The assassination of Pierre Gemayel
Whose interests are served?
Hezbollah is trying to bring down
the Government of Lebanon, at the behest of its allies,
At a press conference in
“Today we saw again the vicious face of those who oppose
freedom. We strongly condemn the assassination today in Lebanon of Pierre
Gemayel, who was a minister in the government of Prime Minister Siniora. We
support the Siniora government and its democracy, and we support the Lebanese
people's desire to live in peace. And we support their efforts to defend their
democracy against attempts by
(Lest you take seriously George Bush’s “support the Lebanese people's desire to live in peace”, remember that when, a few months ago, Israel’s Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, promised to “turn Lebanon’s clock back 20 years” , George Bush was happy to allow him time to do it, using armament supplied by the US and largely paid for by US tax dollars. And well over a thousand Lebanese civilians died as a result.)
For once, Prime Minister Blair did
not quite echo his master’s voice - he didn’t specifically point the finger at
“We condemn this murder utterly. It is completely without
any justification at all. We need to do everything we can, particularly at this
moment, to protect democracy in
(Blair’s failure to indict
Government of national unity
So what is Hezbollah up to? For months, Hezbollah and its allies have been seeking a more broadly based Lebanese government - a government of national unity. Failing that, they want a general election. Neither of these is an inherently anti-democratic objective.
The present Government, with Fouad
Siniora as Prime Minister, is dominated by the March 14 alliance led by Saad
Hariri, son of Rafik Hariri, the former Prime Minister who was assassinated on
The remaining seats were won by the mainly Shiite Resistance and Development Bloc, which won 35 seats (of which Hezbollah won 14 and Amal 15), and by the Christian Aoun alliance led by Michel Aoun, which won 21 seats (of which Aoun’s own Free Patriotic Movement won 14). For the first time, Hezbollah opted to go into government and, together with its Shiite allies, it got 5 Ministries (of which Hezbollah got 2). The Aoun alliance is not represented in government.
Since the Government was formed in
July 2005, Hezbollah has entered into a “memorandum of understanding” with
Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (see 
for English translation) and the alliance seems to have survived
Hezbollah is now proposing that the
base of the government be broadened to bring in Aoun’s alliance. Since consensus is the stuff of politics in
Furthermore, there seems to be
widespread public support in
1) Asked Do you support the formation of a national unity government? Overall 70% said YES, with a majority in the two largest sects (Christian 71%, Shiite 97%) and a substantial minority in the other two (Sunni 49%, Druze 39%).
2) Asked Do you support holding an early election? Overall 68% said YES, again with a majority in the two largest sects (Christian 70%, Shiite 94%) and a substantial minority in the other two (Sunni 46%, Druze 35%).
A few weeks later, on 19-31 October 2006, the Beirut Centre for Research and Information carried out a poll of voting intentions . This suggested that, in a national election, Hezbollah, the Free Patriotic Movement and their allies, would beat the March 14 alliance, which has a dominant position in the present government. The poll predicts a 58% to 42% victory in terms of votes, which the polling organisation says could translate into as many as 75 seats for the Hezbollah/Free Patriotic Movement bloc.
Such a result would produce a dramatic
shift in the orientation of the Lebanese Government that would not please the
Less amenable Government
Hezbollah and its allies are making reasonable demands, which are not in any sense anti-democratic, and which appear to have the support of a considerable majority of the Lebanese people.
So, why are the US/UK and others painting these reasonable Hezbollah demands as an attack on “freedom and democracy” driven by sinister foreign influences? Simple, they fear - and with good reason - that a government of national unity, or a government formed after a general election, would be less amenable to their wishes, because it would contain a larger group of Ministers allied with Hezbollah, than the current Government.
What is more, Hezbollah and Aoun and their allies have 56 out of the 128 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, that is, over 40%. So a government of national unity representative of the Chamber would give the two groups over a third of the Ministers. This is a crucial point because Article 65(5) of the Lebanese Constitution says :
“The legal quorum for a Council [of Ministers] meeting is a majority of two thirds of its members. It makes its decisions by consensus. If that is not possible, it makes its decisions by vote of the majority of attending members. Basic national issues require the approval of two thirds of the members of the Council named in the Decree forming the Cabinet.”
