Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Archive for June, 2009

Lobby for the appointment of these MINISTERS (and now the guys)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 30/06/2009

  • Ministry of Secularism, Religious & Communal affairs

Borrowed from NOW Lebanon

This ministry is certainly the trickiest of all. Its basic mission is to set the record straight about Lebanon’s secularism and its commitment to the recognition of religious communities and their rights.

Wouldn’t Ziad Baroud be great in it? Sure, our current Minister of the Interior has made quite a blunder on this particular issue with his decision to allow people to cross of their communal membership on the civil registries (a sloppy decision with a very muddled legal justification). But he is a fast learner, and he can be quite flexible…

  • Nizar SaghiehMinister of Civil liberties & Rights: Now this ministry would have the important task of fighting censorship (replacing the censorship bureau with a rating bureau), putting some order into the Personal registries and modernising them (giving each citizen a personal number instead of a family number linked to one locality, reinstating the obligatory mention of communal membership, reinstating the mention of place of residency), and proposing legislation for the protection of civil liberties and privacy. This ministry should equally insure that all residents in Lebanon benefit from the legislation protecting and guaranteeing civil rights and liberties. And this legistlation should also encompass a broadening of our legislation on political refugees from the Arab States, if Lebanon wants to truly become the beacon of democracy and free thoughts.

Who better than Nizar Saghieh could do the job? This lawyer is one of the founders of Hurriyyat Khassa (Private Liberties), a Lebanese human rights organization founded on October 1, 2002 (not sure it’s still active). He has published widely on such topics as reform of the judicial system and the memory of war (in Arabic).

  • Minister of Defence and Human Security: A Lebanese General. Not really familiar with the Kaki world. Does anyone have a person in mind?
  • Minister of Palestinian Affairs.

Chibli Mallat (2005)

This ministry is certainly the most “explosive” new ministry I have suggested, both metaphorically and literally. Palestinian affairs” are a very sensitive issue in Lebanon. After all, this group was singled out in the 1990s as being responsible for the civil war. Moreover, if you want to terrorize a Lebanese Christian, just mention the possible naturalisation of Palestinians… This fear runs so deep that the preambule of our constitution sees it fit to explicitly state “NO to naturalisation”. And this is used as an excuse for rampant discrimination against a population that is mostly born in Lebanon (and has never been anywhere else).
Finally, the Lebanese Army and Police still respect the Cairo Accords (though they have been abrogated), and refuses to enter the Palestinian neighbourhoods or settlements (called “camps” to emphasise their ephemerality) and the Palestinian training camps (now these are usually quite far from palestinian settlements).

Chibli Mallat is a lawyer and a professor of law. Director, Centre for the Study of the European Union. He currently teaches in the US. He considers himself left-leaning and supportive of Palestinian rights. He was candidate to the Presidential elections in 2004. Nobody really took him seriously.

  • Minister of Municipalities and Decentralisation

Karam KaramKaram Karam. No, not the old one, the young one!  He’s the one sitting next to Ziad Baroud in this picture. He is a researcher in political science that had worked a couple of years ago on the Municipal Elections. He used to be close to the IFPO (French Institute for the Near East) and now works for the LCPS (Lebanese center for Policy Studies). He is also an active member of LADE (The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections).

Posted in Civil Society, Fiction, Lebanon, Politics, Propositions, Reform | Leave a Comment »

Lobby for the appointment of these MINISTERS (ladies first)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 28/06/2009

Ladies first:

Minister of Cultural innovation, Heritage, Media and Communication

ChristineTohme4.JPGChristine Tohmé. She is a cultural organiser, born in Beirut in 1964. She founded Ashkal Alwan in 1994, a Lebanese Association for the Plastic Arts. It is a non-profit organisation that initiates and supports the production of contemporary artistic practice and provides a grounding for critical reflection and theory with the aim of promoting free thought and critical discourse in Lebanon.

Minister of Green economy and environmental affairs

Picture 4Nayla Tueini. Lebanon’s youngest MP. Also known as the smurf because of the poster she used during her electoral campaign. Heir to three political families. Her grandfather (Michel Murr) and her grandmother’s brother (Marwan Hamade) are both MPs. She inherited her parliamentary seat from her father, Gibran Tueni who was savagely assassinated in 2005. She also replaced him in the family’s Newspaper. An-Nahar (Lebanon’s most prestigious Newspaper… which says a lot about the quality of our Press).

Minister of Social solidarity and governance.

leila_al_solh_hamadeh Layla Solh Hemadé. She is the vice-president of Al-Walid bin Talal Foundation, and was  Lebanon’s first woman minister. Born in Beirut in 1946, she is the daughter of the former Prime Minister Riyadh Solh.

Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation is a charitable and philanthropic organization established by Sauid Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal (nephew of Leila Solh)

jalloul_ghinwa

Ministry of Administrative Affairs

Ghinwa Jalloul. Computer engineer, Professor of Computer Science at the American University of Beirut. She was born in 1962. She was a Future Movement MP from 2000 to 2009 (Beirut 3, Sunni Seat).


