As unexpected electoral alliances emerge Aiming for a Parliament to forge a

Meeting in Koreytem
During a meeting at the Hariri home in Beirut’s Koreytem neighborhood, in the presence of Nazek Hariri, widow of Rafik Hariri, her stepson Saad, MP Walid Jumblatt, Marwan Hamadé, Ghazi Aridi and Wael Abou-Faour, Saad Hariri stressed “the depth of the friendship linking the Hariris to the Jumblatts… and the importance of the ‘pact’ concluded between them extending from Beirut to the Mountain, and eventually encompassing all Lebanon, and which will continue until all our objectives are achieved”.
Jumblatt spoke in the same vein, affirming that “our joint march will continue, and we shall not forget all our allies and friends, who have stood by our sides in good moments and bad”.
Earlier, Hariri had explained the reason why General Aoun had been unable to ally himself with Koreytem and Jumblatt. “The general”, he said, “wants to take the leadership of the opposition. But the opposition has no head. Its members sit at a round table and reach decisions after discussions”.

Aoun’s ‘visit of solidarity’ to Geagea
Another wartime enmity was buried last week when Aoun met with Samir Geagea in the latter’s cell at the Defense Ministry. Aoun later called for Geagea’s release to advance reconciliation.
“The continued detention of Samir Geagea is unjust because he was condemned by a court which was not free” but under the control of Syria, he told reporters.
“He should be released from prison but also acquitted because he was jailed on the basis of an accusation for which he was found not guilty”, Aoun said.
Geagea was found innocent of a 1994 bomb attack on a church that left 11 dead but, unlike other former warlords, was handed a death sentence that was commuted to life imprisonment for crimes committed during the war.
He can only be pardoned by a vote in Parliament or by the president.
Aoun urged opposition leaders in the Muslim camp, such as Saad Hariri and Walid Jumblatt, to also pay solidarity calls on Geagea, whom he found “in very good health… thanks to the spiritual energy derived from his convictions”.
The meeting turned into “a reconciliation to turn the page on the past”, said the general, whose soldiers fought pitched battles with Geagea’s forces for control of the Christian heartland east and north of Beirut in the early months of 1990.
Geagea was convicted of the 1987 assassination of Prime Minister Rashid Karami, whose brother Omar Karami, a former premier, is opposed to any amnesty for Geagea.
In the runup to legislative elections at the end of May, Aoun returned on May 7 from 15 years of exile in France following the withdrawal of the Syrian army, against which he had waged an abortive “war of liberation” from March to November 1989.
In an interview, Aoun criticized fellow opposition leaders in the Muslim camp for bowing to the government’s terms for elections this month.
“This so-called opposition was only seasonal”, he told an interviewer. “Its representatives were in power” during the period when Syria dominated Lebanese politics, said the general. “They only left for a few months and are now back”, he said.
Rafik Hariri and Walid Jumblatt took part in several governments formed under Syrian auspices, apart from 1998-2000, and only broke away to join the opposition ranks in September 2004, when they fell out with Damascus over the three-year extension of the mandate of President Emile Lahoud.
Damascus denies any involvement in bringing about the extension.
Aoun said the opposition was falling apart in the runup to phased elections. He charged that it had failed to draw up a common platform to contest the polls, to be held over four consecutive Sundays until June 19.
The parliamentary elections would be “flawed due to legal falsification”, he said, accusing Jumblatt and Saad Hariri, officially his allies, of having bowed to international pressure to accept the polls “under whatever conditions. Democratic life cannot start with an unhealthy law”.
Christians have charged the law is unfair because it allows only 15 Christian MPs to be elected by Christian voters, while 49 others would be elected by Muslims, and is therefore not representative of their community.
Parliament has an equal number of seats reserved for Christians and Muslims — 64 seats for each.
Aoun said other opposition members had agreed “to self-destruct and destroy the hope for change”, but he did not close the door on cooperation and said he was ready to try to draw up a common program “up until the last minute”.
“The priority is to hold fair elections, not the date. But for the decision-makers, it’s the form that counts. Nothing has changed. Even if the Syrians have gone, their methods remain”.
Along with Hariri and Jumblatt, some Christian opposition figures had also given way to demands from Paris and Washington not to delay the elections and risk instability and a power vacuum in the wake of Syria’s departure. Saudi Arabia had also made known its wishes in this sense.
“I am not coordinating with the [Western] powers and I am free of any foreign commitment. If they had listened to me, they would not have pushed for elections under any conditions”, Aoun said.
Aoun, 70, unbroken by his exile, has returned determined to challenge loyalist and opposition forces alike into reforming Lebanon. The soldier-turned politician claims that his actions during his French exile helped turn Lebanon’s political tide when the last Syrian soldier quit the country on April 26.
“Minds must be changed and we must get rid of the political feudalism and religious system”, he said, as he was given a hero’s welcome by tens of thousands of supporters on his return on May 7.
General Aoun wants to change what many see as a feudal system dominated by moneyed families, Christian and Muslim, which goes back to the period of Ottoman rule in the region (1516-1918).

