While Berri remembered the missing Imam and tried to strike a balance between the cabinet's "political resistance" and the other "resistance", affirming the Lebanese Shia's Arab identity while at the same time calling for normalization of ties with Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan; And while he tried to convey the impression that the country is united, a tug of war was taking place behind the scenes between March 14 and "President" Emile Lahoud. It's about the Hariri investigation, the expired constitutional council, and the post-war reconstruction. And Berri, as usual, is being assigned the role of a mediator.
March 14 and the parliament's majority want the parliament to meet in an extraordinary session to pass laws related to all three issues. According to the constitution, "The President of the Republic in consultation with the Prime Minister may summon the Chamber to extraordinary sessions by a Decree specifying the dates of the opening and closing of the extraordinary sessions as well as the agenda. The President of the Republic is required to convoke the Chamber if an absolute majority of the total membership so requests."
Lahoud has reportedly refused to summon the chamber, which means it has to be requested by the majority. Al-Balad said that indeed such a petition has been signed by 65 deputies from the majority, and it is ready to be sent to the president.
But Nabih Berri is stalling, and the majority is letting him. He reportedly asked them to wait, promising to "solve the matter" without resorting to a petition, which, according to Berri, could deal a "moral blow" to the president and lead the country to problems it does not need.
Well, let's see what's more important, Lahoud's feelings or these three issues.
Beginning with the international tribunal, which will take over after chief UN investigator Brammertz is done, Lebanon has to amend/pass a number of laws in the penal code, especially the ones concerning the death penalty, as required by the tribunal's bylaws. According to Al-Balad, parliament needs to vote on the tribunal's protocol in September. I am not clear on the deadlines here and why this has to take place before the first Tuesday after October 15, when the normal chamber session begins. It could be because, and according to the constitution, the session that starts in October "is reserved for the discussion of and voting on the budget before any other work."
Al-Balad says that the cabinet wants parliament to also pass a number of laws that would allow the cabinet to dispense compensation to the refugees and begin the reconstruction effort. Another matter is also the constitutional council, whose term expired yet Aoun and Hizbullah want to re-activate to annul the election of some of the March 14 deputies, as well as a law that gives the current majority the right to appoint new members of the council to replace those appointed during the Syrian era.
All these matters are of utmost urgency to the country, and to the cabinet, which wants to be able to act fast and deal with issues that have stalled due to Aoun and Hizbullah's past obstructionism, not to mention the war.
So what does Berri do yesterday? He calls for an open-ended sit-in at the parliament building "until the lifting of the blockade, however long that takes."
So instead of legislating, the deputies will sit and do nothing, until Israel decides to lift its blockade. This buys everyone time, especially the Lahoud-Hizbullah-Aoun camp, which would rather see the government toppled before the parliament's majority gets its way. How apt would it be for them to decry the inefficiency of the government while idling in downtown Beirut? And how convenient would it be for Assad to see the Hariri tribunal delayed?
Berri may be a better alternative to Hizbullah, and indeed, he played an important role with Siniora during the war, but the man's loyalty to the Assad regime is still very apparent and will not go away. In a recent interview with Future TV, former Syrian vice president Abdelhalim Khaddam claimed that Berri was bullied by Syrian intelligence just like Rafik Hariri. I find that hard to believe, given Berri's stances before the war, and during the National Dialogue, which was designed to buy Hizbullah time and sucker March 14 into further idleness and baseless hope that the other parties will put the interests of the country ahead of their own. Almost before every session, Berri drove to Damascus to get the latest directives from Bashar.
And now he is asking 65 deputies and the entire country to "wait" in order to spare the feelings of Assad's man.
That the 65 deputies went along with him and got suckered into this sit-in business is not encouraging. The time now is for work, not sitting.