Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Archive for November, 2007

Controverses: a special issue on “Alterjews”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 24/11/2007

I stumbled upon a special issue of Controverses a couple of hours ago dedicated to what it calls “Alterjews”, a word specifically coined by and for this publication, deriding Jewish critics of Israel commonly referred to in America and Israel as self-hating Jews. I found one of its sections particularly disturbing. Under the title “Au miroir français” (“Through the French looking-glass”), eight articles unleash a spiteful and systematic attack of what they term French “alterjews”; Theo Klein, Edgar Morin, Rony Brauman, Jean Daniel, Michael Warshawski, Gisèle Halimi, Esther Benbassa, Guy Sorman, are portrayed as biased, contradictory, self-promotional, ridiculous, mediocre, self-hating or delusional. Reading this section of the publication felt like watching a firing squad executing a group of criminals. Not one article, not one paragraph was written in their defense or by a person who’s goal wasn’t to disqualify them with their writings. 

Posted in Antisemitism, Discourse, Identity, Israel, Semantics | Leave a Comment »

Israel/Palestine in mind -1

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/11/2007

For the past week, I’ve been somewhat obsessed by the whole Palestinian-Israeli question. It all started on monday, after a talk I had with a very interesting Frenchwoman who had campaigned for the release of Marwan Barghouti. Her actions resulted in an expulsion order by the Israeli authorities. Several people in the group she’s in have sympathies for both the Palestinians and the Levantine Christians, which is quite a rare combination in Europe. Those who commiserate with the Palestinians are usually left-leaning (which she seems to be) and are quite sensitive to the anti-colonial rhetoric, while those who empathise with the Levantine Christians are usually conservative, traditionalist or religious and are rather hostile to anything islamic. I wonder what her position was during the first few years of the Lebanese war (1975-1983). We had a short healthy debate over the question of approaches to the Palestinian question: a political one or a humanitarian one (collective vs individual).
The second event that triggered my questioning was an article I read on the Annapolis peace summit. It seems that Abbas and Olmert were unable to get to a common understanding in Jerusalem, what hope is there that they would achieve anything different across the Atlantic?
The third event was the projection of Mohammad Atar’s “Iron wall” in Paris. I arrived a couple of minutes late to the projection and couldn’t get in because of the crowd that had invaded the theatre and its surroundings. So I compensated by reading articles about Vladmir Jabotinsky (who fathered this expression and notion). And then I came across an interview of Benny Morris by Ari Shavit (rather chilling) and got a couple of infos on Ghaleb (Raleb) Majadele and Avi Shlaim.

Posted in Civil Society, Discourse, Lebanon, Middle East, Palestinian territories, Palestinians | Leave a Comment »

Independence day

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/11/2007

Had there been no Hezbollah, I’m almost certain the Lebanese political class would have changed the date of this celebration to that of March 14th. Many journalists and some politicians have already been referring to this date as the ‘second independence day”. Maybe someone should remind them that November 22 is actually the “second independence day”. The first one was September 1st…  

Posted in Lebanon, Politics, Semantics | Leave a Comment »

Lebanon’s presidential elections. What’s the fuss about?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 21/11/2007

