Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Archive for March, 2009

Suleiman Mutating… What to expect after the parliamentary elections

Posted by worriedlebanese on 20/03/2009

11136021816 1. The President’s metamorphosing face

Two days ago, I stumbled on two interesting quotes from President Suleiman that signal an imminent change in his presidency. Up to now, he played his role as the Taef Agreement laid it out for him, not even as an arbitrator but as a “go-between with an attitude”. 

– “We, in Lebanon, should work to form a Senate after creating a national committee to abolish confessionalism” [quoted by the Daily star, March 18th edition].

This proposition is actually a simple reformulation of an article inscribed in the constitution following the Taef agrrement. 

– After the election, we shall embark on amending the Taëf agreements […] let us not fear those who threaten us […] and continue to resist and to defend the Cedar revolution [quoted by Orient Le Jour, March 18th edition].

After proposing major institutional changes that are actually an implementation of the Taëf Agreement: a National Committee to abolish confessionalism, the formation of a Senate… President Suleiman talks of  amending the Taëf agreements. He doesn’t specify in what way, but he is probably hinting at the revision of the powers of the President, a strong demand within the Christian community. 

2. Following Chehab’s footsteps… and not missing one mistake

These two quotes show us how Michel Suleiman envisages the remaining years of his presidency. He sees it in a more proactive way, invested with the mission of reforming the State’s institutions. This is exactly the way  President Chehab saw it. 

Moreover, he upholds the two main slogans of the rival political blocs: continuing the resistance and pursuing the Cedar Revolution. This is also a typical Chehabist posture:  conciliatory, and meant to be above the political squabble.

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Posted in Democracy, History, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Politics, Reform, Semantics | Leave a Comment »

March 14th washes whiter than white!

Posted by worriedlebanese on 19/03/2009

4 After presenting the setting and the main protagonists, it’s time to get to the action.

During the past year, Michel Murr decided to drift away from Michel Aoun’s bloc and proclaim his independence. As expected, this move was more than welcomed by the March 14th alliance’s Christian branch. 

Since 2005, Murr had hardly missed any of the FPM’s weekly meetings in Rabieh (Aoun’s dwelling), where he sat on the right of Michel Aoun. But on the onset of election year, he put himself on the political market, proclaiming his independence and his readiness to negotiate a new alliance.

What are Michel Murr’s assets?

– A large network of clients based on his past control and prevailing leverage within the Ministry of the Interior (that he ceded to his son in 2000) and other ministries and state institutions in which he placed his men (and sometimes women). This leverage extends to a great number of municipalities in the Metn that he harnessed financially for many years and in which he has many faithful civil servants. 

– An old alliance with Tashnag, a prominent Armenian party with a very disciplined popular base. It can sway the vote of most Armenians voting in the district.

– A great number of recently naturalised Lebanese who feel indebted towards Murr for the granting of the citizenship (he was Minister of the Interior then), and some of which have previously been threatened by him if they failed to vote in favor of him. I remember quite vividly an incident where policemen came to visit a recently naturalised citizen to remind him for whom he should be voting and warning him that he would be stripped of his nationality if he failed to oblige. 

During the present legislature, Michel Aoun and his block did nothing to curb Michel Murr’s power based on the very principles the FPM vowed to combat. This proved the March 14th coalition right in their criticism of the alliance between the two Michels in 2005. 

However, since the end of 2008, the christian figures of the March 14th alliance have been extremely courteous towards Michel Murr, and today, Amin Gemayel and Nassib Lahoud are trying to strike an agreement with him to run on the same slate, one in which Michel Murr seems to want half of the seats for the very least.

Has Michel Murr changed? Not in his conduct. But he is no longer untouchable in the eyes of the majority. Powerful, respectable, immaculate once again.

Posted in Discourse, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics, Reform, Semantics, Values | Leave a Comment »

A backdrop to Political Laundering

Posted by worriedlebanese on 18/03/2009

250px-lebanon_districts_matnA quick look at Lebanese petty politics. Today a backdrop, tomorrow the telling details.

Many analysts have predicted that in the coming parliamentary elections, the Metn constituency will be “the mother of all battles” (along with the other districts they use the expression for:  all those of Mount Lebanon, at least two districts of the Beqaa and one district in Beirut).

Why is the political battle in this constituency so important? Well, it doesn’t have to do with the number of MPs that will be elected there or the economical wealth of the district.  Its importance is foremost symbolic. From here hail the Kataeb. This is where the political opposition to the Syrian “mandate” was the most vocal; it’s the birthplace of the Qornet Shehwan gathering (which grouped the Christian personalities “critical” towards Syria and which latter became the christian branch of the March 14th coalition)…

Now let’s get to the details: it’s the fiefdom of two of the most prominent representatives of the Christian group within the March 14th coalition. Both personalities had failed to win a seat in the previous elections. Theose two men are: 

Amin Gemayel, leader of the Kataeb (formerly, Lebanon’s largest political party). He wasn’t able to regain “his family’s seat” that his assassinated son occupied in the 2007 by-elections.

Nassib Lahoud, leader of the Democratic Renewal (hardly a party by any standard). He lost his (family) seat against Aoun’s candidates in 2005.

Moreover, this region hosts the headquarters of Michel Aoun‘s Free Patriotic Movement (the leader’s dwelling of course), and for years, it was in the tight grip of Michel Murr, the emblem of political corruption, clientelism, dirty politics, smart and opportunist political maneuvering. 

Although the battle is between Aoun on one side, and Gemayel and Lahoud on the other, the main star is no other than Murr. During the Syrian “mandate”, this man controlled one of the three largest pro-syrian christian blocs in parliament (the two others were controlled by Hariri and Jumblatt). He had entered an alliance with Aoun (the symbol of the “resistance” to Syrian occupation) when the wind changed, accepting to reduce his parliamentary bloc to one person: himself. This being said, his political downsizing on the parliamentary scene was not met with a reduction in political weight within the State’s institutions. Even though “in opposition”, he still held his leverage and power within several administrations belonging to the Ministry of the Interior.

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

Marketing belligerence: “The ultimate mission to Israel”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 16/03/2009

misssionsI stumbled upon an astonishing tourism program this morning called “The Mission“. It offers “a dynamic and intensive eight day exploration of Israel’s struggle for survival and security in the Middle East today: a military, humanitarian, historical, judicial, religious, and political reality check“.

Not only you are served propaganda, but you pay for it too! 

Take a look at the “Mission Highlights”:

  • Briefings by Mossad officials and commanders of the Shin Bet.
  • Briefing by officers in the IDF Intelligence and Operations branches.
  • Inside tour of the IAF unit who carries out targeted killings.
  • Live exhibition of penetration raids in Arab territory.
  • Observe a trial of Hamas terrorists in an IDF military court.
  • First hand tours of the Lebanese front-line military positions and the Gaza border check-points.
  • Inside tour of the controversial Security Fence and secret intelligence bases.
  • Meeting Israel’s Arab agents who infiltrate the terrorist groups and provide real-time intelligence.
  • Briefing by Israel’s war heros who saved the country.
  • Meetings with senior Cabinet Ministers and other key policymakers.
  • Small airplane tour of the Galilee, Jeep rides in the Golan heights, water activities on Lake Kinneret, a cook-out barbecue and a Shabbat enjoying the rich religious and historic wonders of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Isn’t it just mind boggling. This tour invites you to share an experience where the most controversial of policies are presented as necessary, legitimate, lawful and heroic (targeted killing, penetration raids, separation wall)…

I wonder what a Lebanese version of such a show would look like. Any suggestions for an “Ultimate Mission to Lebanon”?

Posted in Israel, Middle East, Values, Violence | 1 Comment »

March 14th vows “passage to the state”!

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/03/2009

14mconfLebanon is assuredly an odd country. Upon taking office, politicians vow the “establishment of a state of law and legal institutions”, and when a national television airs citizens’ complaints, we overhear a grieving or accusatory question: “where’s the State?!” 

And now we have a large coalition of politicians and their “parties” promise that in case of victory in the coming elections, they will work on making Lebanon evolve to a State! 

For a country that was established close to a century ago, this is truly an admission of utter failure. This statement begs two questions:

1- How true is this assessment?

2- Who is responsible for the current state of affairs, and who should be held accountable for it?

Let’s start with the second question because it is easier to answer. If it is true that Lebanon is a failed state, who can be held responsible for it? Well, it’s either the politicians who held office since the establishment of the State, or it is those who actively participated in the two civil wars that tore the country apart. Well, it’s hardly an either or question because one can quickly realise that the two groups are actually one and the same.

Now let’s tackle the first question swiftly (and broadly). The State is effectively the principle distributor of wealth in Lebanon. Through its regulatory power, the most productive sectors of the economy, creating or managing cartels and monopolies (we have seen this in the banking sector, in the advertising sector, in the media sector, in the telecommunication sector, in real estate, and even in the touristic sector…). Furthermore, the State is the first employer, the first educator (largest school network, largest university… providing education for the majority of students in Lebanon).

With those elements in head, can’t one say that Lebanon is already a State… and that it doesn’t need a safe passage granted by a coalition of politicians with a rather grim record to get there?

Posted in Communication, Discourse, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Reform, Semantics | Leave a Comment »

Anticonfessionalism at its best*

Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/03/2009

_30381_ziad_baroudA month to the day, Ziad Baroud, Lebanon’s Interior Minister, issued a circular giving every Lebanese citizen the right to remove the reference to his/hers religion from the Civil Registry’s records. The circular instructed the registrar to accept all requests made by citizens to delete the reference to their religion in their records.  It added that such a right is protected by the Lebanese constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international agreements that Lebanon has ratified.

This decision (and the laudatory reactions to it) enraged me so much it paralysed me. Here was the perfect illustration of a highly ideological step that was the fruit of a soon to be century old legal and conceptual confusion on Middle-Eastern communalism. Nowhere in the press did I find any critical approach to that decision. All comments were congratulatory.  Some pundits even spoke of a step towards the end of religious discrimination!? Who exactly is discriminated against? And obviously, no one spoke of the legal difficulties that are likely to arrise from this decision.

*which is bad enough

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Discourse, Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Religion, Secularism, Values | 2 Comments »

Sham wedding, lebanese idiosyncrasies & ideological quagmire

Posted by worriedlebanese on 10/03/2009

d5c0203b3e291f242559e93e6ae35f  Only today, I stumbled on this article published by the AFP. It’s a pity that there’s no mention of an author. Someone has to tell him a thing or two about the inaccuracies and misrepresentation that his article contains.

AFP article:  Lebanese lovebirds in illegal Valentine’s wedding

For starters, the wedding is not illegal. There is no law banning civil marriages taking place on national territory in Lebanon. But there is no authority licensed to organise them either. 

On the other hand, a mariage abiding by any foreign legislation or  according to the laws of any one of Lebanon’s 17 recognised communities is considered valid. So in principle, a religious (hindu in India for instance) or civil mariage (between two men in Brussels for example) celebrated abroad according to the laws of that country is valid in Lebanon. 

Another element that infuriated me in this article is former militia man and current MP, Elias Atallah’s statement claiming “”The religious communities have all the rights in Lebanon. A Lebanese person, as a 

citizen, has nothing”. That is sheer nonsense. A Lebanese citizen has all rights in Lebanon. And he certainly has more rights than the religious communities. A question I would have like to ask him if were the interview would be, “what exactly are the religious communities rights in Lebanon”. I’m sure he wouldn’t have been able to come up with more than three (because that is about the number of rights they have).

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Civil Society, Discourse, Idiosyncrasy 961, Lebanon, Religion, Secularism, Values | Leave a Comment »

Someone please tell Siniora that charity starts at home

Posted by worriedlebanese on 09/03/2009

siniora-clinton-420-03309013049Siniora pledged 1m $ to Gaza last week. How considerate, how charitable, what a great signe of arab solidarity, right? nah.

What a PR stunt! What a typical arab face saving scheme!  What a pitiful action to obscure the fact that the Lebanese government did nothing when the battle was raging in Gaza. This kind of reaction is expected from the Gulf’ Petro-States. Petro-dollars are surely their best diplomatic and political asset.  But Lebanon is no petro-State, and the country doesn’t have a dollar to spare.

What it has is a relatively old diplomatic tradition, some very dynamic and imaginative diplomats (No, this comment is not intended for a regular reader), and quite a numerous Palestinian population born and raised in Lebanon. So why not start with that? Why wasn’t Lebanon more active in December and January? Why didn’t our diplomacy find a way to reconcile the two arab positions concerning Gaza? Why doesn’t the government find an imaginative solution to have a diplomatic representation in Palestine ? Why doesn’t Siniora use the million dollars he promised to Gaza to help out Lebanon’s Palestinian or to finance programmes (or a larger public institution) to advance the condition of this disenfranchised population and its relations with Lebanese nationals?

Instead of those necessary actions, all Siniora did was secure a photo-op with Ms Clinton.

Posted in Justice, Lebanon, Middle East, Palestinians, Values, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Gaza… Closed zone

Posted by worriedlebanese on 05/03/2009

Well, there’s a first time for everything. Up to now, I had never inserted a youtube video in this blog. I didn’t see the point of it. But how can you resist Yoni Goodman’s short film “Closed Zone”. I discovered it on Haaretz’s website. For anyone reading this blog, and interested in the Middle East, you should check out this Israeli paper as often as possible. I believe it is by far the best daily in the Middle East. Sure it has its biases, it is after all an israeli rather judeo-centric and left leaning newspaper. But you’ll probably find in its pages the best reporting and analysis on the conflict.

As for the film, it’s really worth the click, and it only runs a minute and a half. Yoni Goodman created it for the Israeli NGO Gisha devoted to the freedom of movement.  He is no other than the animator of “Waltz with Bashir”.

I would have preferred a slightly more condensed version of the clip, without the final frames in which the bird is caged. They are rather redundant and the message is quite clear without them.

Posted in Egypt, Israel, Palestinian territories, Palestinians, Security, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Nothing so bad it cannot be made worse

Posted by worriedlebanese on 02/03/2009

Storm GatheringThat’s the sentence I came up with when I tried to find a way to be optimistic about the situation in the Middle East. The only hope I could grasp was that today is undoubtedly better than tomorrow; so let’s make the best of it and seize the opportunities that are withering away.

The greatest advance would be to find a way to preserve them.

Posted in Middle East, Political behaviour | 4 Comments »