Keen to cool simmering political tensions, and perhaps promote his legacy, President Michel Sleiman Monday convened the first National Dialogue session since September 2012.
However, several groups were absent from the discussions, including Hezbollah – whose weapons remain perhaps the most thorny issue – and the Lebanese Forces, rendering it less a “national” dialogue session than a gathering and photo op.
Little came of the session, other than endorsements for the new Cabinet and the security plan for Tripoli, and the next meeting – in which all parties were encouraged to take part – was scheduled for May 5.
But by then we should be well on the way to electing a new president, if it has not happened already, with a Constitutional deadline for that process to end May 25.
So what, then, is the purpose of such National Dialogue sessions? They rarely end in agreement, and when they do, signed memoranda and decisions are ignored in practice.
Dialogue sessions should be approached as a means to an end, an opportunity to progress on those dangerous issues and myriad problems dogging Lebanon, not seen as an end in itself. It is not enough to simply hold such a session and then go home at the end of the day, feeling content for attending, when little has actually been achieved.
The president undoubtedly has good intentions and wants to minimize certain political tensions. But the most pressing issue now is that a new president be elected within the constitutional timeframe, while simultaneously the security of the country be protected. Focus on these issues for the next two months, not holding meaningless meetings that the country knows well are little more than an exercise in futility.