lb2.jpgFor the past two months the presidential elections have been making the headlines of the Lebanese daily newspapers, not that they had anything new to inform their readers about. I was chatting to a friend a couple of hours ago and he asked me who I thought will be the next president. I told him his identity was irrelevant. The issue was somewhere else.
Since the Taef reforms, the post became politically insignificant and the last two years have eroded what was left of its symbolic importance. The pro-governmental forces and their western allies are obviously responsible for this evolution, but so is Emile Lahoud who in his exceptional mediocrity failed to restore the symbolic importance of his post and missed the many opportunities to do so (the 2005 parliamentary elections, the dialogue table, the July war, the governmental crisis). Thanks to his complete political ineptitude, he wasn’t able to take or face the challenge (or even make use of those who proclaimed themselves his allies).
“But isn’t the presidency important to the Christians?”, asked my friend. It certainly is. But how relevant are they in Lebanese politics today. Economically, socially and culturally, Christians still play an important role in Lebanon, albeit a dwindling one. But politically, they’re insignificant, even though a look at the Lebanese media might give you a different impression (I’ll try to explain why in tomorrow’s post). 
“So what’s the fuss all about?”. Well, it’s quite simple. The presidential election threatens the status quo between the Shiite leadership (Hassan Nasrallah and his sidekick Nabih Berri) and the Sunni-Druze leadership (Saad Hariri and his sidekick Walid Jumblatt). Up to now, both parties have profited and enjoyed the stalemate (even if they publicly condemn it). It has helped them mobilise their “troops”, consolidate their hold on their community, secure the backing of their regional and international sponsors, safeguard their position ahead of their rivals within their communities… Why risks all these benefits now? Can they hope to get anything more than what they’re getting now? No chance of it.
If that’s true, why don’t they agree on a weak, meek President? This is just what might happen if they can get themselves to agree on anything. This is not very easy for them to do because of the general distrust they have of one another. Even though they both profit from the present deadlock, and have refrained from doing anything to unsettle it (they don’t even support their opponent’s rivals within his community other than by allowing them a small space for expression in the media they control), they are convinced that the other party is involved in one way or another in a plot to annihilate them. Come to think of it, it’s quite amazing to see the amount of restraint they’re using in their rivalry. But then again, it could be a question of benefits more than political responsibility.

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

The Other Nasrallah, much more discreet but just as threatening…

Posted by worriedlebanese on 20/11/2007

082.jpeg Threatening to what? to democracy and modernisation, I’d say. Here is a man who represent what the catholic church in Lebanon has the most archaic, the most traditionalist. He has opposed the principle of elections on every single occasion, arguing that it divides the people and causes conflicts. He is a staunch defender of censorship. He is patriarchal in every way. He has no problem interfering in politics as long as his voice is heard. In 2002, he encouraged the Constitutional Council and one of the candidates running for a vacant seat in parliament (Ghassan Mokheiber, who fared quite badly in the by-elections and who frankly didn’t need much convincing) to accept a “consensual” solution to the elections. In 2005, he interfered in the Shuf and Beirut elections in behalf of the Gemayel family and the Lebanese Forces. In 2007, he even opposed the elections within the Maronite League (a rather meaningless organisation) and pushed for a “consensual” nomination. And last week, he accepted to hand in a lits of presidential candidates on the condition it is binding! 

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

The other Nasrallah and the Presidential elections

Posted by worriedlebanese on 19/11/2007

082.jpegDuring this week-end, everybody who’s anybody in Lebanon (and all the rest) were busy answering three questions:
1- Was the patriarch’s list of presidential candidates a written one or an oral one?
2- How many people were on the list?
3- Who exactly was on the list?
There were obviously many conflicting answers because none of the reports or statements could be verified; all those who were directly concerned by the new procedure for the presidential election refused to give a full answer (those sides were: Nabih Berri, Saad Hariri, Nasrallah Sfeir and the French foreign office). Nobody seemed really shocked by this fact or any part of the new procedure. For those who are not familiar with the new procedure, here are a couple of words on it.
For starters , it’s not a legally binding agreement. It doesn’t change the constitutional framework but transforms it into a formal procedure that covers an informal one that contradicts everyone of its underlying principles. This change of procedure was accepted by the Lebanese leadership (the zu’ama, the presidential candidates). I’m not quite sure who came up with the last format but here it is: the Maronite Patriarch prepares a list of presidential candidates from which Nabih Berri (representing the opposition) and  Saad Hariri (representing the pro-government parties) choose Lebanon’s next president. The Lebanese parliament would then be conveyed for the MPs to elect the sole “consensual” candidate. 
This procedure is not really new. A similar one sprang up in 1988. At the time, the Syrian and American leadership had urged the Maronite Patriarch to give them a list of presidential candidates from which they would choose the future Lebanese President. He handed in a list of three names, and they chose a fourth person: Michael Daher.
When the change of procedure was suggested to the Patriarch, he did not object to it by principle. He was just apprehensive of the 1988 precedent and wanted assurance that this time, his choice would be taken into account. So after all those who were involved by this change of procedure assured him they would abide by his list he complied. Not for a moment did he worry about the implications of his act on the political system. “Necessity has no law” he must have thought. And the Lebanese have grown accustomed to “adapting” the law to the “present circumstances” on one condition, that it is publicly mentioned that the measure was exceptional and for one time only…

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

Nasrallah’s latest speech -3: Challenges and threats.

Posted by worriedlebanese on 14/11/2007

All those who are familiar with Hassan Nasrallah’s speeches know how he articulates them. He always focuses on very few points, presents his foes with several challenges and adds a couple of threats that he always presents as consequences of the opponent’s actions.The Lebanese media focused on his last threat, the one with which he ends his long speech: the call made to Emile Lahoud asking him take all the necessary measures to save the country. One can quite understand why this call caught the media’s attention. In the last weeks of the election period, the whole political debate is centred on the presidential elections and the different scenarios that are likely to happen. Hassan Nasrallah reminded the analysts of an actor that could disrupt their different schemes: Emile Lahoud. Up to now, he has been generally discarded politically, diplomatically and analytically. Had he not intervened a couple of times in the public debate (with unavoidable mediocrity), one would have thought that Lebanon has been functioning without a President (which in many ways it has). Hassan Nasrallah was inviting him to react to the situation and prevent the worst from happening. He didn’t exactly say how he imagined Emile Lahoud’s intervention (and in what way it could prevent the worst from happening). Some analysts thought that he could be inviting him to act as two outgoing Lebanese Presidents did in 1953 and in 1988. But the Taef accords have ruled out this possibility. It’s actually hard to see what Lahoud could do without contravening to the constitution. I personally don’t find this part of the speech very interesting. And I don’t think the call should be separated from the preceding paragraph. It followed several sentences in which Emile Lahoud was praised. To understand this part of the speech, I believe one should compare it to the (infamous) one he gave on March 8th 2005. Even then, analysts tried to see messages about the future. But all of their analyses in 2005 turned out false. The praise he gave to the Syrian army and Intelligence were not about the future. It was about the past. Hassan Nasrallah was thanking an ally for his loyalty and support. Through this act, he was expressing his loyalty to his allies and his gratitude. As he did with the Syrian army and intelligence in 2005, he did with Emile Lahoud in 2007. It’s not about strategy or tactics, it’s about ethics. This behaviour is certainly atypical in Lebanon. What about the challenges he delved into. How come so little attention was given to them?  They are certainly the most important issues in Lebanon today (even if politicians and analysts hardly mention them). Hassan Nasrallah talked about transparency, accountability, good governance and defence policy (not in these words). He showed that on all these matters, the Siniora government was lagging. Pro-government analysts and politicians usually brush those criticism off by simply saying that Hezbollah is a State within a State (an accusation made to the PLO in the 1970s). What Hassan Nasrallah seems to be saying is that Hezbollah is accomplishing some of the State’s missions because the government seems to have relinquished. In other words, were the government more serious about them, Hezbollah wouldn’t be doing them. These are undeniably challenges that the Hezbollah leader is issuing to the Lebanese government and rest of the Lebanese political class.  Unfortunately, they don’t seem able to rise to them.

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

Nasrallah’s latest speech -2: Matryrology

Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/11/2007

127210472jpg.jpgIt’s weird the way people change, the way one changes. Two years ago, I would have been incapable of analysing Nasrallah’s speech in a calm manner. I was in the opposition then (as I still am today) and his party was defending the outgoing government and the Syrian regime. I remember quite vividly the way each of their public manifestation would distress and aggrieve me. But I believe things have changed now. I don’t see this party as an opponent (or at least not more than most of the parties on the political scene). I don’t even feel threatened by its leader’s threats, even though I know they are dreadful and that he’s capable of putting them into action. Hezbollah and it’s leadership are assuredly apt political players who know what they want and work diligantely to get it. But instead of seeing them as a threat (which I find very counter-productive), I prefer to see them as a challenge, one that Lebanon society is ready to face. But is our political class? probably not.

So I went through the published speech a second and a third time today, noticing its structure, its language , its argumentation, its intended messages, its audiences. It is a very interesting read that I believe gives a clear idea about the party and its world-view.
Roughly, one fourth of the speech is dedicated to what I call martyrology. It is undeniably the most interesting part of the address because it clearly states the party’s values and its narratives. And judging from the reaction it had on the audience, it seems to be pushing every button. I am quite amazed the press hardly mentioned this section of the speech.
November 11th is for Hezbollah Martyr’s day, a day to commemorate the “martyrdrom” of Ahmad Kassir, its first suicide bomber. He exploded himself in the Israeli army’s headquarters in Tyre on that day in 1982. For years no one knew his name, no one claimed responsibility for the operation: it was to protect the martyr’s family he said before drawing up the moral portrait of Ahmad Kassir. He gave absolutely no real biographical information about the person, he only spoke of his character and the symbol he represented. He sketched out the portrait of a hero, of the embodiment of what he considers to be the highest values (purity, faith, sacrifice) in such a way anyone could identify himself with him. On the individual level, the martyr’s whole life is directed to “martyrdom”. It’s not an act that is imposed on him, he is no victim in any way. It’s an act he “naturally” chooses to accomplish. By talking about the martyr’s family (and the care Hezbollah gives to them), Hassan Nasrallah showed the other aspect of martyrdom, the social one (and in some way the economical one). Not only did he mention the martyr’s family but also the institution that is aimed at helping them. And while doing so, he sketched the structure of a sort of spiritual family of martyrs with various Shiite figures in it.
Surprisingly enough, there is no direct reference to the three religious figures of martyrdom in the Shiite tradition. This is probably because the speech is addressed to a larger audience comprised of non-Shiite Muslims. But I’m sure that public present in the stadium and watching Nasrallah on the telly could fill in the blanks; the talk about contemporary martyrs would resonate in their heads and remind them on this historic and religious dimensions of matrydom .

Although Lebanon has become of late the land of martyrs, with each political group continuously commemorating its martyrs in every way possible, it’s easy from this speech to realise how different Hezbollah matyrology is from the others. They have managed to intertwine so many dimensions of this act: the religious, the political, the moral, the military, the personal, the social, the structural, the institutional, the economical, the democratic.

Posted in Hezbollah, Lebanon, Palestinians, Political behaviour, Politics, Semantics | 2 Comments »

Nasrallah’s latest speech -1: the words!

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/11/2007

pol21112.jpgYesterday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah gave a lengthy televised speech that quite expectedly shook the country. None of his speeches pass unnoticed and it’s impossible not to affected by them. I remember spending a day in bed in March 2005 after hearing him on the telly. For a man of action, his words are quite affective. They inflame spirits, give hope to his sympathisers, and depress his opponents.

Here are the words… my comments will soon follow.

Hassan Nasrallah’s speech in Arabic (.odt)

Hassan Nasrallah’s speech in French (.doc)

Posted in Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon, Middle East, Palestinians, Semantics | Leave a Comment »

Lebanon: A year without Shiite ministers

Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/11/2007

I wonder if I’m going to read this headline in tomorrow’s press. I sincerely doubt it… for many reasons. Firstly, the title isn’t very accurate (not that Lebanon’s press has been very accurate in its headings lately). Assuredly, it’s been a year since the three Shiite ministers have resigned, but their resignation hasn’t been accepted yet. This is one of the many tools of Lebanese ostrich politics. The person who mastered this tool for the longest period is undeniably Amin Gemayel who refused the resignation of Rachid Karame’s cabinet for years. His refusal even survived the death of the Prime Minister (assassinated in 1987). When he finally decided to accept it in 1988, the minister of education Selim Hoss of the outgoing government, declared that he had as acting Prime Minister withdrawn it. He then declared himself Prime Minister with the functions of interim President and refused to recognise the appointment of Michel Aoun.
So what we’ve had for a year is a government with five resigning ministers. Grammatically, the use of a present participle, “resigning” in such a case does sound quite odd. In French, stretching the word “démissionnaire” over a year is sure to surprise many. The Arabic equivalent is mustaqeel, which literally means “who has resigned”. The word “mustaqeel” gives the impression that the action is over, accomplished, while in fact (and in law) it’s not, their resignation is awaiting the acceptance of the Prime Minister to be completed and legally effective.

So why is the situation so? Why hasn’t the Prime Minister accepted the resignation of these three ministers? As things in Lebanon are always more complicated than they seem (even when they are obviously rather complicated), one can add another enlightening detail about local ostrich politics: the Prime Minister has appointed an acting minister of Foreign Affairs without accepting the resignation of the resigning minister!?!

Interestingly enough, the press jumps head on into this kind of absurdity. Pro-government journalists are scandalised each time Fawzi Salloukh acts as Foreign Minister and blocks decisions taken by the acting minister of Foreign Affairs, the actual minister of Culture Tarek Mitri!? When one tries to reason with them and tell them that it is his right to do so, they answer that he has resigned. When you tell them that his resignation is still pending the acceptance of the PM, they answer that he has been boycotting the council of ministers and hasn’t been to his office at the ministry for months. This is undeniably politically unacceptable because he is supposed to pursue his duties until his resignation is accepted. But instead of appointing a caretaker for this particularly important function, his resignation should be accepted and he should be replaced. This is what would have happened in any other democracy. But PM Fuad Siniora has refused to do so these last 12 months.

The only way to understand such political behaviour is to try to imagine what would have happened if the resignation had been accepted.

scenario 1: there would have been no Shiite in the Lebanese government: no minister to represent Lebanon’s largest community. And other ministers (newly appointed or not) would have replaced them in their function. This would have seemed quite shocking to many Lebanese and it would have been difficult to claim that the government is a legitimate one when one of the main political blocks and communities is excluded from it.

scenario 2: the Prime Minister would have replaced the pro-Amal and pro-Hezbollah ministers by other Shiite ministers representing other political groups or not representing. The Amal and Hezbollah blocks would have certainly reacted to this designation very strongly. It’s not sure that the government would have been able to find 5 shiite ministers willing to oppose the main representatives of the Shiite community (in and out of Parliament). And even if they had, it’s not sure that they would have sustained the social and political pressure that would have be exerted on them from their co-religionists.

Either way, the government would have had to deal with the political crisis. By not accepting their resignation, it was entering a new status quo, that had very little political consequences within the pro-government and the opposition parties. The price the country would pay for it was obviously overlooked for it would be invariably blamed on the opponent.

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

Buidling homes to connect people: why not in Nahr el Bared?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 09/11/2007

storylebanonafp.jpgI enterred a jolly argument with some guy in cyberspace over Nahr el Bared. And this has been going on for a couple of days. This brought me back to a question I’ve been asking myself for a couple of months now: What would be a relevant peace initiative in such a situation? The work I carried out this summer with som IDP children coming from that camp was neither relevant nor a real peace initiative (for many reasons that I could develop in some other post).
I remembered an article I had photocopied some time ago on an Irish initiative that seemed to be quite succesful. The operation was called “Blitz Build” and it was carried out by Catholics and Protestants in Glencairn with the help of Habitat for humanity. I believe Offre Joie, a very active Lebanese organisation, participated in a similar operation in southern Lebanon last year, in cooperation with my Alma Mater. Maybe something similar could be done in Nahr el Bared… I should give it a bit more thought and start doing contacts…

Posted in Blogosphere, Lebanon, Palestinians, Peace | 1 Comment »

Geneva Initiative, 4 years after.

Posted by worriedlebanese on 06/11/2007

batisseru.jpgIn three weeks, we will be celebrating the 4th anniversary of the Geneva Initiative. A very interesting book I’m reading brought this Israeli-Palestinian initiative back to my mind. David Chemla’s Bâtisseurs de la Paix (Liana Levi, Paris, 2005) is in fact a very important complementary reading to this Draft Permanent Status Agreement, because it consists of extended interviews with its main protagonists: Nazmi al-Jubeh, Ami Ayalon, Abdel Jader Al-Hussein, Dror Etkes, Qadira Fares, Tsvia Grinfeld, Radi Harai, David Grossman (who lost a son during the July War/Second Lebanese War), Zehira Kamal, Amram Mitzna, Saman Khoury, Haïm Oron, Ibrahim Khreishi, Ron Pundak, Sari Nusseibeh, Rafi Walden. The interviews were done by David Chemla, head of the French section of Peace Now: La paix maintenant.

These interviews give you a clear picture on the dynamics that resulted in the Geneva Initiative. For those like myself who are critical about the accord, it gives you all the argument you need to show why their accord was doomed to failure.

Posted in Civil Society, Israel, Middle East, Palestinian territories, Peace | Leave a Comment »

My approach to dealing with Israel/Palestine

Posted by worriedlebanese on 02/11/2007

face_off_israeli_soldier_palestinian_man.jpgFor over a year now, I have been experimenting with a new approach to deal with the Israeli/Palestinian issue. If one has to sum it up in one word, it would be “non-arithmetic”. I deliberately choose not to add 1 and 1, not to subtract an Israeli perspective from a Palestinian one (or vice versa), but to juxtapose them, to approach them as separate and distinct even though they pertain mostly to the same objects (land, places and dates).
In times of extreme polarisation, I believe there’s no other way to proceed because the conflict is so vibrant, there is no place for shifts and change, no place for a meta-narrative, no place for conflicting sub-narratives. Any attempt to increase the value of those narratives will ultimately fail because of the strong polarisation that affects everyone (from which no one can be immune from). Even if a person has a different perspective, he will have to take sides and sacrifice even his own experience to the narrative shared by his group. This is the price one pays for belonging.
The non-arithmetic approach that I have adopted is not a neutral one. I don’t believe there is such a thing. Actually, I don’t quite understand the meaning of the word “neutrality” or “objectivity” in such a context. When one faced with several narratives, how can one be neutral toward them? All narratives are subjective, and each and everyone of us follows one or another according to his/her inclinations. For a debate over my positioning, you could check out a debate I had a year ago with a fellow blogger Taltalk “Weighing victimhood and competing suffering”

Posted in Israel, Palestinian territories, Politics, Prejudice | 11 Comments »

This Lebanese is still worried

Posted by worriedlebanese on 01/11/2007

It’s been many months that I haven’t written posts on a regular basis. But this doesn’t mean in any way that I have lost interest in middle-eastern politics, shied from political debate or stopped being worried about the whole situation the region seems to be stuck in. It’s just that keeping up a blog is quite time consuming and frankly I had other priorities that hardly left me any time for sleep!Fortunately they’re over now and I can make time to think calmly about them and even write a couple of posts a week so as to throw into cyberspace some ideas I have about what’s going in Western Asia.What’s great about this region is that even if extreme violence can flare at any time, the dynamics never seem to change. You can recycle everything you’ve ever thought or said about the region by simply modifying the name of the players and changing the date of writing.I feel I can easily resume where I had left off a couple of months ago without loosing a thing.In Palestine/Israel, it’s pretty much the same. The Israeli government is still waving sticks at Hamas and carrots at Fateh. Mahmoud Abbas is still showing that like many other Arab leaders, clinging to power is what he does best. And he has enough arrogance to do it at any cost; the highest being that of a complete political and social paralysis and/or regression. He is the perfect example of what the Americans term a “Moderate” (I should write a post on Moderates, maybe next week).Lebanon is still the Middle East’s favourite playground/battleground (not even Iraq has managed to compete with us withstanding the records that are being broken there in bombings and killings)

Posted in Blogosphere, Middle East, Politics | Leave a Comment »