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Mending regional ties and Lebanon-izing the election

Lakhdar Brahimi, U.N. and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, speaks during a news conference after closed meetings in the U.N. Security Council where he resigned, Tuesday, May 13, 2014, at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo)

Commenting on the Saudi foreign minister’s invitation to his Iranian counterpart to visit the kingdom, a Western diplomat said it was part of Riyadh’s initiative to rework ties between Muslims in the region in order to put an end to the sectarian strife that has surfaced in several countries.

The diplomat said he didn’t expect the rapprochement between the region’s two most influential states to be quick or easy, due partly to their differing opinions on several files and partly to the competition between the two for control of the tricky situations in Iraq, Bahrain, the eastern part of Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon.

Concerning the situation in Syria, the diplomat pointed out that despite the removal of chemical weapons from the country – which further proves that it is possible to find a peaceful solution to the crisis with the aid of international patronage – and Damascus fully cooperating with the chemical weapons watchdog, the government has gone back on its word and used this type of weaponry again.

Before the resignation of U.N. envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, communication was underway between various players to develop a unified vision for a path toward Geneva III that would be approved by all regional and international political parties.

What is fundamental to the success of the negotiations between the Syrian regime and the opposition is the need to agree that military confrontations are tantamount to suicide and thus undermine the process of building a new Syria.

Additionally, extending the Syrian conflict will lead to more fighting and destruction and will feed national prejudices and sectarianism. This could in turn further complicate the internal Syrian political scene and facilitate the growth of terrorist groups that are, according to Western security sources, preparing a series of explosive attacks in different areas across Syria.

According to the source, all invitations to revive the Geneva negotiations have fallen on deaf ears, particularly those of the regime, which has continued to deprive the Syrians of their right to self-determination. This is most obvious in President Bashar Assad’s bid to run in a sham election that will not be recognized by half of the Syrian population as well as a large part of the international community.

Concerning Lebanon’s presidential election, the diplomatic source believes that this will be the first time in decades that the country has had a chance to “Lebanon-ize” the process after becoming accustomed to the idea that a president should be chosen by foreign powers.

He said the difficulty in “Lebanon-izing” the presidential election was similar to the difficulty the country had in holding the election in the first place. Now political parties find themselves confused about their inability to elect a president without foreign interferences after years of having little say at all.

Lebanon’s inability to elect a president on time, according to the diplomat, does not mean that the international community has abandoned it, as it will always keep an interest in maintaining the country’s stability. Influential states have announced through their representatives in Lebanon that they do not have candidates in mind and will not veto any nominee, but have also said they are ready to provide assistance if needed.

The diplomatic source said that what generally concerned the Western world, especially the U.S., was that programs that provide economic, monetary and security aid needed competent authorities, including a president, which was an essential part of the Lebanese political system’s structure.

The diplomat stressed that the meetings taking place abroad, including those in Paris between American and French officials, had not gone so far in addressing the electionas to talk of preferring one candidate over another, but were rather discussions of general specifications that should be required of any presidential hopeful at this stage.

The source also relayed the displeasure of more than one Western ambassador in Lebanon after reports were leaked about supporting certain candidates, something that has led some embassies to stop receiving members of “the presidential candidates’ club.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 16, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

Concerning Lebanon's presidential election, the diplomatic source believes that this will be the first time in decades that the country has had a chance to "Lebanon-ize" the process after becoming accustomed to the idea that a president should be chosen by foreign powers.

He said the difficulty in "Lebanon-izing" the presidential election was similar to the difficulty the country had in holding the election in the first place. Now political parties find themselves confused about their inability to elect a president without foreign interferences after years of having little say at all.

Lebanon's inability to elect a president on time, according to the diplomat, does not mean that the international community has abandoned it, as it will always keep an interest in maintaining the country's stability.


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