Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Archive for December, 2006

Banners and Political messages, crossing back to Lebanon

Posted by worriedlebanese on 31/12/2006

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Political Hoarding in Syria and Lebanon

Posted by worriedlebanese on 30/12/2006

The most striking difference between political hoardings in Syria and Lebanon is in the number of politicians and political messages one finds on each side of the border.

In Syria, one portrait dominates, that of the Syrian President Bashar el-Assad. And the only other portraits one sees are those of his father and Hafez and brother Bassel.

In Lebanon, the only time you see the president’s portrait today is when you enter an official buidling, where it’s required by law. Elsewhere, on public billboards, they are nowhere to be found. However, a couple of meters away from the Syro-Lebanese border, one starts noticing portraits of a great number of politicians (or wanabes). One face dominates all, that of the former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri. It’s the most recurring.

Very quickly one is struck by the corollation between the dominant religious buildings in the neighbourhood and the religious affiliation of the politician whose portraits are found on all its walls.

Posted in Lebanon, Political behaviour, Politics, Syria | Leave a Comment »

Barbed wire across town

Posted by worriedlebanese on 28/12/2006

barbedwire.jpgEverywhere in Beirut, you find barbed wire fences. They are springing up everywhere these days: on walls, over walls, across roads, bridges, sidewalks…

They look very threatening and give the impression that Beyrouth is a very dangerous place to live in. The police, the army, corporations and individuals are setting them up around “their” territories, defending them, telling the unwanted “keep out”.

That says a lot about the city and the general atmosphere here. I wonder why nothing is being done about; why there is no public discussion on it; why it is not regulated.

Posted in Lebanon, Security, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Dealing with Hezbollah, an american recommendation

Posted by worriedlebanese on 26/12/2006

New York Times logoAn interesting opinion article written by a former head of the CIA counterintelligence  center. Oddly enough, the argument he advance is equally true for Hamas in Palestine: Americans might not like them, but they have to put emotions aside and deal with them… as facts on the grounds.

His central recommendation is as follows:

“A far more genuine American commitment to Lebanon would focus on helping the parties to come up with a reasonable formula to redress the under-representation of Shiites in the power structure while getting greater government control over Hezbollah’s war-making capacity”. 

In other words, he believes that Hezbollah cannot be ignored, and cornering it is a bad idea. It is better to get the party more involved in the Lebanese political game as the main Shiite player, than encourage it to side with foreign regimes in a battle for survival.
His point is interesting. But it leaves out a central problem: the difficulty Lebanon has in modifying its complicated power-sharing arrangement. It is a zero sum game. One community’s gain is another community’s loss. Who will be willing to sacrifice part of his “share” in power (and ressources) for the political integration and gradual decommissioning of Hezbollah?

If you love Lebanon, Set it free

Click on the left box to view article.

Posted in Hezbollah, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Politics, Reform, Security | Leave a Comment »

Self-fulfilling categories

Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/12/2006

In 2005, the international press dubbed the Bristol Gathering an anti-Syrian alliance, although many of its participants, such as the PSP (a Druze party) and most of the Qornet Shehwan Gathering (a grouping of Christian politicians and parties brought together by the Maronite Patriarch’s emissary Bishop Beshara) insisted that they were not anti-Syrian. And many politicians belonging to that group even insisted that Syria remains in the Beqaa for some time.

Similarly, the press has been dubbing Hezbollah an opposition party for over a year, although it was still part of the coalition government.

Interestingly enough, Hezbollah is today part of the opposition, and the Lebanese government is quite openly anti-Syrian.

Can one talk of self-fulfilling prophecies? How can one explain that inaducate categories eventually ring true? 

Posted in Hezbollah, Journalism, Lebanon, Politics, Syria | Leave a Comment »

Drowning in geopolitics

Posted by worriedlebanese on 24/12/2006

One hardly reads any sociological or truely political analysis of the present Lebanese situation. The only interpretations and explanations one finds are geopolitical ones.
Oddly enough, even the political actors on the Lebanese scene support that approach even though it indirectly negates the fact that they are independent actors.  
What they usually do is the following. They speak of an Axis (either an French-American-Israeli one, or a Syro-Iranian one), and they claim that their opponents are pawns in the hands of this evil axis that wants to destroy or mutilate Lebanon.
But in doing so, they hide that they themselves have interests (and are pursuing them), and so do their political foes. And that these interests sometimes coincide with those of a foreign power, and sometimes not.
So why this linkage (between the political and the geopolitical), why the negation of political agency?

Posted in Identity, Lebanon, Middle East, Pluralism, Political behaviour | Leave a Comment »

DePRESSing

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/12/2006

Nothing more depressing than the Lebanese media these days. The tone it takes, the news its covers, the conclusions it draws seem to be sponsored by some pharmaceutical company desperate to bring the sales of prozac, xanax and valium back up.

Nahar, Orient-Le Jour, Daily Star, Future TV and LBC are openly and unabashedly hostile towards the opposition. They are not just critical; they do not try to claim neutrality; they condemn and use every argument possible to discredit what they consider to be a lethal foe. They claim that the opposition is manipulated by foreign powers, that they are serving foreign interest. The opposition is shown as dirty, destructive (to the economy) and morally wrong.
The same can be said about Safir, Diyar, NBN, al-Manar and NewTV. The government is their political foe. It’s not only illegitimate, but those who support it are serving foreign interests, obeying orders from the America and the French embassies…

Whatever Lebanese paper your read, whatever Lebanese news bulletin you watch, you will not find a “neutral” approach, observing political and social facts coldly, independently from a political agenda.

Posted in Journalism, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Communicating with radical groups

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/12/2006

There seems to be a general consensus today over the fact that one cannot come to an agreement with a radical group that engages in certain acts of violence often refered to as terrorist acts.
In this perspective, one cannot enter talks with these groups unless they firmly agree to renounce to violence. This of course is theoretically (and in principle) quite understandable. There cannot be true negociations with an armed group because this group could resort to violence after getting what it wanted through negociations. Furthermore, its weapons could inhibit or scare the other party that’s negociating with it.

In the Middle-East, several groups (and States) have been branded as terrorist and the West has suspended all talks with them. These groups are: Hezbollah, Hamas, the Syrian regime and to a lesser degree the Iranian regime.
The question that should be asked is how effective is the boycott, and where is it exactly leading us?

Posted in Hezbollah, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Middle East, Palestinian territories, Prejudice, Syria, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Demarcation lines

Posted by worriedlebanese on 21/12/2006

For security reasons, the army has set up demarcation lines in Beirut.

Upon my arrival to Lebanon I visited the opposition camping area in downtown Beirut to see what exactly is going on, to check if the rumours (information published in the local press) were true.
What I discovered is a very odd mix of small political parties and groups (some of which I had never heard) and a strong presence of two other groups: Hezbollah and (to a lesser degree) the Free Patriotic Movement.

After walking through the camping area (that encompasses Riad el-Solh square, the adjoining parking and the southern part of Martyr’s square), I discovered that the whole are was cut off from the city center by barbwire. There were only two areas where you could cross from, two check points where you were asked by a military men (if you are a young man) to show your identity card and where were questioned on where and why you were going from one area to another.

Posted in Democracy, Discourse, Hezbollah, Intercommunal affairs, Journalism, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Security | Leave a Comment »

The new Lebanese crisis: a question of trust

Posted by worriedlebanese on 20/12/2006

The governing majority has finally split. People argue on the reasons behind that seperation. They try to guess each party’s hidden intentions (and hidden agenda). They will say that timing of the split is revealing… But what if the reasons were much simpler. What if it was just a question of trust?

How can a governing coalition hold after a year of political turmoil, political assassinations, a destructive summer war that has split it into two?

Posted in Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Civil war: a recipe

Posted by worriedlebanese on 19/12/2006

People these days are wondering when a civil war will erupt in Lebanon, Iraq (surrealisticaly) or/and the Palestinian territories. But very little seems to be done to prevent that from happening.

In fact, exterior actors have been acting in a way that is likely to provoke or encourage civil strife in these coutries.
– They are taking sides in interior conflicts.
– They are demonising one side and offering incentives to the other side to oppose it.

One cannot blame foreign actors alone. Internal actors are equally responsible for the deterioration of the political situation. All the foreign actors are doing is adding gazoline to a fire.

Posted in Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Middle East, Palestinian territories, Syria, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Arguing on too many fronts

Posted by worriedlebanese on 18/12/2006

If I ever came to think back on this dinner, the first question I will ask myself would be on how I managed to survive the argument that followed it.

There I was in a room with friends and family discussing politics and very quickly arguments started shooting at me from all sides. This is a situation I am quite accustomed to, but this time every person was raising and  arguing a different point, reacting to political views I had raised and shared with them days, weeks, or even months earlier. It was payback time.

– How can you defend Hezbollah?
– How can you be a federalist?
– How can you support confessionalism?

I tried my best to argue on all fronts, but it was impossible. Just after making an important point on one argument and shaking the certainties people had surrounding it, I was attacked on another issue and my point was forgotten.
Thinking back on tonight, I should have refused to discuss federalism and confessionalism. I should have stuck to discussing my support to the opposition in the current political crisis. But I just couldn’t resist throwing back the ball at people wherever that ball came from.

Posted in Democracy, Federalism, Hezbollah, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Political behaviour | 2 Comments »

Arab identity ascribed or denied

Posted by worriedlebanese on 16/12/2006

After the screening of Route 181, I had a political fight with a friend of mine over identity in general and my identity in particular. It all started with a discussion over Israel/Palestine. I told her that I tried to stay neutral in the conflict, not taking side with one national struggle or another but siding with human rights first. And then I said something that kind of fuelled a heated discussion (like gasoline). I said that I didn’t subscribe to the victimisation narrative of the Palestinians. I do feel for their suffering, and their plight, as a people and on as individuals.
Israel is obviously responsible for it, but one cannot stop at the triggering event (the Nakba), event though it’s very central and dramatic, but should see the subsequent events. You are an Arab in denial she told me.

Posted in Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Israel, Palestinian territories, Palestinians | Leave a Comment »

Route 181, a documentary and a debate

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/12/2006

Route 181 is a three part documentary, shot and edited by Michel Khleifi & Eyal Sivan, two Israeli directors; one Christian (self-defined as Palestinian) and the other Jewish.
They chose to follow the border decided upon by the UN general assembly in its Resolution 181, to try to retrace it by filming the different villages and areas it went through, going from south to north.
During the screening on Wednesday, organised by the French association A’doc, only the third part was shown. The final part of the trilogy could be taken as a documentary of its own. The message is very clear, the build up interesting and the finale quite dramatic. It takes us to the Northern region of what the directors call Israel/Palestine.
This region was supposed to be divided into four areas: two Jewish and two Arab, but after the 1948 war, and after having been invaded by five armies (Lebanese, Syrian, Jordanian, Iraqi and Jewish), it was actually split into two parts: Galilea reunited under Jewish sovereignty and a much smaller region attached to the kingdom of Jordan as part of the West Bank.

The documentary’s point is to expose the absurdity of this division line that actually was never drawn and officially determined. It also underlines the violence that accompanied this demarcation, geographical and ethnic.

Eyal Sivan who was present at the screening discussed quite brilliantly his film, his approach, his views both as a documentarian and as an Israeli citizen.

Posted in Israel, Middle East, Palestinian territories, Reconciliation, Violence | 3 Comments »

Electoral surprises: cooptation of a ‘promising’ candidate in the Metn

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/12/2006

Amin Gemayel, the Kataeb’s new Supreme Chief announced to the Press yesterday that he will soon reveal the identity of the Kataeb candiate that will be running in the forthcoming by-elections.

Posted in Democracy, Lebanon, Political behaviour | Leave a Comment »