Just a quick thought on Lebanon’s fate

I may repeat others and also myself in what follows but hey, who said history is not an endless repetition of mistakes. Here are some notions that could be taught in any introductory class on Lebanese politics:

1- Different nations, different turfsLebanon is based on a confessional system. Meaning that division of political prerogatives is dependent on the different sects that make up this country’s society. This creates the possibility to have several “national” identity because different point of view or political affiliations radically affects your conceptualization of the nation or more simply said, your turf. For example yesterday, there was the celebration of the liberation of the South (that was occupied by Israel). One part of the country did not really give any importance (of course people outside the south) to this event, while other celebrates it as the most important day in their life. You can just check the press for a quick signal of identity stereotypes. If you pick the French rag L’Orient le Jour there was some sort of a by-line on the first page saying, “yup a couple of years ago the south was liberated”, with a very lousy article (with no clear purpose whatsoever) on the last page of local news including a stupid interview of hezbollahi and communist fighters. The more Arabist daily Assafir had a full supplement with many articles on the glory of such an event, and its first page swallowed by a picture of happy “southerners” celebrating liberation around a narguileh and some tea. Why is that so? Simple: the French rag is invaded by Christian bourgeois conservatives, and Assafir is more leftist/Syrian-sympathizing in its leaning and tends to forget about the horrible regressive realities of Lebanon.

2- incompetence, opportunism, or simply extremism? In Lebanon you have leaders that are either incompetent or opportunistic or simply ideological extremists. And the constitutionally deadlocked situation (prime-minister/president divide) just worsens the situation. On one end you have an incompetent paranoid president who every time he hears the word “Hariri” he just fulminates and smells bad economic deals. He may be right in most cases but he can’t just go on like this because sometimes (rarely enough) these guys have some good propositions. On the other hand, when it is not about money and economic influence then you have other paranoid figures such as the Christian right, a very diverse heteroclite group indeed (because they are so rightist that they hate each others, and each group wants to rule on the other), or the Shiite Islamic group Hezbollah who just can’t figure out how he can detach himself from his Iranian backing. Well, as long as the Christian think of themselves as having a strategic ally such as the US (needless to say that the US does not even know for the most part who these guys are), the Shiite will continue grouping behind Tehran.

3- In general they have been selected out of a lack of choice. The last legislative elections show the strength of what just said. It also shows the ambiguity of concepts such as “freedom” or “democracy”. You’re certainly not free when in Beirut, you can’t vote simply because nobody presented himself against the Hariri list. You’re certainly not free when in the north, you vote for the Lebanese Forces (right wing Christian isolationists) or Hariri (Sunni house that is trying to get a political monopoly on this sect, famous for their cronyism) just because you’re sick of traditional cronyism or just because you’re an extreme right-wing Christian. You’re not free in any case for the simple reason that you’re locked in a position where you have to choose someone from your sect and this is always a sub-optimal choice than if you could choose from anyone in the crowd.

6- Well, and this is when real trouble starts, once either incompetent or opportunistic leaders are ruling (which is what is happening today) you can’t really displace them just because you happened to realize they were crooks. Why? Because you’re a divided people that can’t really unite in order to drive out those you elected. You can scream and hail your democratic credentials on all roofs, claim that you’re the most superior country in the Arab world, that you’re a haven of co-existence and a beacon of liberty especially now that the “real cancer” is out, namely Syria, but you simply can’t actually drive out those who are showing that all of this is not true, because you’re simply profoundly divided. That’s you’re “consensual democracy” curse!

7- Just to make sure that you understand what I’m saying: Social mobilization in Lebanon is practically impossible. Hezbollah, Aoun’s movement, and some heteroclite syndicates may be an embryonic start but there is still a far way to go, namely to transform these parties to comprehensive Lebanese parties. I’ll write more on Hezbollah and Aoun’s movement in later posts. These two groups have schizophrenic attitudes, they are close to the plight of the people at large but they are still profoundly sectarian. But in the absence of a state that can bridge the sectarian gap, these are the rules of the game. This is why things should start from the State.

