Lebanese put pressure on pro-Syrian President

Click to follow

Who will rid us of this troublesome President? That is what most of Lebanon's cabinet and MPs - and Saad Hariri, the son of murdered ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri - have been asking these past months, for pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud is the last public vestige of Damascus' power in Beirut.

But last week saw an almost Shakespearian attempt to unseat the British-trained former naval officer, one that shocked even the drama-prone Lebanese. It came in the form of Lahoud's own son-in-law, who is the Lebanese minister of defence and who, last July, was subjected to a Hariri-style car bombing that was intended to kill him.

Elias Murr is lucky to be alive, but last week - in front of the entire Lebanese cabinet - he confronted the father-in-law who remains close friends with the nation whom Murr believes tried to murder him: Syria. "You yourself told me to leave the country because 'they' were going to kill me - and that I had a choice of either being a slave or a corpse," Murr burst out at Lahoud. "You could not protect me from the [Syrian] security regime that you were accused of being involved in."

As his cabinet colleagues sat stunned, Murr told his president and father-in-law that he had to take the "courageous decision" to step down. "Mr President," he told Lahoud, "give your grandchildren back their dignity." Murr is married to Lahoud's daughter.

President Lahoud - who remains head of state because pro-Syrian MPs rammed through legislation in 2004 which gave him an extra, if unconstitutional, three years in power - announced that he remained in office out of "concern for the country's national interests". This did not impress Nayla Moawad, the minister of social affairs, whose husband Rene was also killed in a car-bombing, shortly after being elected president of Lebanon in 1989.

"His assassination was the signal for the setting up of the 'security state' in Lebanon," she said. "And you know that he wanted to name you commander in chief of the army, even though he didn't know you. I'm not in a joking mood this evening, but I believe that if he'd met you at that time, he would not have done it." Mrs Mouawad then put the knife in. She reminded Lahoud that when Syrian troops dethroned General Michel Aoun as president of Lebanon in October 1990, he was commander in chief of the pro-Syrian side of the Lebanese army.

"You were at the head of the column of tanks which, with the help of the Syrian army, put an end - in a bloodbath - to what you and your friends called the 'rebellion' of General Aoun. Rene Mouawad was against this operation, and that's one of the main reasons he was killed... And I saw, on the television screen in front of me, General Aoun's soldiers murdered with a bullet in the head... You participated in a crime against... the army and against Michel Aoun." Why go to the theatre in Beirut, the Lebanese must be asking, when they can listen to the cabinet in session?