Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

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).

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