Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Archive for November, 2009

Swiss voters ban building of minarets

Posted by worriedlebanese on 29/11/2009

Islamophobia - Swiss style

More than 57% of voters and 22 out of 26 cantons voted in favour of a referendum proposal banning the building of minarets in Switzerland. The result came as a surprise. All surveys preceding the vote showed a majority of Swiss opposed to the ban. So how can one explain this gross disparity between the predicted and the actually result?

There are three explanations for this disparity:

              • The surveyors did a bad job. They relied on bad sampling… This could very possibly be the case. But how come all surveys gave similar results up to today? Could they all be wrong? And how come they were so wrong. We’re not talking about a 1 to 5 % error range, but more than 10%. That’s huge.
              • People who had declared  that they would vote against the ban didn’t turn up to the polling station at the same rate than those who voted in favour of the ban. If this is true, one still wonders why they were not motivated? Were they too comforted in their belief that the ban wouldn’t be approved? Did the parties that had declared their opposition to the ban (all except one it seems) fail to mobilise their constituencies? etc.
              • People who wanted to vote for the ban declared that they would vote against it. But why would they do such a thing? Could it be because they understood that their vote would be considered as islamophobic, and that such feelings are morally condemned because of their xenophobic character?

What next?

Instead of trying to understand why the Swiss voters decided to support the ban, I would like to quickly look into its significance. Most of the analysis I’ve encountered were geopolitical. Some analysts were worried about the possible international  outcomes of the ban: disinvestments, riots, targeting of Swiss embassies. It is quite obvious that the Danish Cartoon affair is still present in many minds. Some of the analysis I’ve come across were more interested in the social consequences it could have in Switzerland. How would this ban effect the relations between muslim and non-muslim individuals and groups in Helvetia?

Could this cow find the poster offensive?

My thoughts on this question have been drifting another way. The Swiss law doesn’t ban the building of Mosques. It bans the building of Minarets. In other words, it is targeting one essential element in Muslim religious architecture. Let’s not get all freudian about it, but it’s obviously a form of castration. They are banning the most defining feature of this religious building, what makes it recognizable as a Mosque. Interestingly enough, modern technology has removed much of a Minaret’s functional importance. Loudspeakers are more efficient and less costly a solution to call to prayer. And there is no legal provision banning these loudspeakers (except for the general nuisance provision that could be used by mayors). So basically, the Swiss banned a defining architectural element, what makes the building recognizable in the urban setting. So it has more to do with identity and visibility in the public space than anything else.

Did we say Freudian?

Such a ban is new to Europe (I wonder how the Council of Europe and its court will react to it). But similar provisions existed in the Middle East. The Ottomans for centuries had banned bell towers. They were only allowed during the second part the 19th century. In cities, there were even provisions stating that no Synagogue or Church must be prominent; And no distinctif part should be seen from the street (menorah, tables of the law, cross)…  The general idea behind the islamic provision and the swiss provision are the same. National religious minorities should remain invisible.

Advertisements

Posted in Diversity, Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Islam, Judaism, Religion | 18 Comments »

Un deuxième ministre “positiv’image” sort ses griffes

Posted by worriedlebanese on 26/11/2009

Il y a du changement dans l’air. A quelques heures d’intervalles, deux ministres du gouvernement émettent des signaux forts qu’ils entendent prendre en main le ministère auquel ils ont été reconduit. D’abord Ziyad Baroud avec son coup de colère, puis Ibrahim Najjar avec la condamnation d’un magistrat pour corruption.

Deux ministres “positiv’image” ou RP externe
Ces deux Ministres ont un grand nombre de points communs. Ils sont tous les deux juristes, francophones, issus de l’Université Saint Joseph, Chrétiens. Les deux ont été reconduits à leur poste, à un ministère de “souveraineté”. Les deux avaient étaient choisis il y a un an pour leur image. Cette motivation n’est pas particulièrement rare pour le choix d’un ministre chrétien. Après tout, la moitié des sièges gouvernementaux leur était réservée alors que la part des réseaux clientélistes chrétiens était assez réduite. Les patrons des réseaux clientélistes pouvaient donc sans risques, à faible coût et à grand rendement choisir une personnalité chrétienne extérieure au petit monde politique (et à leur réseau clientéliste) pour l’image qu’elle représente. C’est essentiellement pour ces raisons que Ghassan Salamé, George Corm, Tarek Mitri (avant qu’il ne prouve sa fidélité sans faille), et plus récemment Ziyad Baroud et Ibrahim Najjar on été choisis dans une opération de relation publique externe.
La particularité d’Ibrahim Najjar est qu’il a été nommé au gouvernement en tant que représentant des Forces Libanaises. Or, il n’est pas particulièrement proche de cette formation. Sans doute, Samir Geagea l’a choisi pour modifier l’image des Forces Libanaises, et convaincre les élites chrétiennes de la “respectabilité” de sa formation.

Deux ministères de souveraineté court-circuités par les réseaux clientélistes
Il y a trois jours, nous avons vu les problèmes sur lesquels Ziyad Baroud buttait au Ministère de l’Intérieur. La même chose peut-être dite de Ibrahim Najjar et de son Ministère de la Justice. Au lieu de s’étendre sur la manière dont la classe politique s’est appliquée à envahir, noyauter et manipuler la justice, nous attaquerons directement l’affaire du juge Tanios Ghantous. En quelques mots: Le Ministre de la Justice a annoncé que le Conseil Supérieur de la Discipline a démis un juge de ses fonction pour des raisons disciplinaires (corruption). Dix-huit autres dossiers seraient sous étude. Ibrahim Najjar a présenté cette condamnation comme le début d’un vaste chantier de réforme de la justice.

