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The Truth الحقيقة… l’évolution d’un slogan (2)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/12/2010

Je vais essayer d’examiner aujourd’hui l’équation quatorze-marsiste ânonnée sur toutes les antennes: ”The Truth” <=> Justice <=> TSL <=> Réconciliation <=> Paix. Je ne vais prendre aucun des arguments présentés à la défense de cette équation parce qu’en réalité, ils ne la démontrent pas, ils brodent autour, l’amplifient, la célèbrent, l’exultent. L’approche généralement est abstraite, dogmatique, normative, désincarnée… théorique. Je vais plutôt prendre chaque partie de l’équation, les mettre à l’épreuve de la réalité et, je l’espère, en tirer quelques conclusions.

”The Truth” <=> Justice: Idéalement, ou pour ainsi dire en principe, la Justice (c’est à dire un tribunal) dit la vérité. Mais en fait, la réalité est plus compliquée. La Justice, c’est à dire un tribunal, ou plus précisément un ou plusieurs juges, rend[ent] un jugement, et ce jugement a l’autorité du “vrai”. C’est à dire qu’il est “vrai” parce qu’il est dit par une autorité qui a le dernier mot, et cela indépendamment de son contenu. ֵCe jugement dépend de plusieurs facteurs qui sont entièrement indépendant du fait jugé: la loi, la procédure, la qualité du juge (ou des juges), la manière dont les faits sont rapportés au tribunal… On est bien loin de l’équation. “The Truth” <=> (la) Justice.

”The Truth” <=> Justice <=> Paix: Bon, la paix civile, c’est quand même le but de la “Justice” (c-à-d les tribunaux). Les tribunaux sont là pour arbitrer entre des intérêts, pour trancher des conflits… Ces tribunaux bénéficient de l’autorité publique et peuvent recourir à la force pour assurer de l’exécution de leurs jugements/décisions. Mais bon, plus les jugements des tribunaux paraissent justes à la population, moins l’Etat aura besoin de la force pour assurer la paix… il existe donc bien une équation, mais elle est beaucoup plus complexe. Et elle est devient encore plus compliqué lorsqu’il n’y a pas monopole de la violence, et donc lorsqu’il n’est pas sûr que la force derrière le tribunal puisse s’imposer en dernier ressort.

”The Truth” <=> Justice <=> TSL <=> Paix: Les considérations que nous avons vu plus haut sont valables pour des Etats. Ce même raisonnement est plus ou moins facile à transposer au niveau international lorsqu’il est question de conflit entre Etats… mais lorsque le conflit n’est pas entre Etats… la transposition devient impossible.

”The Truth” <=> Justice <=> TSL <=> Réconciliation <=> Paix: Alors là on est en plein science fiction. Une partie de la population (essentiellement Chiite) et du voisinage (la Syrie) montre une méfiance extrême par rapport au tribunal. Donc l’usage de la force pour imposer le jugement contre elle devient nécessaire au cas où ce jugement la concerne… on est bien loin de la paix, et encore plus loin de la réconciliation.

 

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Posted in Hezbollah, Lebanon, Semantics, Speculation, Syria, Version Francophone | 3 Comments »

The Truth الحقيقة… l’évolution d’un slogan (1)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/12/2010

Je me souviens d’un ruban bleu qu’on distribuait à tous les coins de rue, attaché à une bande autocollante noire arborant une inscription bilingue: “الحقيقه”/”The Truth”. En ce temps, je ne m’étais pas posé beaucoup de questions sur son sens. Je n’avais pas pleinement réalisé l’impressionnante polysémie et versatilité politique à cette formule tout simple en apparence mais qui a pu déployer sa richesse en ces cinq années d’existence.

En 2005, le sens du slogan/revendication “الحقيقه”/”The Truth” nous semblait à tous évident. Il pointait un doigt accusateur vers la Syrie. Et d’ailleurs les politiciens qui l’arboraient l’explicitaient de manière à laisser aucune place au doute. L’équation était simple: “The Truth” <=> “la Syrie nous occupe, la Syrie est coupable”. Dans la foule qui convergeait vers la place des martyrs, certains venaient avec un esprit de revanche (pour toutes ces années d’occupation qui ne disait pas son nom, pour toutes ces vexation, cette violence, pour notre humiliation), et d’autres avec un esprit de vengeance (pour le meutre du Zaïm ou de l’homme politique), deux sentiments que “la vérité” recouvrait de manière euphémique et valorisante. “الحقيقه”/”The Truth” offrait des accents d’absolu (alors que son sens contextuel était extrêmement spécifique).

Vers la fin 2005, le slogan “الحقيقه”/”The Truth” commence à recouvrir une nouvelle réalité, le Tribunal Spécial pour le Liban (TSL). Une nouvelle équation voit le jours “The Truth” <=> Justice <=> TSL. L’équation est présentée comme axiomatique. Et certains s’activent pour l’étendre, et la voila transformé en: “The Truth” <=> Justice <=> TSL <=> Réconciliation <=> Paix. Pendant quatre longues années, des activistes quatorze-marsiste mobilisent juristes, politologues, sociologues, philosophes, psychologues et psychiatres pour nous asséner la nouvelle équation. Comme elle est axiomatique, par définition, elle n’a nul besoin d’être démontrée. En revanche, chaque spécialiste va puiser dans sa discipline pour nous expliquer les bienfaits de la formule. C’est évidemment une panacée.

A partir de 2008, un élément de l’équation a été modifié. Le doigt n’est plus pointé sur la Syrie mais sur le Hezbollah (et sans même qu’un acte d’accusation ne soit publié, ni même des indications allant dans ce sens dans un rapport officiel). Etonnamment, les promoteurs de la formule “The Truth” <=> Justice <=> TSL <=> Réconciliation <=> Paix” continuent à nous assurer de la validité de la formule, alors même qu’ils savent bien que le Hezbollah ne se laissera pas faire, et donc qu’une accusation de tout genre mettra en danger la Paix civile et donc tout espoir de (ré)conciliation entre les deux principales communautés musulmanes du pays.

 

Posted in Discourse Analysis, Hezbollah, Lebanon, Syria, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »

The tale of two sanctities: (الحقيقة (المحكمة الدولية v. (المقاومة (السلاح

Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/08/2010

I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately written by March XIV® journalists and analysts, and I’ve come to realise that their attachement to الحقيقة (the truth), is not only as strong as their Opposition® counterpart’s attachement to المقاومة (the resistance), but that it functions in exactly the same way. Underneath a rather abstract political heading lies something quite concrete that is considered as having a kind of sacred quality that cannot be questioned or opposed. In March XIV®’s case it’s the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, in the Opposition®’s case it’s Hezbollah’s weapons. Both sides argue in the same way and try to convince you that their goal is to defend Lebanon from further bloodshed. They obviously stick to principles and refuse any “practical” discussion of the matters at hand. What makes matters worse is that each argument is supported by a large communal mobilisation (that opposes the other side’s communal mobilisation and feeds on it) and that there is no autonomous or independent spaces in which these issues can be discussed (ex: the press or academia). Let’s have a quick look at each sides arguments.

Lebanon’s salvation according to March XIV®

The March XIV® supporters will argue that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will not only establish who killed Rafik Hariri, but will punish the perpetrator(s). They insist that even if its function is punitive, its sanction will set a precedent, it will counter the previous impunity, and will thus fill a preventive function. This argument is supported by three other rhetorical constructs:

  • the hagiographical transformations of Rafik Hariri: the public figure eclipses the man, and his actions are revisited and redefined by the virtues he is made to incarnate… and the political principle he is made to embody, that of sovereignty and new “father” of the nation,
  • the Beirut Spring/Independence Intifada narrative, the March 14 demonstration brought together Lebanese citizens belonging to all communities (especially Christian, Sunni and Druze) to uphold Lebanon’s Independence and Sovereignty. It’s a sort of “birth/rebirth” of the nation.
  • the panmarteon: the common celebration of “greater” and “lessor” political figures who were killed between 1979 and 2006 (such as Kamal Jumblatt, Bachir Gemayel, Hassan Khaled, René Mouawad, Samir Kassir, Georges Haou, Gebran Tueni,)

Lebanon’s salvation according to the Opposition®

The Opposition® supporters will argue that Hezbollah embodies the principle of Resistance. Its weapons were proven crucial in liberating Lebanon from Israeli occupation, and are still necessary for the recuperation of areas still under Israeli occupation, and for dissuading Israel from attacking Lebanon. This argument is supported by three underlying rhetorical constructs:

  • the strictly defensive function of Hezbollah’s weapons: to counter exterior threats, and the only exterior threat comes from Israel. This defensive function is considered as having a protective and preventive (dissuasive) effect.
  • The resistance narrative: Hezbollah not only fights Israel, but it prevented it from annexing Southern Lebanon, eventually liberated the territory occupied by Israel, and still prevents Israel from invading and annexing parts of Lebanon.
  • The moral superiority doctrine: Hezbollah is presented as morally superior to other political parties because of the values that it allegedly incarnates: courage, sacrifice and (for some) religious orthodoxy. Its moral superiority means that it doesn’t compromise on its values and that it doesn’t sully itself in politics (patronage, corruption…).

Mistaking the wood in one’s eye for dust

Each side is very quick in attacking the other’s arguments. The March XIV® have always been much more vocal about their criticism of the Opposition®’s arguments. Their militant journalists and second rank politicians usually denounce the danger that these weapons represent (in a democracy). Some critics go further and attack the moral superiority doctrine, or the resistance narrative. Although their criticism is often justified, it often turns into verbal attacks that are not always immune from anti-shiite sentiments (rarely direct and explicit, but at times quite clearly anti-shiite and most of the times considered by Shiites as being attacks on their community symbolised and represented by Hezbollah). The Opposition is less vocal in its criticism of the March XIV® argument. It usually refrains from criticising or deconstructing the three supportive rhetorical constructs (although much can be said about them) and limits itself to denouncing the work of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. But this rather “non-offensive” strategy is compensated by recurrent threats, accusations of treason and the actual use of force (on May 7th 2008). It is quite obvious that self-criticism is non existent. The Opposition® is always self-righteous, and March XIV pretends to be self-critical, but this is usually cosmetic and turns into a more sophisticated exercice in self-righteousness.

Posted in Discourse, Discourse Analysis, Hezbollah, Journalism, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour | 3 Comments »

Fourth anniversary of July War

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/07/2010

Haret Hreik... before and after the war

To put it bluntly, I have no clue about what I’m going to write under this heading. Many ideas have been swirling in my head, and going in all directions. I’m not sure what I want to comment on. I’ve read four newspapers and found only two articles about this commemoration. Nothing in the Orient-Le Jour, nothing in the Daily Star, two articles in al-Akhbar, and two translated israeli articles in the Safir. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus around this commemoration. But this doesn’t mean that the July war has been forgotten, or that it has lost  meaning in Lebanese politics. Hezbollah and Amal outlets refer to it as frequently as they could; so does March XIV® (and its outlets) when it wants to attack Hezbollah and its weapons. So why are there so few articles about this war on the day it started 4 years ago?

Commemorations serve many purposes. But whatever purpose that is,there is a political will behind it, the decision to mark that day as a day of remembrance. The political will obviously lacks in Lebanon. The parliament, the government and society is divided in its understanding of this war and that day. Some blame Hezbollah for starting the war with its operation against the IDF, others consider that Israel only used a legitimate Hezbollah operation as a pretext to wage war against Lebanon.

This deep division certainly explains the lack of public commemoration. But with all this talk about a future war between the two countries (that many consider inevitable), shouldn’t this day be used to clarify things and reflect on ways to prevent that war?

On a personal note, I can’t help but commemorate this day. It represents an important turning point in my life. It sparked my interest in blogging and in Peace work, two activities that I’m still hooked to.

Posted in Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon, Memory, Violence | 9 Comments »

Les sept points du Bristol

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/03/2010

Back to basics, coming of age or dying call? March XIV morphs back to a diminished Bristol Gathering

Le Quatorze Mars® a accouché hier d’un plan de travail, une initiative pour proteger le Liban en sept point. Pour comprendre la teneur du texte, il est conseillé de placer une chaise au milieu d’un salon, de se mettre debout dessus, et de les déclamer en ponctuant les phrases d’une gestuelle grandiloquente. Le texte de la déclaration (tel que publié sur le site officielle du mouvement est en italique. Les titres en gras sont de moi, ainsi que le commentaire qui suit le texte en italique.
La nouvelle déclaration du Bristol est étonnante dans sa posture: elle se déclare initiative pour la protection du Liban et dit soutenir la stratégie de défense mentionné par la table de dialogue. Mais que signifie exactement cette distinction? L’initiative du Bristol 2010 n’est certainement pas un programme politique, elle est bien trop vague pour l’être. Elle constitue au plus une pétition de principes qui se veulent peut-être les soubassements normatifs d’une future stratégie de défense. Comme la lecture rapide des sept points l’indique, la texte est fondamentalement normatif et d’une abstraction extrême. Les sept points s’articulent soient autour d’un verbe “être” déclaratif, ou du verbe “devoir” ou “falloir”.
  1. Soutien des décision de la table du dialogue. Le respect de l’application des décisions prises à la table du dialogue national, dont notamment l’établissement de bonnes relations normales avec la Syrie. L’étude sérieuse et limitée dans le temps du dernier point restant à l’ordre du jour de la table du dialogue : la stratégie de défense. L’appel à une étude “sérieuse et limitée dans le temps” de la stratégie de défense est le premier des nombreux voeux pieux égrenés dans la déclaration.
  2. Solidarité nationale. La divergence des points de vue est une chose, la défense de la nation en est une autre. A partir de là, toute agression israélienne contre une partie du Liban sera confrontée comme une attaque contre l’ensemble du pays, pour protéger la nation et ses intérêts. Comme pour chacune des propositions on a envie de leur dire “Bravo!! vous êtes braves, maman est fière de vous”. Mais bon, on aimerait quand même savoir comment ils comptent “confronter les attaques”.
  3. Primauté de l’Etat pour la défense nationale. Toutes les parties politiques doivent clairement affirmer et s’en tenir au fait que la défense nationale est l’affaire de l’Etat, à travers ses institutions constitutionnelles et son armée nationale. Cela se fait sur la base de la consolidation des institutions de l’Etat et du respect de leur autorité et de leurs décisions. Si on reste au niveau des principes, il  y a rien à redire, mais comment traduire concrètement le principe de “consolidation des institutions de l’Etat” sachant que toutes ces institutions existent, mais leur mission est paralysée ou détournée par les réseaux clientélistes (une bonne partie étant bien représenté dans le Quatorze Mars®).
  4. Prémunir le Liban des conflits régionaux. Il faut s’efforcer de faire en sorte que le Liban ne soit pas le point de départ d’une guerre dans la région sous n’importe quel prétexte. Facile à dire, mais un peu hypocrite venant de personnalités qui comme leurs rivaux reçoivent des ambassadeurs chez eux et envisagent la politique interne comme une politique d’axes régionaux.
  5. Primauté de l’armée et du gouvernement pour la riposte. La réponse à l’agression israélienne est la responsabilité de l’armée libanaise qui doit informer le gouvernement, conformément aux règles constitutionnelles, de ce qui se passe sur le terrain, et c’est au gouvernement seul que revient de décider quels sont les bons choix à prendre. Jolie manière d’éviter la réalité: l’existence d’une formation armée au Liban qui ne relève pas du gouvernement, et qui a plus de moyens et de savoir faire militaire que l’armée nationale.
  6. Solidarité arabe. L’Etat doit prendre rapidement l’initiative de mettre la Ligue arabe, conformément au traité de défense commune, face à ses responsabilités dans la protection du Liban. D’abord, ce troisième point ne doit pas s’adresser à l’Etat, mais au gouvernement et au président de la République. Ce genre de confusion entre l’Etat et ses organes est symptomatique. La métonymie est le mécanisme rhétorique idéal pour évader la question de la responsabilité.
  7. Solidarité internationale. L’Etat libanais doit prendre rapidement l’initiative de mettre la communauté internationale face ses responsabilités dans l’application de la résolution 1701 qui est essentielle à la protection du Liban. Le Quatorze Mars somme les Arabes et l’ONU d’assumer leur responsabilité dans la protection du Liban. Mais comment?

Posted in Culture, Discourse, Hezbollah, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Semantics, Values, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »

Week’s highlight: the weapons issue

Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/11/2009

weaponsWeapons sparked three debates this week. It all started when the Israeli military fished a weapon cargo heading to Beirut. Then the Maronite patriarch made a speech on how weapons and democracy were mutually exclusive and finally the head of the FPM Michel Aoun criticised the Patriarch’s speech and added that if he had the means he would arm himself to fight for Palestine! We’ll look into these polemics one at the time.

The record weapon catch. The most fascinating thing about the story isn’t what was said, but what wasn’t said. We got a lot of info about how much the booty weighted, we didn’t get any info about what exactly these weapons were and who had made them. We got a lot of info about the crew and the three last destination of the ship, but no info on its past and its real ownership. Classified information or courteousness between weapon dealers and producers?

The Patriarch’s sermon. The Patriarch picked up a habit of recurrently making a sermon against Hezbollah and its weapons. His followers, that is political followers (not necessarily of his flock) and backers applaud his “national stands” and celebrate his “national role”. But they never mention the effect it has on communal politics and the gate it opens for other political interventions of clergymen in the public sphere (his backers had even asked him to pick a President for the country two years ago…). His stance does not prevent him from backing parties who will join a government in which Hezbollah will be part of and whose declaration will not condemn the weapons this party holds. Three of the christian political groups he has been actively supporting for nearly a decade (what is left of Qornet Chehwan that was never a political party and is the biggest looser of the past elections with only one MP in parliament, the Lebanese Forces that hasn’t been reestablished as a party since its dissolution in the 1990s probably for financial reasons and the Kataeb that has been hijacked by the Gemayel family after having been hijacked by the Syrian intelligence) will probably express their reservations on the government’s declaration but that will not prevent them from participating in it.

This kind of condemnation is the best example of the “public stand culture” ثقافة المواقف that is meant to satisfy (with words) one’s constituency or sponsor, but that never translates into political action.

Aoun’s tantrum. When angry, the hindered Za’im has no qualms about contradicting himself and making the most outrageous and irresponsible declarations. His first argument to the Patriarch followed these lines: “these weapons were never used against you, so why are you complaining”. Then he expressed his willingness to take up arms too, but regretted he didn’t have the financial ressources for that. I pity Michel Aoun’s supporters who will have to find a way to justify this outburst.

Posted in Discourse, Hezbollah, Intercommunal affairs, Israel, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Religion, Values | 10 Comments »

Looking into the central alliance behind the Opposition®

Posted by worriedlebanese on 16/09/2009

aoun nasrallah 3How consistent are political alliances in Lebanon and what effects do they have ? These are two important questions that Ghassan Saoud deals with indirectly in his article published by al-Akhbar: “العونيون لحزب الله: “العتب على قد المحبة (Aounists to Hezbollah: “reproaches  equal to affection”). I discovered this article yesterday thanks to Remarkz’s post on the subject.

First a quick summary then a quick interpretation followed by extrapolations.

The Summary: as the title clearly shows, the article is another example of Lebanese pamphlet-journalism (with substance). Its author is “sending a message” to Hezbollah and the FPM. He hopes that the Shiite party will hear and remedy the points or questions that he formulates. He also wishes the FPM emulates Hezbollah in several ways (balancing between charisma and institution, party organisation, communication policy and strategy…). Here are the questions Ghassan Saoud (quite rightly) believes are bugging the FPM’s christian constituency:

  • Is Hezbollah willing to decommission its weapons once Shebaa is liberated and a defensive strategy is adopted & followed?
  • What are Hezbollah’s priority or focus (the Shiites? Christian-Muslim partnership in Lebanon? Iran?)?
  • Why doesn’t Hezbollah publicly address or communicate on issues that matter to the FPM?
  • Why doesn’t Hezbollah support the FPM’s claims the way it supports its own (militarily?)?
  • How does Hezbollah’s religious dimension fit in the alliance?

Quick Interpretation: The journalist is obviously frustrated by the fact that the alliance between Hezbollah and the FPM hasn’t  evolved, deepened. It has remained during these three years limited to the highest ranks of both parties and only appears publicly when the need for a common stance is felt.
Little effort is put in bridging the constituencies, deliberating together, working as partners on topics that matter to both (or even to one party). On the other hand, a lot of energy and time is spent on justifying the alliance or the ally’s actions (more at the hand of the FPM than Hezbollah).
Interestingly, many interviewed FPMers bring up the question of “justification”. They blame Hezbollah for not justifying (“explaining”) its actions sufficiently. They also mention the fact that they sometimes have problem justifying these actions to their colleagues. The insistance on justification goes hand in hand with the request for common public stances. This focus translates perfectly the way politics have come to be regarded by Lebanese (especially Christian Lebanese) as a logocracy where all that matters are words and stances.

Extrapolation: What Ghassan Saoud criticises in the Opposition® reminds me of what Michel Hajji-Georgiou reproaches March XIV® with in an even friendlier and more indirect way: Lack of consistency and content.

Posted in Discourse, Diversity, Hezbollah, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Political behaviour | 7 Comments »

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 »

A cartoon to illustrate a Taef principle

Posted by worriedlebanese on 04/07/2009

wizardofId

In 1989, the Lebanese parliamentarians convened in Taef, with financial encouragements from Rafik Hariri. In this Saudi Arabian city, they spawned an agreement, the Document of National Accord supposed to provide the basis for the ending of the civil war and the return to political normalcy in Lebanon. Have a glimpse at the document, and check a good commentary for backdrop information. But let’s get to the crux of the matter.

In 1989, the country was in the hands of five militias (PSP, Amal, Lebanese Forces, Hezbollah, SLA), two foreign armies (Israeli, Syrian) and a divided Lebanese army. These militias are only mentioned once in the document that speaks of “disbanding of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias shall be announced”. This mention focuses on militias as a weapon bearing group. Sure, this is its defining quality, but militias are much more than that. Militias are power centers, networks, they have a human, an economical, a territorial, a symbolic and in this case an ethnic dimension. These dimensions are not mentioned in the Taef Agreement which hides one basic principle: The militias, after decommissioning will be recognised as political parties, and will safeguard their positions within government (a process that began in the 1980s with the Rachid Karami lead National Unity government).

Three of those militias are now pillars of the quadripartite oligarchy, two other decommissioned militias are junior partners of the oligarchy, and so is the former head of the Lebanese Army.

Posted in Hezbollah, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Violence | Leave a Comment »

A very revealing affair (2): Gad Elmaleh & the Lebanese Media

Posted by worriedlebanese on 02/07/2009

Now let’s look at the facts:GadElmaleh02

  1. Beiteddine Festival, operated by Nora Joumblatt (Walid Joumblatt’s syrian born wife) programs French stand-up comic and actor Gad el-Maleh in this year’s edition of the Festival.
  2. Manar TV station, that’s nothing less than a mouthpiece for Hezbollah, airs two “reports” claiming that Gad el-Maleh has fought in the IDF (Israeli army), denounce his participation in a Lebanese summer festival and pronounce him unwelcome in Lebanon.
  3. Tourism Minister Elie Marouni (Kataeb), Information Minister Tarek Mitri (Future Movement ally), Culture Minister Tamam Salam (pro-Future Movement ally), and Beiteddine Festival President Nora Joumblatt (oligarch’s wife) speak out against al-Manar’s reports and denounce them as unfounded.
  4. Gad el-Maleh cancels his three shows for security reasons
  5. Pro-March XIV media, March XIV politicians and the above ministers launch a campaign against Hezbollah’s “Censorship”, “Intellectual terrorism”, “Cultural hostage taking” and (my personal favourite) “bringing the image of Lebanon into disrepute”,  and for maintaining the show (or having it “videoconferenced” from Paris).

Then let’s get to the analysis:

A rhetorical battle. Up to now, the whole “Gad elmaleh affair has been a “rhetorical battle” between el-Manar on one hand and some March XIV politicians and media mouthpieces (Hezbollah’s allies, most notably the FPM, have remained completely silent on it). As you have noted from fact #5, the accusations brought against el-Manar can hold no legal ground (except for the fourth one). This “detail” is quite important. Why have the accusers chosen to attack Hezbollah on charges that hold no legal ground?

No charges have been pressed. Well, the matter is quite simple. Under lebanese law, there actually are several grounds for legal charges against el-Manar and Hezbollah. So why sticking to polemical accusations, when there are three accusations that actually hold.

  • El-Manar is accused of either disinformation or basing its reporting on dubious sources. Why doesn’t the Minister of Information press charges (instead of giving a press conference)? What are you waiting for M. Tarek Mitri?
  • El-Manar is accused of attacking Gad el-Maleh on the bases he’s Jewish. Now Lebanon doesn’t have a specific law against anti-semitism, but it does have a law against inciting confessional hate, and Judaism is one of Lebanon’s protected faiths. Now El-Manar has been doing it for years. Why hasn’t anyone pressed charges against that? Why hasn’t the Interior Minister pressed charges against tmhat (instead of giving a press conference)? What are you waiting for M. Ziad Baroud?
  • El-Manar is accused of tarnishing Lebanon’s image. I personally find the concept absurd and totally illiberal and antidemocratic (it’s no coincidence that it is mostly used by authoritarian regimes). But it holds under Lebanese law. Why hasn’t the Minister of Justice acted upon it?

Silly yet revealing accusations. el-Manar and Hezbollah have been accused of “Censorship”, “Intellectual terrorism”, “Cultural hostage taking”. Let’s take one accusation at a time and see in what way it is revealing.

  • Censorship. My dictionary defines censorship as “the practice of officially examining books, movie, etc. and suppressing unacceptable parts”. The most important element in this definition is obviously “Officially“. Censorship is practiced by an authority that holds power. Hezbollah shares with Walid Joumblatt’s “Democratic Gathering”, the position of fourth largest bloc in Parliament (less than 10% of MPs). It has one minister in the current government (out of 30). Now that doesn’t really put it in a position of power institutionally. And the “anti-Gad Elmaleh campaign” was launched by one of Lebanon’s medias, not by an official media. Sure, Hezbohallah is armed and could endanger Gad Elmaleh’s life were he to come to Lebanon. But it’s not the only armed side in Lebanon, and a security arrangement could be found with it, like it has been found on so many other matters. So why do people feel cornered by Hezbollah?
  • Intellectual terrorism. Here’s wikipedia’s definition (my translation): “the practice which aims at intimidating or silencing people by submitting them to arguments and intellectual pressures through publications, media interventions (etc) so as to prevent them from formulating perturbing ideas (regardless of their validity, falsity or disputability)”. What is interesting with the concept of “intellectual terrorism” is that it doesn’t have to be “official”, it can be operational as long as the people exercising it hold the upper hand in the specific field they are operating in. Now Hezbollah surely doesn’t have the upper hand in the communication field or the cultural production field. Truth to tell, its cultural influence is rather limited (and so is its participation in cultural production). So why do people feel cornered by Hezbollah?
  • Cultural hostage taking. The charge is quite meaningless. It assumes that Hezbollah has a dominant position in the cultural sector and can define Lebanese cultural expressions or at least censor them, which bring us back to the first two “charges”. So why do people feel cornered by Hezbollah?

So why is the Gad Elmaleh affair just another rhetorical battle, and in what way does it reveal that people feel cornered by Hezbollah? You can look at the way some bloggers (Jester, Now Lebanon, Khaled Barraj) or journalists (Daily Star’s Michael Young, Orient-Le Jour’s Michel Hajji Georgiou) have been dealing with this issue. My answer comes tomorrow.

Posted in Antisemitism, Discourse, Hezbollah, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Peace, Prejudice, Semantics, Values, Violence | 9 Comments »

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 »

Jumblatt’s back to business

Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/06/2009

Joumblatt.jpgWhile journalists and March 14th politicians are musing on their “victory” (and indulging), Walid Jumblatt knows better. It is quite obvious that the quadripartite oligarchy won those elections: Mustaqbal won the overwhelming majority of the Sunni seats in parliament, Amal-Hezbollah the overwhelming majority of the Shiite seats, Ishtiraqi the overwhelming majority of the Druze seats. Knowing that Sunnis and Shiites have the same number of seats in parliament, it’s Walid Jumblatt’s Druze seats that makes a difference and determines who is the “majority”.

