The Battle for Tripoli: Show Me the Money
Published Monday, June 11, 2012
The recent financial boost the government gave itself in order to fund some projects leading up to summer 2013 was interpreted by the opposition as the opening salvo in the battle for Tripoli in next year’s parliamentary elections.
Toufic Sultan who is close to former MP Saad Hariri recounts that following the devastating war in Tripoli in the early 1980s between the Syrian army and forces loyal to late the Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, a government report at the time said that the destruction inflicted on the city in that war alone is equivalent to the destruction caused by the Israeli attack on Beirut in 1982.
Sultan elaborates on a discussion that followed the events to secure the necessary funds for the city’s reconstruction. In a meeting he had attended with several politicians, a minister spoke disapprovingly about lack of funding.
“When you stop stealing 10 percent of your ministry’s budget, the required money could be secured!” came the reply from someone in attendance.
The story is meant to explain the importance of the government’s decision last Thursday to release 150 billion Lebanese Lira (LL) ($100 million) to be spent on development projects in Tripoli.
“We would be deluding ourselves if we did not say we were happy with the government finally paying attention to the city,” Sultan said. He believes “the amount is less than what Tripoli deserves and requires.”
Having paid a visit to Prime Minister Najib Mikati recently, Sultan is worried about the possibility of using this money in electoral campaigns. “If anyone wants to campaign for elections, let him do it from his own pocket,” he said.
The Future Movement is worried that this amount and other allocations will be used in campaigning for next summer’s parliamentary elections. For the first time since the 1992 elections, Hariri’s party will be facing competitors who are financially stronger. Not to mention that it is also outside the government.
Their worries are based on the fact that their challengers will not be limited to Mikati who is “now buttressed by a seemingly well-prepared and strong alliance” with MPs Mohammad Safadi and Faisal Karami. This will make “the challenge extremely difficult,” according to Sultan.
Mikati sources say that the Future Movement is split on the best strategy to confront their rivals in the upcoming election.
They explained to Al-Akhbar that one side “would support any alliance with Mikati to protect its interests and positions, and to avoid a confrontation that would create tensions in the city.”
The other side sees the alliance with Mikati “as a problem, because it could go against them. The political and security tensions that Tripoli witnessed recently fall into this framework and could escalate in the coming days.”
Meanwhile, sources close to Safadi informed Al-Akhbar that “what happened in the cabinet is a procedure under the title of the art of the possible, following the delays in approving the state budget and the inherited financial complications.”
The sources add that “it was a necessary course of action to keep state facilities running. There is no need for a government that does not spend its financial obligations. There is also no need for a parliament that does not legislate and approve payment of these obligations.”
“We are perplexed about how to deal with the opposition. If the government decides to approve paying financial obligations, it is accused of preparing for elections. It it does not do so, it is accused of failing and asked to go home. Appeasing the opposition is impossible,” Mikati sources protested.
The sources agreed that Tripoli “does deserve more than $100 million.” Nonetheless, they saw that the “previous government should have declared a state of developmental emergency in Tripoli for several reasons, mainly invigorating the paralyzed economy in a city of half a million people.”
They add that “the elections are almost a year away and the amount will be spent on public projects, not on handing out money and rations. This used to happen during the previous governments, when such public projects were actually used for electoral objectives and aims.”
But they insisted that “if the gains of the government’s work means that people will respond by giving it support, then why not. All governments around the world are held accountable based on their achievements.”
They rejected the theory that “providing electricity and water to Tripoli is a mere electoral offering. Neither is rebuilding destroyed houses, asphalting roads, pushing the economy forward, or providing job opportunities. This is basic development and we should have provided it years ago.”
“We do not care about replying to the concerns of the Future Movement or trying to appease it. If they have remarks, there are many democratic means available, through the media or parliament,” a Safadi source said.
He wondered if “they want the government to punish Tripoli and deprive it of development projects, just to appease the Future current and allay its concerns.”
The source stressed that neither Mikati nor Safadi “reacted negatively when former Future Movement PM Fouad Siniora announced a development fund for Tripoli, although it was evidently electoral. Why do they object today?”
Mikati: For a Constructive Opposition
“The opposition must become constructive. Governments come and go, but the state is the basis,” Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Friday during the annual meeting of the INSEAD Business School alumni association in the Phoenicia Hotel. He stressed that “the state should not be damaged in order to change a government.”
“If politics permit the taking of positions, no matter how different and far, citizenry and belonging utterly forbid us from dragging Lebanon into the heart of certain crises so politicians can achieve what they want,” Mikati said.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.