Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Archive for April, 2011

Nadim Shehade’s interesting take on “Sectarianism”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/04/2011

Nadim Shehade, made an extremely interesting contribution last week to a discussion launched by Elias Muhanna on his blog Qifa Nabki. I was at first struck by the way he introduced the subject. It reminded me of the clumsy attempt I had made a couple of years back to respond to Nawaf Salam’s take on Lebanese sectarianism when I told him that it is of no surprise to “observe” sectarianism when one is looking through sectarian tainted glasses. By that I introduce my approach of distinguishing between different dynamics (regionalism, factionalism, ideology, economical interests, clientelism…), and not blurring the differences by putting them under the same heading.  
Please read carefully this text by the former director of Oxford’s Centre for Lebanese Studies and present researcher at Chatham House. He pinpoints all the methodological errors and assumptions most of us make when looking into countries with deep or significant communal divisions. 

Sectarianism, like beauty, is more often than not in the eye of the beholder. One can interpret a situation as ‘sectarian’ and there may be some elements in it that are related to tension between sects; but the underlying causes and drivers may be totally secular.

There are three ways of looking at it:

  1. As a perspective related to the observer who sees sectarianism everywhere.
  2. As a reality on the ground – where tensions are real and incidents have sectarian dimensions
  3. In relation to the political system and how it deals with divisions and whether it increases or decreases sectarian tensions.

There are so many myths that would fall just by distinguishing between these three points.

In Syria for example: Is the regime really Alawi? Is the system ‘secular’?
Similar questions for Lebanon and for Iraq.

Analysts on Iraq emphasised sectarian divisions, whereas intra-sectarian divisions were as important. In the end are these not legitimate political divisions in which sect plays a part?

In Lebanon, the system is ‘confessional’ or sectarian. But the reality on the ground is a division which is deeply political between two very legitimate world views which divide every ‘sect’, every community and even every family. It is the beholder who chooses to give it a label of sectarian, that March 8 are ‘Shiaa’ or Shiaa means Hizballah. The Christians are ‘divided’? who said they have to be united in the first place? because they are Christian they have to be united, so the sectarian glasses do not fit with reality and we conclude that they are divided.
When politicians play with the electoral law to gerrymander the result, is that sectarian?
Is power-sharing sectarian? maybe such a system has allowed for political divisions to become more significant.

Going back to Syria – There is a network that dominates which has an interest in perpetuating the system. It is too simple to say that this is a Alawite dominance, there is hegemony by a network of a family that happens to be Allawite and has coopted many people from all other sects – Sunnis, Christians, Ismailis, Druze, etc.. etc..

The tautology of the argument is the following: A society that is composed to many sects cannot have democracy because of the sectarian divisions – a ‘secular’dictatorship would put the lid on it. But the other side of that coin is that this same society would not contain all these sects in the fist place had they not been able to coexist all that time.

[In Turkey] The Turkish model of secularism is also that Attaturk, in order to have a secular and cohesive society, had to get rid of the Armenians, the Greeks, the Assyrians, the Arabs and the Kurds.

I want to suggest that the present ‘secular’ regime in Syria is likely to exacerbate sectarian tensions whereas a democratic power-sharing arrangement, similar to the ones in Lebanon and the one evolving in Iraq, would decrease such tensions.

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Posted in Discourse, Discourse Analysis, Intercommunal affairs, Iraq, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Secularism, Semantics, Syria, Turkey | 2 Comments »

Should the President be entitled to a share in government?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 26/04/2011

There has been a lot of discussions lately revolving around the presidential share in government. And most opinions can be divided into three categories according to the analysts political preferences:

                  • there are those who are hostile to Michel Aoun (and they tend to somewhat favour Michel Suleiman but only in ways that can frustrate Michel Aoun),
                  • there are those who favour to Michel Aoun (and they tend to deprive the president of all rights and powers regarding the formation of the government),
                  • and their are those who favour the Prime Minister.

Let’s quickly look into the basic political dynamics behind these arguments (how personal rivalries have transformed the relation between the two former generals into a zero sum game), and then see what the constitution has to say about it. Only then we could try to imagine some possible solutions to the problem.

