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Archive for the ‘Levantine Christians’ Category

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… au-delà du تفو (tfou) et du نيعئ (nya32)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 21/02/2013

Et si pour un petit moment on oubliait toutes les considérations normatives. Si pour un bref instant on laissait de côté les “on doit” et les “ça devrait” pour réfléchir à partir de “ce qui est”, de la réalité politique du Liban actuel. C’est seulement à partir de ce moment que l’on pourra mesurer les effets que la réforme électorale pourrait avoir. Observons notre paysage politique dans toutes ses composantes: les partis politiques, les citoyens/électeurs, le discours politique, le fonctionnement des institutions politiques… Que trouvons nous alors?

  • Des partis à étiquette communautaire qui fonctionnent comme structure clientéliste. Vous avez dit Tashnag pour les Arméniens? Parti Socialiste Progressiste pour les Druzes? Amal et Hezbollah pour les Chiites? Mustaqbal pour les Sunnites? Courant Patriotique Libre, Forces Libanaises, Kataeb, Marada, Parti National Libéral, Bloc National pour divers chrétiens? Ces partis dominent notre chambre des députés et le paysage politique libanais.
  • Un discours politique hyper-confessionnel. La question de la représentation/représentativité confessionnelle est un thème récurrent. D’abord l’apanage des partis chrétiens (exclu du jeu politique par l’occupant Syriens et ses alliés ou réduit à la portion congrue par leurs alliés de l’Alliance quadripartite), elle est aujourd’hui partagée par les partis et mouvances sunnites (Moustaqbal, “indépendants” et mouvances islamistes). Du côté Druze et Chiite, l’exercice monopolistique du pouvoir par des formations clientélistes/confessionnelles rend inutile tout discours sur la représentation/représentativité. Mais la défense des “intérêts communautaires” reste un enjeu principal et un thème récurrent.
  • Des citoyens obsédés par des considérations propres à leur groupe confessionnel. Les discussions politiques s’articulent surtout autour de la peur de l’Autre, et des dynamiques ou chamailleries intra-communautaire… Les Chrétiens sont obsédés par la rivalité entre Geagea et Aoun et ils ne parlent que du danger Iranien ou Séoudien (mot de code pour Sunnite et Chiite). Les Druzes se mobilisent derrière un seul homme pour exorciser leur peur de minoritaires dans “leurs” régions. La guerre civile syrienne traverse les Chiites et les Sunnites… Partout on brandit des figures du passé et on réchauffe leurs discours (Kamal, Bachir, Rachid, Camille, Pierre, Suleiman, Mousa, Rafik et compagnie)…
  • Des institutions politiques traversées, articulées ou paralysées par des réseaux clientélistes à étiquette communautaire…

N’en déplaise aux anti-confessionalistes de base, nos institutions politiques ne sont pas responsables de cet état de fait. En réalité, tous les mécanismes légaux et politiques prévus par notre système politique ont été neutralisés par les structures clientélistes à base confessionnelle et le régime politique contra-legem qu’elles ont établi avec l’aide des armes (qui leur ont permis de territorialiser leur pouvoir d’abord en 1958 puis à partir de 1975) et le “mandat” syrien (qui a permis à certains d’entre eux de traduire institutionnellement leurs “acquis” militaires)… sans compter sur l’imagination de notre classe politique qui dans son ensemble continue à s’inspirer de la pratique baasiste du pouvoir en privilégiant les méthodes informelles aux méthodes formelles du pouvoir (basé sur des institutions spécialisées et hiérarchisées): Le Président de la Chambre choisit le recteur de l’Université Libanaise, un Premier Ministre développe un nouvel appareil sécuritaire (qui lui obéit qu’il soit au pouvoir ou pas), le Président de la République préside une “Table du dialogue national”…
Face à ce paysage politique désolant, quel effet pourrait avoir cet article 2 approuvé par les commissions parlementaires? Pour essayer de le mesurer, il est important de l’aborder dans son intégralité: établissant à la fois des collèges électoraux confessionnels et un mode de scrutin proportionnel.

