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Lebanon leaders clinch a deal to end crisis

Latest update : 2008-05-22

At dawn on the sixth day of the Doha talks, Lebanese officials and opposition reached an agreement to end the political crisis and elect General Michel Sleiman as president on Sunday.

Rival Lebanese leaders secured a deal on Wednesday that could end, at least momentarily, 18 months of political instability and ward off a new civil war. The deal, respectful of Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system, comes a week after a military campaign led by Shia opposition movement Hezbollah against the ruling coalition leaders killed 81 people.



“There’s still the issue of Hezbollah weapons in the background and there will always be international powers pushing and pulling so there is potential for frictions,” says Lucie Fielder, a FRANCE 24 correspondent in Beirut. “But in the short term, this looks like a good deal.”



In a first symbolic gesture, the Hezbollah-led opposition began to remove a protest encampment in central Beirut, which has paralyzed the central commercial district since December 2006.




“A new page in Lebanon’s history”



The Arab-mediated deal signed in Doha paves the way for the election of a new president. The seat has been vacant since former president Emile Lahoud stepped down at the end of his term last year. But Lebanese parties had not been able to agree on the name of his successor, forcing the election to be delayed 19 times.


The Lebanese parliament is set to convene on Sunday to elect army Chief General Michel Sleiman, whose name had been considered several times before, as head of state.



Under the deal, the ruling majority will have 16 seats in the cabinet and be able to choose the prime minister: The opposition will have 11 seats. But more importantly, the agreement meets the demands of the Hezbollah-led opposition for a veto right, a contentious point which had led to mass resignation of opposition MPs in September 2006.



The agreement also resolves a dispute over the electoral law ahead of next year’s legislative election.



Saad al-Hariri, a Sunni politician who leads the governing coalition is regarded as a strong contender for prime minister. “Today, we are opening a new page in Lebanon's history,” Hariri said.




A deal that falls short of resolving Lebanon’s contradictions



Talal Salman, a commentator in the pro-opposition as-Safir newspaper, said that the deal was a compromise that “redressed the balance in the no-victor, no-vanquished formula."



The agreement over General Sleiman’s candidacy in particular has been hailed as a major leap forward, allowing the restoration of a normal political life.



But not everybody shares this optimism. On the streets of Beirut, many Lebanese expressed concern for what they see as a temporary reprieve.



For Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Centre, interviewed by AFP, the deal "will not resolve the basic contradictions, because there are two states, the state itself and the Hezbollah which is another state."



Hezbollah was the only movement not required to disarm after the 1975-1990 civil war, saying their weapons were a means to defend the country against Israel. Although this has repeatedly been a major cause of instability for Lebanon, the question of disarmament was not addressed in Doha. The omission, experts say, probably meant to ensure that institutional disputes would be resolved.



“The Hariri-led majority decided to drop that question and to discuss it later,” FRANCE 24 correspondent Jean-Marie Quéméner explains. “But this means that the weapons are still there and that they could turn again against the Lebanese people just like they did a week and a half ago.”

 

Joseph Bahout,  a political scientist at the Centre for International Research and Studies (CERI) in Paris, told FRANCE 24 that whether Lebanon’s solution to the crisis will prove durable remains to be seen. As long as you avoid dealing with the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons, the country will remain on the brink of crisis.”
 

Date created : 2008-05-21

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