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From “political marginalisation” to “christian disenfranchisement”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 18/05/2013


Map of “Christian disenfranchisement” according to the FPM. The districting follows the 2009 electoral map.

Tayyar.org published a map today showing the number of Christian electors Samir Geagea has supposedly “sacrificed” when he and his parliamentary block abandoned the “Orthodox proposal” last wednesday. Interestingly enough, the electoral map the Free Patriotic Movement site chose to publish seems to assume that the 2009 districting will be followed in the coming parliamentary elections. Judging from the recent parliamentary dynamics, this scenario doesn’t seem to unrealistic. But this isn’t the purpose of this blog entry. Let’s go back to the map and see what exactly it says and what it doesn’t say.

Switching focuses
Instead of illustrating the usual grievance voiced by every single Christian political group at some given point, the map presented by tayyar.org places the emphasis on a new argument, that of the disenfranchisement of Christian voters.
That extremely common “christian” grievance that we’ve been hearing since 1992 objects to the “political marginalisation” of Christians throughout the post-war area. It revolves around the argument that too many Christian MPs are elected by an overwhelming number of muslim voters and a negligible number of christian voters. In 2005, that number accounted to 67% of Christian MPs (43 out of 64) while in 2009, the change in districting brought down the percentage to 36% (23 out of 64 MPs). This phenomenon had always existed in Lebanon, but was marginal before the civil war. Since 1992, it became the rule on account of three changes: the dramatic demographic decline of Lebanese Christians, the specific choice of districting schemes, and the strong communal mobilisation of Sunnis, Shiites and Druze behind the Future Movement, Hezbollah + Amal and the Progressive Socialist Party. These three factors meant that Christian candidates in districts with a strong muslim majority could only make it to Parliament by being co-opted by the head of the dominant muslim led/based patronage networks. One can well imagine that such a co-optation has its price, especially when one takes into account the fact that the size of each parliamentary bloc determines to a large extent its share in governmental portfolios and resources (state resources and the country’s resources through tailor-made legislation). The largest beneficiaries of this system are undoubtedly the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party. During the 1990s, they mostly  co-opted “independents” who had little political influence and support within the Christian communities. But since 2005, they’ve accepted to co-opt some Christian candidates with greater Christian “credentials” or representativity.
Instead of focusing on the lack of representativity of some Christian MPs, as the FPM has consistently done since 1992, the tayyar.org map zooms in on Christian voters. This maps pinpoints the number of registered Christian voters in districts where Christian voters have little chance to influence the outcome of the elections. This brings into focus not only the districts in which Christian candidates must be co-opted by the head of the patronage networks to make it into parliament, but also those districts that are generally overlooked by Christian political parties because they elect no Christian MPs, such as Bint Jbeil, Minié-Dinnié, Sour, Saïda & Nabatieh who aggregate 51185 Christian voters. This new interest in districts that have been up to now neglected by Christian political groups can only be explained by the hopes that the Orthodox proposal had awakened and the political significance it gave to voters rendered irrelevant by the lebanese electoral system and the post-war political configuration.

Electoral virtual reality
An unsuspecting viewer might take the map “literally” and assume that the voters it situates geographically actually reside in these districts. But that would be ignoring one of the most striking particularity of the lebanese electoral system. It doesn’t simply divide the country territorially, it heavily engineers the electorate by neutralising a fundamental principle in liberal democracies: that people vote in their place of residence. The lebanese electoral system has replaced that basic electoral principle by another one: the compulsory registration by the Ministry of Interior of voters according to their “noufous” (civil registry) that states their region of “origin” (i.e. that of their forefathers or their husband’s forefathers). So the Lebanese electoral map never reflects the actual distribution of the Lebanese population but creates a totally fictitious one that doesn’t take into account neither the migrations (voluntary or forced) nor the emigration that took place during the last century. We are not talking about minor demographic changes here, but one that affected a large proportion of the resident population (Lebanese and Palestinians). Even though this phenomenon hit all Lebanese communities, it had particularly affected the Christian communities for whom displacement and emigration were mostly permanent. Interestingly enough, most of the regions this maps highlights have been particularly affected by these demographic changes. Indeed, during the wars of the 1975-1990, most of their Christian population had either voluntarily fled or was forcefully expelled from nearly all these districts (excluding the regions controlled by the Southern Lebanese Army up to 2000). Despite an official returnee policy (or possibly because of all its shortcomings and its cynicism), most of the Christians inhabitants of these regions have not returned to their towns during the post-war years. So out of the 467.479 “disenfranchised” Christian voters that the map counts up, only a small minority actually lives in these districts. Most have either emigrated or have resettled in the “Christian heartland” (roughly the districts left unaccounted & uncoloured). Consequently, their vote on a personal level has very little political meaning in a district from which they are more or less estranged; and it carries very little political weight on a collective level because these districts are dominated by Muslim led & based patronage networks who do not even seek or need their votes. The “Orthodox proposal” that this maps indirectly seeks to support would have certainly given their vote more relevance and more political weight. Except for the hassle (and cost) of loosing half a day to get to a distant polling station, these voters would have challenged politicians, inciting them to court them and to listen to their needs.

Unconsidered voters & communal blind-spots
This map only takes into account Christian voters and totally ignores non-Christian voters who suffer from the same problem (even if it’s on a smaller scale). It reveals the extent of the FPM’s communal navel-gazing. This party is surely not the only lebanese political group to suffer from this fixation. It’s actually widely shared across the political spectrum dominated by communal leaders who claim to represent and to cater to their community’s interests. But in this particular instance, it underlines the extreme short-sightedness of a political party that doesn’t realise the importance of looking beyond its communal group even when lobbying for an extremely radical change in the electoral law that needs the backing from all communal groups.


Posted in Discourse Analysis, Idiosyncrasy 961, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Patronage Networks, Political behaviour | Leave a Comment »

A brief history of the Christian/Muslim “parity rule” since Taef

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/02/2013

Instead of reinterpreting our State institutions (presenting an extremely centralised State as a federal one), or reworking all the communal aspects of our daily lives into a coherent and integrated system (which it’s not), I will try to limit myself to the “parity rule” as the basic legal/political challenge being discussed in parliament today. Justifying or disapproving it isn’t really relevant. It’s a basic principle in our constitution that takes precedent over deconfessionalisation (which is meant to annul it in the future). To understand this rule fully one should situate it at three different times: During the Taef conference (1989), during the Syrian mandate for Lebanon (1990-2005), and after Lebanon’s third independence (2005-).

    • The parity rule under Taef. This rule was established as a peacebuilding mechanism, a confidence building scheme to ensure that “communal interests” would be protected, and that there will be no “junior” or “senior” partner; no ghaleb or maghloub. The parity rule within parliament was meant to translate and to ensure the principle of “equal partnership” between Christians and Muslims, and to defuse any kind of “demographic threat”. It is meant to make the question of communal overrepresentation irrelevant. The wording of article 24 of the Lebanese constitution makes this extremely clear (equal numbers between Christian and Muslims, proportionality within each group).
    • The parity rule under the Syrian Mandate: As we well know, the Syrian authorities ruling over Lebanon modified the rules of the game. They actually upheld the principle of ghaleb and maghloub, and (rightly) saw in the Christian community a threat to their hold on Lebanon, sidelining its major political parties by all possible means (threats, criminal procedures and the manipulation of the electoral law that ensured that most Christian MPs could only enter the Parliament as junior partners of the Syrian-allied Muslim-based patronage networks). The principle of equal partnership between Christians and Muslims was thus undermined. The parity rule was not only stripped of its original meaning, but became a mechanism used to sideline Christian political aspirations. As a result: Four major muslim parties (three of which were headed by warlords) dominated the political landscape: Their control over Christian voices increased their share of parliamentary seats and governmental seats; thus increasing their share of the cake (i.e. State resources). And so grew their patronage networks within the State and their control of social, economical and cultural institutions. On the Christian side, the Syrian authorities supported three minor patronage networks: one headed by a Maronite in Northern Lebanon, one headed by a Greek-Orthodox in Central Mount-Lebanon and one headed by a Greek-Catholic in the Central Beqaa. The parity rule became a means of creating Senior and Junior partners in Lebanese politics, both of which were communally defined.
    • The parity rule after the third independence: In 2005, an informal mechanism was used by two of the major patronage networks (Mustaqbal & Ishtiraki) to limit the communal sidelining effects of the electoral law and “restore” a better participation of Christian parties. But this informal mechanism meant that these political parties were co-opted into the game by stronger allies, and given their lack of resources (they couldn’t count on sturdy patronage networks, or foreign financial aid or military support), they could only hope to become junior partners in parliament and government. This was confirmed in practice throughout the legislature.
      In 2009, the new electoral law allowed a substantial number of Christian MPs to enter parliament with little need of backing from the prominent muslim-based patronage networks. This was done through a formal mechanism, an alteration of the electoral law that saw the restoration of old constituencies: Zgharta, Batroun, Bcharré, Koura, Baabda, Jezzine, Achrafié. But this wasn’t enough to change the basic dynamics between Senior and Junior partners, as the practice of both the Hariri government and the Miqati government has shown. It’s only by taking into account the disparity between the promise of the “parity rule” and the way that it is practiced that one can understand the general consensus among Christian parties supporting the “Orthodox proposal”.

But is this reform enough to fulfil the promise of the Taef agreement of equal partnership between Christians and Muslims? Is there a better one? One thing is for sure, these questions cannot be answered by any kind of normative reasoning. But even before getting to the answers, these questions should be reformulated in order to take into account the dynamics of our political regime (and the way state institutions and official mechanisms have been “reinterpreted” by the political class):
– What does true representation of Muslims and Christians mean?
– Do the patronage networks truly represent the interests and aspirations of the respective communities they claim to serve?
– How do these patronage networks operate? How do they manage parliamentary elections? 
– How would the proposed electoral law affect them?

Posted in Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Patronage Networks, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics, Reform | Leave a Comment »

Gerrymandering parading as reform

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/02/2013

Lebanon_Parliament_Building_180Let’s face it, reforming an electoral law a couple of months before election date is just an advanced form of gerrymandering. You can’t expect a legislature less than six months before it disbands to vote for a new electoral law based on abstract principles and conviction. The parliamentarians that are reforming the law that will influence their reelection are doing it out of sheer interest. And when they’re doing it a couple of months before elections, you can bet that their eyes are riveted on election polls. The worst part of the deal is that by leaving an uncertainty surrounding the law (and we’re not talking minor details here; they’re still discussing the shape of constituencies), the outgoing parliamentarians are blatantly discriminating against their potential rivals by preventing them from organising their campaigns. How could potential candidates start their campaign, or even prepare for it when they don’t even know under what conditions they will be running!?
The story gets even more absurd when one looks at the way Lebanese civil society and its favourite parasites, the embassies, are dealing with the whole business. Some NGOs are actually still campaigning for electoral reform. Embassies are either publicly or privately voicing their preferences. Analysts are discussing the reforms suggested by parliamentarians as if they were siting in a philosophy class: they speak of general principles while they should be looking into electoral costs for incoming and outgoing candidates.
I had vowed a couple of weeks ago not to let myself get dragged into this whole business, not to enter any debate surrounding electoral reform, not to play into their game. Any discussion surrounding electoral reform at this time of the year endorses one way or another gerrymandering. Two days ago I broke that vow. I gave in. I sanctioned on my very small level, among my virtual community (of readers) the blatant misconduct of our parliamentarians aimed at manipulating the results of this summer’s parliamentary elections. The crooks in Séħit el Nıjmé won again.

Now that I’ve conceded defeat, I might as well indulge in a bit of analysis. When the damage is done, it’s a pity not to wander through the ruins. But no worries, I won’t repeat what I’ve been saying in French. You’re in for something new, I hope.

probabilityArticle 2: A communal solution to a communal problem?
Quis, quid, quando, ubi, cur, quem ad modum, quibus adminiculis
Well, basically, we have a bunch of MPs belonging to different political factions who had at an earlier date pushed for very different electoral systems (majority system with medium size constituencies or smaller constituencies, or dual slates with proportional representation) drop their previous proposals and coalesce to push for another system that was earlier disparaged by all. At a closer look, we discover that all these MPs belong to Christian political parties, some are represented in government and the others are part of the opposition. Now what’s their problem? and how did it happen that they suddenly agreed on that point.
The communal story (انتقام المنبوز). To make a long story short, the political parties that supported the “orthodox proposal” in the mixed commissions had been excluded from the political game under the Syrian mandate for Lebanon (1990-2005). After the Syrian army’s withdrawal from Lebanon, they pushed their way back into the political game, first in Parliament then in Government. Their integration back into Lebanese politics was largely determined by their alliances with four political forces (patronage networks/communal based parties speaking in the name of the three principle muslim communities): the Shiite Amal and Hezbollah parties, the Sunni Moustaqbal movement and the Druze Progressive Socialist Party. Up to 2007 they formed the “quadripartite alliance” (الحلف الرباعي), but since this alliance split up, I’ll refer to them as the BIG FOUR.
What was true before 2005 is still true today. And the reason largely lies in the electoral system in which a great deal of Christian MPs get into Parliament through votes given to them by Muslim voters who follow their communal leaders. This dependence on Muslim communal leaders was reduced in 2009’s parliamentary election through the restoration of past constituencies with a numerically strong christian electorate. But even then, the Christian parties could only become junior partners. The first reason to that was their number (over 9 political formations: Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanese Forces, Kataeb, Marada, Tashnag, Ramgavar, National Liberal Party, Popular Bloc, National Bloc, Kornet Chehwan Gathering). They had to be co-opted by the four dominating muslim-based patronage networks in many constituencies, and into government. The Big Four could choose (the most compliant) amongst them, or they could count on rival Christian MPs who were directly dependent on them. The latter could be used to stack government seats so they could serve the interests of these patronage networks (in exchange of some spoils that these Christian MPs or ministers could distribute to their popular base). Moreover, these Christian political parties could only count on very small and fragile patronage networks, and hardly any foreign financial aid (or military aid… let’s not forget that politicians in our neck of the woods are ready to do all that it takes). So basically, electoral reform is the only way in which Christian political party can assert their autonomy and claim the right to be equal partners in parliament and government. They pushed for the 2009, but they soon discovered its limits, and now they seek to reclaim a true parity in political representation of Christian and Muslims in Parliament which only the “Orthodox proposal” (or one similar to it) can ensure.

imagesCommunal electoral colleges: A leap into the unknown?
The chances of  “article 2” becoming law are not very high. Hezbollah and Amal are not too keen about it and Mustaqbal (Future movement) and Ishtiraki  (PSP) are openly hostile to it and are ready to do all that it takes to bloc it (and for good reason, it could diminish their political weight in parliament by half). Could it be because the Big Four are shocked by its “sectarian” nature? I very much doubt that. The two former parties have nothing to gain from it, and the two latter have a lot to lose from it. So basically the Christian MPs have to come up with a particularly clever strategy to convince the Big Four or at least two of the Big Four to go on with this reform. Then they should cross their fingers that the Constitutional court won’t strike it down (The President or 10 MPs are very likely to refer it to the Constitutional Court if it becomes law): article 2 not only breaks away from our electoral tradition but it contradicts the interpretation give to at least two articles in our constitution (article 27 et article 95), and the “spirit” of the Preamble. So the most likely effect “article 2” can have on our next elections is extending the discussion period within parliament (which effects the fairness of the elections because it advantages outgoing MPs), which could very possibly result in the postponement of the elections (which seems to benefit all our parliamentarians). But let’s forget all that and imagine for a moment that article 2 became law and the elections proceeded according to it. So we’ll ask ourselves who this law could hurt and what it probable outcomes will be.
Who does the communal electoral colleges hurt? It certainly is very frustrating for many of my fellow countrymen and countrywomen to have their choice restricted to people belonging to their own community. But does it actually harm them? Not really. The political parties that they support could find apt candidates in all communities to run in the different electoral colleges. The “orthodox proposal” doesn’t prevent the Green party or the Democratic Renewal, the Baath, the Syrian National Social Party, the Democratic Left, the Communist Party or any other cross-communal formation from running in several or all electoral colleges. And the proportional system will increase their chances of having more candidates. On the other hand, “the orthodox proposal” will certainly hurt two members of the Big Four: The Mustaqbal and the Ishtiraki. Both parties assemble vast cross-communal parliamentary blocs (Lebanon First and Democratic Gathering) around them by gathering a large number of Christian MPs (many of which are clients in the same way their Muslim MPs are). These blocs allow them to increase their share of the cake in allocation of government portfolios, administrative positions and resources. The “orthodox proposal” will undoubtedly render their Christian allies more autonomous which could result in the break up of these blocs… and the shrinking of their share. Moreover, on a symbolic level, this law will also reduce the way their power is projected on a certain territory. This is particularly true for Mustaqbal in Beirut, and for the PSP in southern Mount Lebanon that it has relabelled “The Mountain”. But it also holds for Hezbollah and Amal. Communal electoral colleges instead of territorial constituencies reduces the symbolic hold on a territory that the PSP, Amal, Hezbollah, but also Marada and the Kataeb  had conquered militarily during the 1980s. 
What are the expected results of communal electoral colleges?
The dominant view is that this reform will increase “sectarianism”. I won’t waste too much time on this snowclone that is used disparagingly to qualify the worst qualities one finds in others, but never in oneself. In electoral terms, if by that we mean increasing the dominance of communal parties in parliament, well, I really don’t see how that would be possible for the muslim communities who have been hijacked by the Big Four. As for the Christians, their parties supported this “orthodox proposal” to start with!
What other effect could this reform have? Actually plenty. For one, no party in parliament could ever boast after that to be more representative than another in terms of communal backing. The fact that each community votes for its own certainly would show in terms of votes who is its “biggest” spokesman, but it shakes up the hold that spokesman (or spokeswoman, let’s be optimistic) has on other MPs belonging to his parliamentary group. The “orthodox proposal” actually threatens the cross-communal elite supposed to foster cross-communal harmony by changing the way cross-communal alliances are done. Instead of taking place between two members of the elite (belonging to different communities) before the election, it will take place after the elections, in Parliament. So it shifts the responsibility of inter-communal harmony from the elite to the voter. Is that such a dangerous move?
Another expected result would be the diversification of political parties within parliament. The Christians MPs would no longer be the only ones divided into different groups (that are paradoxically rather hard to distinguish from one another on ideological grounds). Others communities would see the same result due to proportional representation. Salafis would be able to enter the Parliament, displacing their grievances from the streets to the Chamber of deputies. The Muslim brotherhood will no longer need the Mustaqbal to enter government. The Mustaqbal won’t be able to crush the Ahbash in Beirut any longer… The same applies to the Druze and the Shiites. The mahdalé that Joumblatt set up in Southern Mount Lebanon and the one that Amal & Hezbollah operate in the South won’t operate anymore. Talal Arslan won’t be humiliated every time, and who knows, the Yazbakis might even choose to follow another leader. Sheikh Mohammad al Hajj Hassan will probably enter parliament, and so will Ahmad al-Assad…

Posted in Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Islam, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Patronage Networks, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Reform, Speculation | Leave a Comment »

Les collèges électoraux confessionnels entre le تفو (tfou) et le نيعئ (nya32)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 20/02/2013

Hier, les commissions parlementaires conjointes, réunies sous la présidence de Nabih Berri, ont approuvé l’article 2 de la proposition de loi électorale suggérée par le “Rassemblement Grec-orthodoxe ». Cet article introduit deux nouveautés dans le droit électoral libanais: Il change le mode de scrutin et redéfinit les collèges électoraux. Effectivement:
– un mode de scrutin proportionnel remplace le mode de scrutin majoritaire que le Liban a connu jusqu’à maintenant.
– des collèges électoraux confessionnels remplacent les collèges électoraux pseudo-territoriaux (en réalité patrilinéaire et patriarcaux: le citoyen n’étant pas intégré au collège électoral de son lieu de résidence mais à celui de ses aïeux ou de son mari) auxquels nous nous sommes habitués.
Notons que l’accueil de ses deux changements a été diamétralement opposé. Le premier est applaudi, surtout au sein du monde associatif et journalistique, où un consensus très large s’est constitué autour de ce mode de scrutin bénéficiant d’un préjugé favorable et promu comme “plus démocratique”. Le second quant à lui a suscité une vague d’indignation, surtout au niveau de la presse et de la blogosphère. 
Ce changement dans la définition des collèges électoraux est indéniablement difficile à digérer. Non seulement il contredit notre tradition électorale et constitutionnelle, mais il s’oppose de manière brutale à notre idéologie d’État qui est anti-confessionnelle. Il est donc à ce titre triplement dérangeant, mais aussi triplement révolutionnaire.

Une redéfinition allergène et indigeste801657_52511123783
Les objections à l’établissement de collèges électoraux confessionnels sont nombreuses. Certaines se basent sur des principes que cette redéfinition des collèges électoraux violerait d’autres s’appuient sur les effets attendus de cette réforme électorale. Les examiner de manière individuelle prendrait trop de temps, surtout qu’il faudrait expliciter les nombreuses suppositions sur lesquelles elles se fondent et rappeler les ambiguïtés de notre système juridique et politique.
Certaines objections sont si farfelues et l’analyse déformée (par des considérations tenant plus à la cohérence idéologique de l’auteur que de ce qu’il observe), que j’étais d’abord tenté de “défendre” ou de “justifier” les collèges électoraux sur base confessionnelle. Mais à vrai dire, j’avais été moi-même choqué par cette proposition lorsqu’elle a été présenté par le “Rassemblement Grec-orthodoxe ». Donc au lieu de répondre aux arguments que d’autres personnes ont formulé, j’ai décidé d’analyser les raisons pour lesquels cette proposition m’avait choqué.
1. L’objection normative: le collège électoral confessionnel comme enfermement: l’établissement de collèges électoraux sur une base confessionnelle restreint le choix de l’électeur aux membres de sa propre communauté-confessionnelle. En d’autres mots, elle le renvoi non seulement à son appartenance confessionnelle, mais elle limite son choix électoral aux membres de sa confession. Notons que notre système électoral renvoi déjà l’électeur à sa confession à travers la manière dont le Ministère de l’Intérieur organise les registres d’électeurs auprès des bureaux de votes. Effectivement, cette organisation des registres se fait généralement sur une base confessionnelle: les électeurs relevant de communautés différentes tendent à voter “à part” même s’ils appartiennent au même collège électoral. (Notons que ce choix particulier d’organisation des registres n’a aucun intérêt sur le plan juridique, mais il se révèle pratique sur le plan politique dans les conflits autour de la représentativité confessionnelle de certains hommes politiques).
Ce n’est donc pas tant le renvoi à l’appartenance communautaire qui dérange dans cette loi, mais le fait qu’elle limite le choix des électeurs aux membres de leurs communautés. Ceci est ressenti comme un « enfermement supplémentaire » du citoyen dans sa communauté-confessionnelle, cette fois-ci sur le plan électoral. Mais est-ce que le fait de voter pour des candidats appartenant à d’autres communautés le “libère” pour autant? Et à quel prix se fait cette impression de “libération” sur le plan de la représentation de certaines communautés et de la représentativité de certains députés? C’est en somme les deux questions auxquelles le “père” de cette loi, Wael Kheir, nous renvoi.
2. L’objection socio-culturelle: inadéquation de ce type de collège électoral à l’inscription socio-culturelle de certains votants:  Cette proposition se révèle particulièrement problématique que pour deux types d’individus: ceux qui ne s’inscrivent pas dans leur groupe d’appartenance communautaire (c’est le cas des personnes qui n’ont pas été socialisées dans un groupe communautaire spécifique ou ceux qui le rejettent), et ceux dont le groupe d’appartenance ne correspond pas à celui de leur confession (celui qui ont été socialisées dans un groupe communautaire mixte). C’est en examinant le deuxième type d’individus que l’on réalise le caractère paradoxal de cette proposition de loi. Alors même qu’elle a été élaborée et promue à l’intention des communautés chrétiennes, elle contredit de manière flagrante leur réalité socio-culturelle. Effectivement, le degré d’intégration (ou d’interpénétration) de la majorité des confessions chrétiennes tant sur le plan social, spatial, économique, culturel et politique est tel que leur division en collèges électoraux distincts est difficile à justifier. Mais est-ce qu’elle met en danger ce rapprochement, cette interprétation? Est-ce qu’elle brisera les familles mixtes ou décourageras les mariages mixtes? Est-ce qu’elle aboutira à l’éclatement des partis politiques dont les cadres et la base recouvrent sur plusieurs confessions chrétiennes (CPL, FL, Kataeb,PNL, BN) ou plusieurs communautés religieuses (ex: PSNS)? Ce sont des questions qui sont intéressantes à poser du fait qu’elles peuvent être vérifiées. Une chose est certaine, le système confessionnel n’a pas freiné ce rapprochement et cette interpénétration qui semble augmenter d’une génération à une autre.
3. L’objection conservatrice: le bouleversement de la tradition électorale libanaise: La loi électorale libanaise traduit une certaine conception du “partage du pouvoir” (power sharing) fondée sur le principe de la diversité communautaire dans la représentation politique, la mixité communautaire dans l’élection des représentants et la collaboration trans-communautaire pour l’accès au pouvoir. Effectivement, Toutes les circonscriptions actuelles sont plurinominales, et la majorité est mixte aussi bien au niveau du collège électoral que des sièges parlementaires à pourvoir. Ceci oblige des politiciens appartenant à certaines communautés à s’allier à des politiciens appartenant à d’autres communautés, à courtiser des électeurs appartenant à plusieurs communautés et à envisager comme rivaux principaux des candidats appartenant à leur propres communautés (car c’est contre eux seuls qu’ils concourent). Les effets escomptés de ce système électoral sont multiples: au niveau de la classe politique, il est censé produire une élite trans-communautaire rompue aux alliances trans-communautaires (puisqu’elle doit son accès au pouvoir à une délibération trans-communautaire). Au niveau du discours, il est censé encourager la modération communautaire (puisque l’extrémisme coutera des voix aux politiciens). Au niveau de l’exercice du pouvoir, il est censé conduire à la neutralité communautaire des politiques publiques… Or, les effets escomptés de notre système politique ne se produisent plus ou ont été dévoyés. Comment alors justifier notre attachement à ces mécanismes? Peut-on continuer à refuser d’examiner les raisons de cette neutralisation des effets et ne pas explorer d’autres pistes?

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Civil Society, Diversity, Idiosyncrasy 961, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Reform, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »

Is Lebanon a failed state?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/07/2011

“By most common metrics Lebanon is essentially a failed state”. With these words Ghassan Karam began a post on Hezbollah on one of his blogs: Rational Republic. And as you might expect, that sentence started my blood boiling. Failed state?! by what common metrics?! I asked him the question and started looking into the indicators commonly used to assess if a State is failed or not…

Lebanon's evolution on the Failed State Index

The expression went mainstream thanks to the US’s foreign policy, notably its military interventions in Somalia (Restore Hope in 1992) and in Afghanistan (Enduring Freedom in 2001). Noam Chomsky in his book Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (Metropolitan books, 2006) being the semanticist that he is, showed the uses and abuses of this qualification by the American administration. So we know that the expression was quite useful to the US. But does that condemn the expression to an instrumental use in politics? Can it help us otherwise better understand the countries that are designated as “failed states” ? Let’s look into some indicators before trying to see how pertinent and significant it is to call Lebanon a failed state. I came across these indicators developed by the Fund For Peace for its annual index of Failed States: Demographic Pressures, Refugees & IDPs, Group Grievances, Human Flight & Brain Drain, Uneven Economic Development, Poverty & Economic Decline, Legitimacy of the State, Public Services, Human Rights & Rule of Law, Security Apparatus, Factionalized Elites, and External Intervention.

Looking into their index, we notice that they ranked Lebanon #43 in 2011, after ranking us #34 in 2010, #29 in 2009, #18 in 2008. So basically, we’re climbing higher and higher in the ranking… so things are looking good for us, if we trust these results. But do we? Does anyone feel a sense of positive progress in Lebanon? I know I don’t. So either my impressions are wrong or the Fund For Peace rating lacks accuracy or pertinence.
I’m not going to look into the relevance of each indicator, nor the way that each one has been measured. I’m just going to point out to two basic problems in this type of approach:

  • Its normative aspect. Lying behind the stated indicators are the assumptions on how a state should be.  And quite obviously, this model doesn’t take into account multi-ethnic societies where national identity cannot erase communal identities, and civic ties do not eliminate communal ties. But these are not necessarily mutually exclusive categories, regardless of what our “analysts” or should I say doctrinaires keep on rehashing.
  • Its dependence on exterior, or visible markers while some dynamics are less overt but sometimes more significant. How much informal politics can it monitor or grasp? How deep is its access to information?

A blog entry is no place to look into the accuracy of such processed data or the pertinence of the indicators. But let’s me say a word about the usage of this designation.

“Failed State” as Name-calling: anti-confessionalism’s new cloak
Those who claim that Lebanon is a failed state are usually the same people who argue that there is no citizenship (or citizen rights) in Lebanon… This approach is actually quite prevalent in Lebanon. A friend of mine sums it up under the heading “وين الدولة” (“where is the state”) which is often heard on television and on the streets when citizens voice their grievance. This claim about the state’s absence is equally widespread in academic and NGO circles. And so we hear “نحو المواطنية”، “بناء دولة القانون والمؤسسات”، “القيام بالدولة “، “من اجل المواطنية”… as if neither state nor citizenship existed. This approach is undeniably normative. It goes beyond expressing one’s dissatisfaction with the state’s performance. Actually, it circumvents this question by denying the very existence of the state or citizenship. The reason why the state’s existence (or citizenship) is denied is not grounded on facts. Any liberal would rightly argue that there is actually too much state in Lebanon. It’s an abstract, normative judgement based on a specific idea of what a State (or citizenship) should look like. It all boils down to the fact that many people are displeased by some feature of the Lebanese state that they attribute to what people call “confessionalism”, or more derogatorily  “sectarianism” or more neutrally “communalism”. So all this name-calling is actually grounded on a dislike of communalism in all its manifestation, social, legal, political. Paradoxically, the same people who combat communalism pride themselves in Lebanese diversity. So basically, they want to celebrate plural society but fight any of its manifestations.

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Discourse Analysis, Diversity, Idiosyncrasy 961, Lebanon | 2 Comments »

Habemus Majlisan!

Posted by worriedlebanese on 14/06/2011

Cinq mois de gestation – “autant qu’une chèvre”, comme l’a remarqué une amie – pour que le Liban accouche d’un gouvernement. On s’attendait à un changement notable, à un gouvernement tourné vers l’avenir. C’est peut-être ce que nous réservait la formule initiale de Nagib Miqati. Mais c’est finalement Nabih Berri qui a fait accoucher un gouvernement de 30 membres: un gouvernement résolument ancré dans la réalité la plus proche, la plus immédiate, celle du petit jeu politicien où le seul horizon est la prochaine échéance électorale (dont les contours commencent à se dessiner). Exit les ministres femmes. Aucune formation membre de la coalition gouvernementale (qui regroupe pas moins de 8 partis politiques et onze notables “indépendants”) n’a daigné proposer UNE ministre! Exit le seul “représentant de la société civile”, c’est-à-dire Ziad Baroud, qui a sans doute déçu plus d’un, mais qui jusqu’au bout a incarné par son style de communication et les valeurs qu’il représente le type de ministre auquel une majorité de libanais aspire. Exit l’espoir de l’inclusion des minorités. On avait parlé de la nomination d’un ministre Aléouite et de la réapparition d’un Ministre Protestant (à l’instar de B. Flayhan) ou Latin (à l’instar de N. de Freige)… espoirs déçus.

Avant d’examiner successivement les nouvelles dynamiques que reflète le gouvernement, commençons par une description sommaire.

Le second gouvernement Miqati comprend 8 partis politiques: CPL (6 ministres dont un d’État), PSP (3 ministres avec portefeuilles), Tashnag (2 ministres dont un d’État), Marada (2 ministres dont un d’État), Amal (2 ministres), Hezbollah (2 ministres dont un d’État), PSNS (1 ministre d’État), Parti Démocratique (1 ministre d’État). Les 11 autres ministres sont des “indépendants”.

Sur les 30 Ministres que comprend ce gouvernement, 8 sont hérités du gouvernement Saad Hariri (dont cinq gardent leur portefeuille ministériel) et 6 autres ont déjà participé à un gouvernement. Sur les 16 nouveaux ministres, 3 sont députés (S. Karam, A. Karamé, A. Terro), 5 ont été des candidats malheureux ou sacrifiés aux législatives de 2009 (Ch. Cortbawi, F. Ghosn, N. Khoury, V. Saboundjian, N. Sahnaoui) et 2 sont issus de la fonction publique (M. Charbel, P. Manjian).

Les éléments insolites du gouvernement

1. Migration communautaire des notables “indépendants”. Cette catégorie d’indépendants regroupe généralement des notables dont le capital politique n’est pas suffisamment important pour qu’ils constituent des partis politiques ou des réseaux clientélistes plus ou moins autonomes au sein de l’appareil public (étatique ou municipal). En réalité, la marge de manoeuvre politique des indépendants est extrêmement réduite, et ils doivent généralement s’appuyer sur un réseau clientéliste au sein de l’Etat, ce qui les rend très peu “indépendants”…

En raison de l’exclusion musclée de la majorité des forces politiques chrétiennes du jeu politique (de 1992 à 2005), le Liban s’est habitué d’une part à une sur-représentation de ministres chrétiens dit “indépendants” et d’autres part à une importante répartition de ministres chrétiens entre réseaux clientélistes musulmans (Chiites, Sunnites et Druzes). Cette tendance a été revue à la baisse depuis 2005 et la réintégration des principales forces politiques chrétiennes au jeu politique (grâce à la bipolarisation politique et la division des chrétiens… comme quoi la division peut faire la force). Aujourd’hui, on ne trouve que 4 ministres chrétiens “indépendants” (contre 11 ministres chrétiens affiliés à des forces politiques et des réseaux clientélistes chrétiens) : deux relèvent de la part présidentielle, un est le résultat d’un compromis entre deux personnalités maronites, et le quatrième relève du Premier Ministre sunnite).

En revanche, on retrouve ce phénomène des “indépendants” au sein d’une communauté musulmane: la communauté sunnite avec 6 “indépendants” sur les 7 ministres qui lui ont été attribués (le septième relève du réseau clientéliste Druze). Ceci a eu lieu suite à l’exclusion musclée du Courant du Future – le réseau clientéliste essentiellement sunnite appartenant à la famille Haririqu’elle a constitué depuis 1992 et graduellement transformé en un des piliers du pouvoir au Liban qui est devenu depuis 2005 la formation hégémonique sunnite.

2. Déséquilibre communautaire. Pour pallier aux défauts dans la représentativité des ministres sunnites, on a accordé aux sunnites un ministère (d’État) en plus et aux chiites un ministère (d’État) en moins… Pour la première fois depuis des décennies, on a dérogé à la règle du partage égale entre Maronites, Chiites et Sunnites. Le second gouvernement Miqati comporte 7 ministres Sunnites, 6 ministres Maronites et 5 ministres Chiites. Et on a continué dans la politique d’exclusion des petites communautés, notamment Arméniennes-Catholiques, Protestantes, Latines et Aléouites qui sont représentées au parlement mais pas au gouvernement.

3. Un régime dissocié. Le pouvoir quadripartite perd une de ses roues. Une des forces principales qui participe à la gouvernance du pays ne participera pas au gouvernement: Le Courant du Future. Son exclusion du gouvernement ne signifie pas pour autant son exclusion de la gouvernance pour trois raison:

  • Depuis les années 1980, ce réseau peut compter sur de solides relations internationales établies par la famille Hariri avec le pouvoir Séoudien, Emirati, et Kuwaitien, sans compter sur les relations avec les gouvernements et les milieux d’affaires occidentaux (et notamment Français et Américains).
  • Depuis 1992, ce réseau a infiltré l’appareil étatique à travers une politique de nomination, de protection, et de captation d’autres réseaux. Aujourd’hui, il a la particularité de pouvoir s’appuyer à la fois sur des agents et des réseaux étatiques et extra-étatiques (un grand nombre de sociétés privées dans le domaine de la construction, de la banque, des médias, de la communication…). Depuis 1998, ce réseau  a montré à plusieurs reprises que son exclusion d’un ministère ne signifiait pas l’arrêt de son influence.
  • Enfin, depuis 2005, ce réseau peut compter sur une forte mobilisation de la communauté sunnite à l’intérieur comme à l’extérieur de l’Etat.

Depuis 1992, la gouvernance au Liban est constitué autour de quatre principaux groupes politiques: le Courant du Future, le Parti Socialiste Progressiste, Amal et Hezbollah. Chaque groupe politique s’appuie sur un réseau clientéliste dont trois phagocytent: le réseau clientéliste chiite de Nabih Berri, le réseau clientéliste sunnite de Rafic Hariri et le réseau clientéliste druze de Walid Joumblatt.

Jusqu’en 2005, la structuration clientéliste du pouvoir connaissait deux “anomalies”:

  • L’anomalie du Hezb. Un des piliers du pouvoir possédait un réseau clientéliste qui ne s’appuyait pas sur l’Etat, ni pour défendre ses intérêts, ni pour y puiser ses ressources. Effectivement, pour défendre ses intérêts, le Hezbollah comptait sur la Syrie, et pour ses ressources il s’appuyait sur l’Iran et la diaspora.
  • L’anomalie chrétienne. Dans la configuration quadripartite bâtie par la Syrie, les chrétiens n’avaient que deux choix: soit intégrer les petits réseaux clientélistes chrétiens de Frangieh, de Murr et des familles de Zahlé à faible rendement politique, soit intégrer les sous-réseaux clientélistes chrétiens qui relèvent des grands réseaux de Zaïm musulmans (principalement Jumblatt pour le Mont Liban méridional, Hariri pour Beyrouth et Berry pour le Sud).
Avec le gouvernement Miqati, trois nouvelles “anomalies” se sont rajoutés:
  • L’anomalie CPL: la principale force politique au gouvernement, le CPL avec ses 6 ministres, ne s’appuie pas sur un réseau clientéliste (le CPL ne semble pas avoir bâti durant ses trois années de participation au pouvoir un réseau clientéliste peut-être en raison du peu de nomination, à la différence des Forces Libanaises qui ont su être beaucoup plus efficace au sein des FSI, par exemple).
  • L’anomalie Sunnite: la principale force politique au parlement, et une des principales forces clientélistes au sein de l’appareil étatique est exclue du gouvernement. Elle est remplacée par des notables “indépendants” qui s’en rapprochent sur le fond (surtout par rapport à la politique économique et les relations internationales) mais qui ne peuvent pas remplir les mêmes fonctions symboliques et clientélistes. Ceci va créer une nouvelle dynamique qui va sans doute compliquer et alourdir le travail gouvernemental, mais peut-être profiter au Courant du Future (mais pas à ses alliés chrétiens).
  • Vers la résorption de l’anomalie Hezb? Le Hezb peut de moins en moins compter sur un appui étranger et se voit contraint de s’appuyer sur l’Etat libanais. Ceci l’a conduit à faire chuter un gouvernement et à écarter le premier ministre qui n’était pas prêt à lui accorder la couverture dont il a besoin…
Le développement des réseaux clientélistes et la manière dont ils ont phagocyté l’Etat Libanais ont conduit au développement d’un mode de gouvernance qui repose sur des règles informelles apportées par les différents acteurs afin de protéger leurs intérêts. Même si ces règles informelles contredisaient les principes formels de gouvernement (comme le pouvoir hiérarchique au sein de l’administration, la centralisation du pouvoir et la séparation des pouvoirs), le gouvernement reflétait en quelque sorte le système de partage des ressources et de répartition du pouvoir au sein de l’appareil étatique. Avec les nouvelles anomalies qui se sont rajoutées au système suite à la formation du deuxième gouvernement Miqati, nous entrons dans une nouvelle phase où le gouvernement ne reflète plus le système de gouvernance (ni la répartition des forces au sein de la société)… Cette nouvelle tension entre le pouvoir “réel” et le pouvoir “formel” ne peut perdurer sans influer sur les règles formelles ou informelles du pouvoir… La manière dont ceci se fera n’est pas encore clair.

Posted in Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Patronage Networks, Political behaviour, Reform, Version Francophone | 2 Comments »

The secular march… what next?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 14/07/2010

What is future of the Lebanese Laïque Pride? Salman al-Andari offers us an informed glimpse at what lies ahead for this dynamic group of Lebanese in an article published by the  Nahar al-Shabab: “The secular march… what next?“. He asks three people involved in this march what future steps should be undertaken to achieve their goal. A quick look at their answers shows that they are facing huge problems that were perceptible from the onset: There’s a whole lot of ideology (and ideological confusions), the goal is general and vague, and the action plan unfocused.

Instead of analysing their arguments, I believe it would be more interesting to try to suggests some concrete and profitable future steps. But I honestly can’t do it because the goal is too vague and the ideological matter too thick. This is not really the “Laïque Pride” groups fault. The issue they are tackling, secularisation/secularism/laïcité, is an extremely ideological one. This is particularly true in Lebanon (with our consociative system and its anti-confessionalist rhetoric and program) and France (with its particular blend of republicanism and its religious history and anti-religious rhetoric). So basically, here are the problems they are facing:

– “Laïque pride” is running under a highly ideological banner, that of Laïcité. This word is extremely tricky because its definition speaks of absolutes while its history is that of compromises. Moreover, laïcité presents itself as an abstract and universal principle, while it is grounded in a very particular history (that of France) and owes a lot to it.

– “Laïque pride” embraces a very common reading of Lebanese politics that is extremely ideological and misleading: it adopts the constitutional program for the abolition of confessionalism, it confuses State-Religion relations with Society-Religion relations, it opposes communalism and secularism… Its Arabic name is even more emblematic, “the seculars’ march towards citizenship”, which fits perfectly with other slogans used by the political class such as “abolishing confessionalism to give birth to the nation” (what I call national negationism, a virulent type of national self-loathing), or “building the state” (delusion at its best, we’ve got a huge and expensive state). Is there a more effective way to disfranchise citizens than by refusing to acknowledge the rights that they already have?

Is there a way out of this? Obviously, but it won’t be simple. There’s a whole lot of intellectual work that should be done. And this type of work takes time and needs a lot of ressources. And like all intellectual activities, its only reward is intellectual. I’m not sure that Laïque Pride is really interested in “intellectual rewards”. They want change and they want it now. And this attitude is the reason for their success. Anti-confessionalists in Lebanon are comfortable in their certitudes and they are frustrated by what they perceive is a lack of change on this issue (this perception is erroneous… the Lebanese political system is all but static, and it has been undergoing constant changes since the 1920s… all of them allegedly reinforcing the so-called “confessionalism”, but actually diverting it and changing its meaning).

What are the risks of avoiding this “intellectual work” and remaining in these murky ideological waters? I believe this would condemn the goal to remain general and vague, and the action plan to remain unfocused. How much would this hinder “Laïque Pride”… I’m not so sure. The group didn’t propose any new content, what it did is offer a new packaging and a new methodology. It repackaged the dominant anti-confessional rhetoric, put it under a new label “laïque pride” (likely to attract a westernised middle class crowd), functioned as a network and used Facebook as a mobilising tool. The group proved that it was rather good in what it did. To sum things up, there’s a conventional side to “Laïque Pride” (its substance) and an innovative side to it (its form). It’s not clear how long the innovative dimension will remain. When asked about the future step “Laïque Pride” should undertake, the three activists interviewed by Salman al-Andari gave extremely conventional answers. They proposed what other organisations have been doing for years.

