Lebanese media reveal their colors over Nasrallah's speech

The speech of Hezbollah’s Secretary General on November 11, 2007 opened the door for fresh comments, political one-upmanship and media mud-slinging.
By Rita Barotta, Menassat.com Staff Writer
Lebanon, posters of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. R.R.

It was not surprising to see the Lebanese newspapers deal with the political speech of the most controversial figure in Lebanon and the Arab world they way they did Monday morning.
Some considered the speech and its content to be a direct threat against the government. Others read it as being the last message addressed by the “Sayyed” to the president of the republic, Emile Lahoud, since his mandate is about to end. Some also detected in his speech preset conditions for any consensus agreement.
“He is threatening to kill us if we do not play his game”. This is what a lady said as she was waiting for the number 2 bus to take her to Hamra.

“How long will you keep your eyes shut? Is this all that you got from the Sayyed’s speech? He was rational and called things by their name”, a woman waiting for the same bus answered back.
It is only one sample of the sort of conversations that could be heard on Beirut's street on the day after Nasrallah's speech.

The Lebanese street is divided, and the two teams in the current confrontation are kwown as "March 8" (the opposition) and "March 14" (the government).

And if the media are a reflection of the street, then it is only natural that we found the same sort of division in Monday morning's newspapers.

Here is a taste.

Al-Mustaqbal: 'A treasonous and terrorizing speech'

Al-Mustaqbal newspaper opened up the auction of positions with the following headline: “Nasrallah in Jibril’s footsteps: the candidates of the vacuum”.

On first impression, the reader might be forgiven to think that the author was comparing Hassan Nasrallah to angel Gabriel, the carrier of good omens. But upon closer scrutiny, it becomes clear that by Jibril the author meant Ahmed Jibril, the secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The point of resemblance between the two: the threat of war.

“Sayyed Nasrallah appeared on television on the occasion of Martyrs’ Day with a terrorizing speech in which he cast accusations of treason against the Lebanese, the majority forces and those he referred to as being 'the thieves and murderers among the followers of the American-Zionist plan in Lebanon.' He proposed an exit to the ongoing crisis by violating the constitution with the heresy of holding early parliamentary elections and threatened to form a second government by calling upon President Emile Lahoud to make this move”.  

Journalist Fares Khashan then changed course, writing: “While the Lebanese were counting the days and even the hours to see the end of President Emile Lahoud’s forsaken mandate, which was forcibly extended in violation of the constitution, Nasrallah came out and noticeably started praising him.”

Khashan then pointed out that Hassan Nasrallah’s speech put the Syrian-Iranian axis on a collision course with the French initiative.

L’Orient Le Jour: Nasrallah stresses constitutional vacuum

The French-language daily L’Orient-Le Jour carried the following headline: “Nasrallah: Any president who is elected outside of the two-thirds quorum is a violator”.

What is worth mentioning is that the newspaper featured the speech of Hezbollah’s secretary general without making any comments on its content, at least not on its front page.

However, journalist Leila Mezher wrote that Nasrallah’s speech undermined the climate of optimism that had prevailed in the last few days. She added that “Bkerki”, i.e. the Maronite Church, should act quickly and put forward a list of presidential candidates. She then wondered: "Is there any Syrian intention to sabotage the 'presidential elections - government formation - parliamentary elections' program?"

An Nahar: Nasrallah and the content of the unprecedented escalation speech

An Nahar newspaper carried on its front page a direct comment which went beyond the limits of a news report: “Nasrallah’s storm besieges consensus initiative but does not stop it”. The article read: “The acute escalation storm raised by Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, placed the French consensus initiative [...] in the most dangerous spot since its launching [...] It seemed clear that Nasrallah did not only surprise the parliamentary majority team, with the unprecedented escalation of his speech, which reached the point of asking the president of the republic Emile Lahoud to adopt a rescue initiative in case consensus is not reached over a new president.”   

The newspaper then exclusively reported what was witnessed in the intensive consultations conducted during the night between a number of political figures who tackled key points in Nasrallah’s speech, especially the call addressed to President Lahoud.

Ghassan Tueni for his part stressed the necessity to establish what he referred to as being a “constitutional workshop” that would be a preemptive action countering the threat of “revolutionary violence” by which some might try to fill the vacuum.

Al-Akhbar: A speech reinstating discussion far away from the trivialities on the table

“Nasrallah: consensus over the presidency, the government and security,” was the main headline of Al-Akhbar newspaper. The article can be summarized by the assertion that Hezbollah’s secretary general put forward the real qualities that the upcoming president should have instead of “seeking trivial qualities which seemed to be difficult to meet to begin with”.

