Woman win case to pass on citizenship

A woman, Samira Sowaidan has won a case, with her lawyer Souha Ismail, to be able to pass on her Lebanese citizenship to her four kids. Samira got married to an Egyptian man working at the Beirut port in 1985, and currently lives in Borj Hammoud. Her husband died in 1994, and this automatically meant that her kids were born in a country and lived all their life in it while paying annual charges for living visas or ‘iqamat’. At some point she could not pay this amount anymore while piling up the number of jobs she had to do to get enough money, now that her husband was not here to support.
It took an energetic and determined lawyer, and a judge famous for his ‘humanistic’ approach to ruling, John Qazi, to create a new status-quo when available texts clearly did not give the possibility for a woman to pass on her Lebanese nationality.
So now the decision is in the matters of the State, i.e. the prime minister in this case. Will they accept the judge’s ruling?

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Read to know the world

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By now it is all out in the news, that Druze leader Walid Jumblatt met yesterday with Hizbullah SG Hassan Nasrallah. Beyond all the political implications of this meeting that was anyway foreseen given the shifts in Jumblatt position, I want to point out a very interesting development that happened during this meeting. According to Al-akhbar’s account, Jumblatt offered Nasrallah one of Tariq Ali’s books on Pakistan. Now I know from my own sources (that can always be questioned of course) that Nasrallah loves reading right-wing Political books on Israel, ex-army or politicians memoirs, American and Israeli think-tanks pundits, and other Huntingtonians, as well as the Zionist intellectual sphere. But does Jumblatt’s gift mean some kind of peace offering? Is it akin to when tribes would sit and seal reconciliation with gifts of sorts (say goats or lambs, or precious artifacts)? Or is it just another way of saying: “I’m keeping up with news, they’re basically focusing on Pakistan and Afghanistan right now, I know what the Americans are up to”. All is speculations of course, just imagining scenarios for the new Jumblatti motion picture.

A box office success…

… Karim Makdisi nails it:

Lebanon’s June 7 national election was a box office success. It had it all: shady politicians, foreign intrigue, bribes, beautiful women, meddling religious figures, sectarian agitation, recently exposed spy rings, fundamentalists collaborating with capitalists, the poor and oppressed voting for the rich and privileged. It was a brilliantly marketed production with more twists and turns than a Hitchcock thriller, and an unpredictable finale in which the ‘good’ guys (the pro-US, anti-Iran, pro-‘moderate’ Arab, pro-‘peace process,’ March 14 coalition headed by Prime Minister-in-waiting Sa’ad Hariri, son of assassinated former PM Rafiq Hariri) defeated the ‘bad’ guys (the pro-Resistance, pro-‘Axis of Evil,’ anti-corruption Opposition coalition led by Hizbullah and Christian leader Michel Aoun) to retain their Parliamentary majority. All this accomplished with few security problems, record voter turn out, generally magnanimous winners and dignified losers. No wonder Western elections observers were smiling from ear to ear as they proclaimed, “free and fair” from the rooftops. They were, in the words of Jimmy Carter, so “proud” of the natives, who showed that they could be “democratic” and even managed to re-produce the patented “third world” grin and blue-ink-thumb of Iraq 2005 fame.

And see I’m not the only one who says it (although he writes it much better than me:

All in all, 80-90% of the parliamentary seats on offer had already been decided de facto prior to election day: most districts with clear Sunni or Shia’a Muslim majorities voted in their districts with frightening uniformity and discipline for the March 14 coalition and the Opposition respectively, and only the mixed Christian districts were genuinely in play with fierce competition between the two sides. The focus on Christian districts, in turn, brought out the kind of jingoism and chauvinism that has long characterized Christian elite discourse and inflated self-regard, with each side insisting it represented and defended the true interests of (Christian) Lebanon.Post-election analysis within elite Christian circles has thus centered on which side had won in the “pure” or “clean” districts, meaning those areas with Christian-majority electorate unsullied by Muslim voters. Under these conditions it is no surprise that fascist-lite candidates, notably from the March 14 Lebanese Forces and Phalanges Party, gained seats by recalling their old project of dividing Lebanon into ‘pure’ sectarian cantons.

To read also is Raed’s Gramscian insight on how the elections were doomed to be biased towards the majority viewing how the media and producers of knowledge are structured.

Meow …

This report is intended solely for the official use of the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors, or any agency or organization receiving a copy directly from the Office of Inspector General. No secondary distribution may be made, in whole or in part, outside the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors, by them or by other agencies or organizations, without prior authorization by the Inspector General under the U.S. Code, 5 U.S.C. 552. Improper disclosure of this report may result in criminal, civil, or administrative penalties.

Now Lebanon is produced by Quantum Communications, some of whose contracts with the Middle East Broadcasting Networks (originally the Middle East Television Network, but renamed in 2005) are described in the OIG-DOS report sourced above. The report was conducted due to ‘irregularities’ in the contracting process.

MTN/MBN was created in 2003 by the Emergency War Supplemental under the authority and funding of the Board of Broadcasting Governors, a US government-funded ‘independent agency.’ Soon thereafter, al Hurra was on the air. It has a budget of about $100 million a year from the BBG’s total budget of about $700 million (Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Sawa, Radio Farda, Radio Free Asia, Radio Marti, TV Marti, as well as al Hurra). There may also be additional revenue streams, but I am not sure.

Quantum Communications, along with Brand Central (which also received MTN/MBN contracts), Vertical Middle East and Firehorse Films comprise the Quantum Group, which is headed by Eli Khoury, who also directs Saatchi-Levant. He is also a founder of the Lebanese Renaissance Foundation, a DC-based group that lobbies the US federal government. The LRF has paid DLA Piper about $1 million for lobbying services since 2007 (the DOJ’s very incomplete online FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act) database includes no Lebanese principals — Brazzaville has five!).

Quantum has had a slew of corporate and government clients (Jordan, Lebanon, IDAL, etc.), so it is difficult to know how much of their business comes from the US government. Perhaps very little, perhaps a great deal.

The IOG-DOS refers only to some initial MTN/MBN contracts in 2004 worth some $4.5 million, so it is unclear how much business Quantum has done through al Hurra. Saatchi-Levant also won a State Department contract for the now-defunct Hi Magazine.

Quantum has also been engaged in Iraq. For example, it has produced a series of television ads under the name of a phantom organization, the Future Iraq Assembly. The ads are available on Youtube and are similar to ads that also ran in Lebanon. Most observers believe the spots are funded by either the Defense or State Department.

It is unclear if Quantum was involved in any contracts related to al-Iraqiya. The station, part of the Pentagon “Free Iraq Media” plan, was initially the product of SAIC and served the needs of the Coalition Provisional Authority. In 2004, however, the Pentagon awarded a new contract for Iraq media to the Harris Group, who subcontracted the work out to the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) and a Kuwaiti media company.

Interestingly, Firehorse Films seems to have been around since the early 1990s, producing documentaries about cultural matters. Anyway, post-2003, it has produced a film about al-Zarqawi for LBC, a documentary about religious minorities in the Middle East (yes, the Maronites play a starring role) for al Jazeera, and a documentary about the life and death of Arab nationalism. While I have no idea if these productions have made up the bulk of its work, they do suggest an interesting political line, no?

Is it art, the ‘market,’ political conviction or government subcontracts that is driving demand? I just cannot say, but imagine that like most collective human endeavors, it is a mixture of all those things.

More to come on the Pravdas of the Pradas.

WTF …

The Asahi newspaper reported today Italian police found bond certificates concealed in the bottom of luggage the two individuals were carrying on a train that stopped in Chiasso, near the Swiss border, on June 3.

The undeclared bonds included 249 certificates worth $500 million each, the Asahi said, citing Italian authorities. The case was reported earlier in Italian newspapers Il Giornale and La Repubblica and by the Ansa news agency.

That’s $124 billion. In somebody’s suitcase. WTF.

The return of the right

I don’t know if this has gone unnoticed, but there has been something strangely disenchanting about local Christian politics in modern day Lebanon.

I will list a couple of disjointed points:

1- The Loubnanouhom paradigm is gaining institutional currency. Once a remote petty reactionary movement led by the son of a disgruntled leader followed by a plethora university followers, now the leader of Lebanon-old party, the Kataeb, and a parliamentary member, Sami Gemayel may well be the representative of Christian isolationism for the decades to come. As this article makes clear, Gemayel will still brandish the federalist option as a suitable system for the Lebanese tiny hell-hole of 10452km2. I remember having this discussion with a friend who said that these guys will always be marginal to the Lebanese political system. That was without counting Christian betise. In a matter of a bit more than a year, Sami Gemayel is now at the top of the most reactionary and elitist political organization of the country. Today Loubnanouna is the Kataeb party: Young, re-energized, very elitist, anti-Muslim, and ready to impress.

2- The Tayyar/Hizbullah is not just being undermined in the economy of texts, meaning, and knowledge, but is most probably the one trigger of the winning of more radical Christian right-wing brands. Basically, Christians were not prepared to understand such rapprochement, it is just anathema to their different cultural viewpoints. I won’t cite here the multitudes of media propaganda that kept on bashing this very unusual political step judging from Lebanese historical practices. From my own experience, I felt that whether coming from Tayyar or from Hizbullah, both parties had a very strong interest at keeping a solid alliance that reached down social networks and localized activism. But what is scary here is to see that Christian chauvinism has trumpeted the culture of this agreement, and has actually rejected. Hizbullah is still a weird and unknown beast for many Christians from Tayyar who if anything do bear the marks of historical Christian isolationism. This is not a condemnation I insist. This is the very core of Lebanese first national narrative: the Maronite re-writing of history of geography and community. It just cannot be otherwise, unless you do away with On what parties like the Lebanese Forces and Kataeb are betting by allying with Hariri, I still can’t figure it out. But I find it hard to believe that they could have found an admiration for Sunni politics, even though Sunni politics has dramatically change throughout the years, going from a form of contesting the very existence of the Lebanese state and its Maronite dominance to adopting a virulent the concept of Lebanon, change the national mythologies.

3- One of the reasons why Hizbullah is hardly accepted is because they present new national stories that are quite different from the earlier Christian even though quite dependent on them. Hizbullah’s weapon is not really an issue in itself because it is the way one perceives these weapons that changes the picture: Hizbullah is seen as contradicting actual (sanctified, official, etc) Lebanese national priorities. Whereas Hizbullah supporters and allies find it very logical that Hizbullah has weapons for ‘national’ reasons, whatever the reasons it makes sense to them, in the same vein others are truly scared of that. But the scary aspect of it is caused by a cultural factor. Countless times did I have discussions with Christians (when I say Christian I talk of people belonging to a specific social ‘niche’ like me for example), who after showing the rationale behind the weapons (Israeli threats, resistance, etc) would quickly revert to the argument, “but we don’t want to live in an Islamic state” or “we want to still be able to drink alcohol” etc. That is the frightening part, even if baseless.

4- But still Hizbullah will have to come to terms with that. If they want to be part of the Lebanese game (i.e. nation), which is surely what they want, they will have to accept Christian petty fears. But as I already mentioned here, the biggest competitor to Hizbullah is Tayyar at the end of the day. This may be exacerbated now that the Tayyar/Hizbullah alliance is being shaken from its foundations. I don’t think thought that this alliance will fall apart, but will surely assume other priorities. Maybe more interesting ones. Let’s see.

Royal Math: One Plane = One Election …

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When his Royal Highness needs to get some work done, he can take the elevator up to his boardroom and play with the touch screen TV’s or the holographic projection system.

And finally in the lineup of ludicrous additions – get this – the well being room has a floor made from a giant screen, showing what the plane is flying over.

Total price? About $488 Million Dollars.

Via M.

I suppose each Royal has his preferred plaything: a pimped out airplane, a French politician, a Mediterranean country of four million — you know, basically whatever tickles one’s fancy.

Anyway, I thought about doing a post about how impressed I was with Saad Hariri’s performance. I felt that I really underestimated his leadership of the Sunni community and Future’s ability to effect discipline on the herds of cats that roam Lebanon’s plains.

Such an analysis will have to wait, though, until we can tally the cost of Lebanon’s election for Hariri and the Saudis (over $700 million in this account). Of course, we will have to add whatever the Americans threw into the effort and then subtract whatever the increase from the Iranians. And still we need to know more about Aoun’s pockets (do they still accept French Francs in Lebanon???). Actually, call me crazy, but I would not be surprised if a lot of Arab money (including some Saudi) ended up in Opposition hands.

If after making these adjustments, it turns out that this election was several times more expensive for the Saudis than the previous one, then M14 is more shaky than ever.

I don’t intend this post as a diss of Hariri (I find the idea of Saudi remote control as dumb as Syrian remote control or Iranian remote control — think transactionally, people!). And, frankly it requires great political skill to bilk one’s patron — foreign or not, in Lebanon or not. One must not only open the purse, but also earn the trust to spend the coin (politics everywhere is about money, but it also about access and trust — these last two are what one might call the human dimension). Rafik had that trust, but it took him a lifetime of strenuous and scrupulous effort to build it up.

It is still unclear if Saad has fully gained this inheritance, but he has certainly passed the first hurdle and given that many did not think he would even do that is a credit to his political skills and will undoubtedly earn him greater entree and greater trust in the Saudi realm. In the coming months, we will see if he has made wise purchases on the Lebanese scene (the federalists can, in some ways, be an especially unruly bunch).

And if any of my Lebanese friends are feeling a bit low about any of this, take pride in knowing that your electoral whims are becoming more expensive by the day! That’s gotta be ‘worth’ something, right?

Actually, maybe that’s what independence really is: the moment your vote becomes too expensive for export.

In our globalized economy, however, I wonder if post-colonial ‘states’ can ever erect enough protectionist boundaries to effect such a ‘national’ result. Still, history is a strange midwife so I won’t rule anything out just yet (see, I just might be a M14er after all!!!)

Obviously, the formation of the government will reveal some of this wheeling-and-dealing, but maybe we should also post someone in the south of France next week to see which Lebanese seem especially happy with Sunday’s result.

It may not be whom you would expect.