‘Ordinary’ Council of Ministers meeting
The cabinet met last week in what was described as an “ordinary session”, chaired by Prime Minister Najib Mikati. A minute’s silence was observed in memory of former Minister Hassan Shalak, who had died the day before.
Mikati then informed the ministers of the discussions he recently had with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York, Brazilian President Inacio Lula da Silva in Brasilia, on the sidelines of the Arab-Latin American Summit, as well as his meetings in Saudi Arabia with Crown Prince Abdallah and other officials.
Moreover, it was decided to give Rafik Hairi’s name to Beirut International Airport, on which he had worked to enlarge and equip in order to increase its cargo and passenger capacity.
Finally, Mikati announced that three ministerial meetings would be held the following week. That of Wednesday, May 25, coinciding with the anniversary of the liberation of South Lebanon from the Israeli occupation, would be devoted to examining projects of interest to Southern villages. The meeting on Friday, May 27, would be devoted to examining the woes of the Lebanon Electricity Authority.
The premier also announced the arrival of missions from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in order to examine the means to re-launch the national economy and the various productive sectors.

‘Beirut I’ before ‘Paris III’
Furthermore, Mikati announced that he intends to make a round soon of the Gulf countries “in order to consult with officials and businessmen who have given positive signs as to the willingness to invest in Lebanon”.
He added: “Our main challenge is to conserve confidence in our country. We can thus prepare for holding a Paris III or IV [conference of international donors]”.

Northern controversies
What of the disputes between politicians in North Lebanon?
When Mohammad Safadi ruled out a combination with Sleiman Franjié on the pretext of “a divergence of our political lines”, Franjié returned the ball, saying that “Mr. Safadi has ‘shifted his rifle’, while we have kept our commitments”.
For his part, Omar Karami was keeping an imperturbable silence about whether he would be a candidate or not. Khaldoun Sharif, spokesman of the Karamist Current, limited himself to saying that the alliance between Franjié and the ‘Effendi’ went back several years. He added that Karami had not spoken of the elections during his recent meeting with Syria’s President Bashar Assad in Damascus.

Feltman at the MTV
During the week, US Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman continued his visits to political and spiritual figures.
He was received by Sheikh Abdelamir Kabalan, vice-president of the Higher Islamic Shiite Council, while his French counterpart, Bernard Emié, met with Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Kabbani, mufti of the Republic and head of the country’s Sunnite community.
The two diplomats said they were making these contacts in order to maintain and enhance national unity and ensure that the elections went ahead in freedom and transparency.
Feltman also visited the headquarters of the MTV, which has been closed for months. There he had talks with the CEO, Michel Gabriel Murr, and his father, Gabriel Murr, former MP for the Metn.
“Lebanon enjoys freedom of expression. The purpose of my presence here is to recall that this station was reduced to silence, and to express America’s support for this institution, which people sorely need in the present circumstances”, the envoy said, quoted in the press.
Feltman also denied reports that he would be mediating between Aoun, Hariri and Jumblatt if an agreement between them was delayed.

Detlev Mehvis
Separately, Stephan Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, indicated that the chairman of the commission investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Detlev Mehvis, would soon be arriving in Beirut.
Meanwhile, the Security Council met at midweek in public session to hear a report by the deputy secretary-general for public affairs, Kieran Prendergast. He indicated that the situation in Lebanon was “fragile” despite recent signs of improvement. He said Mehvis would carry out his mission as quickly as possible. He gave no details.
At the end of the week, much was seen to depend on discussions concerning the Baabda-Aley constituency between two opposition forces — the Progressive Socialist Party led by Jumblatt, and the Aounist Free Current. Perhaps a balanced consensus could be reached between them on representation within the constituency, analysts suggested. “The logic of partnership seems to have prevailed over that of the temptation of hegemony”.