So at the end of the day, Laïque Pride can be summed up as a particular moment in “anti-confessional” activism in which a new generation takes possession of a heritage and gives it a facelift. Its success and its failing will be those of the “anti-confessionnal” movement, that has always been politically hijacked by communal leaders and patrons (Kamal Joumblatt yesterday, Nabih Berri today), and its only horizon seems to be the civil marriage proposition which will condemn all Lebanese who seek to avoid religious law to a conservative, patriarchal and bigoted alternative (check out the Hraoui proposition if you’re not convinced) deemed good because “secular”, instead of allowing them to choose more liberal laws abroad.

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Blogosphere, Civil Society, Culture, Discourse, Idiosyncrasy 961, Lebanon, Secularism | Leave a Comment »

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 »

Muslim-Christian feast… symbolised by a song

Posted by worriedlebanese on 04/04/2010

This year, Lebanon finally celebrated its first muslim-christian feast: the Annunciation (البشارة) on March 25th. I said “finally” because the decision had been taken last year by the Council of Ministers, but the Prime Minister Fuad Siniora had refused to sign the decree, yielding to pressure from the Sunni Grand Mufti who had disapproved of the decision (and sacked one of its most crucial promoters, his secretary).

This day commemorates the announcement to Mary (by the archangel Gabriel) that she would miraculously conceive a child despite being a virgin. As long as you don’t go into details and stick to this general description of the commemoration, you’ll find it compatible with the New Testament and the Coran. But if you delve into the details, disagreements between the two texts start to appear. For Christians, the angel announced the birth of the Son of God, Jesus (يسوع or in the old language of Lebanon يشوع), for Muslims, the angel announced the birth of a Prophet, Issa (عيسى). Now these are very important dogmatic and theological differences. So to safeguard this feast consensual and inter-religions character, one has to respect the delicate line between what assembles and what separates; keep to the communalities and discard differences.

At first, I was quite skeptical about this inter-religious feast. When I was asked to write a short article about it last year, I had to fight against myself to “stay positive”, rein in my skepticism and cynism. But oddly enough, when the current Prime Minister Saad Hariri signed the decree in February, and announced it to the pope in Rome, I started to feel that there was something good about that celebration, and felt all the potential it had. Hopefully, it will be more meaningful (and pleasing to the eye and ear) than this rendering of the Ave Maria.

Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Religion, Values | 8 Comments »

How to destroy the Dialogue Table?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/03/2010

I wish I were able to leave the question mark out of the title. But I honestly don’t think anyone has a chance of ridding the country from this “official informal institution”. Any law student would tell you that’s a contradiction in terms, a state institution cannot be informal, and an informal committee cannot have an official status. That’s probably true, but our political class isn’t afraid of absurdities.

Now here’s the composition (for the past two days, the press has been debating quite lengthily the Table’s composition, but I only found one source that actually stated everyone’s name (as we all know the local press isn’t interested in hard data, it’s interested in opinions):

The communal Zu’ama:
– Nabih Berri, MP, Speaker, former warlord, Shiite Super-Za’im and head of the Amal patronage Network
– Saad Hariri, MP, Prime Minister, Sunni Super-Za’im, Representative of the Hariri Clan and head of the Future patronage Network
– Michel Aoun, MP, former commander-in-chief of the army, Christian Super-Za’im, head of a sprouting patronage network
– Walid Jumblatt, MP, former warlord, Druze Super-Za’im, head of the PSP patronage network
– Hassan Nasrallah (current warlord and head of the Hezbollah patronage network) represented by Mohammad Raad (MP)

Second rank Zu’ama
– Amin Gemayel, former President, son and brother of a former warlord, father and uncle of two MPs, Kataeb Leader hoping to re-establish his patronage network
– Sleiman Franjieh, MP, former warlord, head of the Marada patronage network
– Hagop Pakradounian, MP, Armenian Za’im, head of Tashnag patronage network.
– Samir Geagea, former warlord, husband of MP, Lebanese Forces leader, arguably the head of the fastest growing patronage network.
– Talal Arslan, MP, Druze Za’im, head of the Democratic Party patronage network.

Others (Billionnaires, and other notables)
Najib Mikati (MP, former PM)
Mohammad Safadi (MP, Minister)
Fouad Siniora (MP, former PM)
Farid Makari (MP, Deputy Speaker),
Elias al-Murr (Deputy PM and Defense Minister)
Michel Pharaon (MP, former Minister of nothing)
Jean Ogassapian (MP, Minister of nothing )
Assaad Hardane (MP, former Minister)
Fayez Chahine (Dean of Law Faculty and proud son of Zahle)
and… Michel Suleiman (President, former commander-in-chief of the army)

Simple stats:
Gender composition: 20 men, No women!!

Communal distribution: 4 Sunni (3 billionaires), 5 Maronite, 3 Greek-Orthodox (the dinosaures are out), 2 Shiite, 2 Druze (both half Jumblatt, half Arslan), 2 Armenian, 2 Greek-Catholic. IOW 14 christans for 6 Muslim, a ratio unheard of, even in the 19th century when Christians made up about 84 % of the population.

Patronage networks represented: All except one! Michel Murr’s network that he hasn’t handed down to his son, Elias Murr who is a new member of the National Dialogue Table.

Blocs represented: All of Lebanon’s parliamentary blocs are represented!
– Blocs part of the ruling coalition:

Lebanon First (30 MPs): 4 (Hariri, Siniora, Makari, Ogassapian),
Reform and Change (18 MPs): 1 (Aoun),
Development and Liberation (13 MPs): 1 (Berri),
Loyalty and Resistance (12): 1 (Raad),
Democratic Gathering (12 MPs): 1 (Joumblatt),
Lebanese Forces (8 MPs): 1 (Geagea),
Kataeb (5 MPs): 1 (Gemayel),
Zgharta (4 MPs): 1 (Frangieh),
Armenian (2 MPs): 1 (Pakradounian),
Tripoli (2 MPs): 1 (Safadi),

Blocs that are not part of the ruling coalition:

Nationalist and Patriotic (4 MPs): 1 (Hardan),
Unity of the Mountain (4 MPs): 1 (Arslan),

Independents (11 MPs)
2 (Miqati, Pharaon)
Others (non-parliamentarians)
3 (Michel Suleiman, Elias Murr, Hage-Chahine)

Chessboard players represented:

March XIV: 8 (Lebanon First, Lebanese Forces, Kataeb, Tripoli, “Independent”)
Orange: 2 (Reform and Change, Armenian)
Jumblatt: 1 (Democratic Gathering)
Centre: 4 (Miqati, Suleiman, Murr, Hage-Chehine)
March 8th: 5 (Loyalty and Resistance, Liberation and Development, Zgharta, Unity of the Mountain, Nationalist and Patriotic)

Regions and cities represented by “their” communal “representatives”

Tripoli: 2 Sunni notables
Saida: 1 Sunni Super-Za’im, 1 Sunni notable
Zahle: 1 Greek-Catholic notable (future politician)
Beyrouth: 1 Greek Catholic notable. No sunni (Hairi should count for Saida in these equations), No Greek-Orthodox
Koura: 1 Greek-Orthodox notable
Northern Mount Lebanon: 1 Maronite Super-Za’im, 1 Maronite Za’im, 1 G-O notable
Historic Mount Lebanon: 2 Maronite Zu’ama
Southern Mount Lebanon: 1 Druze Super-Za’im, 1 Druze Za’im
Nabatieh: 1 Greek-Orthodox notable, 1 Shiite notable (representing a Za’im)
South: 1 Shiite Super-Za’im
Beqaa: None
Baalbeck-Hermel: None
Akkar: None

Posted in Diversity, Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Patronage Networks, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics, Semantics | 2 Comments »

Language contre language

Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/02/2010

A la différence de ses collègues, Anne-Marie el-Hage ne semble pas avoir de prétentions journalistiques. C’est en tant que citoyenne qu’elle grogne dans les pages de l’Orient Le Jour, puisant de son expérience,  de sa vie quotidienne (c’est à peu près ce que font tous ses collègues du journal, mais passons).
Aujourd’hui, elle nous donne rien moins qu’une petite leçon sur le language! Cette leçon porte sur le language confessionnel au Liban, mais en réalité elle se révèle une excellente leçon en language journalistique libanais.
Sa leçon se compose en deux parties: une définition suivie d’une illustration. La définition est très vague et se réduit à une typologie extrêmement floue qui distingue entre un language confessionnel ordinaire (“quotidien”) et un language confessionnel “discriminatoire” (“qui dérape”).

  1. Le language confessionnel ordinaire est pour elle la conséquence du système confessionnel. Cette présomption en forme de rapport de causalité lui permet de faire l’économie d’une définition, d’une illustration et d’une démonstration.
  2. Le language confessionnel discriminatoire est celui qui l’intéresse. Elle s’y attarde un peu plus puisque tout le mal qu’elle pourrait en dire se rapporteront à l’illustration par un rapport de transitivité simple (encore une fois, aucun besoin de démonstration). Anne-Marie el-Hage préfère l’énumération à la définition. Dans cette catégorie valise qu’elle a créé, elle inclut les “blagues déplacées”, les “convictions-clichés”, les discours haineux de la guerre, les “attaques verbales contre des chefs religieux”, “l’affront à la communauté”, et “l’incitation à la haine”. En somme, elle jette dans la même catégorie les préjugés (et leurs multiples expressions), les propos qui accompagnent des actes meurtriers et la fameuse notion pénale libanaise d’incitation à la haine confessionnelle (en fait beaucoup plus vague dans le texte arabe إثارة النعرات الطائفية et dans la pratique juridictionnelle) qu’elle évoque dans une lecture qui semble extrêmement large et donc répressive.

Après ce semblant de définition du language confessionnel, notre citoyenne syndiquée attaque finalement le sujet qui la taraude et qu’elle présente comme une illustration du language confessionnel “qui dérape”: le prêche d’un prêtre maronite dans une banlieue chrétienne de Beyrouth. C’est par ces mots qu’elle plante le décor et ce sont les informations les plus précises de l’article. Nous ne saurons rien sur le nom du prêtre, de l’Eglise ou même du quartier: l’étiquette confessionnelle suffit aux yeux de l’auteur. Et elle poursuit ce flou dans la description des événements: le prêtre serait coupable “d’attaques verbales contre des chefs religieux d’une communauté musulmane du pays, éclaboussant au passage la communauté dans son ensemble”, ce qui relèverait d’un “affront à la communauté”. Nous ne serons évidemment rien sur ce que le prêtre a dit. L’article ressemble au dispositif d’un arrêt d’une cour de cassation, succinct, abstrait, définitif. Anne-Marie el-Hage traduit les faits en language abstrait, elle les qualifie (comme on le dit en language juridique), rappelle la règle et tranche.

Les lecteurs du journal ne sauront rien sur les propos du prélat. On ne leur donne pas l’occasion de se faire leur propre idée des mots et de l’argument de la personne dont le journaliste parle. Le sujet principal de l’article s’efface devant la figure du journaliste qui se pose en juge. Si le sujet l’intéresse,  c’est au lecteur d’aller chercher les faits en se renseignant auprès de proches, en rapprochant quelques indices essaimés  dans l’article d’autres informations trouvées ailleurs. Mais, à vrai dire, la seule piste que le lecteur pourra prendre est confessionnelle (car c’est finalement la seule que le journal lui laisse)… Et l’information la plus facile à trouver (ailleurs que dans l’article évidemment) est l’identification de “la communauté musulmane”. En gros, la seule information qui transparaît dans cet article est “un prélat s’attaque à une communauté musulmane”… ce n’est pas de l’info c’est une manchette… une manchette sans article! N’est-ce pas un bon exemple du language journalistique libanais? Ne serait-ce pas justement cela l’incitation confessionnelle?

Pour ne pas agir comme elle, voici l’article incriminé: Dérapage verbal par Anne-Marie El-HAGE (13 février 2010).

Posted in Culture, Discourse, Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Journalism, Lebanon, Semantics, Values, Version Francophone | 1 Comment »

Subdividing Beirut… issues raised and matters forgotten

Posted by worriedlebanese on 05/02/2010

For Lebanese reformists, there are two ways to approach the coming municipal elections: either as an opportunity for electoral reforms, or a first step towards decentralisation. The Minister of the Interior, Ziyad Baroud, has obviously opted for the first perspective. He is using every occasion possible to present himself as Minister of electoral reforms (a role he has yet failed to live up to) and has up to now “solved” the paradox of his position, that of holding the position of “Minister of centralisation” (Minister of the Interior), and “Minister of decentralisation” (Minister of municipalities, the only elected decentralised authority in Lebanon), by sacrificing the second to the first.

Ziad Baroud has been ignoring the specific stakes of municipal elections, forgetting about their local and national significance, and using them as an opportunity to introduce the changes he wants to make for the parliamentary elections: applying proportional representation, quota for women and immigrant vote in elections with no (official) communal representation.

Sub-dividing Beirut into electoral districts or municipalities?

The Free Patriotic Movement, on the other hand, has opted for the second choice. It sees the coming elections as an opportunity to push forward decentralisation, but not a very liberal one. It has put forward two ideas:

  • Dividing the municipality into three separate municipalities, following the same division and joining together the same “neighbourhoods” as the 2009 parliamentary elections. And transforming the Beirut municipality into a federation of municipalities.
  • Dividing the municipality into three electoral districts, without subdividing the municipality into smaller units.

These proposals are actually two versions of the same. They answer the same concerns and both ignore extremely important issues. They both express specifically christian political concerns: democratic representation of christian voters, guarantees for a large christian representation within the municipal council (this concern had been addressed by Rafic Hariri, personally without any institutional guarantee), guarantee the interests of christian neighbourhoods (mostly ignored by the municipality up to now).
Both proposals do not address important issues such as the socio-economic coherence or relevance of the districts, the will of Beirut’s inhabitants and issues relating to democratic governance, and the international attractiveness and competitiveness of Beirut. We’ll look into these four points in more detail:

Coherence and Relevance of the districts or municipalities proposed. The districts are not really based on neighbourhoods. Beirut is so centralised that it hasn’t organised any subdivision. The only ones you find are the postal divisions and the cadastral divisions. What electoral pundits call neighbourhoods (the ones you see on the map) are actually the cadastral divisions of the capital that are equally used by the Ministry of the Interior in its civil registries and  its electoral rolls (that are based on the registries and not on the place of residence).
The problem with the proposal is that it doesn’t address the specific problems that an area such as Solidere poses to Beirut: the Downtown area is managed by a private company that assures many services, most of its inhabitants were displaced by the war and their return was prevented by the creation and the management of Solidere, the area Solidere manages falls in the three proposed districts.

It doesn’t address the problem of the disparities between the district it proposes. The first proposed district is absurd. Almost half of it is part of Solidere and is largely uninhabited by local voters (the Marfa’ cadastral zone). Medawar is a mix of port facilities, semi-industrial zones and wasteland and small residential pockets socio-economically linked to the second district (they form with “Remeil” cadastral zone, the neighbourhood known as Gemayzé and Mar Mikhael). The second proposed district is coherent (even if it is a slightly truncated), it represents an area that is known as “Ashrafieh” which is the politically correct term that replaced “East Beirut” where most of Beirut’s Christians relocated in the 1970s and 1980s. The third proposed district is extremely large, populous and socially fragmented and disparate. It roughly coincides with the former “West Beirut” that became almost exclusively Muslim but fragmented throughout the war and since. People usually subdivided into 4 parts: Ras Beirut (a region that includes Ain el Mreiseh), Solidere and two fragmented regions that include Jneh,Tariq el Jdide, Mar Elias, Sabra-Chatila, Basta, Mazra’a and Musaitbe.

The will of Beirut’s inhabitants. This is a notion that is completely foreign to the current Lebanese system. You do not vote according to where you live, but according to where you are registered at the Ministry of Interior! Following this principle, less than 50% of Beirut’s inhabitants vote, and most of its voters do not live in Beirut (they either reside abroad or in Beirut’s suburbs). I personally haven’t heard of such a system in any democratic country but in Lebanon it is considered to be normal, and no one seems to question it. I had brought this anomaly up on many occasions, at university, in academic circles, in conversations with Ziyad Baroud when he was still an activist, within LADE. I usually got a “yes, this is important” but it was never seriously discussed.

This division of Beirut into three electoral districts or municipalities is actually quite popular in “Ashrafieh”, but in the other proposed districts it is highly unpopular, and the FPM didn’t do anything to make it popular there because the orange party fails to take into consideration the concerns of  Lebanese Muslims.

Democratic governance. The executive power in Beirut is divided between the Mayor and the Governor. The former is elected, the second is appointed. The FPM’s proposal doesn’t see anything wrong with that. In its most ambitious proposal, it actually reinforced the Governor, a non elected civil servant that is administratively linked to the Ministry of the Interior, but that is always handed to a Greek-Orthodox, while Beirut’s Mayor is always taken by a Sunni (even though by law there are no communally reserved seats in municipalities or public administrations). The FPM’s proposal takes one step towards decentralisation and another towards increased centralisation. Odd, don’t you think?

So basically, not only this proposal doesn’t make Beirut’s governance more democratic, but it also upsets the intercommunal arrangement by reinforcing one side against the other.

International attractiveness and competitiveness of Beirut. Now this issue only seems to interest Solidere, but for Solidere, it’s more about marketing Beirut and advancing the attractiveness of Solidere (and Solidere International) than working on policies to enhance the role and capacities of the capital in the global economy. The rest of the country is completely unconcerned by this issue. This is the central point that I will be writing on in my next post… stay tuned.

Posted in Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Propositions | 3 Comments »

Beirut’s municipal elections: formal rules, informal arrangements and incongruous reforms

Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/02/2010

Marwan Rechmaoui's Beirut Caoutchouc

Many questions are under discussion these days surrounding the municipal elections, one could argue that it’s kind of late to launch such fundamental political debates knowing that we’re only a couple of months away from the election day.

  • lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.
  • introducing a quota for women (20%)
  • introducing  a system of proportional representation.
  • allowing expats to vote in Embassies.
  • modifying the administrative division of Beirut.

Preceding each election, the Minister of the Interior, Ziyad Baroud, tries to push for some reform even though he is handed the files a couple of months before the elections. He failed to do much for the parliamentary elections in 2009. The only notable changes he made concerned spending and media coverage (and removing the only “dynamic” feature of the Lebanese electoral system: multiple electoral days), and they had no legal effect whatsoever. So I wonder what he’s going to pull off this time. Not much, I’m sure.

I won’t be discussing all the points I mentioned earlier in this little post. I’d rather stick to one point, that of modifying the administrative division of Beirut. This question is particularly interesting because Beirut is by far the country’s largest, most populated and wealthiest municipality, but also its weakest (the executive powers are shared with the Muhafiz and the municipality has no say on the downtown that was handed to a private company). One could add that its importance lies in what it represents to people. It is often referred to as the “heart” of the country, a “reduced version” of the country, its most “advanced region”, the “symbol of coexistence”…

The current mechanics: between formal rules and informal arrangements

  • The Ministry of Interior prepares the voting rolls regardless of the will of the voter or the place of their residence. People are registered on the voting roll of the place their father was registered, unless they modify their “family” registration number (which is also done by the Ministry of Interior according to a lengthy and complicated procedure).
  • It calls for the election of 24 representatives, regardless of their communal belonging. No seat is reserved for a specific locality or community.
  • Candidates run individually and those who gather the most votes fill the 24 seats.

Now these are the legal rules. Rafic Hariri added some informal arrangements. None of them are legally binding. They are informal rules of the game that are followed because their sponsor has the clout and the power to enforce them. His power comes from his wealth, from his patronage network, from the active mobilisation of his community (on whom he can impose these rules) and on the fact that he proposes to the Christians an offer they cannot refuse (if he didn’t enforce the parity rule on his voters, he could impose a mostly or even totally sunni municipal council).  So here are the informal rules that Rafic Hariri devised, and that his son Saad Hariri has espoused:

  • People have to vote for complete lists.
  • The lists are composed of 12 muslim and 12 christian candidates.
  • The list’s sponsor chooses the head of the municipality and all the other candidates.

Ziyad Baroud, Minister of (incongruous) electoral reform?

  • Adopting a closed-slate system.
  • Adopting the proportional representation system.
  • Allowing expats to vote in Embassies.
  • Lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.

The whole idea behind Ziyad Baroud’s proposition is that he will be introducing positive reform to the election system, setting an example that would be later extended to the parliamentary elections. This idea is based on the assumption that the proportional representation system is the fairest, the most progressive and the most adapted to Lebanon (three assumptions that are actually easy to refute with a simple simulation game). In practical terms, the Minister of the Interior would be comforting any list that Hariri is backing (not that he needs it) because he will be imposing closed lists on people (the most difficult task for a list sponsor to acheive). But the other effect of the proportional representation is that it will probably prevent the outcome of communal parity, and by doing so, it will be encouraging on the long run communal mobilisation (this is from where Hariri’s power hails, if other leaders want to join, they have to replicated it, the system of proportional representation with no communal quotas will reward them for that) and proportionate communal representation (a simple simulation game would show that too).

The following post will deal with the Orange proposition.

Posted in Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Politics, Propositions, Reform | 2 Comments »

Envisioning Beirut… beyond the municipal elections

Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/02/2010

I will be writing this week a three part series on Beirut and the municipal elections.

  • I’ll start with a general overview of the debate and Ziyad Baroud’s proposal.

Beirut’s municipal elections: formal rules, informal arrangements and incongruous reforms

  • Then I’ll look into the FPM’s proposal.

Subdividing Beirut… issues raised and matters forgotten

  • And I’ll finish the series with my very own proposal

Posted in Discourse, Diversity, Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics, Propositions, Reform | Leave a Comment »

And Hermes gazed at Walid J.

Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/01/2010

You’ve probably heard of the last reconciliation spree Walid Jumblatt has embarked on. After meeting with second rank Hezbollah and Amal representatives in Choueifat, he headed to Rabieh to mend fence with Michel Aoun. Editorialists and other pundits have been commenting on what was said behind closed door (in truth what was probably said, but they’d never confess to have unreliable and second hand information), and trying to decipher the intent behind each word the two Zu’ama used in their public declarations following their meeting. I wouldn’t go into that because as Martin Gore philosophically wrote “words are meaningless and forgettable”. Even if they declared that the sky was pink, it wouldn’t make it any less blue now would it?

Reinforcing informal arrangements, communal representations & segregated space

What is important is to see how the politicians are expressing themselves and how they interpret their own acts. Following the meeting in Chueifat (that gathered ), Jumblatt declared that “the Choueifat reconciliation healed a wound which almost destroyed historic, humane and political communication between the Mountain, Dahieh and Beirut if the conflict had expanded” (بإتمام مصالحة الشويفات يختتم جرح كاد يدمر التواصل التاريخي والإنساني والسياسي بين الجبل والضاحية وبيروت لو توسع). His use of these three locations is quite interesting. Each term refers implicitly to a communal group and an area under the control of one communal leader. This reinforces the image of a spatial segregation between the three communities and the link between one leader that effectively controles the territory and the community that he supposedly represents.

  • The Mountain refers to the Druze, even though it is an extremely mixed area that is effectively controled by Walid Jumblatt.
  • Dahieh (which means the Suburb) refers to the Shiites, even though it is still somewhat mixed (with a strong presence of Palestinians and a residual presence of Christians, Sunnis and Druze), and it is effectively controlled by Hezbollah.
  • Beirut refers to the Sunni, even though they make approximately 35% of its inhabitants, and it is [in]effectively controlled by the Hariri clan.

With this simple coded reference, the leader reinforces an (inaccurate) image of communal homogeneity and confirms a (very real) informal spatial division of three easily recognisable leaderships. Let’s not forget that Dahieh and the Mountain do not constitute an administrative unity but each is formally divided into multiple municipalities that are regrouped together in larger administrative units (Baabda, Aley, Chouf). So the reference brushes away the administrative divisions and puts forward the limits of each leaderships territory.

Asserting supernatural powers

All these reconciliatory meetings are very nice social events in which the atmosphere is cool, everyone is optimistic and positive, and the coffee is excellent. The agreement that comes out of them never seems to translate into actions and nothing is done about the past grievances. The words are meant to wash everything away and what is declared is meant to take effect immediately. So in this case, when the communal leaders declare an intercommunal reconciliation is declared, then the intercommunal reconciliation is realised. Now how do they do it?

The answer is simple, through this declaration, they assert that they are first rank politicians and that they are communal leaders (a feature that the Lebanese institutional system doesn’t allow and doesn’t recognise… but that’s another story). Not only they are communal leaders, but they are the true representatives of their communities, so their actions (or pronunciations) are those of their respective communities. In other words, when they pronounce intercommunal reconciliation they assert that they are the true voices of their communities. More than that, they assert that they are the true representatives of their communities. What is fascinating about this is that this pretense is not backed institutionally, our institutions do not recognise such a quality (it actually uses many political and legal tools to avert it). But our politicians act as if they are accorded this legal fiction of representation that allows them to act for the public good even when their acts are opposed by those who they are supposed to represent. Walid Jumblatt showed this belief of his when he said “It is true that I’m loosing in popularity, but I want to achieve a true reconciliation” (وصحيح أني أخسر شعبياً، ولكن أريد أن نصل إلى مصالحات حقيقيّة). This statement is truly fascinating. He’s actually saying that he can achieve true reconciliation even if the group that he represents are hostile to his action.

What to bring as a present when invited to lunch?

Well, José Saramago’s Gospel According to Jesus Christ, Obviously! This is the book that Walid Jumblatt offered Michel Aoun when he came along with half of his parliamentary group to have lunch with him in his home in Rabieh. When asked why he chose that book, he answered slyly that he didn’t know. No one commented that such a book would have never passed by our state’s censorship (if they were doing their work effectively) because it is considered to be totally sacrilegious. And truth to tell, it is not much different from Salman Rushdie’s Satanic verses in its approach to religion (God is completely narcissistic and cynical, Jesus listens to the devil, the devil is shocked by God’s cruelty, Angels are replaced by drunken soldiers or a dream, Jesus harms unintentionally and has a prolonged affair with Maria Magdalena, he has a favourite sheep… one that the devil almost convinces him to have sex with for release…). Would Walid Jumbatt have offered Rushdie’s book to Saad Hariri or Nabih Berri? I wonder.

What do you think he meant to do (or prove) with this gift?

Posted in Communication, Discourse, Diversity, Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Religion | Leave a Comment »