US embassy cable - 94BEIRUT5863

(S)ELECTING A LEBANESE PRESIDENT IN 1995: A CURTAIN-RAISER

Identifier: 94BEIRUT5863
Wikileaks: View 94BEIRUT5863 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Beirut
Created: 1994-11-09 09:45:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PINS PREL PHUM KISL KPRP LE
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
P 090945Z NOV 94
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5697
INFO AMEMBASSY LONDON 
AMEMBASSY PARIS 
AMEMBASSY ROME 
DIA WASHDC
HQUSEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIRUT 005863 
 
 
PARIS FOR ALLEGRONE; LONDON FOR TUELLER 
ROME PLEASE PASS TO VATICAN 
 
E.O. 12356: DECL:OADR 
TAGS: PGOV, PINS, PREL, PHUM, KISL, KPRP, LE 
SUBJECT:  (S)ELECTING A LEBANESE PRESIDENT IN 1995: A 
CURTAIN-RAISER 
 
1. CONFIDENTIAL - ENTIRE TEXT. 
 
2. SUMMARY:  VIRTUALLY EVERY PROMINENT MARONITE POLITICAN 
IN LEBANON (AND IN PARIS) HOPES TO SUCCEED PRESIDENT 
HRAWI, WHOSE TERM IS SET TO EXPIRE IN NOVEMBER 1995. 
FURIOUS JOCKEYING HAS BEGUN, AND A DIZZYING ARRAY OF 
POSSIBLE SCENARIOS EXISTS, BEGINNING WITH AN EXTENSION OF 
HRAWI'S TERM.  THE FATE OF THE PEACE PROCESS IS WIDELY 
VIEWED AS A KEY DETERMINING FACTOR.  THE LEBANESE 
HISTORICAL REFLEX TO SEEK FOREIGN BACKERS WILL MARK THE 
1995 PROCESS: SYRIA WILL BE THE MAIN PLAYER, BUT 
CANDIDATES ARE ALSO SEEKING U.S., FRENCH, SAUDI, AND 
VATICAN SUPPORT.  AS OF NOW, HRAWI, LAF COMMANDER EMILE 
LAHOUD, AND FORMER AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S. NASSIB LAHOUD 
ARE THE FRONT-RUNNERS.  THE PRINCIPAL USG INTEREST SHOULD 
BE IN URGING THE SELECTION OF A PRESIDENT WITH 
ACROSS-THE-BOARD CREDIBILITY, BUT IN PARTICULAR WHO CAN 
HELP STEER THE MARONITES TOWARD POSITIVE PARTICIPATION IN 
FORMAL POLITICAL LIFE.  SEPTEL REPORT WILL "HANDICAP" THE 
MOST PROMINENT CONTENDERS.  END SUMMARY. 
 
A PRESIDENT IN EVERY MARONITE'S MIRROR 
-------------------------------------- 
 
3.  THE SIX-YEAR TERM OF ILYAS HRAWI IS SLATED TO EXPIRE 
IN NOVEMBER 1995, AT WHICH TIME PARLIAMENT WILL SELECT A 
SUCCESSOR.  SHI'I NABIH BERRI AND SUNNI RAFIQ HARIRI BOTH 
HOPE ONE DAY TO BE THE FIRST MUSLIM PRESIDENT OF LEBANON, 
BUT NOBODY PREDICTS THAT THE NEXT PRESIDENT WILL BE 
ANYTHING OTHER THAN A MARONITE. 
 
4.  THERE IS NO SHORTAGE OF WOULD-BE SUCCESSORS IN THE 
MARONITE COMMUNITY.  AT A RECENT SOCIAL EVENT FOR 
PARLIAMENTARIANS, A DRUZE MP ILLUSTRATED THE POINT WHEN HE 
TOASTED "TO THE NEXT PRESIDENT IN OUR MIDST--ALL SIX OF 
THEM."  THE LIST OF MARONITE "WANNABES" BRIDGES THE GAP 
BETWEEN THOSE WHO PARTICIPATED IN THE 1992 ELECTIONS AND 
THOSE WHO BOYCOTTED THE PROCESS, AND RUNS THE SPECTRUM 
FROM VIRULENT ANTI-SYRIANS TO THE SHAMELESS SURROGATES OF 
DAMASCUS.  IN ADDITION TO THE SURFEIT OF WOULD-BE LEADERS 
IN THE COUNTRY, SUCH EXILES IN PARIS AS RAYMOND EDDE, 
AMINE GEMAYEL, AND MICHEL AOUN WANT TO EITHER GAIN THE 
PRIZE OR PLAY KINGMAKER. 
 
THE SYRIAN ROLE, AS USUAL, KEY 
------------------------------ 
 
5.  REGIONAL REALITIES AND THE PRESENCE OF A PRO-SYRIAN 
MAJORITY IN THE LEBANESE PARLIAMENT ASSURE THAT SYRIA WILL 
HAVE THE DOMINANT VOICE IN THE SELECTION OF A NEW 
PRESIDENT.  TO DATE, THE SARG HAS NOT TIPPED ITS HAND 
ABOUT ITS PREFERENCES.  IN LEBANON, IT IS ASSUMED THAT THE 
PRESIDENTIAL SUCCESSION WILL BE CLOSELY TIED TO THE PEACE 
PROCESS, AND THAT THE SARG WILL CALCULATE ITS INTERESTS AS 
NEGOTIATIONS WITH ISRAEL PLAY THEMSELVES OUT. 
 
6.  EVEN THE MARONITES NOW JOCKEYING FOR POSITION BELIEVE 
THAT THE SYRIAN STRATEGY WILL BE TO LET THE CANDIDATES 
STRATCH, JOSTLE, AND ELBOW EACH OTHER TO THE POINT OF 
IMPASSE, AT WHICH POINT "BIG BROTHER" WILL STEP IN TO 
"HELP" THE LEBANESE SORT OUT THEIR SELF-MADE MESS.  IN THE 
MEANTIME, DAMASCUS WILL HOST A CONSTANT STREAM OF 
CANDIDATES WHO SALLY ACROSS THE BORDER IN HOPE THAT ASAD 
WILL GIVE A FAVORABLE WORD, WINK, OR NOD. 
 
THE U.S. ROLE: DIFFERENT SCENARIOS 
---------------------------------- 
 
7.  IT IS AXIOMATIC AMONG LEBANESE THAT THE USG WILL PLAY 
A KEY ROLE, EITHER ACTIVE OR PASSIVE, IN THE MAKING OF THE 
NEXT PRESIDENT.  USG DRUTHERS ARE JUDGED TO BE DEPENDENT 
ON THE PEACE PROCESS.  THOSE WHO BELIEVE THAT THE U.S. 
PLANS TO "SELL OUT" LEBANON FOR THE SAKE OF A 
SYRIAN-ISRAELI PEACE AGREEMENT FEAR THAT THE SARG AND THE 
USG WILL COOPERATE TO CREATE A LEBANESE QUISLING WHO WILL 
FAITHFULLY EXECUTE SYRIAN DIKTAT. 
 
8.  A MORE POSITIVE SCHOOL OF THOUGHT BELIEVES THAT THE 
USG, AT AN APPROPRIATE MOMENT, SHOULD URGE THE SARG TO 
EXERCISE ITS INFLUENCE TO GUARANTEE THE SELECTION OF A 
PRESIDENT WHO HAS A DEGREE OF CREDIBILITY ON ALL SIDES. 
THEY HOPE THAT DAMASCUS WILL BE SUFFICIENTLY BROAD-MINDED 
TO SEE THE NEED FOR A UNIFYING FIGURE, IN PARTICULAR 
SOMEONE WHO CAN LEAD THE MARONITES TOWARD POSITIVE 
PARTICIPATION IN FORMAL POLITICAL LIFE.  SUCH SYRIAN 
ALTRUISM, HOWEVER, WOULD IN THEIR ESTIMATION BE DEPENDENT 
ON A SUCCESSFUL OUTCOME OF THE PEACE PROCESS. 
 