Personal issues: Rivalry and grievances 

Since 2008, March XIV® has consistently worked on pitting the two former Generals against each other. And this strategy has worked perfectly! Michel Aoun considers that Michel Suleiman – by accepting the presidency in 2008 – has foiled his presidential ambitions. And during the parliamentarian elections of 2009, Michel Suleiman was encouraged to form a “centrist bloc” in the electoral districts that Michel Aoun’s FPM had won in 2005. By holding on to these districts the FPM thwarted  the President’s political ambitions and prevented Michel Suleiman from building a parliamentary bloc. During both elections, the two former generals were engaged  in a zero sum game. For the presidential elections, one’s gain was obviously the other one’s loss, and frankly, they couldn’t have been able to modify that game. But for the parliamentary elections, things were quite different. Michel Suleiman could have transformed the game had he a wider political perspective and larger ambitions. He could have withdrawn from the start from the electoral battle or, on the contrary, could have negotiated with the large parliamentary bloc to have his candidates on their lists throughout the territory. Instead of that, he focused on a couple of christian candidates and kept an eye on his own electoral district, which obviously put him at loggerheads with Michel Aoun. I can only see two reasons behind Michel Suleiman’s (loosing) strategy: lack of political imagination, and/or a personal grudge against Michel Aoun who obstructed in 2008 the passing of a constitutional amendement to article 49-3 that would have conformed the election of Michel Suleiman (to the presidency of the Republic) to the Lebanese Constitution (that explicitly forbade it).

Constitutional considerations
The Taef agreement’s main drive was to deprive the President of his/her former powers. And it surely achieved its goals. In order to prevent him/her from choosing a Prime Minister, it described a meticulous procedure that deprives him/her of any discretionary authority (article 53-2’s principle of binding parliamentary consultations). However, the Constitution doesn’t say anything about how the shares in government are to be allocated. Article 95 only mentions communal shares when it states that “the confessional groups are to be represented in a just and equitable fashion in the formation of the Cabinet”. The wording is extremely vague, what can be considered as “just” or “equitable”? These terms are generally interpreted as refering to the requirements of article 24-1 that sets the rules of representation in parliament (parity between Christian and Muslims, proportionality within each group and equitable representation of regions). I personally believe that the reason why the President is deprived from voting within the Council of ministers when (s)he presides over it (article 53-1), is because that would upset the quota system (let’s not forget that the Premiership is counted within the sunni quota).

As for the appointment of ministers, the constitution remains totally silent. All it states is that the President “issues, in agreement with the Prime Minister, the decree appointing the Cabinet and the decrees accepting the resignation of Ministers” (article 53-4). Article 64-2 states that the Prime Minister “conducts the parliamentary consultations involved in forming a Cabinet. He signs, with the President, the Decree forming the Cabinet”. So basically, the constitution mentions three sides in the cabinet formation process: the President, the Prime Minister and the Parliament. And they all have to agree to a specific lineup if the cabinet is to be formed. The only mechanism that it mentions are the “parliamentary consultations” made by the the Prime Minister… all the rest is left for negotiation.
Now let’s look into the way the constitution has been practiced following the Taef Agreement.
Since 1992, the Prime Minister has negotiate alone (well, theoretically, from 1992 to 2005 Syrian authorities were the chief arbitrators between the different political sides) with the different parliamentary blocs. In return, the Prime Minister granted the President a small share in government. This specific way in which article 53-4 has been practiced can be explained by two factors: the President’s political weakness and the Prime minister’s strength. Indeed, no President since 1992 could count on a “faithful” parliamentary bloc (they had at most two or three MPs he could count on, and they were mostly relatives). On the other hand, the Prime Minister could count on one of the main parliamentary blocs, his impressive wealth and solid international connections. With the nomination of Nagib Miqati to the premiership, we somewhat go back to the 1998-2000 configuration in which neither the President nor the Prime Minister could count on an important parliamentary bloc. Nagib Miqati and Michel Suleiman have a big interest in working together. Unfortunately, they haven’t explored this possibility yet. And frankly, they both need it because of their weak political positioning within their communities and in the political game. For that, they need to choose the kind of role they want to play both in the formation process and the governing process. There is obviously a whole range of roles that they can play by either sharing functions and roles or distributing them. I’ll just mention the function that the President is expected to play, then look into the functions that he could play. Most analysts see in the presidential function, an arbitration role. However, that’s a role the President cannot play because he lacks the necessary constitutional tools to play it. Nevertheless, he has two options to choose from:

  • either he can learn to manoeuvre in a way to convince the different sides in the conflict to consider him as a mediator. He has tried to do that when he re-established the “National dialogue table”. This role comes with a defining condition: the mediator has to remain above the fray, shouldn’t take sides or scramble for the same things as the other players (a share in government)
  • or he can reaffirm his political position as a consensualist figure (non-partisan) who came to power through a wide intercommunal agreement. This should encourage him to negotiate with the other blocs to agree on giving him a significant share in government. However, this share can’t be a christian one. If he wants to remain the symbol of an intercommunal agreement, his share should be cross-communal (and not strictly or even in majority christian).

