Betting on Berri
Posted by worriedlebanese on 26/10/2006
For the past two weeks, Speaker Nabih Berri has been promising the Lebanese a surprise, one he revealed yesterday… only it wasn’t much of a surprise and it certainly didn’t catch anyone off guard. What he was proposing was to resume the National Dialogue round table (see October 16th Post: Lebanese idiosyncrasies 3: “National Dialogue”). He was recycling an old idea, an old formula that had failed in achieving results the first time. But Berri’s unsurprising surprise is not surprising at all. The only things that he has proven up to know are his skills in enriching himself, becoming the largest patron in the public service, and surviving politically without much of a political base. So who is actually betting on him, and why? Surprisingly enough, during the election period, it’s Hezbollah that supported him in the quadripartite alliance of which he was the weakest constituent. They knew that he wouldn’t have much leeway because of his dwindling popular support, and they thought that he could be useful as an intermediary between them and those who refuse to acknowledge them. That was their bet, and that’s why they imposed him as Speaker claiming that refusing him would be opposing the will of the Shiite community. After the elections, the former Bristol Gathering started betting on him, hoping to break the alliance between him and Hezbollah. If he joined them, they would be able to claim Shiite backing and pressure Hezbollah into decommissioning. So they recognised him as a political arbitrator between them and Hezbollah and reinforced his prestige in encouraging him to start and chair the National Dialogue round table. This way, they thought, he’ll become a neutral party between them and Hezbollah, he’ll distance himself from Hezbollah, and this will be a first step in getting him to side with them.
The July war proved their bet wrong: Berri fulfilled his promise, becoming the official representative of Hezbollah, at a time when the party’s politburo was in hiding or working on the ground. After the war, the former Bristol Gathering resumed its previous bet. Is it that they do not learn from their mistakes or could it be that they’ve given themselves no other alternative?