General Michel Suleiman, Lebanon's new President, delivered a concise inaugural speech today, May 25. Listening to his words on al-Jazeera, I was struck by several elements in the speech:
He emphasized the need to connect with Lebanon's expatriate community, which includes many Christians. He spoke of the rights of this group, in contrast to those who were given citizenship in the 1990s without deserving it. This was a direct reference to citizenship decrees signed by the late Rafiq al-Hariri as Prime Minister. Al-Hariri extended citizenship to tens of thousands of people, many of them Sunni Muslims.
He insisted that Lebanon must renew its national dialogue and he underlined the importance of the Constitution.
His remarks about the Hezbollah-led "resistance" were measured, and he underlined that the resistance should not be used internally. He noted that the resistance won widespread national support in 2000, when Israel unilaterally withdrew its occupation forces and the South was liberated.
He also underlined that the Shiba' farms were still occupied, thereby noting a rationale for a continuing role by the resistance.
He referred to the sons of Lebanon who were still prisoners, which might equally apply to those held by Israel or Syria.
He spoke at comparative length about relations with Syria. He insisted on relations based on mutual respect. He said we should put aside past differences and build a relationship that includes mutual diplomatic relations (Syria still has not embassy in Beirut).
He noted the Palestine issue and emphasized that no one should use Palestine as a pretext. He recalled that the State will not allow terrorism, a reference to the Nahr al-Bared fighting last summer.
He stated tat Lebanon supports the Arab League initiative vis-a-vis an Arab-Israeli peace.
Referring the opposition incursion into West Beirut, he reminded his audience that the army needs to maintain a balanced position.
The U.S. was only represented in the chamber by a Congressional delegation led by Congressman Nick Rahall, a Lebanese-American. I was struck that Suleiman did not mention the U.S. at all. [Were it not for U.S. obstruction I believe the crisis in Lebanon would have been long ago broken, and on terms decidedly more favorable to the U.S., but I will develop that further later.]
Qatar, which shepherded the Doha negotiations, was honored.
In all, Suleiman was impressive, and one may sense that there was a collective sigh of relief in Lebanon as Suleiman took office.
A final point, Lebanese governments have used operated on the norm of consensus decision-making. Keep this in mind as you weigh whether the existing government is a departure from standard practice.