So, a group made up of a third plus one of the Ministers, acting together, can block any decisions on “basic national issues” to which it is opposed. Article 65(5) defines these issues: examples are “the amendment of the constitution”, “the declaration of a state of emergency and its termination”, “war and peace”, “international agreements and treaties”, and “the annual government budget”.
One matter that would presumably fit into the “international agreements and treaties” category is an agreement that the UN should establish an international tribunal to try people suspected of the assassination of former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, in February 2005, and later assassinations. These assassinations are still under investigation by a UN Commission (and that of Pierre Gemayel has been added to the list).
we are to believe the British media, it was the question of setting up a UN
tribunal that sparked the current crisis, because Hezbollah and its allies,
being pro-Syria, don’t want a UN tribunal set up - because they want to protect
the guilty men. I can’t say for sure
what Hezbollah’s attitude to the tribunal is, but Associated Press reported on
“The anti-Syrian camp in
negotiations to form a government of national unity failed, 5 Ministers from Hezbollah
and Amal resigned from the Government on
“Pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud [who was elected by the previous Chamber of Deputies] said Sunday that Saniora's government was no longer legitimate because the constitution requires that ‘all sects should be justly represented in the Cabinet’. The constitution recognizes 18 religion-based communities and most of them are represented in a full Cabinet by at least one minister. Half the ministers have to be Christian and half Muslim.
“Lahoud said all decisions taken by the Cabinet, including Monday's, were ‘null and void."
“Michel Aoun, the leader of a Christian faction allied with Hezbollah, agreed. ‘The government has lost its legitimacy and its decision today to approve the draft document ... is meaningless’.
“Environment Minister Yaacoub Sarraf, a Christian minister allied with the president, resigned shortly before the Cabinet meeting, citing similar objections. ‘I don't see myself belonging to any constitutional authority in which an entire sect is absent’, Sarraf wrote in his letter of resignation.”
Article 95(3) of the Constitution requires that :
“The confessional groups are to be represented in a just and equitable fashion in the formation of the Cabinet.”
So, President Lahoud’s assertion that, without any Shiite Ministers, the Government is no longer legitimate has got some merit to it. Originally, the Government had 12 Christian Ministers (5 Maronite, 3 Greek Orthodox, 2 Greek Catholic, 1 Armenian Orthodox and 1 Protestant) and 12 Muslim Ministers (5 Sunni, 5 Shiite and 2 Druze). With the resignation of 6 Ministers, and the assassination of another, it now has 10 Christian and 7 Muslim, none of them Shiite.
The Government is now operating without the consent of the Shiite minority, which is arguably contrary to the Constitution.
Confessionalism is at the heart of the Lebanese system of governance (see Appendix below). Under the (unwritten) National Pact of 1943, the President of the Republic has to be a Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and the President (Speaker) of the Chamber of Deputies a Shiite Muslim. 50% of the 128 seats in the Chamber of Deputies are allocated to Christians, and 50% to Muslims, and those allocations are further sub-divided for Christian and Muslim sects (18 in all). Thus, for example, 34 seats are reserved for Maronite Christians, 14 for Greek Orthodox Christians (and 14 for other Christian sects), 27 for Sunni Muslims, 27 for Shiite Muslims, 8 for Druze and 2 for Alawites.
The proportions of seats allocated to each sect don’t correspond to their proportions in the electorate today. But it’s impossible to say by how much they diverge since there hasn’t been a national census since 1932. Then Christians were in a majority, and they originally were allocated 55% of the seats. This was reduced to 50% by the Ta’if Accord in 1989, which was the basis for ending the civil war. Today, it is generally believed that the Christian population is less than 40%.
On the other hand, it is generally believed that the Shiites are substantially underrepresented in the Chamber of Deputies, where they have 27 out of the 128 seats, that is, a little over 20%. Some people believe that they are more numerous than Christians. There is little doubt that to match their share of the electorate they should have over a third of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies. And if this was reflected in the Government, as it should be, then Hezbollah and its Shiite allies would, most likely, have a blocking third on their own.
Why lavish praise?
Bush is forever lavishing praise on the so-called Cedar revolution, which
resulted from the assassination of Rafik Hariri. As he told Prime Minister Siniora at the
White House on
“We took great joy in seeing the Cedar Revolution. We understand that the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the street to express their desire to be free required courage, and we support the desire of the people to have a government responsive to their needs and a government that is free, truly free.”
