01/09/2008, 00.00
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Moussa in Beirut, a city made tense by attacks and threats

by Paul Dakiki
The Arab League general secretary brings a plan elaborated by its foreign ministers. Lebanon’s majority is in favour of the proposal, whilst the opposition continues to have reservations. This has led Patriarch Sfeir to wonder what is the point of electing a president if what he can or cannot do is predetermined.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – A roadside bomb against UNIFIL forces, two rockets launched against Israel, and threats by Fatal al-Islam against Lebanon’s army have in a quick succession heralded Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa’s visit to Beirut, due today. He is bringing an Arab foreign ministers' plan designed to solve the crisis that has plagued Lebanon for the past year and prevented the election of a new head of state.

Under the circumstances it is easy to understand why UNIFIL political adviser Milos Strügar said that the incidents were an “attempt to destabilise southern Lebanon” and why the attacks might have been meant to derail Moussa’s initiative or at least push it in certain direction.

What is certain is that Lebanon’s parliamentary majority has already voiced its support for the League’s proposal whereas the backing of the pro-Syrian opposition has been reticent and qualified, something which has led Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir to say that what is the point of choosing a head of state if what he can or cannot do is decided ahead of time.

In a nutshell the League’s three-point proposal calls for the immediate election of General Michel Suleiman as president of Lebanon, the formation of a national unity government and the drafting a new electoral law.

According to the daily An Nahar, the opposition is planning to ask Moussa that a third of the national unity government be made up of ministers named by the majority, another third by the minority and a third by the president.

This means going back to the opposition’s demand for a veto over every decision of the government, a demand made months ago and which is the reason for the current stalemate and the failure to set up a national unity government.

“Some,” said Cardinal Sfeir with respect to objections to the League’s proposal, “claim that whilst a president is needed his election needs a prior agreement over the government. Well, forming a government is like a pharmaceutical formula. You need a dose of 14 March (majority), one of 8 March (opposition) and a bit of president. It is a difficult operation.”

“If all this is to be done before the president’s election, what is the point in having a president? Doesn’t he have any say in the matter? He has to consult [the parties] before a government is formed and must take into account their relative strength [in parliament]. His approval is needed in appointing the commander-in-chief of the army and other senior government officials, and so on,” the patriarch said. “All this is obligatory because of the constitution. We must therefore apply the constitution. But ‘they’ think they [change gear and] go in reverse.”

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