Réforme du système judiciaire ou extension du système clientéliste?
Ce n’est pas anodin que le juge en question, Tanios Ghantous, soit chrétien. Du fait que les réseaux clientélistes établis durant la première moitié du mandat syrien soient essentiellement confessionnels, l’appartenance confessionnelle de ce magistrat a comme conséquence de le laisser quasiment sans protection (avec l’affaiblissement de Michel el Murr et Suleiman Frangieh). Cette opération est donc politiquement très peu coûteuse pour Najjar; il ne risque de se mettre aucun patron de réseau clientéliste à dos. En fait, elle est tout à fait profitable puisqu’elle donne au ministre une certaine crédibilité dans sa promesse de réforme et d’assainissement de la justice au Liban.
Sur sur le plan pratique, l’opération “main propre” du Ministre de la Justice a deux conséquences:

  • Si l’opération est sérieuse, elle met les réseaux clientélistes à la défensive. Il faudra qu’il arrive à convaincre Hariri, Jumblatt et Berri de ne plus couvrir, soutenir et encourager les juges verreux ou “influençables”. Najjar a obtenu le soutient du Président de la République, mais cela n’est pas suffisamment.
  • Son effet pervers est d’encourager les juges verreux à se mettre sous la protection d’un za’im communautaire (parce qu’il y a des verreux freelance), et surtout encourager les chrétiens d’entre eux de se trouver un protecteur… Ils auront le choix entre Michel Aoun et Samir Geagea. Les deux pourront se révéler très efficaces dans leur protection s’ils sont disposés à le faire (le sont-ils? là est la question). En d’autre mots, cette opération est tout à fait délicate. Si elle n’est pas suivie rapidement par d’autres actions, si elle ne devient pas systématique et institutionnalisée, elle risque de renforcer le système de corruption au lieu de le combattre.

Posted in Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Patronage Networks, Political behaviour, Politics, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »

Policy statement. Who gives a damn?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/11/2009

Resistance picture, part of the "only in Lebanon" series.

Future Movement’s Shiite effigy, MP Oqab Saqr considers that the sentence regarding the “spread of state authority throughout Lebanese territory” and placing “war and peace decisions solely into the hands of the Lebanese state” does not harm the resistance (Voix du Liban). So he sees no reason why it shouldn’t be included in the Policy Statement of Saad Hariri’s government.

I personally see no reason why any sentence should or shouldn’t be included in the Policy Statement. It is after all a totally futile rhetorical exercice with no legal or political effects whatsoever. The only use it could possibly serve is feed sterile polemics whenever any disagreement appears between any two parties/blocs represented in the government (with no less than 10 political parties on board, I’m sure there will be numerous occasions for that). Has anyone bothered to take a look at the previous declaration and see which part of it was actually implemented? Such an exercice would certainly be extremely difficult to follow through because it is rather difficult to see what these abstract statements imply in practice.

What does the sentence “spread of state authority throughout Lebanese territory” imply practically? Does that mean that police officers would be able to do their job in Palestinian camps? Certainly not. Politicians and officials have already “given guarantees” to Mahmoud Abbas’ representative that they won’t. Does that mean that the Minister of Interior will actually be able to monitor the work of the security forces anywhere outside his office? And I’m not only hinting at Hezbollah’s “security pockets”, but also some directories and local forces in Northern Lebanon and Beirut (that obey to Hariri), Southern Lebanon (that obey to Nabih Berri) or Southern Mount Lebanon (that obey to Walid Jumblatt). Wouldn’t it be more effective to say that the Minister of the Interior is mandated to assert the authority of his ministry throughout the territory and make sure that no group can hold arms unless authorised by Parliament?

Posted in Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics, Semantics, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Ziyad Baroud’s revolt. A coming of age story?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/11/2009

You’ve probably heard the news about our ministers tantrum last week, his boycott of the drafting committees meetings and his leave from the ministry. Before trying to make sens of it all, let’s have a closer look at the most popular minister in the government.
What’s his secret? Why is Ziad Baroud so appreciated and admired across political, partisan and communal lines? Here’s my two word answer: Image and Style.

Baroud’s image. When one speaks of Baroud, one cannot help but talk of his image. It’s not really about what he does or about who he is, but more about what he represents to others. He is young, he is active, he is independent, he is not tainted by any financial scandal, he was never envolved in any war, he doesn’t hail from a “traditionnal” political family. In other words, he embodies the perfect profile of the person many Lebanese would like to see in the government. He represents what everyone would like their political class to be.

Baroud’s style. This guy has an extremely quirky way of taking himself very seriously. You can’t help but smile when you hear him speak. He is eloquent (as all good lawyers usually are), he is determined, he is enthusiastic… and somewhat unconventional (more in style than in substance, probably for lack of imagination and inspiration). He developed a kind of a reverse deadpan attitude.

Baroud’s record as minister. For the past year, he has been the president’s man, the independent minister above the political fray, arguably the most popular minister, for the western ministries (heavily concerned with our state), and my compatriots alike. But has he been Minister of Interior? In title, yes. But in practice, he was more like a junior minister, a Minister of State in charge of the parliamentary elections. This is the function for which he was chosen. Former president of the Lebanese  Association for Democratic Elections (LADE), he was the best PR choice the political class could make to give some credibility to the most disenchanting elections in our history. And he played his role quite well. Everyone congratulated him for his only feat: Getting the country to vote on the same day (which deprived us of a very amusing feature in our electoral culture). On all the other fronts, his record is similar to that of the two Murr whose conduct he had much criticised back when he was an activist. He supervised the observatory commission, he caved in to pressure and political demands before and after the drafting of the electoral law that allowed media bias and facilitated vote buying. But on the whole, he pulled it off, and everyone was happy with the job he did.

