Exceedingly strange. Hezbollah dropped another massive protest on Beirut today replete with veiled threats of violence and a call from its Christian Syrian-tool ally, Michel Aoun, for the formation of an alternate government. An impressive display of power.
By the end of the day, they were ready to accept a deal brokered by the Arab League that would keep the current government in power. Huh?
You’ll have to wait until morning for an informed analysis from the Lebanese bloggers, but here’s my half-assed take in the meantime. Egypt’s foreign minister said this afternoon that an international tribunal would be convened to investigate Rafik Hariri’s murder regardless of what happens in Lebanon. Syria is mortified at the thought of its role in the Hariri assassination playing out in public; they’ve been bumping off Lebanese cabinet ministers, the theory goes, in hopes of preventing a quorum so that the government can’t legally approve the tribunal. Didn’t work, though — the government approved the tribunal last weekend, although the country’s Syrian-puppet president refused to sign off on it. That leaves us at an impasse. It may be that the Sunni powers in the region, i.e., Egypt, Jordan, and the Saudis, are now sufficiently worried about the Shiites grabbing Lebanon that they’ve decided to play hardball and break the impasse by working to have the tribunal convened through other avenues. If so, it would render the protests largely (but not totally) pointless. In which case, if you’re Assad or Nasrallah, why not make a deal and take what you can get? Meanwhile, the pro-government side held a massive protest of its own today in the Lebanese city of Tripoli. Clearly things were starting to escalate and they weren’t going to stay peaceful forever. Maybe Nasrallah, for whatever reason, wasn’t ready for outright civil war.
So what kind of deal did Nasrallah get? A pretty good one all things considered, sounds like to me:
Under the proposal, the number of Lebanese cabinet ministers would increase to 30. Of these, 19 would represent the parliamentary majority and 10 would come from opposition parties. The remaining minister would be proposed by the opposition and be subject to majority approval. In addition, the new cabinet would approve the creation of an international court to deal with the murder of former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
The Lebanese cabinet is comprised of 24 ministers. Two-thirds are needed to approve international treaties. There were, as of a few weeks ago, six Shiite (i.e., pro-Syrian) ministers, but all of them resigned to protest the government’s intention to ratify the Hariri tribunal. Under this new deal, Hezbollah’s representation would actually increase from 25% to more than a third depending upon how that one compromise minister votes — which would be enough to block the majority from ratifying UN resolutions aimed at disarming Hezbollah or limiting its power. In return, they agree to ratify the Hariri tribunal. But since the Egyptians were planning to see to that anyway, Hezbollah and Assad lose nothing by lending their approval to it now. Besides, any international legitimacy that Assad might lose from the tribunal will be more than offset by having the world’s superpower come to the table, hat in hand, to ask for its help in getting out of Iraq. Who knows? If he makes things hot enough for us in Baghdad, he might just earn himself an invitation to the White House. Bakermania, baby.
I leave you with this photo, which neatly captures the frenzied anti-American tenor of the protest today in Beirut. The crowd sang all the old favorites — “death to America, death to Israel” — and the filthy, complicit western media, as is its wont, has helpfully joined in by insistently referring to the Lebanese government as “U.S.-backed” instead of what it really is, which is democratically elected. You’re looking at the poster on the right side of the frame; the man with his back to us is Siniora, of course. The Arabic writing translated: “Thanks for your patience Condy, some of our children are still alive.”