Communal considerations

The basic issue at stake today is actually the last step in the political re-integration of the christian community after its postwar marginalisation. For the first time since the 1970s, the christian member of the ruling coalition has the largest parliamentary support within the coalition. And for the first time since 2000, the President isn’t completely dwarfed by the Prime Minister. Hence, the christian community has been awarded a rare chance to act as an equal partner withstanding “its” weaknesses. And instead of using this opportunity and rising to the occasion, the two players that have the most to win from the occasion (and to loose if they miss the opportunity) are squandering time, energy and ressources in a useless battle that can only weaken them, and their community.

Michel Suleiman and his supporters (mostly self-appointed) are actively preventing the FPM from becoming the main partner in the coalition by downplaying its parliamentary size and requesting a share in government (and portfolios) that it is hankering for.

Michel Aoun and his supporters (c.f. Ziad Asswad’s interpretation of article 53-1) are actively working on depriving Michel Suleiman (and through this the Presidency) of any kind of power and weight within the system.

Posted in Constitution, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Pluralism, Political behaviour | 1 Comment »

De l’usage de Facebook: retour sur une triple exclusion

Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/04/2011

no cracks on our cyber walls

Ces dernières semaines, trois “cyber-amis” m’ont exclu de leur page facebook. A vrai dire, je ne connaissais personnellement aucune des trois personnes, mais les motifs derrière leur exclusion me semblent intéressants et significatifs par rapport à certains usages de Facebook.

J’ai été d’abord exclu de la page de J.H. (un mois avant qu’elle ne disparaisse elle-même de Facebook), puis de celle de J-M K et enfin de la page d’A.C..

  • J.H. a décidé que j’étais un “ami de Hezbollah” en se basant sur le principe que “celui qui critique mes amis est automatiquement l’ami de mes ennemis… et donc mon ennemi”. Elle m’a donc exclu en m’envoyant un message expéditif du style “salemlé 3a tes amis du Hezbollah”.
  • J-M K., l’a fait après m’avoir courtoisement demandé – à travers un message personnel – de relever mon identité. En fait, il l’a fait une semaine de voyages successifs et rapprochés, et je n’avais pas eu le temps de lui répondre… A la fin de mon voyage, j’ai constaté qu’il m’avait exclu de sa page. Quelques semaines plus tard, j’ai découvert qu’il m’avait également exclu du “groupe de refléxion et d’action politique”, groupe auquel on m’avait invité et dont j’avais contribué à franciser le nom. Il a donc rejeté mon choix de l’anonymat (relatif) que j’ai suivi en m’inscrivant sur facebook pour ne pas verser dans l’étalage public du personnel. Je pense que l’anonymat est le seul moyen de “détourner” facebook de son usage premier et de l’utiliser comme une véritable plate-forme de discussion socio-politiques. Le motif de l’exclusion était clairement mon choix de l’anonymat. Et en quelque sorte, je le comprends puisque c’est une violation de “l’esprit” Facebook. Mais c’est justement la raison derrière mon choix! Mon pari était de m’effacer derrière des arguments pour que l’échange reste au niveau des idées.
  • Quant au Professeur A. C., il m’a rappelé à deux reprises que mes commentaires n’étaient pas les bienvenues sur sa page. J’avoue qu’ils avaient tendance à être sarcastique par rapport à certains positionnement politiques. Et pourtant je m’étais gardé de faire des réflexions personnelles (alors que de son côté, il ne s’en était pas privé sur le mur d’un ami commun). Certains de mes commentaires constatais la dynamique derrière quelques réactions que j’y lisais; la section commentaire avait tendance à se transformer en caisse à résonance, en espace de surenchère où les émotions explosaient (au dépens des arguments) et où l’on pouvait diagnostiquer un syndrome de la Tourette (à chaque fois que le nom de Michel Aoun était prononcé, ou celui du Hezbollah). M. C. m’a répété à deux reprises qu’il ne voulait pas que j’écrive des commentaires – en me disant en ces mots – que c’était son mur et par conséquent il était libre de décider de ce qui pouvait y être affiché. Face à cette sommation de me taire, non accompagnée d’une menace d’exclusion, j’avais compris qu’il fallait que je me contente d’une lecture… silencieuse! Mais j’ai découvert cette semaine qu’il avait changé sa politique, et a finalement décidé de m’exclure sans autre forme de procès… alors même que je m’étais abstenu de tout commentaire!

