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Archive for the ‘Political behaviour’ Category

From “political marginalisation” to “christian disenfranchisement”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 18/05/2013


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/02/2013

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

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

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

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

Gerrymandering parading as reform

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/02/2013

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

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

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

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

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

Les collèges électoraux confessionnels… au-delà du تفو (tfou) et du نيعئ (nya32)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 21/02/2013

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Three impulsive reactions to arguments “supporting” civil marriage legislation in Lebanon

Posted by worriedlebanese on 02/02/2013

pepe2For the past two weeks a rather large group of activists has been trying to take advantage of the new battle within the sunni community for the religious and political leadership of the community. This community is undoubtedly the most affected of all Lebanese communities by the recent changes and dynamics in the region: War in Syria, Brotherhood gains in North Africa, Surge of salafism as a local political force and a cross-national military force… All this adds and complicates the national dynamics: between localists, patriotic and transnational views, and differing ideologies (traditionalist, conservative, radical islamic, secularist, and liberal). Without these elements in mind, one cannot really understand the statement made by Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, the Mufti of the Republic (interesting title, don’t you think?), against the civil marriage proposal. Neither can one situate Saad Hariri’s “electoral promise” to support a civil marriage legislation (not actually put in so many words).
Choosing to blissfully ignore these dynamics, and trying to use the present conflict to further their “anti-confessional” program, the one infused by our educational system and nurtured by the dominant political and academic discourse, a great number of active members of our civil society have been digging out all kinds of arguments to support their aims. Here are a couple of arguments that I’ve come across on Facebook, and my epidermic reaction to them.

The classical argument!
“From the cradle to the grave”, the Lebanese citizens are locked in their communities. Gaby Nasr reformulates this argument when he says “From his birth record to his death certificate”.
Reaction 1: A sentence that fits pre-revolutionary France where vital records (état civil) were managed by the catholic church… In Lebanon, vital records are managed by the Ministry of Interior, and except for the conversion procedure, the religious authorities have no say in what is written in them (even if these records contradict their laws).

The economical argument!
“Had they all married in Lebanon, how much money would they have saved? How much money the Lebanese treasury would’ve made?”
Reaction 2: We could also vote a law banning honeymoons abroad. This would also save newlyweds a lot of money and provide the Lebanese treasury with more funds.

The “liberal” argument!
“And for those who are against civil mariage, let them limit their choices to themselves and their families [and not impose them on others]. ومن كان ضد الزواج المدني، فليحصر خياره بنفسه وبعائلته
Reaction 3: This argument presupposes that a new civil marriage legislation would not affect Lebanese citizens who chose or choose another marriage legislation (be it religious or civil). And this argument in itself is grounded in the assumption that there is no lebanese legislation on civil marriage. But in fact we do have a civil marriage legislation, one that introduces the first (and actually only) opt out mechanism in our personal law regime.
– It recognises all civil marriages contracted abroad by all Lebanese nationals.
– It provides that foreign civil marriage legislation will be applied to these marriages provided that at least one of the spouses does not belong to a muslim community. This is not a discriminatory  provision but a kind of “protective clause” that was added in response to a vast political mobilisation within the muslim community against civil marriage. This provision/exclusion was NEVER challenged in parliament or even within civil society, not even by the “progressive” groups.
To cut a long story short, a new civil legislation will have two major affects on marriages between lebanese
1. Not only will it affect (on the medium or the long term) religious marriages (because it will be setting a standard against which a judge could eventually  “measure” religious marriages… this is a worldwide tendency  of which I know no exception).
2. But it will also modify the legal situation of Lebanese married under civil law abroad. The foreign civil marriage legislation will no longer be applicable in Lebanon, so all Lebanese married abroad will be subjected to the Lebanese legislation that will undoubtedly be more conservative than many foreign legislations. This is quite obvious from the past proposals, from the Lebanese parliament’s records on personal issues and even from the worldview of many of the the proponents of a new civil law legislation on marriage.
This new legislation will be annulling the only true “opt out” mechanism concerning religious law in our legal system (the one introduced by Ziyad Baroud allowing the removal of the communal affiliation from state registries actually only masquerades as one. It actually hands religious authorities a new “tutelage” mechanism and deprives the citizen of some rights that are provided by our system).
It will be substituting a liberal mechanism with a republican mechanism in a period where anti-liberals are flowering on the muslim political sphere and the christian religious sphere.

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Discourse Analysis, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Reform, Secularism | 5 Comments »

“When the party is over”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/10/2012

They say it’s an ill wind that blows no good. But this worried lebanese finds many reasons to be worried. Yesterday was undoubtedly action-packed, rife with unbridled emotions and wide-ranging misconducts. It’s actually extremely hard to sum up in a couple of words because of the multitude of arenas in which these actions unfolded and the mass of images they conjured up. Even the media was having trouble dealing with this profusion. The Lebanese TV channels that I followed in between calls had suspended their programs for the day and were struggling to cover and broadcast the day’s events. You  can’t expect them to be ubiquitous; drama was unfolding in most parts of the country: roads being blocked, neighbourhoods being claimed, rival party headquarters being attacked and even gunfire being exchanged. And there’s a limit to how much a television station can multiplex. At a certain point, the LBC screen looked like a CCTV surveillance monitor.

Three squares for one funeral: Between geography and iconography
As early as saturday, three important squares in Beirut were called to become the centre of the opposition’s protestations: The site of the explosion, the victim’s final resting place and the foot of the Prime Minister’s office & residence. As the funeral was increasingly presented as a political rally, the greatest challenge for its organisers was to smoothly link the three squares withstanding their conflicting meanings and the differing emotional impacts Friday’s car bomb had.
1. Sassine Square: A couple of steps north of the explosion’s epicentre. It’s the proscenium of Friday’s drama where you get a full view of the (physical) destruction. Sassine square is the heart of former “East Beirut”, the political centre of what became during the Civil war the capital’s Christian quarter (and Christian only neighbourhood). In this square sits a large portrait of President-elect Bachir Gemayel (prominent Christian warlord, founder of the Lebanese Forces and arguably the most popular of all politicians among Lebanese Christians, past and present), assassinated in 1982 two blocks south from where Wissam al Hassan was killed.
2. Martyr’s Square/Liberty Square: It stands right across Wissam al Hassan and his driver Ahmad Sahyuni’s final resting place. They were buried in the same precinct as Rafic Hariri, former Prime-Minister and founder of the Future Movement, killed by a massive explosion in February 2005, next to Beirut’s largest (Sunni) Mosque. The political significance of this square was resurrected in 2005 when the Lebanese opposition to Syrian occupation camped on this site and organised massive rallies in it. It is the symbolic centre and the main iconography of the March 14 coalition, its most physical incarnation.
3. Ryad al-Solh Square: This is where the Future Movement and the Lebanese Forces (amongst others) called for a sit-in to pressure Prime-Minister Nagib Miqati into resigning. This square sits east of the Grand Serail, the Premiership’s offices. It became politically significant in 2005 where pro-Syrian parties rallied to counter the anti-Syrian protests. And it was given in 2006 another meaning when the most prominent shiite parties, Hezbollah and Amal left the government and occupied the square with their allies in order to pressure Prime-Minister Fuad Siniora into resigning. 

Rerun, Sequel or Cover ?
Nobody quite knew what to expect from Wissam al-Hassan’s funeral. The Future Movement and the Lebanese Forces had made it quite clear that they intended to turn this funeral into a massive political rally. The preparations had actually begun on saturday afternoon in Martyr’s Square. Instead of a “consensual” funeral similar to the ones that were given to two other members of the security apparatus killed in the line of duty (François Al-Hajj in 2007 and Wissam Eid in 2008), Wissam al-Hassan’s funeral would be similar to that of a March 14 politician. Indeed, the funeral bore a lot of resemblance to Walid Eido’s. However, many different elements signalled  that this political rally would be more than a rerun of a March 14 funeral (March 14 had been the victim of 7 targeted assassinations and 3 failed attempts between 2004 and 2007). The political speeches that were heard on saturday and sunday were similar to those made in january 2011, surrounding the Sunni “day of anger”. But the most political and distinguishing feature of this funeral was the sit-in that was scheduled to follow it. On that issue, the Future Movement’s speeches were closer to the ones heard at the March 8th anti-governement sit-in back in 2006 than to those made on the day Omar Karame resigned in 2005.