Si l’article 2 devenait loi…
Pour tenter d’imaginer les effets que l’article 2 pourrait avoir sur l’opération électorale, nous ne nous intéresserons qu’à deux moments: Celui du vote et celui qui suit le décompte des voix. Nous les aborderons de manière différente. Pour le vote, nous nous intéresserons qu’à quatre électeurs, que nous essayerons d’inscrire sociologiquement, même si c’est d’une manière sommaire. Pour la période qui suit le décompte, nous nous intéresserons au paysage politique que nous imaginerons suite à l’annonce des résultats.
Prenons d’abord quatre électeurs: Joseph du Metn, Nadine de Baabda, Khaled de Tripoli et Ghinwa de Nabatieh. Les quatre résident à Beyrouth mais votent normalement dans d’autres circonscriptions (en raison de la gestion patriarcale des registres électoraux), comme c’est le cas pour près de la moitié des électeurs libanais.

  • Joseph s’était abstenu de voter au Metn en 2009. Issu d’une famille chrétienne mixte, la circonscription dans lequel il votait (mais ne résidait pas) lui convenait bien. Sa mixité tant au niveau du collège électoral que de la distribution communautaire des sièges (4 maronites, 2 grec-orthodoxes, 1 grec-catholiques, 1 armenien-orthodoxe) reflétait en quelque sorte la propre mixité de sa famille. L’article 2 le frustre, l’enferme dans une case confessionnelle et limite son choix aux membres d’une seule communauté. Mais à malheur quelque chose est bon: il peut biffer le nom de l’ensemble des chefs de guerre et de leur descendants qui appartiennent à cette communauté. Il peut voter pour de nouvelles têtes, de nouveaux noms et des gens qui proposent un vrai programme, qu’ils soient originaires de Jezzine, de Beyrouth, de Zahlé ou du Akkar. Le choix n’est pas particulièrement alléchant, mais bon…
  • Nadine avait voté à Baabda en 2009. Bien que de parents chiites, ni elle ne se définit ni elle ne se reconnaît dans sa communauté. Elle abhorre le système politique libanais et vouent une haine féroce pour le 14 Mars et à leur base politique. Elle méprise son cousin qui est dans Amal mais n’a pas peur du Hezbollah qu’elle qualifie de mouvement de résistance (même si elle n’adhère pas à son programme religieux). L’article 2 la choque profondément. Elle refuse de voir son choix limité à sa propre communauté. La circonscription dans laquelle elle votait dans le passé lui convenait mieux. Elle était mixte aussi bien au niveau des électeurs que des élus: 3 maronites, 2 chiites, 1 druze. Elle a décidé de boycotter ces élections.
  • Khaled vote à Tripoli. De classe moyenne, il en veut aux notables de Tripoli qui ont échoué à dynamiser l’économie de sa ville. Très concerné par la situation sécuritaire dans sa région, il ne comprend pas comment le Premier ministre pourtant originaire de cette ville n’a su rien faire, et ne propose rien de concret pour répondre à ce problème. Et c’est sans parler de la crise syrienne qui secoue sa ville à partir de Jabal Mohsen. Son choix est fait. Il vote la conscience tranquille contre les notables, contre les pro-syriens, contre les salafistes… en composant sa propre liste groupant autant de personnes de la Jamaa Islamya que du Moustaqbal.
  • Ghinwa est inscrite à Nabatieh, région qu’elle ne visite qu’à l’occasion des mariages, des décès et des fêtes. Son coeur bat à gauche et il suffit de mentionner Amal et Hezbollah pour la mettre dans tout ses états. Après avoir décidé de boycotter ses élections, elle avance vers le bureau  le coeur serré mais résolue à voter pour quatre candidats qui militent au sein de divers partis vert et de gauche.


Finalement, moins d’un million et demi de Libanais ont voté. Le taux de participation est parmi les plus faibles de l’histoire libanaise. Les personnalités qui ont appelé au boycotte se félicitent du résultat, mais des experts estiment que la mobilisation des électeurs était moindre en raison du caractère strictement intra-confessionnel des élections. Les dépenses électorales n’ont jamais été aussi faibles alors même que les collèges électoraux avaient une dimension nationale. Les conséquences les plus notables sont:

  • L’entrée au parlement de nouveaux partis. Pour la première fois de son histoire, le Liban voit se regrouper à l’intérieur du parlement des élus salafistes. Plusieurs autres partis islamistes prennent également place à la Chambre: les Ahbash et la Jamaa islamiya. Ils ne sont pas très nombreux mais leur voix se fait entendre à l’intérieur des instituions de l’État. Le Bloc National refait son entrée au parlement. Et pour la surprise générale, les Gardiens du Cèdre obtiennent deux sièges.
  • L’affaissement des “grands partis”: Le courant du Future et le PSP perdent un certaine nombre de sièges, de même que les Forces Libanaises et le Courant Patriotique Libre.
  • L’éclatement des blocs parlementaires. Les alliances entre forces appartenant aux mêmes blocs parlementaires se sont déliées durant les élections, surtout dans les blocs mixtes sur le plan communautaire mais dominés par une force politique communautaire. Ainsi Moustaqbal n’arrive qu’avec beaucoup de mal à former une coalition autour de lui, de même que le Parti Socialiste Progressiste. Leurs blocs rétrécissent et se fragilisent. Le Courant Patriotique Libre perd également des alliés, même s’il a tenté de concourir dans plusieurs collèges électoraux.
  • L’explosion du nombre d’indépendants au sein du parlement est impressionnant, surtout du côté chrétien et chiite. Ils mettent du temps pour se regrouper. La plus grande surprise est la multiplication des petites formations anti-confessionnelles en dépit de l’adoption de collèges confessionnels.
  • Les élus non-maronites s’affirment de manière plus forte au sein des formations chrétiennes. Et parmi les indépendants, ce sont ceux-là qui investissent le plus d’énergie à rapprocher les uns des autres pour former des petits blocs parlementaires, embryons de nouveaux partis politiques.
  • Des partis longtemps alliés se distancient un peu les uns des autres. La Mahdalé Hezbollah-Amal n’a pas aussi bien fonctionné que d’habitude. Des rivalités se sont faites sentir entre les deux formations. De même le Courant du Future n’arrive plus à contrôler la Jamaa Islamiya dont l’alliance le fragilise (approfondissant les divisions entre son aile conservatrice et son aile libérale). L’alliance Kataeb et Forces Libanaises est une chose du passée.

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Intercommunal affairs, Islam, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Reform, Version Francophone | 2 Comments »

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 »

Should the President be entitled to a share in government?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 26/04/2011

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

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

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

Personal issues: Rivalry and grievances 

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

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

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

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

Communal considerations

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/04/2011

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

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

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

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

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

Les duettistes chrétiens confirment leur mépris de l’électorat

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/04/2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/04/2011

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

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

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

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

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

What are the dynamics that should be addressed?

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

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

What can be done?

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

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

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

Credo in form of a decalogue (changes I believe in)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/07/2010

Some people have very rightly said that my approach to “Laïque Pride” (among other things) is too negative and that instead of simply criticising, I should be presenting some alternatives. So I took two hours to think about it and came up with this decalogue.
1. I believe that we should pressure the parliament into establishing the “communauté de droit commun” that was recognised in the 1930s!!!! And allow it to have its own institutions and its own laws in matters of mariage and inheritance, and also its own courts. In other words Create a democratic and liberal “op out” mechanism to communal membership.

2. I personally think the Lebanese state should stop financing the muslim clergy and the muslim courts, because it is discriminatory towards non-muslims and it contradicts the principle of separation between religion and state. In other words Enforce the principle of  separation between State and Religion.

3. I also believe that the civil inheritance law that applies to Christians should be abolished because it is patriarchal and discriminatory. I believe Christians should be allowed to have their own inheritance laws (the catholic inheritance law for instance is more liberal than the secular Lebanese inheritance law), just like Muslims do… In other words: Enforce the principle of equality between communities.

4. I believe that the “clergy” has the right to express its political opinion, like all other citizens do. And that we have the right (and the duty) to criticize it when we don’t agree with it. However, the Muslim “clergy” BY LAW doesn’t have the right to express political views because it holds the status of “state agent”. If it wants to benefit from this right, it should set itself free from the state. In other words Enforce the principles of rule of law.

5. I also believe that people who belong to a community should pay a specific tax for this community (like in Germany) in order to to finance each community’s institutions (courts and non-clerical representative institutions) and give it the means to have a properly trained personnel (most importantly judges)! And where there are taxes, there’s accountability! In other words Guarantee a greater autonomy to communities.

6. I also believe that pressure should be made on state courts to reinterpret Law 534 of our criminal law that doesn’t mention homosexuality but speaks of sexual relations that are “contradicting the laws of nature”… I believe this sentence’s interpretation should be restricted to bestiality… and not include adultery, homosexuality and what have you: In other words “upgrade” Personal Freedom to international standards.

7. I also believe that there should be NO censorship. And that the censorship board should be replaced by a rating board (like in the US). I believe freedom of opinion and information should be guaranteed. For this we need a new legislation and excerpt  a lot of pressure on our political class (that controls the media and restricts the creation of new media). In other words “upgrade” Freedom of Expression to international standards.

8. I believe that military courts should not be allowed to try civilians. And that even soliders should be given the right to oppose a military court’s ruling by bringing the case to a higher civil court (Constitutional court, Court of cassation, Council of State or preferably a common supreme court that replaces them). In other words Extend the principle of Due Process.

9. I believe that the history of communities should be taught in schools because people are extremely ignorant about these things and they replace their lack of knowledge with prejudice. Our students should learn about communal persecutions, conversions, liberal and conservative religious movements… They should learn about the dhimmi laws, and that they were not always applied. They should learn about religious extremism (how Syriac and Protestant converts were persecuted by the Maronite church, how Chrisitans, and non orthodox Muslims were persecuted by the Mamlouk, how the Eastern Catholic churches were latinised by Rome and missionaries, how the Oriental Orthodox clergy were discriminated against by the Greeks (and how the Arab speaking orthodox clergy revolted in the 19th century, how the Iranian clergy and schools changed the Lebanese Shiites religious practice, what sunni religious reformers proposed in the 19th century… In other words, Replace prejudice and ignorance with knowledge.

10. I believe that the confessional system can be reformed… But this reform should keep in mind the basic principles on which this system is based: inclusiveness and diversity. That’s why all recognised communities should have a representative in Parliament! Today, the rule applies only to 11 communities out of the 17 established communities (the “communauté de droit commun” just like the Ismaeli community is recognised but not established, once it is established it will become the 18th community). Moreover, we should have a law that sets a procedure for the recognition of other religious communities (the Czech law is quite a good one). I also believe that there are competent people in all communities and that “confessionalism” shouldn’t be an excuse to choose the most corrupt or the least competent of them, or an excuse to strengthen the power of patrons over people who belong to their community (within the state and outside it). In other words, Enforce the principles of Inclusiveness and Diversity inherent in Confessionalism.

When are we going to start doing something about these issues instead of parroting an almost centennial discourse that is produced and manipulated by politicians and that leads to nowhere?

Posted in Diversity, History, Intercommunal affairs, Islam, Judaism, Levantine Christians, Memory, Patronage Networks, Personal, Prejudice, Reform, Religion, Secularism, Values | 6 Comments »

Back to the future: “Lebanese Left” vs “Lebanese Right”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/06/2010

For over a week, we’ve been reading a lot of things about the heated parliamentary debate on Tuesday 15th of June 2010 triggered by four bills (that no lebanese newspaper published) presented by Walid Jumblatt (head of the PSP, Druze MP of the Chouf), Elie Aoun (member of Jumblatt’s Democratic Gathering, Maronite MP of the Chouf), Alaeddine Terro (member of the PSP, Sunni MP of the Chouf), and why the Christian MPs refused the four “double urgency” bills that would allow Palestinians in Lebanon to own property, get work permits in any profession and receive social-security payments. Let’s look into Walid Jumblatt’s words during that debate and see what they say about politics in Lebanon:

“The ‘right’ throughout the world is stupid, the Lebanese right is worried. We’ve been hearing the same arguments for 62 years. Do you want to postpone things, well postpone them. But if you want to postpone them this time, understand that your postponing a problem. The embargo on Gaza is allegedly carried out to “topple Hamas”. However it [Hamas] prevailed and gained strength, thank God it won. In Lebanon, the breakdown of the Palestinian Authority leads to the emergence of fundamentalist movements in the camps and to the displacement of Palestinians. When fundamentalist movements appear in the camps, what happens to you? Do you loose? You don’t loose a thing. We send the Lebanese army to die and then we make promises to rebuild the camps. Is that what you want? I’ve never seen stupider than the Lebanese right, I’ve never seen stupider than the Lebanese right”. Walid Joumblatt, spoken in Parliament on Tuesday 15th of June 2010, reported by Al-Akhbar in its wednesday edition (my translation).

Walid Jumblatt raises a whole lot of issues in this short and somewhat improvised speech. I say somewhat improvised because he could have easily expected the result of last Tuesday’s parliamentary discussions; The Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb were bound to oppose any bill extending the rights of  the Palestinian of Lebanon, especially if these bills followed the “double urgency” procedure. Such a procedure deprives Christian politicians of the time needed to convince their Christian constituency that extending Palestinian rights do not infringe on their own political rights.

Let’s look a bit closer at what Walid Jumblatt is saying:

  • He calls the Christian parties the “Lebanese right” and considers them the stupidest of all “rightist” parties worldwide. By doing so, he reclaims his father’s rhetorical arguments and terminology, with its binary division of politics between so-called “rightist” (actually christian) parties and so called “leftist” (actually muslim) parties. In a later interview with al-Akhbar, Walid Jumblatt said that he had expected this reaction from the ‘right’, “but not this degree of stupidity. This is a stupidity of historic dimension. Stupidity is not Christian, because there is a category of Christians who has struggled in favour of Arab issues even before the ‘National Movement'”. Framing the whole issue in these terms and asserting that he had expected the result seem to indicate that reclaiming his father’s heritage and boosting his “progressif” credentials could be one of the objectives behind the bills he presented.
  • He states that Palestinian civil rights have been postponed for 62 years and insinuates that the Christian/”rightist” parties are to be blamed for it. This is historically inaccurate. Most of the discriminations against the Palestinians date back to 1982, and were part of the Lebanese government and parliament’s backlash against the PLO (most of the provisions that restrict the labour market were repealed a couple of years ago). Others have to do with general rules that were prevalent across the world concerning foreign labour when they were instituted and were not modified to suit current standards.
  • He speaks of the Israeli policy towards Gaza, suggesting a comparison could be made between the Israeli handling of Palestinian affairs and the Lebanese “rightist” Christian policies towards Palestinian refugees. In a context like the Lebanese one, this is for the least “libellous”. The intention is to “smear” the “right”, instead of shedding a light on either dynamic (the Israeli and the Lebanese one).
  • He suggests that granting Palestinian increased social rights would support the Palestinian authority and curb the expansion of Islamist groups within the Palestinian camps. This suggestion is pleasing to liberal ears, but it is extremely simplistic and unfounded. It ignores the internal political dynamics between the Palestinian Authority and the palestinian diaspora (which has become increasingly strained and loose since the Oslo accords), within the Palestinian community in Lebanon (which has become less sensitive to Palestinian nationalist rhetoric), and between Palestinians and Lebanese parties and constituencies. All these dynamics point to a weakening of the PLO and the PA’s authority, and an increased influence of Islamist parties, regardless of Palestinian social conditions.
  • He says that christians parties do not pay the price of their mistakes, the Palestinians and the Lebanese army do. This is the only argument he uses that breaks away from his father’s rhetoric in which the Lebanese army and the “right” were considered as one. This rhetorical change reflects the important change the Lebanese army underwent in the 1990s (under the Syrian Mandate) and now “switches sides” in the political equation.

Posted in Discourse, Discourse Analysis, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Palestinians | 2 Comments »

Why isn’t Mitchell on our side?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 04/05/2010

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

Can Mitchell defend Lebanese interests?

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

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

Posted in Geopolitics, Identity, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Peace, Religion | 5 Comments »

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 »

Father Zahlawi’s take on East vs West

Posted by worriedlebanese on 30/03/2010

I came across the “open letter” of Elias Zahlawi addressed to the pope a couple of days ago, and decided to react to it today on the site I found it on. Here is a reproduction of my comment.

A short critique of F. Elias al-Zahlawi’s open letter.

Thanks to Adib S. Kawar and Mary Rizzo for sharing this article with us, and for taking the time to translate it, making it available to a larger audience, one larger than the originally intended or expected from its author. It is precisely because of this widening of its audience that I believe some elements should be thrown into the discussion.

F. Elias Zahlawi’s letter belongs to a particular literary style, that of the “open letter”. This journalistic genre is typically ambivalent surrounding its addressee. It has an epistolary addressee (one that the open letter is addressed to) and an actual audience (the one that has access to the support it was published on).

It’s often quite legitimate to ask oneself to whom it was actually written. This question is crucial because the meaning of this act of communication can only be fully understood if one looks at all its actors, the active one(s) (i.e. the emitter) and the passive one(s) (i.e. the recipients). With Father Zahlawi’s “open letter”, the answer is quite easy, and one can deduce that from the style of the letter and its arguments: the letter is intended for its (Syrian and Arab) audience.

One expects a letter from a catholic priest to the Pope to bear a particular language and tone. One would also expect the text to limit itself to presenting and explaining the motivating behind this subordinate’s criticism of the Pope’s policy, acts or speeches. These elements are quickly dealt away with because F. Elias Zahlawi is not here to convince the Pope of anything. He is not publishing a letter intended to the Pope, but writing an editorial to present to his Syrian/Arab audience his adherence to a specific political stand and geopolitical vision, one that is incidentally shared by most editorials in this part of the world. This explains why the doctrinal and pastoral arguments are so extremely weak and sparse. They are completely manipulated to serve the geopolitical argument and perspective advanced by the author. This just another opinion piece, identical in many ways to many opinion papers published in the Arab press in its language, arguments and references. Its “epistolary” style is just a literary tactic that actually flatters the author (by parading a kind of bravado) and confirms his ethnic narrative: that of a binary world divided between West and East, the powerful and the powerless, the oppressors and the oppressed, the rich and the poor. In this binary world, the author faces two challenges that contradict his strict division. Two elements do not fit in the mutually exclusive categories he defends:

  1. F. Zahlawi is Christian (and Catholic), a religion identified with the West (the powerful, the oppressor, the wealthy). This is why he insists on presenting himself as an Arab priest, putting forward an ethnic identity (based on language, culture and an alleged common ancestry) and throughout his article he stresses the divide between him and the Pope who he portrays as belonging to the West, the powerful, the wealthy… So his open letter actually reinforces this divide and shows quite clearly his identity politics and the ethnic strategy he is defending (and which are expected from a person belonging to a vulnerable minority).
  2. The region faces a rather powerful and destructive force that is not “western” but Islamist. Here again, the binary divide is upset. But Father Elias Zahlawi finds a way around this. He considers Islamic groups as a creation of the west and of violence carried in the name of Islam as a reaction to the West’s policy. This re-establishes his binary divide between the West (to which he conflates Judaism and Israel) and the East (that is composed of Muslims and Christians united by their alleged Arab identity).

What is missing from this opinion paper

Well, the editorialist in black dress doesn’t really address what motivated his “open letter”, the Pope’s call for a special assembly of the Synod of Bishops on “The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness” that is to take place in October this year (from the 10 to the 24th). He doesn’t say anything about the catholic church and catholics in the Middle East. He doesn’t speak of the challenges they face or address their current plight (drop of 20% to 70% depending on the country, inertia and difficulties in the ecumenical dialogue with orthodox, protestant and non-chalcedonian churches…). He says more about the plight of American natives and Palestinians than about Oriental christians (that he actually hardly mentions). Why?

Probably because such a synod rejects the binary divisions his worldview is based on, and because he probably perceives such a synod as being divisive; It might tackle some issues in their full complexity instead of the simple terms he defends. So he answers its call with a kind of “preemptive strike” one that doesn’t really strike its opponent but comforts its supporters in their certainties.

Posted in Discourse, Discourse Analysis, Identity, Intercommunal affairs, Israel, Journalism, Levantine Christians, Middle East, Palestinians | Leave a 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 »