CAIRO: The lead up to the Arab Summit concerning Lebanon to be held in Syria next month has taken a familiar tack as regional powers are once again at loggerheads over who is to blame and who can solve the Lebanese deadlock.
The summit is scheduled to take place in Damascus March 29-30 and will focus solely on the Lebanese presidential crisis.
Lebanon has been without a president since Emile Lahud stepped down in November.
Tensions are fraught between Syria and US allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt over the crisis which has brought the sectarian nature of Lebanese politics to the fore as different parties – delineated along sectarian lines – have failed to reach a consensus on the nature of power rule in the country.
The crux of the divide is between the majority coalition government, supported by Saudi Arabia, and Hezbollah – backed by Syria and Iran – over the level of its representation in a new unity government.
Also part of the Syrian and Iranian backed opposition is Maronite Christian leader General Michele Aoun.
Saudi Arabia has not yet received a formal invitation from Syria to attend the Damascus Summit.
“There are serious problems in the Arab world between the regional powers, Nabil Abdel-Fatah from Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies told Daily News Egypt, “one of which is between Saudi Arabia and Syria and Iran in Lebanon. The Saudis back the parliamentary majority with funding and diplomatic support.
“The Egyptians also support the majority government but they keep a bit of distance from all parties involved, Abdel-Fatah added, “so they can be in a position to mediate between all sides and thus appease the parties without weakening the majority coalition.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told Al-Gomhuria newspaper that the aim of the summit is to attain a level of credibility for the Arabs. For that end talks were still being held between the Egyptians and the Saudis and Syrians.
Aboul Gheit added ominously that there were “political powers aiming to “benefit from the current Lebanese crisis.
Abdel-Fatah said, “Syria and Iran try to benefit from each other and Syria has many connections within Lebanon. The Syrians want to use this as well as ties with Hamas and Hezbollah as a future negotiating tool concerning the imposed sanctions as well as the investigations in the assassination of [former Lebanese Prime Minister] Rafik Al-Hariri and other Lebanese journalists and politicians.
According to Abdel-Fatah, estimates of Iranian funding for Hezbollah range from $500 million to $1 billion in addition to arming and training their troops.
After receiving Lebanese Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh on Tuesday, Aboul Gheit affirms “Egypt s support for the sincere efforts exerted by the Lebanese government and its Prime Minister as well as the Lebanese army to preserve stability in Lebanon, a foreign ministry statement said.
Saudi Arabia s King Abdullah hosted his Jordanian counterpart and namesake Abdullah II on Wednesday and agreed that “the Lebanese people choose a president through consensus and that the Arab League plan to solve the Lebanese crisis was successful, a Jordanian official told AFP.
The Arab League support the decision to appoint General Michel Sleiman as the President and are also calling for a unity government in which no one party will have veto power, as well as changing the electoral law.
The parties in Lebanon all agree on Sleiman but have not reached a consensus for neither the unity government nor the changes in electoral law.
The confessional politics system in Lebanon stipulates that the President be a Maronite Christian, usually from the army such as Sleiman and his predecessor Emile Lahud, while the Prime Minister is a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the House is always a Shia Muslim.
On Tuesday, President Hosni Mubarak placed the onus on Syria to alleviate the crisis in Lebanon, telling Bahraini television that they were part of the problem.
“The summit will be held in Syria and Syria is linked to the Lebanese problem. Therefore I hope that Syria would solve the problem, he said, “We should not be [in Damascus] resolving a problem that Syria is a party to.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia held talks last Sunday to determine whether they would boycott the summit or what level of participation would be present, which elicited a strong reaction from Syria.
“Syria rejects political blackmail by some Arab and international circles to affect the upcoming 20th summit in March, Syria’s former Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlallah told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
“Not a single Arab summit has brought all Arab leaders together, Dakhlallah added, “The summit will be held as scheduled but there is a problem with the level of representation. It is certain that many leaders will attend.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged regional countries to successfully resolve the Lebanese crisis telling Al-Arabiya news channel, “I am deeply concerned and frustrated by the lack of progress in the situation in Lebanon. The long-lasting constitutional vacuum and the postponement of the election … is unacceptable.
“I sincerely hope and urge Lebanese political leaders to elect a president and restore political stability with the cooperation of regional countries, Ki-moon added.
“The success of the summit depends on how flexible the Syrians and Iranians are willing to be and whether they will put pressure on their groups within Lebanon, Abdel-Fatah said.