Worried Lebanese

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Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category

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 »

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 »

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 »

Politics as an artistic performance or a happening

Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/04/2010

Three thousand participants. That’s quite a number for an artistic performance. And let’s not forget the viewers who saw images of this event on their TVs or in their mail box. The organisers should be proud of their achievement. I truly believe that this activity should have been integrated to Ashkal Alwan’s forum on Cultural Practices “Home Works 5” (more on that in the coming days). But how significant is it politically? what meaning does it have? and what does it say about our politics?

The political significance of an artistic performance
As expected, the 4 months of preparations weren’t enough to clarify the message and the demands of this demonstration. People joined with no contraints, no program, no structure… only one common enemy “al-ta2ifya”, a Lebanese catch-word that is used to describe everything that’s wrong in the country. Each person could bring along his or her banner, board or sign; shout the slogans we’ve been hearing for almost a century with the impression that something revolutionary and new was being done.
This show-performance reminded me of those that I very willingly (and happily) attended in 2005: the midweek and the thematic sunday marches. They were less participatory (everything was prepared for us) and consequently more uniform (at least visually). But the feel-good atmosphere, the self-satisfaction that exuded from them was present today. But back in 2005, these performances enjoyed a large political support (i.e. they were sponsored by first rank politicans on both sides of the spectrum) and were organised with the help of Ad agencies (which made them visually very appealing and gave their cristal clear slogans a very sexy edge).
But these demonstrations gathered hundreds of thousands of people and reached a million on several occasions. They gave people the impression that their voice matters and that they not only could express themselves freely, but that this public expression of opinion could have a significant effect. For a very long time, the Lebanese were prevented from taking to the streets. Rafic Hariri prevented any kind of social protest, and the Syrians banned all political protests. The 2005 demonstrations signified that things had changed. People could once again demonstrate, voice their complaints and even bring governments down (or is this restricted to governments headed by Omar Karamé, a guy who holds two titles: son of a Prime Minister like Saad H. and martyr’s brother like Bahia H.). The downside of these demonstrations was their numbers. They were so monstrously high that they dwarfed demonstrations of other kinds, making them politically insignificant. That was the paradox of the 2005 demonstrations. They opened up the public space to social and political mobilisation while practically restricting them to two players: Mustaqbal and Hezbollah.


There is nothing wrong with artistic performances. Calling Laïque Pride by that name is in no way demeaning. Performances are mant to express something before an audience, something meaningful, to intrigue the public, to engage it. And that’s exactly what Laïque Pride achieved. It also showed the limits of political protests without big sponsors and ad agencies. It also showed that demonstrating against the most shared prejudice in Lebanon (الطائفية), the biggest political insult that is used against a politician or a system  (طائفي) can only mobilise a limited number of people. Could Laïque Pride have been anything more than an artistic performance? Probably not.

Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Culture, Democracy, Discourse, Lebanon | Leave a Comment »

The need to expand and subdivide Beirut

Posted by worriedlebanese on 19/02/2010

Greater Beirut (don't mind the colours) courtesy of the AUB

What is needed: For more than thirty years, people have been talking about Greater-Beirut. The question was raised about the same time as other metropolitan areas throughout the world were discussing their expansion.

Since then, Greater London came into being, Paris got itself a Mayor and there is talk of creating a Greater Paris… As for Beirut… nothing new on the horizon. The Lebanese capital is exemplary in its provincialism, corruption, mismanagement,  underdevelopment, lack of democracy,  and paucity in social and cultural services.

A couple of weeks ago, the FPM proposed to subdivide the capital into three municipalities, reinforcing the Prefect’s power (a non-elected state official subordinate to the Minister of Interior) and stip the mayor of Beirut of the very little power he actually has. This is certainly the sloppiest proposal for change any party could make. It was interpreted as a step toward “partition”, and an attack on “sunni interests” (the mayor has been traditionally reserved for a sunni since the 1940s, and the whole municipal council has been part of the Hariri clan’s private preserve since the late 1990s).

