Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Archive for June, 2010

La “droite” libanaise essaie de limiter les dégâts

Posted by worriedlebanese on 24/06/2010

Une bonne semaine après la “bombe Joumblatt” (l’expression est de Philippe Abi Akl, l’Orient-Le Jour, 23/6/10), je suis à me demander si Walid Joumblatt n’avait pas plutôt raison de qualifier la sois-disant “droite” libanaise de la droite la plus bête au monde. Depuis quelques jours, elle s’efforce à “limiter les dégâts” que la séance parlementaire du 15 juin a eu sur son “image”.

Voici les déclarations de quatre politiciens chrétiens (de deuxième et de troisième rang) sur la question des droits civiques et sociaux des Palestiniens du Liban qui illustrent bien cette tentative maladroite qui au lieu de réparer les dégâts jette une lumière sur le problème de fond.

La palme d’or revient à Fares Soueid dont la mauvaise fois peut rivaliser avec celle de Walid Joumblatt, avec le talent en moins. Pour lui, en ce qui concerne la cause palestinienne, le Liban « a dépassé les anciens clivages », alors que tout dans le débat parlementaire de mardi dernier signalait le contraire. Et comme ceci n’était pas suffisant, il nous explique comment la réconciliation s’est faite entre les ennemis d’hier, l’OLP et la “droite” libanaise représentée par le parti Kataeb. Pour lui, c’est une sorte de valse à trois temps: D’abord «l’OLP a pris l’initiative en 2007 d’admettre sa responsabilité dans la guerre civile au Liban. Cette initiative a permis une purification de la mémoire de la guerre et a réconcilié entre eux les anciens adversaires ». Ensuite,  le parti Kataeb organise un congrès sur le thème « Vérité et réconciliation » en 2007  auquel s’est associé Abbas Zaki (l’ancien représentant de l’OLP au Liban). Et au final, la communauté sunnite qui, durant la guerre, affirmait que les milices Palestiniennes étaient « l’armée des musulmans » a également dépassé cette étape. Le résultat pour Fares Soueid est évident: « la cause de la Palestine concerne tous les Libanais, et non une communauté à l’exclusion des autres ». Croit-il vraiment à ses bobards? Dans l’affirmatif, c’est inquiétant, dans la négative, c’est navrant.

Ensuite, nous trouvons le député Atef Majdalani qui se rabat sur un discours ‘juridicisant’ pour essayer de justifier sa position inconfortable au sein du courant du Futur (bloc parlementaire à 2/3 musulman plutôt favorable au vote immédiat des amendements des droits des Palestiniens du Liban): Il a rappelé aux Palestiniens qu’à l’exercice de tout droit fait pendant le respect d’un devoir. Cette logique vaut pour les droits politiques. Peut-on vraiment l’étendre aux droits sociaux sans compromettre nos principes fondamentaux? Evidemment pas, mais le flou du raisonnement est manifestement tellement comfortable pour Atef Majdalani!

Enfin, Michel Pharaon et Boutros Harb invitent le gouvernement à se saisir de la question des droits des Palestiniens en invoquant un argument institutionnel: la séparation des pouvoirs et des fonctions… argument absurde dans un régime parlementaire basé sur le principe de collaboration des pouvoirs, qui de plus est connaît un gouvernement d’union nationale dans lequel les 2/3 de l’assemblée est représentée. La logique derrière leur argument m’échappe. Après tout, le gouvernement représente la quasi totalité des blocs parlementaires, et les mécanismes décisionnels sont similaires dans les deux instances et butte sur les mêmes problèmes: clivage confessionnel et partisan, politisation extrême, concentration du pouvoir entre les mains d’une dizaine de Zu’ama qui commandent quasiment l’ensemble des députés et des ministres.

Enfin, le propose de M. Massoud Achkar se distingue par son honnêteté intellectuelle. Ce dernier estime la question extrêmement délicate, « compte tenu des données démographiques et des équilibres du pays ». Il lance des pointes à Joumblatt en demandant de mettre ces questions  «à l’abri des surenchères et des intérêts personnels » et surtout qu’elles soient abordées sur le plan technique « loin des médias », « afin que la présence exceptionnelle et provisoire des Palestiniens au Liban ne devienne pas permanente et ne pèse pas sur la société libanaise ». Il souligne donc la raison de “l’inquiétude de la droite” auquel faisait référence Joumblatt (c.f. billet d’hier), dénonce la démarche démagogique de Joumblatt (s’il voulait vraiment faire avancer la question des Palestiniens, il aurait agit différemment (en s’adressant directement aux Chrétiens et à “leurs” politiciens pour les rassurer), et reformule l’aporie de la présence Palestinienne au Liban (un provisoire qui dure depuis 62 ans!). S’il avait rajouté la mémoire chargée de la guerre qui est marquée par l’absence de réconciliation entre les Chrétiens et les Palestiniens du Liban (n’en déplaise à Fares Soueid), il aurait souligné toutes les questions qui restent à  assainir entre ces deux groupes.

(à suivre… Demain la suite)

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Posted in Culture, Discourse, Diversity, Lebanon, Palestinians, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »

Back to the future: “Lebanese Left” vs “Lebanese Right”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/06/2010

For over a week, we’ve been reading a lot of things about the heated parliamentary debate on Tuesday 15th of June 2010 triggered by four bills (that no lebanese newspaper published) presented by Walid Jumblatt (head of the PSP, Druze MP of the Chouf), Elie Aoun (member of Jumblatt’s Democratic Gathering, Maronite MP of the Chouf), Alaeddine Terro (member of the PSP, Sunni MP of the Chouf), and why the Christian MPs refused the four “double urgency” bills that would allow Palestinians in Lebanon to own property, get work permits in any profession and receive social-security payments. Let’s look into Walid Jumblatt’s words during that debate and see what they say about politics in Lebanon:

“The ‘right’ throughout the world is stupid, the Lebanese right is worried. We’ve been hearing the same arguments for 62 years. Do you want to postpone things, well postpone them. But if you want to postpone them this time, understand that your postponing a problem. The embargo on Gaza is allegedly carried out to “topple Hamas”. However it [Hamas] prevailed and gained strength, thank God it won. In Lebanon, the breakdown of the Palestinian Authority leads to the emergence of fundamentalist movements in the camps and to the displacement of Palestinians. When fundamentalist movements appear in the camps, what happens to you? Do you loose? You don’t loose a thing. We send the Lebanese army to die and then we make promises to rebuild the camps. Is that what you want? I’ve never seen stupider than the Lebanese right, I’ve never seen stupider than the Lebanese right”. Walid Joumblatt, spoken in Parliament on Tuesday 15th of June 2010, reported by Al-Akhbar in its wednesday edition (my translation).

Walid Jumblatt raises a whole lot of issues in this short and somewhat improvised speech. I say somewhat improvised because he could have easily expected the result of last Tuesday’s parliamentary discussions; The Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb were bound to oppose any bill extending the rights of  the Palestinian of Lebanon, especially if these bills followed the “double urgency” procedure. Such a procedure deprives Christian politicians of the time needed to convince their Christian constituency that extending Palestinian rights do not infringe on their own political rights.

Let’s look a bit closer at what Walid Jumblatt is saying:

  • He calls the Christian parties the “Lebanese right” and considers them the stupidest of all “rightist” parties worldwide. By doing so, he reclaims his father’s rhetorical arguments and terminology, with its binary division of politics between so-called “rightist” (actually christian) parties and so called “leftist” (actually muslim) parties. In a later interview with al-Akhbar, Walid Jumblatt said that he had expected this reaction from the ‘right’, “but not this degree of stupidity. This is a stupidity of historic dimension. Stupidity is not Christian, because there is a category of Christians who has struggled in favour of Arab issues even before the ‘National Movement'”. Framing the whole issue in these terms and asserting that he had expected the result seem to indicate that reclaiming his father’s heritage and boosting his “progressif” credentials could be one of the objectives behind the bills he presented.
  • He states that Palestinian civil rights have been postponed for 62 years and insinuates that the Christian/”rightist” parties are to be blamed for it. This is historically inaccurate. Most of the discriminations against the Palestinians date back to 1982, and were part of the Lebanese government and parliament’s backlash against the PLO (most of the provisions that restrict the labour market were repealed a couple of years ago). Others have to do with general rules that were prevalent across the world concerning foreign labour when they were instituted and were not modified to suit current standards.
  • He speaks of the Israeli policy towards Gaza, suggesting a comparison could be made between the Israeli handling of Palestinian affairs and the Lebanese “rightist” Christian policies towards Palestinian refugees. In a context like the Lebanese one, this is for the least “libellous”. The intention is to “smear” the “right”, instead of shedding a light on either dynamic (the Israeli and the Lebanese one).
  • He suggests that granting Palestinian increased social rights would support the Palestinian authority and curb the expansion of Islamist groups within the Palestinian camps. This suggestion is pleasing to liberal ears, but it is extremely simplistic and unfounded. It ignores the internal political dynamics between the Palestinian Authority and the palestinian diaspora (which has become increasingly strained and loose since the Oslo accords), within the Palestinian community in Lebanon (which has become less sensitive to Palestinian nationalist rhetoric), and between Palestinians and Lebanese parties and constituencies. All these dynamics point to a weakening of the PLO and the PA’s authority, and an increased influence of Islamist parties, regardless of Palestinian social conditions.
  • He says that christians parties do not pay the price of their mistakes, the Palestinians and the Lebanese army do. This is the only argument he uses that breaks away from his father’s rhetoric in which the Lebanese army and the “right” were considered as one. This rhetorical change reflects the important change the Lebanese army underwent in the 1990s (under the Syrian Mandate) and now “switches sides” in the political equation.

Posted in Discourse, Discourse Analysis, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Palestinians | 2 Comments »

A week away from the news

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/06/2010

I took a week off from the internet right after finishing a post that went to the draft section instead of being published. So I published it on the date it was written and hope to resume this week some regular blogging. I will be publishing two new posts on the “Four amendments presented by Jumblatt a week ago.

Posted in Blogosphere, Personal | Leave a Comment »

A look into Walid Jumblatt’s ideological bomb

Posted by worriedlebanese on 16/06/2010

A tribute to Kamal Jumblatt in the camp of Mieh-Mieh

I’ve been listening to the news and reading newspapers for the past day and haven’t found any account on the amendments of the Lebanese laws that were proposed  by Walid Jumblatt’s bloc: I finally found a mention of them in tuesday’s edition of the Akhbar daily. Interestingly enough, the amendements seem to have slipped out of the public debate. The news outlets are insisting on another issues, the cross-partisan communal vote: most Christian MPs choose to postpone the amendments while most Muslim MPs wanted to vote the amendments immediately.

Here’s a list of the 4 bills Walid Jumblatt, Alaeddine Terro and Elie Aoun submitted to the parliament following the “double urgency” procedure:

Amendment of the law on real estate acquisition by non-Lebanese (property ownership)
Amendment of article 79 of the Lebanese labor law (the right of litigation in cases of labour disputes)
Amendment of article 59 of the Labour Code (opening the labour market)
Amendment of article 9 of the Social Security Act (to allow Palestinians to take advantage of the Lebanese social security)

Posted in Journalism, Lebanon, Palestinians | Leave a Comment »

La neutralité positive ou l’éloge du courtage et de la diplomatie telenovela

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/06/2010

Faut-il se couper l'autre main... par neutralité!? mais alors comment?

Ce vote illustre notre volonté de maintenir le Liban dans une neutralité positive […] dans les conflits qui le dépassent”.

C’est cette phrase, de prime abord anodine, qui a enclenché ce billet. Elle a été prononcée par le “chef suprême” des Kataeb, Amine Gemayel, qu’on avait cru le plus médiocre et le plus corrompu de nos présidents, avant qu’il ne soit dépassé par ses successeurs (comme quoi notre classe politique peut parfois nous surprendre [je referme cette méchante digression]).

En peu de mots, la phrase de Amin Gemayel exprime tellement de choses: tout d’abord un manque de sincérité (les députés du Kataeb affichent régulièrement leur  hostilité  à l’Iran, pays qui leur a d’ailleurs servi d’épouvantail durant les élections parlementaires où la politique a été réduite à la géopolitique); Et puis un jeu rhétorique maladroite qui traduit une volonté de transformer une faiblesse en force (nous savons combien notre classe politique raffole de ce genre d’exercice); un refus obstiné d’admettre l’impuissance d’un pays divisé qui a abandonné dès 1958 toute velléité de définir et de défendre une politique étrangère (donc en gros sans politique étrangère).

Personnellement, j’ai rien contre les notions “réchauffées”, mais avant de les brandir fièrement, nous pouvons quand même faire un petit effort pour les examiner, non seulement en théorie (comme le font si bien nos éditorialistes), mais concrètement, parce qu’ils ont  quand même été mis en pratique pendant plus d’un demi-siècle. C’est un temps suffisament long pour pouvoir juger du produit, non?

Regardons cette notion de plus près. Elle a été élaborée suite à la guerre civile de 1958 conduite par les “fleurons” de notre classe politique (Kamal Joumblatt, Saeb Salam, Pierre Gemayel, Rachid Karamé…) avec la complicité d’une armée passive (qui pour parer à sa médiocrité militaire avait élaboré sa propre définition de la neutralité: dans l’impossibilité d’intervenir sans donner l’impression que l’on prend position, laissons les politiciens établir des milices et massacrer leur concitoyen et puis demandons à une armée étrangère d’arrêter le bain de sang [je refermer cette deuxième digression aigrie]). La gageur de la doctrine de la “neutralité positive” était que ce sacrifice permettra au pays de rester à l’écart des conflits régionaux tels que celui de 1958 qui avait failli emporter le pays. Malheureusement, le résultat était diamétralement contraire à ce qui était escompté. Le pays est resté prisonnier de la politique étrangère de ses voisins et des superpuissances, pire, il est devenu leur terrain de jeu privilégié.

La doctrine de la “neutralité positive” a transformé la politique étrangère du Liban en une sorte d’entreprise de courtage ou de diplomatie “telenovela” où tout des diplomates s’activent à ménager des égos surdimensionés (pour une raison inexpliquée, exclusivement arabe alors qu’il ne existe d’autre ailleurs… signe de spécialisation ou de manque d’ambition même dans le courtage? [je referme la troisième digression désobligeante]) et à réconcilier des autocrates de type “traditionnel” ou “révolutionnaire”. Trois personnes ont parfaitement incarné cette doctrine:  Hussein Oueini (décédé en 1971), Philippe Takla (décédé en 2004), et last but not least Fouad Boutros (toujours en activité), avec un brio certain, ce qui honore ces personnes, et non pas la politique qu’ils incarnent.

L’avantage de la doctrine de “neutralité positive” est qu’elle fait l’économie de la définition des intérêts du Liban, elle peut se passer d’une politique diplomatique et peut carburer uniquement aux pots de vins (l’argent n’a pas d’odeur), qui dans cette région sont nombreux. Suivant cette logique, les mots d’Amin Gemayel sonnent particulièrement fort: les conflits régionaux “nous dépassent”… alors subissons-les positivement en restant neutre!!! C’est somme toute une question d’attitude… de positive-attitude!

Posted in Geopolitics, History, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Version Francophone | 3 Comments »

Back to Back: the Helen Thomas affair

Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/06/2010

You’ve undoubtedly heard what happened to Helen Thomas! She resigned after making a comment on Jews having to go back to Poland and Germany. In case you haven’t heard the story, here’s the video that started an avalanche of reactions in cyberspace with some extolling her as a martyr of the jewish lobby, and others congratulating themselves for debunking an antisemite (or even a nazi) and applauding her disgrace.

All this started in Washington DC, so why is it relevant to us, Lebanese? Well, Helen Thomas’s family hails from Lebanon… But that never brought Helen Thomas any attention in Lebanon. So how can one explain all the attention she got in our media? Let’s see what three editorialists have to say about it:

Michael Young, “Arabs shouldn’t weep for Helen Thomas“, Daily Star (june 10th): ” It’s never pleasant to see someone self-destruct”. The argument that “she was pushed out of her job because of criticism from the ‘Jewish lobby’” is “nonsense. The condemnation was universal, and rightly so”. The editorial focuses on Helen Thomas’ words: “They should go home” to “Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else”. He looks into their significance in an American, Jewish and Arab context.
Michael Young makes it clear that he is no fan of Helen Thomas, and he obviously has scores to settle with her for her adamant opposition to the neo-con worldview he shares with the previous American administration. His arguments are familiar to all pro-peace activists. But he never states the obvious, how hypersensitive the US is to anything that touches Jews/Israel. Had Helen Thomas said something similar about the chinese of Malaysia for instance, we probably wouldn’t have heard anything about it.

Badr al-Ibrahim, “Helen Thomas, the voice that cries in the wilderness of America” (in Arabic), al-Akhbar (june 10th): “When it comes to Israel, freedom of expression becomes a sin for which one is reprimanded”. The editorial focuses on “censorship”: “Free media is a slave to a corrupt political ideology, and it suffers in this case from the same ails than the media in the « Unfree world »: double standard, partiality, deviation from objectivity, and a rejection of intellectual diversity, as well as actively helping the government suppress opinions, criminalise them and force “expiation” on those who express them”.
Badr al-Ibrahim is far from convincing. Comparing the freedom of expression that is enjoyed in the US to the one that is prevalent in the Middle East is simply preposterous. Every society has “its issues” and can be hypersensitive when they are discussed. But that has nothing to do with state censorship, and is not always related to the existence of a lobby.

For more details about what happened, check out Hicham Hamza, The Helen Thomas Affair (in French), Oumma (June 9th) for whom Helen Thomas “resigned herself to leaving office because of the uproar caused by her radical critique of the State of Israel. Back on the underside of a timely political-mediatic diversion”. In his view, the affair is “a degression designed to divert the attention of the American public from the real issues of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis”, and he presents all the info he gathered in this perspective.
Sure, some people have pushed that issue as a divergence mechanism. But this doesn’t explain everything. Helen Thomas did say what she said, and it wasn’t even accurate (most Israeli Jews do not come from Poland and Germany, a larger number comes from the Middle East and North Africa). And this would have hit the cyberspace sooner or later making the same splash.

Posted in Blogosphere, Communication, Conspiracy, Culture, Discourse, Israel, Journalism, Lebanon | 9 Comments »

Rendez-nous Michel!!!

Posted by worriedlebanese on 10/06/2010

Photo de MHG

Une envie me prend depuis hier soir: Monter une opération comando et libérer Michel. Lancer une campagne pour l’arracher aux Sélim Abou, Samir Frangieh, Fares Soueid, Patrick Laurent et autres personnalités publiques qui ont su reconnaître sa valeur et se l’ont accaparé. Je voudrais retrouver le Michel que j’ai connu et qui parfois transparaît derrière MHG, la figure publique quatorzemarsisée et quatorzemarsiste.

Dans un Liban virtuel, celui où toutes les énergies créatives et tous les talents sont libérés, un “Second Lebanon”, j’aurai aimé écrire un article laudateur intitulé “Michel Hajji Georgiou, ou l’itinéraire d’un journaliste engagé”. Mais ce mot “engagé” me reste au travers de la gorge. Car nous sommes bien loin de ce Liban virtuel. Ici la majorité des talents sont captifs ou récupérés. Les énergies sont bridées ou canalisées. Lorsqu’on est engagé, c’est toujours dans un combat politique réduit à son sens le plus politicien, dans une arène politique habitée par des égos surdimensionnés où la médiocrité côtoie une intelligence prédatrice et ravageuse.

Ma critique m’a déjà fait perdre son amitié. J’ai l’impression d’assassiner aujourd’hui un espoir, celui de pouvoir regagner son amitié. Mais c’est la douleur qui me pousse à écrire ces lignes. La douleur et la nostalgie, celle de voir une personne que je respecte pour son coeur, son cerveau et son esprit, une personne que j’aime et j’apprécie disparaître sous le masque d’une personnalité publique qui le trahit.

Le meilleur signe de cette trahison, de cette captivité est le manichéisme qui se dégage de ces articles, un manichéisme mêlé de mépris. Et il n’y a rien de plus dangereux pour une personne qui entend observer le monde que le mépris. C’est une lorgnette qui déforme tout à son passage. En fait, elle empêche l’observation et la remplace par la réflexion d’un préjugé, d’un pré-jugement, d’un soi tout aussi déformé que l’autre qu’on est censé observer. Observons le ravage, et commençons par une petite analyse lexicale de l’article d’hier: Placebo pour complexes existentiels.

Je ne parlerai pas de l’image de soi qui se dégage de cet article. C’est bien simple, prenez un dictionnaire des antonymes et retrouvez tous les qualificatifs employés pour décrire l’autre. Et vous verrez que ce travail d’opposition est soit explicite soit implicite.  Regardons plutôt le champ lexical associé à l’autre, le radicalement différent de soi, l’opposé avec lequel il est impossible de communiquer: les “boycotteurs d’Israël” (ces guillemets sont de MHG, mais pas ceux qui suivront). Voici les mots utilisés pour les décrire: “complexés”, “insondables stupidité”, “impuissances”, “haine”, “foule endoctrinée, biberonnée aux obscurantismes”, en mal de reconnaissance, qui lancent un “florilège d’accusations stupides, de slogans imbéciles, de diabolisations mesquines”, qui cherchent un “bouc émissaire”, et s’adonnent à la “liberté d’interdire”; des “satanés chenapans” qui nous servent “leurs tournures les plus fielleuses”, des “aveuglés” qui ont l’habitude de recourir “à la violence morale ou physique pour obtenir gain de cause”, des personnes victimes d’une “cécité intellectuelle” que “quelques exaltés […] ont convaincus, à travers les années, que la vérité était au bout du fusil et que la censure était la solution à tout”. Cette phrase est intéressante parce qu’elle explicite deux idées qui sous-tendent le texte: L’appel au boycott est assimilé à une interdiction et à une censure (Une campagne civile est assimilée à la décision d’un pouvoir politique) Et la condamnation (ou le procès) est double; on peut le subdiviser l’autre en deux catégories, une masse endoctrinée et une élite (le Hezbollah). N’oublions pas que MHG et les autres éditorialistes de l’Orient qualifient régulièrement “l’Opposition”(qui n’en est pas une) de fasciste. Et donc nul besoin d’observer cet autre, on peut le juger à partir de l’idée qu’on a de lui (un peu comme l’erreur d’Aristote sur le nombre de pattes qu’ont les mouches, reprises pendant deux millénaires par des naturalistes qui n’ont même pas pris le temps d’observer ces créatures qui pourtant les entourent).

(à suivre… je dois me mettre au travail)

Posted in Culture, Journalism, Lebanon, Personal, Semantics, Version Francophone | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

A Placebo storm in a teacup

Posted by worriedlebanese on 10/06/2010

What I find most deplorable in the “Placebo affair” is the fact that it spawned a useless amount of opinion papers.  The concert took place yesterday without any problem, showing that there is a difference between “calling for a boycott” and “censorship”. But this did not prevented the Lebanese “French-speaking daily” to continue to publish editorials on this “affaire” (read Fifi Abou Dib’s take on it published today: Epineuses et cactées).

There is something decidedly quixotic in this fight against “the furies trying to slowly kill the Lebanese cultural scene”, and this call for “cultural resistance” (two closing lines of MHG’s article yesterday). Don’t people find something remotely ridiculous in describing an the cultural consumption (of a foreign product) an act of CULTURAL RESISTANCE?!

If only the newspaper had the sens to interview Brian Molko or reproduce his interview. As Lotus Weinstock used to say, “I used to want to change the world . Now I just want to leave the room with a little dignity”. I wish L’Orient-Le Jour  took a couple of minutes to ponder on that thought.

Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Discourse, Journalism, Lebanon, Prejudice | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Placebo paradoxal… ça marche sans qu’on y croit.

Posted by worriedlebanese on 09/06/2010

Se plaindre est un droit fondamental! C’est au moins ce que nous enseigne L’Orient-Le Jour. Et se plaindre est rarement un plaisir solitaire. Des journalistes ont découvert qu’à deux ou à trois voix, c’est mieux! Après l’humour à répétition, le “quotidien libanais d’expression française” invente l’humeur à répétition. Comme à son habitude, l’Orient-Le Jour laisse ses éditorialistes se plaindre des même choses, de la même façon. C’est comme ça que le journal entend la liberté de presse. L’objet de la grogne de cette semaine: La campagne de boycottage du concert de Placebo. En écrivant ces lignes, je me demande si Misères Francophones m’a devancé sur le sujet. Je vérifie. Non. Pas encore. Ouf.

Retournons à l’Orient Le Jour, le quotidien où les articles se suivent et se ressemblent. Hier, nous avons eu droit à l’article de Ziyad Makhoul, “L’effet Placebo (sur l’intelligence de certains Libanais…” (3613 signes avec photo), aujourd’hui à celui de Michel Hajji Georgiou, “Placebo pour complexes existentiels” (7956, sans photo mais avec citation d’Einstein). Le premier article se veut informatif. Il nous présente les groupes qui appellent au boycott (Lebanese Campaign to Boycott Zionism, les jeunes de Harket el-Shaab, ainsi qu’un “un allumé, néanmoins avocat de son état et fils d’un ancien député”… évidemment pas nommé, pour plaire aux amateurs du journalisme par allusion), nous présente succintement leur argument (il ne faut pas interagir avec Israel). Et puis, l’éditorialiste se transforme en porte parole du groupe tout en laissant sa griffe (en traitant les boycotteurs de fascistes).

Michel Hajji Georgiou se livre à une analyse beaucoup plus profonde avec les qualités qui le distinguent (intelligence, culture et subtilité). Malheureusement, il est immédiatement rattrapé par son militantisme. Quelque chose dans la citation qu’il a utilisé m’a fait tiqué. Et m’a lancé dans une bataille de citations. Je commence par celle qu’il a utilisé et je la fais suivre par deux autres auxquelles elle m’a fait penser:

  • Einstein: Deux choses sont infinies: l’Univers et la bêtise humaine. Mais en ce qui concerne l’Univers, je n’en ai pas encore acquis la certitude absolue.
  • Descartes: L’intelligence, c’est la chose la mieux répartie chez les hommes parce que, quoiqu’il en soit pourvu, il a toujours l’impression d’en avoir assez, vu que c’est avec ça qu’il juge”.
  • Hobbes: Although almost all men think they have more intelligence than all other men, this is not really true. For it is the nature of men that even though they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent or more learned, yet they will not believe there be any so wise as themselves; for they see their own wit easily, and other men’s at a distance. But this proves rather that men are in that point equal, than unequal. For there is not ordinarily a greater sign of the equal distribution of anything than that every man is satisfied with his share…

Bon. Ressaisissons-nous. Passons à l’articulation centrale de l’article. Comme dans Star Wars, il s’agit d’un combat entre les forces du mal et les forces du bien. Les premières se distinguent par leur violence et leur bêtise mortifères; et les secondes par la résistance culturelle qu’elles opposent aux premières. Vous aurez reconnu là la pensée de Sélim Abou s.j. qui du temps du mandat syrien livrait un combat solitaire contre la puissance mandataire et ses satrapes (aux chemises réversibles).

(à suivre)

Posted in Discourse, Journalism, Lebanon, Prejudice, Semantics, Version Francophone | 6 Comments »

Weapons of Mass Underdevelopment

Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/06/2010

Marketing strategies can change their image, but not their nature: The Lebanese political class

I’m not going to waste time explaining how and why our political class are the reason behind our underdevelopment. I wouldn’t want to insult my compatriots intelligence. It is quite obvious to us all that this rather small group of people not only bring on us destruction, but deprive us from any chance of progressing socially, culturally, politically and economically. And this is true in time of peace and war (though it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between the two).

The greatest challenge we face today – as Lebanese – is undoubtedly to find a way to diffuse this extremely threatening danger. And that is certainly a tricky business because this closed club controls almost everything through their individual and collective power. The oddest thing about this business is that everyone is conscious of it. However, each and everyone of us supports it in one way or another. We did it quite efficiently these past four years by falling in a meaningless extreme political polarisation. But we also do it by refusing to act and think freely; by insisting on “the global picture” instead of fighting for the details; by buying into the different slogans; by playing it safe.

What risk have we been taking? What new ideas have we been supporting? What new battles have we engaged in? Honestly!! Let’s face it. We haven’t been doing much. There are very few exceptions. Let’s face it. And even in these cases we could have gone much further. But we’re playing safe. Something is holding us back. What can we do to unleash that energy? There’s a lot of talent, there’s a lot of good will, there’s a huge need, and there is one space that is left uncontrolled: cyberspace. Let’s use it.

I’ve been thinking about different strategies to diffuse our lethal weapons for some time, and I think only two can work:

  • A Political strategy: At first, I thought that supporting a maverick would destabilise the system, fragilise it, open it up. To some extent, this is what the maverick did, but he also played a stabilising role within the system and was co-opted into it… To make a long story short, the little space that the maverick left open, we didn’t use. We only benefited from the space granted to us by the political system, not out of generosity, but lack of interest. And even that space wasn’t used optimally. I personally believe that we could follow a political strategy that could be effective. The gradual overthrow of a system that was founded in 1958. And this could only be done through a cultural strategy.
  • A Cultural strategy: This one is quite tricky. The challenge is to push the country into the 21st century  (screaming and kicking). Some good work has been done in this respect in two issues: women’s rights and migrant workers. But even there it’s not enough. The initiatives are too isolated. They function like all awareness campaigns: they last as long as the campaign lasts… And this is not enough. The idea here is to push forward many new and challenging ideas in an integrated way, and to lend support to those who want to do it. Economically, the initiatives will still be largely dependent on foreign financing (even though it would be interesting to try to interest local structures to finance these initiatives), but I believe it would be possible to impose on them a local agenda instead of submitting to theirs.

Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Democracy, Lebanon, Patronage Networks, Political behaviour, Politics | 2 Comments »

La “résistance” à petit prix

Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/06/2010

Deux petits exemples d’attitudes pseudo-résistantes: un égyptien et deux libanais.

Le Conseil d’Etat Egyptien a jugé en faveur de la déchéance de nationalité des Egyptiens mariés à des Israéliennes. Cette décision pourrait concerner jusqu’à 27 000 personnes. Elle s’appuie sur deux idées: la présomption que toute juive est sioniste (ce qui n’est pas évident dans ce cas sachant que ces Israéliennes ont tout de même épousées des Egyptiens musulmans), et que ceci pose un problème au niveau de la loyauté puisque “un sioniste ne peut être loyale à l’Égypte et au monde arabe » (et cela en dépit du fait que l’Egypte a signé la paix avec Israel en 1979).  La décision du Conseil d’État reconnaît une exception: elle ne s’applique pas aux Égyptiens mariés à des Israéliennes arabes. L’argumentaire derrière l’exception est que les “Arabes de 1948” ont subi cette nationalité, et ne peuvent pas par conséquent être considérés comme des sionistes. Etrange attitude, et perception, venant d’un pays qui a conclu la paix avec Israël, qui s’est engagé depuis trois décennies à normaliser ses relations avec son voisin, et qui coopère avec le gouvernement israélien sur plusieurs plans, notamment dans la politique d’enfermement de Gaza (pour satisfaire des intérêts égyptiens).

Plusieurs photos commencent à circuler du premier acte de l’embarquement du commando Israélien. Celui dans lequel les manifestants ont capturé quelques soldats israéliens. Dans une des images, on voit un soldat Israélien manifestement blessé, choqué et humilié pleurer. Et sur le site de tayyar.org, j’ai remarqué plusieurs commentaires sous la photos se moquant des larmes du soldat et mettant en doute son courage et sa masculinité. Pathétique non?
Cette attitude rejoint celles de nombreux manifestants qui applaudissent à Beyrouth et à Rabieh (siège de l’ambassade de Turquie) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan alors qu’ils étaient totalement absents au moment de Nahr el Bared, lorsque le conflit entre l’Armée et Fateh el-Islam a conduit à la destruction du camp, à des pillages, à des “dommages collatéraux” et au déplacement de la population civile qui d’ailleurs n’a toujours pas été autorisée à rejoindre le camp et à rebatir.

Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians, Prejudice, Version Francophone | 6 Comments »

Mavi Marmara revisited

Posted by worriedlebanese on 05/06/2010

I’ll try to spill a couple of thoughts that have been whirling around in my mind.

Yes, sure, the Israeli commando was attacked on the Mavi Marmara. A quick look at the organisation behind the protest gives you a clear idea that you were not dealing with your ordinary “peace activists”. These people were here on a mission: Break the blockade, get through to Gaza whatever the cost!  And yeah, many seem to have an islamist background and amongst them there seems to have been several disreputable characters. But Israeli Intelligence knew all about those people and the organisation behind them since their departure from Turkey. Both sides knew that there was going to be a clash. It was expected. But that certainly doesn’t explain or justify the bloodbath.

Now let’s look at the dynamic the Mavi Marmara affaire triggered. One finds three types of media coverage, and one can fairly say that they were all biased, and their approach was teleological.

  • The pro-Israeli media was interested in whitewashing the Israeli army and justifying Israeli policy. And it used all the usual techniques: an agressive smear campaign against the victims of the raid, and a substitution of victimhood (the soldiers were presented as the victims). The only problem with this “defense” line was that it could only convince those who were ready to be convinced. Those who are not die hard supporters of the Israeli government and its policies could easily see the loopholes in that presentation and the manipulation of information. Watching some footage and comments reminded me of Alan Dershowitz’s The Case for Israel. Another interesting twist is that the pro-Israeli arguments left the Palestinians out of the picture (as they usually do). It wasn’t about Gaza (that is always cynically presented as ok as long as it is not starving). It was about Israel vs Turkey (which is a rather melodramatic approach, knowing that  the military alliance is still secure, no Ambassadors were called back or off…).

  • The anti-Israeli media was interested in celebrating the victimhood of the injured and the killed while denouncing the brutality of Israel. Everything that didn’t fit that picture was discarded… The activists on the Flotilla were shown as heroes not because of their own deeds (ex: they fought Israel), but through their victimhood and their courage in facing a brutish enemy. They didn’t speak of the militants fighting the commando. They did not insist on the psychological dimension or emotions (fear, panic…), as did the pro-Israel media. The anti-Israeli media was so focused on being anti-Israeli that it even repackaged the objectives of the flotilla: they became more anti-Israeli than pro-Palestinian. Actually, Palestinians were left out of the picture. It was more about “we” vs Israel.
  • Then we have the “neutral” media, mostly western (think BBC for instance) with its very ambiguous respons to the events. Probably because it was being (too) actively fed by both sides. The pro-Israel groups were working on the narrative : reframing the events, shedding a different light on the different actors of this drama, feeding the media “information” in an orderly way (even if the “info” was inaccurate). Pure Hasbara. The pro-Palestinian groups were also extremely active, but as usual, they focused on the emotional side. Instead of expanding the narrative, they reduced it to its most emotional content: they shot and killed us. Instead of insisting on the flaws of the Israeli argument, with its specific framing of the events, they repeated their mantra without backing it with more arguments. What the “neutral” media tried to do was denounce the outcome of the raid but it showed its discomfort with the identity of the protestors who were injured and killed, reminding the listeners/viewers that they were islamists.

    To sum things up, the “Mavi Marmara operation” highlights two important elements in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. One one side we have a country and a society that is becoming increasingly cynical and unapologetic with the violence it shows towards anyone non-Jewish. This has become quite apparent for most people except a majority of Israelis. On the other side we have a Pro-Palestinian movement that is growing more and more strikingly heterogenous, and its most vocal, recognisable and effective components are islamist (moderate as in this case, or radical as in the case of Hamas and Hezbollah). This dynamic is affecting the whole movement, making some people within it increasingly uncomfortable, and shifting the focus from “pro-Palestinian” to “anti-Israeli”, a shift that is both damaging to the movement and to the dynamics of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

    Posted in Communication, Discourse, Israel, Journalism, Palestinian territories, Palestinians, Prejudice, Turkey, Values, Violence | 13 Comments »

    The day I participated in the municipal elections

    Posted by worriedlebanese on 04/06/2010

    I’ve been wanting to post something about these elections for a long time. I actually wrote two short post about it without publishing them. I noted a couple of thoughts  a week before the elections (on April 21st), then I scribbled my impression the night before election day (May 1st) and here I am today trying to make sens of it all.

    I will publish today the two posts that I had written and haven’t published yet.

    No local elections in my hometown! Does it matter? (written on April 21st)

    It’s official. There will be no elections this year in my hometown. In fact, there has never been local elections in this small town of Mount Lebanon. Members of the municipal council have always run unrivalled, unchallenged… Several candidates gradually drop out from the election and on election day, there are just as many candidates as their are seats to fill. So instead of being elected, these candidates are instituted as members of the municipal council by the Ministry of the Interior. The neutralisation of elections through “consensual list” building is no new or exceptional phenomenon in Lebanon. It is actually sought after by many. Why? The answer is quite openly stated and very often repeated: consensual lists prevent division within towns, villages and family. This is undoubtedly true, but aren’t all elections divisive? Aren’t they supposed to be? Aren’t you supposed to have different groups competing, different programs, with a loser and a winner? This fear of divisiveness says a lot about our current political culture, but does it say anything about our political system? I don’t think so.

    Some dogmatics will undoubtedly stand high on their chairs and start condemning “consensual lists”, “lebanese political culture”, “the ignorance of voters”, the “backwardness of the system”, the “lack of education”. In truth, you would have found me amongst this moralistic crowd a couple of years back. I’ve now abandoned this approach because I find it condescending, paternalistic and extremely unfruitful. Let’s forget a bit about the political culture and look into the political system. And when I speak of political system, I don’t mean the image we have of the system or the image it has of itself. I’m talking about its dynamics. How things work. And to do so, we should see what is at stake in municipal elections and how the different political and social actors interact within its frame.

    Breaking news: there will be local elections in my hometown (May 1st)

    Two candidates finally decided not to withdraw. So for once, we have more candidates running in these elections than seats to fill. One of them declared quite frankly that she had very little chances of winning, and that she was not competing against the “head of the list” (the past, present and future mayor). Her goal was to allow the people to choose their representatives democratically. So I got the first call asking me to vote, and a second call, and a third call. Then I started receiving ballot papers. In less than three days I received exactly 23 identical papers! There were two arguments attached to these ballot papers, an implicit and an explicit one. The implicit argument was kinship, family solidarity. The explicit one was “the election of this dissenting voice to the municipal council will complicate its work”. The explicit argument doesn’t actually hold. One dissenting voice in the municipal council cannot affect its work, that is the outcome of its meetings. It cannot block a decision or even introduce change. All it can do is express its dissent and compel the council to work according to the rules. As for the implicit argument… well, I was a bit embarrassed by it. But then I said to myself, what’s the counter-argument? Is voting “against” a family member worth the shot in a context like this? I don’t think so. Basically, no one had a program. The municipal does not do much (like most municipal councils in Lebanon), and whatever the outcome of the elections, one thing is for sure, nothing will change. And most importantly, I do not live in that town. So frankly, I don’t care what the municipal council does. And if I have to stick to any principle, it would be to refuse to vote in a town in which I do not live. However, I do have ties with my family, and would like to maintain them. So I had to vote… well, you can guess the outcome.

    So to sum things up, here’s the situation I was facing: I am called to vote in a town in which I do not live. This town was established in the late 1950s. So there are no “old customs”, “old families”, etc…  Nevertheless, the whole electoral operation is centred on family: People will vote according to family, the lists reflect an alliance between families and reflect a hierarchical order in the town (in which dissent is understood as “seditious”). So the central question is, how come things so traditionnal are found in a new town?

    (to be continued)

    Posted in Culture, Democracy, Idiosyncrasy 961, Lebanon, Politics | Leave a Comment »

    Would a flotilla by any other name…

    Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/06/2010

    Like many of you in cyberspace, I’ve been reading extensively about the “Gaz Freedom Flotilla affair/raid/attack/massacre”.

    Trying to represent "evil" and missing the point while at it

    At first, I received an avalanche of such emails. Frankly, I was irritated by the tone of these emails. They all focused on “Israel’s barbaric acts” and “its monstrosity”.  This kind of commentary is shallow (how important is labelling), easy (it’s done by people who are hostile to Israel and/or its policies to start with) and useless (it’s intended for audiences that are hostile to Israel and/or its policies), and usually boders on Tourette Syndrom. Not only it preaches to the converted, but its language confirms the pro-Israel public in its own prejudice and paranoia. It mostly forgets that the whole issue is about GAZA, and not Israel. Take a look at Carlos Latuff’s cartoon and try do imagine how a supporter of Israel would understand it.

    Then I started reading blog entries about the whole affair. Trying to look beyond the praise, the condemnation, the victimisation and the accusations, I started processing some information:

    • What are the facts? If you think identifying the relevant data or “hard facts” is an easy matter, well think again. Check out the articles written, pick out anyone of them, randomly. Ignore all the commentary (accusations, justification, condemnation) and set aside the hard facts. You’re not left with much. Here’s a little quiz: how many boats did the flotilla consist of? How many injured were there (on both sides)? What do you know about the deceased?
      • What do we actually know about what actually happened? Nothing much. It’s more about “they did it again” or “they were looking for trouble and they got it”.
      • What are we being told about it? One could excuse the cyberworld for sticking to the emotions and emotional responses. But what excuse does the Media have for doing such a lousy job. I just watched the news report on the BBC, two days after the events, and all I got was two conflicting versions, one made by Israeli officials, and another made by activists from the Flotilla. Both versions were either unspecific or blatantly inaccurate, with more smear than info.
    • What are the contentious issues? There’s a bunch of them: the Israeli blockade on Gaza (is it legal, ethical, effective, productive?); the Gaza freedom flotilla’s attempt to break the blockade (is it effective? is it lawful? is it suicidal?); the Israeli army’s enforcement of the blockade and its capture of the boats (is it brutal? proportionate? hysterical? lethal? normal?)…
    • What are the frameworks within which the data is being processed and propagated?

    When whitewashing borders on paranoïa

    Next came the “pro-Israel” blogs and outlets. I wasn’t surprised by their reactions either. I’ve heard their arguments before, and actually expected to hear them. One could sum them up in three sentences : “we are the victims”, “they are the agressors”, “they made us do it”. The cartoon pictures here illustrates this perception perfectly. The argument presents itself in the following manner: it starts with an abstract apologetical formula that is not linked to an act but to an outcome (which is odd for an apology). Then there’s a quick recasting of the events in which are presented an elastic yet always humane “we” (that alternatively or hypothetically refers to the IDF, the government, Israelis or Jews) and an accusative barbaric “them” (in which those directly concerned are presented as a small sample of a much larger and threatening group). Any act attributed to “we” becomes a mechanical reaction to an act attributed to “them”. This transforms this “act” (and any act is by definition voluntary) into something of a “coerced” or “involuntary” reaction (think knee jerk reflex) which absolves the person who committed it from any responsibility.

    Finally, I started constructing my own story (compatible with my worldview, you’d argue), trying to verify some info, and comparing it with other affairs to try to make sens of it all. If one wants to strip the whole affair to its bare elements, the story is quite simple, and let’s not start arguing about chronology.

    1. Who: The flotilla brought together an international group of militants who want to break the blockade on Gaza as a first step towards getting it lifted.
    2. What: The blockade is imposed by Israel (with the complicity of many other international actors, including Egypt), and its alleged objective is “defensive” (to prevent the rearmament of Hamas). The result is punitive: collective punishment that transforms Gaza into a large prison and creates an informal economy completely dominated by Hamas and that is dependent on tunnels through which many things are smuggled including material that is used for weapon construction.
    3. How: The strategy is to force Israel into changing its policy towards Gaza, more specifically, to get it to lift the blockade. The key word here is obviously “force”. And it’s a tricky word and a complicated objective. Basically, you have a group of people who want to change a military strategy through non-military means… The Media is a central component of this strategy because it’s about “image”, symbolic steps and building pressure within and outside Israel to get its security complex to modify its strategy.
    4. Where’s the problem? Israel can no longer count on domestic pressure because its Jewish population is today totally unconcerned by Palestinians and insensible to their plight. Its only concern is to remain unconcerned, untroubled by them. As for international pressure, it is not strong enough to influence the Israeli government. So the Flotilla’s strategy didn’t have a chance to succeed. All it could do was encourage more flottilas to head toward Gaza and hope that this would lead to a snowball effect… and in the meantime keep the blockade on the global agenda (the international community has a very short memory span). It also could hope to get as much humanitarian aid through as it can. But that’s about it.
    5. What next? With its customary brutality and the death toll it leaves behind (that is obvious to all who simply look at the figures), the IDF might have changed things. The “Mavi Marmara” deaths have already started a new dynamic, just like the Cana massacres did in 1996 and in 2006 or the Sabra and Chatilla massacre in 1982. Sure, the story will be revisited over and over again, whitewashed as much as possible. But in the meantime it would have created an insufferable image for Israel that would force it to revise its strategy or at least refrain from doing the same mistake (while at the same time denying it was a mistake) in an immediate future. And in this immediate future the Rachel Corrie will be arriving, and probably other flotillas.

    Posted in Antisemitism, Blogosphere, Communication, Conspiracy, Discourse, Israel, Palestinian territories, Prejudice, Semantics | 2 Comments »

    A look back at Lebanon’s municipal elections

    Posted by worriedlebanese on 01/06/2010

    It’s finally over!!! Lebanon’s four-tiers municipal elections have come to an end. Mount Lebanon voted on May 2, then Beirut, the Beqaa and Baalbek-Hermel (on May 9), then South Lebanon and Nabatieh on May 23, and finally North Lebanon and Akkar on May 30th.

    Oddly enough, every single person seems to ignore the current Lebanese administrative divisions, even the Ministry of Interior!! They all refer to the pre-1975 administrative divisions. Strange, isn’t it?

    I will be writing two posts on this issue this week in which I will try to keep with the “blogging spirit”: I will posting something I wrote four weeks ago on the elections in my hamlet. I will also be sharing with you my thoughts on the dynamics behind these elections, focusing on Mount Lebanon.
    But first, let’s look at what the Minister had to say about these elections:

    ے963 مجلساً بلدياً و2753 مختاراُ سيحصدون ثقتكم في ربيع 2010
    إنه عرسٌ جديدٌ للديمقراطية، مدعوون اليه جميعاً هذه السنة أيضاً بعدما أنجزنا سوياً السنة الماضية الانتخابات النيابية.
    هو عرسٌ لأنه يتيح لنا اختيار ممثلينا الى المجالس البلدية والاختيارية بحرّية و”مساءلتهم” بالطريقة الأكثر رقياً وحضارية، ألا وهي صندوق الاقتراع.

    “963 municipal councils and 2753 mukhtar will reap your trust in the spring of 2010.
    It’s a new wedding for democracy that you are all invited to this year as well, one that follows our common success in last year’s parliamentary elections.
    It is indeed a wedding because it allows us to choose our representatives in the municipal and mukhtar councils freely… and to hold them accountable in the most sophisticated and civilised way, that is through the ballot box”.

    And what a wedding it was. Obviously not one you’d like to be invited to. Try picturing two egomaniac and dull individuals, bringing their two dysfunctional families together, with unexpected guests barging in to a ceremony organised by a mediocre wedding planner.

    If there’s one positive outcome to this farce (the second electoral farce in two years), it’s the first point Ziyad Baroud stressed on in his press confrence: “Despite all the political pressure in Lebanon and the region, the Lebanese were able to assert the principle of ‘periodicty of elections’, a principle at the heart of democracy”.

    Credit where credit is due, we owe the non violation of this constitutional principle to Ziyad Baroud who forced these elections on the political class (with the support of the President of the Republic) that tried to postpone these elections by linking it to electoral reforms. This didn’t prevent the Minister of Interior from starting the electoral process while the discussion on electoral reforms was ongoing.

    Posted in Democracy, Lebanon, Patronage Networks, Political behaviour, Politics, Semantics | 7 Comments »