Strange how in this blether about free, responsive government he appears not to have noticed the unfairness in the electoral system towards Shiites. It’s a pound to a penny that he would noticed had the disadvantaged party been favourably disposed towards Washington - then he would have been vociferous in his demands that the Lebanese electoral system be “reformed” and “modernised”.
The plain fact is that Bush was ecstatic about the Lebanese election last year, not because it was free and fair, but because it produced the right result. When a majority of Palestinians dared to vote for Hamas in January 2006, there was no rejoicing from Bush about the free and fair elections - and the Palestinians were subjected to collective punishment for producing the wrong result.
When the democratically elected Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, dared to condemn the Israeli attack on Lebanon as “aggression” , Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee (and anti-Iraq war presidential candidate in 2004) went so far as to call him an anti-Semite, and said :
"We don't need to spend
$200 and $300 and $500 billion bringing democracy to
exercise of democracy doesn’t get a seal of approval from either party in
Whose interests are served?
"A few weeks ago the White House took the unprecedented step of saying that Syria and Iran, acting through Hezbollah, were on the verge of staging a coup d'etat against the democratically elected government of Lebanon, and I have to say that this assassination of Pierre Gemayel might well be the first shot in that coup."
If you are trying to identify who is
responsible for an assassination, it is common sense to ask whose interests are
served by it. The interests of Hezbollah
and its allies inside
Central to this initiative is Hezbollah’s pact with Michel Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement. If you wanted to stop the initiative in its tracks, you could do worse than assassinate a Christian Minister, and blame it on Hezbollah and its allies. That could be expected to undermine Christian support for Aoun, if he maintained his pact with Hezbollah. It could also be expected to re-create the anti-Syrian atmosphere that was prevalent after the assassination of Rafik Hariri, and thereby boost popular support for the March 14 alliance at the expense of Hezbollah and its allies.
The interests of the
Likewise, the interests of the
Appendix: The Lebanese system of governance
people in the territory added by
1943, with independence from
“There is no constitutional legitimacy for any authority which contradicts the 'pact of communal coexistence'.”
The key points in the pact are:-
Christians were to accept
In return, Muslims were to accept the legitimacy of
3) Public offices were divided proportionately among the sects according to the 1932 census.
4) Seats in the Chamber of Deputies were allocated to Christians and Muslims in a ratio of 6 to 5, reflecting the 1932 census.
5) The Lebanese President was to be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, the President (Speaker) of the Chamber of Deputies was to be a Shiite Muslim and his Deputy a Greek Orthodox Christian.
was no provision made in the National Pact for altering any of this to reflect
demographic changes. Indeed, so
sensitive is the issue within
rules, with small modifications, are still central to the governance of
More fundamentally, the Ta’if Accord declared:
“Abolishing political sectarianism is a fundamental national objective.”
and specified that a national council be established to work out a phased plan to bring about its abolition. This “fundamental national objective” was written into the Lebanese Constitution (in Article 95) but it doesn’t seem to have progressed beyond that.
Today, the political system is still wholly confessional, so much so that a quota of seats in the Chamber of Deputies is allocated to each of 18 officially recognised sects, with the overriding rule that 64 must go to members of Christian sects and 64 to Muslim, including Druze. Nationally, the 64 Christian seats are allocated as follows: Maronite 34, Greek Orthodox 14, Greek Catholic 8, Armenian Orthodox 5, Armenian Catholic 1, Protestant 1 and Others 1; and the 64 Muslim seats are allocated as follows: Sunni 27, Shiite 27, Druze 8 and Alawite 2.
(In order to elect individuals from the appropriate sect to take up the seats allocated to that sect, these allocations are sub-divided into allocations per electoral district. However, individuals are elected by universal suffrage, not just by members of their sect.)
Does the proportion of seats allocated to each sect reflect their proportion of the electorate today? Definitely not, but since there has been no national consensus since 1932, it is impossible to say with any accuracy how much they diverge.
However, it is generally believed that, whereas Christians have 50% of the seats reserved for them, today only 40% or so of the population is Christian, which, if true, means that they are overrepresented by a quarter. By contrast, it is generally believed that Shiites are substantially underrepresented in the Chamber of Deputies, where they have 27 out of the 128 seats, that is, a little over 20%. Some people believe that they are the more numerous than Christians.
Labour & Trade Union Review
 See www.nytimes.com