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    Inherent Dignity

     

    When historians of the future write the story of the March 14 movement – twilling how different political groupings banded together to represent an unprecedented front against Syria and fight for democracy, sovereignty and freedom – they will have a rich vein of subject matter in which to dip their electronic quills.

    They can tell the story of Saad Hariri, the heir apparent to a billionaire-father’s political aspirations; they can look at the revolution through the prism of Walid Jumblatt, the enigmatic but fickle Druze chieftain; or they might want to concentrate on the extraordinary story of Samir Geagea, the former warlord who stoically endured 11 years in solitary confinement, only to emerge from prison and lead the majority of March 14’s Christian supporters.

    But they were the board members. What of the CEO? The story of Lebanese politics between 2005 and 2009 should neither diminish nor forget the towering presence of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a statesman who, through his inherent dignity and calm head, was able to withstand war, armed insurrection, and a reign of terror. Last week, Siniora handed over the reins of power to Saad Hariri, who was finally was able to form a cabinet on November 9. He now takes his place on the back benches as an MP for Saida.

    The irony is that Siniora probably never really wanted the job of prime minister back when he was first appointed in 2005. He was a banker, the right-hand money man of the late Rafik Hariri, who had served in each of his administrations, first as minister of State and then as Finance minister. Before Hariri was murdered on February 14, 2005, Siniora had left politics to run Group Mediterranée, Hariri’s financial empire. He might have been recalled to the colors, but essentially Fouad Siniora was the uber-technocrat, a man who in the 90s came to represent Hariri’s vision of taking a shattered Lebanon and rebuilding it into a regional business and tourism hub.

    Thrust into the limelight, it soon became clear to Siniora that the Cedar Revolution would face a counter attack, as Syria and its allies sought to regain the power and influence they lost during in the spring of 2005. He watched his friends and allies brutally murdered, knowing that a huge price had also been placed on his head. The shadow of the bomber and the gunman would loom large over the next four years.

    When in July 2006, Hezbollah took Lebanon into a disastrous war, he stood even taller. On August 7, 2006, a tearful Siniora called on the international community to help stop the slaughter. It was arguably his defining moment. Here was a statesman, the face Lebanon needed at that time, a man who had credibility and the respect of the world’s leaders. He was neither a warlord who had muscled his way to the top nor a Syrian appointee. He was a modern leader who represented a state that was trying to claw its way to international respectability in the face of tremendous opposition from those whose interests lay in Lebanon languishing in a permanent state of instability.

    Less than six months later, the very same opponents tried to bring down his administration by abandoning his coalition government and laying siege to Lebanon’s seat of government. For 18 months, Siniora ran a nation from behind a wall of troops and razor wire. He held firm.

    “The current position of the government in defense of democracy and liberties in the country proves that no change can take place on the street or through a so-called coup,” he said at the time. “This would be a coup against the constitution and the democratic institutions. This government has held fast, based on the support of the Chamber of Deputies and the citizens.”

    His opponents merely contended that they were just doing what March 14 had done two years earlier. That they failed proved that the Lebanese people can tell the difference between a popular movement to overthrow injustice, and a cynical, stage-managed attempt to reinstall the forces of repression. Siniora’s government was vindicated in the June 7 elections, when the Lebanese once again said “no” to weapons and obstruction and “yes” to economic growth and state institutions.

    Many have argued that the Siniora government was the failed manifestation of a movement that promised much but ultimately failed to deliver. It is equally valid to argue that it never really had a chance to implement these promises given the upheavals that befell Lebanon during this period, none of which were his doing. Instead it is probably fairer to remember Fouad Siniora as the prime minister who helmed the country through four years of stormy weather. This he did with unflinching and quiet determination.

    NOW Lebanon
    16.11.2009

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