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French Version

Lebanon braces itself for Karami III but the future remains uncertain

Resurrection of Karami a continuation of Syrian determination to interfere in domestic politics


Omar Karami is on the verge of making the biggest comeback since Lazurus walked out of the tomb in Bethany.

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Unfortunately the country's opposition are of the firm opinion that this is one resurrection Lebanon can do without.

They are quite clear that what this political comeback actually means is that Syria's determination to interfere in Lebanon's politics remains as potent as ever. It also raises very serious doubts about Damascus' commitment to a full withdrawal of its troops and intelligence services from this country at a time when even some skeptics were warming to the idea that Syria was about to quit Lebanon.

Instead it now looks like Syria, which appears to have seen much and learned nothing in recent weeks, once again has an old and extremely pliable friend in place to ensure it can continue to pull the strings in its smaller neighbor.

Karami's new found conciliatory tone, and the mea culpa inherent in his some parts of his statement fails to undo the damage of his last tour of duty as prime minister. His resignation, cheered by thousands of demonstrators his government sought to prevent from taking to the streets, was not an accident.

But then again neither is his return to office. As Karami made plain in his statement Tuesday's Hizbullah demonstration "proved the legitimacy" of both his and the Ain al-Tineh group and hence paved the way for his effortless return to power.

It is doubtful whether Hizbullah will see what they called a "pro Lebanon" rally in the same way. But it is a clear indication of the government's desire to cash in on Hizbullah's work and unique organizational abilities.

His call, aimed directly at the people in Martyrs' Square who sent him packing less than two weeks ago to "guarantee" he would not create "a government resembling the former one," had an incredibly hollow ring when set against his other, more threatening comments placing sole responsibility on the opposition if his unity government fails and the country is plunged into chaos.

At the same time the weeks since Hariri's horrific murder and that of 18 other Lebanese people cannot be erased. Nor can the damage done to this country since the extension of President Emile Lahoud's term of office.

The sheer failure of his last administration to have anything resembling an independent thought brought international condemnation and pressure on Lebanon. His steadfast defense of the status quo which left him defending the increasingly indefensible does not inspire confidence or indicate leadership.

What on earth can he bring to the table now?

Karami has spoken more eloquently in recent weeks than at any other time in his career. But as ever, the devil is in the detail. He stressed in his statement that every opposition demand was up for discussion within the framework of a new government.

But the opposition will not enter a government to discuss its principle demands, it wants them enshrined in the mission statement of the new administration. They do not want to end up haggling for them for them within a Cabinet. And until Karami can prove he is his own man they are quite right to be wary. Based on Karami's past his vision of the future is not theirs.

With all this in mind, can Karami really rise to the challenge of heading a genuinely broad based government of national unity?

He will need, for the first time, to embark on proper consultations with all parties, something his Damascus stamped administrations have never required.

That may take time but against the raft of demonstrations, which run the risk of becoming increasingly divisive, this country cannot wait.

Karami talked about a rescue government. But whether it's a government that merely rescues him from the condemnation of history, or one that rescues Lebanon remains to be seen.

Karami needs to deliver sooner rather than later, or step out of the fray.

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Beirut 11-03-2005
The Daily Star

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