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    The Nahhas – ISF Telecom spat overshadows the driving out of Ziyad Baroud

    In any other (developed, democratic, civilized) country, the withdrawal of a minister like Ziyad Baroud from the political race because his authority is constantly undermined, is a full-blown political scandal; imagine Baroud’s counterparts in France or the UK resigning because they can’t get the police to follow their orders. However, in Lebanon, the significance of  Baroud’s ‘resignation’ (from an already resigned government) barely credited a mention in today’s local papers who were more interested in the spat between the March 8 partisan Telecom Minister Charbel Nahhas and the March 14 partisan Internal Security Forces (ISF) director general Ashraf Rifi. The withdrawal of one of the few reform-minded politicians in Lebanon who, despite a lack of support from a sectarian leader, party, or foreign country which guarantees power in Lebanon, managed despite many odds to instill a semblance of order in the non-security related spheres he was able to influence (i.e. electoral reform, traffic), is a huge blow to political life in Lebanon, and cause for deeper depression for those of us who are already losing faith in change and reform.

    Watching an ISF officer deny a Minister entry into a building owned by his own ministry was a disturbing experience, but suspicions over the Minister’s real motives were equally worrying. The police cannot defy orders from the Minister of the Interior to withdraw their troops from a ministry building, but can a Minister dismantle telecom equipment which could allegedly be vital to determining the fate of the Estonian bikers as well as other sensitive probes into security issues?

    Unfortunately, the best way to view this quarrel is to discard the law and order lens, and try to understand it as the habitual fight over ‘territory’ in Lebanon. The territory in this case is the communications sector (private and public), which has not only played a vital role in the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) investigation, but control over it is also crucial to internal intelligence gathering by Hezbollah (and its regional supporters Syria and Iran) and Army Intelligence, as well as the rival Information Department at the ISF (led by the pro-March 14 Rifi) which has played an important role in unraveling millions of communications for the STL investigation. In this context, it’s not surprising that Nahhas would seek to dismantle communications equipment which he considers harmful to his faction’s interests (rumours had circulated alleging that the YouTube video of the captured Estonians was from inside Syria) thus using his ministerial prerogatives for political purposes. And it’s equally logical that the ISF would protect a communications node which it considered vital to its investigations, even if it meant defying orders by its direct boss, the Minister of the Interior, and, defending its position with thinly-veiled political rhetoric (thus violating the ISF’s neutrality).  Yet it was Ziyad Baroud who resigned yesterday because his position had simply become untenable, and not the two men who quite possibly violated the law, and thus further degraded respect for state institutions.

    Notwithstanding the actually veracity of Nahhas and Rifi’s counter claims, yesterdays’ events are deeply symptomatic of the entrenched dysfunction of the Lebanese political system; and the question is, how does a person who is not from the March 14/8 political mainstream survive and prosper, if there is so little political will to allow him a measure of success?

    5 responses to “The Nahhas – ISF Telecom spat overshadows the driving out of Ziyad Baroud”

    1. Lama Ayouby says:

      Not to mention the role of the information department in the issue of Israeli spies, including Fayez Karam.

    2. […] been thinking about Minster Ziad Baroud’s resignation and asking myself: Is Mr. Baroud naive or […]

    3. Doreen_K says:

      Ibrahim Amin in today’s Al-Akhbar (http://www.al-akhbar.com/node/13377) weighs in on the ISF-Nahhas muscle fight and there’s no point in guessing which side he takes. We the following vulgarisms:

      … سوف نسمع التافهين يلقون علينا الدروس كالعاهرات عندما يحاضرن في العفّة


      بل من يأمرهم. وفي حالة العصيان أمس، ثمة مسؤول واحد اسمه: الطفل سعد الحريري

    4. Pegasus says:

      What makes Baroud’s marginalization more painful is that his chosen replacement is very far from being a role model in good governance. I would have loved to see a more aggressive Ziad Baroud though, during his tenure. Being a good competent guy in Lebanon is never enough.

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