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?