Al-Akhbar summarized Nasrallah speech in six points, namely: the elections method and its spirit which will reveal the upcoming political course in the country; no tolerance can be shown at the level of the presidential elections as well as no “kissing of beards” (and could this expression be referring to Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir who was demanding a list of candidates for the presidency?); what is required is a president who is not the one wanted by the Americans; the opposition will not recognize a president who is elected on the basis of the half plus one formula.

In another article published by Al-Akhbar on Nasrallah’s speech, it was said that Hezbollah’s secretary general was asking Lahoud not to leave the country to the “thieves and murderers” and that “the entire world will not be able to implement UNSCR 1559.”

Ibrahim Al-Amin, in an article entitled, “Nasrallah imposes new mechanism to approach presidential elections,” wrote that Nasrallah opened the door for a new round of discussions regarding the presidential elections. He added that what he put forward in terms of “questions-concerns, reflected the serious concern of key forces in the country that believe it would be hard to partake in a traditional consensus game without having a clear mechanism related to the governance of the country in advance”. The writer reached a point where he considered that Hezbollah, the strongest and most influential party, was the victim of the biggest scam during the last parliamentary elections.

The Daily Star: The impossibility to implement resolution 1559 and the government of 'thieves'

The English-language Daily Star newspaper carried a front-page article addressing the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons that “no one can disarm”. It also addressed the issue of the parliamentary elections that it considered as the “remedy for the presidential elections predicament”.

Al-Balad: The call upon Lahoud

Al-Balad newspaper focused on the call made by Hezbollah’s secretary general to President Lahoud in which he asked him to launch an “initiative that would prevent a vacuum”.

The introduction to the front-page article stated: “The only way out of the predicament in case consensus is not reached, would be through early parliamentary elections with a pledge from the minority that emerges from the elections to secure the constitutional two-thirds quorum”.

Al-Balad also featured several sub-headlines, which left little to interpretation: “Government about to perpetrate biggest pillage in Lebanon’s history” and “The entire world would not be able to disarm Hezbollah”.

Al-Liwa’: The political scene following Nasrallah’s speech will not be the same

Al-Liwa’s front-page headline read: “Nasrallah anticipates consensus with conditions to partake in new mandate at the risk of [forming] a second government."

The accompanying artucle said that when Nasrallah spoke about new consensus efforts, he placed conditions which he considered to be at the core of consensus and were related to the person of the president and even went beyond it: i.e. the issues of national unity, the financial issues and the status of the army commander.

Hence, some pro-government politicians might reach the conclusion that Nasrallah is not relying much on the ongoing efforts to reach consensus. Al-Liwa quoted a prominent official source whose name it did not reveal as saying that “the political scene before Nasrallah’s speech might not be the same as after it”.

Ad Diyyar: Doors open before consensus and ball in the court of March 14

Ad Diyyar’s front-page article was headlined: “Nasrallah showed the power of the opposition and kept the doors open before consensus”.

The introduction read: “Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah raised the ceiling and revealed the power of the opposition. He then clearly pinpointed the available options in case the majority were to adopt escalation steps”. This same analysis affirmed that “the Sayyed of the resistance, kept the doors open before consensus”. Ad Diyyar also concluded that "the most important poles of the opposition clearly said that the half plus one formula was unacceptable”.

As Safir: Serious consensus efforts

As Safir placed the speech of Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in the context of a comprehensive report headlined: “Consensus revolving in Christian impossibility: who guarantees whom?”, and talked about “the setback of the French efforts following a climate of optimism”. It considered that Nasrallah’s speech carried “major and contradictory political indications”.  

Another article summarized Nasrallah's speech as follows: “No wars in the camps and no one in the world can disarm the resistance”.

The clarity of division

Harshness of words, weaved sentences aiming to shed light on what sometimes a few lines could have conveyed, numerous non-objective expressions and opinionating intertwined with the report, are all elements that turn the front pages of Lebanese newspapers themselves into political positions.

But is this odd? This has always been the case. We have become accustomed to the language of Al-Mustaqbal newspaper, the obvious bias of Al-Akhbar and the attempts of An Nahar to flirt with objectivity.     

What is also true is that each time a political side issues a position, especially if it is someone enjoying the stature of Hezbollah’s secretary general, the information is sacrificed in favor of analysis... and accusations.