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Lebanese Parliament Expected to Amend Constitution  - 2004-09-01


The Lebanese parliament will soon consider a controversial bill that would amend Lebanon's constitution to give the country's president another run at the office. The measure has drawn international attention. But despite widespread public opposition, it is widely believed the Lebanese parliament will approve the measure.

Lebanese President Emile Lahoud is nearing the end of his six-year term in office. Under Lebanon's constitution, he is precluded from seeking a second term. But, bowing to demands from Syria, which plays a major role in Lebanon, the Lebanese parliament will soon vote on whether to amend the constitution to allow Mr. Lahoud to run for another three years in office.

The bill was approved last week by Lebanon's cabinet.

Syria has dominated Lebanese politics since it first intervened in 1976 during Lebanon's civil war. And, more than 15,000 Syrian troops remain in country, despite a 1990 agreement that calls for the eventual withdrawal of all Syrian troops from Lebanon.

According to the head of the political science department at Lebanese American University in Beirut, Sami Baroudi, there is widespread opposition to amending the constitution, but he says many Lebanese still see Syria as a stabilizing force in Lebanon.

"Everyone knows that the issue of who is the president of Lebanon is of extreme importance for Syria," he says. "And, Syria has been interfering in this and in other issues. So, yes there is basically this opposition to that. But, at the same time, there is a mood in the country that it is not in the interest of Lebanon to really defy Syria too much. There is still this feeling that the internal peace was connected to the Syrian northern Lebanon. So, people have mixed feelings. They do not want to lose the stability. At the same time, surely the Lebanese would like to have a bigger say in selecting their leaders."

Senior U.S. and French officials have said the two countries are considering introducing a resolution in the U.N. Security Council condemning Syrian influence in the internal affairs of Lebanon.

But that idea has drawn a protest from Lebanese Foreign Minister Jean Obeid, who wrote a letter to the Security Council saying such a resolution itself would be interfering in the internal affairs of Lebanon.

It is a view shared by the Arab Lawyers Union, based in Cairo, which issued a statement Tuesday opposing such a resolution. The deputy secretary general of the union is Abdel Azim el-Maghraby.

Mr. el-Maghraby says the position of the union focuses on the illegality of the intervention of a foreign country regarding the internal matters of an independent country. He says the Lebanese have the right to resolve the situation themselves and there is no justification for the United States or France to intervene in such an internal matter. He says taking the issue to the Security Council is not acceptable.

But the Beirut bar association issued its own appeal for members of parliament to vote against the proposed constitutional amendment, saying to do so would not reflect the will of the Lebanese people.

And, a group of intellectuals collected the signatures of 300 influential figures on a document that stated any effort to amend the constitution would only perpetuate Lebanon's dependence on Syria.

Even so, it is widely believed Lebanon's parliament will bow to the demands of Damascus and approve the amendment, possibly as early as this weekend.

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