Adonis Diaries

“Shock and Steadfastness”by Kareem Bakradouny: Biography of President Emile Lahoud of the Republic

Posted on: June 1, 2009

“Shock and Steadfastness” by Kareem Bakradouny (May 30, 2009)

Note:  This is the second part of my book review.  The first part was excerpts of Lahoud as Army Chief

Lahoud was elected President of the Republic by the majority of 118 out of 128 deputy votes after revising an item in the city of Taif Constitution. Item 49 in the Constitution denied candidacy to any a high ranked employee before resigning his post for a period. General Lahoud was elected President on October 15, 1998 and his first public oath in the Parliament said: “The President of the Republic is the only official to swear allegiance to the nation and to obey the law.  Thus, since I will be under the Law then I expect everyone else to emulate my subordination to the Law of the Land” President Lahoud had a program of fighting corruption and made it clear and loud in his speech that didn’t mention the ex-President Hrawi or the ex Hariri PM in any sections of the speech.

When ex-President Hrawi urged Hafiz Assad to change his choice Assad said: “The Lebanese public polls selected Emile Lahoud for President and I want him there” The Syrian President had complete confidence in the former Army Chief that he will first, resume his policy of strengthening and unifying the Lebanese army and will refrain from drawing the Lebanese army in internal infighting such as with Hezbollah and thus save the Syrian army any uncalled for problems, and second, that Lahoud will never contemplate unilateral negotiation with Israel.

Hafez Assad was not concerned with the Lahoud’s program for drastic reforms and fighting corruption.  Thus Lahoud had to deal with a rotten political system in Lebanon that constituted an insurmountable barrier to change: the Taif Constitution robbed the President of valuable powers that were transferred basically to the Prime Minister and the cabinet combined.

Hariri had proclaimed three months ago that “I will return Prime Minister whoever is elected president to the Republic” Hariri had returned from a long trip visiting important capitals and secured assent to be accepted as Prime Minister but only 83 out of 128 deputies selected him directly and the remaining deputies allowed the President to vote for them.  Cocky Hariri went publicly asking that another round of consultation takes place because he wanted as many representative votes as the President of 118 deputies.  Lahoud reacted by publicly accepting Hariri refusal and appointed Salim Hoss as prime Minister with 95 deputy votes. This tactic of Hariri backfired as he realized that Syria could easily deal with another Prime Minister.  Hariri was positioning himself for a vaster role as co-partner in the coming Middle East peace accord that he sincerely believed was almost agreed on.

It was a tradition since independence for the newly elected President of Lebanon to pay an official visit to France first of all.  Chirac was highly displeased that Lahoud did not mention France contribution to the April 1996 agreement to localize the confrontations in south Lebanon and for not consulting him on the government that excluded Rafic Hariri.  Consequently, Chirac took it personally and canceled the appointment for a formal visit to France.  Later Chirac was pressured to dissociate France interest in Lebanon from his personal animosity with Lahoud and the Francophone convention took place in Beirut in 2000.

In June 1999, assassins of the extremist Sunni movement “3osbat al Ansaar” killed four judges within Saida Court House and fled to the nearby Palestinian camp of Ain Helwi.  Lahoud understood that it was a trap to inciting the Lebanese army to start a war on the Palestinian camps and instead Lahoud focused on encircling the camp to apprehend the assassins.

As this nasty trap failed to divide the government then Israel launched destructive raids on Lebanon’s infrastructure targeting the electrical power plants and water pumps. Lahoud asked the Lebanese to contribute to a bank account in order to support the State treasury to rebuild what was demolished; (I remember that I contributed $100 while in the USA).  The Lebanese overseas contributed 50 millions dollars to that fund.

The president of the Parliament Nabih Berri told Lahoud “You are an excellent soldier but lack political acumen”.  Lahoud replied “If I managed to become Chief of the army and President of the Republic with lack of political acumen then how my path you have unfold if I was much more clever in politics?”.  In another moment Berri told the author “Lahoud plays it dumb but he is aware of all the political details and smarter in politics than most Lebanese politicians.  For example, Lahoud retains General Jamil Al Sayyed, Director of the General Security in Lebanon, in all his discussions with foreign personalities so that Al Sayyed would testify to the Syrian officials.”  Berri had no liking for the strong Shiaa man Al Sayyed.

Lahoud finally met with Rafic Hariri in the summer Palace of Beit El Dine after months of avoiding face to face encounter. Lahoud told Hariri “From the first moment I knew that you wanted as much weight among the deputies as I obtained in my election for the presidency so that you may force on me your conditions. I kept the honest and performing high officials that you appointed and will dismiss anyone that is not up to his responsibilities.  I intended you to be my first Prime Minister but I was in no mood to be subjected to any conditions.  I know that you are spending lots of money on the media to ruin the image of this government but this not the way to behave with me.”  Two days later president basher Assad paid Lahoud a quick visit to Lebanon and publicly supported the president and Hoss PM.

President Lahoud decided to spend part of summer in the Presidential Palace in Beit El Dine and for that purpose had to relocate the bust of Kamal Jumblat off the entrance and waited for Walid to ship it somewhere else at his own responsibility. Walid said “I will never forget what Lahoud did for the duration of my life!”  Walid Jumblat tried scare tactics on Lahoud by assuring him that the Syria President is terminally ill and that his son Bashar will not succeed his father Hafiz and that General Hekmat Shahaby and Abdel Haleem Khaddam will take over the regime.  Lahoud retorted “Bashar will be the next appointed President and I am trying my best to take on the responsibilities of the President and to recapture the dignity of the State under one leader”  Jumbalt said “I don’t like the military”.  Lahoud replied “I don’t like the militias”.  Once, Lahoud saw on the TV Hoss PM meeting Jumblat who was in jeans.  Lahoud sent his assistant to inform Jumblat that he will not be welcomed in the Presidential Palace if he ever arrives not wearing a tie.   President Lahoud comprehended that Walid Jumblatt’s attitude, as his father Kamal, amounted to a historical trend of blaming the Christian Maronite sect for having robbed the Druze out of the leadership of Mount Lebanon.

In November 1999, the French Foreign Affairs Hubert Vedrine had a lengthy discussion with President Lahoud.  Vedrine had toured several capitals and his impression was that a resolution of the Middle East crisis was less ripe as he expected.  Ehud Barak of Israel was sending tactical contradictory messages hoping for starting any kinds of negotiations with either Lebanon or Syria so that he won’t have to withdraw unilaterally from Lebanon and give Hezbollah the impression of defeating Israel by acts of resistance.  Barak would not pronounce on the complete withdrawal from the Golan as requested by Hafiz Assad and President Lahoud would not negotiate without Syria approval. Consequently, Barak was forced to withdraw from Lebanon without any pre-conditions because Israel was in fact paying a high price in Lebanon for insisting on keeping the Golan Heights.

Vedrine and Lahoud discussed the Palestinian problems.  Vedrine was offering the suggestion that Lebanon refrains from adamantly proclaiming that every Palestinian in the refugee camps should leave Lebanon  and just be satisfied maintaining the Constitution requirement of the Palestinian rights to return.  Lahoud stated that the Palestinians procreation is three times faster than the Lebanese and constitute now 10% of the population or 400,000 and this fact is a highly “explosive bomb” that has the potential to destabilize the Lebanese social and political fabrics. Lahoud confirmed that the Palestinians in the camps are suffering a harsh life but arms in the camps are no longer directed toward Israel since the Oslo Agreement.  It appeared that the financial compensation was already settled among the donating powers but the potential Palestinian State would be small and economically fragile to sustain the relocation of all the Palestinian refugees.

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