Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/09/2009
The contrast between these four men is striking. One could easily say that in this world Assembly, they are “worlds apart”. On one hand you’ve got a world/worldly leader, on the other three buffoons with very distinct styles.
Obama knew very well who his audience was, and he spoke to them in his habitual clear and cultured style. He was here to convince the UN and world leaders that the Bush days are gone, a page was being turned and that multilateralism was to replace unilateralism. He spoke as a leader, summing his country’s policy change and telling his audience what it wanted to hear. He addressed many issues, took twice the time that was alloted to him, but everything he said was linked to a policy that he had already launched, and that he vowed to pursue (here is his speech).
Now let’s check out the three buffoons: the delusional megalomaniac buffoon, the possessed preacher buffoon and the dogmatic historian buffoon.
I’ve searched the web through and through, but found no transcription of Muammar Gaddafi’s text. The reason is simple. There was no text! The Libyan autocratic leader preferred to improvise. He brought several folders, papers and books with him, and flicked through them, giving solution to every single conflict that sprang to his mind. And instead of sticking to the 15 minutes given to him, he took a whole 90 minutes. So don’t expect coherence or clarity, it’s rants that you’re going to get.
Amadinejad’s speech on the other hand was very well constructed. It clearly defined the good guys and the bad guys. It also spoke lengthly of God… and to a lesser extent of Zionism. It hardly adressed the nuclear issue or other upsetting matters. It didn’t give much thought about the audience or the fact that Israel has been campaigning against him quite heavily accusing his country of genocidal intent. Autistic to the very end, he stuck to preaching, giving no consideration to the fact that his audience wasn’t particularly receptive to his message, and that he needed to be very convincing if he wanted to get his point through.
And then came Netanyahu! If you want a good summary of Israeli Hasbara (propaganda techniques called “explanation”), you can’t dream of a better lesson. Bibi’s speech will tell you everything about how to be self-righteous, how history is to be used against others, how rhetorical techniques could be effective and how certain references can help you sway an audience toward you.
Posted in Culture, Discourse, Discourse Analysis, Middle East, Political behaviour, Semantics, Values | 8 Comments »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/09/2009
The 9 original candidates. Housny is second from left
Before delving into the analysis, let’s set the record straight. I won’t be looking into the dirty politics behind these elections. I do have some crusty insider information on some dirty play, but it’s closer to gossip than meaningful information, and strictly off topic. What we’ll be looking into is the public debate that surrounded these elections. I believe it had an incidence on the final outcome: Irina Bokova’s election to the post of Director General of UNESCO. But there is no way to prove this fact.
Interestingly enough, the reasons behind Farouk Hosny’s defeat are not of much interest. They will leave no trace in the public conscience. On the other hand, the fierce debate surrounding this election will undoubtedly mark those who feel envolved in the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Let’s start with a quick look at the five rounds that brought Farouk Hosni to his defeat. If you’re interested in more details, check out this blog.
- Results of the 5 rounds
As the figures clearly show, Farouk Hosni was the leading contestant up to the fifth round. His candidacy was supported by the Arab League, the African Union, and the Organization for the Islamic Conference. It was backed by France and unopposed (though grudgingly) by Israel. So what happened? If you’re interested in geopolitics, check out what Stephen Suleyman Schwartz had to say about it. I’d rather look into one campaign that picked up speed and was given more media attention than any other story in these elections: that of Bernard-Henri Lévy (alias BHL, alias BHV) relayed on the net through Save Unesco!, a blog started by “French students in political science” that was deleted earlier today (but here is the cached copy). Much can be said about Bernard-Henri Levy and the anonymous group of French students, but I will focus on the issues that they raised, and they are identical. Instead of supporting one specific candidate, they attacked the Egyptian candidate on three main issues
- Antisemitism. This accusation springs from a misquoted statement on burning Israeli books found in Egyptian libraries (a statement Farouk Hosny later apologised for in his “message to the world“). BHL reinterpreted this statement as a vow “to burn with his own hands any book in Hebrew that could have possibly infiltrated the stacks of the Alexandria Library”.
