Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Archive for January, 2007

March 11th… people in search of a third way

Posted by worriedlebanese on 31/01/2007

Naya sent me the link of a new movement that has sprung up in Lebanon: March 11. You can check them out on the following link: http://www.11march.org/march11interface/default.aspx.

The site doesn’t say much about what the group wants or even the people that are part of it. All it does is explain the name: March 11, midway between March  8th (A movement that was Hezbollah lead) and March 14th (a popular movement that came to be lead by Hariri and Jumblatt and other Christian politicians the co-opted).

From their name, one can guess that they see themselves as a third way, a median way, or even a hyphen, joining the two groups. This is not a new step in Lebanon. Other politicians and political movements have claimed to do exactly the same thing.

Although this new reaction to the threatening and potentially lethal bipolarisation that we witness in Lebanon is obviously a positive one, I do not yet see in what way it is going to counter or bridge the new political divide.


Posted in Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Politics | 3 Comments »

Israel to appoint first Arab minister

Posted by worriedlebanese on 28/01/2007

I heard on the radio today that the Israeli cabinet had agreed to include an Arab MP in the current government. For the first time in it’s history, Israel will have a non-Jewish cabinet member. This obviously has been long overdue. The country after all, even if it declares itself to be Jewish, has two official languages (Hebrew and Arabic) and its original Arab inhabitants make up for about roughly 20% of the entire population.

This is obviously a very important step for the country in its long path to come to term with its binational and multiethnic character. 

MK (Minister in Knesset) Ghaleb Majadele is a muslim Arab (Sunni) and a member of the Labour party. In an article published in the Haaretz, he is quoted saying: “I have a good feeling, the Arab population is being given a sense of cooperation”. “I will prove that I am suitable for any position. I want to loyally serve 20 percent of the country’s residents.”
He might be assuming responsibility for culture, science and sport, which MK Ophir Pines-Paz handled before he quit the cabinet, protesting against the inclusion of MK Avigdor Lieberman, the current Minister for Strategic Affairs. M. Lieberman is the only member of the Cabinet to have voted against the inclusion of Ghaleb Majdele.

Posted in Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Israel, Pluralism, Reconciliation | Leave a Comment »

Drifting Israeli balloons affair

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/01/2007

balloons.jpgA bunch of green Israeli balloons fell in a garden next to Nabatieh earlier today causing panic. The Lebanese internet press and a local television reported that several people were poisoned by them. I was very sceptical when I first heard it from a friend, but I then checked the info on the internet and found a picture of the balloons and details about the poisoned people who had approached the balloons.

The report was shoking. It hinted to an Israeli criminal intent. This comes to no surprise for a Lebanese. We have seen the Israeli army and its intelligence bomb civilian areas, coach assassins, assassinate political leaders… their last military operation, cost more than a thousand Lebanese lives, most of which seem to be civilian. Even though sending green poisoned balloons to kill Lebanese seems rather primitive and unlikely, I brushed my doubts away when I saw the hebrew lettering on those balloons.

A couple of hours ago, I read the Haaretz article and i realised how foolish I was to believe the reports I had read earlier. They stated that the balloons were promotional and the wind had blown them to Lebanon. Other sources confirmed that version of event and some media outlets started erasing the first version they had posted (ex: tayyar.org)
The balloon affair shows how gullable we sometimes are. It also indicates the deep mistrust we have for Israelis, one that might be is based on prejudice, but it certainly is strengthened by the Israeli behaviour towards Lebanon.

For further discussion on these balloons, check out these blogs:

Check out those articles:
– Naharnet:naharnet-balloons.doc
– Haaretz:haaretz-balloons.doc

– Haaretz

Posted in Israel, Lebanon, Prejudice, Violence | Leave a Comment »

What ever happened to the international protective shield?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/01/2007

un.jpgOn September 2, 2005 the United Nation Security Council  resolution 1559 called “upon all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon” and “for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias”. This UN resolution was presented as a tool aimed at helping Lebanon regain its sovereignty. Its criticts, mostly Lebanese opposed to or fearing the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, pointed at the undelying contradiction in the resolutions that while claiming to support Lebanese sovereignty, was actually enforcing a policy on the Lebanese government.

c.f. The Lebanese army’s answer to Resolutions 1559: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Security_Council_Resolution_1559

The resolution’s supporters on the other hand rightly showed that this contradiction was a formal one, and that even though the resolution was meddling in Lebanese affairs, it did in practice enforce Lebanese sovereignty through the pressure it exerted at bringing the Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon. In this respect, they devised a theory (or a doctrine), that of the international protective shield to ensure the recovery of Lebanese sovereignty.

I ask myself today what happened to this theory. Instead of an international protective shield to ensure Lebanese sovereignty, the resolution 1559 alongside a couple of other UN resolution seem to have legitimised foreigh meddling in Lebanese affairs.

There’s an official representative of the UN Secretary General in Lebanon that is very active on the Lebanese political scene (he visits regularly the leaders of most of the political parties). Foreign embassies and governments comment regularly on the legitimity of the Lebanese president or government… And every time there is a crisis, instead of heading to one capital as they were accustomed to doing for years (ie Damascus, where several politicians even chose to have a secondary home),  the Lebanese political class now regularly flies to 5 or 6 capitals: Riyad, Teheran, Washington, Paris, Brussels… 

How can this trend be reversed? 

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

Murder in Istanbul

Posted by worriedlebanese on 20/01/2007

hrant_dink_021.jpgHrant Dink, the editor of the bilingual Armenian/Turkish Agos newspaper was shot dead in Istanbul.
He had been receiving threats for a while and had been dragged to the courts for “insulting turkishness”.
Interestingly enough, his murder was described as insulting turkishness by the Turkish authorities. This is a similar argument one hears in the Middle East: ‘tarnishing the state’s image or reputation’…
Interesting comment on the following blog:

Posted in Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Middle East, Prejudice, Reconciliation | Leave a Comment »

Turkey and the birth pangs of the new Middle East

Posted by worriedlebanese on 18/01/2007

Posted in Middle East, Pluralism, Politics, Syria, Turkey | Leave a Comment »

Reading Pamuk’s “Snow” across Anatolia

Posted by worriedlebanese on 17/01/2007

Even though the novel is supposed to take place in the 1990s and it was published 4 years ago, it’s themes are surprisingly topical and they’re not specific to Turkey. They ring true for all the Middle East.

Posted in Identity, Religion, Secularism, Turkey, Violence | 1 Comment »

Coping with religious revival in Syria

Posted by worriedlebanese on 16/01/2007

Like many places in the Middle East, religious revival in Syria is so obvious that it’s hardly noteworthy. One can see it by the increasing numbers of people going to the Mosques, by the increasing number of veiled women (and the type of veil they are wearing), and by a myriad other details (the use of certain greetings and similar formulas…).
The question that comes to mind is how long can a secular type of government cope with this revival. Then one wonders how secular the regime actually is and how one can measure its degree of secularism.
The question is just as pertinent and topical in Turkey.

Posted in Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Religion, Syria | Leave a Comment »

I blew a fuse again: reacting to an editorial

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/01/2007

I just couldn’t help myself, I had to react to Nagib Aoun’s editorial today. It’s becoming more and more unbearable to read the Lebanese press because of the way journalists and editorialists are waging political wars against their political foes.

Amours meurtrièresClick to read Negib Aoun’s article (in French).

Here’s my answer (immediate reaction) to this editorial:

“Etrange rubrique que cette “chronique”, que cette colonne éditoriale qui renferme un billet d’humeur, de mauvaise humeur, d’opinion opiniâtre et partisane qui rumine, remâche, ressasse les mêmes idées, les mêmes attaques, les mêmes jugements, les mêmes condamnations d’une semaine à l’autre. Il y a décidément plus sinistre que les oiseaux de mauvaise augure qui s’agitent sur nos antennes; nos éditorialistes redresseur de torts, qui se découvrent inquisiteurs, moralisateurs, procureurs des intentions « tues » et « cachées ». C’est un lecteur profondément consterné et déçu par les dérives de la presse libanaise, par la déliquescence du journalisme libanais, qui vous écrit. J’entretenais l’espoir de lire dans l’Orient-Le Jour des analyses « à froid », des commentaires rédigés à tête reposée qui permettent aux lecteurs de sortir de l’émotion dans laquelle on l’enferme depuis février 2005, et d’aborder sereinement, de manière posée, l’actualité et les conflits politiques. Mais tous les jours j’ai confirmation que ceci n’est qu’illusion, que les journalistes et éditorialistes ont fait leur choix, qu’ils mènent un combat, qu’ils participent à la mobilisation, qu’ils entretiennent l’émotion ; et qu’ils le font au nom du patriotisme et du journalisme engagé. Allons donc, un peu de modestie et d’éthique professionnelle.

Posted in Journalism, Lebanon, Politics, Prejudice | Leave a Comment »

“I love life” v. “I love life”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 14/01/2007

The opposition parties started a couple of days ago a media campaign that mimics and subverts the media campaign launched a month ago by progovernmental parties  under the banner of “I love life” (www.lebanon-ilovelife.com).
The first reaction one has is of surprise. The logo, and central message, is almost the same; only two leaves are missing over the heart. The design, colours and visual elements (especially the two leaves) refer to the “Independence 05” campain.

But the new posters we see are signed “The Lebanese opposition” surmounted by a rainbow. All posters have an additional message tagged in white and go along these lines “I love life: in Lebanon”, “I love life: without debts”, “I love life in many colours”…

The signature’s graphic is somewhat cheap, and the “highjacking” of the message is blatant. But the overall message is quite clear:
– the Opposition is a “Lebanese opposition”.
– It is diverse yet united.
– It is just as patriotic and life-loving as the pro-government coalition.

Posted in Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics | 3 Comments »

What to write to the Orient-Le Jour?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/01/2007

A good friend, shrewd analyst and apt journalist asked me to write a short article and publish it in l’Orient-Le Jour’s special issue on “the future of Lebanon” (not exactly sure about the title, but it goes somewhere along this line).
I honestly don’t know what to write about. Here are a couple of topics I could expand on
– Reform through making politicians accountable for their political behaviour.
– Middle Eastern Peace starts in Beirut: putting Lebanon back on the Map.
– From the Notable’s Republic to the Zaïm State.
– Becoming a Bi-religious State.

Posted in Lebanon, Peace, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Reform, Religion | Leave a Comment »

Dividing war: a variety of experiences, a multiplicity of war stories

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/01/2007

I’m giving a presentation in a couple of hours on the different ways the Lebanese see the war they suffered through last July and August.
My central point is that war could be a shared experience, but its more likely to divide than unify a fragmented society that undergoes it. This hypothesis goes contrary to that formulated by Theodor Hanf in his excellent book “Peace and Coexistence in wartime Lebanon”.
What I will be exposing this afternoon is that the war has provoked a variety of experiences, in the sens that it wasn’t lived by the Lebanese in the same way. This is due to the fact that the country wasn’t bombed and attacked in the same way. The shelling was mainly concentrated in southern Lebanon, the Beqaa, and Beirut’s southern suburb. In these areas, the attacks were very heavy and targeted civilian areas, destroying a great number of buildings, villages and neighborhouds. While in the country’s other regions, the shelling was rather scarce and targeted civil infrastructure only. To put it in communal language, all regions with a Shiite majority were heavily bombarded, while all regions with another denominational majority were not.
The war experience also varied according to wealth and family network. Regardless of their confession, those who could afford it took shelter in a region that was relatively spared.
Moreover, very early on, it became clear that their were different readings of the war, different stories, narratives. And these narratives tend to coïncide with the political preference and denomination of the “narrator”.

Posted in Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Politics, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Lebanese in Israel

Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/01/2007

southlebaneseinisrael.jpgThe Nahar published an article today on the Lebanese refugees in Israel based on an interview made with Maronite Bishop in Israel, Father Paul Nabil Sayah.

The article isn’t of much interest because it’s based on a very small number of background information and even less information given by Father Sayah. The central argument is that the Lebanese polticians are not working properly on solving the problem of Lebanese refugees in Israel.

The most striking element I found in the article is that it claims that only 60% of the refugees are Christians. This is an interesting figure. In other words, 40% of them are Sunni or Shiite Muslims or Druze. But why is it then that only Christian parties speak of those Lebanese refugees?

Another interesting fact is that the article speaks of a humanitarian crisis but is never really convincing on this point. The fact is that these families are actually political refugees. Most of them will not be convicted for war crimes, but for allying themselves with Israel. Their “crime” is a political one.

A quick search on the net shows that several parties are interested in these refugees, mainly the LSA, the FPM, and the Lebanese Forces.


lebanese_in_israel.docclick on square to view the article.

Posted in Israel, Journalism, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Politics, Prejudice | 3 Comments »

Throwing stones from a glass house

Posted by worriedlebanese on 10/01/2007

In his latest interview published in today’s edition of the francophone daily, l’Orient-Le Jour, MP Walid Jumblatt reveals very clearly the logics and mechanisms that hold together the lebanese political system, or to be more specific, the logics and mechanisms that sustain the lebanese political class.

In this article, Jumblatt (and the journalist who recorded the interview, who is a friend I cherish dearly) exposes all his arguments against Hezbollah.
The most stricking characteristic of the interview is that all its arguments are organised around two main ideas.
– The only reading one can have of the political situation is a geopolitical one.
– The only reading one can have of the geopolitical situation is a confessional one.

He obviously depicts the Hezbollah as a foreign element in Lebanese politics, foreign in every way. He see’s it as a tool used by Iran and Syria. He portrays it as foreign to the system in its thinking, ideology, organisation… But is it really? He accuses it of building a State within the State. Isn’t it what he’s running, but through different means (shared by his wartime companion, Nabih Berri).
The sentence that disturbed me the most in the interview is the following: “one can always find Shiites that refuse the state of things, who want to be Lebanese and not Persians…”. It reminded me of a sentence his father had said in an interview weeks before his assassination. Kamal Jumblatt had said the same thing about Maronites… after saying that a third of them are better dead because they cannot be salvaged.

Posted in Hezbollah, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Middle East, Political behaviour, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Labor Unions fail to mobilise

Posted by worriedlebanese on 09/01/2007


There’s nothing surprising in the Labor union’s failure to mobilise. This can be seen almost everywhere in the world. Labor unions are not what they used to be. And this is particularly true in Lebanon where the Labor Unions were  very much weakened during the 1990s because they were seen as a possible political threat to the Prime Minister and the Syrian control of Lebanon through its zaïm clients in Lebanon.

Their weakening was one of the few Lahoud/Hariri joint ventures… and it was a great success.

So what does that feeble mobilisation say about the economical concerns of the Lebanese? Very little I presume.

But one thing is sure, there is no real economical debate in Lebanon. The Paris III sheet proposes an important economical change (most of which I’m favourable of). The central element being privatisation and a new scheme in taxation. The basic principle in this reform is a neo-liberal one. 

Interestingly enough, a member-party of the international socialists is supporting this programme, and even the communist party hasn’t been very vocal about it.

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