More on Lebanon State of Emergency

There’s a bit more coming in from Associated Press on the Lebanese situation:

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — President Emile Lahoud said Friday that Lebanon is in a “state of emergency” and ordered the army to take over security powers, hours before he was stepping down without a successor and leaving the divided country in a political vacuum. The government rejected the move, raising tensions.

Lahoud’s announcement immediately raised further confusion amid Lebanon’s political turmoil, which many fear could explode into violence between supporters of the government and the opposition.

The president cannot declare a state of emergency without approval from the government, but Lahoud’s spokesman said the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora is considered unconstitutional.

“The president of the republic declares that because a state of emergency exists all over the land as of Nov. 24, 2007, the army is instructed to preserve security all over the Lebanese territory and places all the armed forces at its disposal,” presidential spokesman Rafik Shalala said.

The statement instructed the army “to submit the measures it takes to the Cabinet once there is one that is constitutional,” he said.

Saniora’s government, which has been meeting in Beirut as the announcement was made at the presidential palace in suburban Baabda, rejected the announcement.

“It has no value and is unconstitutional and consequently it is considered as if it was not issued,” said a government spokesman, who asked not to be identified because an official announcement has not yet been made by the prime minister.

The spokesman said the constitution stipulates that the Cabinet – not the president – has the authority to declare a state or emergency and to give the army the authority to take over security.

“Any decision not issued by the Cabinet has no constitutional value,” the spokesman told The Associated Press.

With the Prime Minister and his cabinet declaring this emergency rule unconstitional, this could get pretty bad, pretty fast. Lebanon is a cultural melting pot, still recovering from a long and unpleasant civil war. I’ll keep looking for info.

7:35 GMT update. It’s made it to the BBC.

Under Lebanon’s unwritten constitutional agreement the presidency is earmarked for a Maronite Catholic, the prime minister’s post is reserved for a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker’s post for a Shiite Muslim. The civil war that stretched from 1975 to 1990 was primarily fought on ethnic and religious lines, which is the reason for such a power sharing agreement.

That the Middle East’s only christian leader has declared emergency law over the objections of his islamic Prime Minister does not look good. Hezbollah have yet to respond, so far as I can tell, but they are unlikely to take this well.

8:51 pm GMT: I am slightly chastened by Mustapha of Beirut Spring

An important clarification for outside observers who are overstating Mr. Lahhoud’s statement.

The outgoing Lebanese President did NOT declare a state of Emergency or Martial law. The statement that caused the confusion was this: “the threats that require a state of emergency prevail over Lebanon”.

What Mr. Lahhoud effectively did was assign the Army to take care of the security on the ground. A redundant procedure given that the Seniora government had already done that.

If anything, the statement by the soon-to-be ex-President reveals his incapacity to do anything more serious. All comparisons with Pakistan, Jordan, or Egypt, where the Army heavy-handedly represses the people, should immediately be removed from your heads.

I don’t know much about Mustapha, or his general angle on things, but even though he no longer lives in Lebanon he certainly understand the dynamics better than I, so I’d better pay some attention to what he says. It could be we’re getting all wound up over nothing, though I think perhaps the President could use a refresher course in using temperate language, if that be the case.

I thought having the military in charge of internal security was an important part of what martial law is. I wonder if a curfew has been enacted. I guess the only way to find out whether this is a nothing story, or something critical for Lebanon, is to wait and see. I still have a very bad feeling about it all.

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