8- Bring the state back in All in all in Lebanon you have: opportunism and corruption countered by ideological sectarian extremism. Sometimes you can have corrupted individuals that are also sectarian extremists. Bringing the state back in is the real challenge, but as long as you have political immature parties (maturity here measured as having a realistic notion of what a state should assume). Fear nourished by division hampers social unity; in turn this keeps the same exploiters in power. And by keeping incompetents in power, you will never have any problem solved, quite the contrary, division will be nurtured just because it suits their interest (whether because their staunch ideologues, or hungry for capital). You can thus only count on a couple of enlightened individuals to turn the whole thing upside down. Or maybe, who knows, some political parties will develop and do some cross sectarian work, but the chance for this to happen is just too slim.

9- The power of ideology When you see theft, instead of becoming socially active and reach out to “the other” in order to stop exploitation you end up either praying more or fortifying your hate of “the other”. You typically think: “If I am poor, it’s not because of the guy I put in power because he believe in my god, we have the same principle, we belong to the “same culture”. It is actually because of this other guy that does not believe in my god”. Or let’s say you don’t think in such a stupid way, you still think that if anything good happens to “the other”, it is at your expense. So sleep my little lazy intellectual, it was always shown that laziness breeds extremism, narrowness, and closer. This in turn breeds hatred. Welcome to Lebanon.

the inevitable neocon

Anyone that tells me that neoconservative have not much influence in US foreign policy should think twice. They just have been re-allocated for the most part.
It does not mean that they’re not in deep trouble, as theirre re-assessment of the Iraqi venture would suggest.

At last US shows weakness

which is quite of a scary thing really…
Condoleeza Rice stating that Iran could be a “stabilizing force in Iraq” could mean two things in the US foreign policy psyche:
1- ok we admit that we can’t really do anything about Iran, thing are getting pretty messy in Iraq.
2- we may hit Iran, but we have no clue of what to do next.

And so god forbid in both cases because what’s going to happen if Iran plays a more important role in Iraq can be as scary than if the US (or Israel) hit Iran.

allah yi sa3ed allah yi 3in!

Who’ll get this piece of the political pie?

Now that the political structure of Iraq looks more and more like Lebanon, i.e. sects, tribes and clans fighting for their own turf, playing a zero-sum game under the stupid eyes of the US occupation forces, it is important to keep track of the main point of contention.
And one of them is what to do with the oil present in Kurdish area? Conflicts are now out on the open it seems:

Iraq faces clash with Kurds over oil deals
By Steve Negus (Financial Times)
Published: May 23 2006

Iraq oilIraq’s newly appointed oil minister said on Tuesday that the central government should handle all contracts related to petroleum exploration and production, putting him on a potential collision course with the autonomous Kurdish region which has recently begun to develop its own oil resources.
Hussein al-Shahristani also said at a Baghdad news conference that the country hoped to pass an investment law soon to bring in foreign investment to upgrade the country’s battered oil infrastructure.
“Any oil production, exports or exploration should be handled by the [Baghdad] ministry of oil,” said Mr Shahristani, a member of the Shia-led United Iraqi Alliance, in one of his first statements since a national unity government was announced at the weekend.
He had earlier said that Iraq’s new government needed to get “national agreement” from regional oil officials on ambiguous articles in the constitution governing investment.
Under their own interpretation of the constitutional articles governing oil resources, the northern Kurdistan regional government signed an agreement in November with a Norwegian company to begin the first new drilling in post-invasion Iraq. Since then, a Canadian and a Turkish company have also began drilling in the north.
Mr Shahristani also emphasised the importance of foreign investment, in statements apparently aimed at international companies concerned that a new government with a heavy component of Shia Islamists and Sunni Arab nationalists might draft legislation that limits the kind of contracts they might sign.

mon petit doigt l’a dit

Yedot Ahronot and other newspapers are reporting that some “sources” predict that

Hizbullah may be planning to activate sleeper cells in New York and other big cities to stage an attack as the nuclear showdown with Iran heats up.

You know I sometimes wonder who falls more for conspiracy theories, the Arabs or the Americans?
And of course if the source is someone like right-wing extreme xenophobe now so-called terrorist expert (ex-phalangist and what have you) Walid Phares then I don’t how credible this is:

“Hizbullah is a group that the U.S. has to be concerned about in the current climate. It is already coming under heavy pressure by the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, and Ahmadinejad is under pressure on the nuclear issue,” the Post quoted terror expert Walid Phares as saying.
“They are well funded, very well organized, and we assume that their penetration of the U.S. is deeper than al Qaeda’s. It is only rational for the U.S. to think in pre-emptive ways. An attack here is clearly in the realm of the possible,” Phares said.

He said! it is “in the realm of the possible” so why wait?
ok so what are the leads?

The nationwide effort to neutralize Hizbullah sleepers in the United States, headed by the FBI and the Justice Department’s counterterrorism divisions, was launched in January in response to reports that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with leaders of Hizbullah and other terror groups during a visit to Syria.
Among those attending the meetings, according to reports, was Hizbullah’s chief operational planner, Imad Mugniyah, who is responsible for the bombings of the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and who, more recently, provided Iraqi guerrillas with sophisticated explosive devices.

Great stuff! so just because one of the guys that was there when the US marines barracks were bombed in Beirut was also meeting with Ahmadinejad lately it means that something is cooking!
and this the trigger:

Hizbullah has so far limited its activities in the United States to fund-raising and criminal enterprises. The FBI has already taken down two major rings, one in Charlotte, N.C., and one in Detroit, in which members were smuggling cigarettes, Viagra and baby formula, and sending profits back to Hizbullah,” the report said.

So it seems very logical that Hezbollah goes from petty trafficking to “awakening terrorist cells”. This means that all the latin American gangs, African American, Japanese, etc. are potential terrorists!

But what’s important in this story is to see how from virtually nothing, i.e. “some source” thinking whatever they are paid to think, the article has created a semblant of a case for the potential danger Hezbollah could represent.
These are but rudimentary features of how you end up building a solid enemy in order to act swiftly.

…and justice for all!

Syria issues warrant for Lebanese MP Jumblatt

A Syrian military prosecutor issued an arrest warrant Monday for a prominent Lebanese lawmaker charged with inciting the US to invade Syria, a lawyer said.

Syrian authorities referred the warrant to Interpol, requesting that Walid Jumblatt by brought to Syria “by force,” attorney Hossam al-Deen Habash told The Associated Press.

Habash, who originally pressed the case against Jumblatt, said the warrant was based on summons reported by Lebanese newspapers, which Syria considered as “proof of notifying” Jumblatt.

Lebanon’s prosecutor general received the court summons for Jumblatt and two other men, but has yet to formally notify them – a process that can take weeks or months. After formal notification, the three have a week to appear before the Syrian court, Habash said.

The lawsuit began after Jumblatt gave an interview to The Washington Post in January, in which he responded to a question about what he wanted from the United States by saying: “You came to Iraq in the name of the majority. You can do the same thing in Syria.”

How to sound good

Israel has supposedly decided to give 11 million dollars for medical and health aid in the occupied territory from the initial 55 million dollas it confiscated from the newly democratically elected Hamas-dominated parliament. These 55 million dollars were proceeds from taxes and customs collected in the occupied territories, the due democratic right of this government.

In the meantime Abu Mazen is parading in Sharm el Sheikh with Israelis who think he’s politically obsolete…

… How politically perverse can it get??

fascistic tendencies or political symbolic manipulation

Some Iranian neocon (Amer Taheri) has spread the rumor that Iran is preparing to pass a law that will require christians and jews to wear a badge distinguishing them from Muslim.
That’s exactly the kind of story you would want to pass in the “western” hemisphere in order to scare the shit out of traumatized-post-WWII-citizens.
So is it true or is it just another way to corner the Iranian regime from an ideological angle?
The story was strongly denied by Iranian officials and even by the only Jew parliamentary member in Iran.

Sam Kermanian, of the U.S.-based Iranian-American Jewish Federation, said in an interview from Los Angeles that he had contacted members of the Jewish community in Iran — including the lone Jewish member of the Iranian parliament.
They denied any such measure was in place.

Still, media reports denying or confirming abound and the content of each are highly contradictory.

The Washington Post ran an article clarifying a bit what really happened. A law was passe encouraging Muslim dress with no specific mention of religious minorities.

“Such a plan has never been proposed or discussed in parliament. Such news, which appeared abroad, is an insult to religious minorities here,” Iranian Jewish lawmaker Morris Motamed told the AP.

