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Lebanon on the Brink


Lebanon’s Daily Star today reports bad news:

The Hizbullah-led opposition in Lebanon announced the details of “Phase two” of its anti-government campaign on Monday, promising a “progressive escalation” of protests at ministries and public institutions until its demands are met. During a news conference held at the residence of MP Michel Aoun in Rabieh, north of Beirut, ex-Minister Talal Arslan read the statement agreed upon by leading representatives of the opposition.

“The opposition will launch daily protests that will begin on Tuesday and in a progressive manner will extend to all the ministries and public institutions until all our demands are met,” the statement said. [...] The opposition had been demanding a national unity government, but on Monday, its leaders called for early parliamentary elections monitored by a “trustworthy national unity government.”

“The government has lost its legitimacy,” said Arslan. “Just refer back to Article 95 of the Constitution,” he said, adding that “toppling the government has become a legitimate [goal].”

Article 95 states that “confessional groups are to be represented in a just and equitable fashion in the formation of the Cabinet.” All Shiite ministers have resigned from the Cabinet.

The basic argument of the Hezbollah opposition is that without its participation, the government must fall due to the requirement of Article 95.  But Hezbollah has no constitutional or political monopoly in the representation of Shiites, and in any case they were duly represented “in the formation of the Cabinet.”  The critical issue here is that the Hezbollah opposition is pursuing an unconstitutional–indeed anti-constitutional–course on the basis of a dubious interpretation of a constitutional provision that for some reason has not been passed upon by any supreme tribunal in Lebanon.  The Siniora government has rejected the opposition’s Article 95 theory out of hand. 

Ironically, the opposition conference took place at the house of Michel Aoun, who not twenty years ago fought ferociously (with the support of France) against the Syrians and their Lebanese clients in the last phase of Lebanon’s civil war.  The defection of Aoun from the Ceder Revolution forces to the side of Hezbollah is particularly disheartening, for two reasons: First, it is an example of how little stock many moderates and even Christians in that part of the world put in the the rule of law and peaceful democratic process.  Second, his base is small but could put Hezbollah over the top in terms of critical mass.  It certainly makes the embattled government of Prime Minister Siniora seem increasingly isolated and doomed. 

The only thing that is certain in Lebanon now is that things stand to go from bad to a great deal worse.