Constrained by patronage networks. As for the rest of his functions, he very quickly discovered that they were rather limited. He was allowed to do cosmetic actions, but several directories and functions were off limit. Security matters were among them. There was no formal arrangement to deprive him of these functions. The game is an informal one, and it is very simple. The first period of the pax Syriana allowed several networks to take over large chunks of the administration (محاصصة), and control its bodies through a restricted system of appointments (محسوبية) which in practice circumvents the administration’s hierarchy; those who are placed in certain key positions only obeys orders given or agreed upon by their “patron”, regardless of their superior’s order. This doesn’t only translate through insubordination, it also means that information does not find its way up the ladder to the very top. It is filtered and can very well stop at a certain point.
The Security Forces are a good example of محاصصة and محسوبية: State Security is controlled by Nabih Berri. Since Achraf Rifi took over the Internal Security Forces, it’s commandement answers to Hariri’s Mustaqbal. But the local units can be quite autonomous, and some sections report to Walid Jumblatt, others to Nabih Berri… In the region I lived in, the units were used as Michel Murr’s personal police, delivering “personal messages” to Mayors or simple citizens.

The straw that broke this camel’s back. Ziyad Baroud’s latest fit of rage is quite understandable. Recently reappointed Minister of the Interior, he felt it was time to take over his full functions. He noticed that things looked increasingly like they did last year. The political class still saw him as a junior minister in charge of elections, this time local. He made a test to see if his hierarchical powers were still undermined by the networks and received a clear message that they were.
His outburst seems to have paid off. He received a strong support from the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister has pressured his man in the General Security to yield to the demands of his superior. Such conflicts and resolutions are quite common in Lebanon. And we’re left with a question. How far is this dynamic going to go? Is Ziyad Baroud finally going to be taken seriously by his ministry? Is he going to be able to implement the change that is needed?

Posted in Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Politics | 5 Comments »

Discussing identity, incidentally

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/11/2009

Identity sprang up  this weekend in three very different cyber-discussions: one with a psychologist, one with a philosopher and one with a sociologist. The contexts were obviously different, but in each of the conversations I was asked to disclose my identity as did my interlocutor, and discuss both identities. Not only did I catch myself disclosing different identities (truthfully and in good faith), but also using opposing arguments.

In the past, I had on several occasions discussed such a possibility arising, and given several examples to illustrate it: at university (an undergrad course) and in trainings (within an NGO). But experiencing it in such a short scope of time was extremely disturbing. It shakes one’s sense of self, and the value of one’s argumentation.

Context and setting is obviously central in discussing identity. And I was discussing this topic in four different settings: Lebanon, Israel, Belgium and France. Each setting has its own history in understanding this notion, its own definition, its own vocabulary and tradition in expressing it. So when you shift from one setting to another, you wonder if you’re still speaking the same “language” and you feel the need to “translate” it.

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

In the coming days, I will be discussing an initiative that a friend has pointed out to me: Laïque pride and I promised to say something useful about it. Before looking into the site, let’s glance at the expression “Laïque pride”. The first word, Laïque,  is an “untranslatable french notion”, or so it is presented, that refers to French secularism (the ideology, not the actual system which is quite far from embodying the principle). With the word “pride” that follows the result reminds us of similar contemporary expressions such as Black pride, Gay pride, Welsh pride… in all these expressions, the word is used to trigger awareness, celebrate and empower a previously dominated  group whose identity has been shamed in the past. With this simple expression of “laïque pride”, we are left with many explosive elements: secularism, foreign model, political protest, identity assertion… I’ll try to tackle all this tomorrow.

Posted in Identity, Israel, Lebanon, Personal, Pluralism | 1 Comment »

Israel steals a much deserved Lebanese title!

Posted by worriedlebanese on 19/11/2009

In his closing remarks at the Israel Annual Conference on Aviation and Astronautics, Benjamin Netanyahou claimed that Israel is “the most threatened country in the world”. How preposterous!! What about us?

Any objective viewer will agree that we have earned this title at a very costly price: civil wars on a regular basis, foreign military involvement, autonomous paramilitary formations, massive bombings from our neighbours, occupation… The ingredients are simple:

  1. LOCATION: best choice of bellicose neighbours: we’re stuck between Syria and Israel. Who can beat that? We’ve been repeatedly occupied, pounded, plundered… Can Israel beat that?
  2. CASTING: Shrewd thugs and their offsprings. Our political class was taught in the late 50s that violence pays! Every single political player (except one) who took up arms and killed a couple of his compatriots was rewarded with amnesty and a piece of the cake. Every now and then, there’s a repeat to get some new players in. The country  is threatened by those who hold power! Can Israel beat that?
  3. GUEST STARS: We started with the PLO in the 1960s, and now we have a dozen of foreign armed groups operating under different banners all over the country. Can Israel beat that?
  4. SCRIPT: We’ve been working on it for almost half a century. We’ve done a better job than Bill Murray in Groundhog Day (check out this scene to get the picture). We found a way to combine Nietzche’s Eternal return with hollywood style happy ending (in a disaster movie meets post-modern family drama). As a cinema teacher of mine once said with his typical Brooklyn accent (trying desperately to be the epitome of a jewish producer): “It’s Story, Story, Story”. Can Israel beat that?
  5. REVIEWS: Now that’s the best part. When you read what the critics have to say about our country, you wonder if they even bothered to watch the movie. Do you remember the poster “What’s on man’s mind?“, well, in the case of our critics, it’s ta’ifya (also called confessionalism, sectarianism…), they don’t care about the plot, they already have their culprit.
  6. and most importantly STYLE: no panic, no hysteria, no paranoia. just a bit of tension, some humour and a full enjoyment of life! Can Israel beat that?

How can we assert our claims to the title of MOST THREATENED COUNTRY IN THE WORLD? Should we ask our new Tourist Minister, Fadi Abboud who was behind Lebanon’s entry in the Guinness book of world records for the largest dish of hummus?

Posted in Communication, Discourse, Israel, Lebanon | 13 Comments »

Government formation… find the hoax?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 18/11/2009

In a previous post, we caught a glimpse of the most obvious hypotheses surrounding the delay in the cabinet formation. You’ll find in the table below a short calendar of the process. I should have taken the time to include a brief summary of the regular “forecasts”, remind me to do it next time.

Instead of looking into each of the hypothesis (or accusations) enumerated before, let’s divide them into four categories of problems: those that derive from foreign meddling, those that are imbedded in our institutions, those relating to our political class, and those that stem from our society. Instead of boring you with details, I’ll just pin point the problem and propose some solutions:

I. Foreign Meddling

I personally think this dimension of the crisis is overestimated. Sure, foreign powers interfere in our political life. And they’re neither ashamed nor discreet about it. Ambassadors visit high ranking politicians in their homes, others invite coalition members to meetings… They hold press conferences in which they assess governmental policies, some foreign ministers do it too. They equally sponsor many politicians and support their policies in many effective  ways. But claiming that the birth or the delay in the formation government is due to foreign meddling says more about our politicians, our elites and our institutions than anything else.

Following the formation of the government, Jumblatt borrowed Berri’s expression and said that it was the “Sin-Sin” (for Saudi Arabia and Syria).  The cartoon above expresses pretty much the same thing. This attribution of paternity is very courteous of them, but no one says how this actually happened. Did one power or the other block the formation of the government during summer? Did one power or the other pressure the party it supports to higher the stakes or to make concessions, to hurry or to dally? No one seems to have an answer to those questions. So it’s not a very serious hypothesis to work on. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing something about this foreign meddling in our affairs.

II. Institutional shortcomings

Many claimed that the constitution doesn’t provide the deadlock breaking mechanisms needed to facilitate the formation of the government. This is certainly true. The constitution doesn’t offer any any explicit rules for the game, any timeframe, any arbitration mechanism in case of dispute. But constitutions usually do not offer those things. The formation of the government is left to politics, not to law. And the reason is pretty simple. The formation process is contingent on the political situation: how many parties are envolved, how closer or far from each other they are, what are they priorities… As these elements are never the same it is quite difficult to imagine a rule that is custom-made  to solve a particular problem in the governmental formation process could turn out to be ineffective in the formation of a following government or worse, complicating.

So I have two mutually exclusive proposals:

– Find (or establish) an institution to arbitrate between the negotiating parties: my guess is that the President of the Republic should do it. And he doesn’t need any new attribution to do that. Michel Suleiman obviously lacks the competence to do that. He did nothing to facilitate the formation of the government. But I hope we’re not destined to have weak and unskilled presidents (. But another possibility would be giving the possibility to MPs to seize the Constitutional Court and have them arbitrate on the rules under dispute (by far my least favoured option though).

– Insert a provision in the constitution that if the Prime Minister designate fails to form a government in the month following his appointment, another round of consultation should be made to select another Prime Minister who will have two weeks to form a government. If the designated person fails to do that the President can either call for new elections or better, appoint a cabinet for a period of one year that will follow the rules of a presidential system that will organise parliamentary elections before its dismissal.

III. Complexity of the  political game

As we have noticed before (and a glimpse at the table below will confirm that), the political class agreed on many points from the onset. This in itself is quite striking and unexpected. Only a couple of “principles” were still disputed. But instead on working on tackling them, each side stuck to its ideas. Sure it was a difficult case of “squaring the circle” (integrating Michel Aoun and Michel Suleiman into the quadripartite oligarchy’s arrangements). But instead of working on those problems, the political class engaged in sterile polemics.

At first, I wanted to call this paragraph the “defects and failures of our political class”, but I realised that the political class fared quite well in adverse conditions. Its only mistake was to keep the negotiations secret and have their lieutenants engage in sterile polemics that only got expectations higher within each camp’s popular base.

My recommendation: keep it all public (especially the negotiations), and agree on an arbitrator. In principle, the President could have done that job (he is weak enough so as not to threaten anyone), I’m not sure that in practice he has the skills for that.

IV. Encampment of our civil society

Now here’s the least covered dimension of the political crisis, and certainly the most important one. Every single person is admonished to make a choice. People close to  the self-titled “Opposition” will demand you to choose between “Loyalist” or “Opposition”. Those who are closer to the self-proclaimed “March XIV” will command you to declare yourself “March 8th” or “March 14th”. What is absurd in this situation is that both groups are extremely heterogenous and the only real meaning of adherence to one is the opposition to the other.

Solution? the mechanism behind this bipolarisation is extreme mobilisation. And the agents of this mobilisations is the Media. In order of guilt: Television, Press, Radio, Internet. So what can be done about it? Well, start by asking  Tarek Mitri to do his job (something he hasn’t been doing since 2007 when he neglected his ministry to play the role of Siniora’s personal ambassador) and tackle the issue of the Media in Lebanon. What can be done to free it from the clutch of our political and patronage networks (or at least leave a space for those who are not part of that).

Date Évènement Commentaire
7 juin Les Libanais élisent leurs députés
8 juin Le ministre de l’Intérieur proclame les résultats officiels Aucun retard
25 juin Nabih Berri est élu Président de la Chambre des députés par 90 députés Retard injustifié puisque soutient assuré d’une majorité de députés
27 juin Le Président de la République désigne Saad Hariri Premier Ministre sur proposition de 86 députés Points d’accord, de dispute et d’achoppement déterminés. Polémiques médiatiques. Négociations entre Zu’ama en « secret » Vacances d’été des politiques (juillet-août) + Ramadan & Eid (22 août-22 sept.)
9 sept. Saad Hariri propose une liste gouvernementale au Président Suleiman, sans consulter ni les membres de sa  coalition ni les membres de la deuxième coalition.
10 sept. Saad Hariri jette l’éponge
16 sept. Le Président de la République désigne à nouveau Saad Hariri sur proposition de 73 députés Retard injustifié puisque soutien assuré
6 nov. Réunion Nasrallah, Berri, Aoun, Frangié exprime son accord avec la nouvelle proposition de Hariri  (distribution des portefeuilles et liberté de choisir les ministres). 133 jours pour se mettre d’accord sur les règles du jeu.
9 nov. Le Président de la République promulgue en accord avec le Président du Conseil des ministres le décret de formation du gouvernement 3 jours pour la nomination par chaque force politique de ses ministres avec négociations tendues entre Mustaqbal et Kataeb.

Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Democracy, Discourse, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Propositions | 5 Comments »

What’s wrong with the Tayyar picture?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 18/11/2009

Let’s go beyond the article’s obvious polemical and partisan approach, and grasp its central argument: There are a lot of lies, fabrication and an obvious political agenda behind the pro “March XIV” media. In other words, there is very little information and a lot of latent and blatant political opinion. What the posting doesn’t say is that the same is true of the pro “Opposition” media. So if you take a step back and looks at the media landscape, you’ll notice that the overwhelming majority of journalists, editorialists and  news-directors have taken sides. Then it becomes painfully obvious that we have a problem. The country lacks a fourth estate. Information has been dwindling for years, and what we are left with is an abundance of uninformed and emotionally driven stances.

Look closely at the orange banner in the previous post. Notice its claim? Don’t you find it strange that a party’s official internet platform considers itself a leading news source? Don’t you find it even stranger that its claim is actually true. Do you honestly see any difference (style withstanding) between it and actual news outlets (traditional and  internet based) when comparing their content?

When traditional news outlets neglect their primary function of collecting and processing information,  and work as simple relays in political communication, can you blame political platforms that work pretty much in the same way for claiming the same title?

Enough rants. Now let’s try to see what new info we can salvage from this opinion paper (the French have a better term for it “Billet d’humeur”  that the practitioner in me calls “Billet de mauvaise humeur”).

  1. “March XIV” pundits have been relatively quiet lately.
  2. “March XIV” (power brokers, pundits and publics)  is disappointed with the outcome of the cabinet formation (this is particularly true for the March XIV christians) while the “Opposition” is globally satisfied.

I think that’s about it. The anonymous author is so caught up in the national divide, so tangled up in his rhetorical battle that he fails to understand his own position and how much it neutralises his personal attacks against the “opposing” camp. He also shares with many analysts of local affairs (and maybe even some politicians, while I very much doubt that) the idea that politics is mainly a verbal game. While words and communication certainly do matter, it seems to me that they can only be understood within a power structure and a game as defined or understood by its players.

Posted in Blogosphere, Civil Society, Communication, Discourse, Journalism, Levantine Christians, Political behaviour | 3 Comments »

An orange version of Now Lebanon

Posted by worriedlebanese on 17/11/2009

I wasted a lot of time today on translating this “news” posting I found on Tayyar.org. So you better read it! There’s no information in it. It’s just an outright political attack on March XIV and its media outlets. Nevertheless, it is quite interesting to analyse. This will be done in the next posting.

Where is Samir Geagea?

Direct communication with Samir Geagea ceased once the cabinet was formed earlier last week. He’s been out of sight and out of earshot ever since, probably licking his wounds after all the demagogical slogans he and his spiritual father spawned these past four years were proven wrong. And now these slogans have evaporated, have disappeared, have gone with the wind, crushed for the thousandth time, proving the failure of Samir Geagea’s strategic vociferousness that is and has always been unfounded. It only afflicts those who it deceives with frustration, pessimism and increased radicalisation.

Many other familiar faces have also gone missing, such as Elias Atallah, Fares Soueid, Nawfal Daou, Ammar Houry, Ahmad Fatfat, Elie Marouni, Bechara Raï, Carlos Edde, Michelle Sisson, Antoine Zahra, Fares Khashan, Johnny Abdo, George Bkassini, Oukab Sakr, Ghada Eid, Paul Chaoul (the philosopher), Fouad Saad, Dory Chamoun, Elias Zoghbi, Nayla Tueni, Nasir Al-Asaad, Charles Ayoub, Michel Murr…

They are probably mourning the death of all the ideas that supported the political and electoral discourse they collectively rehashed in order to sway some confused voters by manipulating their communal, religious and ideological sensitivities, by scaring them with lies and fabrications, free from any moral restraints.

