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Lebanon Approaches Tipping Point

Speaker: Mohamad Bazzi, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor,
January 27, 2011
Council on Foreign Relations


BERNARD GWERTZMAN: Hi, this is Bernard Gertzman, I'm the moderator of our conference today. I am happy to introduce my good friend, Mohamad Bazzi, who is an adjunct senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He also teaches journalism at New York University and for many years was a Middle East bureau chief for Newsday based in Beirut. And he's been a keen observer, all the time, of the Lebanese political situation, which I have to confess I find often very baffling. So I'm hoping that Mohamad will clear it up for all of us as best he can.

First of all I'd like to ask you, Mohamad, what's happened in the last couple of weeks to cause all this concern in the United States and elsewhere about the political situation in Lebanon?

MOHAMAD BAZZI: Thank you, Bernie. I think this latest twist of events in Lebanon started on January 12th when Hezbollah and its allies in the Lebanese government, they withdrew 11 ministers from the cabinet, and so that was one-third plus one members of the cabinet -- there are 30 members of the Lebanese cabinet -- and when that happened, the Lebanese government collapsed. That was the government Prime Minister Saad Hariri. And that set of this last chain of events where we now have a new prime minister designate, Najib Miqati, who much like Mr. Hariri is a Sunni billionaire businessman who has very wide contacts in the region. He also happens to be close to the Syrian regime, but he also has good relationships with the Saudis and with others in the region.

So this latest twist started on January 12th, but it's really rooted in a conflict that began several months ago, and this was when leaks began to emerge from the international tribunal that's investigating the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Saad Hariri's father. And those leaks were pointing to the fact that the indictments were going to name members of Hezbollah as being responsible for this assassination.

So as those leaks began to intensify, and this was last spring around May or June and then into the summer, Hezbollah really started a full-fledged campaign trying to discredit the tribunal, casting doubt on its evidence, on the witnesses, and the group also began to pressure Saad Hariri to end Lebanese cooperation with the tribunal and to publicly reject its findings.

And Hariri stood his ground through most of these months. He was in negotiations with Hezbollah either directly or through intermediaries and there were also larger negotiations between the Syrian regime and the Saudi regime to find a mechanism to bring Hezbollah and Saad Hariri together.

That all collapsed in mid-January and set off this rather quick series of events where the Hezbollah withdrawal from the government led to its collapse and then nominating a new prime minister.

GWERTZMAN: (Laughs) I hope that's clear. The -- but I'd like to -- one thing that's always bothered me, at the time of the assassination of Rafik Hariri in February of 2005, the almost universal assumption was he was killed by Syrian agents. And in fact, following that, the Syrians, because of the demonstrations throughout Syria -- throughout Lebanon, were forced to pull out their troops from Lebanon who had been there for what, a dozen, 15 years. I missed the transition.

When was it -- was it always assumed that the Syrian agents were Hezbollah and not -- that they were Lebanese and not Syrians themselves?

BAZZI: That's an excellent question. That's actually a question on the mind of many Lebanese, of how the blame shifted quite publicly from Syria to Hezbollah. I mean, I think we're going to have to wait to see when the indictments are unsealed, which should be in the next six to eight weeks, we're going to see what -- first, what evidence there is against any of the named suspects and whether there are larger charges.

There's some talk about potentially conspiracy charges and also terrorism charges emanating from the indictments. So that could potentially, you know, target members of the Syrian regime. There have also been leaks in some of the Arabic press and also in some Western media that the conspiracy charges could even touch Iran. I don't have any inside information on that. I only sort of know what has been reported in the Arab press on that.

Now, Bernie's question is very important because one of the things that had to happen for the agreement -- for Saad Hariri to take office as prime minister in November of 2009, was that he had to make peace with the Syrian regime and with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

GWERTZMAN: This was after his re-election?

