Everything, it seemed, was on Syria's side at the talks on Lebanon's future. Logic. Muscle. Political spadework. But one factor not reckoned on was a crusty Lebanese warlord named Suleiman Franjieh. On his home turf, they call him the Sphynx. He doesn't talk much. And he has a habit of getting his way.Skip to next paragraph
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Suleiman Franjieh, specifically - and Lebanon's traditional politics of sect, blood-feud, and vendetta, generally - seem to have spoiled what the Syrians hoped would be a ''historically'' successful Lebanese reconciliation conference.
By late Tuesday as the talks came to a close, Syrian Vice-President Abdel Halim Khaddam, formally an ''observer'' here, did seem to have succeeded in arranging an accord on a strengthened Lebanese cease-fire.
But he was reported to have finally failed to orchestrate an accord on overall Lebanese political reform, settling instead for formation of a multipartisan committee to draw up such a new power-sharing agreement in the six months ahead.
''At best this seems to mean, say, two months of relative calm on the ground, '' was one typical remark from a conference delegate. A second conference source was far bleaker, saying that in the absence of an agreed political document here , fighting in Lebanon seems bound to worsen.
Others cautioned that any reliable talk of what was agreed should best await announcement that the talks were over, and a communique was released. This, at time of writing, had not yet occurred.
But hopes for a more detailed accord on Christian-Muslim power-sharing did seem to have crashed on what one source close to the Syrians termed ''the very doorstep of an agreement'' late Monday.
Painstakingly drafted, this paper was read out for what virtually all conference delegates assumed would be a routine OK in a session of Lebanon's nine rival political chieftains. Neither Christians nor Muslims were especially happy with the accord - one thing, from Syria's point of view, which seemed to recommend it.
But grumbling, it was assumed, was one thing. Defying the Syrians, who have more than 40,000 troops in Lebanon while other outside powers like the United States and Israel are looking for a lower-key role, would be quite another matter.
Then, virtually the instant the reading of the draft accord was complete, Mr. Franjieh objected. This was a surprise to all present, if only because Franjieh, alone among the traditional Maronite Christian leaders here, has been generally close to the Syrians since they entered Lebanon to end its 1975-76 civil war.
Militarily, Syria enjoys free rein in the northern part of Lebanon - Franjieh's home turf. Yet Franjieh's move offered a reminder of how intractable any outside mediator is apt to find the old-time rules of Lebanese politics.
For one thing, religion still is a crucial factor no matter how intent the younger, non-Christian leaders here say they are on secularizing the country. The rule holds especially true for the Maronites, dominant for decades, but now demographically and militarily outweighed by a coalition of Muslims and Druzes.
''On Maronite issues, a Maronite is always a Maronite,'' remarked one ranking Lebanese official after Franjieh's move. ''Franjieh may be 'pro-Syrian.' But he is, above all, a Maronite.''
His main objection to the draft accord was that it sharply reduced the power of the presidency. This is an office that is, under the sectarian system, Maronite, and a position Franjieh himself held from 1970 to 1976.
Yet above all, the politics of blood-feud and vendetta seemed at play. Franjieh, as one Muslim delegate put it privately, ''is getting his revenge on the Gemayels.''
The Gemayels include the late Bashir Gemayel, assassinated in 1982 before he could take office as Lebanese president. It was Bashir's militia that launched an attack in 1978 that left Franjieh's son, daughter-in-law, and grandchild dead.
The Gemayels include Amin, Lebanon's current President. When Franjieh himself was under Muslim pressure during the 1975-76 war, Amin briefly lobbied in parliament for a resolution to get him to step down six months early.
''Franjieh,'' says a source here close to the Syrians, ''has never forgotten this. He is determined to get even.''
Oddly enough, Franjieh's rebellion pleased no one more than two non-Christian leaders - Druze chief Walid Jumblatt and Shiite leader Nabih Berri.
Both had grudgingly decided that they must go along with a Syrian-backed compromise that stopped short of their desire to secularize Lebanon and devolve power from a much older generation of Maronite and Muslim leaders here.
''I was nicely listening,'' said Mr. Berri Tuesday, with poorly disguised satisfaction. ''The voice (of dissent) came from the other side.''