A day of unbridled anger
During that long day, I personally didn’t venture out of Beirut’s central district. So most of the news I got about events happening outside this area was through biased television coverage. As expected, the Media played its usual political role, that of a resonance chamber. Reporters ditched reporting, and instead actively participated in the events through reframing and communicating faulty information. Switching from Al-Jadeed to LBC and back, you could count the contradictions in the their reporting by the minute. On the streets, emotions were obviously running high, and the most salient one was undoubtedly anger. The media concentrated its efforts on what was happening in Beirut’s central district, failing to analyse and comprehend that the most important dynamic was unravelling elsewhere, in Tripoli and on the major communication routes linking the three largest predominantly shiite areas in Lebanon.

Politicians obviously were not able to manage the anger they had provoked or nurtured.  They proved yet another time how irresponsible they are, by either adding fuel to fire or by failing to respond adequately to the situation. This is equally true for those politicians belonging to the “governing” parties than for those belonging to the “opposition” parties (both terms do not always reflect the reality of their involvement in politics). Sectarian politics being what they are in our republic of many farms, Sunni politicians and political groups were expected to manage the “sunni wrath”. But they proved to be completely incapable of doing it. Fuad Siniora missed the irony of his position, Saad Hariri failed to show up, Nagib Miqati decided to go on a pilgrimage… and Grand Mufti Mohammad Rashid Qabbani spoke knowing no one was listening… and when Nadim Qtaich, a journalist belonging to the Future Movement, called mourners to storm the Grand Serail, he became the official scapegoat of yesterday’s most photogenic event…
And while the political class failed to contain the Syrian crisis, and respond adequately to the many challenges our country faces, a new generation of street thugs, abadayeet, entered the political arena by forcibly claiming “their” territory. Their identity remains unknown, but they are filling up the political void left by the country’s ailing leadership.

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

جمهورية المزارع في حداد

Posted by worriedlebanese on 20/10/2012

Hier, la République des fermes a perdu un de ses plus valeureux fonctionnaires, un haut-fonctionnaire de la République, le fidèle fonctionnaire de l’une de ses fermes. Wissam al-Hassan a été assassiné alors qu’il exerçait ses fonctions au sein de la République, au sein de la ferme à laquelle il appartenait, celle qui se proclame fidèle à la mémoire de Hariri (Père et/ou fils) et que certains assimilent au Moustaqbal, celle qui est revendiquée par le XIV Mars® et que se sont arrogés hier les obstructeurs de routes (au nom de la communauté sunnite).
Wissam al-Hassan dirigeait un service des renseignements “ad hoc”, celui des Forces de sécurité intérieure (FSI), façonnée à la mode baathiste, sans assises ni encadrements légaux, à la va-vite, pour répondre à des besoins urgents:  la méfiance qui régnait entre les différentes fermes du pays, le pouvoir attribué à d’autres fermes sur les services sécuritaires existants, le danger (bien réel) de mort qui menaçait les personnalités du XIV Mars® et la défense de ce qui était tenu pour sacré, le châtiment des auteurs de l’attentat du 14 février 2005.

Nombreux sont ceux qui accusent la Syrie de ce crime, de la même manière qu’ils accusaient Israël jusqu’en 2005 de tous les crimes. C’est certainement vraisemblable, mais peut-être pas vrai. Là n’est pas la question. Attendons les résultats de l’enquête et continuons à nous méfier de ceux qui nous ont déjà fait du mal. Rappelons-nous que cette désignation d’un ennemi comme responsable de tous les maux est devenu un réflexe si profondément ancré dans nos moeurs politiques que toute enquête devenait inutile; on ne faisait même pas semblant. Alors on a simplifié l’équation: attentat = accusation + déblayage immédiat + retour à la normalité. À quoi bon dépenser tant d’efforts pour prouver ce qui allait de soi. Une partie des libanais l’a toujours fait à l’encontre d’Israël, l’autre partie à l’encontre de la Syrie. Et il est possible de passer du premier groupe au second, et inversement. De toute manière le mécanisme est le même.
Hier comme aujourd’hui, politiciens et éditorialistes s’agitent, pointent leur doigt accusateur, attisent la haine, agitent les franges les plus fragiles de la société et embrigadent ceux qui cherchent un semblant de confort dans des certitudes factices. Ils essayent de raviver la République pourfendue des émotions qui a vu le jour en mars 2005. Mais une chose a changé depuis… l’enquête se poursuit… spontanément. Le bloc urbain qui entoure le lieu de l’attentat est toujours bouclé, des enquêteurs poursuivent leur collecte d’indices. Les moeurs de nos politiciens et journalistes n’ont manifestement pas changé, mais celles de certains de nos services sécuritaires si. Et nous devons en partie ce changement à Wissam al-Hassan.

