Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Archive for May, 2009

Change(?) we CAN’T believe in… (2)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/05/2009

While the quadripartite oligarchy is denying Lebanese muslims the right to choose their representatives, they are allowing the Christian electorate to do so… “Allowing” is actually an understatement. They are “actively encouraging” the Christian electorate to vote. And what is the outcome of the electorate’s choice? The Christians will actually determine the balance of power within the ruling oligarchy.

This is for the policial side… But the politicians and the journalists are trying to tell us that it’s not about Politics but about Geopolitics… Well, in that case, theoretically, there would have been a possibility of Christian arbitration between two geopolitical choices. Why theoretically? Simple because the Christians electorate is so fragmented that it will invariably bring about a pluralistic representation, so it’s not about arbitration… it’s about sway: they will either tilt the balance towards one part of the oligarchy or the other.

Picture 2Picture 5Now let’s try to look beyond the “geopolitical debates” and into the electoral battle. But not too long because it would be depressing. The extreme polarisation of politics in Lebanon is affecting the Christian community quite deeply, even though there is very little in stake for it. Whatever the outcome of the election is, the quadripartite oligarchy will remain in place, and each side will feed its Christian allies as much as the other is willing to feed its own (the Doha effect’s basic principle).

It is true that the politicians and their journalist acolytes are trying to convince their political base that the elections are about geopolitics and the type of government we’re going to have (even though the quadripartite oligarchy will impose a “national unity government” whatever the outcome is)… But these arguments are quite secondary. The real polarisation is around Aoun. Are you with or against him?! This again is a trivial question because Lebanon already has a President, and it’s not even the coming parliament that’s going to elect the next President! Furthermore, Aoun does not have the power  to control (sociologically, economically, religiously or militarily) “his” MPs, unlike the quadripartite oligarchy. So it’s really for “his” party that one will be eventually voting for or against.

So basically, one can easily say that the debate within the Christian society is a trivial one, and the outcome of their choice will have very little results on them, unless one side is crushed (which is not only unlikely, but seems practically impossible).


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

Change(?) we DON’T believe in… (1)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/05/2009

DistrictsThe quadripartite oligarchy has decided to unburden Sunnis, Shiites and Druze with the hardships of democratic choice. The weight of the electoral battle lays on shoulders of the Christians.

This is not particularly new. In 2005, the Quadripartite oligarchy had struck an alliance, withstanding its members’ opposing geopolitical alliances. The Christian electorate had to choose between the christian allies of this quadripartite alliance and those who opposed (or were left out of) this alliance (most notably the Free Patriotic Movement).

Today, things have slightly changed. The quadripartite oligarchy is not running on the same tickets  (even though the geopolitical rift between it’s two parts isn’t as big as before). Why? Probably because they no longer need it (Politics has precedence on Geopolitics)!

The 1960 electoral divisions has clearly set aside  the Shiite electorate from the Sunni and Druze electorates. Bahia Hariri’s election no longer depends on the Shiite electorate, and Berri doesn’t risk opposing votes from Sunni Saïda… And if you check out the competing lists, you will find that the quadripartite oligarchy, even divided, doesn’t face much competition, and the rivalry between its members is almost inexistent. Do Hezbollah and Amal support a rival to Mustaqbal (Future Movement) or Ishtiraki (PSP)? Not really… Do the Mustaqbal or Ishtiraki support a rival to the Hezbollah-Amal bulldozer? Not really… The quadripartite oligarchy has unburdened Sunnis, Shiites and Druze from the hardships of democratic choice!

The only change is to be found on the Christian side. The battle no longer is between the allies and foes of the quadripartite oligarchy, but between two groups of its allies. Oddly enough, for the first time since the 1972, the Christian electorate will be able to choose more than half of the Christian MPs (36 Christian MPs and 4 Muslim MPs: mostly in historical Mount Lebanon and East Beirut). Moreover, this electorate still enjoys important leverage for the choice of another 7 MPs (5 Christian and 2 Muslim in Zahlé). Under such conditions, one would expect the Christian parties to have a greater autonomy from the internal rifts of the Quadripartite alliance. But this isn’t so.

Here’s my thoughts on why this is the case!

The recent evolution of the patronage system: Even though most of the Christians share the same political views and cultural perceptions, they were not integrated into a dominant denominational patronage structure in the 1990s by the Syrians, unlike the Shiites (under Nabil Berri’s Amal Movement), the Druze (under Jumblatt’s Ishtiraki) or to a slightly smaller extent, the Sunnis (under Rafik Hariri’s Mustaqbal Movement). Many of them were actually split up between those three groups (especially in Beirut, Southern Lebanon and Southern Mount Lebanon where traditionally “indepedent” patrons such as Michel Pharaon, Fuad Saad, Salah Honein became clients of larger Muslim patrons), while the rest were integrated into smaller denominational patronage structure (that of Michel Murr,  Suleiman Frangieh, Elias Skaff).

Geopolitical positioning: the quadripartite oligarchy has replaced politics with geo-politics. And two of its members (Hezbollah and Mustaqbal) enjoys very strong regional and international backing (financial and military). In such a game, the Christians find themselves with no allies and with no say.

Electoral reasons: The Quadripartite oligarchy commands the election of no less than 21 Christian MPs (the Hezbollah-Amal alliance: 5 christian MPs; the Mustaqbal-Ishtiraki alliance: 16 MPs). In those elections, the Christians electorate has no say at all. Moreover, one member of the quadripartite oligarchy can have an important influence for sway votes in the choice of 10 additional Christian MPs (in districts where the Christians electorate is dominant).

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

Remembering Nahr el Bared

Posted by worriedlebanese on 20/05/2009

bombThis most will probably strike my countrymen as being anti-patriotic. Under Lebanese law, such posting is considered illegal because it sullies the image of Lebanon and the Lebanese armies. Two accusations that are considered to “prejudice national security interests”.

Rubbish if you tell me.

Two years to day, violence erupted in Nahr el-Bared Camp between the Lebanese army and Fateh el-Islam. The battle raged for 15 weeks, scattering the camp’s residents (around 30 000) claiming the life of hundreds, levelling the camp’s center (the “old camp”).  most of the campIt took the army  more than three months to vanquish Fateh el-Islam. The battles had a devastating effect on the camp and its population. Its center (“the old camp”).

1192897162As expected, no investigation was carried to determine the responsibility in letting Fateh el-Islam arm itself within the camp (didn’t the army intelligence know about it? why didn’t it prevent it? why didn’t it inform the government? why didn’t the Ministry of Defence react?). And no investigation was done surrounding the actions of the army during the battle. Sure Fateh el-Islam was ruthless, but does that justify or excuse the exactions carried out by some soliders (summery execution, insults, humiliation, looting…). Certainly not. I ran across a very disturbing site on the internet. It’s accusations might be groundless, but then maybe not. I would have liked to have a thorough investigation with the rights given to the victims to press charges against the army or soldiers.

In the fight against armed islamists, taking a moral stand is not only a moral necessity for those who are waging the battle, but it is a condition for its ultimate success.

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

Elections in Lebanon – The continuance of the Doha effect -2

Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/05/2009

qatar - dialogue hall 3People usually speak of the Doha effect as a consequence, that of the military takeover of West Beirut by Hezbollah (and the later withdrawal). But it also had an unexpected effect, that of transforming the relationship between the Quadripartite oligarchy with its christian allies.

The Quadripartite oligarchy is composed of the dominant political groups during the Syrian mandate over Lebanon:  Nabih Berry’s Amal (i.e. Hope)  Movement, Hariri’s Future Movement, Jumblat’s Progressif Socialist Party and Hezbollah (under the commandment of Hassan Nasrallah). For over the decades, it had managed to dominate the political landscape through its alliance with Syrian political figures (i.e. the President and his men, and later his son…), through the recognition of its territorial power (true for Jumblatt in southern Mount Lebanon, Berry and Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon and the Beqaa. Less true for Hariri who had problems having it recognised), through its power over its community within the State’s institutions, and lastly, through a spoil system in which three of these groups split most of the Christian MPs between themselves, expanded their political weight in Parliament (sometimes doubling it) and hence took a larger share of the State’s ressources.

