Lebanon in Syria

The fates of the modern states of Lebanon and Syria are inextricably linked. It is important to read their history not just as was done conventionally that is Syria never fully recognizing Lebanon as an independent state but also the reverse, as Lebanon, or particular segments of the Lebanese political establishment involving and using Syria for its own survival as a small state. During the first half of the twentieth century and until the 1970s, Muslims and pan-Arabists of all creed had difficulty recognizing that Lebanon should be a separate state as such. The civil war forced the Christians to realize that they needed help from the Syrians first when the Phalangists risked defeat against pro Palestinian forces around the second half of the 1970s, second when a section of the Christian establishment had allied with the Syrian help after 1982 Israeli invasion, and third after the Taif agreement of 1982. Even Michel Aoun the staunchest opponent to Taif and the Syrian regime realized that such categorical attitude was detrimental to Lebanon’s strategic advantage.

In the beginning of the 1990s, and after bitter clashes with the Syrian regime, it was Hizbullah’s turn to realize that they could not survive and strive as a resistance force without Syrian geographical strategic positioning, as well as security and logistical support. This brought them closer to other political groups in the country during the 1990s. Then events unfolding after 2005 when the former prime minister Rafic Hariri was assassinated should be understood as a struggle to fill the security vaccum left by the withdrawal of the Syrian army and more importantly the removal of the Lebanese-Syrian security nexus that was built during the post-war period. Hizbullah’s recent intervention in Syria and in Qalamoun in particular should be read in this light, as an effort to create a protective boundary around the small state of Lebanon that the Syrian regime once provided.

Likewise Sunni politics in the post-war period should be read in this way. Hariri needed pax-Syriana to implement his reconstruction program and the various economic (and oh so social) changes that ensued. It is only when he was constantly paralyzed by his political counterpart the President Emile Lahoud, that he urged the Syrians to intervene on his behalf. The Syrians refused given that Lahoud represented the security complex which helped build the pax-Syriana. And yet, it is not even clear if Hariri was fully convinced that Lebanon did not need the Syrian regime. The Hariri-Hizbullah negotiations that took place before he was killed attest to this ambivalence. After 2005, Sunni politics was slowly driven to increased intervention in Syria in trying to work for regime change. This process involved many groups from “moderate” to radical all the way to al-Qaeda and ISIS type. The Arsal episode is a perfect example of the blurred political boundaries between Lebanon and Syria.

The whole point here is to recognize that overall, various Lebanese actors strived to change things to their advantage in Syria just as it was done by Syria in Lebanon. Some day the history of this “intervention” should be written through that lens.

Security Guards and Valet Parking

In Lebanon, I’d say half of the population parks the cars of the other half. And when they are not parking cars, valet youngsters roam around the streets with scooter bikes reserving spots for potential customers.

You also have another sizable portion, serving as security guards for residential areas, political figures, and other “big projects”. Say, Saifi village, or very recently now the Sanayeh gardens. Imagine! Who would have thought that a garden needs a security guard? But in Lebanon all gardens (and there are maybe 3 in total with a maximum of 5 trees in them) have security guards.

But someone might ask what is the relationship between security guards and valet parking. I have to say it took me a while to find it but here it is.

Well, to start with, it makes streets a very unfriendly and unpleasant place to be. Valet parking constantly bully you as you attempt to park in a spot they decided to reserve to themselves. And security guards complain for anything they could invent on the spot in order to demonstrate that walking from here, or parking your car there, is a security hasard,  just to demonstrate that they have some form of power in the most Kafkaesque of fashions.

But most importantly, these are jobs that don’t produce anything socially useful, they don’t promote useful communitarian values. They cultivate relations of subservience of one class to another and reinforce whatever social structure are in place to define different communities (in the case of Lebanon read as the confession).

I’m not a “unionist” preacher, whatever that means, but Lebanese are divided socially and this is reinforced by the way streets are populated, the way streets are uninviting to any human individual who is circulating just to breath air or look around.

People are astonished that confessionalism is so deeply entrenched in Lebanon but confessionalism is in every social act you undertake from the moment you are born until the day you die (and afterwards). And Liberalism as an economic project goes hand in hand with this type of social structure because it makes everything security sensitive which constrains people to fall back on their communities.

Marx was not wrong to think that capitalism wrecks any traditional social system and erects new classes continuously. But liberalism which is the ideological backbone of capitalism is obsessed with security, with domestification, gentrification. It does not care about classes in a material sense but preserves a “culture” of social categories.

More on this later.

Isolationism or Regionalization?

Recently the Phalangist MP Sami Gemayel has proposed to “amend the preamble of the constitution to stipulate Lebanon’s neutrality towards regional conflicts”.

“We request amending the constitution to clearly state that Lebanon must stay neutral towards regional events,” Gemayel said after the weekly meeting of the party’s political bureau. He elaborated: “We are very concerned about Lebanese factions’ participation in the Syrian war and this can lead to transferring the fighting into Lebanon.” “We remind those publicly declaring that they have fighters in Syria, particularly Hizbullah, that they have signed the Baabda Declaration that clearly states we must disassociate Lebanon from regional crises,” the MP noted.

The Baabda declaration took place in June 2012 during one of these so-called “national dialogue sessions”. Whether Lebanon should get involved in regional questions or just adopt an isolationist stance is at the heart of a historical debate that is as old as the existence of the State. Logically enough, the isolationist stance was traditionally endorsed by the Lebanese Christian Right (and still represented by the Phalangist party although recently joined by several other groups). This stance found many enemies whose political existence depended on the resolution or simply the management of regional questions. The coalitions of pro-Palestinian formations, resistance groups against Israeli occupation, pro-Syrian political parties, and so on).

It is not a coincidence that the isolationist stance went well with the famous dictum “Lebanon’s strength is in its weakness” that Pierre Gemayel (again former Phalangist leader and grandfather of the PM Sami Gemayel) declared at some point in the 1970s referring to the multi-confessional nature of the political process and the neutrality position Lebanon strove to enjoy at that time. The event following 1975 were to prove the extent to which this declaration was detrimental to those who found themselves to be Lebanese nationals. It is ironic also, that in the midst of the event following the 1975 debacle, the same party that had adopted an isolationist line had ended up asking for Syrian interference in order to defeat the leftist-Palestinian coalition. Syria was then on an integral part of doing politics in Lebanon. So in order to protect an isolationist/neutral stance the party was forced to ask for a regional cover.

More generally, the paradox of Middle Eastern states is that the more they push for national isolation (for security reasons) the less they are able to confront bigger political forces and thus end up weakening their political bargaining power. The Sunni-Shi’i conflict that has been nurtured gradually since the 1990s is the last mess that threatens to wreck any power the region can accumulate in facing forms of domination. It all started when Iran took precedence in establishing itself as the only regional force that can challenge Israel and the US, a development that left many jealous states and parties across the region. And crucially enough, Iran could only do that because Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas were working together to that effect. These movements are born from the consequence of State ineffectiveness at carrying vital political actions in order to liberate territory and create a strong military deterrence power. Again, the regional nexus permitted local parties to become stronger and voice certain political demands that could not be answered and delivered by local institutions. Whatever one’s stand toward the Syrian uprising (and elsewhere), this development weakens states at the regional at least in the short to mid term as it forces new groups to shorten their attention to “the inside”.

The irony though here is that Middle Eastern countries are not all sticking to a plan of focusing on “the inside” The Gulf and in particular Saudi Arabia and Qatar have tried in all possible ways to challenges Iranian foreign policies by targeting its proxy, first Hamas and Hizbullah, then the Syrian state. This regional war cannot be dissociated from its potentiality of boosting certain states or political formations over others that do have regional agendas. Then, in a context such as the Middle East where occupation is regionally organized, where some states have regional agendas, the isolationist stance resemble what is called ostrich politics (where the ostrich is said to try to delude her enemies by hiding her head in the sand). They fail to see how they cannot avoid the fact that any genuinely political action must involve regional interference whether from within or from without. While Gemayel shouts for a Lebanese neutral stance above, members of his most important political ally (Al Mustaqbal party) and its main sponsors (such as Saudi Arabia) are all deeply involved inside Syria.

I am not trying here to defend Hizbullah’s intervention in Syria but more appropriately to explain why it is impossible for them not to intervene, just like it was practically impossible for Palestinians not to try to wage political militant activities from Lebanese territories, or why more generally, regional issues dictates local ones. This is so because first, local quests for influence need certain regional leverage, and second, because certain political questions are irremediably “trans-national” (such as the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). But the only way to carry out transnational actions is by putting in place a political formation of State, institutions, organizations or groups, that can operate freely away from the vagaries and individualizing tendencies of the democratic push. More on this later.

Confusion in the age of democracy

Today in Beirut, people are confusing an assassination that has clear regional causes and implications with very narrowly defined local demands, which may just worsen the current regional situation. The assassination of Wissam al Hassan, head of the Internal Security Forces is clearly the consequence of a long cold war that has began 7 years ago when the former prime minister Rafic al Hariri’s convoy was blown up with similar material.

But just to skip a few chapters and focus on the latest events, since the outbreak of popular unrest in Syria, the militarization of the conflict has spilled over into Lebanon and in so doing has opened the door to all sorts of political opportunities for groups, local, such as the Future movement and its loose allies (such as Salafist groups) and Syrians (such as the defecting military units) to team up in order to challenge the Syrian regime.

People forget that Lebanese political actors are involved in regional gambles that assure their position in power in the first place, or at the very least inform the particular local strategies they choose to adopt. And today, people are asking for a political outcome that ignores these regional dimensions. When Wissam al-Hassan was heavily involved in these gambles, people ask the government to step down on the legal ground that it cannot ensure the security of the nation. Since when was al-Hassan working with the intent of ensuring the security of the nation? The “security situation” has never been isolated in national enclaves, and if anything the modicum of a government that people have in Lebanon is one of the last obstacles, albeit a fragile one, to total security breakdown.

This is one of many examples why “democratic demands” of a seeming “civil society” in Lebanon are terms that produce more contradictions than facilitate the search for an effective solution.

Was this a (mini) Civil war?

For those not interested in academic empty quarrels you can skip this post. Our colleague, friend and fellow blogger Abu muqawama, has proposed to call the conflict that is happening in this little slice of land that came to be called Lebanon another civil war. And here, he provides more evidence of that. I think one should wonder why we try to call a war “civil” in the first place. Is it to differentiate it from wars that take place between “armies”? What makes a militia become an army? What’s the sanctifying procedure? Usually classical reasoning would be to say that an army is ‘the regular army’ when it answers to the commandment of the State in place. Here there are so many question that opens up on our way to understand State formation especially in post-colonial divided regions like the Middle East. What’s the difference between Hizbullah’s military structure, other military structures (like those they fought), and the Lebanese army one? What “causes” are each of them defending?

The interesting aspect of what’s going on in this place called Lebanon is the fact that a party is trying to adopt State discourse without really holding State power. A party adopting State-like practices without really claiming to become a State. I’m still astonished as to where Hizbullah think it can go using such method without really controlling the country.

But to go back to our point, calling a war ‘civil’ adds to it another moral (legitimizing) dimension, it hints on the idea that a war is happening between ad-hoc military formations emanating from within the population. This discursive insertion of ‘civil’ takes for granted the idea that there is some sort of an imagined community (here the Lebanese) and that this community is tearing itself apart. Hizbullah actually uses and is constrained by this discourse, the one projecting the existence of a Lebanese community (the one of multi-confessionalism, consociationalism, etc). In the case of the last few days, the party considered itself doing a “cleaning job” that in the end will serve the interest of the State. So it was considered very normal for its media channels (and other opposition medias) to talk about the storming into offices of the Mustaqbal militia, and the collection of weapons as a ‘restoring order’ operation, and relegating the matter to The Law (i.e. the army in this case).

I won’t write more because I promised myself not to make lengthy posts. I will probably re-articulate these (very disarticulated) ideas in other coming posts.

What happened? A “Real politik” reading

If there is one main idea that can capture what happened in the preceding days it would be the resolution of the security struggle that started after the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. As I said in previous posts, Hizbullah found itself in an unforeseen situation after the dismantling of the security system that was in place under the Syrian-Lahoud regime, a system that guaranteed a security protection to Hizbullah’s infrastructure. Once the Syrians were out, Hizbullah entered in a destabilizing spiral culminating with the Israeli murderous incursions, and then today with the decision to shut down their telecommunication network, provoking the armed actions against the newly built security militia structures of the ruling coalition. Destabilization here means on the one hand that Hizbullah has to face new threats, but also that it will try to grasp new opportunities to create security-stable spaces. The seizure of the soldiers in July 2006 followed the long fruitless negotiations with the ruling coalition. This seizure was supposed to create new ‘national’ imperatives, new status-quos. And today the elimination of the Mustaqbal militia is geared at changing the terms of negotiations and giving a higher bargaining position for the opposition.

Every time the opposition tried to pressure the governments to back down through strikes and other demonstrations, there were snipers, checkpoints appearing, and other intimidating (if not murderous) actions that left the government unshakable and the opposition paralysed and frustrated. Since Hariri’s assassination, American and Arab aid came to help in the armament and training of these new military-security groups such as the Mustaqbal militia you now here about.

In addition to that, all the groups left out of the new post-Syrian withdrawal setting that came to form “the opposition” wanted some form of revenge. In this case, I have in mind the SSNP that was quite humiliated throughout these years by Mustaqbal and so came gladly to work with Hizbullah to foment this mini-coup (a new type of coup indeed that requires a coalition and that is not aimed at completely destroying the power in place). The SSNP is the less credited organization to have worked for decades in resistance efforts against Israel (they still have training camps). The SSNP and Hizbullah stayed historically very close not the least because of their visceral rejection of Israel. Recently, Hariri militiamen had burnt they’re offices in Tariq el Jdideh explaining why they quickly did the same thing with Mustaqbal’s buildings.

The position of the Lebanese Army is quite interesting in this whole process. I would not be surprised if they had previous knowledge of what was going to happen. That would explain the anger of 14th of March politicians who a couple of days ago were still glorifying their nominee for the presidency, the general of the army Michel Suleyman. Beyond the strategic gains the army achieved with the decision to disarm the militias Hizb and co were neutralizing, there is a clear stand being taken with regard to what constitute the prevailing ‘nationalist’ doxa. More on that later.

Fath al Islam

Do read Fida’ Itani in Le Monde Diplomatique on Fath al Islam who has been writing dozens of articles in Arabic on the subject in Al-Akhbar. You need to get the newspaper by print as the internet edition is available only for subscribers. GPC has some extracts on his blog.

Past and practically current events in the life of Brid. Gen. el-Hajj

So a quick recap of Brigadier Francois el-Hajj’s military history in reverse chronological order

1- Played a central role in the destruction and defeat of Fath al Islam’s forces in Nahr el Bared.
2- Lead battles against the bad guys in Deniyeh (replicas of Fath al Islam) 7 years ago, only to find them released along with Samir Geagea in the euphoria run-up of the cedar revolution.
3- Countered Lebanese Forces attacks in 1989 moments after Geagea (leader of LF) assured him that the army (under the command of General Aoun at the time) won’t be attacked. Hajj accordingly led the attack from Qolei3at and pushed LF forces back to Nahr el Mot.
4- Escaped an Israeli-LF assassination’s attempt back in 1976, after Bashir Gemayel’s forces (LF old face) had asked him to coordinate with the Israelis in order to set up a security zone in the south, to which he refused.

Now consider this:

1- El-Hajj is from Rmeish (Christian), a border village with Israel that is a couple of minutes away from Ayta Shaab (Shiite) famous for its fierce resistance to Israel incursions (especially during the last war). During the latest Israeli murderous adventure, most people from Ayta sought refuge in Rmeish their neighbors with whom they have strong ties due to their common economic work (tobacco cultivation) and age-old family friendships. Considering the fact that Hizbullah and the Lebanese army were coordinating on many levels, I would not be exaggerating if I say that it is possible that people like El-Hajj played key roles in that process. People like that are either preciously cherished (politically I mean), or vehemently hated.

2- El Hajj was going to be the next General of the army.

3- This and that.

Does this look like a guy the “Syrian-Iranian axis” would try to kill? Only if they want to shoot themselves in the foot. More on this later.

The 112 cars

so Cara tells me that the ‘police force’ in Beirut is doing a good job with their new American gift, the nissan pathfinder. Yesterday night, they spotted two (probably Ethiopian) girls going up towards the Sofil center (in Ashrafieh Beirut), and they started harassing them, asking them for their papers, why they were there walking etc. Of course, I understand the cops, it is so rare to see two women, let alone, foreign ‘workers’, walking on a Beiruti sidewalk (virtually none existent sidewalks). It is suspicious ‘security-wise’ and so a good opportunity to flash the ‘badges’.

The Truth

Having an “international tribunal” deal with the investigation of Hariri’s assassination is somehow laughable when you know that the UN commission of Brammertz has repeatedly declared that the four suspects (Raymond Azar of Army Intelligence, Ali Hajj of the Internal Security Forces, Mustafa Hamdan of the Presidential Guard and Jamil el Sayyed former head of General Security) currently detained by the Lebanese judiciary are held based on charges leveled by the Lebanese judiciary while the ‘international instances’ have nothing against them.

So you have on the one hand local powers (14th of March) that dream of a more forceful internationalization of the conflict that will finally pinned down all the ‘culprits’, and on the other hand, you have the ‘international’ UN commission that seems to say: “we hold no charges against those you think (and with them a bunch of others) are going to be tried once it is internationalized”. Of course, in this case, I’m overlooking the ‘political’ use of this ‘internationalization’ for 14th of March on one hand and for the US on the other. This ‘political’ use becomes apparent when the legal findings just sketched above are clear. It has nothing to do with the truth. It has to do with a political version of a truth. No wonder why there are talks that Detlev Mehlis, the former UN commissioner who was on Hariri’s payroll, might be back, and who in effect knew how to bark against Syria or its allies in Lebanon.

I mean why would the US keep a guy like Brammertz who, with his findings, contradicts every single aspiration of the 14th of March?