- An alleged involvement in the Achille Lauro Hijacking affair.
- Responsibility as Minister of Culture (for over two decades) in the crackdown of liberties and freedom of expression in Egypt.
So, is Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace price laureate, right when he says “UNESCO has escaped a scandal, a moral disaster. Mr. Hosni did not deserve the job he does not deserve this honor tomorrow”. Can we agree with BHL when he says “We have won. Liberty has won. Tolerance has won. And thanks to all of you, respect has won. I’d like to thank you, net surfers, for engaging in this battle for democracy and peace. Thanks to all who refused the unacceptable and who allowed for this beautiful victory”. That’s what we’ll be looking into tomorrow.
Posted in Antisemitism, Blogosphere, Civil Society, Communication, Conspiracy, Culture, Democracy, Egypt, Geopolitics, Israel, Political behaviour, Semantics, Values | Tagged: accusations, Anti-Arab, Censorship, Jewish Lobby, Pro-Israel | Leave a Comment »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 18/09/2009
When Americans speak of the “wall of separation”, they mean the principle of separation between “Church” and State (i.e. Religion & Government). The expression takes a whole different meaning in our region, doesn’t it?
Well, I thought the title of this post (transliterated: Eid Mubarak and Shana Tova, translated: Blessed Feast and Happy New Year) reflects the hopes of many perfectly, that an ampersand replaces the wall.
Notice the clouds lurking in the back… well, you’ll understand what they’re up to in a coming post 😉
Posted in Intercommunal affairs, Middle East, Personal, Religion, Values | 1 Comment »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 16/09/2009
How consistent are political alliances in Lebanon and what effects do they have ? These are two important questions that Ghassan Saoud deals with indirectly in his article published by al-Akhbar: “العونيون لحزب الله: “العتب على قد المحبة (Aounists to Hezbollah: “reproaches equal to affection”). I discovered this article yesterday thanks to Remarkz’s post on the subject.
First a quick summary then a quick interpretation followed by extrapolations.
The Summary: as the title clearly shows, the article is another example of Lebanese pamphlet-journalism (with substance). Its author is “sending a message” to Hezbollah and the FPM. He hopes that the Shiite party will hear and remedy the points or questions that he formulates. He also wishes the FPM emulates Hezbollah in several ways (balancing between charisma and institution, party organisation, communication policy and strategy…). Here are the questions Ghassan Saoud (quite rightly) believes are bugging the FPM’s christian constituency:
- Is Hezbollah willing to decommission its weapons once Shebaa is liberated and a defensive strategy is adopted & followed?
- What are Hezbollah’s priority or focus (the Shiites? Christian-Muslim partnership in Lebanon? Iran?)?
- Why doesn’t Hezbollah publicly address or communicate on issues that matter to the FPM?
- Why doesn’t Hezbollah support the FPM’s claims the way it supports its own (militarily?)?
- How does Hezbollah’s religious dimension fit in the alliance?
Quick Interpretation: The journalist is obviously frustrated by the fact that the alliance between Hezbollah and the FPM hasn’t evolved, deepened. It has remained during these three years limited to the highest ranks of both parties and only appears publicly when the need for a common stance is felt.
Little effort is put in bridging the constituencies, deliberating together, working as partners on topics that matter to both (or even to one party). On the other hand, a lot of energy and time is spent on justifying the alliance or the ally’s actions (more at the hand of the FPM than Hezbollah).
Interestingly, many interviewed FPMers bring up the question of “justification”. They blame Hezbollah for not justifying (“explaining”) its actions sufficiently. They also mention the fact that they sometimes have problem justifying these actions to their colleagues. The insistance on justification goes hand in hand with the request for common public stances. This focus translates perfectly the way politics have come to be regarded by Lebanese (especially Christian Lebanese) as a logocracy where all that matters are words and stances.
Extrapolation: What Ghassan Saoud criticises in the Opposition® reminds me of what Michel Hajji-Georgiou reproaches March XIV® with in an even friendlier and more indirect way: Lack of consistency and content.
Posted in Discourse, Diversity, Hezbollah, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Political behaviour | 7 Comments »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/09/2009
Drapeaux FL autour du député Kataeb
Cette année, comme toutes les années, les Libanais ont assisté à la grande messe commémorative de l’assassinat de Béchir Gemayel. Libanais est sans doute trop large comme terme. Cet évènement ne concerne que les Chrétiens d’entre eux. Si l’on aborde cette messe pour ce qu’elle est, un spectacle politique, on a tout intérêt à s’intéresser à ses spectateurs autant qu’à ses acteurs en raison de l’importance que son audience lui accorde.
Côté acteurs, il y a d’un côté les premiers rôles, et de l’autre rôles secondaires qui se confondent avec celles des (simples) figurants. Toutefois, ce spectacle n’étant pas comme tous les autres, il est bon de s’intéresser également aux absents, ceux qui n’ont pas été sélectionnés, les candidats malheureux du casting.
Tout d’abord les acteurs principaux. Ils se divisent en trois groupes.
- Le premier groupe se résume au clan Gemayel : Amine (le frère, rival et successeur de Bachir), l’ancien président coopté Za’im par les Zu’ama, Sami (son neveu) et Nadim (son fils), les députés, Joumana (sa fille), nouvelle dirigeante de la fondation Bachir Gemayel, Patricia Pierre Gemayel (veuve de son neveu), Solange (sa veuve), ancienne députée, ancienne dirigeante de la fondation mais locutrice principale de la journée. C’est le clan qui organise la cérémonie.
- Le second groupe se réduit à Samir Geagea, dirigeant des Forces Libanaise, ancien chef de guerre, ancien prisonnier politique, parrain de huit députés chrétiens, et donc de la troisième plus grande formation “chrétienne” au parlement (la première est celle du Za’im chrétien Michel Aoun, avec ses 17 députés chrétiens, la seconde est celle du Za’im sunnite Saad Hariri avec ses 11 députés chrétiens). Samir Geagea a été exclu de l’organisation de la cérémonie, mais c’est lui qui a ramené le plus grand nombre de partisan, ce qui lui a valu la plus grande ovation… et donc une bonne récupération de l’évènement.
- Le troisième groupe est représenté par l’Eglise maronite, dominée par le patriarche Nasrallah Sfeir qui se voit son incarnation. L’Evêque Roland Abou Jaoudé a présidé à la messe en tant que représentant du patriarche. Le célébrant ne se limite jamais à une approche pastorale de la commémoration. Il ne s’attarde pas non plus sur la personne de Béchir Gemayel, il réaffirme simplement sa valeur en tant que symbole et le rattache à l’histoire des Chrétiens Levantins et de l’Eglise Maronite.
- Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Lebanon, Memory, Political behaviour, Version Francophone | 5 Comments »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/09/2009
Let’s first start by answering three questions:
Why compare? The reason is fairly simple, there are many benefits to it. Comparisons can help us understand the difficulties of cabinet formation (and distinguish structural problems from contextual ones). Comparisons can help us reframe our expectations. Comparisons can help us determine where the problems lie. Comparisons offer us solutions others have figured out to solve similar problems.
Why choose Belgium, Israel and Northern Ireland? These countries have recurrently faced problems in cabinet formation. But the difficulties they encountered are not the same.
In Belgium, their is a deep division between Walloons and Flemish parties. So during the cabinet formation process, you have to please parties belonging to both groups, which isn’t always easy, even when the parties belong to the same ideological family, because the parties’ constituencies are not the same. Each communal group has its priorities and its perspective. Negotiations can take time (in the case of Belgium, it took 196 days in 2007), and they can be facilitated through arbitration (by the King or an appointee of his).
Israel on the other hand is extremely efficient in cabinet formation although all of its governments have recently been coalition governments bringing together parties that have deep disagreements (ex: secularists and religious parties, leftists and rightists…). Some of the parties even have distinct communal constituencies (ex: Shass, Yisrael B’alya, NRP). What helps the process is the absence of polarisation (there are many parties and each party negotiates alone), the absence of communal power-sharing rules (between Jews and non-Jews or between the different sectors of the Jewish community) and an agreement on several basic rules in cabinet formation: proportionality according to parliamentary weight, each party chooses its ministers, no veto power for any party on the inclusion.
Northern Ireland’s example is rather interesting too. In this case, the largest problem was that one of the largest political formations in the country was armed (Sinn Féin-IRA), and had refused to disband because the Irish police force was in the hand of the rival communal group, and it considered that the British Army was in favour of that group. So the United Kingdom brokered a decommissioning plan that was linked to the participation of the political branch of the party to the government of Northern Ireland (the Northern Ireland Executive). After this was done, the basic rule for cabinet formation was that of proportionality between government weight and parliamentary weight within a broad and cross-communal “national-unity government”. This being said, tensions are still recurrent and this has lead the British government to suspend the Northern Ireland Executive for several years!
What can we learn from these examples or others? Cabinet formation takes time in plural societies, especially if they are polarised, because the process has to take into account an extremely large number of elements that have to be negotiated, mainly:
- the choice of the Prime minister
- the number and the identity of parties that will partake in the government,
- the government’s program (national priorities),
- allocation of seats,
- distribution of portfolios,
- choice of ministers.
The existence of rules can facilitate or complicate the formation of governments. Rules can be formalised (explicitly by law) or not. Formalised rules can abridge negotiations by limiting their scope. Rules that are not formalised could have the same effect, and they have the advantage of adapting to change. On the hand, opinions can differ on the interpretation of tules. The more there are disagreements on rules, the longer time it will take to get to a consensus. That’s why the existence of an arbitrator is essential. This arbitrator not only breaks the deadlock, but he gives an authoritative interpretation of the rule (formal and informal). It is important for the system to spell out the facilitating rules and to replace or prohibit the complicating rules. Tomorrow, we’ll look into the complicating factors in Lebanon and ways they could be rationalised (we’ll look into Boris Mirkine-Guetzevitch’s approach to how parliamentarism can be rationalised).
Posted in Culture, Democracy, Diversity, Intercommunal affairs, Israel, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics, Propositions | 3 Comments »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 10/09/2009
Most analysis I have read on the cabinet formation process is marked by a particular model, that of majoritarian western systems. The approach is quite simple. After labelling the March XIV® coalition (and gluing to it Walid Joumblatt’s Democratic Gathering withstanding his extremely public departure) as the majority, the analyst expects the Prime minister designate to act as the French President, the British Prime Minister or the American President: swiftly put together a cabinet, with the generous option of integrating ministers belonging to the Opposition® as he deems fit.
One would have expected Lebanon’s consociationalists to react to such an approach, but they have been rather discreet lately. They’re probably bothered by the fact that consociational theory and analysis doesn’t exactly fit with their current political preferences. This is particularly true of Antoine Messarra, the co-founder (with Theodor Hanf) of the Lebanese consociational school.
Now let’s set aside our assumptions and normative stands, and look at reality’s ugly face. So today, we’ll first look at who we are, and who we resemble. Tomorrow, we’ll be looking into the challenges that any Prime Minister designate will face in forming a government given our political system and the political conjoncture.
- Our society is divided along many lines (regional, social, confessional). Of late, four political groups have succeeded in transcending all lines except one; mobilising “their” communities behind them (Amal-Hezbollah mobilises the majority of Shiites, Mustaqbal mobilises the majority of Sunnis, Ishtiraki mobilises the majority of Druze). Moreover, this extreme mobilisation was facilitated by a regional polarisation between Sunnis and Shiites that was locally fed instead of being neutralised. Each side has its weapons: Hezbollah is fully armed and operational; Mustaqbal holds the financial weapon (without its support, the Lebanese economy will be crippled and would certainly collapse).
- Our political system is extremely complicated. Its rules are an odd mix of jacobine republicanism and ottoman communalism. And these rules are circumvented by the dominant political groups, most importantly the Quadripartite Oligarchy (Amal, Hezbollah, Mustaqbal, Ishtiraki) and its junior partners (Marada, Murr, Kataeb, Lebanese Forces, Democratic Party… and probably the FPM if given the time and the opportunity, only time will tell). Historically, the Lebanese army has on three occasions circumvented the constitutional rules (during the presidency of Fuad Chehab, Charles Helou and Emile Lahoud) but seems rather put for the time being.
- The political conjecture is extremely complex. Behind the two labels March XIV® and Opposition®, we find two composite coalitions grouping rival parties with distinct ideologies, interests, constituencies and regional allies. Since the departure of Walid Jumblatt’s Democratic Gathering from March XIV®, the two coalitions have roughly the same size. What complicates matters even further are these four constraining factors:
- the great mistrust between the two main pillars of each coalition (Mustaqbal, Hezbollah)
- the decision of these two pillars to participate in the next government (so as to secure their interests and outlook).
- the fact that their decision to participate in the government cannot be ignored, because of the mobilisation of their respective communal group behind them, their international alliances and their respective weapons (financial for one, military for the other).
- the solidarity each pillar has shown toward the members of his coalition, especially its Christian junior partners (that give them a trans-communal dimension): FPM (and its christian allies), Lebanese Forces, Kataeb.
So forget about the US, France or the UK. You can’t expect our democracy to function like theirs. If you want to compare our situation to that of another country, learn from their experience, see what mechanisms they have devised to facilitate or accelerate the process of government formation, look elsewhere: to Belgium, to Israel, to Northern Ireland. That’s what we’ll do tomorrow.
Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Discourse, Diversity, Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Politics, Propositions | 9 Comments »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 09/09/2009
Hariri Jr has replaced several of his political aids during the past few months with new ones. But he seems to remain rather ill advised. How can you explain his recent move?
1- He informs the President of the new draft he has prepared (in accordance with the 15-10-5 formula).
2- He doesn’t inform neither his electoral allies nor his electoral “rivals” of how he allocated the seats.
3-The composition of the proposed cabinet is leaked to the press.
Such an approach is unheard of in the history of coalition governments. It comes closer to how things are done for the composition of a majority government in which an undisputed leader (usually a president, but sometimes a chancellor or Prime Minister) chooses who (s)he wants for whatever position (s)he wants within the ranks of his/her party (or even another one if (s)he so chooses, like we have witnessed recently in France and the US). So how could Saad Hariri have mistaken these two approaches? How didn’t he predict that his rivals and allies would both reject this approach?
There are two possibilities:
- either he failed to predict an obvious outcome, which can only mean that he is incompetent, imprudent and badly advised. Let’s go beyond the accusations and see why this could be the case.
Posted in Communication, Democracy, Diversity, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Politics | Leave a Comment »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/09/2009
Yesterday, a reporting on a french national television showed the way different organisations in France reacted to a controversial German Aids campaign. This campaign features Adolf Hitler having sex with a young woman with the tag line “Aids is a mass murderer”.
To reveal how controversial these spots and posters were, the French channel not only showed extracts of the spot and pictures of the posters, but aired reactions from two organisations: an aids awareness NGO (Solidarité Sida) and a Jewish umbrella organisation, the Conseil représentatif des institutions juives. The Aids awarness NGO found the campaign’s message counterproductive because it could stigmatize HIV positive men, likening them to Adolf Hitler and considering them potential mass murderers. This effect is certainly possible. And that’s why AIDS charities worldwide have been critical of the advert even though they recognise its shock value (that put AIDS back in the centre page at a time where people are more concerned about flu and unprotected sex has become hype). But that’s not where the story is.
Richard Pasquier’s interview was far more interesting, and I believe truly controversial. The president of France’s largest Jewish Umbrella organisation expressed the shock of the Jewish community, questioned the use of Hitler’s image and denounces the comparison between genocide and an illness regardless of its importance (“ça n’a rien avoir, mais véritablement rien, avec une maladie aussi grave soit elle…”.
Listening to his arguments, I couldn’t help myself from remembering Avraham Burg’s criticism of contemporary zionist trends in his book “Defeating Hitler”. The Shoah has become so defining to contemporary jewish identity that Hitler, its mastermind, becomes an icon (a negative one), a strong symbol directly linked to the jewish ethos to a point where his image is claimed by a jewish “representative” through his criticism of its use.
Posted in Civil Society, Journalism, Judaism | 2 Comments »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 07/09/2009
It seems Taymour Jumblatt is back from his self-imposed Parisian exile. And he is getting groomed to take over the “family business” from his father. “The Lebanese have to free themselves from the sectarian mentality” he said, comfortably slipping into his grandfather’s speech patterns while touring Rashaya and Hasbaya, also know as Wadi el-Taym, the historical birthplace of the Druze community (not of the faith though).
This is not the first time the “serious” media gives some attention to a person who holds no official or prominent position within a party, the state or even a municipality. Three weeks ago, his father had sent him to represent him at Hezbollah’s “Victory Celebration” held in the southern suburb of Beirut to commemorate the outcome of the July war in 2006. The young Joumblatt also received some media attention two years ago when he publicly said that his father erred in 2005-2006 because he was mislead by the American administration and its Arab cronies.
After Frangieh Jr (soon to be joined by a cousin), the Gemayel Juniors (will Joumana join?)… it’s becoming quite clear that the third generation of Zu’ama is ready to step into politics. The political class is co-opting them (i.e. recognising their “rights” in partaking in public ressources and distributing them), the media is keeping them well centered in the limelight, the intelligentia is nourishing a lame debate on political inheritance (which keeps the focus on those heirs, transforms this specific political inheritance into a social phenomena, which it isn’t… and gives some pundits the opportunity to say that withstanding the fact that they inherited such a position, they’re bringing new blood in and some of them have excellent credentials).
What lies behind nepotism and “political inheritance” Read the rest of this entry »
Posted in Communication, Culture, Discourse, Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Political behaviour | Leave a Comment »
Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/09/2009
Frequent sojourns in Paris do have their advantages. One of them is being able to see a great variety of films at the movies, many of which have no chance of being screened in Beirut (at least not in public screenings). I had the pleasure to watch a couple of hours ago “Tu n’aimeras point”, an Israeli film by Haim Tabakman (that came out in Paris before Tel Aviv).
Don’t let this hollywood style trailer mislead you. The film is not about a gay couple. It’s no Israeli version of Bareback Mountain. It’s not about conflict of lifestyles (Jerusalem vs Tel Aviv; secular global vs religious local). It’s about a righteous person (צדיק, صادق) who discovers love with another man yet refuses to make choices until confronted by his community. He indulges in a homosexual relation without letting go of his beliefs and his respect of the Law. Quite the contrary, his passion opens up his eyes to a less stoic interpretation of religious texts. But he doesn’t notice the social consequences of his acts until the social reaction hits him in the face.
What is particularly interesting about the film is that it introduces you to a hassidic worldview showing you its many facets and its struggle for survival in a world that upholds opposing values. Withstanding the risks entailed by its subject matter, it refrains from being judgemental, pedagogical or raunchy. The excellent performance, clean editing and focused cinematography also serve a script that leaves no room for justification or explanation (neither from the director’s perspective nor from the characters’).
Posted in Culture, Israel, Judaism, Religion, Values | 3 Comments »