So here is a proposal that would have been easier to accept and that would have started a new and positive dynamic: the creation of the municipality of Greater Beirut, in which the capital is expanded, northwards, eastwards and southwards to include all of Beirut’s close suburbs. This expansion will integrate into the municipality: industrial, recreational and residential areas, that would allow Beirut to offer more services to its inhabitants. Its population will undoubtedly triple, while its surface will almost be multiplied by 10.

With the necessary administrative and electoral reforms that would accompany this move, an area such as “Dahié” would finally be integrated to the center and not remain peripheral. This would undoubtedly change the dynamic between sunnis and shiites.

What we are getting: The idiotic consensus surrounding the principle of proportionate representation seems to have infected the government that has decided to apply this principle (heavily funded by the European Union and promoted as our panacea with no real debate surrounding it) to the municipal elections. Beirut will neither be subdivided nor expanded. The parity between Muslim and Christian council members will be lost, because it was ensured by an informal agreement that is neutralised by the principle of proportionate representation. Instead of the 50% christian/50% muslim, it is more likely that we’ll have a 60% muslim, 40% christian division of the municipal council (if the sunni opposition to Hariri is neutralised), or possibly  65% to 70 % muslim share if the sunni “traditional” families and islamists receive the same support as they did in 2004. The Hariri clan will undoubtedly  keep its control of the city. With the proportionate law, they can hope for 50 to 60% of the municipal council and the mayor. Most of the inhabitants of Beirut will remain disenfranchised, public services will remain poor and the divide between “Beirut” and “Dahie” will remain as strong as ever.

Posted in Democracy, Diversity, Lebanon, Propositions | 3 Comments »

Laïque pride… can this civil initiative be saved?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 07/12/2009

In an earlier post, I alluded to this new civil initiative that made quite a buzz on the Lebanese blogosphere a couple of weeks ago. And the general excitement surrounding it doesn’t seem to be abating. You can find “Laïque Pride” on facebook, twitter, over-blog.

The version you see here was rewritten on December 9th. I found the original draft too aggressive and pontifical and couldn’t leave it that way (If you’re feeling masochistic enough or miss your preacher, you can check it out in the comment section).

Anyway, let’s get back to our business. What seems to be a growing number of Lebanese citizens are getting ready to hit the streets on April 25th 2010. They intend to march for the establishment of a secular state in Lebanon. That’s pretty nice, but there’s something that doesn’t seem too right with this initiative.

The whole approach is very dogmatic. What do they mean by secularism? How can they translate that in practical terms. A quick look at their declaration of intent shows that several of their demands already  exist and others are so extremely abstract that one wonders if they are little more than abstract principles or ideological slogans.

To paraphrase Elvis, I’d say a little bit less ideology, a little more pragmatism please. Forget about the anti-confessionalist rhetoric that we’ve been brought up with and look at the dynamics of our political and legal system. If you want change, target specific goals! It’s only by pinpointing specific problems in our system that we can solve them, putting ideology on the shelf and tackling one issue at a time (or at least separately). Each target needs a different strategy. Let’s be realistic! With such a declaration, what could the outcome of the march possibly be? collective unwinding and a public release of pressure… is it worth working for months and mobilising so many for a simple فشت خلق ?

Here are a couple of targets that I would work on:

  • Fight State censorship. Why not rally for the abolishment of the censorship committee within the Interior Ministry? Why not replace it by a rating system like in the US? Sure Tareq Mitri mentioned this once or twice (when he was minister of culture), and Ziad Baroud did too… But is that enough? Come on! Wouldn’t it be more profitable to march for the abolishment of this censorship committee (in which the religious establishment participates without any habilitation to do so). Shouldn’t we be telling our politicians that we refuse any kind of “tutelage”. Couldn’t we actually contravene systematically to this law? Obviously we can. But people seem to lack the courage to do so. It’s much more comfortable to uphold abstract ideals than actually fight for specific rights.
  • Respond to the religious establishment’s interference in public affairs and criticize politicians who seek backing from the religious establishment. Why not meet with politicians and clergymen to discuss these issues. Why not protest when their behaviour shocks you? Why didn’t anyone do anything when the Prime Minister asked the Maronite Patriarche to nominate candidates to the Lebanese presidency? Why doesn’t anyone remind the State authorities (Baroud, Hariri and Najjar) that Sunni and Shiite preachers are not allowed by law to give a political opinion when they preach because they are civil servants…
  • March to pressure the State into adopting a legislation for the Secular community (Communauté de droit commun). People tend to forget that the very law that recognised the different communities also recognised the existence of a secular community (communauté de droit commun). The legal provision already exists. This community is already recognised! All that is needed is to establish its legislation (and why not, its institutions, if you want it to be independent from the conservative thugs that are in parliament)! So why not pressure the government and the parliament to finally enact the laws that were promised over 70 years ago?!

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Blogosphere, Civil Society, Communication, Democracy, Discourse, Diversity, Idiosyncrasy 961, Lebanon, Reform, Religion, Secularism | 12 Comments »

Government formation… find the hoax?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 18/11/2009

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

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

I. Foreign Meddling

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

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

II. Institutional shortcomings

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

So I have two mutually exclusive proposals:

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

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

III. Complexity of the  political game

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

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

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

IV. Encampment of our civil society

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

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

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

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

How they helped defeat Farouk Hosny (the story)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/09/2009

The nine original candidates. Housny is the second guy from the left (with dyed hair)

The 9 original candidates. Housny is second from left

Before delving into the analysis, let’s set the record straight. I won’t be looking into the dirty politics behind these elections. I do have some crusty insider information on some dirty play, but it’s closer to gossip than meaningful information, and strictly off topic. What we’ll be looking into is the public debate that surrounded these elections. I believe it had an incidence on the final outcome: Irina Bokova’s election to the post of Director General of UNESCO. But there is no way to prove this fact.

Interestingly enough, the reasons behind Farouk Hosny’s defeat are not of much interest. They will leave no trace in the public conscience. On the other hand, the fierce debate surrounding this election will undoubtedly mark those who feel envolved in the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Let’s start with a quick look at the five rounds that brought Farouk Hosni to his defeat. If you’re interested in more details, check out this blog.

  • Results of the 5 rounds

    Candidate Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Round 5
    Farouk Hosny 22 23 25 29 27
    Irina Bokova 8 8 13 29 31
    Benita Ferrero-Waldner 7 9 11 0 0
    Ivonne Baki 7 8 9 0 0
    Ina Marciulionyte 3 4 0 0 0
    Alexander Yakovenko 7 3 0 0 0
    Noureini Tidjani-Serpos 2 2 0 0 0
    Sospeter Muhongo 1 1 0 0 0
    Mohammed Bedjaoui 0 0 0 0 0
    Blank 1 0 0 0 0
    Total 58 58 58 58 58

As the figures clearly show, Farouk Hosni was the leading contestant up to the fifth round. His candidacy was supported by the Arab League, the African Union, and the Organization for the Islamic Conference. It was backed by France and unopposed (though grudgingly) by Israel. So what happened? If you’re interested in geopolitics, check out what Stephen Suleyman Schwartz had to say about it. I’d rather look into one campaign that picked up speed and was given more media attention than any other story in these elections: that of Bernard-Henri Lévy (alias BHL, alias BHV) relayed on the net through Save Unesco!, a blog started by “French students in political science” that was deleted earlier today (but here is the cached copy). Much can be said about Bernard-Henri Levy and the anonymous group of French students, but I will focus on the issues that they raised, and they are identical. Instead of supporting one specific candidate, they attacked the Egyptian candidate on three main issues

  • Antisemitism. This accusation springs from a misquoted statement on burning Israeli books found in Egyptian libraries (a statement Farouk Hosny later apologised for in his “message to the world“). BHL reinterpreted this statement as a vow “to burn with his own hands any book in Hebrew that could have possibly infiltrated the stacks of the Alexandria Library”.
  • An alleged involvement in the Achille Lauro Hijacking affair.  
  • Responsibility as Minister of Culture (for over two decades) in the crackdown of liberties and freedom of expression in Egypt.

So, is Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace price laureate, right when he says “UNESCO has escaped a scandal, a moral disaster. Mr. Hosni did not deserve the job he does not deserve this honor  tomorrow”. Can we agree with BHL when he says “We have won. Liberty has won. Tolerance has won. And thanks to all of you, respect has won. I’d like to thank you, net surfers, for engaging in this battle for democracy and peace. Thanks to all who refused the unacceptable and who allowed for this beautiful victory”. That’s what we’ll be looking into tomorrow.

Posted in Antisemitism, Blogosphere, Civil Society, Communication, Conspiracy, Culture, Democracy, Egypt, Geopolitics, Israel, Political behaviour, Semantics, Values | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

How they build their coalition governments

Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/09/2009

lebanon-cartoon-which-diretcionLet’s first start by answering three questions:
Why compare? The reason is fairly simple, there are many benefits to it. Comparisons can help us understand the difficulties of cabinet formation (and distinguish structural problems from contextual ones). Comparisons can help us reframe our expectations. Comparisons can help us determine where the problems lie. Comparisons offer us solutions others have figured out to solve similar problems.
Why choose Belgium, Israel and Northern Ireland? These countries have recurrently faced problems in cabinet formation. But the difficulties they encountered are not the same.
In Belgium, their is a deep division between Walloons and Flemish parties. So during the cabinet formation process, you have to please parties belonging to both groups, which isn’t always easy, even when the parties belong to the same ideological family, because the parties’ constituencies are not the same. Each communal group has its priorities and its perspective. Negotiations can take time (in the case of Belgium, it took 196 days in 2007), and they can be facilitated through arbitration (by the King or an appointee of his).
Israel on the other hand is extremely efficient in cabinet formation although all of its governments have recently been coalition governments bringing together parties that have deep disagreements (ex: secularists and religious parties, leftists and rightists…). Some of the parties even have distinct communal constituencies (ex: Shass, Yisrael B’alya, NRP). What helps the process is the absence of polarisation (there are many parties and each party negotiates alone), the absence of communal power-sharing rules (between Jews and non-Jews or between the different sectors of the Jewish community) and an agreement on several basic rules in cabinet formation: proportionality according to parliamentary weight, each party chooses its ministers, no veto power for any party on the inclusion.
Northern Ireland’s example is rather interesting too. In this case, the largest problem was that one of the largest political formations in the country was armed (Sinn Féin-IRA), and had refused to disband because the Irish police force was in the hand of the rival communal group, and it considered that the British Army was in favour of that group. So the United Kingdom brokered a decommissioning plan that was linked to the participation of the political branch of the party to the government of Northern Ireland (the Northern Ireland Executive). After this was done, the basic rule for cabinet formation was that of proportionality between government weight and parliamentary weight within a broad and cross-communal “national-unity government”. This being said, tensions are still recurrent and this has lead the British government to suspend the Northern Ireland Executive for several years!
What can we learn from these examples or others? Cabinet formation takes time in plural societies, especially if they are polarised, because the process has to take into account an extremely large number of elements that have to be negotiated, mainly:

  • the choice of the Prime minister
  • the number and the identity of parties that will partake in the government,
  • the government’s program (national priorities),
  • allocation of seats,
  • distribution of portfolios,
  • choice of ministers.

The existence of rules can facilitate or complicate the formation of governments. Rules can be formalised (explicitly by law) or not. Formalised rules can abridge negotiations by limiting their scope. Rules that are not formalised could have the same effect, and they have the advantage of adapting to change. On the hand, opinions can differ on the interpretation of tules. The more there are disagreements on rules, the longer time it will take to get to a consensus. That’s why the existence of an arbitrator is essential. This arbitrator not only breaks the deadlock, but he gives an authoritative interpretation of the rule (formal and informal). It is important for the system to spell out the facilitating rules and to replace or prohibit the complicating rules. Tomorrow, we’ll look into the complicating factors in Lebanon and ways they could be rationalised (we’ll look into Boris Mirkine-Guetzevitch’s approach to how parliamentarism can be rationalised).

Posted in Culture, Democracy, Diversity, Intercommunal affairs, Israel, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics, Propositions | 3 Comments »

Something fishy about the cabinet formation process

Posted by worriedlebanese on 09/09/2009

96667988211Hariri Jr has replaced several of his political aids during the past few months with new ones. But he seems to remain rather ill advised. How can you explain his recent move?

1- He informs the President of the new draft he has prepared (in accordance with the 15-10-5 formula).
2- He doesn’t inform neither his electoral allies nor his electoral “rivals” of how he allocated the seats.
3-The composition of the proposed cabinet is leaked to the press.

Such an approach is unheard of in the history of coalition governments. It comes closer to how things are done for the composition of a majority government in which an undisputed leader (usually a president, but sometimes a chancellor or Prime Minister) chooses who (s)he wants for whatever position (s)he wants within the ranks of his/her party (or even another one if (s)he so chooses, like we have witnessed recently in France and the US). So how could Saad Hariri have mistaken these two approaches? How didn’t he predict that his rivals and allies would both reject this approach?

There are two possibilities:

  • either he failed to predict an obvious outcome, which can only mean that he is incompetent, imprudent and badly advised. Let’s go beyond the accusations and see why this could be the case.
    • Father image. Rafik Hariri used to do the same consultations, hear each party out (including the Syrian authorities who used to impose on him their requests), and then decide on a composition and hand it out to the Syrian authorities who informed their allies, heard their complaints and then arbitrated between the disagreeing sides. This system pleased everyone and was highly effective. The composition of governments were not a problem. The Syrians had their way and Rafic Hariri could play the Sultan even though he received a couple of humiliating bows on the way. Saad Hariri is replicating his father’s behaviour. But he know that times had change and that there is no longer a powerful arbitrator. But does he believe that this enables him to play the Sultan, like his father?
    • Misreading of the political situation. Could each camp believe all the nonsense it is producing to feed its public? This is quite possible. We know authoritarian regimes suffered from that because their press had no independence whatsoever, indulged in its biased opinions and invested a lot of time in flattery & political overbidding. Even though Lebanon is far from being autocratic, the function of the press is quite similar to the one found in authoritarian regimes, only instead of working for the Regime, they work  for (or take sides with) a leadership or camp.

      Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Communication, Democracy, Diversity, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Politics | Leave a Comment »

No Presidential share in government! Some reasons why Michel Suleiman shouldn’t get any!

Posted by worriedlebanese on 21/08/2009

Suleiman-haifaEver since the process for the formation of a new government started, pundits have been discussing the Presidents share; how large its going to be, and who is likely to be part of it. At first, analysts wondered if the President’s share could be neutral, given the extreme polarisation of Lebanese politics, or if it will bring together people from both sides of the spectrum. Then the magic formula appeared: 15 (for March XIV® and allies), 10 (for the Opposition®) – 5 (for the President). The political class had agreed to increase the President’s share from 3 to 5! This was presented as a measure to reinforce the presidency that was much weakened by the constitutional amendments agreed upon in Taef. Unsurprisingly, analysts were easily convinced by this unanimous decision & argument. No one seemed to question its appropriateness, its pertinence or its constitutionality. But don’t worry, things are going to change! I’m going to share with you a couple of good reasons why their shouldn’t be any “presidential share” in any cabinet!

Here are 5 good reasons why the President shouldn’t have a share in government.Suleiman_Election

Having a share neutralises his constitutional function as arbitrator. Being able to swing from one to another in a cabinet vote is not arbitration, it’s taking sides.

  1. Being part of the government weakens his authority. It’s not about numbers and positions, it’s about being on another level! He should assert his moral authority and stay above the political fray.
  2. Having ministers means that he accepts to be like all the other political players, but with one notable difference, he will be the only one who cannot count on a group of MPs.
  3. By having a share, he complicates and circumvents two rules of coalition formation : the proportionality rule and the consociational rule.
  4. By accepting to have a share, he affirms the mouhassassa and mahsoubié principle.

What the President should do.

At this point of time, he should set the rules behind the composition of the government by arbitrating between the opposing contentions, and innovating. There is no agreement on the three dimensions of coalition buildings. The political class still hasn’t defined definitive rules for distributing share and portfolios, picking ministers and setting a common program. Now these issues are quite complex, and they are never formulated in legal terms so as not to complicate even more the process. But when disagreements run so deep, an arbitrator is needed. Why go to Damascus, to Riyad or to Doha to find an arbitrator? why not simply go to Baabda.

Here are a couple of principles that the President should arbitrate on:

  • Can a candidate who lost the parliamentary elections become minister? People are thinking about Gebran Bassil, but there are others, and I’m thinking of Ahmad Asaad, for instance. I personally believe Asaad should become Minister even though he lost during the elections… This would ensure a political diversity within the Shiite representation. And then, is it fair to exclude from the government people who lost during the elections without equally excluding politicians who didn’t dare run because they were almost sure to loose?
  • Should the different Zuama stick to naming people from within their ranks or can they name people from outside their ranks? such as “independents” or “allies”.
  • Does anyone have a veto power on the nomination of ministers within each share?

Posted in Democracy, Discourse, Diversity, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Reform, Values | Leave a Comment »

Anti-Confessionalism: a state ideology

Posted by worriedlebanese on 04/08/2009

Music4massesThis is not a joke. Anti-confessionalism is a state ideology. It might sound shocking to many ears, but I believe it is actually indisputable. Will this sketchy demonstration you are about to read convince you? I hope so. This blog is certainly not the place for a meticulous study of this surprising and counterintuitive feature. But it will allow me to point out quite broadly a couple of arguments that are usually overlooked by most analysts. And then you’ll do the math.

First, I’d like to remind the reader that the Lebanese political system was not founded on a single pre-existing ideology or political theory that one could call “confessionalism”. This is usually the case with state ideologies. Let’s take the example of the United State (where federalism and democracy were theorised before they were implemented), France (where the basic elements of republicanism were theorised before the overthrow of the Monarchy), the Soviet Union (with communism) and closer to us, Syria (where Baasism was theorised before the establishment of the Baasist regime) and Israel (where Zionism was theorised half a century before the establishment of the State). In all these cases, we find thinkers, intellectuals or theorists who pondered over a regime before its establishment. This is not the case of Lebanon. No thinker, intellectual or theorist reflected on the country’s communal reality and how it could be translated politically before the establishment of the political system or regime (the Constitution of 1926). Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Civil Society, Democracy, Discourse, Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Politics, Values | 2 Comments »

The Paradoxes of AntiConfessionalism (an introduction)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 02/08/2009

anti-confessionalismAntiConfessionalism! The word seems easy to grasp. The prefix and suffix speak for themselves. Intuitively, one could assume that anticonfessionalism is antonymous & opposed to a specific system, principle, ideology: confessionalism. Up to now things might seem pretty clear. But when you look a bit closer, you discover something completely different. It’s actually quite hard to oppose anti-confessionalism to confessionalism. It’s like opposing black and white. Sure it’s a common assumption that black is the opposite of white, but it doesn’t tell you much about one or the other, and so the opposition turns out to be meaningless.

I have already dealt with the issue of anticonfessionalism two years ago (albeit hysterically) through a “hate mail” sent to Amam05 posted here. The arguments haven’t changed, but maybe I should restate them more serenely.

We might have many bad intellectual habits in Lebanon, but anti-confessionalism is unmistakably the worst. If you’re looking for insight, learning, critical engagement… keep away from anti-confessional literature. On the other hand, if you’re looking for repetitive prose, dogmatism, distilled ideology, decontextualised constructions, baseless assumptions, groundless accusations… Then you should definitely check out the many books, articles and declarations written on confessionalism.