But my point here rather is to reflect on this ‘international VS local’ syndrome that we Lebanese suffer from. We think that if we just give ourselves to a perceived ‘higher’ instance then things obey a certain normality it follows a set of rules and regulations that are more trustworthy then those we have. I think this could be symptomatic of post war societies or societies where the breakdown of security and legal structures was a daily reality. And it is plainly ironic that the “international” sometimes through obscure channels come to remind the “local” that they can deal with this on their own. And the Lebanese judges and prosecutors in place know that. It may be just a matter of time before Sayyed and co are freed.

Did Fatfat meet with Al Absi in Tripoli one week before the events?

Well, I will tell you a really nice story this morning. But first and although unconventional the morale of the story: Without ‘security officials’ leaks where would we be?

Mustaqbal sponsored Lebanese Minister of “Youth and Sports” Ahmad Fatfat, Fath al Islam leader Shaker Al Absi, and a bunch of other ‘high profile’ guys supposedly met in an apartment in the Abboud Center in Tripoli on the 5th of May 2007. This was leaked by a Lebanese security 3amid “Mahmoud al J…” to the Jordanian Al Watan newspaper.

This 3amid who still works with the Lebanese Interior Ministry assures that the meeting was organized by Jordanian officer Zaher Abr Abu Jandal (a Salafist and one of the ‘Al Dinyeh Islamists’ that were released by Saad Al Hariri along with LF leader Geagea) and who was killed by the Mustaqbal party militia-like structures (the Lebanese Internal Security Forces) one week ago as he was the only witness to the meeting and that ended up with a big disagreement.

Just to go back a bit, according to the security source, Fatfat was invited to a meeting in Washington in “the winter of 2006” in order to assess the potential use of Salafist movements in Lebanon. This meeting was allegedly held by Saudi, Jordanian, American, and Israeli intelligence, as well as the Lebanese 3amid Othman, and the Lieutenant Colonel Wissam al Hassan. It was decided during the meeting that Wissam al Hassan, Ahmad Fatfat, and the now-killed Jordanian officer (and who supposedly lived 10 meters away from the Abboud building in Tripoli, where the other meeting took place), to coordinate and prepare the ‘terrorists’ for when they could be useful.

The 3amid Mahmoud al J… insists on the fact that there is a very intimate relation between Fatfat and Salafist movements in Lebanon because of their concentration in the region of Al Diniyeh from where Fatfat is. The latter was supposed to coordinate and get closer to their leadership and try to win them to the Mustaqbal cause. Some Salafists are already aligned with Hariri according to the source, and these include: Sheikh Issam al Rifai, Al Islam Al Shahal, and Hassan al Shahal.

Now the moment we are all waiting for: What happened during the meeting? According to the source, Fath al Islam leader Al Absi was welcoming in his group recruits that somehow were not aligned with the Americans and so he was asked through Fatfat and Al Hassan to hand them in but he refused. So they stopped paying him the monthly sums given to him by bank transfer to an account in the name of Abu Jandal (the now-killed Jordanian) who was the medium between both parties and whose account was at the Mediterranean Bank in Amyun (you guessed it: it is the bank that was robbed by Fath al Islam, and needless to say that the Mediterranean Bank is held in partnership by Hariri).

An interesting revelation is that Baha’ Al Hariri (the brother of Saad today’s leader of the Mustaqbal party) is in a disagreement with his brother, as 3amid Mahmoud al J… is very close to Baha’, and that (and I keep the quote literally translated from Arabic): “Saad the American and Saniora the Israeli is something, and Baha’ the Hariri is something else”.

The 3amid insist that his story is true and invites the opposition groups to form a committee that would investigate on the matter and take fingerprints in this apartment in Tripoli.

For those who want the Arabic original version of the article can just ask me. and for those who know what is ‘3amid’ in English please do tell me.

Franklin Lamb reporting

With very intermittent internet access and this ancient pc with one lone wire running from the spaghetti wiring system tied to the ceiling and taped to a single bare light bulb socket, plus 8 toddlers, two babies, crawling over and under this ‘foreigner’ in a 10 x 12 concrete room where 28 or more of us slept on the floor last night, this blurb may never be sent. But if it does get out and for what it’s worthan update on the situation in the Palestinian Nabr al-Bared and Bedawi Camps. Will try to send results shortly of my interviews with 11 Fatah al-Islam fighters regarding who paid them and got them travel documents and weapons and what was their mission. There was no bank robbery by them. That was a fake story put out by the Welch Club. Sorry I misreported it. BBC was suckered. Also, no, repeat no heads cut off. Where are the medical reports from those who claim it? That was black propaganda to smear Fatah el-Islam. Must leave this building nowmay not be until tomorrow or so.

Check his earlier article too.

So Mustaqbal MP Bahya Hariri thought it would be important to call Druze Feudal lord Walid Jumblatt to clarify that Jund al Sham has no connection with Fath al Islam. For those who don’t know, Jund al Sham is yet another Sunni Islamist group based in Ayn el Helweh Palestinian camp. The Mustaqbal party payed Jund al Sham to go play in Tripoli.

Just to make it clear

I was never fond of conspiracy theories. Not because people don’t conspire, far from it. But because in politics, people are not that shrewd and are not endowed with awareness of the long-term. In light of this, a couple of points so as to make sure everybody agrees on this:

1- It is the ‘ruling majority’ government (specifically the Hariri camp) that gave the possibility (directly or tacitly) for Fatah Al Islam to develop. As would say Al Haqid, Fatah al Islam is a Lebanese political actor, or is a product of the Lebanese political system. It is also the result of the corruptive and incompetent practice of post-Syria-withdrawal Lebanon government.

2- The US administration may have overseen or even financed the formation of the such groups, even if today it is possible that they cannot control what they started (recent history is replete with such examples from Afghanistan).

3- It is much less likely that the Syrians are behind the whole thing in the sense that Syria would not want to jeopardize the Lebanese army (one of its only remaining ally), and neither would want to put Hizbullah in an awkward position (which is clearly the case today).

4- Both actors can benefit though from likely future developments, although the US will definitely have a much more important role to play (maybe military) in Lebanon. Syria is to remain on the defensive trying to collect pieces of what is left from the US elephant-like advancement in the Middle East.

Explosion in Aley

For continuous updates, go here.

Decisions for War

Reading the news today brought back to memory the countless shouts of “Ceasefire Now” that I heard during this summer war. With that in mind – that need and desire to stop the killing of civilians in Lebanon – I have been quite interested in watching the militant attitudes of various individuals and groups towards the battle raging up north. I’ve received odd emails of “Support our [Lebanese] Troops” – odd because of the connotations they bring with it: Support our troops even if they do wrong, no questions asked.

Condolences

As with all deaths, my condolences go out to the families of those soldiers who have been brutally killed. Many of these soldiers have sons and daughters. Wives. Mothers and Fathers. It is not easy growing up without a father. And just as difficult trudging through life without a husband.

In addition to these losses, we also have the loss of civilians, as well as the trauma war brings. The question we need to ask ourselves is: Is the cost of this approach worth the result? A utilitarian question, but one that needs an answer. Unfortunately, no one seems to know what the result will be. The annihilation of Fatah Al-Islam? Maybe. What else will come about with this?

Decision-making

Too many people can be quoted in the past three days as arguing that the Lebanese state has finally taken a stand …

If this battle is just a result of the need to rid the state of a perceived weakness, then from the start it will be doomed. “Reactions” never really end well. Just ask our southern neighbor.

What was the decision process used in taking the decision to to do this? Does anyone who has given their unquestioned support to the army and the government really know? Every decision taken MUST consider the possible outcomes, keeping in mind that no outcome is for certain (otherwise, the decision, and life, becomes rather trivial). The question that needs to be asked is if Lebanon will be a better place (in the long run – enough of all the “tourist season is over” whining) when this ends. If it will, how? What exactly is the strategy being implemented? Unlike the movies, all is not always well when the bad guy gets killed …

Though it may indeed seem that the best thing to do is to give our support to the Lebanese Government and the Army during this time, such support without consideration for the human cost lays the foundations for a fascist society. And history hints that fascist societies do not always end as well as intended. I have yet to hear a good explanation for why doing what is being done is the result of good decision-making. After all, there is nothing worse than taking a bad decision that results in a bad outcome. Again, all we need to do is ask our southern neighbor. We could learn much from their mistakes. And save lives in the process.

Back in World Headlines …

Obviously, I have much to say about this, but considering the lack of honest information out there about what is actually going on, I will resist the temptation to spew “opinions” as opposed to using arguments. It suffices to say I think that for now, hardly any of the other posts that bloggers (well, the ones I check anyway) have written actually resonate with me.

Update: Here is a post with comprehensive details on this.

Update 2: Explosion in Sassine, Achrafieh.

Jumblatt’s training camps

I was talking to a friend who lives in the Shouf and apparently there are training camps near Moukhtara. Friends of my friend are going there to learn how to butcher Shi’a meat and then come back to tell him transcendental experiences (so believe me, the story is real). The “Shi’a” come to exemplify the most horrible enemy. It reminds me of another story of a doctor friend who was invited to a lunch in some village in the Shouf where a majoritarily Druze table explained to him how the “Shi’a” and the “Druze” don’t share the same ‘values and tradition’, and that the Shi’a are “really something else”.

This symbolic conceptualization of the “something” else is the ideological (the amazing thing in Lebanon is how quickly signification slides from one ‘something else’ to another). Anyway, the doctor was amazed and retorted (I quote): “Yikhrebaytkom sorto te7ko metelna el Massa7iyeh!” ([assumingly god] destroys your homes, you now talk like us Christians!). Indeed, if only they knew that other Christians thought that although the Druze new ideological representations involve condescending feeling towards the “Shi’a”, they (Christians) still thought they were different from the Druze, the Shi’a etc. I love this rich stratification of ideologies! Of course the doctor example involves the representations of a specific social class so we cannot generalize but you get the feel of the different semiotic activities in the “Switzerland of the Middle East”. It is just that, the more you’re upper class, the more you elaborate the doctrines of your ideology (because from an economic point of view, you have the time required to do that).

Now on another level, I know many people would retort by saying that from the Lebanese Forces to Jumblatt’s so-called ‘progressive’ socialist party – I have no problem with the distortion of the word ‘socialist’, many people have distorted this term before, but it is the use of ‘progressive’ in such a context that is historically unprecedented! – these training camps are insignificant to start a proper civil war. Well, the important thing is that the potential (and the intention is there. The point is that it is still the same old story where masla7a-driven elites are guiding people towards certain useless death. Imagine Jumblatt would have decided that actually the Americans are not strategic allies but say keep closer to Hizbullah like he used to pretend to be. Horribly enough, the choice of the partner to cover your ass may involve some useless discursive imagination and some slaughtering in the process.

Update: Jean Aziz in Al-Akhbar wrote yesterday that Jumblatt is trying to massively buy land in Jezzine (Christian dominated village towards the south) after some Shi’a investors came to buy some parcels. According to Aziz, the lands that Jumblatt has an eye on would secure a strategic passage between the Shouf and Wadi al Tim (To Druze dominated region separated by a Shi’a enclave).

Some of Lebanon’s power shifts

Now if you come to think about it, what happened in Lebanon in the last few years is a classical example of shifts in power poles. One need to look at changes happening at the level of organizations and institutions (of the state and related) that deal with security issues, especially if one wants to understand the political deadlock which we are slowly sinking in.

The main argument I wish to make is that, at the local level, Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon has provoked two main events: First, it has rushed Hizbullah to get out of its self-made ‘safe-zone’ and confront specific political choices it had to make at some point. This is prevalent in the fact that every institution in the party is trying to adjust to the new reality, and this can be seen clearly through its media organs, the new meanings used in speeches (borrowing from ‘Lebanese’ ideological material such as cedar, mountains etc.), and especially through the practices of the organization (denouncing more forcefully other Lebanese player for example), in the run up to the dialogue sessions, to its demands to have a share in existential national decision.

The second event is the frontal assault waged against Hizbullah, forcefully followed by the 14th of March heterogeneous political alliance. Of course both events are closely linked.

The security void has triggered many tentative seizing of coercive means. The Lebanese army stayed closely allied with the president keeping a close coordination with Hizbullah, one of the reasons why 14th of Marchers want the president down. Alternatively, some groups tried to seize other security-sensitive state institutions like the police forces or internal security forces (Hariri and the Amn el dakhili), while others, lacking easy access to the state have resorted to militia strengthening (Geagea and the LF, and probably the SSNP and various other smaller organizations).

Assassination rationales can be inscribed in the same context. Beyond their symbolic motives and repercussions in constraining elites to make specific political choices, and shifting public opinion in specific directions, the very strategic choice of assassinating would not have been that attractive prior to Syrian withdrawals because of the different security settings that prevailed.

The most important thing of it all is that Hizbullah has changed its political priorities for the second time (first time would be in 1992 by entering lebanese political life). How this will evolve is still a mystery. It will depend mostly on the regional brokered deals and how much Hizbullah will accept specific compromises. They seem to be ready to accept anything as long as their weapons are not dismantled under the Pax (well not pax if we look at Iraq…) Americana umbrella. This could have regressive repercussions on the capability of Hizbullah to contribute to a change in the Lebanese political system. Especially that in a sense, they may be the only group politically (practically) that can trigger long lasting change.

Why not the Christians? The way Christians are trying to squeeze themselves inside the new security formulas shows their profound weakness in being able to push for any substantial change. Divided between relying on Americans and alliances with Sunni and Druze oligarchs on the one hand, or strengthening the security system already put in place by the Lahoud-Hizbullah-Syria alliance, Christians are the most vulnerable target of all sects, and this is why it may be too soon to speak of a serious questioning of the confessional system. In both cases, Christians are very depended on other power brokers. In the first case, they want to go for ‘the whole nine yards’ a tradition set forth by their Phalangist and other isolationist antecedents. In the second, they accept neighboring political realities and want to work with it and have an already set institutional security structure to start from. In sum, Christian politics is still framed in the same security equations since Syria entered Lebanon in 1976. It is these security equations that first divided (to name but a few) the Qataeb (Phalangists), then the LF, and lately the various Christian groups picking and choosing from earlier political formations.

Is it also clear why political assassinations targeted Christians?

More "Shi’ia crescent" propaganda

Especially for the pedantic “I don’t believe anything, it’s cooler to be Grey (because more sophisticated)” type:

Prime Minister Fouad Seniora and the “Mufti of the republic” Mohammad Rashid Qabbani made some phone calls in order to stop the arrest wave and ask for the release of most of the suspects which ended up being members of the Mustaqbal party.

Yes, this did not take place, they are making it up.

For your consideration

Don’t shoot the messenger, even if you do think this comes from a dubious source (next time, I’ll aim to quote from Annahar, promise…).

Fisk is wrong; it’s not “sectarian hatred” that is driving the war, but outside powers that are using their proxies within Lebanon to achieve their geopolitical objectives. In other words, this not the beginning of civil war, but a continuation of the 34 Day war; the deliberate pulverizing of Lebanon to create an US-Israeli protectorate in a critical area of the Middle East. Future pipeline corridors and regional hegemony require a compliant pro-western government in Beirut. That’s why the Bush administration has armed and trained the massive security apparatus of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, so he could succeed where Israel failed, by crushing Hezbollah and the pro-democracy movement.

Consider this: Siniora is freely violating Lebanese sovereignty to conduct covert operations against the very people (Hezbollah) who stood alone in defending Lebanon from Israeli invasion. Additionally, he is accepting this “assistance” from the United States knowing that it was the Bush administration that provided the laser-guided munitions and cluster-bombs which were used to kill Lebanese nationals just months ago.

And if you believe this is your cue to hug the Lebanese person next to you and absolve ourselves of any wrong doing, it’s not. It’s an appeal to look at the bigger picture, beyond the “sides” championed by the b-grade media and the relegating of some news sources to the bench while taking others as gospel. And before you say it, this preacher knows of at least one unconverted reader of this blog.

One last word on “sectarian hatred” (or 3) – sect is overrated.

Important points to remember

1- The snipers and other gunmen who participated in the killing and injuring of students at the Beirut Arab University work in one way or another for Al Mustaqbal. Don’t try to sell me the “the other did it” argument (Even if there are Syrians and Palestinians they have been subcontracted by Mustaqbal). They are all Lebanese. So bloggers, journalists, and other knowledge creators, please do the effort of not repeating another ideological mistake (first one made in 1975).

2- Another internal Lebanese affair: the Lebanese Forces reluctance to see the Christian streets turn away from their monopolistic security practices. Samir Geagea himself expressed it in his infamous speech. In his case, I’m sure nobody reviews what he says, because he plainly said that he “made the LF move” (7araket el quwat) because he did not want the opposition to win. As simple as that. At least the guy is frank. And here we are 15 years later at the same point: Geagea wants to prevail security-wise on the Christian side. It’s 1989 all over again. I don’t know how much the emergence of Hizbullah as a fully fledged political party can help in changing the status quo. And so what Geagea did is in total rejection of State institutions. Geagea want to preserve the ‘federalist’ option. For him and for Jumblatt (for example) it is the only politically realistic option in order to preserve a seat. And they will need the Americans for that.

3- The LBC TV has armed men working with the LF (or simply are LF armed members). Michel Aoun showed it in his latest press conference. This is a very important piece of information. The LBC TV is very instrumental in describing the work of the opposition as fomenting sectarian trouble when it is actually the LF that is doing so.

4- The role of the Lebanese army is key here. How much time will they remain in this situation? The political deadlock is here to stay, the American still did not decide what they will do with Iran, and so Seniora will not have a chance to resign before some time. Hizbullah and Tayyar will raise the stakes. It is expected that Hizbullah will not lose its temper, and may even help the Lebanese army security-wise. But what are the LF and Mustaqbal be prepared to do? Could Al Mustaqbal use more ‘subcontractors’? Briefly stated, Mustaqbal and LF will use any possible option in order not to be pushed to the margins.

Lebanon today, a viable state of sheep with opposable thumbs

Beirut. Thursday, 25 January 2007. When did university students, traditional bearers of social revolution, start to play out the designs of murderous old megalomaniacal hypocrites nostalgic for the days of sectarian militia death-by-ID checkpoints, sniper warfare, chaos and curfews? A perfect smokescreen for the real inciters-cum-killers in their ivory towers and their hit men on the rooftops.

Next, mobilise the children.