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Chibli Mallat, Candidate for the Presidency of Lebanon; European Union Jean Monnet Professor in Law, Saint-Joseph University, Beirut; Director, Center for the Study of the European Union; Faculty of the Rue Havelin, Beirut

Chibli Mallat defined his campaign to replace President Emile Lahoud within its greater context as a continuation of the popular movement toward enforcing accountability, which began with the massive nonviolent demonstrations in Beirut last March. He stated that the Cedar Revolution secured freedom for the Lebanese, and has contributed to a new climate of tolerance in the Middle East within which autocratic leaders are learning that repression of dissidents may not be worth the long-term political costs (although he cited cases such as that of Ayman Nour in Egypt as evidence that this climate of tolerance has not spread everywhere). Yet, Dr. Mallat observed, for the workings of civil society to remain protected and to flourish, in Lebanon as well as anywhere else in the Middle East, freedom must be accompanied by institutionalized justice and democracy. For justice to be obtained in Lebanon, he remarked, it is critical that an international tribunal under UN auspices investigate, prosecute, and convict those responsible for the politically-motivated assassinations that have taken place since October 2004 in Lebanon (including that of Rafiq Hariri). To champion true democracy, Dr. Mallat asserted, activists like him should not only campaign against human rights abuses, but also aspire to leadership positions in which they can function as the guardians and protectors of these rights – thereby explaining his decision to enter the political fray.

Dr. Mallat then set forth the two-step legal rationale behind his campaign for Lahoud's removal and for his (Mallat's) election as president. First, he stated that the extension of Lahoud's presidential mandate by Syria was in direct violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, which requires that the Lebanese presidential election be "free and fair" and "without foreign interference or influence." Dr. Mallat recounted a meeting between Bashar Assad and Rafiq Hariri in August 2004 during which Assad purportedly delivered an ultimatum: allow the extension of Lahoud's mandate, "or else." Since Dr. Mallat sees the Syrian interference in the Lebanese electoral process as a breach of international law, he is calling on the international community to condemn the breach and to demand the nullification of Lahoud's extension. As signs of the illegitimacy of the current presidency, he cited: the recent (January 23) UN Security Council presidential statement (which reaffirmed the need for a fair presidential election free from foreign interference under Resolution 1559); the unwillingness of visiting foreign diplomats (such as those from the U.S. and the U.K.) to meet with Lahoud; and a general feeling among the Lebanese people that their leadership does not reflect the political will. Having thus argued for the invalidity of Lahoud's extended mandate, Dr. Mallat made his second point that the office of president is therefore vacant, and the Lebanese parliament is constitutionally obligated to elect a new president.

He then outlined his plan to marshal both domestic and international support for an open and competitive election for a new Lebanese president. He professed an all-inclusive philosophy, hoping to win to his cause as many of the sects and parties from the fractious Lebanese political scene as possible. Dr. Mallat's view is that all parties stand to benefit from his election as president, including extremist groups such as Hezbollah. He believes that his commitment to rule of law, dedication to protecting civil rights, and determination to pursue Lebanon's interests on the international stage would serve each of the parties' interests if they work within rather than circumventing the system. Although he praised the U.S. government for the support it has extended and continues to extend to the burgeoning movement for greater freedom and democracy in Lebanon, he stated his hope that future U.S. policy would focus more on solving the political leadership crisis than on disarming Hezbollah. He believes that supporting a strong Lebanese government that can pacify extremist groups through engagement is more practical than advocating direct confrontation.

Drafted by Jim Zanotti