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Cablegate: Lebanon: Advancing Freedom and Democracy Report

VZCZCXRO0564
OO RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHKUK RUEHLZ RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #0359/01 0701533
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 101533Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1254
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIRUT 000359

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/YERGER/GAVITO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB KDEM PGOV PHUM PREL
SUBJECT: LEBANON: ADVANCING FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY REPORT

REF: SECSTATE 3738

Introduction
-------------

1. (SBU) Lebanon's democratic traditions go back at least to
its initial elections in 1854, under Ottoman
Empire rule. The key landmarks in Lebanon's democratic
history are the 1924 Constitution, the National Pact of 1940,
and the 1989 Ta'if Accord. Throughout Lebanon's history
democratic initiatives have been challenged and the
challenges
continue in this present day. Lebanon has had no president
since the
term of the former president ended in November 2007. The
Speaker of
the parliament has canceled parliamentary sessions intended
to elect
a president sixteen times in recent months. The political
impasse in Lebanon is deepening, despite international
efforts
to mediate a solution. What is at stake in this election are
two competing visions: one envisioning a free, independent,
and sovereign country; the other a Lebanon under the de facto
hegemony of Syria. The pro-government March 14 majority,
which the USG supports,
feels under severe threat, with its Members of Parliament
taking extraordinary security precautions after the
assassinations of several of their colleagues.

2. (SBU) Beyond the current presidential vacuum, Lebanon
faces a number
of long-term challenges which affect its ability to move
forward on various democratic issues. Among these are the
still strong remains of a post-feudal social and political
structure, an economy suffering the effects of the 2006 war
between Hizballah and Israel, lack of political stability,
weak
governmental institutions, the political and military
strength of Hizballah, the residual influence of the former
Syrian occupiers, and the absence of a national consensus on
what type of democracy Lebanon should embrace. Optimism was
high in spring 2005 when the Syrians withdrew from Lebanon.
Unfortunately, the series of political assassinations since
then,
the Hizballah-Israeli war and the current
boycott of the government by pro-Syrian forces has shaken the
confidence of many
citizens.

3. (SBU) Thus, Lebanon has a clear need for stronger, better
functioning democratic institutions.
In addition, though, there are a number of
positive factors which make Lebanon an ideal location for USG
democracy-building activity. Lebanese society is highly
educated with a vibrant press. Although many young people
have emigrated to build secure futures, they would prefer to
stay in Lebanon if conditions became more favorable.
Finally, we have seen civil society groups, supported by
international donors, begin to take hold over the last few
years. Certainly, a great deal of work remains, but
the foundations for improved democratic functions are being
laid.

Mission Priorities to Promote Democracy
----------

4. (SBU) The primaryaim of our Mission's democratization
programs
s to promote Lebanon's sovereignty and stability.
Three key focus areas for our work include:

-- a new electoral law;

-- competent, effective, and transparent government
institutions; and

-- an independent judiciary.

Specific USG Programs in Lebanon in Support of Democracy
Priority Areas
-------------

5. (SBU) ELECTORAL REFORM
Our overall goal here is to help Lebanon
hold free and fair parliamentary elections which reflect the
independent
will of the people. The Mission has formed an Electoral

BEIRUT 00000359 002 OF 003


Reform
Working Group which meets brings together USG representatives
with local NGOs and implementing partners. The Embassy also
coordinates with international donors as we help build
Lebanese
capacity to hold free and fair elections in accordance with
international electoral standards. The current political
stalemate which began with the opposition's November 2006
withdrawal from the Cabinet and the action by the parliament
Speaker, a leader of the political opposition, to keep the
Parliament from
meeting has greatly hampered efforts to reform the current
electoral
law. Our support to local NGOs has been credited with
"keeping the issue alive." In 2008-2009, the Mission will
focus
on the spring 2009 parliamentary election. A new electoral
law
accepted by all parties will help grant legitimacy to this
election and enhance stability in the country.

6. (SBU) STRENGTHENING GOVERNMENT INSTITUTIONS
All USG funds
are coordinated by the Mission to strengthen Lebanese
sovereignty by bolstering the democratic governing
institutions and improving transparency and accountability.
More effective institutions will repel Syrian
influence and decrease Hizballah's authority and influence.
Embassy Beirut also plans to improve Lebanese citizens'
ability to
participate in decision-making processes. While current
political events have hampered our ability to work with
certain national institutions, the Mission has placed a
renewed
focus on finding opportunities to strengthen municipal
governments throughout Lebanon. The Lebanese constitution
mandates that certain government institutions be led by
persons from specific groups. For example, the president
should be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a
Sunni Muslim and the speaker of the Parliament a Shia Muslim.

However, demographic changes have occurred over time and
the strict focus on confessional make-up has led to many of
the current problems plaguing Lebanese government
institutions.
USG-funded initiatives offer support to civil society
organizations that promote enhancing cross-confessional
proposals throughout Lebanese society and within government
institutions. In the coming two years, we will support the
work of
cross-confessional civil society groups, including
non-extremist Shia and Sunni groups throughout Lebanon.
Embassy
Beirut will also work to improve the professionalism of
various
government employees and support the idea that employees
should be hired based on merit, not confessional ties or
personal connections. A new USD 60 million program launched
in 2007 also provides training and support to the Internal
Security Forces (Lebanon's national police force) to
enhance professionalism in that institution.

7. (SBU) INDEPENDENT JUDICIARY
After decades of Syrian control, the Lebanese judiciary has
not improved over the
last two years and remains in disrepute. With USG technical
support, laws are drafted according to international
standards and more judicial officials have been trained
by professionals from the U.S. and other donor
countries. Problems remain, however; for example, money
and influence still derail the Lebanese judicial process;
judicial decisions are not transparent; and, the appeals
system fails to address the public's needs. Lebanese
citizens lack faith in their own court system. USG-funded
initiatives will focus on improving these conditions. This
likely is a long-term project which will need continued
financial support from the USG.

8. (SBU) OTHER INITIATIVES
The Mission is also involved in supervising USG grants which
seek to improve the plight of
trafficking victims and to monitor labor practices,
particularly to stop
any forms of child labor. The Mission also coordinates
various programs aimed at improving
the economic and political status of women. Finally, the
Mission has launched a USD 5 million program
which seeks to improve anti-corruption practices, promote

BEIRUT 00000359 003 OF 003


freedom of the press and strengthen NGOs.
SISON

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