Finally the Lebanese are discovering the extent of the mess of their food industry. Rats have found their home where all the wheat in Lebanon is stored. There will be much more to discover as I have explained here.
We are nihilist thoughts rising in the head of God
ويزدهي اللبنانيون عموماً بأن يُقال عن وطنهم الصغير، منظوراً إليه من خلال يومياته السياسية وتحوّلات قياداته وزعاماته ومرجعياته الروحية، إنه بلد الأعاجيب والألاعيب والسراديب، وقد يضيف البعض و«الأكاذيب»، وأن الظاهر فيه غير الباطن، وللباطن باطن وربما بواطن، والبواطن دول، والدول مصالح، وعند اختلاف الدول إحفظ رأسك مرة، أما عند اتفاقها فاحفظ رأسك مرتين!
طلال سلمان، 1-12-2007، على الطريق
Please read this article in full. It is just excellent. Every idea, every answer is just full of interesting cultural stereotypes and social urges. I am still trying to know who wrote it (it was published in the Daily Star and taken from Agence France Press) because the wit is good, although some questions are still left unanswered (why Geagea, and why Bashar? And why not Nasrallah?). It is an interesting mix of Christian-Sunni political culture with traditional bekaa-grounded divisions at stake that we probably have here. But still, the way the re-appropriation of ‘nationalist’ symbols is done can be sometimes so fascinating. My only open question is, how did it all add up in this father’s head? If one can find an answer to that, then he may have found the best ideologue for a Lebanese nationalism (although he still need to fit in a couple of Shi’a figures). And yet…
QABB ELIAS: Lebanese Christian leaders Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun may be at each other’s throats politically, but their namesakes in the Okla family get along like a house on fire.
Mazyad Ibrahim Okla, a farmer in the Bekaa village of Qabb Elias, 50 kilometers, east of Beirut has named his five sons Aoun, Geagea, Chirac, Lahoud and even Bashar after Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Now another baby is on the way, and Okla is impatient for the election of a new Lebanese president so he can give that name to the child if it is a boy.
Each child’s birth has coincided with a major political event.
“Aoun was born in 1990 at the end of the Civil War and general Aoun was a hero,” said 48-year-old Okla, who has also fathered four girls.
A visit by former French President Jacques Chirac to Lebanon in 1996 prompted him to name a son after the former French president, who does not remotely resemble the gap-toothed olive-skinned boy.
“France is our best friend, and Chirac was Hariri’s friend,” he said of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri whose assassination prompted this devoted loyalist to name a daughter “Irhab.” The word means terrorism in Arabic.
“My wife gave birth 10 days after the assassination. If it had been a boy I would have called him Hariri.”
Okla does not regret naming his plump-cheeked blond-haired 2-year-old “terrorism” even though it may raise the ire of feminists and women’s rights groups.
“I want everyone to ask her what her name means when she grows up, so she can tell them about dear Hariri,” the proud father said of the slain anti-Syrian five-time premier.
Of his sons, Lahoud – named after the incumbent President Emile Lahoud – is teased the most at school.
According to his sister Waad, the eldest child who cares for her siblings when their parents are working on the farm, Lahoud came home one day from school and was crying.
When she asked him what was wrong, he replied: “Everybody tells me my days are numbered. Why is something bad happening to me?”
As Waad tells the story, Geagea goes off to milk the cows in the barn and Aoun who is 2 years older goes to help him by holding the pump. Little Bashar hides behind milk churn, and shyly looks on.
Aoun says he wants to follow in the footsteps of the head of the Free Patriotic Movement and join the army or the police, while Geagea – who is the best student among them all – wants to become a fighter pilot.
With another baby due soon, the Okla family plans to name the new arrival after the next president. But the politically divided country has been unable to choose a new head of state because of ongoing disagreements between the anti-Syrian majority and the Hizbullah-led opposition. If the new arrival is a girl, therefore, she will be called “Salam” which means peace in Arabic.
Okla and his wife Hammama, Sunni Muslims, plan to have “as many kids as God wants” and say they will continue naming them after politicians.
With a Chirac and an Assad already in the family, another “foreigner” being accepted into the fold cannot be ruled out.
But asked whether they would name any new children after President George W. Bush or his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, both shake their heads emphatically and shout “la, la!” – “no!” in Arabic.
“Only after the French, because they really like us,” Mazyad adds.
Rare are the times when I find someone to cut my hair as I would like it. Rarer (if not exceptional) are the times when I watch the broadcasting of an explosion while I’m diligently explaining to the ‘barber’ not to go too short on my neck. The place was quickly invaded by a bunch of people from outside, as he was the only one who had TV. When the reporter said that it may be Antoine Ghanem (Parliamentary member, Kataeb, March 14) who was the target, everybody went: “who?”. Yeah who is this guy? Another anonymous elevated to “martyrdom”. At the time of writing this post, the media did not yet confirm the identity of the victim. 6 other people died and many injured. When I reached home, my mom had just arrived and told me that she was in the same street (a bit higher) when the explosion went. The explosion was not that loud she said. She looked a bit in a little shock. She was going to pray for St Rita. She said that St Rita saved her from being 1 minute earlier on the scene. St Rita and the killers all conspire to increase the burden we shoulder, the burden to re-write history. I have to put the AC on because the heat is unbearable. Funny, it has been a while since the last time I noticed how beautiful the sunset can be here towards the sea.
The previous post has been deleted because I was assuming something in order to say that a journalist was a moron, but it turns out that there was chance that this guy was doing sarcasm. Although the whole article plays on this sarcastic note, I became convinced that it was sarcasm, so without further deliberation I have decided to erase it.
But as I said to Apokraphyte, I kill you all for breakfast.
An intersting article that proves nothing, doesn’t clearly point fingers at anyone but has some relevant information on the alledged attempts to “politicize” the International Tribunal.
Thanks to Apokraphyte and Bech, I’ve been asked to contribute to Remarkz. I am the blogger “Previously Known As” Lazarus / Laz / L. / etc, and henceforth known as Manar / M. / etc., (until further notice of course).
A US Jewish group on Monday demanded US Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice immediately retract remarks she made during a press conference in Europe two weeks ago in which she called Hamas a “resistance movement.”
A State Department spokesperson said Rice “forgot” to use the word terrorist …
“The Syrian regime has strong intelligence (agencies) and no bird can fly over the Golan Heights but when it comes to … the Iraqi side they say they do not have the equipment or don’t have this or that,” Dabbagh said.
Vanity Fair has a piece that sums up why many should be concerned about US intentions in Iran. It is not terribly original in content, but in case you have a life and dont follow things very closely …
I’ll say goodbye for now to think of an answer, and leave you with a few of my favourite Leunig cartoons…
The movie “Assraelis” was produced by a Los Angeles-based porn movie company, Tight Fit, which is headed by Oren Cohen, an Israeli. On the package of the DVD version of the movie, which is sold on the Internet for USD 25, is affixed a kosher stamp similar to those appearing on kosher food products sold in the American market.
Oh, my …
Anyone want to try their hand with A-RABS …? On second thought …
Rev. Robert Frederick Drinan, S.J.
Funny how the media is sometimes unable to think for themselves. In any case this morning the news broke that Israeli warplanes had launched poisonous balloons over Nabatiyeh. Everyone from Manar to the Lebanese army itself was releasing statements about these attacks. I kept wondering how that could be possible and why on earth out of all methods they would choose this one and for what purpose. Needless to say I found no coherent explanation and imagined the news to be some sort of a joke.
Later on Haaretz came up with the following information: they were gas balloons indeed but from some promotional event, they got carried away by the wind. The scary Hebrew inscription that got everybody into panic was just the “Ha’ir” newspaper slogan for its campaign. I think for once our neighbors will be justified in making fun of us (the whole panic around these balloons must sound pretty funny from the other side of the border).
The big mystery remains as to how all this managed to send 8 people to the hospital. Didn’t we all learn early on that inhaling air from inside balloons could be dangerous…
Update from Annahar:
1) Brand-new cell phone;
2) Poster of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah;
3) Collection of poems by Billy Collins.
I will let readers divine that mystery …
1) Is Marrakesh Orientalism’s EuroDisney?