Minister of Foreign Affairs

kiwan

Fadia Kiwan. Professor of political science, Director of the Institute of political science (St Joseph University). Former Secretary of the National Bloc (under Raymond Edde). She is also a prominent researcher and activist in the field of human rights and advocacy activities in building democracy. She is a Member of the Executive Council of the National Commission for Lebanese women.

Lebanese Diplomacy is in much needed change. Fadia Kiwan is probably one of the few women in Lebanon who could pull off such a job.

PRX_PDT1

Minister of Education.

Salwa Saniora Baasiri. She is Secretary General of the Lebanese National Commission, and sister of outgoing Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

Minister of Remembrance & Reconciliation.

53748-BahiaHaririBahia Hariri. Obviously. Born in 1952, she became a teacher (1970- 1979), then she headed the Hariri Foundation, founded by her brother Rafik Hariri. She was first elected to the parliament in 1992 (Saida, Sunni Seat), and has held this seat ever since. She is Minister of Education in the outgoing Cabinet (2008-2009).

I would have obviously preferred  Wadad Halawani (head of the Committee of the Kidnapped and Missing in Lebanon), or Rabab Sadr Charafeddine, Mussa Sadr’s sister and Director, Imam Al Sadr Foundation (Beirut & Tyre). But I think Bahia Hariri has a better chance of creating such a ministry.

Minister of Justice.

Denise Khoury (judge) or Alia Zein (lawyer).

Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Fiction, Gender, Lebanon, Personal, Women | 3 Comments »

My criteria for a couple of ministerial appointments

Posted by worriedlebanese on 28/06/2009

Picture 3In a couple of weeks, Lebanon will likely have a new government. Pundits are discussing and arguing about numbers: should the minority coalition have a “blocking” third, how many Ministers should the President appoint…
I think it’s time to broaden the discussion to things that matter: principles!

Here are a couple of principles that I have followed in my appointment of  Ministers:
Choose a number of women possible (aim at one third of ministers): Women are underrepresented in our political system, and this is mainly because of a psychological barrier: women are not seen as possible candidates, women are not envolved in political life. Imagine that 2/3 of the President’s appointees are women… and that the President asks each bloc to name at least two women! Then we’ll have 6 or 7 women for ministers. With such a figure, be sure that there will be an increased number of women candidates in the next elections, and the proposition for a quota for women in Parliament will have more chances to be voted.
Choose non-politicians: These individuals should be are competent in their domain and have proven themselves in NGOs or through their academic or professional work.
Advantage youth (or at least people who are less than 50 years old).

Posted in Fiction, Gender, Lebanon, Personal, Propositions, Women | Leave a Comment »

Let’s break up the Interior Ministry!

Posted by worriedlebanese on 28/06/2009

dynamiteDismantling the Ministry of Interior?! Now that’s easier said than done. But it is quite obvious that such a ministry is more suited for Napoleonic times than ours. A country like the United States doesn’t have such a ministry. Why should we? Interior ministries are usually repressive, bureaucratic and static (immune to change). And ours certainly doesn’t have a very good record.
Now let’s have a quick look at the Ministry’s ambit. It is responsible for administrative affairs (e: Civil registries), policing, immigration matters, palestinian affairs and municipalities. Moreover, it represents the government at local levels (districts and governorates). This ministry is one of the major obstacle in front of a “national goal” set by the Taef accords, that of decentralisation! It is the authority in charge of censorship (its body includes religious people, a fact that has no grounds in constitutional law). It has invented several mechanisms that are quite objectionable (according “under-study” I.D. Cards… a status that can be inherited! It has deviated our laws on associations), and has failed in managing Palestinian affairs. Finally, the police is corrupt, ignores the laws that govern the society and is inefficient in maintaining civil peace.
I propose to subdivide it into six Ministries, two of which will be merged with existing ministries (namely the Ministry of Defence and the Office of the Minister of State for administrative reform.

  • bureaucracyMinistry of Administrative affairs
  • This ministry will take over all the “administrative” functions of the Interior Ministry: Ombudsman, Administrative reform, Civil registries…

  • Ministry of Civil liberties and rights
  • So as to balance the power of the Ministry of Defence and the obsession the government has with “security”, it is important to have a ministry in charge of promoting, protecting and expanding civil liberties.

  • Ministry of Secularism, Religious and Communal affairs
  • Lebanese are generally unaware that their country is amongst the most secular in the region, and that there is a complete separation between State Law and religious law. Unfortunately, the principle of separation between State and Church is not complete in Lebanon. Muslim communities still benefit from the State’s financial support (for their hierarchies and their courts), while Christian and Jewish communities don’t. But this can be changed following another principle, that of equal treatment of established religions.
    Moreover, people ignore that Religious freedom and membership to an established community have two different legal grounds. It is possible to adhere to any religion one wants, even if it is not recognised by the state, as long as one doesn’t threaten public order. Lastly, the same legal text establishing the different religious communities also recognizes the “Civil law community” (Communauté de droit commun). One of the aims of this new ministry would be to finally establish this community (with almost 80 years overdue).

  • Ministry of Palestinian Affairs
  • Palestinians affairs have been badly managed by the State from the onset. The focus has been on the fact that Palestinians are “Refugees” and that their primary (or sole) political right is to return to their country. All the rest has been neglected. Palestinians were not treated as individuals who have intrinsic rights as individuals, to be protected, to have a space to grow and thrive. This new ministry’s function is precisely to change this way of dealing with Palestinians. Not only will it be in charge of decommissioning within the camps, but also of organising elections for the representation of Palestinians in Lebanon, and for the modification of discriminatory legislation towards them (ex: they should be allowed to create NGOs under the same conditions as Lebanese or any resident in the country).

  • Ministry of Municipalities and Decentralisation
  • Decentralisation has been a national goal for almost twenty years, and yet nothing has been done up to now to start implementing it. By handing over to the Interior Ministry the function of supervising Municipalities (the only “decentralised” authority in Lebanon), the successive government have actually increased the centralisation of the State. By separating the two Ministries, the national goal will be highlighted, and there will be an authority that’s function is to devise a plan (mechanism and agenda) for this decentralisation, and then to follow it up.

  • Ministry of Defence and Human Security
  • SecurityThis Ministry is actually an expanded version of the Ministry of Defence. It will take over all the Policing responsibilities so as to concentrate all security and law enforcements efforts. This will help the country protect itself against external or internal threats. It will have the authority to modify and merge new forces for the sake of efficiency. It will have an agenda to decommission all non-governmental armed forces, fight corruption within the police force, modernize the army and protect Lebanon from foreign interventions and most importantly, protect the citizens in case of attack (by building shelters, organising evacuations…). The notion of “human security” (i.e. the citizen’s security) is at the center of the ministry’s thinking, and not the abstract notion such as “national security”. Its aim is to preserve human life.

Posted in Fiction, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Palestinians, Personal, Politics, Religion, Secularism, Values | Leave a Comment »

Transfiguring old ministries: Culture/Environment/Displaced

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/06/2009

Let’s start by looking at the relatively “new”  ministries that were created in the 1990s and that look ancient already. What I’m suggesting here is not a simple “lifting”, a kind of plastic surgery. It’s genetic manipulation and engineering that I have in mind. It’s time for these ministries to mutate! Basically , we’re looking at the Ministry of Culture (established in 1993), the Ministry of the environment (an Office of a Minister of State since 1981 established as a ministry in 1993), the Ministry of the Displaced (an Office of a Minister of State since 1992, established as a Ministry in 1993).

  • Ministry of Heritage, Cultural innovation, Media and Communication. The Ministry of Culture is probably the most underfunded ministry in the land. But that’s not its only problem. Most of the ministers who headed it seem to have looked down on it and failed to take it very seriously. Their vision of what this Ministery should or could do was rather limited. That is particularly true for the better ministers such as Ghassan Salamé (who was preoccupied with the Francophonie Summit), Tarek Mitri (who preferred to play Minister of Foreign Affairs), and Tamam Salam (who is completely taken by the project “Beirut, world book capital” that was totally neglected by his predecessor). So I suggest we expand this ministry and merge it with another ministry that seems better sooted for a totalitarian state: the Ministry of Information.
    Through this merger and expansion, we’ll have a ministry that is better suited to guide Lebanon into the information age where culture not only matters, but is an important (and ever expanding) economical sector.  two other ministries: The Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Information. This new Ministry will concentrate its effort on innovation, and making Lebanon a platform for artistic creativity in the Middle East. We already have a very productive audiovisual sector, and Lebanese youth are quite good in software and internet production… With a little push… and an energetic Minister, we could play wonders.

  • Ministry of Green economy and environmental affairs. The green economy is starting to grow in Lebanon, with organic farms, organic markets, eco-tourism, natural reserves…

grnventurepic2Unfortunately, the government’s approach to the environment hasn’t changed much. It is still focused on “natural reserves”, forestation and awareness. It’s high time somebody took it a step further.  Having a ministry in charge of an expanding economical sector is not only relevant, but necessary. It should be given the means to propose important changes in the Legislation (on imports of pollutants) and it should have a special office in charge of converting polluting industries in Lebanon.


  • Ministry of Remembrance & Reconciliation. Our Ministry of the displaced has a dreadful record. It was basically used as a tool to reintegrate Lebanese nationals into two clientelistic networks (notably, Walid Jumblatt’s and Nabih Berri’s). It’s time things changed.

united colors of lebanon Instead of simply abolishing this ministry (as former minister Nehmé Tohmé suggested, its mission should be expanded to deal with non-financial issues, and more specifically, social and psychological issues. Lebanon is deeply marked (and scarred) by intercommunal strife. Lives have been shattered, families broken up and destroyed, villages and neighbourhoods wiped off the map, livelihoods ruined… And very little has been done to deal with it, except giving money to two categories of people: those who are living in properties belonging to “displaced” (i.e. expelled) people, and displaced people whose property has suffered damages). A ministry that has to deal with this memory is probably what the country needs to heel its wounds. Such a ministry will help us go beyond the current cult of martyrs.


Posted in Culture, Fiction, Lebanon, Personal, Politics, Propositions, Reform, Values | 2 Comments »

Tania Saleh on Lebanese Politicians: “Ya Wled”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/06/2009

Posted in Civil Society, Discourse, Entertainment, Lebanon, Politics, Women | Leave a Comment »

Do you want CHANGE? lets start with new Ministries!!

Posted by worriedlebanese on 26/06/2009

Political formulaeIn two days, I’ll be proposing the names of people I’d like to see as Ministers in the coming government. But first, we need some new ministries to ge the country going!
I believe that some of our ministeries are anachronistic and should be abolished (Ministry of information, Office of the Minister of State for administrative reform, Ministry of Interior), some need to be expanded (Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Environment…).

So here’s a short list of Ministries that SHOULD be created, why? Because it’s time our country entered the 21st century. It’s also time we got over the silly, rigid and sterile debate over confessionalism that has been raging on for a century. So here’s a couple of suggestions. You’ll have more details about what these ministries in the coming posts. Please don’t hesitate to suggest other ministries.

  • Ministry of Heritage, Cultural innovation, Media and Communication (وزارة التراث،الابتكار الثقافيت وسائل الاعلام والتواصل،)
  • Ministry of Green economy and environmental affairs (وزارة الاقتصاد الاخضر والشؤون البئية)
  • Ministry of Social solidarity and governance (وزارة التضامن والحوكمة الاجتماعية)
  • Ministry of Remembrance & Reconciliation (وزارة التزكر والمصالحة)
  • Ministry of Secularism, Religious and Communal affairs (وزارة السؤون العلمانية، الدينية والطوائفية)
  • Ministry of Administrative affairs (وزارة الشؤون الادارية)
  • Ministry of Civil liberties & Rights (وزارة الحقوق الفردية والحريات)
  • Ministry of Defence and Human Security (وزارة الدفاع والامن البشري)
  • Ministry of Palestinian Affairs (وزارة الشؤون الفلسطينية)
  • Ministry of Municipalities and Decentralisation (وزارة البلديات واللامركزية)

Posted in Fiction, Lebanon, Personal, Politics, Propositions | Leave a Comment »

Self-criticism? Why the FPM lost some popular support…

Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/06/2009

mban2057lTwo days ago, my post ended with a question: Why did Michel Aoun’s FPM loose 20% of its electorate in 4 years? Truth to tell, I was quite surprised by the FPM’s score. I was convinced that it had lost a larger number of supporters or potential voters.

Sure some of its losses could be attributed to its opponents’ electoral conduct. The FPM had to wrestle the National Bloc, the Kataeb, the Lebanese Forces, the National Liberal Party and a flock of notables supported by the religious hierarchies (most notably the Maronite, the Greek-Orthodox and the Syriac higher clergy). People and parties who had little in common, who hated each other’s guts, who were political rivals, were united in a common front against the FPM. Their common and individual campaigns focused on direct attacks on the FPM and personal attacks on Michel Aoun. Their smear campaign was echoed by the Media and the Press that was largely hostile to the FPM and Aoun (LBC, MTV, Future, Nahar, L’Orient-Le Jour, Dyar, Daily Star, NOW…). I find it quite miraculous that Aoun’s FPM survived (& vanquished) the Christian Bulldozer (a Syrian electoral device first experimented by Hezbollah and Amal, and now adopted by March XIV) in Mount Lebanon.

But instead of playing victim, the FPM should reflect on its own conduct and communication strategy. It should examine how these helped all traditional Christian parties and forces coalesce against it. The FPM should also look into why so many journalists and opinion makers are opposed to it. Sure they work for a March XIV controlled media, but that doesn’t explain their personal and individual hostility to the FPM and its leader.

The FPM’s weaknesses:

  • Aoun’s populism. His hostility to journalists (for being inquisitive) and the Media (for distorting his message) in general. If the FPM doesn’t want journalists to be hostile to it, it should learn to speak to them and establish a communication strategy towards journalists and opinion makers (just as the March XIV platform did).
  • The FPM’s “Change and Reform” message. The Christian electorate has traditionally been conservative. Promising change without taking into consideration the demographic shifts in the country can be perceived as adventurous by many. The “third republic” slogan was to say the least sloppy (it’s actually the 4th Republic… if one wants to count each time the 1926 constitution was modified).
  • The FPM’s defensive communication. The FPM established the frames of the electoral debate within the Christian constituencies (it didn’t work on any cross-communal message… call it Christian navel gazing). March XIV simply reacted to the FPM’s positioning and slogans (which was expected). At this point, the FPM started justifying itself… and took a defensive approach.
  • The lack of a clear outlook or identity. March XIV has elaborated a clear identity (albeit an unfounded one) in which people identify with. It tapped into people’s fantasies, imagination and emotions. The FPM hasn’t been able to achieve this.
  • Multiple incoherences: The FPM’s behaviour is similar to that of its opponents. If it wants to distinguish itself from them, it should start by changing its behaviour and work on being more convincing about the change it represents.

Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Discourse, Journalism, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Approaching Iran: Lebanese wishful thinking

Posted by worriedlebanese on 24/06/2009

ramirez I find this picture quite revealing of the mindset of many of my nationals who are interpreting the electoral turmoil in Iran: Hezbollah is seen as a branch of the Iranian regime. This perception has two consequences:
– If the tree is venomous (violent and repressive), so is its branch.
– If the tree is weakened, the branch will wither.

These two postulates aren’t very convincing. Its actually a very simplistic view that ignores the complexity of the situation.

Historically, one could say that Hezbollah is somewhat an offshoot of the Islamic Republic of Iran (even though it really stems from Musa Sadr’s Amal movement…). But that doesn’t mean that it is a branch of the Iranian Regime. Moreover, one could also argue that Hezbollah is bound by its spiritual obedience to Iran’s spiritual leader and its financial & military dependence on Iran’s government. But this doesn’t negate its autonomy. It certainly limits it, but doesn’t annul it. Hezbollah enjoys a massive popular backing within Lebanon’s Shiite community. Its leadership is Lebanese, its rank and file are Lebanese, its territorial site is Lebanese… Sure, a change in Iran’s regime will have an impact on Hezbollah. But that doesn’t mean that turmoil or change in Iran will weaken the party or make it disappear. Hezbollah can always adapt, choose another spiritual leadership (most Lebanese shiites supporters of Hezbollah don’t even recognise the spiritual authority of Khamanei), find other sources of financing (remember the drug trade in the Beqaa?)… and even if there was a regime change in Iran, would that mean that this budding regional power will abandon its regional ambitions? Why would it, and if it doesn’t, can it do it without Hezbollah?

As it is usually the case, the Lebanese pundits take on Iran says more about them then it does about Iran.

Posted in Discourse, Geopolitics, Hezbollah, History, Iran, Lebanon, Political behaviour | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Self-criticism? not a Lebanese word (part 1)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/06/2009

autocriticaI stumbled on a short interview on el-Nashra with Charles Jazra. The article presents him as a leading figure in the FPM. His name reminded me of an unsuccessful “independent” candidate in the Metn (running for the Greek-Catholic seat) who was presented as close to the FPM and to the SNSP (Syrian national social party). I wonder if it’s the same person. Here are the interviewed Charles Jazra’s arguments:

اعتبر القيادي في “التيار الوطني الحر” شارل جزرا أن ما أسقط المعارضة في الانتخابات لم يكن خطأ في ماكيناتها الانتخابية أو حتى في اعلامها انما كانت الحملة الاعلامية المضادة التي شنّها الفريق الآخر والتي اعتمدت “التخوين، الدفاع عن رئيس الجمهورية وكأننا نريد اسقاطه، عناوين المثالثة والانقلاب على الطائف

He believes that the Opposition’s electoral conduct and its communication strategy are not to blame for its defeat. This was brought by its opponent’s campaign that focused on accusing the opposition of treason, defending the Presidency as if the opposition wanted to bring it down, and the slogan of the reduction of christian share to one third, and the overthrow of Taef.
This idea is shared by many FPM supporters and it shows an unwillingness to assess their political and electoral conduct. Instead of reflecting on their methods, strategy and capacity to respond to the opponent’s campaign, we find an insistance on the denunciation of the other. Not only such an approach is pointless, but it shows a lack of consideration for the electorate’s capacity of seeing through false-accusations, and also of hearing both parties and choosing the side that he finds more convincing.

Sure, the Kataeb (property of the Gemayel family), the Lebanese Forces, the National Liberal Party (property of the Chamoun family), the National Bloc (property of the Edde family), and Christian “independents” (semi-autonomous notables), focused on a smear campaign against the FPM, and this smear campaign was mostly ungrounded. But this says quite a lot about these parties and very little about the FPM.
But it begs the following question: Did the electorate believe in the smear campaign launched by the FPM opponents? Sure the FPM remains the largest christian party and retains the confidence of approximately half of the Lebanese Christian voters, but how can one explain the evaporation of  20% of its electorate in 4 years?

(to be continued)

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Aounomania vs Aounophobia

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/06/2009

The idea of comparing the two afflictions came to me when I came across an opinion paper published by NOW Lebanon: “The Madness of King Michael“. I couldn’t help myself from writing a comment thanking them for bringing so much Aounomania and Aounophobia together.

First the Aounomania:

Picture 3A 50 min spot in which pictures of Gibran, JFK, Lincoln, Gandhi, Dalai Lama, Lenin, Marie Curie, Mother Theresa, Mandela, Fidel Castro, Coluche, Che Guevara, Einstein, Alexander Fleming, Mohamad Ali Clay, Napoleon, Roosevelt, de Gaule, John Paul II, Martin Luther King, Lech Walesa, Michel Aoun, scroll across the screen and a voice-over reflects: “Statesmen, Peacemakers, Visionaries… many have followed, some have ignored them, many have love them, some have denied them… Rebels, revolutionaries, geniuses! How many times were they called lunatics. They persisted in their combat until their struggle became a right, and victory a truth“.

When I saw the clip I said to myself “wow, these people are taking the cult of personality to a new high!!”.

Now the cult of personality is not new to Lebanon. Most Lebanese televisions air hero-worship spots. Al-Manar, for instance, broadcasts clips of Hezbollah combatants. Future Television has been airing spots on Rafic Hariri since his assassination. For over a month, Hariri was the only subject the television discussed. LBC followed suit and aired spots of the politicians that have been assassinated since 2005. This is equally true for the Press. Rafik Hariri’s picture adorns the Mustaqbal’s header and  Gibran Tueni’s picture adorns the Nahar header… And all those people are worshiped as heros whose actions cannot be criticised because they were savagely murdered.

Political parties follow yearly rituals to honour their heros: the anonymous combatants that died in combat and the heroic figure that founded them or lead them for a couple of years: Kamal Joumblatt for the Ishtiraki, Bechir Gemayel for the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb, Rafik Hariri for the Mustaqbal, Pierre Gemayel for the Kataeb…

During their lifetimes, the founders enjoyed hero worship. This is particularly true for Mussa Sadr, Pierre Gemayel (Sr), Kamal Jumblat, Rafik Hariri. So did Samir Geagea, Amin Gemayel… to a lesser extent.

So what’s new with OTV’s political worship? The answer is simple: Michel Aoun is still alive! And his cult isn’t indirect. It’s not mediated by a cult to a relative (father, brother, husband). It is direct! blatant, barefaced, unashamed. It’s the Zaïm’s cult at its crudest. No critical distance, no direct reference to actions, no evaluation. Just flattery and adulation.

Then the Aounophobia:

Picture 2Now let’s look at the article’s arguments. It sums up the clip quite correctly and very quickly shares with us a very convincing (and obvious) conclusion : “we are served up a sycophantic and brainless piece of drivel, dressed up as a serious message“.

The anonymous opinion writer isn’t interested in simply mocking a “clip [that] would have been terrific spoof material“. He’s real target is Michel Aoun. “The depressing truth is that Aoun has done nothing except to create conflict and division, while exploiting the aspirations of an electorate that, amazingly, still believes he offers a genuine, alternative voice in the Lebanese political arena. He believes that by shouting he is a misunderstood intellectual, that by being a hypocrite he is a visionary and that by supporting murderous non-state actions, he has the whiff of a revolutionary about him“. Notice that there is not a trace of argument in this paragraph. The opinion writer assumes that these are self-evident truths. And then we get to the last conclusion: “But the fact that OTV, the FPM’s official television station, has seen fit to run it at prime time viewing, is surely the final nugget of proof – as if one were needed – that Aoun has lost the plot.” Now this final argument is quite interesting because it presents itself as a demonstration (albeit a superfluous one). But the logic behind the argument is actually nowhere to be found. The fact that OTV sees fit to run it at prime-time exhibits the television’s partisanship, it proves that this television is actively participating in a cult of personality! If Michel Aoun approved it, it shows that his inflated ego and megalomania (attributes shared by most Lebanese politicians) don’t shy from such crude display (other politicians would rather flirt with false modesty by publicly asking their partisans to stop such a display while privately encouraging it or even funding it).

Nothing in Aoun’s political conduct shows that he has lost his ability to understand or cope with what is happening. He still commands one of the largest parliamentary blocs, and by far the largest christian parliamentary group. And like all political actors he is bidding for the largest possible share in government. If the opinion writer things otherwise, he should try to explain to his reader how he got to that conclusion.

This being said, I believe we should thank  NOW for bringing Aounomania and Aounophobia together. It just shows how similar both afflictions are, and how blind the afflicted are to their suffering.  We shoud equally applaude all Aounomaniacs and all Aounophobics for expelling all reason (and reasonableness) from political analysis & lowering the political disussion to such a dismal pit.

Posted in Blogosphere, Civil Society, Discourse, Intercommunal affairs, Journalism, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Prejudice, Semantics, Values | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Berri returns! How many sequels can we take? (part 2)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 18/06/2009

5 good reasons why Nabih Berri shouldn’t return.

  1. Nabih BerriAccountability: Nabih Berri’s record as Speaker is to say the least unsatisfactory. It is quite dismal by any democratic standard. Moreover, he has completely subverted the lebanese political system by confusing three positions, two of which are contrary to basic legal & constitutional principles: that of Speaker, that of chief employer of Shiites within the public administration, and that of senior partner in government (inventing two institutional heresies: the Troïka and the Dialogue Table).
  2. Political alternation:  4 terms and 17 years in the same position is more than enough. I think we’re breaking world records here.
  3. Majority rule principle. In a parliamentary democracy, the Speaker is chosen by the majority group in parliament amongst one of its MPs. There is no reason for this to be different in a consociational systems such as Lebanon. Up to now, the Speaker has always been chosen amongst the ruling parliamentary coalition. From 1992 to 2006, Nabih Berri was certainly the highest ranking Shiite figure within the ruling coalition. But this came to an end when the ministers representing him in government resigned on november 11th 2006. Since then, it’s only normal for the parliamentary majority to choose a Speaker within its own ranks
  4. National representation principle. Even though the Speaker’s position is reserved for members of one community (namely the Shiite community), this doesn’t mean that the Speaker must be representative of the Shiite community and chosen among that community’s largest political groups. The rule within parliament is that even though all seats are reserved for members of communities, MPs represent the nation and not their communities.
  5. Consociational power sharing principle: The Speaker is the highest office (according to protocol) a Shiite figure can reach, in the very same way the Premiership is the highest office a Sunni can attain or the Presidency the highest office a Maronite can reach… But this doesn’t mean that these positions should be granted to the most popular political figures within each respective community. The Presidency, for instance, has hardly ever been filled by the most popular (or representative) political figure within the Maronite community. Quite the contrary: The Maronites preferred Emile Eddé to Bechara el-Khoury, Camille Chamoun to Fuad Chehab, Pierre Gemayel to Suleiman Frangieh… and the list goes on. But that never stopped Parliament from electing the less favoured Maronite candidate to the Presidency. According to the Lebanese consociational principles, Nabih Berri cannot be discarded as a senior partner in government, because he enjoys the backing of his community and all the Shiite MPs except two (Mustabal’s Ghazi Youssef & Okab Sakr). But his candidacy as Speaker can certainly be vetoed by the parliamentary majority. So why isn’t it?

The 5 bad reasons why Nabih Berri will return!

  1. 128891335824593314.jpgClientelistic  pragmatism. Nabih Berri is part of the ruling quadripartite oligarchy. He has controlled the largest number of nominations within the public administration and State managed services, most of them belonging to the Shiite community. This makes him one of the largest patrons within the State. He can single handedly cripple public services (in the same way Saad Hariri can single handedly cripple the economy if he is left aside).
  2. Political pragmatism. Preserving the status quo is the least costly position for the ruling oligarchy. If March XIV deprives Nabih Berri of the office he has taken possession of (and come to be identified with), he will surely extract a very high political price for his continued cooperation.
  3. Political gamble. March XIV has been betting publicly on a break-up of the Amal-Hezbollah political duopole over the Shiite community. Some of March XIV’s political figures claim that this will happen under the right geopolitical circumstances (break up of the Syrian-Iranian alliance, Saudi-Syrian rapprochement, Israeli-Syrian peace talks…). Others believe in the carrot and stick strategy in which Amal and its leader are rewarded each time they distance themselves from Hezbollah. Others hope that the clashes between Aoun and Berri will strain relations within March VIII.
  4. Misreading and manipulation of Lebanese consociational democracy. The Lebanese political system is based on two conflicting principles: that of communalism and jacobine republicanism. These two principles are very cleverly balanced in our system through well defined rules and principles, but unfortunately the public ignores this and politicians tend to manipulate these rules to serve their purpose.
  5. Clever positioning. Nabih Berri masters the art of positioning, in the same way Walid Jumblat does. He doesn’t need any international or regional backing. He positions himself in a way to profit from everyone, give only what is not his, and take all that he can.

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Berri returns! How many sequels can we take? (part 1)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 17/06/2009

Amal Poster“On prend les mêmes et on recommence”, as the French saying goes. The Lebanese press has been announcing Nabih Berri’s return since the alleged victory of the March XIV coalition (two Muslim oligarchs, the two Christian parties they salvaged as Junior partners, their clients and semi-autonomous allies).

Michael Young published a piece last week that sums up March XIV leaders’ and their supporter’s positions perfectly.

First the leaders’ positions: the editorialist will hardly mention them. But one can easily understand that the March XIV leaders have no qualms about reelecting Nabih Berri and will command their MPs to do so. The editorialist will obviously not state this that bluntly. He will simply indicate that “Berri will return” (as Michael Young puts it in the heading, or Philippe Abi Akl in the francophone daily in Orient Le Jour). This certainty is not linked to any agency. At first sight, it seems like a foregone conclusion, a question of fate. The two editorialists mentioned don’t even discuss the alternatives. Michael Young cites exterior pressures (an argument used by politicians to absolve themselves from responsibility), but not very convincingly. Why would Syria insist on Nabih Berri’s reelection? How has it expressed it? In what way will it exert pressure to achieve it? What will be the cost of accepting this pressure or refusing it? These are important questions that Michael Young simply ignores.

And now the March XIV supporter’s arguments. Michael Y0ung and Philippe Abi-Akl do not hide the fact that they favour this alliance. They are actually quite vocal about their political preferences and don’t consider that as a bias. So their editorials sum up the most most intelligent (and intelligible) arguments that camp has to offer. And they illustrate well the uncomfortable position the March XIV supporters are trapped in.

  • They castigate and have in the past heavily reviled Nabih Berri, and believe that time has come for a change of Speaker (17 years is a long enough term). This position is shared by many FPM supporters. It was the party’s official position in 2005.
  • They believe the “majority” should act as a majority.
  • They will justify their leaders’ decision even if they don’t agree with it. This behaviour is shared by many FPM and March VIII supporters. And they know that their leaders have already decided that Berri will succeed to himself.
  • They accept their leaders’ decision, but believe that this reelection should be done with a minimal number of votes (some suggest that it should be done after several “humiliating” rounds), and that it should be accompanied by conditions. The two suggestions are obviously meaningless. Practically, what difference does it make if Berri is elected by 80, 60 or 40 votes after 4 rounds? And how exactly can you impose conditions on him? How can you secure his commitment?

+++++++++++++++++++

I checked out Amal and Nabih Berri‘s sites. They’re quite revealing. Check them out and you’ll see what I mean.

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The third Ibrahim Kanaan affair

Posted by worriedlebanese on 16/06/2009

Ibrahim KanaanAs a Lebanese citizen, and a Metn voter, I’m particularly interested in knowing a bit more about three affairs that involved my constituency’s MP this year  :

    • The arson attack on his house (Ibrahim Kannan’s family home was set ablaze. His foes accused him of staging the fire)
    • The shooting in Mansourieh (He claims that his convoy was shot at & shot back, while his foes claim that he wasn’t attacked and simply shot at another car).
    • The accusation of corruption (or to be more accurate failing to honour promises of bribery). Ibrahim Kanaan considers this accusation to be fabricated.

I tried to search the internet for more information, but all I found was accusations and counter-accusations. “Proofs” being broadcasted on television and then on youtube… After two hours of searching, I can safely say that I found no court judgement (even though they are all criminal acts), no police report… nothing. What I found were FPM partisans refuting accusations in anyway possible, and FPM foes claiming the opposite. None were really convincing and nowhere was an independent report to be found. Conviction follows ones political preferences…

Posted in Conspiracy, Journalism, Justice, Lebanon, Politics, Prejudice | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Out of court… on-air “settlements”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/06/2009

al-fassadI received two emails with the same content: an extract of a TV show in which MP Ibrahim Kanaan (Free Patriotic Movement, Metn) answers accusation of corruption and vote buying by screaming at the show’s anchorwoman, Ghada Eid.

When I first watched the show, I was appalled by Ibrahim Kanaan’s reaction. The first few words he uses are quite revealing about the way he perceived this episode of al-Fasad. He called it “a political assassination”. And after saying that, he started yelling, scolding the anchorwoman, denigrating her work, insinuating things, accusing her of corruption and threatening her with a lawsuit for libel (something NTV is rather used to). She on the other hand insinuates that Ibrahim Kanaan’s party is corrupt and doesn’t hold its promises, she starts yelling as well, saying that her voice will always be higher than the others” and threatens him with a lawsuit for insults.

Now here is the interesting part of the story, Ibrahim Kanaan isn’t accused of actually bribing people, but of promising to bribe people and not honouring his promise. How can you prove that? And how can you prove that wrong?

This being said, Ibrahim Kanaan’s on-air reaction is shocking, and I wanted to know more about this incident, so I tried to search the internet for more info. What I found were two OTV news extracts. Now OTV is operated by the Free Patriotic Movement. One can hardly expect it to be neutral on that matter. So here is how the anchor answered the accusation: he showed two men apologising for their brother, Nabil Fala’s conduct (that of falsely accusing Ibrahim Kanaan of failing to honour his promise of bribery). The anchorman also showed an interview of Kanaan in which the latter didn’t apologise for his language and tone on Ghada Eid’s show, and instead talked about the accusers criminal records… These criminal records were later shown on air! A TV show answers another TV show’s circus with another circus (that of denigration and publication of criminal records… doesn’t that infringe Nabil Fala’s rights?).

So it’s not only about Lebanese politics being at their worst, but Lebanese journalism too.

Addendum

OTV followed this news broadcast with another one on June 17th. Here, the television questions and answers another witness’ allegations by showing that part of another TV’s investigation was actually fabricated.

Posted in Conspiracy, Discourse, Journalism, Justice, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Politics, Violence | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »