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Archive for the ‘Pluralism’ Category

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.

crystalball

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 »

Lebanese IPBs: Informal political bodies

Posted by worriedlebanese on 19/06/2011

On Monday, the Lebanese Presidential palace announced the formation of a new government. The following day, the two political groups that were the most affected by the governmental change convened: The Future Movement called its MPs, the Free Patriotic Movement called its Ministers… These two parties were undoubtedly entering a new phase in their history. One formation convened a fragment of the parliament while the other convened a fragment of the government, each to comfort its new role, respectively that of an “opposition party” and that of a “governmental party”. That’s what they announced to the Media on Tuesday, and that’s what the press reported on Wednesday… We’ll try to look beyond these slogans and headlines to see how things could eventually evolve for those two parties. This analysis can only take into consideration internal political dynamics that can be expected. It won’t take into consideration the multiple and unpredictable possibilities that can come out from the investigation into the Hariri Assassination conducted by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, nor the ongoing revolt/repression in Syria.

A para-parliamentary structure

The Future Movement
It had the largest share in the former government (6 for itself and 6 for its allies) and none in the present one. The Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc, “Lebanon First”, counts no less than 30 MPs, making the largest bloc. Moreover, it can count on the support of 22 additional MPs among its allies and dependent “independents”.
Interestingly enough, having been THE governmental party for over two decades, the Future Movement can count on quite a strong support from within the state apparatus. Its years in government has allowed it to make a lot of nominations within the state: filling in some key posts and a lot of minor and medium positions within the public administration (that are actually extremely handy for daily administrative life). It undoubtedly has one of the biggest patronage network in Lebanon, only second to Nabih Berri. The Future Movement (FM) can equally count on support from outside the state. It retains the symbolic leadership of the Sunni community (through its influence on Dar al Fatwa and communal organizations, and because it has the largest number of sunni MPs in parliament: 15 for its bloc & 2 for its allies out of 27). It can also count on strong international relations and economical leverage within Lebanese society through charities, foundations, corporations and banks. These reasons make me doubt that the Future Movement will play the role of an opposition. It’s more likely to play the role of a para-governmental structure, as it has shown on tuesday when it gathered most of its MPs for a meeting.

An opposition party is one that not only voices dissent, but also accepts its position outside government. In Lebanon, these two aspects are disconnected. Ministers started voicing their dissent in the 1950s, contradicting every aspect of governmental solidarity. And in the 1990s, Walid Jumblatt pushed this aspect a step further and invented the very oxymoronic concept of “opposition within the government”, a concept that the Free Patriotic Movement and March 8th carried on in the past three years. So basically, dissent has become prevalent in Lebanon, so much so that the media called part of the governing coalition since 2006 “the opposition”.

Now that the Future Movement is out of the government, one can wonder if they are willing to play the role of opposition, that is stay out of the country’s governance. That doesn’t seem likely. One can look back at the party’s three experiences out of the government (2 years in opposition under the Hoss Government, 4 months under the Karame Government, 3 months under the Miqati Government) and see that it had actually kept on interfering in the country’s governance. It’s not only a question of will, it’s almost structurally impossible.

A Para-govermental structure

The Free Patriotic Movement
It has the biggest share in the present government (6 for itself and 4 for its allies. That makes 10 out of 30). Its “Reform and Change” bloc is the country’s second after the FM’s “Lebanon first” with 20 MPs (2 belonging to the Tashnag).
It came out as the biggest beneficiary of the governmental change, it has actually been a governmental party since 2008, even if it was mislabeled then as an “opposition party” Interestingly enough, it actually kept on perceiving and self-portarying itself as an “opposition party”. Now that this has become impossible, the biggest change for the FPM (and its supporters) is going to be a psychological one. It is now THE governing party. But even if that’s true for the formal politics (based on institutional rules), it is less true for the informal politics (based on informal interactions grounded on “raw” power and personal ties and interests), and that’s where things are going to play out. Since its return to politics in 2005, the FPM has very quickly integrated the Lebanese informal politics. It allied itself with the most prominent christian patrons in Lebanon during the 2005 parliamentary elections: Sleiman Frangieh in Northern Lebanon, Michel Murr in Central Mount Lebanon and Elias Skaff in Zahlé. Without this alliance (and the vote that these patrons can lever through their patronage networks), it would have probably lost several electoral districts, and would’t have been able to later consolidate and build on these electoral conquests. Then it secured a television channel (OTV, 2007), followed by a radio channel (Sawt el Mada in 2009)… this was also done through informal politics. The FPM didn’t change the rules of the game. They secured ways to achieve their goals by playing like all the other players.

