Forecast for Lebanon: Cloudy Days Ahead


By Ghassan Karam

The Arab world was abuzz with the news about the “historic” summit that took place in Lebanon last week featuring King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, President Assad of Syria and President Suleiman of Lebanon.  Many news outlets, especially the state controlled ones in Syria and Saudi Arabia, trumpeted the achievement of this meeting in the most glorious terms imaginable: “We have only dreamt about this day, thank God that we are alive to witness this moment” and Lebanon is “a strong model of the Phoenix” the bird in Egyptian mythology that rose from the ashes.

Such heroic words and great expectations described a 4 hour summit of dubious accomplishments at best.  This was more of a public relations effort than an urgent summit. The only item on the agenda, if one can call it that, was for the visitors to send messages to their supporters in Lebanon that the expected indictments from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) need not cause the feared civil strife in the country.

It is rather bizarre when the only way to avoid social tension among various groups in a state is to accept to host a hurriedly put together visit of leaders of other states who are expected to influence the competing local parties to deescalate the potential confrontation over what is essentially a domestic issue. That does not speak very highly of allegiance, independence or even the quality of domestic leadership.

So what was the burning issue behind this summit? Ultimately the host and the two visitors were being asked to make their positions clear regarding the concept of the rule of law. And this is the rub. Lebanon, a state that has been moving from one crisis of governance to another ever since its modern establishment as a state more than sixty years ago has always had democratic aspirations that have never been allowed to take hold as a result of its discriminatory confessional political structure that rests on political feudalism. As a result the democratic institutions have been confined to the shallow, weak and ineffective. Simply put, an independent, strong and respected judiciary has not been allowed to flourish.

Paradoxically, the two visiting summiteers were not well qualified to give guidance about what is essentially a rule of law issue. Saudi Arabia is arguably one of the 3-4 absolute monarchies in the world while Syria has been governed for over forty years by one of the world’s strongest authoritarian family rulers.  As the above makes clear, in the same way that one does not have the right to expect effective advice on how to fix an internal combustion engine by seeking the help of, say, a carpenter or a physician no one should be surprised if the visiting summiteers in Lebanon failed to offer meaningful advice on how to handle a judicial matter.

It would be instructive to be reminded of a popular description of the rule of law and the role of an independent judiciary stated by Plato more than 2500 years ago:

“Where the law is subject to some other authority and has none of its own, the collapse of the state, in my view, is not far off; but if law is the master of the government and the government is its slave, then the situation is full of promise and men enjoy all the blessings that the gods shower on a state.”

Only a society that is structured to operate as “a government of law and not a government of men” can offer the required foundation for democracy, personal freedom and respect for human rights. Obviously, none of these are attributes of absolute monarchies and one man rule. It is also helpful to recall that the onset of limits on absolute monarchs began almost 800 years ago with the Magna Carta.

King Abdullah and President Assad have come and gone, but the problem that they intended to address still festers. Actually, the positions of the two opposing groups in Lebanon are now as far away as they have always been, thanks to the uncoordinated messages sent by the two visitors. The Syrian president emphasized the need to discredit the STL while the king promised that he would try to delay the release of the indictment. They were able to divert, momentarily, the attention of the major parties for a day or two but now the domestic situation is back to where it was prior to the visit; and that, sadly, is to be expected. None of the principals; the king of Saudi Arabia, the president of Syria and the Lebanese president; is in a position to act as what they are not: leaders of regimes that are based on the principle of the rule of law.

Lebanon formally asked the United Nations to help investigate soon after the horrific explosion of 2005 in which former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and 22 other people perished. This was later followed by a Lebanese request to establish a Special Tribunal to carry on the investigation and hold trials of the accused. The United Nations, in cooperation with Lebanese officials; established the STL in 2007 under a chapter 7 resolution of the Security Council. The chief investigator under the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission (UNIIIC) became the prosecutor of the STL that is now headquartered in the Netherlands. It has adopted a voluminous set of documents that deal with all aspects needed for the smooth functioning of a judicial system. The STL has detailed descriptions of the rights of the accused, how the defense is to operate, the functions of the prosecutor and the type of trial.

Ever since it became known (but never officially confirmed) that the STL might be issuing its first indictments within the next few months against individuals closely connected to Hezbollah, all hell broke loose in Lebanon. Sayed Hassan Nasrallah of Hezbollah has already devoted two speeches to this matter and will be giving a third on August 3, 2010. No doubt Sayed Nasrallah has the right to object to the potential indictments by waging a fierce legal defense of his party. But that is not what he is doing. He has set the stage for civil strife by suggesting clearly that the court is an “Israeli” court and that the indictments are fabricated to discredit the resistance.

That is the reason for the current conundrum. Hezbollah happens to have a very well trained and equipped armed wing that is much stronger than the Lebanese army and its Internal Security Forces combined. The level of rhetoric by Sayed Nasrallh is very strident. He will accept nothing less than the complete rejection of the indictment; he threatens that if the Prosecutor is to issue the indictments, then Hezbollah will have no choice but to fight for its survival. This can only mean that Hezbollah will resort to force to make its point.  Since they are by far the strongest military force in the country this action amounts to blackmail and the hijacking of the country. If Hezbollah is to use force, then many of the other political groups will feel justified in resisting such force which could drag the country back into the throes of a civil war.

It seems very clear that the logical theoretical solution to the pending Lebanese crisis is for all parties to deescalate the rhetoric, await the STL indictments, carry out a trial and rule on the culpability of the accused. All parties in a civilized society would be expected to accept the final judicial rulings and then to move on.

Alas, the problem confronting Lebanon rests on whether there is a commitment to the rule of law. If Hezbollah is right that some of its members are to be indicted and if the party is certain that these members are not guilty, then armed intervention is not the solution, legal defense is. However, Hezbollah cannot be expected to behave as it is not. It is a political movement based on a strong, theocratic interpretation with no room for secular law. Hezbollah must be made to understand that to defend its position through the use of force instead of the judicial system is actually counterproductive.  There is no doubt that Hezbollah would win the immediate military battle but it would lose the war. There is only one fair, just and honorable way out: let the judicial system have its say.

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15 responses to “Forecast for Lebanon: Cloudy Days Ahead”

  1. tony ali Avatar

    ghassan my brother i’m in total agreement with you on all points. regardless of what HA are ranting and raving about, the karmic cycle has already been set in motion (the STL). the karmic reaction (the evidence) is gonna come back regardless of whether HA is threatening or not. so i’ve been saying in many posts that we all just need to let them vent, scream all they want cos at the end, when the STL issues its verdicts, that will be the initial closure.

    now, this is where it gets sensitive. if hariri doesnt press charges to avoid strife, then, this wound that needs to have closure with the lebanese people will fester and get infected. down the road what might have been a temporary solution will actually explode in lebanon’s faces when other party members and the people of lebanon loyal to hariri’s (MHRIP) vision will need closure and theonly way to feel vindication is to go after the killers.

    cloudy days ahead? for sure bro.

    its up to the party members to calm their people down if such an indictment comes about.

    just to play devils advocate for a second. maybe HA doesn’t wanna have any civil strife and maybe they’re just telling the other side that hey, if some of our members are guilty, don’t come charging.

    just an opinion but i just want the STL to end so we can all move on. the guilty will be indicted regardless.

    this period is really a big waste of money and time for lebanon’s future. it was all done out of emotion and now, hariri is trying not to have an explosion on his father’s soul. he doesnt want that as he said it in an article i read on ya libnan.

    they started the STL and now they can’t stop it.

    very cloudy days indeed but the indictments cant be stopped and thats the good news.

    the truth shall set you free.

    i’d be very surprised if ONLY HA are indicted. that would truly be an insult to my intelligence.

    love to all and love to lebanon.

  2. Ghassan Karam Avatar
    Ghassan Karam

    Tony Ali,

    I hope that you are right and that cooler minds prevail. There is no need for civil strife over this. And I also agree with you that no one can stop the STL anylonger. The train has left the station.

  3. tony ali Avatar

    yeah well ghassan its about to dock and i hope it doesn’t create a whole lotta steam.

  4. Ghassan Karam Avatar
    Ghassan Karam


    The current crisis de jour is just that. Lebanon still faces a myriad of challenges: sectarianism, corruption, political feudalism, social justice, social security, sovereign debt,… just to name a few

  5. Sorry but I can’t believe my eyes. “The Syrian president emphasized the need to discredit the STL while the king promised that he would try to delay the release of the indictment.” If this does not say it all….then I must be from an other planet. This piece of doo doo Assad is part of this entire scheme that killed Rafik and many others. He knows that if HA goes down, he is going down as well because the two are one the same with Iran behind the wheel. They are all shitting bricks with respect to the STL. Why I ask are they so nervous and have all their members coming out with BS comments forewarning us that the STL is a lie and will be discredited. Because guilt is written all over these cold blooded murderers! I said it once and will say it again….ship them all out of Lebanon and their brain-washed followers to Iran. That’s where they belong and the lifestyle they deserve! Meanwhile, leave our country alone and in peace!

  6. Sami,

    The next few months will be revealing. If it is true that some members of Hezbollah are to be indicted then the next question becomes; were they acting alone or rather could they have acted alone. It is hoped that clarity on all these isues will be forthecoming with the indictments whoever the accused turn out to be.

  7. Berytus Avatar

    Mr. Karam, good article emphasising the importance of civil/secular law in the country. I also liked the quote you used by Plato. 🙂

    Implementing the law in the Lebanon has been the problem in our country. Whether it has to do with traffic, pollution, construction, crime, wars.. it’s all a mess in Lebanon.

    I however feel that these dark clouds have been looming over lebanon ever since the establishment of a sectarian system. And these clouds have been getting thicker and thicker over the years. I just hope that the stl indictments will initiate a positive turning point for the country and clear the clouds away forever.

    On another note, I wanted to say that despite the extraordinary meeting that took place between Assad and Abdullah in Lebanon, I was also quite disgusted as well. It’s slightly nauseating how our “leaders”, whether they are March 8 or 14 forces, have been pushing for independence and calling to move away from their dependency on foreign and regional powers, but have finally resorted back to them to sort their problems out. I think that the deterioration of judicial law over the decades has enhanced the dependency of every sect on a foreign backer. Part of implementing a strong judicial system will also have to involve unshackling the chains that ties each sect to foreign powers. It all comes down to this dependency dilemma that has been an enduring phenomenon in our country.

    1. Berytus,

      Lebanon must deal, as you rightfully suggest, with a long list of problems besides the STL. Unfortunately, our democratic institutions are not well established.

  8. I agree with you !There should be a commitment to the rule of law !Laws are needed for social and political order .A state should have the power to enforce these laws!.Citizens within a state need to abide by its laws! A state must be able to protect its citizens .No one ,no group should be above the law .The various groups must aim to build a strong state with all of its institutions!The groups must not continue to struggle for power and rely on outside help!They must not continue to create dissension and create civil strife. They must protect national interests first and seek security ,prosperity,freedom and justice!

    1. Fauzia,

      Rule of law is arguably the most essential concept for democracy and civil rights.

  9. Don’t worry guys and gals there will be no civil strife. At worst you get HA taking over and making a government with their current sunni/christian supporters in at key positions. At best you get what you have now.

    The former scenario happens if current government wants to take STL’s indictment. The latter if it does not.

    HA does not want to take option 1 since it does not help their style of struggle/war against israel. They would rather opt fort option #2 where current rulers stay and they keep to their ways.

    Why would you fear civil strife? What would the other party fight with? sticks or knives?

    I only tell you my thoughts. No sugar coating and I am on no one’s side.

  10. tony ali Avatar

    yeah but R many posters here like to be lied to cos it makes them feel better. please tell them there will be civil strife. pretty pleaaaaaaassssssssseeeeee??

    your post makes sense man and inshallh kheyr is all i’ve been saying.

  11. any resistance main strength stems out from the support of the public either directly or indirectly… Hezbullah is no different… it is not that the sticks and stones versus Hezbullah’s weapons that will end Hezbullah it is the will of the people to end it…that is why Isreal is very kean to turn the Lebanese Public against Hezbullah, so let is not make Isreal a favour and also let’s not indict Hezbullah without having really compelling evidence that convinces everyone in the country that they are guilty and then and only then let’s start assuming what might happen next…. trust me it will be totally unpredicatble

  12. jad, i agree with you which i have said before that i hope the STL gives us play by play steps as to their findings.

  13. Jad/Tony,

    An indictment will spell out the rough outline of the case but the details are argued in court. It is important not to think of an indictment as if it is the final ruling of a court. At times the accused are found not guilty of the specific accusations by the prosecution.

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