BAZZI: Yeah, that was after the parliamentary elections in June of 2009 and when it was clear that he was going to be the candidate of his parliamentary bloc. So he's been prime minister once so far, Saad Hariri, has been prime minister for 14 months and at that point it became clear that he had to make his peace with Syria. And then, this past summer he went to Syria and basically, to the shock of quite a few Lebanese, almost absolved the Syrian regime of responsibility, because as you said, a lot of the speculation, a lot of the accusations that were emanating from Hariri -- Saad Hariri and his entire camp pointed the finger at Syria. And certainly at the time that was the scenario that made the most sense.

GWERTZMAN: And there were leaks from the original investigators charging that the heads of intelligence in their military intelligence were involved, and --

BAZZI: There were leaks, there were also actual -- an actual report. One of the earliest reports in October of 2005 sort of pointed the finger. Now it's emerged that some of these Hezbollah (falls ?) under the false witnesses. Some of these witnesses that, you know, were either -- some speculations that they were plants by the Syrian regime, or that they were plants by Syrian opposition, people who are opposed to Bashar al-Assad's regime, that they were giving false information to the early investigation. And that's one of the things that's helped Hezbollah cast doubt on the investigation right now.

But yeah, certainly a lot of people are wondering in Lebanon how this blame has shifted almost entirely away from Syria and just towards Hezbollah.

GWERTZMAN: Do we go on to -- should we throw it open to questions here?

BAZZI: Yeah, we can do that. We can also -- if any of this is unclear we will sort of take questions about it and I can talk some more --

GWERTZMAN: We can come -- we can -- I can ask another question or so -- but why don't we throw it open to the listening audience.

OPERATOR: If you would like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by the one key on your touch-tone phone now.

Our first question comes from Chandrakant Pancholi, Overseas India Weekly.

QUESTIONER: Oh, hi. Because there are so many Middle Eastern countries in turmoil, can I ask just two questions? One about the Lebanon which you are discussing and how much Iran has in promoting this unrest in financing Hezbollah, how the Sunni and Shia division will play a part in Lebanon? And on the latter question, in the Middle East -- can we divide it into two parts like people, like Egypt, Iran, Iraq --

BAZZI: I mean I'll try -- ask the question and I'll try to deal with the larger regional issues as well, but tell me sort of what your -- your first question is sort of about sectarianism in Lebanon and Sunni-Shia tension in Iran, okay?


BAZZI: And the second part

QUESTIONER: The second one is about how western influences in Egypt and -- Egypt et cetera, Iran, in Saudi Arabia and other countries there's the strong, religious fundamentalism. Are we going to have anti-US governments in this turmoil in several nations?

BAZZI: Okay. I'll take the first question which is about the -- sort of the Shia-Sunni sectarianism and tension in Lebanon, and that certainly is a very good question and it pertains to what has been happening on the streets in Lebanon, certainly this past week.

So, when Prime Minister Hariri, when he --

GWERTZMAN: Why don't you visit back a little bit in history, explain how this agreement was worked out on division of power.

BAZZI: Okay, that's good, okay.

So we'll go back quite far in history to Lebanese independence. So in 1943 when Lebanon finally won full independence from France, the Lebanese leaders got together and they agreed on something called the National Pact. And this was an agreement, it was actually unwritten, so it was a spoken agreement, and often it's mistaken that the Lebanese constitution calls for this but it's not actually in the constitution.

So the National Pact called for the president to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister to be a Sunni, and the speaker of parliament to be a Shiite. And there is also a distribution of parliamentary seats. At that point there was a six-to-five ratio of Christians to Muslims in parliament and this trickled all the way to all kinds of government jobs. But the top jobs were divided by the three largest communities at the time, and this agreement has persisted until today.

So the prime minister always has to be a Sunni and the president has to be a Maronite Christian and the Shiites have the speaker of parliament.

So one of the issues that just emerged this past week was who exactly gets to name -- there are quite a few Sunni politicians in Lebanon, as we've seen with Najib Miqati emerging and other names that were thrown out as potential candidates.