En fait, je ne me serais pas permis de parler de ces trois pages/profils facebook si leur usage principal n’était pas politique. Car en cela, ils rejoignent l’usage principal que j’en fais. En outre, MM J-M. K. et A. C. envisagent explicitement Facebook comme une Agora, un espace ouvert de discussion politique. Or est-ce que l’on peut toujours parler d’Agora, d’espace de discussion, lorsque le désaccord est rejeté et lorsqu’on s’érige en arbitre d’une discussion à laquelle on participe (ou qu’on initie)? Certes, un espace de délibération peut être perturbé par la présence de participants “masqués” (par l’anonymat). Toutefois, si l’anonymat pose un risque considérable, il ne constitue pas pour autant une présomption nécessaire d’abus. Il faudrait encore qu’il soit constaté. Or je ne pense pas en avoir abusé.

Comment alors expliquer ces exclusions? Est-ce que cela illustre que la discussion politique au Liban s’assume et s’affirme aujourd’hui comme fragmentée, et qu’elle cherche surtout à réconforter les lignes de fractures (au lieu de chercher à les dépasser)? Dans cette perspective, on cherche à barricader les murs de facebook afin de préserver “son” groupe en lui assurant sécurité et de réconfort…

Posted in Blogosphere, Lebanon, Personal, Version Francophone | 4 Comments »

Bechara Raï, les promesses (pascales) d’un changement

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/04/2011

Cela fait un mois que l’Évêque maronite de Byblos a été élu Patriarche d’Antioche et de tout l’Orient… pour les maronites. Dès la démission du Patriarche Sfeir, le Vatican nous avait promis un changement à travers l’élection d’un nouveau patriarche. Personnellement, j’aurai préféré l’élection de l’Évêque de Sarba, Mgr Guy Noujaim, personnalité cultivée et relativement progressiste de l’église maronite.
A vrai dire, j’ai été déçu par l’élection le 15 mars dernier de Mgr Bechara Raï. Ses positions conservatrices, ses affinités avec Opus Dei, son style de communication qui tient d’un certain télévangélisme, m’ont toujours gênés. Avec lui, on passait du traditionnalisme au conservatisme, d’un patriarche partisan à un patriarche authentiquement consensualiste, d’un prédicateur austère dont le ton tenait de la plainte à un prédicateur communicatif dont le ton tient de la recommandation musclée. Le changement était certes notable et bienvenue, mais pas suffisant à mon goût.

Cela dit, dès son retour de Rome, le nouveau patriarche nous a montré ce qui le rapprochait de son prédécesseur, et par quoi il s’en démarquait. Il a présidé il y a quelques jours (19 avril)  une réunion quadripartite réunissant les quatre chefs maronites des principaux bloc parlementaires chrétiens: Michel Aoun, Samir Geagea, Amine Gemayel et Suleiman Frangieh. Il a donc réussi en un mois à faire ce que son prédécesseur à échouer à faire en 5 ans. Certes, cctte initiative poursuit celle entamée par le Patriarche Sfeir. Rappelons-nous du comité quadripartite que le Cardinal Sfeir avait réuni à plusieurs reprises en 2007 (composé de représentants des quatre grands groupes politiques chrétiens) pour tenter de dénouer la crise politique “à l’abri des regards”. Le Patriarche avait d’ailleurs à plusieurs reprises essayé de réunir les quatre zu’ama chrétiens, sans y parvenir. Cela s’explique un peu par les circonstances politiques particulières des deux moments, mais surtout par les nuances dans l’approche. Au lieu de chercher un réglement préalable au conflit politique entre les quatre zu’ama chrétiens, ou à réglementer le discours politique (les deux approches suivies par le Patriarche Sfeir), le Patriarche Raï a tenté de changer la dynamique entre les quatre hommes en les engageant dans une rare rencontre en face à face, une réunion relativement dépolitisée et fortement spiritualisée. On retrouve chez les deux Patriarches les mêmes objectifs consensualistes aux tendances unanimistes, à la seule différence que le nouveau patriarche propose aux zu’ama un espace de délibération, et non une solution. Et ceci est une différence notable. Le conservatisme (de Raï) peut s’accommoder de la démocratie (et même y trouver son intérêt), ce que le traditionalisme (de Sfeir) avait plus de mal à faire.

Certaines personnes ont critiqué cette initiative du nouveau patriarche parce qu’elle n’incluait pas le PNL et le Bloc National. En fait, le poids parlementaire de ces deux formations politiques est aujourd’hui assez négligeable. Et il justifie l’exclusion d’une réunion de quatre politiciens qui à eux seuls réunissent plus de la moitié des députés chrétiens:  17 députés chrétiens pour le bloc du Changement et de la Réforme dirigé par le Général Aoun, 7 pour le bloc des Forces Libanaises dirigé par Samir Geagea, 5 pour le bloc des Kataeb dirigés par Amine Gemayel et 4 pour le bloc des Marada dirigé par Suleiman Frangieh, (33 sur les 64 député chrétiens). En fait, pour un sommet politique interchrétien, on aurait peut-être dû inviter deux Zu’ama non-chrétiens qui réunissent pas moins du quart des députés chrétiens: Saad Hariri pour ses 11 députés chrétiens et Walid Jumblatt pour ses 5 députés chrétiens. Ceci montre bien la complexité du paysage politique chrétien libanais: un paysage politique qui en fait répond le plus aux résultats “systémiques” attendus du régime électoral libanais (qui encourage le pluralisme au sein des communautés et les alliances intercommunautaires)… Mais l’accueil général de cette réunion quadripartite met le doigt sur une revendication qui semble majoritaire en milieu chrétien: la création d’un espace de délibération interchrétien, un espace que le règles dites confessionnelles rejettent.

Notons aussi que le nouveau patriarche maronite a annoncé qu’il est prêt à rencontrer le secrétaire général du Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, afin d’entamer un véritable  dialogue avec lui et il avait préalablement rendu publique sa disposition à une visite pastorale en Syrie… Et s’il osait déclarer sa disposition de visiter Béthlehem, et petu-être plus tard Jerusalem et Nazareth pour une visite pastorale! A 71 ans révolus, Mgr Raï a déjà fait preuve de dynamise, et son énergie ne manquera pas de nous surprendre. Pourvu qu’elle suffira pour faire entrer son Eglise dans le 21 siècle.

Posted in Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Politics, Religion, Version Francophone | 9 Comments »

Can one morally condemn Israel?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/04/2011

How true is this equation?

Does the ferocious moral condemnation of Israel mark a recrudescence of the most ugly of Western diseases anti-Semitism? Or is it a legitimate, if crude, criticism of a nation’s policies? Where does one draw the line? How does one judge?” (Richard Bernstein, “The Word: the Ugly Rumour or an Ugly Truth?“, New York Times, August 4th 2002).

I stumbled on this quote today while reading an interesting book: Politics and Religion in France and the United States” (Hardgreaves, Kelsay & Twiss, Lexington books, Lanham 2007). The questions Richard Bernstein asks are blatantly rhetorical, they are not meant to be interrogative but exclamatory and accusatory. But if taken seriously, at face value, they will undoubtedly prove to be important (and even necessary) for all people interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

First, we should reformulate the question to rid it of its implicit accusation and its central slur. When Richard Bernstein speaks of “ferocious moral condemnation of Israel”, his informed public will undoubtedly read “Israel-bashing”, “singling out”, “unfair”, “biased”, “disproportionate” and “one-sidedness). He is actually implicitly referring to the familiar accusation of  “differential and discriminatory treatment of Israel. As Richard Bernstein only alludes to this argument, I’d rather set it aside and stick to the core of his question. If you are interested in a counter argument, check this article by Richard Kuper: Singling Out Israel. Now let’s grapple with the unwarranted smear: Anti-Semitism as a Western disease. There’s something explicitly essentialist and organicist in comparing anti-Semitism to a virus and labelling it “European”. It implies that a specific prejudice acts like a living organism, and an infective one too, always ready to multiply within a specific host, Europe. This metaphor is obviously misleading for a person who wants to understand the development of any prejudice, and even more for one who wants to fight it. So not only this metaphor makes insulting insinuations, but also nonproductive and to some extent counterproductive ones. After dealing with the implicit accusation and the explicit slur, let’s reformulate the first question in the following manner: “Is the moral condemnation of Israel legitimate or anti-Semitic? How can one draw the line? What does one judge?“. I won’t try to answer these three questions (I hope to do that another time), however, I’ll try to enumerate the other questions that need to be addressed in order to answer them:

1. Is any moral condemnation of Israel anti-Semitic? Many Israelis and supporters of Israel seem to think so. So it’s important to look into the reason behind their belief? Could it be a form of patriotism, a belief in Israeli exceptionalism, is it related to the holocaust…

2. What makes a moral condemnation of Israel anti-Semitic: the first question already takled two possible answers: the fact that it’s a moral condemnation or that it’s aimed at Israel. Here, we are left with three other possibilities: the language (or wording), the recurrence of the condemnation, the identity of its utterers?

Posted in Antisemitism, Discourse Analysis, Semantics | Leave a Comment »

Les duettistes chrétiens confirment leur mépris de l’électorat

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/04/2011


L’Orient-Le Jour illustre bien comment il est possible de couvrir une élection au sein d’un ordre professionnel en ignorant totalement la dimension professionnelle de ces élections! Et en donnant la voix exclusivement à des politiciens (qui ne participent pas au scrutin) pour une analyse 100% politicienne de l’élection. Bon, il est vrai que le scrutin était politicé… mais est-ce une raison suffisante pour ignorer totalement son caractère professionnel… et ses acteurs les plus directs? c’est à dire les candidats et les électeurs. Bon. Jettons un coup d’oeil sur ce que disent nos deux duettistes chrétiens (pour qui tout évènement est une occasion pour une partie à deux voix)…

Samir Geagea: « Mais ce qui est plus important que les résultats globaux, c’est que le nouveau président de l’ordre, Élie Bsaibès, a été élu par plus de 95 % des voix chiites, représentées par Amal et le Hezbollah, près de 25 % des sunnites, plus de 90 % des suffrages du PSP et moins de 40 % des voix chrétiennes. Donc, en dépit du résultat, nous considérons que nous avons été forts là où il le fallait et nous avons obtenu un chiffre meilleur que celui de l’année dernière au niveau de l’opinion chrétienne », a précisé le leader des FL, avant d’ajouter, non sans sarcasme : « D’où la nécessité de féliciter à la fois le nouveau président et le Hezbollah. »

L’électeur disparaît de l’analyse de Samir Geagea. A travers une analyse qui réduit les électeurs à des pourcentages confessionnels eux même attribués (ou assimilés) à des partis politiques. Cette lecture rend “normal” et évidente une mobilisation confessionnelle qui n’a rien de spontané ou d’évident. Elle est la conséquence d’une mobilisation communautaire nourris par la classe politique et les médias qu’elle contrôle. Suivant quelle dynamique et par quelle mécanique est-ce que des ingénieurs Chiites et Druzes votent aussi massivement pour les candidats appuyés par les Zu’ama qui parlent en leurs noms… C’est la question centrale que le commentaire de Geagea efface tout en nous donnant un élément de réponse par son assimilation de la victoire du nouveau président de l’ordre, Élie Bsaibès, à celle du Hezbollah.

Michel Aoun: « L’un de vos collègues a commenté cette victoire, pour plaisanter, en disant que la différence obtenue équivaut à un avion qui n’est pas arrivé à temps. Qu’ils rangent donc leurs dollars et cessent de les dépenser pour tenter d’acheter les consciences », a-t-il lancé. « Si Dieu le veut, nous espérons que ceux qui restent encore avec eux changeront d’avis à leur tour, parce que je m’étonne qu’ils aient encore autant de voix ».
Et pourtant “ils” ont réussi à récolter beaucoup de voix… alors pourquoi s’en étonner et prétendre que la seule explication résiderait dans l’achat de voix. D’abord, il est normal que les gens votent selon leur intérêt, alors pourquoi ne pas aller plus loin et se demander si et comment leurs intérêts seraient liés à ceux des politiciens du 14 mars. Et puis, les gens votent d’ordinaire selon leurs convictions… Alors on peut vraisemblablement croire qu’une majorité d’ingénieurs a voté par conviction pour le candidat appuyé par la coalition du 14 mars (qui comprend les quatre plus anciennes formations chrétiennes, et le plus puissant (financièrement) réseau clientéliste du pays). Au lieu de s’étonner du relatif succès électoral du 14 mars, il devrait plutôt essayer de le comprendre. Et il devrait aussi se demander pourquoi le candidat qu’il appuie n’a pas réussi à convaincre une majorité d’ingénieurs chrétiens. Est-ce que c’est un échec (relatif) de ce candidat, ou un échec (relatif) du CPL ou de Michel Aoun?

Posted in Discourse Analysis, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Politics, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »

Can one find the “Israeli Peace Initiative”® appealing?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/04/2011

Ten days ago, a group of Israeli business executives and public figures (including the former heads of Shin Bet and the Mossad, and a former IDF Chief of Staff), proposed a plan to end the Israeli-Arab conflict: they modestly called it the Israeli Peace Initiative (considering it’s nonofficial, call this naming wishful thinking). Up to now, not much attention was given to a proposal that seems like a “regional version” of the “Geneva Accords”. In its content, it doesn’t actually offer anything new. It’s a simple variation on the “land for peace” principle that has been the dominant peace paradigm since the drafting of the UNSC resolution 242 in 1967.

The only “novelty” in this proposal is that it presents itself as a “response to the Arab Peace Initiative (API)” which was is the Arab League’s first public endorsement of the “Land for Peace” principle (during the Beirut Summit in 2002, and then during the Riyad Summit in 2007 when it re-adopted the API without altering it). The endorsement of the “Land for Peace” principle is not the most significant element in the Arab Peace Initiative. What matters the most is that it showed the Arab states’ common willingness to recognize Israel…

Likewise, the “Israeli Peace Initiative” most significant feature is that it believes time is playing against Israel, and that it was critical for the Israeli government to revive negotiations.

What’s wrong with the “Land for Peace” principle?
I personally believe that the problem lies in the fact that it proposes a solution to the conflict without addressing the dynamics behind the conflict, and the dynamics that the conflict has created. Moreover, this principle doesn’t “solve” a conflict, but actually proposes a principle for settlement that covers three distinct conflictual dynamics:

  1. Interstate conflicts: two conflicts have already been been solved – Israel-Egypt & Israel-Jordan – and two conflicts remain – Lebanon-Israel & Syria-Israel. In this case, the territorial element is obvious, and the “land for peace” formulae has proven to be efficient in solving two conflicts, and it will undoubtedly prove itself when an agreement will be reached regarding the two remaining interstate conflicts. And the reason is actually very simple, the “land for peace” principles actually translates to an old & agreed principle in interstate relations (and law), that of territorial sovereignty.
  2. The Israeli-Palestinian problem: in this case territory is obviously an issue, but it is not the central one. The central issue is the relation between people (individuals and groups). The 1947 partition plan tried to offer a two state solution to this conflict: this could have allowed a territorial solution to the conflict were it accepted by the two parties, but it was actually refused by both (explicitly by the Palestinian side and implicitly by the Israeli side through the conquest of additional land). Moreover, the successive Israel governments have actually imposed a one state solution to the conflict since 1967 through a policy of land control, ethnic engineering and legal disenfranchisement). Trying to solve such a conflict “territorially” without looking into the people’s needs and grievances is both unrealistic and unethical. The problem here is between people that a particularly unkind history has shaped. So before looking into a “territorial settlement” (and this requires a search for the legal grounds underlying this principle, and the mechanisms of its implementation), one should remember that people have rights… and start addressing these issues.
  3. Refugees problem (Palestinians refugees and Jewish refugees): Here too, one should concentrate on the human dimension of the problem. It’s not about territory, it’s about people.

What are the dynamics that should be addressed?

Use of force to attain gains. Violence pays! and it pays pretty well. It has allowed the Jewish state established in 1948 to expand territorially and demographically, to reverse the ethnic balance, to reallocate wealth and redistribute property. Violence was necessary for the creation of a Jewish State (in a hostile environment), and necessary for its expansion.
Likewise, violence has served the Palestinian leadership well. There were no legal or political ways for it to assert itself, to expand the national movement and make its aspirations heard. That is true in the Palestinian Refugee camps and in the West Bank and Gaza. The only place where rights could be fought for legally (but not always successfully) was within Israel because some Palestinians still residing there were granted Israeli citizenship… Moreover, violence proved particularly instrumental for the Palestinian political parties to impose themselves after loosing an election (Fatah) or to assert their political rights (Hamas).

– Discrimination and ethnic engineering. This too has worked quite well. For all States in the Middle East. Discriminated and hostility toward Jews has not only resulted in the massive immigration of Arab-speaking Jews, but from the obliteration of their existence in the national narrative. This started in Palestine in the beginning of the 20th century and was followed by all the national ideologies in the Near East. Lebanon has enshrined discrimination against Palestinians in its constitution. Most countries in the Near East define themselves as ethnic states, leaving no place for national minorities in their narrative (the only notable example is today’s Iraq): Israel sees itself as a Jewish state (i.e. a State for Jews), Syria and Lebanon as Arab states (withstanding the notable presence of Armenians, Kurds and Syriacs…), Egypt as a Muslim Arab state and Turkey as a Turkish state (i.e. a State for Muslim Turks)… Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Israel have actively practiced ethnic engineering: Turkey and Israel against Arabs; Syria, Iraq and Turkey against Kurds.

What can be done?

If we want to end the conflict, instead of looking for ONE solution that offers a package deal we should be looking into the grievances and trying to neutralise the dynamics behind the conflict.

  1. Delegitimise violence: That doesn’t happen by simply condemning it! It can only happen once the gains that were done through violence are denounced and once propers institutions (or mechanisms) are establish that could allow the reversal of these gains. In other words, propers institutions should be established that would allow the expression of grievances and the pursuit of legitimate claims.
  2. Protect identities and respect difference: The protection of one’s identity is obviously a legitimate aim, but not all methods of protection are right. Wanting the protect Jewish identity in Israel, or Christian identity in Lebanon, or Arab identity in Syria, or Turkish identity in Turkey are legitimate concerns. But the means to attain it ceases to be legitimate when it’s carried through at the expense of another group. And up to now, Kurds are suffering from it in Syria and Turkey, Palestinians are suffering from it Lebanon and Israel, Arab-speakers are suffering from it in Turkey…
  3. Create institutions that respect difference: All countries in the Middle East are ethnically diverse and yet have discriminatory policies. Only two countries, albeit particularly dysfunctional, have up to now created a political system that respects difference: Lebanon (since 1926) and Iraq (since 2003). In Israel, a Palestinian-Israeli although offered equal citizenship can only watch Israeli politics as a bystander because the ethnic majority doesn’t allow him a space within the national debate that it defines as jewish.
  4. Start a healing process by working on common interests… Common interests are central to the Middle East agreements that have been promoted by the United States since the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt (in 1979). However, they do not support a healing process because the peace treaties have not created the proper institutions that deal with grievances.

Posted in Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Middle East, Palestinian territories, Palestinians, Peace, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Reconciliation, Turkey, Violence | Leave a Comment »

Political discourse needs some spring cleaning

Posted by worriedlebanese on 10/04/2011

I was quite shocked when I read the Bil’in Popular Committee’s press release following the assassination of Juliano Mer-Khamis. It read:

The popular committees against the wall and israeli occupation express their deep sadness and sorrow to the murder that happened in Jenine today against the activist and director Juliano.
The popular committees see this act as part of the escalation politics exercised by israeli occupation. These politics permits such horrific acts. Therefore, we hold the israeli occupation accountable and fully responsible for such acts. […] Regardless that this act was committed on an occupied land , we believe that the killing of Juliano only serves Israeli interests”.

The saddest thing about this press release is that it is not even “tailor made” to suit the particular case. It obeys a abstract and rigid format that could apply and is applied to all crimes or heinous acts. The standards were set by oppressive regimes and their servile media across the Middle East. If any violent act with political repercussions is made, it is always convenient to accuse Israel, to denounce its regime and consider it accountable for any similar act… and finally end the statement by saying that this act serves Israeli interests.

It is very said to witness a dynamic and young NGOs fighting for a just cause (ending occupation and Israeli encroachment on Palestinian land), such as Bil’in Popular Committee, repeating that discourse and parrotting those regimes.

Not everything can be blamed on Israeli policies (occupation and violent escalation). Isn’t there enough stuff one can rightly blame israeli occupation and violence for? Doing it systematically on things that cannot be directly attributed to israeli acts and policies only discredit legitimate accusations and denunciations!

Affirming that Juliano Mer Khamis was probably killed by the same people who had repeatedly threatened him, and denouncing the violent and intolerant groups within Palestinian society that should be held accountable for such crimes is not a sign of weakness but an important step toward strengthening Palestinian society, deepening its understanding of pluralism and diversity and liberating it from the forces of oppression (be they local or foreign).

Posted in Discourse, Israel, Journalism, Palestinians, Violence | Leave a Comment »