslan and Maronite leader Sulayman Franjiyyieh, in addition to Karameh, Hoss, Mikati and the two paramount Shi'ite leaders, Hasan Nasrallah of Hezbollah and Nabih Berri of Amal.

Other reasons for the anti-Siniora craze in Beirut include:

1. Fouad al-Siniora's choice of cabinet ministers was disappointing because it was forced on him by the March 14 Coalition and failed to represent all political groups in Lebanon. The cabinet always seemed more interested in blaming its faults on Syria than in finding real solutions to the problems facing Lebanon. It pursued a strong anti-Syrian line, which is unwelcome to many Lebanese Sunnis who by virtue of human nature, history, marriage, origin and tradition are allied with or sympathetic to Damascus because it always has been the strategic depth of Lebanese Sunnis. Syria was always the safe haven to which Lebanese Sunnis resorted so as not to be overpowered by Lebanon's Christians. Under Siniora, it was depicted as the "Great Satan" to the Lebanese.

2. Although the Siniora cabinet included ministers from Hezbollah and Amal, representing the opposition, it nevertheless had no members of Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, a political group that cannot be ignored or sidelined in Lebanese politics. Another important Christian completely sidelined under Siniora is former minister Sulayman Franjiyyieh, who heads the Marada Party and is also close to Damascus. He too has joined the anti-Siniora demonstrations in Beirut. Aoun returned to Lebanon after the Syrian withdrawal and declared a new policy claiming that now that the Syrians had left, he no longer had a grudge to settle with Damascus nor could he blame Syria anymore for any of the problems facing Lebanon.

The March 14 Coalition, however, insisted that every wrong happening in Lebanon was the doing of the Syrians. Aoun was shunned for his views and, in a fit of rage, he lashed out against them, reminding the Hariri bloc that they were the same ones who legitimized Syria in Lebanon in the 1990s by assuming government office during the heyday of Syrian power under the late prime minister Hariri.

Siniora, after all, had been minister of finance when Syria was in control of Lebanon. Marwan Hamadeh, one of the loudest anti-Syrian voices, was minister of health, and Walid Jumblatt had been a close ally of Damascus and minister of the displaced under Hariri. The dramatic U-turn by the March 14 Coalition, and its continued anti-Syrian tone even after the exodus of the Syrian army, shed serious doubt on the government's convictions, loyalties or beliefs.

3. Fouad al-Siniora has failed to control security in Lebanon. This is something that Aoun has not failed to stress in every speech or occasion. Under Siniora's reign and that of Acting Interior Minister Ahmad Fatfat, dozens of violent and uncontrolled demonstrations took place, upsetting the peace in an already troubled Lebanese society.

The first were the demonstrations over the Danish cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammed, which led to the resignation of the original pro-Hariri minister of interior Hasan al-Sabe. When Siniora was in the opposition, he blamed the cabinet of Omar Karameh for failing to protect telecommunications minister Marwan Hamadeh, who suffered an assassination attempt in 2004, or to prevent the assassination of former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was killed in February 2005.

Yet under Siniora, many Lebanese leaders, including Jubran Tweini, the renowned publisher of the mass-circulation daily Al-Nahhar, and more recently industry minister Pierre Gemayel, have also been assassinated in Beirut. Aoun has made it clear that he is unwilling to see more assassinations while Fatfat and Sabe learn how to run a country's security.

4. The Siniora cabinet was accused of trading Syrian support for an alliance with the United States after Washington passed the Syrian Accountability Act, along with several anti-Syrian resolutions at the United Nations, then pressured the Syrians to evacuate from Beirut in April 2005. The US did not protect Lebanon, however, and on the contrary, it encouraged an Israeli war last summer, aimed at crushing Hezbollah.

The war was not limited to Hezbollah strongholds. It targeted airports, seaports, roads, bridges and civilian districts. None of them were the property of Hezbollah but, rather, owned by the

Continued 1 2 

It's war by any other name (Jul 15, '06)

Lebanon left for dead (Jul 21, '06)

The loser in Lebanon: The Atlantic alliance (Aug 8, '06)


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