Basically, Michel Aoun has achieved the goal he had set himself when he came to Lebanon, become a major player in Lebanese politics, but instead of becoming the country’s president, he became a super-Za’im. Before his return from exile, Michel Aoun realised that to reach the presidency, he had first to become a Za’im. With a massive vote in his favour, the Christian electorate entitled him to it, but it was denied him by the quadripartite alliance at first and then by the Future Movement who supported two rival politicians who had a claim to the same title (Samir Geagea and Amin Gemayel). This is no longer the case. Now that he “commands” the largest share in the government, he has become a super-Za’im, joining the same rank as Saad Hariri, Nabih Berri, Hassan Nasrallah and Walid Jumblatt. But unlike the three others, he didn’t do that by converting his military or financial capital into political power. He did it through elections and through his alliance with Hezbollah. So basically, he is the most fragile of the super-Zu’ama, and he know it. His first task is to consolidate his power. He has to secure the same score during the 2013 parliamentary elections, and ideally increase it. This means he has to convince the Lebanese voters. Can he do it without playing into informal politics and creating his own patronage network?

Posted in Lebanon, Patronage Networks, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Speculation | Leave a Comment »

Nadim Shehade’s interesting take on “Sectarianism”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/04/2011

Nadim Shehade, made an extremely interesting contribution last week to a discussion launched by Elias Muhanna on his blog Qifa Nabki. I was at first struck by the way he introduced the subject. It reminded me of the clumsy attempt I had made a couple of years back to respond to Nawaf Salam’s take on Lebanese sectarianism when I told him that it is of no surprise to “observe” sectarianism when one is looking through sectarian tainted glasses. By that I introduce my approach of distinguishing between different dynamics (regionalism, factionalism, ideology, economical interests, clientelism…), and not blurring the differences by putting them under the same heading.  
Please read carefully this text by the former director of Oxford’s Centre for Lebanese Studies and present researcher at Chatham House. He pinpoints all the methodological errors and assumptions most of us make when looking into countries with deep or significant communal divisions. 

Sectarianism, like beauty, is more often than not in the eye of the beholder. One can interpret a situation as ‘sectarian’ and there may be some elements in it that are related to tension between sects; but the underlying causes and drivers may be totally secular.

There are three ways of looking at it:

  1. As a perspective related to the observer who sees sectarianism everywhere.
  2. As a reality on the ground – where tensions are real and incidents have sectarian dimensions
  3. In relation to the political system and how it deals with divisions and whether it increases or decreases sectarian tensions.

There are so many myths that would fall just by distinguishing between these three points.

In Syria for example: Is the regime really Alawi? Is the system ‘secular’?
Similar questions for Lebanon and for Iraq.

Analysts on Iraq emphasised sectarian divisions, whereas intra-sectarian divisions were as important. In the end are these not legitimate political divisions in which sect plays a part?

In Lebanon, the system is ‘confessional’ or sectarian. But the reality on the ground is a division which is deeply political between two very legitimate world views which divide every ‘sect’, every community and even every family. It is the beholder who chooses to give it a label of sectarian, that March 8 are ‘Shiaa’ or Shiaa means Hizballah. The Christians are ‘divided’? who said they have to be united in the first place? because they are Christian they have to be united, so the sectarian glasses do not fit with reality and we conclude that they are divided.
When politicians play with the electoral law to gerrymander the result, is that sectarian?
Is power-sharing sectarian? maybe such a system has allowed for political divisions to become more significant.

Going back to Syria – There is a network that dominates which has an interest in perpetuating the system. It is too simple to say that this is a Alawite dominance, there is hegemony by a network of a family that happens to be Allawite and has coopted many people from all other sects – Sunnis, Christians, Ismailis, Druze, etc.. etc..

The tautology of the argument is the following: A society that is composed to many sects cannot have democracy because of the sectarian divisions – a ‘secular’dictatorship would put the lid on it. But the other side of that coin is that this same society would not contain all these sects in the fist place had they not been able to coexist all that time.

[In Turkey] The Turkish model of secularism is also that Attaturk, in order to have a secular and cohesive society, had to get rid of the Armenians, the Greeks, the Assyrians, the Arabs and the Kurds.

I want to suggest that the present ‘secular’ regime in Syria is likely to exacerbate sectarian tensions whereas a democratic power-sharing arrangement, similar to the ones in Lebanon and the one evolving in Iraq, would decrease such tensions.

Posted in Discourse, Discourse Analysis, Intercommunal affairs, Iraq, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Secularism, Semantics, Syria, Turkey | 2 Comments »

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 »

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 »

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

Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/08/2010

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

Lebanon’s salvation according to March XIV®

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

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

Lebanon’s salvation according to the Opposition®

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

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

Mistaking the wood in one’s eye for dust

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

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

A debate on how to manage a virtual network

Posted by worriedlebanese on 29/03/2010

I tried to access Palestinian Mothers a couple of minutes ago but couldn’t do it. The site’s introductory page announced that “this Ning network has ben taken offline by its owner”. It was a bit surprised by this announcement even though things haven’t been going very smoothly on that network. Its owner and main animator Iqbal Tamimi had informed all members that she will be terminating a certain number of accounts. And soon later she started implementing her new policy. I voiced my objection to such proceedings and a rather animated debated was launched surrounding Iqbal Tamimi’s policy and my complaint.
Oddly enough, Iqbal Tamimi had problems publishing some articles two weeks ago (on her own network) and today the network was shut down, for reasons I don’t know. I though the debate that my comment launched was rather interesting, so I will publish it here (the discussion is found in the first comment).

Blogging under Damocles’ sword
Posted by JC|WorriedLebanese on March 16, 2010 at 10:40pm

As I write this entry, I cannot help but think of the sword of Damocles that hangs over my head. Like all members of this network, I’ve received of late two emails from the creator and animator of Palestinian Mothers threatening the following categories of members of expulsion:

  • Anonymous members (people who do not share a “real name” and “personal picture”);
  • Old members with false identities (because they cause the creator and animator of Palestinian Mothers a great distress);
  • Passive members who do not participate (because they do not take the Palestinian cause seriously) ;
  • Peepers (a sub-category of passive members who are busy with other stuff but who indulge in their voyeuristic urges from time to time);
  • Spies (people who are here to eavesdrop on other members’ activities).

I have a problem with this type of “spring cleaning” or screening, and not only because I’m very likely to fall victim to it. I believe the logic behind it is flawed. Doesn’t everyone find this compartmentalisation impoverishing? What is great about the internet is that if offers us the opportunity to hear voices that we are not likely to hear in our every day life. It allows us to interact, argue, learn, teach, inform, question our certainties. I’m not sure all this is possible in a network of totally “like-minded” people. The reason I came to Palestinian Mothers in the first place was precisely because it offered a different voice that was no longer heard on MEpeace after several members were either excluded or driven out because their views were different. And I followed them here so as not to loose their voice.

Posted in Blogosphere, Check them Out, Culture, Intercommunal affairs, Israel, Justice, Memory, Middle East, Palestinians, Peace, Personal, Pluralism, Political behaviour | 1 Comment »

This is not a Table…

Posted by worriedlebanese on 14/03/2010

Magritte wouldn’t have said it any better! The most notable decision that came out of the national dialogue table was its relabeling. President Michel Suleiman proclaimed that it will no longer be called “National Dialogue Table” but “National Dialogue Committee”.
This name change signals a will to institutionalise what can be described as an official informal institution. To understand what the dialogue table is about, one has to look at its short history.

How it all started
The National Dialogue Table came about on March 2nd 2006. At that time, two of the state’s institutions had been neutralised: the Constitutional Court and the Presidency. The ruling coalition (composed of the Quadripartite alliance and some of its members’ allies) was starting to split between two blocs that threatened two other state institutions (the government and the parliament). The first meeting was convened by the Speaker, Nabih Berri and gathered 14 leaders. This reunion short circuited the state’s institutions and made them seem superfluous (which they were soon to become). The national dialogue helped redefine and shift the power structure in Lebanon: it was no longer in the state’s institutions but belonged to the communal leadership. It brought the country back to the 1970 and 1980s when the militia leaders succeeded in paralysing the state and holding the country hostage to their individual interests and collective deliberation. The National Dialogue table is in many ways the resurrection of the National dialogue committee (1975-1976) and the  Geneva (1983) and Lausanne (1984) conferences. It follows the same basic principle and objective : formalising the distribution of power in the country. For an interesting comparison check out Mary Jane Deeb and Marius Deeb’s article “Internal negotiations in a centralist conflict: Lebanon” in William Zartman’s Elusive Peace (1995).

What has changed since 2006?
One has to admit that we owe the state’s resurrection to this National Dialogue Table, when it spawned the Doha agreement in 2008 (May 16 – May 21), its only efficient meeting. However, we owe this efficiency to a Qatari team that set up the agenda, convened the meeting and brokered the deal. Interestingly enough, the only true accomplishment of the National dialogue table was neither mentioned by the President (on March 9th 2010) or by the final statement of March XIV (on March 14th 2010).
What changes has the National Dialogue Table undergone since 2006? The most obvious change is its expansion and the shift in its chairmanship. Instead of the original 14, it now regroups 20 people. Most of the original members are the same, but Qornet Shehwan is out (Butros Harb had to be expelled to realise that the National Dialogue Table was meaningless) and so are the Orthodox dinosaures (Michel Murr and Ghassan Tueni). The dialogue roundtable is no longer a roundtable but a committee! It is no longer convened by the Speaker but by the President who not only chooses its members but sets its agenda and publishes its statement. But some things never change: its decisions are still too general and it has no mechanism to implement them.
On the other hand, much has changed in the country: All state institutions are back on track: the country has a national unity government, a consensual president, a resurrected constitutional council (mediocre as ever) and a convening parliament. With all these institutions working again, do we still need a National Dialogue Table? Has Michel Suleiman given it a thought? Did he even notice that the meeting he convened and the name that he gave it bear a striking resemblance to  that which was assembled on september 24, 1975. It was called the National Dialogue Committee and gathered 20 people…

Posted in Diversity, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Patronage Networks, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics, Semantics | Leave a Comment »

How to destroy the Dialogue Table?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/03/2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blocs that are not part of the ruling coalition:

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

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

Chessboard players represented:

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

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

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

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

Subdividing Beirut… issues raised and matters forgotten

Posted by worriedlebanese on 05/02/2010

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

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

Sub-dividing Beirut into electoral districts or municipalities?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/02/2010

Marwan Rechmaoui's Beirut Caoutchouc

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

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

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

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

The current mechanics: between formal rules and informal arrangements

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

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

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

Ziyad Baroud, Minister of (incongruous) electoral reform?

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

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

The following post will deal with the Orange proposition.

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

Envisioning Beirut… beyond the municipal elections

Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/02/2010

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

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

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

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

Subdividing Beirut… issues raised and matters forgotten

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

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

And Hermes gazed at Walid J.

Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/01/2010

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

Reinforcing informal arrangements, communal representations & segregated space

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

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

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

Asserting supernatural powers

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

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

What to bring as a present when invited to lunch?

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

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

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