It was a good year for the Israelis

Les exportations israéliennes vers des pays arabes ont augmenté de 34,5 % durant le premier trimestre de 2006 par rapport à la même période de l’an dernier pour atteindre 57 millions de dollars, a indiqué hier l’Institut israélien des exportations. Vingt-sept entreprises israéliennes ont notamment exporté vers l’Irak essentiellement pour fournir l’armée américaine en équipements de télécommunications. Ces ventes à l’Irak ne se sont toutefois élevées qu’à 320 000 dollars. Pour l’ensemble de l’année, les ventes de ce genre en Irak ont atteint 780 000 dollars, a ajouté l’institut. Selon cet organisme, 1 343 exportateurs israéliens sont actifs en Jordanie, soit une baisse d’un quart par rapport à l’an dernier. Le nombre d’exportateurs vers l’Égypte a en revanche plus que doublé à 257. Le volume des ventes a pour sa part bondi de 148,5 % à 26,5 millions de dollars sous forme de textiles, et de produits chimiques et pétroliers raffinés.

Lebanese media reveal its true face

At last we needed an event such as the one occuring today to show how “intellectual” life (concerning social issues) is completely rotten, and have been so for a while now.

Whether one thinks that politics have to do with today’s demonstrations in Beirut, grouping Hezbollah, Aoun’s movement, Amal, the Communists, the various Syndicates and Unions in Lebanon, it is still remarkable to see that for the first time in Lebanon, people are moving for social issues.

Now, no one moves if there aren’t any political motives. If the elites moving the pieces of the chess board are using social and economic issues in order to topple a by the way moribund government then where is no problem with that. At least people are getting together not in order to scream hatred slogans like “out the enemy”, “we’re the imbued with our national pride”, etc. but in order to ask the government to stop thinking the public sphere is a cash cow.

Even if the government is doing some good things, and they actually have some good projects underway, it does not mean that these people can’t feel worried judging from the current economic situation in Lebanon.

Anyway, even if there still controversy on the above points, nothing can explain that when I turn the TV on there is not one single channel that shows the demonstrations in downtown. When the 14th of March people were chanting their hatred slogans and throwing garbage all over the place TVs were live the whole day broadcasting the event.

This means that either TVs are owned by someone and this someone does not want us to see stuff going on, or that journalists are so brainwashed that they think that what’s going on is not worthy mentioning it because they despise it or can’t explain it according to their static principles.

At the press level, L’Orient Le Jour is simply shameful.
This was the main headline today: “Une manifestation pour aider la Syrie à ébranler le cabinet Siniora”.

Who are you guys? the actual defenders of Siniora (maybe because he’s busy begging the British, because he could not get much out of the Americans)? Do you think that people who want a better life are agents of Syria?

In any case, nobody to blame, because fifteen years of a culture of demonizing Syria by putting it behind every little thing happening in Lebanon is simply bearing its fruits today.

Check out the editorial of L’Orient:

Pourquoi (et plus exactement pour quoi) la manifestation d’aujourd’hui ? Les organisateurs eux-mêmes seraient bien en peine de le dire, maintenant qu’a été supprimé en toute hâte l’objet du litige, c’est-à-dire ce projet mort-né de contractualisation de la fonction publique.
Alors pas de mobile convaincant, plus lieu de défendre dans la rue les droits sacrés des serviteurs de l’État et autres travailleurs ? Qu’importe, oubliez le pour : c’est de toute évidence contre le gouvernement, le premier depuis la nouvelle indépendance, le gouvernement des réformes, de la décolonisation, de la réapparition sur la scène internationale, de la pleine coopération avec l’enquête onusienne sur l’attentat de février 2005, le gouvernement de la délimitation des frontières et des relations diplomatiques avec la Syrie, que l’assaut est lancé.

So there is no social demands only political demands. All these unions are working in order to topple the government and get married to Syria! See how he magnifies the government: The government of reforms! the government of decolonization (that’s a good one!!)!! The government of reappearing on the international scene (yes some Lebanese are thanking extremist John Bolton for that at the moment we speak, see my previous post).

Anyway, this is what’s left of intellectual life in Lebanon. If Gramsci was alive today, he would have definitely been scared of the Lebanese media case: A strong hegemonic worlview that everything approaching Syria is bad, everything that does not put “national” principles to the forefront is bad, and the hegemonic collective denial of social and economic imperatives.

Of course in the case of l’Orient it’s simply incompetence. Like thinking that the “first new government after occupation” is about reforms. That’s just plain ignorance of basic political issues.

On the other hand, the article in Al Safir (which is by the way the least worrying newspaper in Lebanon), by Nour el Din Sate3 highlights the main shortcomings of today’s heteroclite movement: The syndicates are fragmented (on confessional lines sometimes) and not really organized.

Also, a note on the side, it remains to be seen how much Aoun and Nasrallah are ready to put their “confessional” differences aside, and how this affects the mobilization of an already very confessionalized constituency.

the slave’s excess of zeal

Some 14 of March people are going to thank right-wing hawkish, unilateralist and extremist, John Bolton, the US ambassador at the UN. From the Lebanese Forces, the Mustaqbal party, Jumblatt’s party, Fares Sa3eyd, and Dory Chamoun himself representing his little tribal party:

غادر وفد من بيروت مساء أمس متوجها الى واشنطن تلبية لدعوة من ومجلس في مقاطعة اميركا الشمالية.
ويضم الوفد النائب انطوان زهرا ()، النائب غازي يوسف ()، النائب السابق الدكتور فارس سعيد، رئيس دوري شمعون والمقدم شريف فياض ().
وسيشارك الوفد في حفل التكريم الذي يقيمه للسفير الاميركي في الأمم المتحدة جون بولتون الجمعة 12 ايار الجاري.


killing for financial reasons

A Fortune magazine article puts Al Madina money laundering scandal at the heart of Hariri’s assassination. Although information about Al Madina’s scandal could be correct, I don’t think that Maher el Assad and others wanted to kill Hariri because of it. Look for the political reasons I would say. Even if the Syrian leadership is implicated in the assassination, the reasons have to be strategic at the political level.
Fortune wanted to write a nice thriller by linking boring money laundering issues to more exciting bombing and blood-spilling stories.

Just one quick thought: according to the article the now-dead Ghazi Kenaan (who was the Syrian ‘superintendent’ of lebanon for quite some time) was implicated in money laundering activity. but Kenaan was very close to Hariri. This means that Hariri must have known something about the network and although willing to accuse the culprits that he does not fancy, he wouldn’t have compromised his close friend. So I don’t really think that Hariri was that excited in bringing Al Madina’s scandal to the forefront of public scrutiny, especially if it seems that some Saudis were implicated in the illegal activities (according to an anonymous source…to verify).

UPDATE : I just read Angry Arab’s take on this one. It complements what I am saying. I mean Hariri was maybe on top of the corruption ladder let’s not forget.

When will they learn?

According to Assafir (yesterday and today), A Syrian Muslim Brotherhood delegation visited Lebanon several times, and information leaked by our political superstar Walid Jumblatt. So much so, that one of the members of the brotherhood resides in Lebanon! the three others came from Britain where the “Superintendent” Ali Sadr Al Bayanouni stays.

Fortunately enough, we had the Safir to put this in its headlines on the first page. None of the major Lebanese newspapers mentioned this very crucial piece of information (It’s not a coincidence that they are all labeled as pro-Hariri or simply anti-Syrian!).
So the Muslim Brotherhood visited all the different political forces in Lebanon. It is even said that they visited Hezbollah (of course the latter denies vehemently). It also seems that Lebanese prime minister’s visit to Damascus is “not on the agenda” anymore. So far so good, current Lebanese statesmen have fared badly on all fronts: the economy, the local political stability, the foreign relations!
What next? Now even Saudi Arabia is getting pissed.

Useless to say that the Syrian regime is very much pissed. Et pour cause!
What’s going on here? Lebanese politicians receive with open arms Syrian dissidents who belong to a party that is most likely to get a hold of power is anything happens in Syria, a party that has already struck a deal with another ‘exiled’, Syrian ex-vice president Abd Halim Khaddam (who by the way was an uncanny crony capitalist, who could make a fortune out of exploiting influential positions thanks to former Lebanese prime minister Hariri).

And who leaks it? Jumblatt! Nothing could be more politically calculated, a boutade to the current Syrian leadership. Was it advised by our respective embassies (American or French)? I wouldn’t doubt it for a minute. Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t someone trying to fuck up (yes i want to use these words here) any type of Lebanese-Syrian rapprochement. Whether foreign or Lebanese, there are parties that have interests in doing so. But rest assured Lebanese are the big losers in this game. I hope Jumblatt will understand this one day.