For all the others who have resorted to those lies, insults and defamations, to backstabbing and abuse of their servility; for all those I haven’t named, the so-called writers and reporters hired to lie under the guise of political analysis, 
I tell you to keep silent forever and to resign from your positions, be they journalistic, religious or political. Because all that you’ve uttered, all that you’ve written and all that you’ve analyzed came out to be abusive lies, false and misleading analysis; your rubbish belongs to the trash bin of political history, analysis and logic.

Finally, I hope the Lebanese voter has this once learnt a lesson he will not forget; not to follow the first hundred dollar bill put before him, but to listen to his conscience; to ignore the voice of falsehood and hypocrisy that has already been bought and that learned its tricks from the Syrian occupier; that Lebanon’s salvation lies in the hands of the authentic March 14th.

Free, sovereign, and independent.

Posted in Blogosphere, Civil Society, Communication, Discourse, Journalism, Political behaviour | 6 Comments »

Government formation… what lesson learnt?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/11/2009

15849419061Analytical difficulties

An informed analysis is tributary to the access to the relevant information. The problem one encounters in studying the cabinet formation process is not the lack of public discussion on the matter, but the lack of reliable information. This is true for several reasons:

  • The discussion was mostly polemical. Oddly enough it was limited to three questions : distribution of portfolios, choice of ministers, and foreign meddling.
  • The negotiating parties had decided to keep the discussions secret.
  • Middle or lower ranking members of the concerned political formations discussed extensively matters that were supposed to be kept private (i.e. distribution of portfolios and choice of ministers).
  • Editorialists not only built their analysis on unreliable sources, polemical outbursts and unsubstantiated allegations (of intent and of foreign allegiance) but also raised expectations.

Preliminary agreements

Three of the most difficult elements in grand coalition government formation were solved from the onset of the process, and these elements are:

  • the choice of Prime minister: Saad Hariri
  • the number of parties participating in the government: Amal, Hezbollah, FPM, Marada, Tashnag (for the smaller parliamentary coalition), Lebanon First, Lebanese Forces, Kataeb and “independents”  (for the larger parliamentary coalition).
  • the general distribution of cabinet seats: with an agreement on four forumlas:
    • the two constitutional formulas of communal distribution (parity between Christian and Muslims, proportionality between the larger communal groups within each half) that translated in these terms: 6 Maronite, 6 Sunni, 6 Shiite, 3 Druze, 4 Greek-Orthodox, 3 Greek-Catholic, 2 Armenians ;
    • The general partisan formula: 12-3-5-10, that is: 12 to be distributed between Lebanon First, Lebanese Forces, Kataeb and their allies, 3 for the PSP, 5 for the President of the Republic, 10 to be distributed between Amal, Hezbollah, FPM, Marada, Tashnag.
    • Muslim communal super-Zu’ama choose the ministers belonging to their community: Saad Hariri 4 ministers (with one given to an independent ally), Nabih Berri chooses 3 ministers, Walid Jumblatt chooses 3 ministers, Hassan Nasrallah 2 ministers. There are two exceptions to the rule that were agreed on: the President picks a Shiite and a Sunni minister that is not vetoed by the communal super-Zu’ama.

Several hypothesis for the delay

With so many points already agreed upon from the onset, why did the process take so much time. Here are the possible reasons that were put forward by the analysts:

  • “Foreign intervention” (meddling of the US, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran)
  • “Michel Aoun’s impossible conditions” and his style.
  • “The March XIV Christians’ pressure on Saad Hariri”.
  • Inexperience and bad counseling of Saad Hariri’
  • Absence of arbitrator or mediator between the two large cross-communal coalitions.

More tomorrow

Posted in Communication, Discourse, Diversity, Intercommunal affairs, Journalism, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour | 2 Comments »

Government composition… a closer look.

Posted by worriedlebanese on 10/11/2009

photo of the govermentWhat can we learn from the result? Let’s have a quick look at the picture of the new government to see what’s new, and what trend has been confirmed. Once this is done, we’ll have a glance on some basic rules that were followed in this 4 month long process of government formation.

What’s new:

  • Less than 1/3 of the ministers hail from the parliament.
  • Only three parties chose to be represented by their MPs: the PSP (3 ministers), the Hezbollah (2 ministers) and Ramgavar (1 minister extremely close to the Future Movement). The Future Movement (3 ministers), the Free Patriotic Movement (3 ministers), Amal (2 ministers), the Lebanese Forces (2 ministers), Kataeb (1 minister), Marada (1 minister) and Tashnag (1 minister) chose non parliamentarians to represent them.
  • Hariri is the only Za’im in the government. But two other Za’im are represented by their most trusted aids (Michel Aoun by Gibran Bassil, Amin Gemayel by Selim Sayegh)
  • The presidential share in government (that has no bases in either the constitution or democratic parliamentarian principles) is increased to 5 and includes two muslim ministers.

Trends confirmed

  • Global shares are determined from the onset of the process: after the 16-11-3 formula of 2008, the 15-10-5 formula of 2009.
  • The President of the Republic has a share in government even if he doesn’t have a party in parliament (and even though no constitutional text provides for such a share).
  • The President of the Republic doesn’t have any facilitating function in the formation of the government (no mediation, no arbitration).
  • The patronage networks and communal Zaim are represented by ministers belonging to their community, even if they have a cross-communal representation in parliament. The Democratic Gathering is solely represented by the PSP its Druze core). Berri and Jumblatt are deprived yet another time from Christian ministers.
  • The Christian parties and communal patronage networks have a larger share in government (and in “important” portfolios).
  • Female ministers. As expected, we have one extra female minister (if the Marada had stuck to their original choice we would have had three female ministers!).
  • Lack of rotation in portfolios. No sovereignty portfolios changes hand. Defence and Interior Ministries stay in the presidential share (and with the same ministers), Foreign affairs stays with Amal and Finance stay with Future Movement. Justice stays with the Lebanese Forces (same minister). As for the service portfolios, Energy and Telecom stay with Aoun’s bloc. Education stayed with Mustaqbal but changed hands. Agriculture and Industry stayed with the “opposition”, Public work and Agriculture stayed with the same ministers (PSP and Amal respectively).

