Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Archive for July, 2009

Meet the next president? From Slimmy to Suleiman II

Posted by worriedlebanese on 30/07/2009

SlimmyIs Suleiman Frangieh Jr vying for the presidency? The obvious answer is yes. Which maronite politician isn’t? But this one’s chances seem quite good. You’ve certainly heard by now that he is moving to “Beirut” (Rabieh, to be precise). And you might have read a very flattering “portrait” of him that was published in the Akhbar (cf. a previous posting) or followed his meetings with Sami and Amin Gemayel. These are certainly no indicators of his chances for the presidency.

The reasons why he is the most likely candidate for the highest office lie elsewhere. They are to be found in his political & geopolitical positioning and to the fact that he espouses the predominant social values in Lebanon. Let’s first look into his positioning before examining how he reflects the country’s prevailing values. Read the rest of this entry »


Posted in Communication, Geopolitics, Intercommunal affairs, Journalism, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics, Semantics, Speculation, Values | 3 Comments »

Lebanese Confessional-Republicanism 101

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/07/2009

Slate explainerThe Lebanese political system is quite muddling. Most people who discuss it either ignore some of its basic rules and principles, or oversimplify and distort them beyond recognition. Political discussion is marred by ideology. So it’s always useful to state our political system’s basic rules and principles. Once this is done, it becomes quite clear how hybrid it is with its mix of “communal” principles and “republican” principles. Most analysts only see the first set of principles and ignore the second set. We need to look into Lebanon’s “confessional” rules and principles so as to untangle these two set of principles and see how they intertwine.

A glimpse at our constitution rules and principles.

  • The principle of “confessional representation” تمثيل طائفي (Article 95) is a misnomer, the principle is actually a set of rules for multiconfessional participation قوقعد للاشتراك المتعدد طائفيآ . It introduces quotas to the public sphere. By law, it has three implications: in Parliament, in government and in the public administration. Most analysts see it as a collective right, but in fact it’s not. The rights are not given to communities, but to individuals who belong to certain communities. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Democracy, Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Politics | 11 Comments »

Peut-on casser l’oligarchie quadripartite?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/07/2009

3434948018_78d2ef7c12Sous l’angle de la distribution et de l’exercice du pouvoir au Liban, la division Quatorze Mars/8 mars n’a pas beaucoup de sens. Sa seule pertinence semble se situer au niveau des alliances géopolitiques, mais également au niveau d’une partie de la base populaire qui y croit. Le pouvoir au Liban est partagé entre quatre réseaux clientélistes qui s’appuient sur de nombreuses ressources: financières, bancaires, institutionnelles, locales, étatiques, étrangères…

L’oligarchie quadripartite: les monopoles politiques en milieu musulman
Ces réseaux sont tous confessionnels: deux chiites, un druze et un sunnite. Trois d’entre eux s’appuient, au besoin, sur leurs armes. A cet égard, le Hezbollah est le plus convainquant, suivi par le PSP et puis Amal, comme l’ont démontré “les événements du 7 mai” 2008. Certe, les pressions géopolitiques les obligent à une rivalité, mais celle-ci restre exceptionnelle et circonscrite sur le plan local. D’ailleurs, même en période de crise extrême la collaboration entre ces quatre réseaux continue. Pour ne citer que quelques exemples: les versements au Conseil du Sud ont continué durant la période de démission non-acceptée des ministres d’Amal… les périmètres de sécurité du Hezbollah sont continuellement respectés… la force de police est “équitablement” partagée entres les différents réseaux… Chacun est satisfait de sa part, et s’accommode de la part de l’autre. Toutefois, cette “rivalité” appuyé par l’étranger à trois conséquences malheureuses: elle renforce la mobilisation communautaire, elle consolide les réseaux clientélistes et elle envenime les rapports entre les membres des trois principales communautés sur lesquels ces réseaux s’appuient.

Ces trois conséquences n’auraient pas pu être neutralisées ou affaiblies par les élections en 2005  (sous le signe de l’alliance) et en 2009 (sous le signe de la “compétition”)… Au contraire, elles les ont consacrés ou reconduits.

La compétition politique en milieu chrétien
Les Syriens ont soutenu l’oligarchie quadripartite dans sa conquête et son renforcement du pouvoir. Du côté chrétiens, seuls des réseaux confessionnel locaux ont été autorisés et soutenus. Depuis 2005, deux stratégies différentes s’offraient aux chrétiens pour intégrer le système politique libanais tel que: l’intégrer en tant que “juniors partner(s)” ou transformer l’oligarchie quadripartite en oligarchie pentapartite. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Democracy, Discourse, Diversity, Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Journalism, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics, Reform, Values, Version Francophone | 2 Comments »

Can the FPM regain its electorate?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 24/07/2009

Emergency ExitThree extremely vigorous debates over the interpretation of the outcome of the parliamentary elections began before the final results were even published. Two of them involved the FPM: how much of its electorate did it actually loose, and why it lost it. We have discussed these issues in a preceding post. We will ask ourself today how likely it is for the FPM to regain its electorate.

He who represented 70% of Christians

Since 2005, General Michel Aoun boasted that he represented 70% of Christians. This slogan meant two things: that he was the undisputed Za’im of the Christian communities, and that the other Christian blocs, parties and MPs owed their seats to Muslim votes. This wasn’t very far from the truth, but did it serve the FPM? Not really. Even though his bloc scored as well as those of Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblatt, Nabih Berri & Hassan Nasrallah, Michel Aoun was denied the same recognition and an equivalent share. His position improved when two pillars of the Quadripartite oligarchy recognised him as the christian Za’im. But it wasn’t enough to make him an equal partner of the Big Four, and his share in power (and ressources) remained significantly smaller than the others (and some would argue  smaller than the oligarchy’s other Christian junior partners). The results of the 2009 elections will likely have no effect on Aoun’s & the FPM’s share of power. Their significant electoral downsizing will probably be of no consequence.

The FPM’s score in 2005 was both monumental and unexpected. The party was just emerging from years of persecution, its leader had just returned from exile, it had little media backing, didn’t provide social services or distribute state ressources… And withstanding all this, it benefited from a massive score that established it as Lebanon’s largest (and dominant) Christian party, one ready to enter into Lebanon’s communal politics withstanding its long-established anti-communal stand. As it entered Parliament, the FPM embodied a principle that it had long fought, that of communalism. The votes it had received were overwhelmingly Christian and the bloc it formed was a Christian one (except for one MP). These characteristics were confirmed in 2009. During these past elections, the FPM had to build on 2005’s protest vote, experience an electoral cross-communal alliance and survive an electoral Bulldozer.

From protest vote to accountability? Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Civil Society, Communication, Democracy, Discourse, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics, Reform, Secularism, Values | 3 Comments »

Can the FPM change & be reformed?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/07/2009

beirutntsc.blogspot.com LF against CPL-708330Some might question the pertinence of such a political move, but it seems to me not only necessary, but also urgent. Sure, general Michel Aoun’s parliamentary bloc remains Lebanon’s second largest, sure his party is still one of Lebanon’s largest, but how long will it survive constant political harassment and sidelining?
These past parliamentary elections were a battle for survival, the FPM had to face a huge political coalition – a Bulldozer – that’s declared goal was to eliminate it. It was able to maintain itself, but lost 20% to 30% of its electorate on the way. In the coming two days, we’ll look into two topics:

This topic caught my attention today as I heard on the FPM’s radio (92.5 FM, صوت المدى) that the party was studying the results and outcomes of the 2009 parliamentary elections. As expected, the news bulletin said nothing about what was discussed, how it was discussed and what was finally decided.

Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Democracy, Discourse, Journalism, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Reform | Leave a Comment »

Parking meters and the rule of law in Lebanon

Posted by worriedlebanese on 19/07/2009

ParkingLB2What does a parking meter have in common with the rule of law ? Think about it. This is not cracker joke or a riddle. My answer is everything! This device pictured on the left is probably the best expression (if not the only local one) you can find of the famous legal principle everyone seems to be yearning for in Lebanon.

To understand why this is the case, one has to go back to the definition of this legal principle. In most Arab countries, the prevalent expression is a translation from the French or German equivalent “Etat de droit” or “Rechtsstaat” : دولة القانون. In Lebanon, the expression was uselessly expanded to become دولة المؤسسات والقانون, which is rather redundant. But it shows the general frustration people have with State institutions (civil servants and state officials) because of the unjust and discretionary manner in which they implement rule.
Instead of delving in definitions, let’s follow an American legal scholar, Lon Fuller, who determines it through eight defining elements. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Culture, Democracy, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Reform, Values | Leave a Comment »

De l’islamophobie ordinaire*

Posted by worriedlebanese on 18/07/2009

*Réaction à l’article d’opinion d’Ivan Rioufol “Voila comment s’installe la barbarie ordinaire…”, paru dans le Figaro du vendredi 17 juillet.

Ivan RioufolVous avez remarqué les points de suspension qui terminent le titre de l’article, ou plutôt le laisse ouvert pour indiquer que beaucoup de choses restent à dire. En fait, il aurait été plus juste de le ponctuer avec un deux-points car cet editorial est un véritable réquisitoire où l’auteur exprime méthodiquement tout son dégout sur les Musulmans, un dégout ordinaire puisqu’il est partagé par beaucoup et peut passer inaperçu: une virulente islamophobie de salon dirons nous en détournant l’une de ses expressions. Pour bien saisir les idées fondamentales autour desquels l’article s’articule, il est conseillé de se poser ces trois questions suivantes en le lisant:

  • De quel danger s’agit-il?
  • Quels en sont les symptômes?
  • Qui en est responsable?

Pour mes commentaires, lisez la suite: Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Antisemitism, Blogosphere, Civil Society, Discourse, Diversity, Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Palestinians, Pluralism, Prejudice, Religion, Secularism, Semantics, Version Francophone | 5 Comments »

Suleiman & Hariri (3): contours of a cohabitation

Posted by worriedlebanese on 17/07/2009

libertyI couldn’t find a better picture to illustrate the oddness of the Hariri/Suleiman couple. Which one do you think will be playing Laurel, and which one will be playing Hardy? I’m not too sure about this. Both men are political outsiders. They were hurled to office, unprepared. So they are likely to make some rather comical mistakes. And some mistakes might even be spun to serve them (remember Saad’s very unlebanese زي ما هي “Zay ma hya” in 2005?). But just like everything opposed Laurel to Hardy (and vice versa), the same applies to our odd couple. On a personal level, the former playboy/businessman seems more flexible, more humorous, more apt to learn than the former military chief. On a political level, the Prime Minister holds all the cards, and the president none!

Having seen how different the unlikely president and the unexpected heir are, having glimpsed at how unbalanced their power sharing is, we can start imagining how their cohabitation is likely to be. Let us look at three variables/factors:

– Cabinet weight
– Communal representation
– Allotment of cross-communal shares in Government
– Political competence
– Political potency

Interested in more? Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Communication, Culture, Democracy, Discourse, Diversity, Geopolitics, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Reform | Leave a Comment »

Suleiman & Hariri (2): the unexpected heir

Posted by worriedlebanese on 17/07/2009

Hariri_FamilyJournalists, housewives and other coffee drinkers have been discussing the changes they have noticed in Saad Hariri’s attitude. These changes are quite noticeable. Not only has Hariri become a better public speaker, but he modified his political positioning. For the past few months, he  no longer positions himself as the government’s godfather, and the Prime Minister’s protector. He has taken center stage. Let’s have a closer look at what he represents.

The unexpected heir

Saad Hariri enjoys a very enviable political position, gathering support and having leverage on three different levels: .
  • On a local and communal level, Saad Hariri inherited his father’s position within the Sunni community. His authority over the Sunni religious institutions is no secret to anyone. The Sunni religious leadership has been openly and collectively campaigning for him during the last two parliamentary elections. Furthermore, Saad Hariri is the king maker amongst Sunnis. He finished what his father had started (and the Syrians had prevented him from completing), becoming the sole political “reference” (مرجع) of the Sunni community, head of an electoral bulldozer (محدلة) and the arbitrator who chooses amongst the local notables those who will represent the nation in parliament.  Out of the 26 sunni MPs, 14 are officially part of his bloc (54%), 6 MPs are members of allied blocs (out of which at least 3 are “lent”), 4 are independent (2 of which owe their place to Hariri), 2 are part of rival blocs (owe their seats to the Shiite Bulldozer).
  • On a national level, the Sunni leader was hurled into a dominant position on his father’s coattail. Since 2005, he heads the country’s largest political group, parliamentary bloc, media group, financial group, real estate group (and security company, so it seems). If you want to get a clearer picture of what he represents,  think Berlusconi and multiply him by 10 (at least).
  • On an international level, Saad Hariri enjoys the backing of Saudi Arabia, France and the United States, so in practical terms, that means that he has the wealthiest and strongest international allies amongst all Lebanese politicians.

Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Discourse, Geopolitics, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Religion | Leave a Comment »

“Regional Normalisation”… an assessment -1

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/07/2009

Palestinian-israeli_flagsNormalisation or  االتطبيع  (el-Tatbi’) is certainly one of the most detested words in the Arabic political lexicon. But western diplomacy willfully ignores that and  hasn’t come up with another word to wrap up its propositions. I could delve into semantics and share with you my views on the reasons behind the word’s extremely negative connotations, but that would spawn a whole different article. I’d rather tackle the propositions directly.

Here are the regional normalization steps Washington seems to be seeking (according to Haaretz):

  1. Arab countries in the Gulf would allow Israeli passenger and civilian cargo aircraft to fly over their territory. The move would save long detours on flights to Asia, a popular destination for Israeli travelers.
  2. Israel would be able to open interest sections in other states’ embassies in Arab capitals, such as Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Israel had interest sections in several Arab countries but they were closed after the start in 2000 of a Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Civil Society, Israel, Middle East, Peace | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

What Future for the Future Movement

Posted by worriedlebanese on 14/07/2009

Picture 1I stumbled upon a very small news item yesterday that wasn’t given much attention by the Press. Samir Doumit, the former head of the Lebanese Order of Engineers, replaced Salim Diab as head of the temporary commission to restructure the Future Movement. I found this information quite interesting.

Second reform committee, two years after foundation

Hardly two years after the establishment of the Future Movement as a political party, a second committee will be studying new strategies for reform. And interestingly enough, the Prime Minister designate chose a Christian (among his faithfuls) to head this committee. What does this signal? I believe that the picture above says it all. This poster is a follow up to Future Movement’s electoral campaign “As long as the sky is blue”… Here what it says: “We are all under Lebanon’s skies” and it is signed Saad Hariri. On the bottom of the picture, you find the top part of 6 flags that are actually rather easy to recognise: Future Movement (property of the Hariri family), Amal (property of Nabih Berri), Hezbollah, Ishtiraki (property of the Joumblatt family), Kataeb (property of the Gemayel family ) or Lebanese Forces (property of Samir Geagea), and the FPM (property of Michel Aoun).

The message is clear: Hariri and his Future Movement are above the political bikering and divisions. They represent a united trans-communal Lebanon. All this is very nice, but it faces one big problem: reality. Saad Hariri is a Sunni Za’im, and Future Movement is an overwhelmingly sunni party, a mostly sunni KSA backed clientelist network, supported by two funds (educational and socio-medical) and linked to a media group that shares the same name. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Culture, Intercommunal affairs, Journalism, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Reform | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Concealing Palestinians: A telling advert on the Separation Barrier

Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/07/2009

Haaretz published a story on Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi  joining calls to scrap this television commercial which he finds offensive. He explained to Reuters that “the advertisement presents the barrier as though it were just a garden fence in Tel Aviv”, while it actually “separates families and prevents children from reaching schools and clinics”.

Don’t you find his stand rather irrelevant? It will certainly not bring about any kind of change. The advert will keep on running (which is inconsequential) and the wall will stay standing. And Ahmed Tibi will keep on making ineffective political moves meant to reassure his constituency on his political stands. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Discourse, Israel, Palestinians, Prejudice, Security, Violence | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Lebanese Republic: Naming and counting

Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/07/2009

ist2_2334825_puzzled_kids_cartoonThe FPM’s electoral campaign launched a very sterile debate over the coming of the Third Republic. But  Before tackling the numbers issue, let’s try to name this republic, find the right adjectives that best describe it.
– The first obvious answer is Banana Republic (the BR), but the term is too derogatory and not the least explanatory.
– with a little more analysis one can come up with the “Martyrs of Sovereignty (Hezbollah’s) and Independence (March XIV®) Republic (the MSIR)
– A more socio-political approach will give us the “Zu’ama Republic” or the “Quadripartite Republic” (the ZR or the QR).

Now let’s get to the numbers!
Is this the First, Second or Third Republic?
What’s the story behind them? It all started with the Taef agreement. Some political analysts wanted to show that Lebanon was making a new start, institutionally speaking. So they followed the French academic system that distinguishes between 5 different republics. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Culture, Lebanon, Reform, Semantics | Leave a Comment »

Suleiman & Hariri (1): the unlikely president

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/07/2009

610x (154b02e0349f7a714a5bf7a426c5f474)One of the greatest political unknowns in Lebanon is surely the evolution of the presidential cohabitation between Saad Hariri and Michel Suleiman. They both share the same views on the head of the executive: his function, duty and responsibilities. Only both see themselves as that head. Let’s take a brief look at the political positioning of two men who never were intended to take such prominent political positions and try to see how things are likely to evolve for two unlikely politicians and between them.

If you want to read more on the unlikely President (what will & what way?) read below. In the coming days, you’ll find some thoughts on the unlikely Prime Minister. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Democracy, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Middle East, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics, Reform, Values | Leave a Comment »

Two journalistic portraits: Communal Bigotry and GPS Journalism

Posted by worriedlebanese on 09/07/2009

I stumbled across two very telling “portraits” of Lebanese politicians in the press today. As expected, they didn’t reveal much on the two people they were supposed to be informing us on, but they said loads about the journalists who were writing them.


Don’t let the title mislead you. The question is a rhetorical one and the article has little to do with Sami Gemayel. You can scrutinize the article as much as you want, you’ll find no information on his character, no information on his political history, no information on his line of action. At first, it seems a typical form of Lebanese journalist writings, what I call children’s sticker journalism; such writings are based on value judgement, the journalists hands out stickers to reward politicians he aproves of and withdraws stickers from journalists whose “actions” (i.e. “political positioning) he disaproves of. But this article is more than that.

Sami Gemayel is a literary device (usually at the start of a sentence or an argument) for a verbal jab against the Free Patriot Movement (Aoun and his party are after all Michael Young’s consuming phobic obsession), and Maronites in general. Yes, anti-maronitism isn’t dead. The rhetoric developed in the 1960s is still there. Alive and kicking. Walid Joumblatt expressed it two months ago “in private”, when he thought it would remain in the “group” (amongst Druze). Michael Young expresses it openly, in the column of a newspaper. “An alarming number of Maronites today appear to have lost any sense of the  collective nature of the Lebanese state”, he tells us. They are suffering from “rural Maronite insularism”. The “resentment, bitterness, isolation, hostility, communal self-absorption” they express “are qualities of a community mired in mediocrity, with no sense of the constructive long-term impact it  might have on its environment”. And to finish it all off, Michael Young  adds that Maronites are following a “strategy bound to enhance Christian isolation”. Yes, there you have it, the key reference: “Maronite isolationism”… Coming from the same person who accuses the FPM of entering “unnatural” regional alliances with Iran and Syria, and hurting Christian symbols (the presidency and the patriarchy). Is it too much to ask for a minimum of coherence, and some consistency underneath a very “westernized” approach to political analysis? Scratch off the varnish, and you’ll find a massive dose of pure Middle-Eastern communal bigotry expressed through systematic Maronite bashing.


You’ll find no “western” varnish in this article at all. Unlike the previous article, there is nothing circuitous over here. Ibrahim al-Amin’s take on Suleiman Frangieh is unabashedly laudatory, and his analysis reflects another typical trait in Lebanese political analysis: the heroic narrative. It’s all about a man standing alone against adversity, a man who’s embarked on a hazardous political journey, a man who knows for what political position he is called for, a man who will meet all the people that are needed to get to that positioning (as if politics was a social event. To understand the logic, think of yourself stranded in the middle of a crowd, incapable of reaching the buffet without tricking people by opening a conversation with them, so that they allow you space next to them, which will bring you a step closer to your champaign glass on the buffet)… Again, you’ll find no information on his character, no information on his political history, no information on his line of action. But Al-Amin will tell you all you want  on his political positioning. And his geographic positioning too. Yes, it’s GPS journalism. And not a very precise one. But then Lebanese journalism is all about lack of precision: the reader is supposed to fill in the blanks and read between the lines. Ibrahim Al-Amin informs us that Frangieh is going to settle in Beirut or its suburbs. WorriedLebanese is ready to divulge his exact future whereabouts: it’s Rabieh! Yes, two streets up from Farid Makari, one street up from Elias el Murr, one street down from Michel Aoun.

Let’s go back to GPS journalism. It gives you as much quality information as what you get on Entertainment Channel’s coverage of the Oscar night. You’ll know who talked to who, where they did it, and if they had coffee or shared a meal. Some well informed journalists will even tell you what the two politicians discussed: world affairs, burning issues or regional developments. But what editorialists will really insist on is the great significance of this positioning!

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Antisemitism, Civil Society, Communication, Culture, Discourse, Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Journalism, Lebanon, Politics, Values | 4 Comments »