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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
04BEIRUT3300
2004-06-25 15:09:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Beirut
Cable title:  

LEBANON: THE "BEIRUT DECLARATION" -- BACKGROUND,

Tags:   PGOV  PREL  SOCI  SY  LE 
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P 251509Z JUN 04
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3092
INFO ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
						C O N F I D E N T I A L  BEIRUT 003300 


PARIS FOR ZEYA

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/24/2014
TAGS: PGOV PREL SOCI SY LE
SUBJECT: LEBANON: THE "BEIRUT DECLARATION" -- BACKGROUND,
FOLLOW-UP, AND REACTIONS

REF: A. PARIS 4767

B. BEIRUT 3169

Classified By: Ambassador Vincent M. Battle for reasons 1.5 (b) and (d)


Summary
-------



1. (C) Lebanese authorities inadvertently gave the "Beirut
Declaration" -- a ringing denunciation of Lebanon's political
status quo covered by the press in both Lebanon and France
(Ref A) -- widespread publicity as a result of their
ham-handed attempt to block the document's public unveiling.
Two Shi'a political figures we talked to -- one a government
minister, the other an independent, anti-establishment
politician -- provided nuanced reactions to the document.
End summary.

An inside view from one of the authors


--------------------------





2. (C) One of the drafters of the "Beirut Declaration,"
Joseph Bahout, a professor at Beirut's University of St.
Joseph, told us work began in March of this year, although
the ideas behind it were "not new" but had come together over
a long period of time. His collaborators -- "the usual
suspects," as he put it -- included:

-- Samir Franjieh and Fares Souaid, two members of parliament
from the Qornet Shehwan Gathering, a moderate, anti-Syrian
Christian opposition group; both are Maronites;

-- Saoud el Mawla, a professor at Beirut's Lebanese-American
University who began as a pro-Palestinian radical leftist in
the 1970s but is now close to liberal Iranian reformers and
Bahout's collaborator in the Arab Muslim-Christian Dialogue;
he is a Shi'a;

-- Mohammad Hussein Shamseddine, a "classic" Shi'a cleric
with close connections to Shi'a clerical circles in Najaf
(and a former student of the late Grand Ayatollah Abdul Qasim
al-Khoei, who was the highest Shi'a religious authority in
Iraq).



3. (C) The May 2-29 series of municipal elections delayed
the release of the "Beirut Declaration" until June -- its
authors had originally hoped to release it sooner, according
to Bahout. He was puzzled but pleased with the way Lebanese
authorities had prevented him and his colleagues from holding
a conference over the June 19-20 weekend, one that 2,000
participants were expected to attend, and during which the
"Beirut Declaration" was to be unveiled. In doing so, the
authorities had inadvertently given the "Beirut Declaration"
and its organizers tremendous "free publicity," far more than
they would have received otherwise, according to Bahout.

The organizers follow up


--------------------------





4. (C) Following up on the June 21 publication of the
"Beirut Declaration" in the French daily "Le Monde", Bahout
said he planned to work with contacts at the French daily
"Liberation" to provide further favorable press coverage.
Bahout also expected the "Beirut Declaration" to be on the
agenda of an annual conference of opposition and like-minded

figures organized by Souaid, scheduled this year to take
place on June 27.



5. (C) Bahout said the French Embassy in Beirut -- which he
described as "excited" about the declaration -- had been
quick to initiate contact with him, Franjieh, and other
organizers once news of its stillborn public release hit the
local press.

Two Shi'a reactions: an establishment one...


--------------------------





6. (C) In a June 24 conversation with the Ambassador,
Agriculture Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, a leading figure of
the Amal Movement led by parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri,
said he had "no problem" with the "Beirut Declaration" or its
backers. He said he did not consider its release to be a
very important development, however, and suggested it
probably was not worth the Ambassador's time in following up.



7. (C) While some "Beirut Declaration" backers might
represent a Shi'a "third force" in Lebanese politics, those
individuals did not have a "program" beyond opposing both
Amal and Hizballah, Khalil said.


... and an opposition one


--------------------------





8. (C) Riad al-Ass'ad, an independent Shi'a politician from
the South and sworn enemy of Berri and the Amal Movement (Ref
B), said he saw the "Beirut Declaration" as a matter of "good
ideas but bad people," characterizing its organizers as
"elitish" figures engaged in political "maneuvering." While
the main points in the declaration, including those about
Syria, were "good," its timing was "problematic" and not
helpful in the current situation, Ass'ad said.



9. (C) Had the conference been allowed to take place, Ass'ad
said, its main results would have been to showcase MP and
possible presidential contender Nassib Lahoud (a man of
integrity who has needlessly diminished himself with an
excessive focus on local politics in the Metn region, in
Ass'ad's view) as the chief "defender of the constitution,"
and to serve as a platform for the Qornet Shehwan group.



10. (C) Ass'ad said he had little use for the declaration's
emphasis on "Muslim-Christian understanding." What Lebanon's
Muslims and Christians really needed was a common sense of
"Lebanese identity," he said.

Comment


--------------------------





11. (C) As Bahout told us, the main ideas behind the "Beirut
Declaration" are not new. However, the document crystallizes
widespread and multi-confessional dissatisfaction with the
political status quo at a time when more and more observers
see a renewal or extension of President Lahoud's term in
office as inevitable.


BATTLE