Lebanon News

Terrorism, dialogue and a pope – Sleiman’s tenure

BEIRUT: For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, Michel Sleiman has married himself to the country’s fate and led it through one of its darkest and most trying periods since the Civil War.

Largely regarded as a strong negotiator, he has repeatedly called for and chaired National Dialogue sessions, visited more countries than any of his predecessors and even called for civil marriage to be legalized.

His last few months, however, have been more controversial, mainly due to his criticisms of Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian war.

During his tenure, the repercussions of the war in Syria on Lebanon have become clear, with the country witnessing a wave of car bombs and suicide attacks – mostly in areas where Hezbollah enjoys wide support – toward the end of the president’s term.

Below is a list of major events that unfolded during Sleiman’s tenure:

May 25, 2008: Sleiman, then commander of the Lebanese Army, is elected as president just days after the government and the opposition agreed to a deal after talks in Doha to end the 2008 political crisis. The ceremony is attended by Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, then-Arab League chief Amr Moussa, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and other officials.

December 2008: Syria opens its first embassy in Lebanon.

March 1, 2009: The Special Tribunal for Lebanon officially opens, beginning its investigating of the 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri as well as 21 others.

March 16, 2009: Lebanon opens its first embassy in Syria.

June 2009: The March 14 coalition wins the majority of seats during parliamentary elections. Saad Hariri is nominated as prime minister and forms a national unity government in November the same year.

July 2010: Syrian President Bashar Assad and Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz travel to Lebanon together, their first joint visit since 2002, reflecting Syrian-Saudi agreement on preserving stability in the region.

January 2011: Hariri’s government is toppled by the March 8 coalition, whose ministers resign after the premier refuses to sever his ties with the STL – the first sign of political instability in Lebanon since the start of Sleiman’s term. Hariri leaves the country a few months later.

March 2011: The Syrian conflict begins as forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad clash with peaceful demonstrators calling for reforms and greater freedoms. The initial violence eventually morphs into a civil war that forces thousands of Syrian refugees to flee to Lebanon.

June 2012: The Baabda Declaration is signed between rival March 8 and March 14 leaders, calling for Lebanon to be distanced from regional and international conflicts. During his term, Sleiman repeatedly calls for the agreement to be upheld, but to no avail.

August 2012: Former Lebanese Information Minister Michel Samaha, who is close to Assad, is detained after authorities uncover plans to carry out several bombing attacks across Lebanon. Ties between Sleiman and Assad begin to deteriorate, with the former openly criticizing the Syrian president and saying, “I expect [Assad] to call me, but he has not yet,” a few days after Samaha’s arrest. Sleiman’s comments attract the ire of pro-Assad groups in Lebanon.

September 2012: Pope Benedict XVI visits Lebanon amid regional turmoil and escalating protests against an anti-Islam film produced by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula in the U.S.

October 2012: Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, the chief of the Internal Security Forces’ Information Branch, is assassinated by a car bomb. Hasan oversaw the dismantling of dozens of Israeli spy networks, closely cooperated with the STL and uncovered the alleged plot by former Samaha, coordinating with head of Syria’s Intelligence Gen. Ali Mamlouk, to stage terrorist attacks in Lebanon.

March 2013: Prime Minister Najib Mikati announces the resignation of his government after a fallout among ministers over the extension of new Internal Security Forces chief Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi’s term, leading to a further deterioration in the security situation.

May 25, 2013: Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah announces that his party is deeply involved in the war in Syria and that its fight against Syrian rebels is aimed at protecting the resistance group. At the same time, Syrian troops backed by Hezbollah fighters launch a massive offensive against the rebel-held town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon. Sleiman’s relationship with Hezbollah deteriorates as he criticizes the party’s actions.

May 31, 2013: For the first time since the Civil War, Parliament extends its mandate by 17 months due to its failure to agree on a new electoral law and the worsening security situation.

September 2013: The International Support Group for Lebanon is launched in New York by Sleiman and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to support Lebanon’s civil institutions and help the country address the presence of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

November 2013: The first suicide attack during Sleiman’s term takes places outside Iran’s embassy in Beirut when two bombers blow themselves up in the Bir Hasan neighborhood in the city’s southern suburbs. The attack claims the lives of 25 people, including the embassy’s cultural attaché and four guards and wounds more than 150.

Dec 27. 2013: Former Minister Mohammad Shatah, a senior aide to Hariri, is killed along with five other people in a car bomb blast in Downtown Beirut

Dec. 29, 2013: Saudi Arabia grants the Army $3 billion in military equipment, largely due to Sleiman’s efforts and meetings in the kingdom.

April 1, 2014: Lebanon launches a security plan for the northern city of Tripoli to crackdown on Syria-linked fighting. A similar plan for the Bekaa Valley in east Lebanon is launched a week later.

April 3, 2014: The number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon surpasses 1 million, according to UNHCR.

March 2014: Sleiman and Hezbollah fight over the tripartite formula of “the people, the Army, and the resistance,” after the president calls Hezbollah’s “golden” stance “wooden.” Hezbollah retorts by saying the president needs “specialized care” because he can “no longer differentiate between gold and wood.” The dispute ends any hope of extending Sleiman’s term.

May 2014: Sleiman refuses to extend his term, saying he wants freedom for him and his family.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 24, 2014, on page 3.




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