Lebanon: National dialogue in Doha

Lebanese parliamentarians, ministers, and opposing political leaders are currently holding talks in Doha, Qatar. This national dialogue came at the end of violent clashes between opposition and pro–government groups two weeks ago. The talks are taking place since Saturday in an attempt to reach an agreement on the national unity government, the election law and to finally elect a consensus president. Following are some bloggers reactions on the dialogue.

There is a general sarcastic tone in most blog posts when describing the talks. This reflects the general mood in the country.

Kodder notes the change in the mood by making an observation of the change in the status of Facebook users from aggressive animosity to a general wish that the leaders who went to Doha do not return:

Something weird is going in Lebanon…
As most of you Facebook users know that the fastest way to know the general feeling of Lebanese population is having a quick glance at their status;
A few days ago, the status were aggressive, each taking a side, insulting the others with the nastiest words (animals, traitors, barbarians etc.), people created groups to insult the others, friends were separating and sort of becoming enemies…
Today? The same Lebanese that were taking sides and not budging, united in one thought: Hope the plane that has the “leaders” on crash/go to hell/burn/ explode etc.
Are the people waking up? or what? or maybe they were taking sides because of peer pressure? (yeah stupid idea, I know…or maybe not)

Tantalus makes an analogy between the dialogue’s attempt to save Lebanon and the “1001 Arabian Nights” in which Shahrazad, representing Lebanon, saves herself from being beheaded by Shahrayar, representing the world, by telling him a story every night:

This whole farce called “National Unity Dialogue” taking place in Qatar just reminds me of the 1,001 Arabian Nights.
Tradition has it that the evil king Shahrayar would take a virgin to be his wife every night. The next day, he would send her to be beheaded. That's until he met Shahrazad.
To keep herself from getting beheaded, Shahrazad tricks the king into listening to her story. Every night she would recite part of the story, make up characters, and invent intricate plots, twists and turns, until the king fell asleep. The next day, he wouldn't send her to her death because he wants to hear the rest of the story.
In that way, Shahrazad saved her life by…talking. Dialogue!
In the case of the National Unity Blabber, your beloved Lebanon is Shahrazad, who is trying to save her hide by talking and talking and talking nonstop; making up stories, picking fights, having civil wars and whatnot.
The Arabs and the rest of the world are Shahrayar, the one who just wants the story to be over in order to kill Sharazad and get on with it.
Needless to say it's not a coincidence that the 1,001 Arabian Nights is a Persian tradition.

In the Middle of the East mentions the protest by NGO groups who demonstrated, asking the leaders not to return if they don’t agree in addition to an anecdote that there was a 20 minute electricity failure in Doha as the Lebanese leaders arrived – a first in Doha, but common in Lebanon:

So the whole lot of bickering militia leaders has now been flown to Doha to continue their unending stubbornness in a different environment, leaving on two separate planes of course: the opposition on a regular scheduled flight, M14 on an ‘executive jet’‘ (noblesse oblige). At Beirut’s freshly reopened international airport, an organization of handicapped civil war veterans and other NGO’s waved them out with signs saying: ‘If you don’t agree, don’t come back!’ – probably the best and most concise representation of current national opinion across the board. One of the many Lebanese who have been forced to move to the GCC countries to make a living writes to Angry Arab: ‘Well i’ve been residing in Doha-Qatar for the past one and half years and all has been going nice, smooth and tidy. Hahaha, until those lebanese ‘leaders’ of ours came to Doha for their meeting. I tell you, for the first time in AAAAAAGES, Doha experiences a 20 minutes electricity failure!!! The day they arrive, the power shuts down! How weird for us Lebanese in here to feel the ‘darkness’ again, man…”‘

Beirut Report points out to the hatred that Lebanese people have for their leaders because of the failure of the Lebanese political system:

As Lebanese politicians try to make peace in Qatar this weekend–or at least say they are trying to make peace–average citizens are fuming. They are utterly fed up with the performance of their so-called leaders over the past 3 years, which have seen a long list of assassinations and terrorist attacks that remain unsolved to this day, as well as two devastating wars that have wrecked the country for two consecutive summers. In the photo above (courtesy LA Times blog) some of the survivors of previous wars ask the leaders not to come back if they don't work out an agreement. But privately, many Lebanese say they wish the politicians never come back. In fact, those I have spoken to say they hope something terrible happens to all of them, either during their meeting in Doha or on the way back. The hatred people in this country have for their leaders is a sign of the failure of the Lebanese political system. In the 60 years since it was established, little progress has been made on the country's social and economic problems, and by and large, those participating in the system share the same last names as those who founded it.

Jeha’s Nail makes the point of differentiating between “talks” and “dialogue” among other things:

There has been much talk about talk in the news lately, and our insignificant little slice of the Middle East has been the center of much of it, even some ominous talk and “interesting” moves…
Yet for all the useless attention we’re getting, most are missing this little truth;
There’s talk, and then there’s dialogue
The two are not necessarily the same. Such a distinction evades otherwise smart politician. He should take heed from those “leaders” of ours, now in Qatar to continue talking past one another as they had been talking forever. Their talks serve no function other than provide underpaid journalists with a much needed excuse to window shop in Qatar. Yes, Beirut would be more fun, but the yellow rose of downtown has yet to unpack her UNHCR tent.
All this talk about talk misunderstands the real dynamics of the conversation between the United States and the Persians. Before mouthing off about engagement, those “realists” need to consider the persons they are engaging.

Lebanese Political Journal
analyses the arguments between the pro–government and the opposition:

The call for dialogue immediately, beginning tomorrow, puts the opposition in an advantageous position. The pro-government factions need to meet, strategize, and come up with a solution to face the opposition's demands. The opposition does not negotiate genuinely, and constantly changes their demands. Their only interest is placing obstacles in the path of the pro-government factions.

Supposedly, the opposition will receive its veto-wielding 1/3 of the cabinet, and will be able to block any decision the government takes. The 14 March Coalition will agree to this because it believes that the government created in Doha, Qatar will only be temporary, before 14 March claims a massive victory in the next parliamentary elections Their goal is to placate the opposition, but not allow the opposition to take power and undue all of the 14 March initiatives that came into existence since the creation of the government in 2005.

Allegedly, Future Movement leader Saad Hariri only cares about the Justice Ministry. The 14 March factions no longer care about the ministries of Interior and Defense. The forces under the command of these ministries, which are currently headed by members of the 14 March Coalition, refused to protect Beirut and protect the government they are sworn to serve.

Marxist from Lebanon
asks and answers why Qatar is the venue and sponsor of the dialogue:

After all this shooting, and all this surging hatred; however, this round table is in Doha. It is ironic all of this bloodshed occurred and now a new bad case of amnesia will be imposed on the Lebanese Society and we will see a new re-writing of history, a la 1984 doze, if they pull it through.

Now why Qatar? Qatar, of all the Arab countries has the best interesting ties with all coalitions. For starters, if you focus on the Qatari media, everyday you read the Prince, Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, sends to a country a letter congratulating the country for having “unique relationships” with Qatar. Qatar politically has strong ties with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, it has the largest military base for the US army in the Arab World (except for Iraq). They welcomed Israel's Levni and already had an open excellent relationship with Israel for the past decade. They also are on excellent relations equally with Hamas and Fatah. Qatar and the Syrians never had frictions before, and mind you, the Prince's “congratulating relationships with global leaders” has covered Assad. Qatar also has almost 20% of its population composed from Iranian Labor, and not to forget that some powerful business clans with Iranian origins (such as Ali Bin Ali Clan).

Beirut Spring also explains Qatar uniqueness in bringing together opposing sides and asks whether it will be able to do that for the Lebanese groups:

Qatar, a tiny state with one of the highest GDP per capita in the world, raised many eyebrows by managing to simultaneously host Aljazeera (an Arabist, sometimes demagogical pan Arab TV station), the largest American Military Air base in the region and conferences which invite Israeli officials like Tsipi Livni to Doha to address Arab leaders.
It seems Qatar has a unique ability to have things both ways. It has managed to have a good relationship with both Syria and Saudi Arabia (a relationship that has thawed considerably of late), it gets along with both Hezbollah and Israel, it hosts both Ahmedinejad and Bin Laden, and it pleases both the American military elite and the much vaunted anti-American “Arab street”
Today will mark the start of the ultimate trial for Qatar: Will it be able to use its skills to fudge a deal between the two most irreconcilable of foes, the Lebanese majority and its opposition?


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