Worried Lebanese

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Archive for the ‘Geopolitics’ Category

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

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/06/2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why isn’t Mitchell on our side?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 04/05/2010

Please excuse me for sounding childish, but I’ve been around a lot of children lately and their influence is starting to show on me! And so I ask myself and I ask you. Why isn’t George Mitchell on our side. You’ve certainly noticed the US’ envoy to the Middle East criss cross the region trying to rekindle the flames of peace. And you undoubtedly know that Mitchell is of Lebanese descent. His mother was born in the southern tip of Mount Lebanon, and his adoptive father seems to have  also been Lebanese. The former Senator from Maine was raised a Maronite and served in a Diasporic Lebanese catholic church as an Alter boy; St Joseph Church in Waterville is attended by some 150 Lebanese families. So objectively, his ties with Lebanon are very much there. However, it doesn’t seem to influence much his approach to peace in the Middle East. He doesn’t speak much of Lebanon’s interests and I believe Beirut is the capital he has visited the least in the region. Why is that so? and can anything be done about it? Maybe you can help me answer these two questions. I can’t help but think of another person who held the same post as Mitchell a couple of years back: Dennis Ross. Dennis Ross was raised in a secular atmosphere with a non religious yet religiously diverse family but became religiously Jewish after the 6 day war. He never hid his zionist leanings and now works in a think-tank financed and operated by the Jewish Agency. The contrast between the two men is striking, don’t you think.

Can Mitchell defend Lebanese interests?

Now this is a difficult question. I don’t see why in theory he cannot do it. Didn’t Dennis Ross defend Israeli interests saying that they coincided with American interests. But when we look at the practicality of that defense we notice huge difficulties.

  1. What are Lebanese interests? No higher authority has ever defined Lebanese interests. Actually, one had… President Chamoun in the late 1950s, and President Frangieh in the early 1970s but on both occasions hell broke loose. After the first occasion, the Lebanese neutrality doctrine was established. If you look into it, you will undoubtedly find better adapted qualifications for that foreign policy doctrine (such as passive, incoherent, vacuous, fearful… and not really neutral: the state is directly envolved in the most destructive regional conflict and serves mostly as a willing punching ball or a coy catalyst). It seems impossible to define Lebanese national interests and even more difficult to determine what authority determine it. So how can George Mitchell defend something that isn’t even determined?
  2. Who promotes Lebanese Interests? The answer is rather simple: No one! A quick comparison with the israeli case is quite revealing: IPAC, the Jewish Agency, the Israeli government and the Israeli security apparatus all contribute in defining and promoting “Israel’s interets”. This is made simple by the fact that they invest much time and ressources in conflating Israeli and Jewish interests, and do it quite convincingly. Now if you look at the Lebanese picture, things appear much murkier (and messy).
    • On one side, one finds five strong communal perspectives (Christian, Shiite, Sunni, Druze and Armenian) supported by influential organisations. Each communal perspective has its own definition of both communal and national interests. These five perspectives are distinct but not necessarily contradictory. These different perspective influence both communal and cross-communal figures and spaces, be they local or diasporic.
    • On the other side, one finds state institutions that still haven’t found a way to cope with this diversity and put it to its service, and a political class and consciousness more interested in political bickering and winning in a zero-sum game.
  3. Can anything be done about it? Maybe you can help me out on that.

Posted in Geopolitics, Identity, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Peace, Religion | 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 »

Wi’am Wahab, ambassador?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 20/08/2009

Picture 2The person is vociferous, crude and politically powerless. Anywhere else, he would have been meaningless, invited once or twice a year to a talkshow for a cheap laugh based on slander. But not in Lebanon. Wi’am Wahab has continuously been in the headlines for the past two weeks. Why?
This guy (pictured on the left) has no power base to count on. His party is insignificant (it’s very little more than a name actually). He doesn’t hail from a political dynasty (local or national). A couple of months ago, he knew that had no chance of becoming an MP so he didn’t even bother take part in the parliamentary elections. Wi’am Wahab doesn’t hold a big fortune. He doesn’t operate a clientelist network (he doesn’t have “his men” in the public administration). He cannot assert himself through force (he has no militia to count own, just a couple of boisterous bodyguards). He isn’t backed by his community’s religious authorities. Saying that he isn’t prominent in any social field is an understatement.
So how come he is given any media attention? Why do his “visits” to political actors (politicians & clergy) seem significant? What makes them significant?
The answer is fairly simple, he is seen as an essential figure in the “reconciliation with Syria”, more precisely with the Syrian regime, or even more precisely with the Syrian President, Bachar el Assad. Interestingly enough, Wi’am Wahab isn’t even close to the Syrian President (unlike Suleiman Frangieh, for instance). He is not part of the regime’s inner circle. So it’s not on a personal level. His visits are not acts of “political socialisation”. He is perceived as an agent of the Syrian regime. He is seen as playing the same role as an ambassador. So I ask myself the following questions:
– Has he been invested as “ambassador”?
– Why are the Lebanese political actors giving his role?
– What does that mean?
I’ll skip the first two questions (expecting the reader to answer them) and go directly to the third one. The fact that the Lebanese political actors and media are recognising Wi’am Wahab’s political function shows not only that they have grown accustomed to informal politics, accepting it and seeing nothing wrong with it, but that they seem to prefer it to formal politics. Why? because it makes them regional actors, small ones for sure, but hell who cares when it inflates your ego! On the other hand, formal politics will surely make them feel left out (remember what happened when Bachar al-Assad and Emile Lahoud established exclusive relations, something that they are entitled to as Presidents of two countries). Moreover, if they established direct contacts with the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, this would be seen as encouraging Syrian interventionism in Lebanon (which is bad for Syria and bad for the former or persistent March XIV® politicians). So keeping it informal arranges everyone.
If you notice it, only one person is left out of the picture: the Lebanese President, Michel Suleiman. But he’s not complaining (but then, he never does).

Posted in Geopolitics, Idiosyncrasy 961, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Politics, Syria | Leave a Comment »

Security first? The contours of a Lebanese policy for peace talks with Israel

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/08/2009

661054_pw_diplomacyThe Lebanese have grown accustomed to governments unable or unwilling to deal with their southern neighbour. Some regret that these governments haven’t been able to defend the country militarily and diplomatically (from the IDF’s ferocious attacks), while others deplore that none has come up with a policy for peace talks with Israel.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a contributor to NOW Lebanon, has come up with an interesting analysis on the subject. He believes Lebanon should define a policy on Israel and embark in peace talks because “Lebanon will never defeat Israel militarily, [so] its ‘conflict’ with the Jewish state can only be resolved by diplomacy”. He concludes his article with the following statement:

Since the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005, both governments have failed to produce a policy on Israel. The Mitchell team is determined to change all this, but they need the help of Lebanon’s leaders, who must not be shy about talking peace with Israel, just like their Syrian and Palestinian brethren. The rest will become details.

At face value, his conclusion is indisputable, but if you look into it, you discover there is an important dimension to Israeli-Lebanese relations that Hussain Abdul-Hussain completely leaves out: the “security” dimension.

This is quite common among Beirutis. But if you ask Israelis or Lebanese living in Southern Lebanon, it’s their primary concern. And this issue is certainly the murkiest. Here’s why:

  • Since the 1960s, the Lebanese government has failed to secure its border with Israel. So before embarking in Peace talks, the Lebanese government should see how it will be able to achieve that and start working on it.
  • Since the 1960s, Israel has been “retaliating” after each attack coming from Lebanon. This has brought a lot of destruction, death and distrust in Southern Lebanon. Shouldn’t Lebanon build a defensive strategy so as to dissuade, limit or restrain the “IDF”?
  • An armed grouped, Hezbollah, backed by the majority of the local population wants to keep the fight going. Their most popular argument within their constituency is similar to the one of the Israeli army: only military strength will ensure our security and disuade our enemy from attacking us. It’s a defensive argument (that is not weaker than that of the Israeli army). What could the Lebanese government answer to this argument be?
  • There are other armed groups that are held back by Hezbollah (mostly Palestinian, and Sunni islamists) who are willing to pursue the fight, and the Lebanese State doesn’t seem to have a hold on them.

Before asking the government to come up with a diplomatic strategy toward Israel, I think it is foremost important to ask them to come up with a coherent military and defensive strategy, one that takes into account and deals with Hezbollah and the Palestinians of Lebanon.

Posted in Geopolitics, Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians, Peace, Security, Violence | 10 Comments »

Meet the next president? From Slimmy to Suleiman II

Posted by worriedlebanese on 30/07/2009

SlimmyIs Suleiman Frangieh Jr vying for the presidency? The obvious answer is yes. Which maronite politician isn’t? But this one’s chances seem quite good. You’ve certainly heard by now that he is moving to “Beirut” (Rabieh, to be precise). And you might have read a very flattering “portrait” of him that was published in the Akhbar (cf. a previous posting) or followed his meetings with Sami and Amin Gemayel. These are certainly no indicators of his chances for the presidency.

The reasons why he is the most likely candidate for the highest office lie elsewhere. They are to be found in his political & geopolitical positioning and to the fact that he espouses the predominant social values in Lebanon. Let’s first look into his positioning before examining how he reflects the country’s prevailing values. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Communication, Geopolitics, Intercommunal affairs, Journalism, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics, Semantics, Speculation, Values | 3 Comments »

Suleiman & Hariri (3): contours of a cohabitation

Posted by worriedlebanese on 17/07/2009

libertyI couldn’t find a better picture to illustrate the oddness of the Hariri/Suleiman couple. Which one do you think will be playing Laurel, and which one will be playing Hardy? I’m not too sure about this. Both men are political outsiders. They were hurled to office, unprepared. So they are likely to make some rather comical mistakes. And some mistakes might even be spun to serve them (remember Saad’s very unlebanese زي ما هي “Zay ma hya” in 2005?). But just like everything opposed Laurel to Hardy (and vice versa), the same applies to our odd couple. On a personal level, the former playboy/businessman seems more flexible, more humorous, more apt to learn than the former military chief. On a political level, the Prime Minister holds all the cards, and the president none!

Having seen how different the unlikely president and the unexpected heir are, having glimpsed at how unbalanced their power sharing is, we can start imagining how their cohabitation is likely to be. Let us look at three variables/factors:

– Cabinet weight
– Communal representation
– Allotment of cross-communal shares in Government
– Political competence
– Political potency

Interested in more? Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Communication, Culture, Democracy, Discourse, Diversity, Geopolitics, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Reform | Leave a Comment »

Suleiman & Hariri (2): the unexpected heir

Posted by worriedlebanese on 17/07/2009

Hariri_FamilyJournalists, housewives and other coffee drinkers have been discussing the changes they have noticed in Saad Hariri’s attitude. These changes are quite noticeable. Not only has Hariri become a better public speaker, but he modified his political positioning. For the past few months, he  no longer positions himself as the government’s godfather, and the Prime Minister’s protector. He has taken center stage. Let’s have a closer look at what he represents.

The unexpected heir

Saad Hariri enjoys a very enviable political position, gathering support and having leverage on three different levels: .
  • On a local and communal level, Saad Hariri inherited his father’s position within the Sunni community. His authority over the Sunni religious institutions is no secret to anyone. The Sunni religious leadership has been openly and collectively campaigning for him during the last two parliamentary elections. Furthermore, Saad Hariri is the king maker amongst Sunnis. He finished what his father had started (and the Syrians had prevented him from completing), becoming the sole political “reference” (مرجع) of the Sunni community, head of an electoral bulldozer (محدلة) and the arbitrator who chooses amongst the local notables those who will represent the nation in parliament.  Out of the 26 sunni MPs, 14 are officially part of his bloc (54%), 6 MPs are members of allied blocs (out of which at least 3 are “lent”), 4 are independent (2 of which owe their place to Hariri), 2 are part of rival blocs (owe their seats to the Shiite Bulldozer).
  • On a national level, the Sunni leader was hurled into a dominant position on his father’s coattail. Since 2005, he heads the country’s largest political group, parliamentary bloc, media group, financial group, real estate group (and security company, so it seems). If you want to get a clearer picture of what he represents,  think Berlusconi and multiply him by 10 (at least).
  • On an international level, Saad Hariri enjoys the backing of Saudi Arabia, France and the United States, so in practical terms, that means that he has the wealthiest and strongest international allies amongst all Lebanese politicians.

Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Discourse, Geopolitics, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Religion | Leave a Comment »

Approaching Iran: Lebanese wishful thinking

Posted by worriedlebanese on 24/06/2009

ramirez I find this picture quite revealing of the mindset of many of my nationals who are interpreting the electoral turmoil in Iran: Hezbollah is seen as a branch of the Iranian regime. This perception has two consequences:
– If the tree is venomous (violent and repressive), so is its branch.
– If the tree is weakened, the branch will wither.

These two postulates aren’t very convincing. Its actually a very simplistic view that ignores the complexity of the situation.

Historically, one could say that Hezbollah is somewhat an offshoot of the Islamic Republic of Iran (even though it really stems from Musa Sadr’s Amal movement…). But that doesn’t mean that it is a branch of the Iranian Regime. Moreover, one could also argue that Hezbollah is bound by its spiritual obedience to Iran’s spiritual leader and its financial & military dependence on Iran’s government. But this doesn’t negate its autonomy. It certainly limits it, but doesn’t annul it. Hezbollah enjoys a massive popular backing within Lebanon’s Shiite community. Its leadership is Lebanese, its rank and file are Lebanese, its territorial site is Lebanese… Sure, a change in Iran’s regime will have an impact on Hezbollah. But that doesn’t mean that turmoil or change in Iran will weaken the party or make it disappear. Hezbollah can always adapt, choose another spiritual leadership (most Lebanese shiites supporters of Hezbollah don’t even recognise the spiritual authority of Khamanei), find other sources of financing (remember the drug trade in the Beqaa?)… and even if there was a regime change in Iran, would that mean that this budding regional power will abandon its regional ambitions? Why would it, and if it doesn’t, can it do it without Hezbollah?

As it is usually the case, the Lebanese pundits take on Iran says more about them then it does about Iran.

Posted in Discourse, Geopolitics, Hezbollah, History, Iran, Lebanon, Political behaviour | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »