Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Archive for August, 2009

No Presidential share in government! Some reasons why Michel Suleiman shouldn’t get any!

Posted by worriedlebanese on 21/08/2009

Suleiman-haifaEver since the process for the formation of a new government started, pundits have been discussing the Presidents share; how large its going to be, and who is likely to be part of it. At first, analysts wondered if the President’s share could be neutral, given the extreme polarisation of Lebanese politics, or if it will bring together people from both sides of the spectrum. Then the magic formula appeared: 15 (for March XIV® and allies), 10 (for the Opposition®) – 5 (for the President). The political class had agreed to increase the President’s share from 3 to 5! This was presented as a measure to reinforce the presidency that was much weakened by the constitutional amendments agreed upon in Taef. Unsurprisingly, analysts were easily convinced by this unanimous decision & argument. No one seemed to question its appropriateness, its pertinence or its constitutionality. But don’t worry, things are going to change! I’m going to share with you a couple of good reasons why their shouldn’t be any “presidential share” in any cabinet!

Here are 5 good reasons why the President shouldn’t have a share in government.Suleiman_Election

Having a share neutralises his constitutional function as arbitrator. Being able to swing from one to another in a cabinet vote is not arbitration, it’s taking sides.

  1. Being part of the government weakens his authority. It’s not about numbers and positions, it’s about being on another level! He should assert his moral authority and stay above the political fray.
  2. Having ministers means that he accepts to be like all the other political players, but with one notable difference, he will be the only one who cannot count on a group of MPs.
  3. By having a share, he complicates and circumvents two rules of coalition formation : the proportionality rule and the consociational rule.
  4. By accepting to have a share, he affirms the mouhassassa and mahsoubié principle.

What the President should do.

At this point of time, he should set the rules behind the composition of the government by arbitrating between the opposing contentions, and innovating. There is no agreement on the three dimensions of coalition buildings. The political class still hasn’t defined definitive rules for distributing share and portfolios, picking ministers and setting a common program. Now these issues are quite complex, and they are never formulated in legal terms so as not to complicate even more the process. But when disagreements run so deep, an arbitrator is needed. Why go to Damascus, to Riyad or to Doha to find an arbitrator? why not simply go to Baabda.

Here are a couple of principles that the President should arbitrate on:

  • Can a candidate who lost the parliamentary elections become minister? People are thinking about Gebran Bassil, but there are others, and I’m thinking of Ahmad Asaad, for instance. I personally believe Asaad should become Minister even though he lost during the elections… This would ensure a political diversity within the Shiite representation. And then, is it fair to exclude from the government people who lost during the elections without equally excluding politicians who didn’t dare run because they were almost sure to loose?
  • Should the different Zuama stick to naming people from within their ranks or can they name people from outside their ranks? such as “independents” or “allies”.
  • Does anyone have a veto power on the nomination of ministers within each share?
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Posted in Democracy, Discourse, Diversity, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Reform, Values | Leave a Comment »

Wi’am Wahab, ambassador?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 20/08/2009

Picture 2The person is vociferous, crude and politically powerless. Anywhere else, he would have been meaningless, invited once or twice a year to a talkshow for a cheap laugh based on slander. But not in Lebanon. Wi’am Wahab has continuously been in the headlines for the past two weeks. Why?
This guy (pictured on the left) has no power base to count on. His party is insignificant (it’s very little more than a name actually). He doesn’t hail from a political dynasty (local or national). A couple of months ago, he knew that had no chance of becoming an MP so he didn’t even bother take part in the parliamentary elections. Wi’am Wahab doesn’t hold a big fortune. He doesn’t operate a clientelist network (he doesn’t have “his men” in the public administration). He cannot assert himself through force (he has no militia to count own, just a couple of boisterous bodyguards). He isn’t backed by his community’s religious authorities. Saying that he isn’t prominent in any social field is an understatement.
So how come he is given any media attention? Why do his “visits” to political actors (politicians & clergy) seem significant? What makes them significant?
The answer is fairly simple, he is seen as an essential figure in the “reconciliation with Syria”, more precisely with the Syrian regime, or even more precisely with the Syrian President, Bachar el Assad. Interestingly enough, Wi’am Wahab isn’t even close to the Syrian President (unlike Suleiman Frangieh, for instance). He is not part of the regime’s inner circle. So it’s not on a personal level. His visits are not acts of “political socialisation”. He is perceived as an agent of the Syrian regime. He is seen as playing the same role as an ambassador. So I ask myself the following questions:
– Has he been invested as “ambassador”?
– Why are the Lebanese political actors giving his role?
– What does that mean?
I’ll skip the first two questions (expecting the reader to answer them) and go directly to the third one. The fact that the Lebanese political actors and media are recognising Wi’am Wahab’s political function shows not only that they have grown accustomed to informal politics, accepting it and seeing nothing wrong with it, but that they seem to prefer it to formal politics. Why? because it makes them regional actors, small ones for sure, but hell who cares when it inflates your ego! On the other hand, formal politics will surely make them feel left out (remember what happened when Bachar al-Assad and Emile Lahoud established exclusive relations, something that they are entitled to as Presidents of two countries). Moreover, if they established direct contacts with the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, this would be seen as encouraging Syrian interventionism in Lebanon (which is bad for Syria and bad for the former or persistent March XIV® politicians). So keeping it informal arranges everyone.
If you notice it, only one person is left out of the picture: the Lebanese President, Michel Suleiman. But he’s not complaining (but then, he never does).

Posted in Geopolitics, Idiosyncrasy 961, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Politics, Syria | Leave a Comment »

Security first? The contours of a Lebanese policy for peace talks with Israel

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/08/2009

661054_pw_diplomacyThe Lebanese have grown accustomed to governments unable or unwilling to deal with their southern neighbour. Some regret that these governments haven’t been able to defend the country militarily and diplomatically (from the IDF’s ferocious attacks), while others deplore that none has come up with a policy for peace talks with Israel.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a contributor to NOW Lebanon, has come up with an interesting analysis on the subject. He believes Lebanon should define a policy on Israel and embark in peace talks because “Lebanon will never defeat Israel militarily, [so] its ‘conflict’ with the Jewish state can only be resolved by diplomacy”. He concludes his article with the following statement:

Since the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005, both governments have failed to produce a policy on Israel. The Mitchell team is determined to change all this, but they need the help of Lebanon’s leaders, who must not be shy about talking peace with Israel, just like their Syrian and Palestinian brethren. The rest will become details.

At face value, his conclusion is indisputable, but if you look into it, you discover there is an important dimension to Israeli-Lebanese relations that Hussain Abdul-Hussain completely leaves out: the “security” dimension.

This is quite common among Beirutis. But if you ask Israelis or Lebanese living in Southern Lebanon, it’s their primary concern. And this issue is certainly the murkiest. Here’s why:

  • Since the 1960s, the Lebanese government has failed to secure its border with Israel. So before embarking in Peace talks, the Lebanese government should see how it will be able to achieve that and start working on it.
  • Since the 1960s, Israel has been “retaliating” after each attack coming from Lebanon. This has brought a lot of destruction, death and distrust in Southern Lebanon. Shouldn’t Lebanon build a defensive strategy so as to dissuade, limit or restrain the “IDF”?
  • An armed grouped, Hezbollah, backed by the majority of the local population wants to keep the fight going. Their most popular argument within their constituency is similar to the one of the Israeli army: only military strength will ensure our security and disuade our enemy from attacking us. It’s a defensive argument (that is not weaker than that of the Israeli army). What could the Lebanese government answer to this argument be?
  • There are other armed groups that are held back by Hezbollah (mostly Palestinian, and Sunni islamists) who are willing to pursue the fight, and the Lebanese State doesn’t seem to have a hold on them.

Before asking the government to come up with a diplomatic strategy toward Israel, I think it is foremost important to ask them to come up with a coherent military and defensive strategy, one that takes into account and deals with Hezbollah and the Palestinians of Lebanon.

Posted in Geopolitics, Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians, Peace, Security, Violence | 10 Comments »

Sex, Values & Globalisation or Mazen Abdel Jawad’s free fall

Posted by worriedlebanese on 09/08/2009

Last week, LBC & its young anchorman Malek Maktabi were reminded that “red lines” still exist in the Arab world and that crossing them can have an economical and a political cost. This simple fact was brought to their mind when the Saudi authorities closed down their offices in Jeddah following the airing of the weekly programme “A7mar bil khat al 3arid”, “Bold Red Line”.

Here’s the extract that started the whole commotion.

As you might have noticed, the reporting isn’t really interesting. The anchorman’s sensationalism comes across as cheap and uninteresting. We are shown a young man in his “crib” bragging about his sexual exploits, expressing how important sex is to him and how he stimulates his partner’s desire. Some people have described his crowing as lewd, while others have stressed how immature and teen-like his approach to sexuality is. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Discourse, Identity, Journalism, Prejudice, Values | 3 Comments »

Anti-confessionalism’s side effects

Posted by worriedlebanese on 06/08/2009

listen_without_prejudiceIndoctrination: As we have seen, Anticonfessionalism is a State defused ideology. Not only is it a defining element of our constitution and our institutions, but it’s the most prominent feature of our political discourse. Even those who want to maintain the political system as it is are either uncomfortable with it or are embarrassed to defend it publicly.
All public discussions are dominated by negative views of confessionalism. These views have been diffused through the media for over half a century. They have found their way in history books and civic education books.
The consequence is obvious: an overwhelming majority of Lebanese holds negative views on confessionalism and consider it incompatible with all values they consider positive (the latter values are not necessarily shared). As we will see, these views are not based on facts, on demonstrations, but on a global prejudgment. A critical approach is surely warranted when it involves an analysis of merits and faults. But  it ceases to be interesting when it’s a simple expression of adverse or disapproving comments and judgments. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Civil Society, Culture, Discourse, Diversity, History, Identity, Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Journalism, Lebanon, Pluralism, Prejudice, Religion, Secularism, Values | 13 Comments »

Anti-Confessionalism: a state ideology

Posted by worriedlebanese on 04/08/2009

Music4massesThis is not a joke. Anti-confessionalism is a state ideology. It might sound shocking to many ears, but I believe it is actually indisputable. Will this sketchy demonstration you are about to read convince you? I hope so. This blog is certainly not the place for a meticulous study of this surprising and counterintuitive feature. But it will allow me to point out quite broadly a couple of arguments that are usually overlooked by most analysts. And then you’ll do the math.

First, I’d like to remind the reader that the Lebanese political system was not founded on a single pre-existing ideology or political theory that one could call “confessionalism”. This is usually the case with state ideologies. Let’s take the example of the United State (where federalism and democracy were theorised before they were implemented), France (where the basic elements of republicanism were theorised before the overthrow of the Monarchy), the Soviet Union (with communism) and closer to us, Syria (where Baasism was theorised before the establishment of the Baasist regime) and Israel (where Zionism was theorised half a century before the establishment of the State). In all these cases, we find thinkers, intellectuals or theorists who pondered over a regime before its establishment. This is not the case of Lebanon. No thinker, intellectual or theorist reflected on the country’s communal reality and how it could be translated politically before the establishment of the political system or regime (the Constitution of 1926). Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Civil Society, Democracy, Discourse, Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Politics, Values | 2 Comments »

Violence spills over: Shooting at Tel Aviv gay center

Posted by worriedlebanese on 04/08/2009

Candles in memory of dead spell out "love"

Candles in memory of dead spell out "love"

How fast is Israel heading for trouble? How much can one extrapolate from one crime news heading, a simple human interest story? Could it be an indicator or is it just an isolated case?

One thing is certain, Israeli editorialists and politicians are not taking it so lightly (c.f. Yediot Ahronot article). For them, it’s not just about Nir Katz (24) and Liz Trubeshi (17) who were killed on saturday. It’s about a shooting attack on a gay and lesbian youth center in Tel Aviv. It’s about a hate crime. It’s about an automatic weapon (such as an M-16 rifle) that was used by an Israeli to kill other Israelis because of differences in lifestyle and values.

It’s about a bubble exploding, but unlike Eytan Fox’s הבועה, the needle that burst it is not directly tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict… but might very well be indirectly link to it. For how long can Israeli society nurture  its militaristic culture and breed distrust between some of its sectors, before that starts spreading?

Judging from the reaction of editorialists and politicians, the fear is there, but also the discomfort. How should this attack be called? A terror attack? Can it be called a terror attack although its perpetrator seems to be jewish? This is the kind of hesitation one sees in interviews and opinion papers. It’s not a simple case of semantics, its about classification, operating a distinction between “jewish violence and “palestinian violence”: when violence is so instrumental in separating and defining two groups, what happens when it erupts within one of the groups? what does it say about the opposition between the two groups…

Posted in Conspiracy, Culture, Identity, Israel, Palestinians, Prejudice, Religion, Secularism, Security, Semantics, Values, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Confessionalism/Anti-confessionalism: Two sides of the same coin

Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/08/2009

Janus_coin

Anti-confessionalism probably lacks historical perspective because it is utterly uninterested in context. It is obsessed with values and rules: it seeks to impose what it claims to be positive, modern (western), secular values (and rules), while claiming to combat what it defines as archaic, religious, oppressive values (and rules). By doing so, it defines itself (anti-confessionalism) and what it combats (confessionalism).

Before going into this dual definition (and its implication), let’s have a glimpse at these very values and value-laden political programmes anti-confessionalism vows to defend and implement.

A glimpse at the muddle

As Maria sang to the children, “let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start”. The whole debate over confessionalism started in the 1940s. Sure, one could trace articles and writing about its many elements to the 1930, and even to the 1920s. But they were still scattered then, and dealt with points that were quite rightly seen as unrelated: secularisation, modernisation, westernisation, nation-building and state building. From the 1940s onwards, all these views converged under the label of “anticonfessionalism” as their proponents defined a common enemy, confessionalism.

This conversion obscures the fact that we are dealing with distinct processes, political programmes and values. This is why we will look into each of them one at a time.

  • Secularisation: A process in which the various aspects of society (economic, political, legal, and moral) become increasingly specialised and distinct from religion (and religious authority). It is usually accompanied by a societal decline in levels of religiosity. Its proponents usually link the decline of religiosity to the increase of freedoms. In Lebanon, secularisation usually means three things:
    • Abolishing the personal status laws and courts (up to now, each recognised and established community has its own laws and courts), and replacing them by one civil legislation in matters of family law.
    • Supporting “secular” education, i.e. state schools and universities (vs schools and universities within religious networks).
    • Combatting religious authority and interference in public affairs. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Civil Society, Culture, Discourse, Diversity, Education, History, Identity, Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Politics, Prejudice, Religion, Speculation, Values | 2 Comments »

The Paradoxes of AntiConfessionalism (an introduction)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 02/08/2009

anti-confessionalismAntiConfessionalism! The word seems easy to grasp. The prefix and suffix speak for themselves. Intuitively, one could assume that anticonfessionalism is antonymous & opposed to a specific system, principle, ideology: confessionalism. Up to now things might seem pretty clear. But when you look a bit closer, you discover something completely different. It’s actually quite hard to oppose anti-confessionalism to confessionalism. It’s like opposing black and white. Sure it’s a common assumption that black is the opposite of white, but it doesn’t tell you much about one or the other, and so the opposition turns out to be meaningless.

I have already dealt with the issue of anticonfessionalism two years ago (albeit hysterically) through a “hate mail” sent to Amam05 posted here. The arguments haven’t changed, but maybe I should restate them more serenely.

We might have many bad intellectual habits in Lebanon, but anti-confessionalism is unmistakably the worst. If you’re looking for insight, learning, critical engagement… keep away from anti-confessional literature. On the other hand, if you’re looking for repetitive prose, dogmatism, distilled ideology, decontextualised constructions, baseless assumptions, groundless accusations… Then you should definitely check out the many books, articles and declarations written on confessionalism.

At first, I thought it would be possible to discuss this issue in one post, but judging from the reactions I’m getting, I think it better to discuss one paradox at a time.


Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Civil Society, Culture, Democracy, Discourse, Diversity, Education, Identity, Idiosyncrasy 961, Lebanon, Pluralism, Politics, Religion, Secularism, Speculation, Values | 11 Comments »