2) How can Casablanca be Africa’s largest port?
3) Is a prostitute always a prostitute or only while she is “working”?
4) Why do some strangers think a sober-minded individual like me smokes dope?
5) Why do all Arabs approach the Lebanese with a curious affection that is simultaeneously condescending and envious?
6) Can you really get a service from Fes to Dora by twirling your finger in a circle?
7) Why is the airport still my favorite place for Lebanese-watching?
8) Why do posters of Franjieh and Arslan evaporate my sympathies for the Lebanese opposition?
9) Why don’t oil-rich construction magnates from the Gulf understand that Lebanon is a small place for small things?
10) Do I always leave things behind in Beirut so that I always have to go back?
Actually, I know the answer to that last one …
The Lebanese Army is certainly one of the key players in current events, maybe even the predominant variable in the equation.
Several sources have quoted the possibility of a millitary “coup”, but what would that mean? How would it be possible? A real “coup” would be hard to believe, in the sense of a complete take-over of administrativ and civil institutions. Not only does it not fit in the profile of Gen. Suleyman, but also in the current state of the country the plan would simply collapse leading to furthermore chaos. Still some form of control over the country’s activities can be implemented in the form of successive curfews and street presence. The governement is now totally incapable of controling the country, and the opposition is unable to take over, or rather, reaching its objectives of sharing power.
The army is thus the chief regulatory power in the country at the moment and its behavior in upcoming days can largely determine the fate of the country in the years to come.
The question is how long it can stand its role as a public servant that cannot take sides in the current battle, despite both of them having serious leverage to make bend it over. The governement tenors have severely criticized for not fulfilling its coercive role and in principle it should be receiving orders from Murr’s ministry of defense, but on the other hand the major constitutive forces of the army are shias, all of them favoring the opposition, and christians, most of which historically and genealogically lean towards Aoun. Even Murr would know that he runs the risk of implosion if he pulls the strings a little too hard. But as a counterpart the army will not either fulfill it’s role in dismantling the militias.
In think even Al-Malicki would hate to be in Suleyman’s shoes in the present days.
Whatever you want to say on what happened in the past two days, there are a couple of points one will have to keep in mind:
1- The government is obsolete and has no authority whatsoever on what’s going on in the streets. Seniora lives on another planet, along with Chirac. They have no idea, or refuse to acknowledge, what’s happening on the streets. (Update: And if Seniora is being briefed on how mustaqbal and LF militias are causing turmoil, then he should be hanged by the side of his jaw that’s droping).
2- Groups within the government operate militias and are trying to create confusion among opposition ranks. My bet is that they are trying to push Hizbullah partisans to the streets, thus convincing the public that Hizbullah would go to the streets and would use its weapons against other Lebanese. For now, Hizbullah did not fall (and presumably will not) into this trap.
3- The Lebanese army is put to test, and as it showed that it could indirectly side with the Tayyar, we are left off with what Al-Manar discourse has crystallized as “The Militias of the State”, against the cross-sectarian opposition grouping. (Update: what I meant here is that the army will never allow militia-like behavior, and saw that ipso facto (to use a pedantic expression) the army will be against the government).
4- The particular case of intra-Christian clashes is worth elaborating on: forcing the unification of the Christian streets is a painful process, one that will be (and was as we saw) met with violent opposition. Aoun here tries to do exactly what he did in the late 80s. The Lebanese Forces’ snipers were a challenge to that.
5- Government-owned TeleLiban played some classical music while tires were burning. This is to tell you the helplessness of some government officials.
Update: 6- People will start to understand the difference between resistance (Hizbullah) security practices, and militia behavior (Mustaqbal-related gangs, Lebanese Forces). This is a good thing I suppose, although I would have preferred that Lebanese would not have had to go through this to understand!
Maybe there is an underlying message in Geagea’s criticism of the national security apparatus. Some sort of auto-legitimisation of the importance and role of his militia in taking over where the regular forces fail, some sort of warning that it might be time for him to take up his historical role as paramilitary leader.
Some of us have known about the Lebanese Forces training camps and rearmament since 2005 but for the great majority this remained an unconfirmed rumour, and for those living abroad there was no way to get any information about it.
