Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

What to discuss around the ‘national dialogue’ table?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 01/11/2006

National dialogue tableSince speaker Nabih Berri announced his “surprise” last week, a trivial debate sparked around the exact nature of the meeting he called for: were the politicians to meet for “dialogue” or “talks” (‘concertation’ in French)? The subtle difference between the two escapes me. And I still don’t understand in what way etymological and lexical differences affect something that’s quite clear in the minds of its participants and of the Lebanese people in general. Nevertheless, it kept the journalists and politicians busy for a while. Surprisingly enough, everyone accepted the invitation “to return to the dialogue table”.  They obviously voiced their disappointment; Berri and the press had created such a build-up around the ‘surprise’ throughout Ramadan; they expected a mountain, but all they got was a molehill. But no one questioned the utility and the legitimacy of this format.
Lebanon does have a parliament that has no problem convening and most of the roundtable’s participants are MPs (all except Samir Geagea and Amin Gemayel who were only co-opted in so as to increase the number of Maronite politicians facing Michel Aoun). Why aren’t the issues discussed in Parliament instead of being raised on the table of national dialogue? Some will argue that it’s because they are not legislative issues but political and governmental issues (opening embassies, delineating the border, agreeing on a president… but that’s not very convincing. Why go out of the constitutional framework. If a consensus is needed and the government isn’t seen as being able to achieve it why not change the government? And if one comes to look at it, only one side on the national table isn’t really represented in the government (The Free Patriotic Movement)… So why can’t the government be the deliberative space instead of the ‘national dialogue table’? Is it because the leaders are not ministers and wouldn’t allow their representatives to negotiate for them? If that is so, what is the use of the Council of ministers unless it regroups all the leaders and not their representatives?But most surprising is that nobody found the outcomes of the former meetings discrediting. Two months of national dialogue talks and nothing has been achieved. The people around the table agreed on several points but never put a plan or a schedule to execute them. The Hezbollah kept on trying to capture Israelis without any protest until the day they grabbed two and Olmert’s sent his army for a rampage. The only element that really interested the Lebanese politicians and journalists (who truly believe that the only important issues are those raised by the politicians) is the agenda setting.Nabih Berri thought it best to discuss the call for a national unity government, while others such as figures from the former Kornet Shehawan gathering wanted to discuss the presidency.

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