One of the questions that emerged is who gets to decide the Sunni -- who that Sunni choice is. And the Sunni community in Lebanon was quite angry, especially the religious leaders and also we saw some action on the street, was quite angry -- this perception that Hezbollah was pushing the candidacy of Najib Miqati and had been making the choice for the Sunni community.

Certainly the Sunni leader who has the most widespread backing in Lebanon is Saad Hariri, thanks to the infrastructure that his father left behind, the political party and the charitable organizations and the fact that his father was prime minister for much of the '90s into the mid-2000s. So he was the most popular leader, but in a lot of ways he was out-maneuvered by Hezbollah and its allies in this latest round and has caused this tremendous anger in the Sunni community, and this is one of the reasons for the protests that we saw on Tuesday on the streets. That was the day that Miqati got the majority in parliament to get the call to form the government.

So the dangers of this is that as tensions between the two communities persist we are going to see the potential for long-term damage between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon.

And certainly, regionally, the events in Iraq have an influence on this, events in Saudi Arabia. I think that Saudi Arabia sees itself as the protector of the Sunni community in Lebanon. And Iran is Hezbollah's main financial and military backer, so it's trying to impose itself as the protector of the Shiite community in Lebanon.

I think that answers the first part of your question.

GWERTZMAN: I can't remember the second one.

BAZZI: The second part, I think, is about sort of events in Egypt and also Saudi Arabia, and I think the question was also about something of a US role. And maybe I'll address that very briefly.

I mean it's very difficult to predict what's going to happen in Egypt. We're seeing this series of events unfold on the streets. I guess tomorrow we'll see if these extremely large demonstrations take place that are being called for after Friday prayers, and the return of Mohamad ElBaradei to Egypt also gets into the mix. And the US is, I think, still trying to -- the Obama administration is trying to come up with a coherent policy towards Egypt. It's in a difficult position because Mubarak is a long-time ally and sort of the ultimate representation of kind of stability over democracy in the region.

And you know, for now, he appears to still have the support of the ruling elite and most importantly of the Egyptian army and the security forces. They haven't abandoned him, so that's one place where it's diverting from Tunisia where the military basically abandoned Ben Ali rather quickly as the protests mounted.

QUESTIONER: Will we have anti-US governments, in your opinion?

BAZZI: I think that's difficult -- I think if you're asking that about Lebanon, will Najib Miqati's government be anti-US, I think that might be an oversimplification to label it that way because he certainly realizes that he needs to work with the US. And he's -- it's also an oversimplification to describe him purely as the Hezbollah candidate. I mean, Hezbollah definitely pushed him over the edge and they got him elected. He wouldn't have -- they got him elected within parliament, he wouldn't have gotten this level of support within parliament if it was not for Hezbollah.

Will he be actively against the US? Probably not. You know, now -- we also have to give him a chance to form his government. You know, there's still negotiations, he's still trying to bring people from the Hariri camp into his government and this might take several weeks to form the government.

Ultimately all sorts of deals get made in Lebanon. Everyone always has the very fiery rhetoric and in the end there are compromises.

It looks like Hariri is pretty adamant this time and that he is going to now become the opposition and stay out of the government. But some of the parties that are allied with him could potentially make some deals. There are a few independents who are allied with him who could make a deal with Miqati, but I don't think it's going to be an openly anti-US government.

Now, one of the central issues and probably the issue that Hezbollah got guarantees about is that Miqati has to end cooperation with the international tribunal, and that is going to be a provocative act for the US and for the West in general. And that's where we might see some conflict.

GWERTZMAN: Next question?

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Warren Strobel, McClatchy Newspapers.

QUESTIONER: Thanks, can you hear me okay?

BAZZI: Yes, we can hear you

QUESTIONER: Two quick questions, if I could. First of all, could you talk a little bit about the mediation effort by the Saudis and the Syrians and why -- I'm a little unclear about why the Saudis in particular sort of seem to quickly -- not quickly, but they abandoned it. They apparently thought there was no further use in mediating.