Even now there is this basic structure in the way current events are transcribed in the worldwide press and the national propaganda cannons such as DS that go like: the nationwide protest resulted in the death of at least 3 individuals and the wounding of about a hundred… giving a clear causality effect between the protests and the casualties that suggest the protests themselves were violent or the sole cause of violence. Nowhere can we read that militias literally attacked the protesters and even fought with the army that tried to hold them back.
The Free Patriotic Movement made a list of all the attacks it sustained on that day but you cannot access their website (a sentence says they are under attack but that they will be back).
All Lebanese share a context. And a common history, even if Lebanese educational administrators fail to formulate this to fit a national curriculum. In the pursuit of a national identity, this is criminally negligent at best. Can an amnesiac learn from his/her mistakes? And, what’s the problem? Here, Laurie King of Electronic Lebanon with ‘Lebanon for Beginners’, posted during Israel’s July ‘Operation Just Reward’ campaign against Lebanon. This basic history lesson does not come across as sympathetic to any one domestic player, nor accusatory. Can a similar approach not be taken in writing up school textbooks? Or is it to be perpetually a case of “church or bus, 13 April 1975?” – “too hard”.
In Lebanon, it seems, everything happens in brutal isolation or in retaliation for isolated acts perpetrated against miscellaneous category of victim. Who does this myopia benefit? Your average man/woman on the Lebanese street? Ha! Reclaimed by historical context, these events will become suitable for school students, as all unpalatable events in history eventually do because we need them to build on, or to diverge from. Evidently, enough Lebanese share a lack of perspective, even if it is an imposed lack of perspective, as to warrant genuine fears of a new civil war (even if it doesn’t happen tomorrow), and certainly a lack of critical awareness of “identity as a function of administrative regimes”:
Identity is neither programmed nor pre-existing; it is constantly being shaped by the interplay of contexts and the dynamics of power inherent in such contexts. If identities were determined by virtually immutable genetic realities alone, then we would expect to see the same categorizations, symbols, and expressions of identity enduring over time in the same place, regardless of economic, cultural, or political developments. This is clearly not the case in the Middle East, a region that has experienced rapid metamorphoses from empire to colonial regimes to modern nation state structures in less than a century, and in which organized ethnic and religious groupings have emerged in different periods to compete for power, resources, and privileges, thus highlighting the contingency and relativity of identity.
In Lebanon, the entire population, being a mosaic of contending minorities, was thinking and feeling like potential victims even before the war broke out on April 13, 1975. It is no wonder, then, that the war was so violent, so bitter, and so protracted. Long before the war began, the Lebanese were enmeshed in a political and psychological “economy of scarcity” which left everyone feeling both vulnerable and opportunistic.
Clearly, many of Lebanon’s eighteen different sects had valid historical, political, and economic reasons to worry about scarcities of power, security and resources. Taa’ifiyya, however, actually obstructs power-sharing at the grass-roots level and gives rise not to a nation of fellow citizens, but rather, to an arena of pronounced conflict and competition between many anxious and agonistic minority groups. Because of Lebanon’s confessionally based system, every individual is encouraged to think of himself or herself as a Maronite, a Shi’i or a Sunni first, and only secondarily as a Lebanese citizen. By emphasizing the group over the individual (and thereby minimizing the individual’s choice, power, and sense of responsibility), and by privileging the sect over the state (thus contributing to the fragmentation of the polity), ta’ifiyya cannot but set the stage for future conflicts.
Not only has Lebanon’s system of confessional power-sharing had detrimental effects on national identity and the consolidation of the institution of citizenship, it has also complicated Lebanese conceptions, attitudes and behaviors associated with power. In Lebanon, power is not vested in the individual; rather, individuals can only attain power through their community, or, more specifically, through the leader (za’eem) of their community, who usually wields absolute power (backed-up by credible threats of force) in the context of his confessional group. The concentration of power in the hands of a few individuals in Lebanon’s political system has increased the sense of powerlessness and dependency which are already so prevalent among the members of each of the country’s contending minority communities.
The institutionalization of ethnic and religious identities for legal and administrative purposes, seen most clearly in states such as Lebanon and Israel, is a double-edged sword. Although official recognition of cultural heritage and religious laws may provide answers to individuals’ psychological needs and communal organizational problems, it can also trap individuals (particularly women) in the vise of inflexible identity categories not of their own choice or making, thus limiting their personal options and opportunities while preventing the development of a more inclusive sense of overarching national loyalty and identity.
At a time when historical perspective is in dangerously short supply, and with a rigid category of identity the only commodity consistently apportioned among the population by the powers that be, the whole article is well worth reading even for seasoned veterans struggling to see beyond the haze of burning rubber.
From watching the news lately, I come to think that the Lebanese media simply does not recognize that there is a population in the country. For the past couple of days, I heard Geagea, Seniora, Jumblatt, Frangieh(s), Nasrallah, Aoun, a plethora of bishops and sheikhs, and I may be missing many, attacking each other on the issue of Paris III and the imminent general strike that will take place tomorrow.
There were talk shows showing economy and finance ministers (former and present) assessing the pros and cons of Paris III and the “Development Plan”. To that effect, I am still working on a translation of Corm’s arguments, but I got severely sick since I am here so I am basically writing one paragraph a day and comatozing (I’ll spare you the time to search, this verb does not exist) in front of the TV occasionally waking up to the sweet sound of the different protagonists’ voice.
Just a parenthesis, the “Development Paper”, has nothing in it that touches developmental issues. At least, from what I saw of it when I worked at the ministry of economy last year (at the time drafting the paper for a hypothetic Beirut I). The whole rationale of the plan was to prepare something that looked serious enough (in terms of IMF, and Club de Paris standards) in order to get the funds required to service the debt. What’s even more funny is that initially the ‘social’ component of the plan wasn’t even considered, until the international instances advised the government that if they plan to push taxes that high, they must include what is called in the neoliberal-washington-consensus jargon “minimum social safety nets” as its absence would backlash on the whole project of “development” (because it would create unemployment and widespread poverty thereby hampering consumption). So, reluctantly the minister of finance included it. I actually assisted on its work with an economist (that I won’t name) and when he presented his paper, most of it was scraped as ‘not feasible’ because it needed to have administrative and legal reforms in place, and that for now the government was looking only for quick short-term solutions in order to get money.
In any case (I’ll write more on economic issues in upcoming posts), just to go back to my initial question, the media fed us with all the various declarations, press conference, rally calls, warnings, etc. voiced by the leaders. But not at any point did we see any investigative work at the people’s level. I mean if you think about it nothing interesting can happen tomorrow if the people don’t go out on the streets. So to say the least, the people are the most important variable in this political deadlock. Whether people would decide to close their shops and go on the streets, or will stay in their house, in both cases, they are highly instrumental to the unfolding of events. Ultimately, the leaders’ agendas are all conditioned by how the various constituencies will behave. But when the leader base all their hope on the people, the media (and public opinion) takes them for granted.
And so nobody, from the average citizen, was asked what he thought. For example, some journalist could have went on the street and asked some shop owner what is he going to do tomorrow, as simple as that. The media assumes that what the leaders say the people will do blindly. I always have l’Orient le Jour as an example (because my mom gets it every morning at home so I get the macabre delight to read this piece of toilet paper) they had two editorials today treating the people as “backward” and “regressing” and that paris III is a blessing because it is in some ways (not really understood by the authors themselves, related to the West which is good because they are superior. Of course, they are only repeating concepts voiced by arch criminals like Geagea or simple oligarch employee like Seniora, so no praise for the originality, but just to tell you how the fascistic tendencies (i.e. the total disregard for social issues) are prevalent and become unquestioned paradigms. The way to obliterate discourse is to say that what’s apparently economic has political ramifications (and regional extensions).
But whatever you say, whether somebody decides to close his shop and go down on the streets, is a matter of a thought-of decision due to a specific social and economic condition in which he’s been living in since who know when. And this is something no one tried to understand.
Allen Jasson, prevented from flying by airline staff who argued that his T-shirt was a security risk. Don’t you feel safer? All hail the Flying Kangaroo! That’s Qantas, by the way.
Not that important considering the daily flow of events taking place in Lebanon, but some of the Lebanese press reported on the seizing of 75 katyusha rockets in the house of an unnamed guy from Bira (in the region of Rashaya). Security sources said that the dude is an “arms’ dealer”.
From the very objective and factually impeccable Arab News, direct out of Saudi Arabia (my emphasis):
The Siniora administration, says Nasrallah, has no legitimacy since he withdrew along with five other Hezbollah ministers  in November. He is demanding fresh elections.
In normal times it would be perfectly sensible for President Emile Lahoud to dissolve what remains of the coalition government and seek a fresh vote. But these are not normal times. It is anyway hard to see what a general election would achieve . Lebanon’s different factions would each return just about the same number of legislators and another all-party coalition government would have to be formed. If Hezbollah would once more refuse to take its share of the government, it is hard to see how the situation then would be any different from what it is now.
This confrontation is of course not simply about Lebanon. Because Europe and Washington back the broadly anti-Syrian Siniora-led coalition, Syria and its ally Iran back the broadly anti-Western Hezbollah, whose status has been elevated by its successful defense against Israel’s latest invasion. Once again Lebanon, ravaged by 15 years of civil war is being subjected to foreign interference, which has underpinned its tragic recent history .
What about Lebanese of all political opinions, sticking up for Lebanon for a change? It is easy to condemn Nasrallah and Hezbollah for pursuing an agenda that is inherently contrary to Lebanese interests, but other factions also carry blame. There were those who hoped that the Israeli Army would utterly destroy Hezbollah and rid the country of an increasingly high and mighty militia over which the government had no control. Most middle class Lebanese of all backgrounds just want peace and stability so they can get on with the business of business at which they excel and which once made Beirut the financial hub of the Arab world. The West, rather than Iran and Syria are the most profitable commercial areas, so there is a built-in Western bias .
1. Was Hassan Nasrallah a Hezbollah minister?
2. Really? Would general elections mean a return to the status quo? I genuinely would like feedback on how people envisage the outcome of general elections (including co-bloggers).
3. When did Saudi Arabia make the move from foreign interferer to domestic player?
4. “High and mighty”? Never mind. When did Nasrallah and Hezbollah begin to pursue an agenda contrary to their own interests as Lebanese? And what of Michel Aoun and the Free Patriotic Movement? At least Arab News has addressed the interests of the Lebanese middle class and business. And the rest?
As for the last sentence, well, possibly the best summary of the Saudi position.
By the way, this editorial piece is entitled ‘Time to Be Pro-Lebanon’. And it’s telling the Lebanese to be pro-Lebanon. Really.
The good thing about being in Lebanon is that it’s always nice to come back to seeing stuff like this printed on the front page of Lebanese newspapers (here l’Orient le Jour):
Lorsque tous les moyens sont vains, les villageois palestiniens n’ont plus que la prière pour montrer leur protestation face à l’impitoyable grignotage de leurs terrains par le mur de séparation érigé par Israël.
Rough translation: “When all has failed, the Palestinian villagers have nothing but prayer to show their protest against the horrible shrinking of their lands caused by the separation wall erected by Israel”.
1- Why from all pictures you could find on AFP’s website did L’Orient choose this one to put on its front page?
2- So you tell me, why can’t these people just be praying with no hidden meaning to it? Do they seriously think (the biased media) that these people are actually praying in the hope of changing the unjust state of their living?
This clearly exemplifies the deeply entrenched thought that religious phenomena, and other related ritualistic behavior are grounded in irrational beliefs/affect and that there is a clear opposition between these irrational manifestations and the proper scientific way of going about doing things (that is rational). This is the biggest misconception of what we call today “modernity”.
I said in an earlier post that I will write about the paris III conference and the economic situation in Lebanon. But why do so, when you find no one else but your favorite Lebanese economist (and political scholar) Georges Corm writing a very good overview of Hariri’s destructive economic policies today in the press?
I will provide translated excerpts soon. Will also add some of my ideas on the subject. Now I need to sleep. Good night.
Update 1 (20/1/2006): Click here for the second part of Corm’s analysis