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    A Man for all Seasons

    Mention Interior Minister Ziad Baroud to most Lebanese, and even the most partisan might concede that he is at least “clean,” hard working and trying to make a difference. In a political environment defined by mediocrity this is no mean feat, and it is why all attempts to replace him simply to satisfy a power-sharing squabble must be resisted.

    A lawyer by profession, in July 2001 Baroud was among many prominent members of Lebanese civil society who founded the Democratic Renewal Movement. Brought in ostensibly to oversee the 2009 elections, Baroud became minister of interior in 2008 as part of Fouad Siniora’s bloc following the signing of the Doha Agreement in May of that year.

    The elections, which for the first time were held in one day, were deemed a success, and, surfing on the wave of this kudos, Baroud went on to prove that he could be a man for all Lebanese in his tireless pursuit of addressing issues that affect them on a day-to-day basis. He has worked with NGOs to improve the appalling conditions on Lebanon’s roads, even manning checkpoints with traffic police and introducing radar speed traps; he has made attempts to curb Lebanon’s destructive sectarian instincts by allowing citizens to remove their religion from the national register; and he has worked tirelessly to fight for a Lebanese woman’s right to pass on her nationality to her children.

    “Where did the Interior Ministry succeed?” Change and Reform bloc MP Nabil Nicolas, who is rapidly making a name for himself as one of Michel Aoun’s attack dogs, asked the Lebanese media on Wednesday. Admittedly many of Baroud’s initiatives have hit obstacles, but it is not as if anyone else would have championed them in the first place, let alone push them through. We challenge him to name any other cabinet member who has captured the public imagination in the way Baroud has.

    To remove him from his job for the sake of political horse-trading would be a blow against social reform and the civil society movement. One of the major reasons why nothing ever gets done in Lebanon, or at least why things take so long to get done, is that there is no tradition of ministerial continuity. A new man arrives with a new agenda and any good work done by the previous incumbent is erased. This is not felt as much in those ministries where there is a clear strategy (tourism, for example, has one remit: promoting tourism) but in this case, with a highly-politicized portfolio such as the Interior Ministry, the out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new policy can, and probably will, undo years of good work.

    Who is asking for Baroud’s removal? Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Sleiman Frangieh’s Marada bloc. The FPM think of themselves as technocrats for a new, efficient and corruption-free Lebanon, but anyone who has been following the party since Aoun’s return from exile in 2005 will have deduced that it is mainly a vehicle for his own presidential ambitions. Anyone appointed by the former army commander will never be allowed to be his own man.

    Frangieh’s claim for the portfolio should be treated with even more caution. He held the position in Omar Karami’s short-lived, hand-picked-by-Syria cabinet that lasted from November 2004 till April 2005. Add to this Frangieh’s close traditional ties with Damascus and it is clear that giving the job to one of his supporters would place the ministry firmly back in Syria’s orbit with all the influence over the security services that goes with it.

    So let’s just forget about which bloc should get the portfolio and instead look at the man. A man rooted in civil society, a man with credibility and a man who was the only success story in a period of cataclysmically poor ministerial leadership. If it isn’t broke…don’t fix it.

    NOW Lebanon

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