The Three-Pronged Fork in Mikati’s Side

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Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati arrives to preside over a UN Security Council meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York. (Photo: AFP - Emmanuel Dunand)

By: Ghassan Saoud

Published Monday, May 21, 2012

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati is attempting to address three heated issues related to the crisis in North Lebanon.

One cannot think of Mikati during the newly momentous revolution of the Islamists without remembering his predecessors: the daily tribulations of Saad Hariri; Fouad Siniora on 7 May 2008; and Omar Karami on 14 March 2005.

Unlike his predecessors, in this present crisis he is not threatening to resign (although he has been known to wave this card to force his way during times of relative calm). The trouble in Tripoli has rocked his government, the position of his political team, and his electoral lists. But he decided to play the role of a statesman.

Those following Mikati’s movements between his residence in Verdun, the government’s seat in the Grand Serail, and his hometown Tripoli say that he has switched his focus from the politicians to the little people.

Someone capable of convincing Siniora to be his friend will not find it difficult to convince “the Salfi emir of Tripoli” Sheikh Salem Rafei to befriend him, although that effort has been suspended for the moment.

What sets Mikati apart is that he is knowledgeable about the links these groups have, their capabilities, and their aims. But nobody really has any idea about his own position on these matters.

People close to Mikati say that the crisis has three levels. The first involves the call for the release of the detained (without trial) Islamists. It is seen as a justified humanitarian cause that has the backing of the people of Tripoli. The Islamists were smart enough to make this the general objective of their last mobilization.

In fact, 30 out of the 200 Salafi detainees were released under Mikati after being arrested during Hariri and Siniora’s terms. Some even left the prison in cars that belong to Mikati.

His close associates emphasize that the released prisoners know very well who imprisoned them and who released them, even if they do not say so publicly and do not raise banners in Tripoli thanking Mikati.

People close to the prime minister point to Judge Said Mirza, who is close to the Future Movement, delaying the announcement of his opinion on the remaining detained Islamists for two more days, thus delaying a resolution to the problem.

Judicial sources indicate that Mikati can close the matter in a maximum of two weeks, thus solving a major problem created by the Siniora government.

The second level of the crisis revolves around the arrest of Shadi Mawlawi, a development angering hundreds of activists who are sheltering and assisting Syrian refugees.

Sources say that Mikati has tried to calm those he met by saying that Mawlawi’s arrest is not in this context and has nothing to do with Tripoli’s support for the displaced.

Sources close to Mikati say that there was serious unease concerning the issue but it has been solved. They insist that the judge handling Mawlawi’s case, who is from the pro-Hariri Iqlim al-Kharroub region, is known for his integrity and independence.

Finally, there is Tripoli’s chronic plight: development. The Mikati source smiles when he hears complaints about potholes in the roads, electricity cuts, and a lack of jobs in the city. He says Tripoli has been absent from the development map of every consecutive government since 1990.

He takes out a dossier called the “Tripoli Development Plan.” On its second page, there is a recommendation saying “the priority is to create job opportunities.” Its pages flow with complex schemes to rehabilitate the infrastructure of the city, neglected for the last 30 years.

The economic expert moves from roads to bridges to sanitation and electricity networks. He swears by Mikati’s name that the city will have new infrastructure by next winter.

New legislation was recently passed about the establishment and operation of the free economic zone, with a capacity of 1,000 new commercial firms, creating 3,000 job opportunities.

The second major development project involves deepening and expanding Tripoli’s port. By the summer of 2013, the port will become a major center for the unloading and redistribution of containers in the Arab world.

These are the issues surrounding the crisis. But the crisis itself is Lebanon’s connection to the situation in Syria.

Mikati’s only option at the moment is to go on the offensive. The road will be full of holes and some of them will be deep, but nobody can offer an alternative, especially since the Syrian situation is still not clear and a resolution has not been reached.

The slogan of dissociation, which Mikati helped coin, raised the ire of the Future Movement and was mocked by many. But it is now the number one slogan for the people of Tripoli as they silently watch the madness that has engulfed parts of their city.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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