TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Despite the relative calm imposed by a government-sponsored security plan, political divisions in Tripoli continue to paralyze the northern city, eating away at its public services, security and infrastructure.
Shortly after the security plan achieved a measure of peace, the various factions and leaders began to fight over conditions required for the reconstruction and development of Tripoli to take place, with old rivalries resurfacing and rumors of new alliances casting a pall of uncertainty over the city’s future.
Hostilities were on full display during the anniversary of Prime Minister Rashid Karami’s assassination on June 1. Former Minister Faisal Karami, after gathering nearly 4,000 people in the courtyard of his residence in Tripoli, launched a blistering attack on the Future Movement in light of its ally Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea’s nomination for president.
Geagea was sentenced to life in prison in the 1990s over his involvement in Karami’s assassination. But the LF leader, who was released after Parliament passed a General Amnesty in 2005, dismisses all these accusations, arguing that they were fabricated by the Syrian regime, which was in total control of the country between 1990 and 2005.
Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati had sent supporters to attend Karami’s memorial, sending tongues wagging about an impending arrangement between him and Karami. But according to the former premier’s adviser Khaldoun Sharif, Mikati’s was a message of consensus and solidarity.
“[Karami] speaks for himself and for no one else who participated in the memorial,” he said. “ Najib Mikati has proven to be the difficult number in the political equation in Tripoli, and though he sent signals to Faisal Karami through the presence [of his supporters], he has not formed any new alliances.”
Sharif said the memorial was therefore an opportunity to confirm the sensitivity of Geagea’s candidacy and recall Karami’s legacy as a national figure and an effective politician, pointing out that even Future Movement lawmaker Mohammad Kabbara abstained from voting for the LF leader.
Observers said that Karami was also unlikely to form a new alliance, particularly if it meant breaking with Hezbollah, despite his attempts to distance himself somewhat from the March 8 coalition on a number of occasions.
Sharif went on to say that any talk of rifts or alliances depended on two things: the electoral law and the political atmosphere in the region.
“What if Saudi Arabia, within the changing regional landscape, extended a hand toward Najib Mikati? Any discussion of the balance of power would be in vain because the balance on the ground would shift naturally according to a new political balance.”
Sharif also cast doubt on the success of the development plan proposed to address the multiple crises affecting Tripoli.
In order to be effective, he said, the plan would have to create a welcoming environment for major financial investments and create a huge number of local jobs until such investments can be secured. Current local and regional political factors do not support such an ambitious project at the moment, he said.
Former lawmaker Mustafa Alloush of the Future Movement offered his own reading of the current political landscape in Tripoli, differing on some of Sharif’s points but echoing others.
Alloush blamed groups linked to “what is left of the resistance axis,” – Iran, Syria and Hezbollah – for what happened on June 1.
Commenting on what he saw as the political decline of the Karami family, Alloush said: “Karami could have gathered half of Tripoli, rather than just a few thousand, and even utilized his former rivals, Mikati and Safadi.”
He admitted, however, that many blamed the Future Movement for its own miscalculations.
“Our base sees our former alliance with Safadi and Mikati as a major political mistake, though we are now conducting polls to determine our final position regarding the political alliances in Tripoli,” he said.
Lebanon is divided horizontally and vertically, Alloush said, and the only thing preventing the cold war between its factions from igniting is March 14’s decision not to take up arms. He also said the political conditions were still unripe for a development plan for Tripoli.
“As long as Hezbollah’s weapons continue to disrupt political life, taking daring stances such as reopening the airport, widening the seaport and rebuilding other public facilities in Tripoli will be difficult,” he said.
A development plan put forward by Mikati’s government was estimated to cost $100 million, and the Treasury cannot afford it, he said.
“Let’s be honest with the residents of Tripoli and not resort to slogans while living conditions call for seriousness and responsibility,” he said.
“If all the economic facilities in Tripoli were rehabilitated, as the people want, there is still the tense regional situation and the ongoing civil war in Syria, the repercussions of which continue to be felt in Tripoli. The development plan depends on internal and regional factors far beyond mere political wishes.”