At first, I thought it would be possible to discuss this issue in one post, but judging from the reactions I’m getting, I think it better to discuss one paradox at a time.

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Civil Society, Culture, Democracy, Discourse, Diversity, Education, Identity, Idiosyncrasy 961, Lebanon, Pluralism, Politics, Religion, Secularism, Speculation, Values | 11 Comments »

Lebanese Confessional-Republicanism 101

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/07/2009

Slate explainerThe Lebanese political system is quite muddling. Most people who discuss it either ignore some of its basic rules and principles, or oversimplify and distort them beyond recognition. Political discussion is marred by ideology. So it’s always useful to state our political system’s basic rules and principles. Once this is done, it becomes quite clear how hybrid it is with its mix of “communal” principles and “republican” principles. Most analysts only see the first set of principles and ignore the second set. We need to look into Lebanon’s “confessional” rules and principles so as to untangle these two set of principles and see how they intertwine.

A glimpse at our constitution rules and principles.

  • The principle of “confessional representation” تمثيل طائفي (Article 95) is a misnomer, the principle is actually a set of rules for multiconfessional participation قوقعد للاشتراك المتعدد طائفيآ . It introduces quotas to the public sphere. By law, it has three implications: in Parliament, in government and in the public administration. Most analysts see it as a collective right, but in fact it’s not. The rights are not given to communities, but to individuals who belong to certain communities. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Democracy, Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Politics | 11 Comments »

Peut-on casser l’oligarchie quadripartite?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/07/2009

3434948018_78d2ef7c12Sous l’angle de la distribution et de l’exercice du pouvoir au Liban, la division Quatorze Mars/8 mars n’a pas beaucoup de sens. Sa seule pertinence semble se situer au niveau des alliances géopolitiques, mais également au niveau d’une partie de la base populaire qui y croit. Le pouvoir au Liban est partagé entre quatre réseaux clientélistes qui s’appuient sur de nombreuses ressources: financières, bancaires, institutionnelles, locales, étatiques, étrangères…

L’oligarchie quadripartite: les monopoles politiques en milieu musulman
Ces réseaux sont tous confessionnels: deux chiites, un druze et un sunnite. Trois d’entre eux s’appuient, au besoin, sur leurs armes. A cet égard, le Hezbollah est le plus convainquant, suivi par le PSP et puis Amal, comme l’ont démontré “les événements du 7 mai” 2008. Certe, les pressions géopolitiques les obligent à une rivalité, mais celle-ci restre exceptionnelle et circonscrite sur le plan local. D’ailleurs, même en période de crise extrême la collaboration entre ces quatre réseaux continue. Pour ne citer que quelques exemples: les versements au Conseil du Sud ont continué durant la période de démission non-acceptée des ministres d’Amal… les périmètres de sécurité du Hezbollah sont continuellement respectés… la force de police est “équitablement” partagée entres les différents réseaux… Chacun est satisfait de sa part, et s’accommode de la part de l’autre. Toutefois, cette “rivalité” appuyé par l’étranger à trois conséquences malheureuses: elle renforce la mobilisation communautaire, elle consolide les réseaux clientélistes et elle envenime les rapports entre les membres des trois principales communautés sur lesquels ces réseaux s’appuient.

Ces trois conséquences n’auraient pas pu être neutralisées ou affaiblies par les élections en 2005  (sous le signe de l’alliance) et en 2009 (sous le signe de la “compétition”)… Au contraire, elles les ont consacrés ou reconduits.

La compétition politique en milieu chrétien
Les Syriens ont soutenu l’oligarchie quadripartite dans sa conquête et son renforcement du pouvoir. Du côté chrétiens, seuls des réseaux confessionnel locaux ont été autorisés et soutenus. Depuis 2005, deux stratégies différentes s’offraient aux chrétiens pour intégrer le système politique libanais tel que: l’intégrer en tant que “juniors partner(s)” ou transformer l’oligarchie quadripartite en oligarchie pentapartite. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Democracy, Discourse, Diversity, Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Journalism, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics, Reform, Values, Version Francophone | 2 Comments »