One would have expected this to change after the Syrian army’s withdrawal from Lebanon and the end of its Mandate, but it didn’t. Even though the March 14th alliance’s backbone was mainly Christian, its two members that belonged to the Quadripartite alliance treated the Christian parties as junior partners and maintained their Christian cronies (calling them independents) in parliament and the government, giving “them” the larger share (but actually keeping it for themselves).

Widening the Quadripartite oligarchy to Christian partners

After the Doha agreement, things changed. When the Shiite branch of the Quadripartite oligarchy started treating its ally, Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, as a Senior Partner, the Druzo-Sunni branch of the oligarchy had to do the same. Even though none of the Christian partners have a real weight in the political system (neither economical, nor military, nor politically). They just benefited from the competition between the two branches of the oligarchy.

This unexpected effect of the Doha agreement after appearing in the formation of the government is being translated today in the parliamentary elections. Whatever the outcome of the elections is going to be on the Christian scene, one thing is sure, the Oligarchy’s allies are going to win (over the “independents”, “pseudo-independents”, Quadripartite christian affiliates…) on both sides, claiming (and bargaining for) their share in the system; and they’re going to be even more autonomous as before, with a larger share of power and State ressources.

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

Elections in Lebanon – The Downsizing of the Quadripartite oligarchy -1

Posted by worriedlebanese on 06/05/2009

QuadripartiteNext month, the Lebanese will be electing a new parliament. I will be posting these coming days my thoughts on this question. Today, a look at the Quadripartite alliance.

The downsizing of the Quadripartite alliance Oligarchy

The biggest looser will undoubtedly be Walid Jumblatt. During the Syrian occupation, he not only commanded the largest Druze parliamentary block in Lebanese history, but he doubled his parliamentary weight by commanding as many Christian MPs as Druze MPs (and some would argue more). In the coming elections, he risks loosing 3 Druze MPs (in Baabda, Rashaya and Hasbaya) and is certain to loose a greater number of Christian MPs to his Christian allies (Kataeb, National Liberal Party or Lebanese Forces) or foes (Free Patriotic Movement).

What about the other three: Amal, Hezbollah and Future Movement.

The Future Movement has shown to be rather poor in organising a strong political base, but is sure to benefit from the Hezbollah effect. Many Sunnis will vote for him because they see in him the only Sunni force able (more or less) to stand up to Hezbollah. But his constituency is growing weaker with time and he might loose a couple of Sunni seats and has already handed out some Christian seats to Christian allies or foes (Tashnag).

Amal and Hezbollah still control a highly effective electoral monster that was given to them by the Syrians: the bulldozer. It will certainly crush their Shiite rivals in the large Shiite constituencies of the South (Sour, Nabatieh, Bint Jbeil) and the Beqaa (Baalbeck-Hermel). It is likely to have the same effect in the mixed constituencies through their political alliances. But they are likely to loose a couple of Christian MPs to their Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement (in Jezzin).

In other words, the Quadripartite alliance of 2005 is still going to be the greatest winner in the game; its political division (and electoral rivalry) working for the domination of each political group within its community in the same way their electoral alliance allowed it in 2005. The only difference will be the Doha effect; the birth of real partnerships with Christian parties on both sides of the political spectrum (even if the partnerships are deeply asymmetrical).

Posted in Hezbollah, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics | 1 Comment »

اسباب الهستيريا المسيحية في لبنان …الهرع بعد الإحباط

Posted by worriedlebanese on 02/05/2009

hysteriaIt’s the first time I choose an Arabic title for my posting. I couldn’t find better words to qualify the socio-psychological evolution of the Christian community in Lebanon. It’s quite difficult to translate a word such as احباط (Ihbat) which has a similar etymological  structure as the word depression, that can be translated as “frustration”  but that is better rendered by the word  “hopelessness”.

Surprisingly enough, very little attention has been given to this macro “psychological” shift amongst Lebanese Christians.

One can explain it by showing the extreme polarisation in Lebanese politics with clear communal cuts everywhere except among the Christians… One can regret its damaging effects: incapacity of discussing politics in most Christian circles, continuous insults and accusations… But one cannot deny it.

Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Discourse, Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Political behaviour, Prejudice | 2 Comments »