Il serait facile pour moi et pour ceux qui me ressemblent de céder à la tentation de balayer cet assassinat, cet attentat ciblé, en se concentrant sur ses dégâts collatéraux. Après tout Wissam al-Hassan faisait partie d’une ferme qui nous est étrangère, et à laquelle nous ne nous identifions d’aucune manière (ou contre laquelle nous avons longtemps été particulièrement hostiles). Alors que l’attentat a eu lieu dans un quartier que nous habitons ou avons habité, à deux pas d’un grand nombre de nos proches (famille et amis) et de visages familiers. Sans aucun doute, j’aurai du mal dans quelques années à me rappeler du nom de la victime que cette explosion avait pour cible. Mais je n’oublierai jamais l’attentat en lui même: ni la transformation apocalyptique de ce quartier si familier, ni le bruit des éclats de verre que l’on balayait sur chaque étage, dans chacun de ses immeubles, jusqu’à tard dans la nuit.

En écoutant les discours qui pleuvent aujourd’hui autour de cet assassinat, je pourrais me répéter que Wissam al-Hassan était le fidèle fonctionnaire de l’une des nombreuses fermes de mon pays. Il en était même devenu l’un de ses symboles. Cette vérité est incontestable. Mais le pas entre le réalisme et le cynisme est vite franchi. Tâchons de ne pas l’enjamber sans même s’en rendre compte. Est-ce que cette appartenance efface son professionnalisme, son dévouement à sa fonction, son courage? Qualités que même ses adversaires politiques lui concèdent. Est-ce que cette appartenance efface la douleur que sa disparition a provoqué parmi ses proches, sa femme et ses enfants réfugiés depuis un certain temps à Paris, ses amis, ses collègues et même les membres de sa ferme (ou ceux qui s’y identifient) qui se sentent directement visés et affaiblis par sa disparition? Certainement pas.

Wissam al-Hassan était un compatriote. Il était fonctionnaire dans un État morcelé en de nombreuses fermes. Il a servi son pays comme il le pouvait, à travers les allégeances qu’il avait, avec les convictions qui étaient les siennes. Il a été assassiné dans ses fonctions, en raison de ses fonctions. La république est en deuil, et elle l’est justement. Elle l’est même doublement, pour avoir perdu un de ses hauts fonctionnaires, et pour avoir perdu tout sens républicain face au cynisme des uns et à la récupération des autres.

Posted in Journalism, Lebanon, Patronage Networks, Political behaviour, Version Francophone, Violence | 2 Comments »

The metamorphoses of the Jumblatt bloc

Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/07/2011

A couple of weeks ago, Walid Jumblatt announced the dismantling of the “Democratic Gathering”, a parliamentary bloc that he’s been heading for over a decade. He also revealed the creation of a new parliamentary bloc called  the “National Struggle” grouping the 7 MPs belonging to the Democratic Gathering who nominated Nagib Miqati to the premiership: Walid Jumblatt, Ghazi Aridi, Akram Chehayeb, Wael Bou Faour, Alaeddine Terro, Nehme Tohme and Elie Aoun. Three of these MPs were later to become minister in the Second Miqati government: Wael Bou Faour (minister of Social Affairs), Ghazi Aridi (minister of Public Works) and Alaeddine Terro (minister of the Displaced). Although his parliamentary bloc shrank by more than a third, Walid Jumblatt not only secured the same number of seats in the new government, but also received an extra portfolio (while retaining the two portfolios he had). In fact, his bloc represent today a little more than 5% of the Parliament, but it also makes up 10% of the ruling coalition’s parliamentary weight. So being awarded 10% of the council of ministers (3 out of 30 ministers) is arithmetically pretty fair.

Looking into Walid Jumblatt’s parliamentary bloc can actually tell us a lot about lebanese politics and how formal and non-formal politics interplay.

Territories: political conversion of military conquests 

At the beginning of the millennium, Walid Jumblat’s parliamentarians hailed from four administrative districts: Baabda, Aley, the Chouf (Shuf) and Beirut. The first three districts roughly constitute the territory that Jumblat’s militia had militarily conquered in the 1983 in Southern Mount-Lebanon. As for Beirut, Jumblat had actually conquered part of it but lost that territory in 1985 during the “flag war” (حرب العلم). The fact that his “electoral territory” matched the territories he had conquered militarily in the 1980s invites us to look into the political dynamics that converted military conquest to political gain. Let’s look into the electoral process. Up to 2005, the whole electoral process was managed by the Syrian occupation forces. First, they set the formal rules by adapting the electoral law to their needs. This meant systematic gerrymandering to favour their local allies. Moreover, they also intervened in the process through pressure on candidates, on political alliances and through various techniques of electoral fraud (meddling with voter registration, intimidation at polls, improper vote counting, and pressure on judges surveying the elections). In other words, the Syrian occupation forces set the rules of the electoral game through formal and non-formal methods. Much has been said about the way they interfered through formal methods, that is legal rules. Less has been written about the informal rules that they had set: the way they encouraged “traditional” families and “traditional dynamics” in some regions, and fought against them in others… the way they allowed some allies to dominate one constituency, and refused them access to other regions…

Figure a. The Evolution of the Jumblatt Bloc

In Jumblat’s case, the Syrian allowed him to keep the territory he had conquered during the “war of the mountain” (حرب الجبل), but refused him any expansion in the historical heartland of the Druze, Wadi al-Taym (divided into two constituencies, Rashaya and Hasbaya in which the Druze are a minority but are awarded two MPs). They allowed him to control all public services given to that region (water, education, electricity, permits), gave him full control on the returnees process through which he managed the return of the christian population that he had expelled, allotted him most of the Christian MPs in “his” constituency but forcing him to “share” it with one rival within his community, one that he had a say in choosing, a cousin of his Talal Arslan.
If we look into the makeup of his bloc, we notice that some members are actually part of other political parties or forces: Bassem Sabaa, Antoine Andraos and Mohammad Hajjar are actually part of the Future Movement network, and Antoine Ghanem is a member of the Kataeb Party. This actually shows how MPs are negoticated between communal leaders. It also shows the importance of symbolics. By keeping these MPs in his bloc, Jumblatt reinforces symbolically the territorial dimension of his power. It also shows that “size matters” in parliament, not for voting purposes, but as a reflection of the importance of the leader, his political weight.
As for the communal demographics, we notice that his bloc in 2000 was in majority Christian. Walid Jumblatt actually benefitted one one hand from three features of our electoral law: “communal representation” that allots specific seats to specific communities, Christian MP distribution in constituencies with a Muslim majority, and voter registration according to “origin” instead of residency. And on the other hand, he benefitted from the Syrian occupation forces policy of silencing the Christian opposition, which translated into supporting local christian patrons in Christian constituencies, and distributing Christian MPs between its allied Muslim patrons in mixed constituencies.
In 2005, the Syrian regime were no longer here to enforce its informal rules. So we find Walid Jumblatt conquering a new constituency, Western Beqaa-Rashaya, not militarily but electorally, through his alliance with the Future Movement, who also benefited from Syria’s withdrawal by expanding to new constituencies through communal hyper-mobilisation. This alliances awarded him two new seats, one Druze and one Christian, in exchange for the Christian seats he had to cede to his Christian allies, the Kataeb party and the Lebanese Forces.

In 2009, Walid Jumblatt looses for the first time a constituency, that of Baabda due to changes in the electoral law and the collapse of the Quadripartite alliance. He owes three other constituencies to his alliances with the Future Movement. In Beirut, the communal configuration and the dominance of the Future Movement over the Sunni community is so important that it leaves Walid Jumblatt with very little weight in determining the fate in these elections. As for the Chouf (Registered voters in 2009: 68 561 various Christians, 58 057 Druze,  51 417 Sunni) and Western-Beqaa (Registered voters:  57 751 Sunni, 17 949 Druze, 16 997 Shiite, 29 789 various Christians), neither party would have made it without the support of the other, as the electoral results have shown.

What future for this shrinking and fragile bloc?

The “National Struggle” bloc is by far the most fragile bloc in parliament. As we have see in the two figures, in the past 7 years, it lost over half of its MPs, shrinking from 16 to 7. Moreover, 2 out of its 7 MPs owe their election to the Future Movement, and any opposition from the Future Movement would endanger 4 other seats, including that of Walid Jumblatt (that an alliance with Aoun’s FPM could in that case save).

Figure b. Jumblatt Bloc by Electoral/Administrative district

Now let’s look into Walid Jumblatt’s strong points. He is the undisputed communal leader of the Druze Community. The other two contenders, Talal Arslan and Wi’am Wahab, are no serious rivals. He controls his community’s communal institutions. He has established strong relations with Syrian and Israeli Druze, making him an international communal leader. He also inherited his father’s international network, that he has nurtured even though he has no longer any leftist credential. Walid Jumblatt heads a patronage network that enjoys complete authority on all public services in “his” districts (the ones he had conquered militarily back in the 1980s, I wonder if he has been working on extending them in the Wady al-Taym districts), and he has dominated the Druze employment in the Public Service for over 30 years. So basically, it is in the interest of a Druze voter to vote for Walid Jumblatt’s bloc, because this choice will offer him the greatest advantages. Since his ethnic cleansing of southern Mount Lebanon, he he has positioned himself as the sole defender of Druze interests. Through his leadership, he has given the community a sense of autonomy and security. Because of the absence of a prominent Druze figure within the state institutions, Walid Jumblatt somewhat embodies druze interests.
Moreover, with the current hyper-mobilisation of the Sunni and the Shiite communities, and the communal expansion of both communities into Druze areas, the new communal fears of Druze are not directed toward Christians like they were for the past two centuries, but towards the two major Muslim communities. These elements reinforce Druze communal mobilisation, and the backing of Walid Jumblatt even if his political base disagrees with his political positioning.
So basically, Walid Jumblatt has nothing to fear from within his community. Like many other communal patrons, he has managed to neutralise the institutional norms meant to encourage internal competition within each community. However, his support of the Miqati government is unsustainable. In two years, he will be facing elections and he has very little chances of keeping his seats or constituencies without the support of the Future Movement. This is where the division of his former parliamentary bloc might come in handy. Reuniting the two parts will allow him to reclaim his place as an ally of the Future Movement while maintaining his ties with at least one Shiite party.

Posted in Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Patronage Networks, Political behaviour, Speculation | 1 Comment »

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 »

Habemus Majlisan!

Posted by worriedlebanese on 14/06/2011

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

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

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

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

Les éléments insolites du gouvernement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 »

Le réveil douloureux des quatorze-marsistes

Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/01/2011

Certains sommeils sont si profonds que rien ne semble les perturber. La douce musique des slogans du printemps de 2005 bercent certainement le public quatroze-marsiste dans ce genre de sommeil. Et pourtant, on pouvait s’attendre à ce que les chocs qui se sont succédés les sortent de leur torpeur:
1. La résurrection de l’alliance quadripartite (Mustaqbal/PSP/Amal/Hezbollah) durant les élections législatives de 2005 et dans la composition du gouvernement…
2. Le départ du CPL de l’alliance du 14 mars (2005) durant ces mêmes élections législatives…
3. L’affaire des caricatures danoises et l’ambivalence du courant du Futur (Mustaqbal)
4. La guerre des 33 jours (2006)… et l’échec du pari de l’élimination du Hezbollah par les armes (israéliennes).
5. La guerre de Nahr el Bared… avec l’implication de l’Armée (qui a laissé les armes entrer dans le camps) et du Mustaqbal (qui a soutenu les mouvances islamistes du camp jusqu’au déclenchement de la guerre).
6. Le départ du PSP de l’alliance du 14 mars suite aux élections législatives (2009)…
7. Les déclarations des gouvernements Siniora (2005, 2008) et Hariri (2009)…
8. L’écroulement de la coalition gouvernementale (2010) avec le vote de “défiance” de Joumblat…

Mais non, il y a des sommeils obstinés que seul une journée comme celle d’aujourd’hui peut réveiller. Effectivement, le “Jour de la Colère” a certainement sonné le glas des fantasmagories surgies en 2005 et nourries aux amphétamines depuis. La “colère” que le Courant du Futur (Mustaqbal) a voulu exprimer est en parfaite contradiction avec les slogans de 2005. On est bien loin de l’image de la “révolution du cèdre” qu’avaient fignolée les agences de publicités et les responsables d’événementiels. Ce qu’on a vu et entendu sont des discours violents, strictement et ouvertement sectaires, on a vu des routes bloquées, des sommations de fermetures d’écoles et de commerce, des pneus brûlés…

Si tout cela n’aboutit pas à un réveil, c’est qu’il n’est pas question de sommeil mais de comma.

Posted in Lebanon, Political behaviour, Version Francophone, 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 »