It’s not surprising that he is the one who informed the press yesterday on the rules of the game: The next government will be one of “National Unity” (i.e. bringing together the quadripartite oligarchy), but there will be no “1/3 blocking minority”. This declaration is quite surprising coming from the Lebanese political figure that lost the most MPs in these elections. His “Democratic Gathering” bloc (1/2 Druze Ishtiraqi MPs, 1/2 Christian client MPs) shed 4 additional MPs: He is gradually learning to “share” MPs in the districts he had conquered during the Civil War: Michel Aoun’s FPM took over the Christian seats in Baabda, the Christian neo-helf (Kataeb, Lebanese Forces, Ahrar) took one seat each in the Chouf and Aley (one from the Future Movement, and two from the Democratic Gathering), and Talal Arslan was granted two Druze seats.

Withstanding this gross loss of parliamentary weight, Jumblatt remains a pivotal player in the quadripartite oligarchy thanks to the even split of Christian MPs between pro-Aoun and anti-Aoun that neutralises Christian MPs as negotiation chips between the two rival/collaborating sides of the ruling oligarchy.

Posted in Democracy, Discourse, Hezbollah, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour | 1 Comment »

Change(?) we DON’T believe in… (1)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/05/2009

DistrictsThe quadripartite oligarchy has decided to unburden Sunnis, Shiites and Druze with the hardships of democratic choice. The weight of the electoral battle lays on shoulders of the Christians.

This is not particularly new. In 2005, the Quadripartite oligarchy had struck an alliance, withstanding its members’ opposing geopolitical alliances. The Christian electorate had to choose between the christian allies of this quadripartite alliance and those who opposed (or were left out of) this alliance (most notably the Free Patriotic Movement).

Today, things have slightly changed. The quadripartite oligarchy is not running on the same tickets  (even though the geopolitical rift between it’s two parts isn’t as big as before). Why? Probably because they no longer need it (Politics has precedence on Geopolitics)!

The 1960 electoral divisions has clearly set aside  the Shiite electorate from the Sunni and Druze electorates. Bahia Hariri’s election no longer depends on the Shiite electorate, and Berri doesn’t risk opposing votes from Sunni Saïda… And if you check out the competing lists, you will find that the quadripartite oligarchy, even divided, doesn’t face much competition, and the rivalry between its members is almost inexistent. Do Hezbollah and Amal support a rival to Mustaqbal (Future Movement) or Ishtiraki (PSP)? Not really… Do the Mustaqbal or Ishtiraki support a rival to the Hezbollah-Amal bulldozer? Not really… The quadripartite oligarchy has unburdened Sunnis, Shiites and Druze from the hardships of democratic choice!

The only change is to be found on the Christian side. The battle no longer is between the allies and foes of the quadripartite oligarchy, but between two groups of its allies. Oddly enough, for the first time since the 1972, the Christian electorate will be able to choose more than half of the Christian MPs (36 Christian MPs and 4 Muslim MPs: mostly in historical Mount Lebanon and East Beirut). Moreover, this electorate still enjoys important leverage for the choice of another 7 MPs (5 Christian and 2 Muslim in Zahlé). Under such conditions, one would expect the Christian parties to have a greater autonomy from the internal rifts of the Quadripartite alliance. But this isn’t so.

Here’s my thoughts on why this is the case!

The recent evolution of the patronage system: Even though most of the Christians share the same political views and cultural perceptions, they were not integrated into a dominant denominational patronage structure in the 1990s by the Syrians, unlike the Shiites (under Nabil Berri’s Amal Movement), the Druze (under Jumblatt’s Ishtiraki) or to a slightly smaller extent, the Sunnis (under Rafik Hariri’s Mustaqbal Movement). Many of them were actually split up between those three groups (especially in Beirut, Southern Lebanon and Southern Mount Lebanon where traditionally “indepedent” patrons such as Michel Pharaon, Fuad Saad, Salah Honein became clients of larger Muslim patrons), while the rest were integrated into smaller denominational patronage structure (that of Michel Murr,  Suleiman Frangieh, Elias Skaff).

Geopolitical positioning: the quadripartite oligarchy has replaced politics with geo-politics. And two of its members (Hezbollah and Mustaqbal) enjoys very strong regional and international backing (financial and military). In such a game, the Christians find themselves with no allies and with no say.

Electoral reasons: The Quadripartite oligarchy commands the election of no less than 21 Christian MPs (the Hezbollah-Amal alliance: 5 christian MPs; the Mustaqbal-Ishtiraki alliance: 16 MPs). In those elections, the Christians electorate has no say at all. Moreover, one member of the quadripartite oligarchy can have an important influence for sway votes in the choice of 10 additional Christian MPs (in districts where the Christians electorate is dominant).

Posted in Democracy, Hezbollah, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Elections in Lebanon – The continuance of the Doha effect -2

Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/05/2009

qatar - dialogue hall 3People usually speak of the Doha effect as a consequence, that of the military takeover of West Beirut by Hezbollah (and the later withdrawal). But it also had an unexpected effect, that of transforming the relationship between the Quadripartite oligarchy with its christian allies.

The Quadripartite oligarchy is composed of the dominant political groups during the Syrian mandate over Lebanon:  Nabih Berry’s Amal (i.e. Hope)  Movement, Hariri’s Future Movement, Jumblat’s Progressif Socialist Party and Hezbollah (under the commandment of Hassan Nasrallah). For over the decades, it had managed to dominate the political landscape through its alliance with Syrian political figures (i.e. the President and his men, and later his son…), through the recognition of its territorial power (true for Jumblatt in southern Mount Lebanon, Berry and Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon and the Beqaa. Less true for Hariri who had problems having it recognised), through its power over its community within the State’s institutions, and lastly, through a spoil system in which three of these groups split most of the Christian MPs between themselves, expanded their political weight in Parliament (sometimes doubling it) and hence took a larger share of the State’s ressources.

One would have expected this to change after the Syrian army’s withdrawal from Lebanon and the end of its Mandate, but it didn’t. Even though the March 14th alliance’s backbone was mainly Christian, its two members that belonged to the Quadripartite alliance treated the Christian parties as junior partners and maintained their Christian cronies (calling them independents) in parliament and the government, giving “them” the larger share (but actually keeping it for themselves).

Widening the Quadripartite oligarchy to Christian partners

After the Doha agreement, things changed. When the Shiite branch of the Quadripartite oligarchy started treating its ally, Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, as a Senior Partner, the Druzo-Sunni branch of the oligarchy had to do the same. Even though none of the Christian partners have a real weight in the political system (neither economical, nor military, nor politically). They just benefited from the competition between the two branches of the oligarchy.

This unexpected effect of the Doha agreement after appearing in the formation of the government is being translated today in the parliamentary elections. Whatever the outcome of the elections is going to be on the Christian scene, one thing is sure, the Oligarchy’s allies are going to win (over the “independents”, “pseudo-independents”, Quadripartite christian affiliates…) on both sides, claiming (and bargaining for) their share in the system; and they’re going to be even more autonomous as before, with a larger share of power and State ressources.

Posted in Democracy, Hezbollah, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics | 2 Comments »

Elections in Lebanon – The Downsizing of the Quadripartite oligarchy -1

Posted by worriedlebanese on 06/05/2009

QuadripartiteNext month, the Lebanese will be electing a new parliament. I will be posting these coming days my thoughts on this question. Today, a look at the Quadripartite alliance.

The downsizing of the Quadripartite alliance Oligarchy

The biggest looser will undoubtedly be Walid Jumblatt. During the Syrian occupation, he not only commanded the largest Druze parliamentary block in Lebanese history, but he doubled his parliamentary weight by commanding as many Christian MPs as Druze MPs (and some would argue more). In the coming elections, he risks loosing 3 Druze MPs (in Baabda, Rashaya and Hasbaya) and is certain to loose a greater number of Christian MPs to his Christian allies (Kataeb, National Liberal Party or Lebanese Forces) or foes (Free Patriotic Movement).

What about the other three: Amal, Hezbollah and Future Movement.

The Future Movement has shown to be rather poor in organising a strong political base, but is sure to benefit from the Hezbollah effect. Many Sunnis will vote for him because they see in him the only Sunni force able (more or less) to stand up to Hezbollah. But his constituency is growing weaker with time and he might loose a couple of Sunni seats and has already handed out some Christian seats to Christian allies or foes (Tashnag).

Amal and Hezbollah still control a highly effective electoral monster that was given to them by the Syrians: the bulldozer. It will certainly crush their Shiite rivals in the large Shiite constituencies of the South (Sour, Nabatieh, Bint Jbeil) and the Beqaa (Baalbeck-Hermel). It is likely to have the same effect in the mixed constituencies through their political alliances. But they are likely to loose a couple of Christian MPs to their Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement (in Jezzin).

In other words, the Quadripartite alliance of 2005 is still going to be the greatest winner in the game; its political division (and electoral rivalry) working for the domination of each political group within its community in the same way their electoral alliance allowed it in 2005. The only difference will be the Doha effect; the birth of real partnerships with Christian parties on both sides of the political spectrum (even if the partnerships are deeply asymmetrical).

Posted in Hezbollah, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics | 1 Comment »