Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

And Hermes gazed at Walid J.

Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/01/2010

You’ve probably heard of the last reconciliation spree Walid Jumblatt has embarked on. After meeting with second rank Hezbollah and Amal representatives in Choueifat, he headed to Rabieh to mend fence with Michel Aoun. Editorialists and other pundits have been commenting on what was said behind closed door (in truth what was probably said, but they’d never confess to have unreliable and second hand information), and trying to decipher the intent behind each word the two Zu’ama used in their public declarations following their meeting. I wouldn’t go into that because as Martin Gore philosophically wrote “words are meaningless and forgettable”. Even if they declared that the sky was pink, it wouldn’t make it any less blue now would it?

Reinforcing informal arrangements, communal representations & segregated space

What is important is to see how the politicians are expressing themselves and how they interpret their own acts. Following the meeting in Chueifat (that gathered ), Jumblatt declared that “the Choueifat reconciliation healed a wound which almost destroyed historic, humane and political communication between the Mountain, Dahieh and Beirut if the conflict had expanded” (بإتمام مصالحة الشويفات يختتم جرح كاد يدمر التواصل التاريخي والإنساني والسياسي بين الجبل والضاحية وبيروت لو توسع). His use of these three locations is quite interesting. Each term refers implicitly to a communal group and an area under the control of one communal leader. This reinforces the image of a spatial segregation between the three communities and the link between one leader that effectively controles the territory and the community that he supposedly represents.

  • The Mountain refers to the Druze, even though it is an extremely mixed area that is effectively controled by Walid Jumblatt.
  • Dahieh (which means the Suburb) refers to the Shiites, even though it is still somewhat mixed (with a strong presence of Palestinians and a residual presence of Christians, Sunnis and Druze), and it is effectively controlled by Hezbollah.
  • Beirut refers to the Sunni, even though they make approximately 35% of its inhabitants, and it is [in]effectively controlled by the Hariri clan.

With this simple coded reference, the leader reinforces an (inaccurate) image of communal homogeneity and confirms a (very real) informal spatial division of three easily recognisable leaderships. Let’s not forget that Dahieh and the Mountain do not constitute an administrative unity but each is formally divided into multiple municipalities that are regrouped together in larger administrative units (Baabda, Aley, Chouf). So the reference brushes away the administrative divisions and puts forward the limits of each leaderships territory.

Asserting supernatural powers

All these reconciliatory meetings are very nice social events in which the atmosphere is cool, everyone is optimistic and positive, and the coffee is excellent. The agreement that comes out of them never seems to translate into actions and nothing is done about the past grievances. The words are meant to wash everything away and what is declared is meant to take effect immediately. So in this case, when the communal leaders declare an intercommunal reconciliation is declared, then the intercommunal reconciliation is realised. Now how do they do it?

The answer is simple, through this declaration, they assert that they are first rank politicians and that they are communal leaders (a feature that the Lebanese institutional system doesn’t allow and doesn’t recognise… but that’s another story). Not only they are communal leaders, but they are the true representatives of their communities, so their actions (or pronunciations) are those of their respective communities. In other words, when they pronounce intercommunal reconciliation they assert that they are the true voices of their communities. More than that, they assert that they are the true representatives of their communities. What is fascinating about this is that this pretense is not backed institutionally, our institutions do not recognise such a quality (it actually uses many political and legal tools to avert it). But our politicians act as if they are accorded this legal fiction of representation that allows them to act for the public good even when their acts are opposed by those who they are supposed to represent. Walid Jumblatt showed this belief of his when he said “It is true that I’m loosing in popularity, but I want to achieve a true reconciliation” (وصحيح أني أخسر شعبياً، ولكن أريد أن نصل إلى مصالحات حقيقيّة). This statement is truly fascinating. He’s actually saying that he can achieve true reconciliation even if the group that he represents are hostile to his action.

What to bring as a present when invited to lunch?

Well, José Saramago’s Gospel According to Jesus Christ, Obviously! This is the book that Walid Jumblatt offered Michel Aoun when he came along with half of his parliamentary group to have lunch with him in his home in Rabieh. When asked why he chose that book, he answered slyly that he didn’t know. No one commented that such a book would have never passed by our state’s censorship (if they were doing their work effectively) because it is considered to be totally sacrilegious. And truth to tell, it is not much different from Salman Rushdie’s Satanic verses in its approach to religion (God is completely narcissistic and cynical, Jesus listens to the devil, the devil is shocked by God’s cruelty, Angels are replaced by drunken soldiers or a dream, Jesus harms unintentionally and has a prolonged affair with Maria Magdalena, he has a favourite sheep… one that the devil almost convinces him to have sex with for release…). Would Walid Jumbatt have offered Rushdie’s book to Saad Hariri or Nabih Berri? I wonder.

What do you think he meant to do (or prove) with this gift?

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