9.  THE MARONITE HARD CORE HOPES THAT A BREAKDOWN OF THE 
PEACE PROCESS WILL SOMEHOW LEAD THE USG (AND ISRAEL) TO 
SUPPORT A VOCAL OPPONENT OF SYRIA.  THEY HOPE TO MOBILIZE 
MARONITE COMMUNITIES IN THE U.S. TO PRESSURE THE 
ADMINISTRATION TO SUPPORT "THE LEBANESE POWER OF DECISION" 
-- WHICH IN THEIR CIRCLES MEANS RESTORING UNRIVALED 
MARONITE DOMINANCE. 
 
OTHER PLAYERS: FRANCE, SAUDI ARABIA, THE VATICAN 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
 
10.  MANY MARONITES ARE HOPING THAT FRANCE WILL INVOLVE 
ITSELF IN THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE BY URGING SYRIA OR THE USG 
IN A PARTICULAR DIRECTION, OR, IN SOME FEVERED IMAGININGS, 
BY RESUMING THE ROLE OF GUARANTOR OF MARONITE POWER. 
THOSE MARONITES WHO MAKE THE PILGRIMAGE TO FOGGY BOTTOM 
SEEKING USG BLESSING USUALLY STOP OFF IN PARIS TO 
PRACTICE THEIR PITCH.  THEORIES OF FRENCH PREFERENCES VARY 
WILDLY -- FROM BACKING AOUN AND "MARONISME" TO SELLING OUT 
CHRISTIAN INTERESTS FOR THE SAKE OF CEMENTING WIDER FRENCH 
INTERESTS IN THE ARAB WORLD.  IN PARTICULAR, MANY 
MARONITES FEAR THE WARM RELATIONS BETWEEN JACQUES CHIRAC 
AND SUNNI PRIME MINISTER HARIRI. 
 
11.  SAUDI ARABIA IS ALSO SEEN AS HAVING A ROLE TO PLAY, 
BUILDING ON ITS EXISTING RELATIONSHIP WITH HARIRI.  SOME 
SPECULATE THAT RIYADH WILL POUR MONEY INTO LEBANON -- OR 
EVEN SYRIA -- TO SUPPORT HARIRI'S FAVORITE MARONITE, OR 
THAT, CONVERSELY, HARIRI WILL BE GIVEN INSTRUCTIONS WHOM 
TO SUPPORT.  MOREOVER, ONE PROMINENT CANDIDATE, NASSIB 
LAHOUD, HAS INDEPENDENT TIES TO RIYADH (SEPTEL).  SOME 
EXPECT THE USG TO URGE THE SAUDIS TO SUPPORT ITS FAVORED 
CANDIDATE. 
 
12.  PUNDITS EXPECT THAT THE VATICAN, THROUGH THE 
INFLUENCE IT MIGHT EXERCISE ON THE MARONITE PATRIARCH AND 
THUS HIS CHURCH, WILL INVOLVE ITSELF DEEPLY.  THEY SEE THE 
ELEVATION OF PATRIARCH SFAYR TO CARDINAL AS A SIGN OF 
VATICAN INTEREST IN GUARDING CHRISTIAN "RIGHTS."  THE HARD 
CORE HOPES THAT THE POPE WILL PRESSURE THE USG AND FRANCE 
TO SUPPORT A "NATIONALIST"; MODERATES HOPE THAT THE 
VATICAN WILL STRONGLY URGE MARONITES TO PARTICIPATE IN 
POLITICAL LIFE; SOME BELIEVE THAT PAPAL NUNCIO PUENTE'S 
ONGOING DIALOGUE WITH HIZBALLAH LEADER FADLALLAH WILL HELP 
PRODUCE A PRESIDENT WITH BROAD CREDIBILITY.  PUENTE SAYS 
THAT, HEALTH PERMITTING, THE POPE WILL VISIT LEBANON IF A 
PEACE AGREEMENT IS REACHED: IF THE VISIT HAPPENS, LOCAL 
EARS WILL BE KEEN TO SIGNALS OF A VATICAN PRESIDENTIAL 
PREFERENCE. 
 
THE MUSLIM CONTRIBUTION 
----------------------- 
 
13.  MOST PRESIDENTIAL MANEUVERING, OF COURSE, IS A 
STRICTLY MARONITE GAME.  MUSLIMS--SHIA, SUNNI, AND 
DRUZE--ARE RELEGATED TO SECONDARY ROLES:  EITHER TO BE THE 
GREEK CHORUS IN PARLIAMENT TO ECHO THE WISDOM RECEIVED 
FROM DAMASCUS, AND/OR TO STRIKE DEALS WITH MARONITE 
HOPEFULS TO OBTAIN THE POSITIONS TO WHICH MUSLIMS AT THIS 
POINT CAN ASPIRE.  MUSLIM LEADERS ALREADY HAVE BEGUN 
CAUTIOUSLY TO ALIGN THEMSELVES, AS OFTEN AGAINST AS FOR A 
PARTICULAR MARONITE.  UNTIL NOW, THE HIZBALLAH SHI'A HAVE 
NOT DISCUSSED THE RACE OPENLY: INSTEAD, THEY ARE 
PREOCCUPIED WITH WHAT SYRIA, AND PERHAPS IRAN, HAVE IN 
STORE FOR THEM AFTER PEACE WITH ISRAEL. 
 
EXTENSION FOR HRAWI? 
-------------------- 
 
14.  IN THE LAST FEW MONTHS, THERE HAS BEEN DISCUSSION OF 
A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT THAT WOULD ALLOW PRESIDENT 
HRAWI TO EXTEND HIS TERM BY PERHAPS TWO YEARS.  DESPITE 
PUBLIC DISAVOWAL OF THE IDEA, HRAWI IS WORKING TOWARD THIS 
GOAL BEHIND THE SCENES.  HE APPARENTLY WANTS TO BE SEEN AS 
THE PRESIDENT WHO TOOK OFFICE IN THE MIDST OF TURMOIL, 
THEN PRESIDED OVER A PERIOD IN WHICH LEBANON ENDED ITS 
CIVIL WAR, MADE PEACE WITH ISRAEL, THEN PUT ITSELF ON THE 
PATH TO ECONOMIC REVIVAL.  WE HAVE ALSO DETECTED WHAT MAY 
BE A NASCENT EFFORT BY HRAWI TO BOOST HIS DOMESTIC 
CREDIBILITY BY PUTTING A BIT OF DAYLIGHT BETWEEN HIMSELF 
AND DAMASCUS. 
 
15.  THE LEBANESE SAY THAT THE SYRIANS HAVE SENT 
CONFLICTING SIGNALS ON THE ISSUE OF EXTENSION, AND THAT 
THE ISSUE MAY DEPEND ON THE FATE OF THE PEACE PROCESS. 
THE THINKING IS THAT, IF THE PROCESS STALLS, HRAWI WOULD 
REMAIN IN OFFICE, AND THE QUESTION OF THE PRESIDENCY, LIKE 
SO MANY OTHER ISSUES, WOULD REMAIN BLOCKED UNTIL THE SHAPE 
OF REGIONAL POLITICS BECAME CLEAR. 
 
16.  THERE ARE CONFLICTING REPORTS ON HOW PM HARIRI, 
SPEAKER BERRI, AND OTHER GOL FIGURES VIEW AN EXTENSION OF 
HRAWI.  HARIRI AND BERRI DISLIKE HRAWI, BUT FEAR THAT A 
NEW, STRONGER PRESIDENT COULD JEOPARDIZE THE PREROGATIVES 
THEY HAVE BEEN ABLE TO CARVE OUT.  PREDICTABLY, TO THE 
EXTENT THAT AN EXTENSION OF HRAWI WOULD ALSO HELP FREEZE 
THEM IN PLACE, THE IDEA IS ATTRACTIVE.  IN THE ULTIMATE 
ANALYSIS, THEY WILL WAIT FOR SYRIA'S DEFINITIVE SIGNAL ON 
THE ISSUE. 
 
17.  INTERESTINGLY, THERE ARE VIRULENT OPPONENTS OF BOTH 
HRAWI AND SYRIA WHO SUPPORT AN EXTENSION.  THEIR THINKING 
IS THAT THE ENEMIES OF SYRIA SHOULD CONCENTRATE THEIR 
EFFORTS ON THE 1996 PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS, SEEKING 
INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS AND GUARANTEES.  THE NEW, 
PRESUMABLY LESS SYRIAN-INFLUENCED PARLIAMENT WOULD THEN 
ELECT A PRESIDENT UNDER LESS SYRIAN SWAY. 
 
THE USG INTEREST 
---------------- 
 
18.  THE USG'S VERY ACTIVE, UNSUCCESSFUL SUPPORT IN 1988 
FOR MIKHAEL DAHER PROVIDES A CAUTIONARY LESSON FOR THE 
1995 PRESIDENTIAL SELECTION PROCESS.  ACTIVE USG BACKING 
FOR A PARTICULAR CANDIDATE WOULD PROBABLY SET IN MOTION A 
SERIES OF REACTIONS THAT WOULD DAMAGE THE CHANCES OF 
"AMERICA'S CHOICE."  THAT SAID, IT WOULD BE ALMOST 
IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE USG TO KEEP SILENT ABOUT THE SELECTION 
PROCESS: IF EXTENSION OF HRAWI REMAINS A LIVE ISSUE, WE 
WILL BE ASKED AT LEAST FOR COMMENT.  IF A NEW PRESIDENT IS 
TO BE CHOSEN, WE WILL BE ASKED FOR OUR INPUT EVERY STEP OF 
THE WAY.  PRESUMABLY, AT A MINIMUM, WE WOULD LIKE TO 
ASSURE THAT THE NEW PRESIDENT IS NOT HOSTILE TO USG 
INTERESTS. 
 
19.  UP TO THIS POINT, EMBASSY HAS ANSWERED INQUIRIES BY 
AVOIDING NAMES AND SAYING THAT WE HOPE A NEW PRESIDENT 
WILL FIT A CERTAIN PROFILE:  HE/SHE SHOULD BE DEDICATED TO 
FINDING WAYS TO RECONCILE THE VARIOUS LEBANESE COMMUNITIES 
WITH EACH OTHER AND WITH THE NEEDS OF THE COMING ERA OF 
PEACE.  HE/SHE SHOULD HAVE CREDIBILITY WITH ALL SIDES, AND 
IN THIS SENSE SHOULD NOT BE SEEN AS OVERLY TIED TO ANY 
FOREIGN SPONSOR.  HE/SHE SHOULD ALSO VIEW AS A PRINCIPAL 
TASK ENCOURAGING THE MARONITES TOWARD MORE ACTIVE, 
POSITIVE PARTICIPATION IN FORMAL LEBANESE POLITICAL LIFE. 
IF THE TREND TOWARD CHRISTIAN NON-PARTICIPATION CONTINUES 
OR DEEPENS, THE PROSPECTS FOR INTERNAL RECONCILIATION AND 
STABILITY--WITHIN AND PERHAPS EVEN BEYOND LEBANON'S 
BORDERS--ARE POOR. 
 
SCHLICHER 

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