And then, secondly, is the ultimate concern here in terms of Lebanon's internal situation that you might revert to a situation like you had in the '70s and early '80s with widespread assassinations, car bombings, et cetera?

BAZZI: Okay. I'll take the first question.

You know, it's difficult to know what went on in the negotiating room between the Saudis and the Syrians. There's been a lot of conflicting information, especially in the Lebanese press and in the wider Arab press.

Since the summer the Saudis and the Syrians had been working on a deal where Hariri would remain as prime minister but in exchange -- and he would distance himself or potentially cut off all ties with the tribunal and also disavow the indictments once they come out. That was the version of events that's come out in the Lebanese press.

Now the trick was the timing of when that would happen and also what Hariri would get in exchange for doing this. And this is where there are three, or four, or five different versions of events.

Hezbollah and its allies insist that Hariri had committed to doing this and that he backed out at the last minute, and therefore they no longer trusted him and they no longer saw him as someone they can work with, which is why -- they say that's why they were so insistent on him not returning as prime minister.

Hariri's version of events is that he had made agreements, sort of accepted this in principle several months ago and that the details were still being worked out.

Some of the things that Hariri was expecting in return were things that the Syrians would need to guarantee, such as disarming Palestinian -- some Palestinian factions outside of the Palestinian refugee camps; having Hezbollah pull some of its weapons out, especially from parts of Beirut; and also potentially reduce some of its weapons capability even in its central, sort of Southern Beirut strongholds; and to also have sort of an agreement that Hezbollah would not pull out of the government, would not pull its 11 ministers, the allied ministers out of the cabinet. And those three conditions were not met, and that might have led to this collapse.

Now one interesting thing about the Saudis is that they've been incredibly quiet in the past week. There's a lot of speculation that they have given quiet blessing to Najib Miqati as prime minister as some kind of compromise candidate and that this quiet blessing was ultimately what enabled him to ascend, because without some kind of nod from Saudi Arabia he wouldn't have done it and he need to peel off a couple of independents. And he also needed the support of Walid Jumblatt which he got and seven of his votes in parliament. So that put him over the top.

Miqati also has significant -- he's a billionaire and he's made a lot of investments in telecoms, especially in Africa, and he as a Sunni billionaire in the region, he has business dealings with the Saudis and he needs to protect those dealings. And it's important for him not to be sort of in open war with Saudi Arabia.

The second question is on about this sort of assassinations and whether we are seeing a return to Lebanon in the '70s, right?


BAZZI: Are you talking about inclusive of the civil war or in the lead-up to the civil war?

QUESTIONER: I guess the lead-up and the aftermath, do you see the situation potentially returning to that kind of a situation?

BAZZI: There has been a lot of speculation on this, especially since 2008, May 2008, when Hezbollah took over West Beirut for a few days and sort of imposed itself and kind of disarmed, very forcibly disarmed Hariri's supporters.

I think we didn't hit -- we didn't hit the moment -- that was close, widespread civil strife. But the situation we have today is that Hezbollah is so strong militarily, it has such an edge over the rest of the factions and now after the events of May 2008, all the other factions realize this, that this imbalance of power is different than the situation in 1974, '75.

At the beginning of the civil war in April '75 where you had multiple factions, and you know, the PLO was the lead among them in terms of weapons and capabilities, but there were other factions, Christian factions and then the leftist factions that allied themselves with the PLO. They all had foreign suppliers and they were acting as foreign proxies and they had their own significant military capability. And the scene today is very different.

So -- Hezbollah, as they've shown on the street and on the ground, they can dominate fairly quickly and that's almost something of a deterrent to the other factions.

One last thought on that, I think one of the things that turned Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader who has always been a very mercurial politician, Lebanon has always been willing to switch sides as many Lebanese leaders have done over the years, was that experience in May of 2008. It seems that he realized that his allies at the time, that Hariri and others, were almost waiting for him to do the fighting, waiting for the Druze to do the very serious fighting with Hezbollah and he was unwilling to do that.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

GWERTZMAN: Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Mitch Potter, Toronto Star newspaper.

QUESTIONER: Yes, first of all, thanks for taking the time to do this today.

I wonder if sort of zooming out from Lebanon and looking at the unrest that we're seeing in Egypt and the events in Tunisia, and of course some street protests in even Yemen and other places, I wonder if you could address the fact that there seems at least at this point to be very little involvement of political Islam in what appears to be a pretty grassroots amount of protesting, and how significant you believe that is, that it's not the Muslim Brotherhood and some of the other factions that represent political Islam across the spectrum of these countries.

GWERTZMAN: And it's not based on anti-Americanism.

BAZZI: That's a good, complex question.

I think what we saw in Tunisia was certainly a very broad-based uprising, and the backbone of it seemed to be certainly the middle class and also unemployed and disappointed young people and those factors drove it together, and also some labor factions, and the fact that the military remained on the sidelines.

Now -- and the Islamists in Tunisia had been destroyed, and weakened, and driven into exile years ago so they don't have much of a presence on the ground, and they've been jockeying in the past few weeks -- since Ben Ali was forced out they have been jockeying to get back in. It doesn't seem like they are going to be very successful, but you know, Tunisia is still up in the air.

In Egypt it's been interesting that the protests so far have been driven by young people and this sort of broader coalition of young people, secular movements and some labor segments, as well as the labor groups that are outside of Cairo, that's happening in Suez and other places and that coalition is different than the traditional kind of Muslim Brotherhood opposition to the regime.

I think we need to see tomorrow if the Brotherhood has significant participation after Friday prayers. If these protests that are being organized tomorrow, and the expectation is that they are going to be even larger than the protests on Wednesday, that they might even be quite a lot larger because a lot of people will be going to the mosque, and that would indicate greater participation from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Now the flip side to that is that then the regime in Egypt could say okay, we've been blaming -- this is what we've been telling you all along, these are the troublemakers, these are the Islamists and they have been driving, they have been pulling the strings all along, which is not entirely true. So the regime might be able to sort of lay blame on the Islamists and to say this is what's been driving this, and then they might begin a much broader crackdown. I mean we've seen sort of gradually increasing crackdowns in Egypt in the past couple of days, but really the regime hasn't flexed its muscle and its military might at all. And if we see a greater participation by Islamists then they might use that as an excuse.

And the regime in Egypt is also very good at using sort of the Islamist boogeyman to -- as something to advance to the West, something to advance to the United States and Europe and say look, you know, we're the only thing standing between Egypt and the Brotherhood taking power. And so far that argument has worked for many years.

Now we're seeing a different kind of movement emerge and maybe Western policymakers might reconsider, especially seeing a broader-based movement on the ground.

In Yemen it's difficult. Yemen is a very difficult country and I am not an expert on the ins and outs of Yemen, and it's hard to know how much Islamist influence is behind the very latest protests. It seems also driven by young people. There is also the south-north division in Yemen which is very historic and driving some of this.

Now we can also look at Lebanon in this, and you know, are there -- is this an Islamist takeover of Lebanon, sort of if you put Hezbollah in the Islamist camp. I think that would be an oversimplification because Hezbollah certainly is an Islamist movement. It's a Shiite Islamist movement, it's not the Brotherhood, and it certainly -- it looks to Iran for religious guidance. But Lebanon is so mixed and Hezbollah really realizes that it can't impose an Islamic vision on Lebanon. And their concern at the moment is that the government cut off cooperation and disavow the tribunal.

So this is not Gaza in 2007. It's not Hamas trying to take over fully and push Fatah out and also impose the social controls on society. Hezbollah hasn't shown any signs of wanting to do that.

QUESTIONER: Can I ask a quick follow-up?

BAZZI: Sure.

QUESTIONER: Just picking up on what you've said, earlier you mentioned this poses a challenge for US policymakers, to find a way to have a (trip ?) coherent policy across the region on these fast moving developments. What -- I guess I ask you -- I dare ask you to do a little prediction here, but what do you see as the available options for US foreign policy as these events develop? Do you see some kind of reconciliation for a more coherent policy with regard, for example the Mubarak regime?

BAZZI: There's a -- there's a kind of a philosophical question at stake here of going back to the question of kind of stability versus democracy, that had been the formula for US policymakers. And certainly there had been a lot of pro-democracy rhetoric under the Bush administration and the Freedom Agenda that the Bush administration talked about all the time, but the rhetoric often wasn't backed up by action and people in the Middle East, you know, grew very skeptical and very weary about this rhetoric. You know, there was a burst of enthusiasm after President Obama spoke in Cairo in June of 2009, a very eloquent speech, and there was a burst of enthusiasm in the region after that because it was very measured and very exciting. And then sort of pretty quickly there was little talk of democracy and sort of protecting human rights and those issues.

So we come back to the philosophical question of stability versus democracy, but I think the situation we're in now is that these regimes may not be as stable as everyone had assumed they were. And in some ways it's sort of -- you know, I'm sure these debates are taking place inside the administration of sort of which side of history does the administration and the United States want to fall on?

And if I were to predict, you know, there will be people certainly arguing for continuing the policy of backing Mubarak because he is so central to US interests and Egypt is so central to US interests in the region. But there is also a counterargument that, you know, Mubarak may -- we've known for a long time that his regime doesn't have a lot of popular legitimacy and now it's being expressed on the streets. And why should the United States be wedded to Mubarak despite this?

I think we're seeing very small changes in the shades of rhetoric and statements that are coming out of Washington where there's been expressions of support for, you know, Egypt and also the Egyptian people. And you know, there might be some moving away from backing Mubarak wholeheartedly.

The administration probably has to take a country-by-country approach. I mean, it's going to be difficult because the situation in Tunisia is different than the situation in Egypt and then Lebanon is different than both places, and certainly Yemen is its own case.

So there is this opportunity for the administration, right now in Egypt, to kind of catch up.

One of the criticisms that emerged in the region was that the Obama administration was too slow in Tunisia, was too slow to declare its support for the Tunisian people and only did it the day that Ben Ali fled. And this was noticed. This was noticed very strongly in the region. It became a topic of conversation on Al-Jazeera and on a lot of satellite channels and a lot of newspapers. And this is an opportunity now in Egypt to sort of express greater support for democracy and reform and for really pressuring a lot of these regimes to get their act together.


QUESTIONER: Excellent. Thank you.

BAZZI: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Just a reminder, if you'd like to ask a question please press star, one. Our next question comes from James Kingfield, National Journal magazine.

QUESTIONER: Yeah, I appreciate you doing this. Two quick questions. This new guy who is backed by Hezbollah, he will actually turn his back on the tribunal, he can afford to do that as a Sunni, given all the pressure that has built around finding out what the tribunal has to say? And secondly, where is the Lebanese army in all of this? You haven't said much about them, but any indication of where they will come down if push comes to shove in this?

BAZZI: Good. Yes. Miqati is going to have a very difficult time, especially within the Sunni community, turning his back on the tribunal. But I am assuming, as many other analysts and people writing in the Lebanese press are assuming, that this was the promise that he must have made to Hezbollah, otherwise they wouldn't have supported him as prime minister.

He has been very coy about it in any statements that he has made. And he said he hasn't made a decision and that it will have to be a decision made by the entire cabinet, by the government itself. So that's, you know, one way of potentially spreading the blame around, that it's not just Miqati as a personal decision that he's shutting off the tribunal or shutting out the tribunal from Lebanon, but that it's the government as a whole and that's one of the things that's going to make for tortured negotiations over the makeup of the government in Lebanon, but that always happens.

As a side note, I also think that we are not going to see very many Hezbollah ministers in this government. I think their approach is always to have a few ministers. They generally have two ministers in each government, since 2005. They will probably stay at that, two or three maybe, and then their allies get a lot more ministers.

But you know, it's an effective way of keeping some distance and at least some kind of deniability. They also don't want to have too many ministries to manage because there's a lot of just public criticism of the problems that emerge from each ministry and all of those things.

So ultimately -- but if somehow Miqati doesn't do this, you know, I would expect -- they could bring the government down again. I mean they are going to be -- this is a government -- in the last government they had enough seats to bring the government down. In this government between Hezbollah and all of its allies, old allies and new allies, they are going to have the majority and they can bring the government down pretty quickly.

So I think we'll see Miqati trying to disperse the decision. And then there's also -- you know, the country is very split over the whole idea of the tribunal. And sort of the question in the wider Middle East is about stability and democracy. The question in Lebanon is about stability versus justice. This is how Walid Jumblatt has been putting it the past couple of months.

And there are a lot of people in Lebanon who are saying, you know, we don't want to hear anymore about the tribunal. There are also a lot of people, especially in the Sunni community, who want justice for Rafik Hariri and it's going to be difficult to placate them.

But Miqati has to act on this fairly quickly. I think Hezbollah's ideal, and this is one of the things they were pushing Saad Hariri to do, is they want the government to cut off cooperation with the tribunal and to disavow it before the indictments are unsealed.

And the second question was -- I've forgotten it now.

QUESTIONER: The Lebanese army.

BAZZI: Army, yes. Oh yes, good question.

The Lebanese army has been on the sidelines through most of this. Most importantly for the tribunalm the army said months ago that they are not going to enforce -- they didn't say this quite this -- (word inaudible) -- but they basically said that they are not going to enforce any sort of arrest warrant on anyone Lebanese. So that puts certainly any potential Hezbollah members who might be indicted, that puts them at ease, and basically the army is not going to take sides. That's what it's been saying.

So there is very little danger, even if the Lebanese government doesn't end up cutting off its relationship with the tribunal, there is very little danger that anyone would actually enforce any arrest orders on the ground in Lebanon.

QUESTIONER: Okay, thanks.

BAZZI: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Chandrakant Pancholi, Overseas India Weekly.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Mr. Bazzi, in Saudi Arabia because a lot of oil money is forseen and populace is satisfied, do you see any cracks in the power of this theocracy? And because you were stationed in Iran for a long time, can you just give us an update on Iran and how the power play is going on there?

BAZZI: Actually I was stationed in Iraq and then in Lebanon. I've gone to Iran on some visits but I don't consider myself an Iran expert, so I'm going to have to pass on the Iran question because the government questions in Iran are very complicated and I don't feel like I can address all of them.

On Saudi Arabia and whether there are cracks, you know, there is -- the central issue right now is the illness of King Abdullah and he is still recuperating. He was in New York for several months in the hospital, had an operation and then he is now, I think, in Morocco recuperating. And one of the things that seems to have happened is there is the usual jockeying for succession and you know, who is going to take power and different factions among the Saudi princes.

And one of the problems this might have caused in Lebanon is that there were different Saudi factions that had different priorities when it came to Lebanon. Saad Hariri may have been negotiating with several different factions. And there is some speculation in Lebanon that he was led astray by some of the factions, one of the factions, specifically that wanted to take a harder line regarding Hezbollah.

And that's about the extent of my thoughts on Saudi.

GWERTZMAN: Thank you. Next?

OPERATOR: There are no more questions at this time.


BAZZI: Is there anything we didn't cover?

GWERTZMAN: No, I think we covered the waterfront.

BAZZI: Okay.

GWERTZMAN: Thank you. Thank you, Mohamad.

BAZZI: Thank you. Thank you all for being on the call.

GWERTZMAN: Signing off.











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