Sovereign discord

Syrian soldiers are seen near their truck at the Wadi Khalid area near the Syrian border, in northern Lebanon April 12, 2012. (REUTERS/Jamal Saidi)

The policy of disassociation from events in Syria is one thing, but the practice of disassociation from one’s own government is quite another.

Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour took the concept of disassociation a step further this week, as he gave his own spin on what it meant to be asked by President Michel Sleiman to deliver a protest to the Syrian ambassador about violations of Lebanese sovereignty.

Act I took place when Sleiman delivered the request to his foreign minister, in the aftermath of the shelling by Syrian forces of areas in the Bekaa and in the north.

In Act II, Mansour put his own spin on the president’s directive. The foreign minister decided to downgrade the protest to a notification, and said that the head of state’s facts, after all, needed to be checked.

Apparently, Mansour assumed that Sleiman had decided to contact Lebanon’s neighbor about the very serious issue of violations of sovereignty before conducting any substantive research into the matter.

Act III took place on Wednesday, when the countries traded official memoranda to each other, speaking about border violations. Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdel-Karim Ali, had a field day as he feigned outrage over Beirut’s nerve in complaining about the repeated shelling and other cross-border incidents. In Ali’s view, Syria should be complaining about Lebanon, and not the other way around. The problem is that Cabinet members appear to share this view, as they argue that Lebanon should get its facts straight before daring to approach its neighbor.

It appears that the government is unable to come to an agreement over what exactly is happening, and when in doubt, ministers are inclined to believe whatever Syria says.

Back in May, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, informed the United Nations Security Council about a long list of Lebanese violations of Syria’s sovereignty, against the backdrop of the bloody uprising against the Syrian regime.

At the time, Sleiman fired back by saying that much of the allegations were baseless, and was supported by Prime Minister Najib Mikati – while their “partners” in the Cabinet remained silent.

The irony is that Lebanon and Syria’s “Treaty of Brotherhood and Cooperation,” in place since the early 1990s, has never led to any serious work on border demarcation, or ending the widespread phenomenon of smuggling and rampant disregard for these borders.

All of a sudden, when government officials should be speaking with one voice on the issue of national sovereignty, the public hears only the opening of a contentious debate.

It sees a Cabinet minister ignore the wishes of the head of state, raising questions about who this minister answers to – is it Lebanon, or someone else? More importantly, will the president make it clear if such behavior is acceptable?

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 26, 2012, on page 7.




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