Rules of this particular game

  • Choice of ministers: Each party chose its own ministers once it was attributed a share and a portfolio. The President and Prime Minister had no say in the choice. This rule knew of no exception (the principle that “candidates who lost in the parliamentary elections couldn’t join the government”, was not taken into account).
  • Choice of portfolios: This is done through negotiation between the Prime Minister and each individual party backed by its coalition partners.
  • Choice of participating parties: This is done by each mega-coalition. The self-titled “opposition” chose to be represented by 3 large blocs (5 political parties), excluding two other parties that are part of the coalition. The self-titled “majority” chose to be represented by 4 parliamentary blocs and 3 “independent” MPs (Boutros Harb, Mohamad Safadi, Michel Pharaon).
  • Type of negotiation: mostly secret with a lot of polemics nurtured by low ranking politicians (mostly christian politicians belonging to the LF, the FPM and Mustaqbal blocs).

Should any rule be derived from the process and result? we’ll see that tomorrow with a look at the “Government formation… what lessons learnt”

Posted in Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Pluralism, Political behaviour | Leave a Comment »

Week’s highlight: the weapons issue

Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/11/2009

weaponsWeapons sparked three debates this week. It all started when the Israeli military fished a weapon cargo heading to Beirut. Then the Maronite patriarch made a speech on how weapons and democracy were mutually exclusive and finally the head of the FPM Michel Aoun criticised the Patriarch’s speech and added that if he had the means he would arm himself to fight for Palestine! We’ll look into these polemics one at the time.

The record weapon catch. The most fascinating thing about the story isn’t what was said, but what wasn’t said. We got a lot of info about how much the booty weighted, we didn’t get any info about what exactly these weapons were and who had made them. We got a lot of info about the crew and the three last destination of the ship, but no info on its past and its real ownership. Classified information or courteousness between weapon dealers and producers?

The Patriarch’s sermon. The Patriarch picked up a habit of recurrently making a sermon against Hezbollah and its weapons. His followers, that is political followers (not necessarily of his flock) and backers applaud his “national stands” and celebrate his “national role”. But they never mention the effect it has on communal politics and the gate it opens for other political interventions of clergymen in the public sphere (his backers had even asked him to pick a President for the country two years ago…). His stance does not prevent him from backing parties who will join a government in which Hezbollah will be part of and whose declaration will not condemn the weapons this party holds. Three of the christian political groups he has been actively supporting for nearly a decade (what is left of Qornet Chehwan that was never a political party and is the biggest looser of the past elections with only one MP in parliament, the Lebanese Forces that hasn’t been reestablished as a party since its dissolution in the 1990s probably for financial reasons and the Kataeb that has been hijacked by the Gemayel family after having been hijacked by the Syrian intelligence) will probably express their reservations on the government’s declaration but that will not prevent them from participating in it.

This kind of condemnation is the best example of the “public stand culture” ثقافة المواقف that is meant to satisfy (with words) one’s constituency or sponsor, but that never translates into political action.

Aoun’s tantrum. When angry, the hindered Za’im has no qualms about contradicting himself and making the most outrageous and irresponsible declarations. His first argument to the Patriarch followed these lines: “these weapons were never used against you, so why are you complaining”. Then he expressed his willingness to take up arms too, but regretted he didn’t have the financial ressources for that. I pity Michel Aoun’s supporters who will have to find a way to justify this outburst.

Posted in Discourse, Hezbollah, Intercommunal affairs, Israel, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Religion, Values | 10 Comments »

David Issa on MTV, political analysis gone astray

Posted by worriedlebanese on 07/11/2009

david-issa170This guy is obviously angry… and in need of recognition. During his hour long discussion on MTV (a resurrected Lebanese TV channel), his voice showed an emotional range that varied from displeasure to exasperation to indignity to outrage. At a random moment I decided to count how many times he repeated “I” in one minute: 7 times, and twice for no apparent reason (there was no call in grammar, syntax or meaning for it). I didn’t catch the show from the start (when the presenter gives a flattering biographical outlook on his guest), but I believe he ran as candidate in 2000 for Beirut’s Greek-Catholic seat (and lost to Michel Pharaon).

The host obviously tried as hard as he could to formulate his questions as if his guest was a fortuneteller or a weather forecaster; doesn’t political analysis belong to this family of activities after all? when you read our press or watch our news programs, you come up with the obvious answer: YES.

So you can’t really blame David Issa for answering these questions as a weatherman or a fortuneteller would. When given the occasion, he pointed out a couple of things that were very true, but then made a mess of the analysis that was a times incoherent at others biased and most of the time unfounded (traits that are alas shared by the political system).

Here are the most interesting points he made:

  • The Christians are divided, but what are the issues that they disagree on? They have an important role in bridging the divide between Shiites and Sunnis.
  • Now this in itself is a topic that could be discussed lengthily. David Issa didn’t notice the internal contradiction between his two statements. He regrets the division of the Christians, but believes that the mobilisation of the Shiites and Sunnis behind two blocs is negative (and leaves aside the Druze and Alawite communities). If the Christians were mobilised (which is structurally impossible) behind one leader and bloc, how would that facilitate the demobilisation of the muslim groups?

  • Zahlé, as the capital of Greek-Catholics, should be represented in government by a minister holding a “respectable” portfolio.
  • David Issa, speaking on behalf of his community (although he claimed several times that he was against the communal feelings and the power-division scheme with a communal dimension) introduced a new principle for the composition of the government. He linked together two constitutional principles: the quota system along communal lines and  the fair representation of region. If such a rule is introduced, one could imagine its complicating effect on the formation of governments. Should Armenian ministers be from Burj Hammoud, should there be a minister Shiite minister from Baalbeck, one from Nabatieh and one from the Southern suburb of Beirut… Regional representation are obviously taken into account in all governments, so are family issues. But does this mean they should be transformed into rules that know of no exception?

Posted in Civil Society, Discourse, Lebanon, Semantics, Values | Leave a Comment »

Recipe for a fruitful discussion

Posted by worriedlebanese on 07/11/2009

Bring a thread, not a woven carpet!

g2spv9013pI was reading a couple of blogs today, vast discussions debating over the best solution to the Palestinian question (the more realistic, the more equitable, the more profitable…). Bloggers were parrotting  politicians, proposing package deals and behaving like merchants, trying to sell the best product, the miracle pill.

It reminded me of those humorous pills you find in gadget stores (“Take two pills a day and become blond”, “Four pills to learn German”) or at your chemists (“this pill will make u happier”, “this pill will make u slimmer”).

These discussions have little sens. They do not even qualify as discussions. It’s like merchants yelling their goods. And taking it very much at heart, behaving as if they created the product to start with.
In Lebanon, we have similar discussions. The debate over institutional reform follows the same pattern. People will howl at you the virtues of federalism, others will hammer at you the necessity for deconfessionalisation. Each is convinced that the opponent’s solution is seditious, destructive and morally flowed.

Such discussions are sterile. A one state solution for Palestine/Israel could threaten Jewish existence as much as it could threaten Palestinian existence. It could be a solution just as it could just reframe the problem. All depends on the institutions that will be chosen and the way social and political actors will interact with them. Similarly, a two state solution could reinforce the antagonism between the two people just as it could comfort their fears.
The same could be said about the institutional debate in Lebanon. Federalism could bring the country closer together just as it could be the first step towards a permanent divorce between regions and communities. It all depends on what kind of federalism is adopted and how the social and political actors will interact with the new institutions. These two elements are hardly ever considered. The same could be said about confessionalisation and deconfessionalisation. Up to now, the results haven’t been very positive either way. When President Chehab introduced confessionalism to the public administration in the 1960s, it worked as an instrument of “affirmative action” but increased the hold of patronage networks and gave it a stronger communal flavour. Similarly, when the Taef agreement got rid of the Chehabist parity rule, it didn’t diminish the hold of the patronage networks but encouraged Christian-Lebanese to “withdraw” from the State apparatus (just as they had did since the 1950s from the Municipality of Beirut)…

Wouldn’t it be preferable to stop looking for the miracle panacea and spend all our energy on defending this “global solution” and just tackle the points that we find important, one by one? For example advancing individual and collective rights or dismounting the patronage networks in Lebanon, or working on mobility, security and the respect of individual and collective rights in Israel/Palestine…

Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Discourse, Israel, Lebanon, Palestinian territories, Personal, Political behaviour, Propositions, Reform | 2 Comments »

Lueur d’espoir à l’Orient-Le Jour?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 06/11/2009

Picture 1 Dans l’édition d’aujourd’hui, Mahmoud Harb partage avec ses lecteurs son point de vue sur le processus de formation du gouvernement dans un article intitulé “À propos d’une pantalonnade“. L’éditorialiste est manifestement de plus en plus las de son camp politique (même s’il continue à le préférer au camp adverse). Et il semble inconfortable dans la perspective adoptée par son journal (et qui reste socio-culturellement bourgeoise, francophone et chrétienne). Voici le petit commentaire que je lui ai envoyé.

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

Analyse intéressante, parmi les meilleures que j’ai lu dernièrement dans votre journal.
Mais à mon avis, elle est obscurcie par deux erreurs analytiques qui sont malheureusement assez communes.
Vous dites “les deux mastodontes confessionnels que sont les communautés chiite et sunnite”. Cette métaphore organiciste est complètement inadaptée parce que le propre des communautés libanaises est leur non-corporalité (absence d’organe représentatif et organisationnel), d’où les conflits récurrents autour de leur représentation. Les mastodontes à caractère confessionnel sont Mustaqbal et le duopole Amal-Hezbollah. La nuance est importante puisqu’elle montre des enjeux partisans et des manipulations & des mobilisations communautaires extrêmes.

Concernant les ministères, votre propos emprunte quelques éléments à l’approche réductrice et polémique régnante. Un ministre n’est pas nécessairement la personne la plus forte dans son ministère, et doit de toute manière négocier avec les réseaux clientélistes en place. Ce n’est pas le ministre de l’Intérieur qui a procédé à la nomination de plus de 2000 personnes ces dernières années dans la police. Certaines directions sont controlées par des forces politiques de manière indépendante du ministre de tutelle (ex: à Jumblatt la caisse des déplacés, à Hariri la Banque Nationale et Ogéro, à Murr la mécanique, à Amal la sécu et le rectorat de l’UL…). Ceci complique les calculs politiques et clientélistes que vous présentez de manière trop schématiques.

Posted in Discourse, Intercommunal affairs, Journalism, Lebanon, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »