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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?

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

“Détournement de Fond”

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/06/2011

Titre: “Détournement de Fond
Auteur: d’Élie Fayad.
Date: Jeudi 23 Juin 2011.
Genre: Editorial… Exercice littéraire, accessoirement journalistique (puisque ce genre d’article ne contient pas d’informations, mais quelques allusions à des faits – pas nécessairement avérés – ou plutôt à des dires). Exercice en fait éminemment politique mais d’un genre particulier. Généralement, il se réduit à une distribution de gommettes ou en l’occurrence à une réprimande (comme en maternelle)… l’éditorialiste devient instituteur qui évalue un élève : “insolence”, “bougeotte”, “trublion”, “il lui arrive, comme c’est le cas ces jours-ci, de dépasser les bornes”, “il s’agite ces jours-ci”.
Total de mots: 804!
Structuration:
Introduction: 410 mots. Thème: “l’insolence de Michel Aoun” (qui s’achèvent avec 101 mots d’auto-justification et d’auto-congratulation).
Corps du sujet: 305 mots (dont 100 mots de digression géopolitique). Thème: “Détournement du débat public”
Conclusion: 89 mots. Thème: “l’agitation de Michel Aoun”.

Analyse descriptive
A l’intérieur de chaque thème, Élie Fayad traite de plusieurs questions qui ne sont pas sans intérêts, mais dont malheureusement les conclusion sont systématiquement détournés à des fins politiques (ou plutôt politiciennes, comme nous le verrons plus tard). Tout d’abord, Elie Fayad décrit un des “fossé[s] de la haine entre Libanais”, celui qui traverse les communautés chrétiennes. D’un côté, nous trouvons les partisans de Aoun “qui se laissent impressionner par [s]es stratagèmes” et interprètent ses prises de positions comme un “signal audible d’une volonté collective de changement”, un signe de sa “différence à l’égard d’une classe politique perçue comme étant complaisante, médiocre, corrompue”. Et de l’autre côté, on trouve les détracteurs de Aoun qui savent que cette “idée” de changement est une “illusion” et qui trouvent ses boutades “déplaisantes”… L’éditorialiste ne cache pas son positionnement, il se range clairement dans ce dernier camp et ne cache pas son mépris de l’autre, gorgé “de nombreux imbéciles à travers le pays”, qui se laisse “impressionner” par ce “troublions”, et se laisse berner par une “illusion” de changement.

En fait, derrière une bonne couche de mépris et une deuxième couche de parti pris, l’analyse d’Élie Fayad est par moments pertinente. Effectivement, les partisans de Aoun sont généralement des personnes qui rejettent la classe politique libanaise “perçue comme complaisante, médiocre, corrompue”… Mais serait-ce  juste une question de perception comme le laisse entendre Élie Fayad? Personnellement, je ne vois pas comment on pourrait de manière objective dresser un bilan positif de cette classe politique. Quant aux détracteurs de Aoun, l’éditorialiste indique que généralement, ils sont rebutés par le style de communication de Aoun, et la personnalité qui s’en dégage: “tentatives d’humour”, “un peu de victimisation et de beaucoup de paternalisme protecteur”. Et là aussi, peut-on vraiment leur en tenir rigueur? Le discours du CPL (le parti, la télévision et les porte-paroles) qui se veut “décontracté” et “franc” est indéniablement grossier. Et jusqu’à maintenant ce parti s’est fait surtout remarqué par son style de communication plus que par son action politique.

Ce qu’il y a de plus étonnant dans cette bipolarisation en milieu chrétien autour de la figure de Aoun est le fait que jusqu’à la formation du deuxième gouvernement Miqati, le chef du CPL demeurait un des acteurs politiques les moins importants sur la scène politique en terme de pouvoir, et que finalement il n’existe pas de différences idéologiques importantes entre lui et ses rivaux politiques en milieu chrétien. Le conflit porte sur la géopolitique (d’ailleurs, c’était l’unique thème de campagne dans les circonscriptions chrétiennes durant les dernières élections législatives) et sur la stratégie d’intégration au pouvoir quadripartite (les deux questions étant évidemment intimement liées).

Quant au corps du sujet, celui qui traite de la thématique principale de l’éditorial annoncée par le titre, son analyse descriptive ne semble pas aussi intéressante que sa soumission à une approche plus analytique. Juste un point mériterait d’être traiter, celui qui est suggéré lorsque l’éditorialiste se demande si le général estime que

le mal, la pourriture, la corruption se trouvent dans un camp et pas dans l’autre, ou alors que cet autre est appelé à se purifier à son contact

Élie Fayad met son doigt sur une incohérence fondamentale dans la stratégie de pouvoir du CPL. Afin d’intégrer le jeu politique, ce parti a dû s’allier d’abord à des petits patrons régionaux chrétiens (Suleiman Frangieh au Nord, Michel Murr au Centre et Elias Skaff à l’Est), pour ensuite s’allier à deux piliers du pouvoir quadripartite. Comment est-ce que le CPL justifier son combat contre la corruption et la classe politique en s’alliant à une partie d’entre elle? Ne perd-il pas de sa crédibilité ou fait-il preuve de pragmatisme? ou est-ce que cette alliance est juste une stratégie pour accéder au pouvoir ou a-t-elle d’autres incidences sur le jeu politique?

Approche analytique:

1. Élie Fayad, acteur politique (ou le renversement de la fonction professionnelle) 
L’introduction qui fait la moitié de l’article n’a pas beaucoup de sens si l’on se tient à son thème. Elle est aussi peu utile à l’argument de l’éditorialiste que la référence à Emile Zola.

“Que l’impertinence soit parfois salutaire, qu’elle suscite de nécessaires remises en question et brise le ronron de la médiocrité, nul ne saurait le nier. Au moins depuis le « J’accuse » d’Émile Zola, tout le monde convient que la vie publique ne peut que gagner en qualité à être secouée de temps en temps par un cri, une bousculade, un geste d’insolence”. 

L’inutilité d’un développement par rapport à l’argument central est en fait un indice qui nous invite à chercher son sens ailleurs que dans l’argument. La référence incongrue au “J’accuse”, par exemple, est manifestement un référent culturel qui agit en tant que marqueur identitaire qui sert à souligner l’appartenance commune du lecteur et de l’auteur à un groupe valorisant (cultivé, francophone, francophile…). De même, consacrer la moitié de l’article à un thème introductif qui aurait bien pu être résumé en deux lignes montre que l’enjeu de ce développement est ailleurs. La clef de ces développement se trouve dans le dernier quart de l’introduction, dans une sous-partie qui sert non seulement où le journaliste justifie sa démarche et s’en félicite.

“l’homme politique – ou le journaliste – qui dénonce l’impertinence de ce dernier ne fait en cela que confirmer son appartenance à l’establishment « pourri » qu’il est nécessaire d’extirper pour que le pays vive et prospère. Après tout, le « combien-Hariri-vous-paie-t-il-à-la-fin-du mois ? » est la phrase fétiche la plus répétée par de nombreux imbéciles à travers le pays et elle le restera encore longtemps. Pour répliquer à Michel Aoun, il faut donc changer de perspective. Ne pas critiquer son insolence, mais au contraire, son… manque d’insolence vraie ou, si l’on veut, son insolence calculée. Car elle l’est à plus d’un titre”.   

Nous remarquons ici l’identification extrêmement significative opérée dès le départ entre la figure du politicien et celle du journaliste. Ce tiret, dont la fonction en tant que signe de ponctuation devrait être celle d’encadrer une incise (de la même manière qu’une parenthèse), joue ici un tout autre rôle; celui d’un trait d’union. Effectivement, l’éditorialiste justifie ce rapprochement des deux catégories en laissant entendre qu’ils subissent les mêmes accusations de la part de Michel Aoun. Et suivant la logique, “même ennemi… même combat… mêmes armes”, l’éditorialiste met en commun leur fonction, rend les deux figures solidaires et se permet de glisser d’une catégorie à l’autre sans aucun souci. En fait, la confusion entres les deux figures ne provient pas de ce combat. Elle est manifeste au Liban depuis plusieurs décennies. Les médias ne sont pas un quatrième pouvoir, ce sont des boites à résonance politique, des auxiliaires d’un autre pouvoir, du seul autre pouvoir (qui se moque des distinctions fonctionnelles entre l’exécutif, le législatif et le judiciaire). Cette confusion a des raisons structurelles (la liberté des médias va de pair avec leur absence d’autonomie financière et politique… et donc éditoriale) mais également conjoncturelles. La polarisation politique qui a marqué le pays depuis 2005 encourage cette solidarité, cette identification, et c’est sans parler de l’assassinat de deux journalistes (qui d’ailleurs relevaient des deux mondes journalistiques et politiques puisque l’un était patron de presse et député et l’autre éditorialiste et mentor de parti) dans une série d’assassinats politiques qui est venu sceller cette solidarité.

Revenons à l’article d’Élie Fayad, voyons comment il entend sa fonction, à travers le phrase qui sert à introduire le thème principal de l’article, et plus précisément à partir d’un verbe auquel il a recourt: “répliquer“. C’est ce qu’entend faire le journaliste: Répliquer à un politicien. C’est comme ça qu’il entend son rôle. Et il ira encore plus loin dans le paragraphe qui suivra puisqu’il accusera le politicien de “sélectivité thématique“, de “détournement” du “débat public […] de ce qui est essentiel pour tous vers ce qui ne l’est que pour quelques-uns“. Ici, Elie Fayad revisite la théorie américaine de l’agenda setting. Elle ne touche plus à l’information, d’ailleurs, vous l’avez remarqué, l’article, comme bien d’autres dans le journal n’en contient aucune. L’Agenda ici est strictement politique. Et le journaliste se propose de poser les priorités et même de définir ce qui est politique.

2. La définition du politique et la détermination des priorités
L’éditorialiste dénonce les priorités de Michel Aoun et présente les siennes. Il appelle cela la “sélectivité thématique”. D’après lui:

“la corruption financière est mise en avant alors que la corruption institutionnelle et toutes les autres formes d’atteinte au droit sont tues. Et pour cause : on y participe copieusement”. 

Cette phrase est particulièrement intéressante. La distinction entre “corruption financière” et “corruption institutionnelle” à vrai dire m’échappe. A mon avis, ce n’est que deux faces d’une même réalité. L’enjeu de cette distinction est à trouver ailleurs que dans la définition, peut-être à travers la figure symbolique représentative de chaque face… La figure de Rafik Hariri (ou de son successeur Saad Hariri, ou de son collaborateur Fouad Siniora) semble bien représenter la “corruption financière” en raison de l’instrument privilégié qu’il utilisait pour assoir son pouvoir et son réseau clientéliste. Alors que la figure de Nabih Berri semble bien représenter la “corruption institutionnelle” en raison de l’instrument privilégié qu’il utilise pour assoir son pouvoir et son réseau clientéliste. La distinction entendu de cette manière vise donc à dénoncer l’alliance avec l’une des figures contre l’autre figure… De la même manière, lorsque Élias Fayad mentionne les “autres formes d’atteinte au droit“, il semble viser le Hezbollah… Ce ne sont finalement pas les priorités de CPL qui sont critiqués, mais ses alliances politiques.

En fait, il y a très peu question de politique à proprement parler dans cet éditorial. Comme nous l’avons vu, l’éditorialiste s’intéresse d’abord  au discours politique, et plus particulièrement à la communication politique d’un homme. Puis, au moment où il veut rétablir les priorités, il évacue d’une seule phrase expéditive tous les éléments politiques pour s’attarder sur la géopolitique. La digression géopolitique d’Élie Fayad s’étend sur 100 mots. C’est à croire que l’éditorialiste réduit la politique à la géopolitique (ou même les confonds). Et là, il nous livre un indice sur la manière dont il mesure l’importance d’une considération politique, qu’il établit l’ordre de priorité que les politiciens devraient suivre:

Cette question n’est-elle pas à l’heure actuelle plus angoissante […]?”.

C’est l’angoisse qui détermine la priorité, la question de l’heure. Et cette angoisse est géopolitique… En fait, je me serais pas attardé aussi longtemps sur cet article si la lecture d’Élie Fayad n’était pas symptomatique de l’ambiance politique dans laquelle nous sommes plongés depuis 2005: bipolarisation en milieu chrétien autour d’une figure, mobilisation communautaire en milieu non-chrétiens, militantisme et embrigadement des médias, et l’emprise des émotion, et surtout de l’angoisse. Cela ne fait pas disparaitre le politique, mais obscurcit considérablement son analyse par ceux qui y participent.

Posted in Discourse, Discourse Analysis, Journalism, Lebanon, Politics, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »

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

Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/04/2011

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

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

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

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

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

Les duettistes chrétiens confirment leur mépris de l’électorat

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/04/2011


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

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

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

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

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

What should we do with November 22 (now that it has lost its meaning)?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/11/2010

For as long as I remember, I’ve always been uncomfortable with the celebration of November 22 as “Independence day”. I just couldn’t understand why a country that was recognised as autonomous in 1861, that was officially recognised as a State in 1920, that proclaimed its first and only constitution in 1926… would choose to commemorate its founding myth a day in which a bunch of politicians outpaced another group of politicians by declaring the country’s independence.

The most absurd element in this celebration is that its title is actually a misnomer. If you listen to the official speeches, if you look into what is actually celebrated, you realise quite quickly that on that day, the Lebanese are not celebrating “independence”, but  the “national pact”: an unwritten agreement that allegedly laid the foundations of Lebanon as a multi-confessional state. It’s quite easy to understand why the focus drifts from “independence” to “national pact”. After all, all sides had agreed in 1943 to the principle of Lebanese independence… and this independence wasn’t directly effective (with the British troops occupying the country at that time and the French troops staying on for another 3 years).

But why bring forth our “founding myth” to 1943, when our existence as a state is much older? Why try to celebrate as new what had already existed (the multi-confessional character of the state)? Why consider Bechara el-Khoury, our country’s 6th President as our country’s first? Why transform a group of petty (and mostly corrupt) politicians into founding fathers?

The March XIV® coalition unwittingly answered some of these questions when it replicated the “independence narrative” on the events of the winter of 2005 and dubbed them “the second independence”. Were it not for the Quadripartite alliance, the March XIV® coalition would have officially replaced November 22 with March 14, as our “independence day”. For the past 4 years, it has somewhat replaced it symbolically, as least in the head of our intelligentia. This shift reflects the ambivalence and unease we have toward our system. We want it to be multi-confessional but we don’t want it to be confessional, we want politicians to be representative of their confessional communities even if the institutions deny them this quality (this was certainly true to the so-called founding fathers Bechara el-Khoury and Riyad el-Solh, but still holds today), we want a pact to be “multi-confessional” but we don’t want people to be confessional… This shift between november 22 and march 14 translates the general ambivalence and unease with our system and its shaky principles.

What should we replace November 22 with?

For some time, I’ve been thinking that September 1st could be a good date for a commemoration, because it is the legal starting point of the Lebanese Republic. It’s after all with the proclamation of the State of Greater Lebanon that our legal and political order was established. And truth to tell, I’m particularly attracted to the flag that was chosen soon after to represent Lebanon (imaginé par Naoum Moukarzel). I particularly appreciate the blend between the oldest symbol associated with Lebanon (one that goes back to the Bible) and the symbol of the French revolution with its universalist and progressive ambitions. But the problem with September 1st 1920 is that it was made by a Frenchman. So why not go a bit further, and opt for May 20 1919, the date in which the members of Mount Lebanon’s representative council approved of the enlargement of Lebanon. And we could actually go farther than that and commemorate the establishment of Mount Lebanon as an autonomous entity guaranteed by International law! that will take us back to 1860.

Posted in Lebanon, Politics | 2 Comments »

وين الدولة, la rengaine de Sibylle R

Posted by worriedlebanese on 10/08/2010

Je suis tombé sur deux articles signés par Sibylle Rizk, journaliste à l’Orient-Le Jour en lisant une vieille édition du Figaro (celle du vendredi 6 août): Le Liban apprend à vivre sans Etat et La rengaine d’Abou Ali. Le premier article se présente comme une analyse de fond, un “éclairage” sur les raisons derrière le classement du Liban au 34e rang des Etats défaillants. Le second article s’ouvre sur un “portrait”, celui d’un chauffeur de service (taxi collectif), Abou Ali. Ce deuxième article nous offre, sans même le réaliser, une clef d’analyse extrêmement précieuse qui nous permet de mieux comprendre le premier. Sibylle Rizk nous apprend que Abou Ali répète continuellement “ما في دولة بهالبلد”, “Il n’y a pas d’État dans ce pays”, “C’est son expression favorite. Il la répète chaque fois que l’un de ses passagers lui raconte ses déboires”. L’ensemble de l’article est construit autour de cette expression favorite d’Abou Ali. La journaliste la prend comme illustration d’une sorte de sagesse populaire. Mais d’un point de vue analytique, on réalise bien que ce n’est qu’une rengaine, une expression creuse qui ne fache personne, une formule consensuelle qui fait l’unanimité. Elle désigne un bouc émissaire en quelque sorte abstrait, une personne morale (comme diraient les juristes), une institution désincarnée. Cette rengaine se veut comme la conclusion d’un raisonnement, mais en fait c’est une premisse. Cette expression fait figure d’une formule magique qui permet à celui qui la profère de faire l’économie de l’analyse d’un problème et de la recherche d’une solution. Cet article nous montre bien que l’usage de cette formule est le même à tous les niveaux: au niveau de la population (à travers l’exemple d’Abou Ali), au niveau des analystes (un économiste et un sociologue), au niveau des journalistes (Sibylle Risk), et même au niveau des ministres (représentés par Charbel Nahas).

Par définition, une prémisse est considérée comme évidente par elle-même. Elle ne nécessite donc aucune démonstration. Et en l’occurrence, tout dysfonctionnement (ou tous les dysfonctionnements) de l’Etat devient l’expression de son absence, et non pas le résultat de quelque défaillance structurelle ou de l’action (volontaire) de ses agents.

Sibylle Rizk se permet de titrer son article “Le Liban apprend à vivre sans Etat”, comme s’il s’agissait de l’Afghanistan. Seulement, ce titre cache une toute autre réalité. L’Etat libanais est de loin le premier acteur économique, le premier employeur, le premier assureur (avec une sécurité sociale dont une large portion de la population bénéficie), le premier éducateur (son réseau est depuis près de deux décennies le premier réseau éducatif du pays), le seule régulateur économique et bancaire, et quasiment le seul acteur public (l’Etat est structurellement extrêmement centralisé et rechigne à reconnaître toute autonomie aux institutions publiques ou à partager le pouvoir avec des autorités locales). On est bien loin d’une absence…

Faux et usage de faux

Charbel Nahas se permet de dire que “L’État comme cadre formel de gestion organisée des affaires de la population n’a cessé de reculer, que ce soit en termes de qualité des prestations ou d’emprise sur la population libanaise». Ceci est absolument faux. L’Etat n’a cessé de s’étendre depuis les années 1940 et à étendre son emprise sur des secteurs de l’économie. Les services qu’ils proposent n’ont cessé de croître. On pourrait à juste titre relever que la qualité de certains services laissent à désirer… mais on ne peut pas prétendre que son emprise sur la population a reculé! L’Etat au Liban est partout. C’est un mammouth colossal dont dépend une grande partie de la population. Et ses décisions affectent tout le monde.

Charbel Nahas surenchérit en disant «La dette publique, qui représente 150 % du PIB, est le reflet le plus éloquent de cet effritement», «Ce qui restait de l’État, à savoir sa fonction financière, a été asservi au bénéfice des groupes subétatiques que l’on appelle “communautés”». C’est également faux. La dette publique est le reflet d’une politique économique, celle des gouvernement successifs de Rafic Hariri (au temps du “mandat” syrien), et non pas «le reflet le plus éloquent de cet effritement». Et en ce qui concerne les bénéficiaires de ce soit disant “effritement”, ce ne sont pas les “communautés” qui restent au Liban des corps non organisés et non représentés (l’Etat ne leur reconnaît pas de representants politiques, mais uniquement des représentants religieux…), mais plutôt des réseaux clientélistes dont les patrons respectifs revendiquent  aujoud’hui (tout en s’en défendant) une représentation communautaire (que les institutions ne leur assure pas).

Melhem Chaoul se permet de revisiter l’histoire libanaise à partir de la prémisse “ما في دولة بهالبلد” en la déformant systématiquement. Il oublie que la France nous avait doté d’un système judiciaire aussi compétent qu’efficace, que sous le mandat de Camille Chamoun les capacités de l’Etat ont été renforcés (politique économique, politique étrangère, début de la planification et de l’expansion de l’éducatif publique), que sous Fouad Chehab il y a eu à la fois des reculs et des avancés, que sous Charles Helou l’Etat a renforcé son emprise sur plusieurs secteurs économiques (bancaire et aviation), et que même la guerre civile n’a pas empêché l’accroissement de l’Etat (surtout le secteur éducatif et l’administration publique). Dire que l’Etat Libanais est né incapable est une insulte au pays et à notre intelligence. On croirait entendre Hafez el-Assad dont le discours avait comme seul but de déligitimer le Liban.

Et puis, le pon-pon: “C’est ainsi que le pays a pu fonctionner de novembre 2006 à mai 2008 avec un Parlement bloqué qui déniait toute légitimité au gouvernement en place et que la présidence de la République est restée vacante pendant six mois”. Ceci n’est pas la preuve de l’absence de l’Etat, mais au contraire de sa solidité. Les services ont continué à fonctionner en dépit d’une crise du régime extrêmement grave… une crise du régime qui n’a pas affecté le pouvoir en dépit des blocages institutionnels (qui ont commencé avec la neutralisation du Conseil Constitutionnel et de la présidence de la République par le Quatorze Mars®, et ont été suivi par la neutralisation du Parlement et la déligitimation du gouvernement par le tandem Hezbollah-Amal). Le problème est manifestement pas celui de l’absence de l’Etat mais du comportement de ses agents (surtout les ministres, le Premier ministre et le Président de la Chambre), et de l’absence de mécanismes institutionnels correcteurs (arbitrage, dissolution, révocation…). Mais ceci pourrait fâcher quelques personnes en leur faisant assumer leur responsabilité… donc répétons en coeur: ما في دولة بهالبلد. une formule consensuelle dont l’effet est soulageant.

Posted in Culture, Discourse, Discourse Analysis, Journalism, Lebanon, Politics, Prejudice, Semantics, Version Francophone | 2 Comments »

Weapons of Mass Underdevelopment

Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/06/2010

Marketing strategies can change their image, but not their nature: The Lebanese political class

I’m not going to waste time explaining how and why our political class are the reason behind our underdevelopment. I wouldn’t want to insult my compatriots intelligence. It is quite obvious to us all that this rather small group of people not only bring on us destruction, but deprive us from any chance of progressing socially, culturally, politically and economically. And this is true in time of peace and war (though it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between the two).

The greatest challenge we face today – as Lebanese – is undoubtedly to find a way to diffuse this extremely threatening danger. And that is certainly a tricky business because this closed club controls almost everything through their individual and collective power. The oddest thing about this business is that everyone is conscious of it. However, each and everyone of us supports it in one way or another. We did it quite efficiently these past four years by falling in a meaningless extreme political polarisation. But we also do it by refusing to act and think freely; by insisting on “the global picture” instead of fighting for the details; by buying into the different slogans; by playing it safe.

What risk have we been taking? What new ideas have we been supporting? What new battles have we engaged in? Honestly!! Let’s face it. We haven’t been doing much. There are very few exceptions. Let’s face it. And even in these cases we could have gone much further. But we’re playing safe. Something is holding us back. What can we do to unleash that energy? There’s a lot of talent, there’s a lot of good will, there’s a huge need, and there is one space that is left uncontrolled: cyberspace. Let’s use it.

I’ve been thinking about different strategies to diffuse our lethal weapons for some time, and I think only two can work:

  • A Political strategy: At first, I thought that supporting a maverick would destabilise the system, fragilise it, open it up. To some extent, this is what the maverick did, but he also played a stabilising role within the system and was co-opted into it… To make a long story short, the little space that the maverick left open, we didn’t use. We only benefited from the space granted to us by the political system, not out of generosity, but lack of interest. And even that space wasn’t used optimally. I personally believe that we could follow a political strategy that could be effective. The gradual overthrow of a system that was founded in 1958. And this could only be done through a cultural strategy.
  • A Cultural strategy: This one is quite tricky. The challenge is to push the country into the 21st century  (screaming and kicking). Some good work has been done in this respect in two issues: women’s rights and migrant workers. But even there it’s not enough. The initiatives are too isolated. They function like all awareness campaigns: they last as long as the campaign lasts… And this is not enough. The idea here is to push forward many new and challenging ideas in an integrated way, and to lend support to those who want to do it. Economically, the initiatives will still be largely dependent on foreign financing (even though it would be interesting to try to interest local structures to finance these initiatives), but I believe it would be possible to impose on them a local agenda instead of submitting to theirs.

Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Democracy, Lebanon, Patronage Networks, Political behaviour, Politics | 2 Comments »

The day I participated in the municipal elections

Posted by worriedlebanese on 04/06/2010

I’ve been wanting to post something about these elections for a long time. I actually wrote two short post about it without publishing them. I noted a couple of thoughts  a week before the elections (on April 21st), then I scribbled my impression the night before election day (May 1st) and here I am today trying to make sens of it all.

I will publish today the two posts that I had written and haven’t published yet.

No local elections in my hometown! Does it matter? (written on April 21st)

It’s official. There will be no elections this year in my hometown. In fact, there has never been local elections in this small town of Mount Lebanon. Members of the municipal council have always run unrivalled, unchallenged… Several candidates gradually drop out from the election and on election day, there are just as many candidates as their are seats to fill. So instead of being elected, these candidates are instituted as members of the municipal council by the Ministry of the Interior. The neutralisation of elections through “consensual list” building is no new or exceptional phenomenon in Lebanon. It is actually sought after by many. Why? The answer is quite openly stated and very often repeated: consensual lists prevent division within towns, villages and family. This is undoubtedly true, but aren’t all elections divisive? Aren’t they supposed to be? Aren’t you supposed to have different groups competing, different programs, with a loser and a winner? This fear of divisiveness says a lot about our current political culture, but does it say anything about our political system? I don’t think so.

Some dogmatics will undoubtedly stand high on their chairs and start condemning “consensual lists”, “lebanese political culture”, “the ignorance of voters”, the “backwardness of the system”, the “lack of education”. In truth, you would have found me amongst this moralistic crowd a couple of years back. I’ve now abandoned this approach because I find it condescending, paternalistic and extremely unfruitful. Let’s forget a bit about the political culture and look into the political system. And when I speak of political system, I don’t mean the image we have of the system or the image it has of itself. I’m talking about its dynamics. How things work. And to do so, we should see what is at stake in municipal elections and how the different political and social actors interact within its frame.

Breaking news: there will be local elections in my hometown (May 1st)

Two candidates finally decided not to withdraw. So for once, we have more candidates running in these elections than seats to fill. One of them declared quite frankly that she had very little chances of winning, and that she was not competing against the “head of the list” (the past, present and future mayor). Her goal was to allow the people to choose their representatives democratically. So I got the first call asking me to vote, and a second call, and a third call. Then I started receiving ballot papers. In less than three days I received exactly 23 identical papers! There were two arguments attached to these ballot papers, an implicit and an explicit one. The implicit argument was kinship, family solidarity. The explicit one was “the election of this dissenting voice to the municipal council will complicate its work”. The explicit argument doesn’t actually hold. One dissenting voice in the municipal council cannot affect its work, that is the outcome of its meetings. It cannot block a decision or even introduce change. All it can do is express its dissent and compel the council to work according to the rules. As for the implicit argument… well, I was a bit embarrassed by it. But then I said to myself, what’s the counter-argument? Is voting “against” a family member worth the shot in a context like this? I don’t think so. Basically, no one had a program. The municipal does not do much (like most municipal councils in Lebanon), and whatever the outcome of the elections, one thing is for sure, nothing will change. And most importantly, I do not live in that town. So frankly, I don’t care what the municipal council does. And if I have to stick to any principle, it would be to refuse to vote in a town in which I do not live. However, I do have ties with my family, and would like to maintain them. So I had to vote… well, you can guess the outcome.

So to sum things up, here’s the situation I was facing: I am called to vote in a town in which I do not live. This town was established in the late 1950s. So there are no “old customs”, “old families”, etc…  Nevertheless, the whole electoral operation is centred on family: People will vote according to family, the lists reflect an alliance between families and reflect a hierarchical order in the town (in which dissent is understood as “seditious”). So the central question is, how come things so traditionnal are found in a new town?

(to be continued)

Posted in Culture, Democracy, Idiosyncrasy 961, Lebanon, Politics | Leave a Comment »

A look back at Lebanon’s municipal elections

Posted by worriedlebanese on 01/06/2010

It’s finally over!!! Lebanon’s four-tiers municipal elections have come to an end. Mount Lebanon voted on May 2, then Beirut, the Beqaa and Baalbek-Hermel (on May 9), then South Lebanon and Nabatieh on May 23, and finally North Lebanon and Akkar on May 30th.

Oddly enough, every single person seems to ignore the current Lebanese administrative divisions, even the Ministry of Interior!! They all refer to the pre-1975 administrative divisions. Strange, isn’t it?

I will be writing two posts on this issue this week in which I will try to keep with the “blogging spirit”: I will posting something I wrote four weeks ago on the elections in my hamlet. I will also be sharing with you my thoughts on the dynamics behind these elections, focusing on Mount Lebanon.
But first, let’s look at what the Minister had to say about these elections:

ے963 مجلساً بلدياً و2753 مختاراُ سيحصدون ثقتكم في ربيع 2010
إنه عرسٌ جديدٌ للديمقراطية، مدعوون اليه جميعاً هذه السنة أيضاً بعدما أنجزنا سوياً السنة الماضية الانتخابات النيابية.
هو عرسٌ لأنه يتيح لنا اختيار ممثلينا الى المجالس البلدية والاختيارية بحرّية و”مساءلتهم” بالطريقة الأكثر رقياً وحضارية، ألا وهي صندوق الاقتراع.

“963 municipal councils and 2753 mukhtar will reap your trust in the spring of 2010.
It’s a new wedding for democracy that you are all invited to this year as well, one that follows our common success in last year’s parliamentary elections.
It is indeed a wedding because it allows us to choose our representatives in the municipal and mukhtar councils freely… and to hold them accountable in the most sophisticated and civilised way, that is through the ballot box”.

And what a wedding it was. Obviously not one you’d like to be invited to. Try picturing two egomaniac and dull individuals, bringing their two dysfunctional families together, with unexpected guests barging in to a ceremony organised by a mediocre wedding planner.

If there’s one positive outcome to this farce (the second electoral farce in two years), it’s the first point Ziyad Baroud stressed on in his press confrence: “Despite all the political pressure in Lebanon and the region, the Lebanese were able to assert the principle of ‘periodicty of elections’, a principle at the heart of democracy”.

Credit where credit is due, we owe the non violation of this constitutional principle to Ziyad Baroud who forced these elections on the political class (with the support of the President of the Republic) that tried to postpone these elections by linking it to electoral reforms. This didn’t prevent the Minister of Interior from starting the electoral process while the discussion on electoral reforms was ongoing.

Posted in Democracy, Lebanon, Patronage Networks, Political behaviour, Politics, Semantics | 7 Comments »

This is not a Table…

Posted by worriedlebanese on 14/03/2010

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

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

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

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

How to destroy the Dialogue Table?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/03/2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blocs that are not part of the ruling coalition:

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

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

Chessboard players represented:

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/02/2010

Marwan Rechmaoui's Beirut Caoutchouc

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

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

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

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

The current mechanics: between formal rules and informal arrangements

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

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

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

Ziyad Baroud, Minister of (incongruous) electoral reform?

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

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

The following post will deal with the Orange proposition.

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

Envisioning Beirut… beyond the municipal elections

Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/02/2010

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

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

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

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

Subdividing Beirut… issues raised and matters forgotten

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

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

Deconstructing March XIV®

Posted by worriedlebanese on 02/02/2010

March XIV® or February 14th? Tapping into emotions to fill a void

This post is long overdue. I’ve been announcing it for almost a year now and Sunday’s Bristol meeting encouraged me to get it over with. Let’s go beyond slogans, mottos and other striking and memorable phrases that are used to refer to March XIV®; let’s look into what exactly lies beneath the label.

In its most literal meaning, March XIV® refers to a specific day, March 14th 2005, in which an unprecedented number of Lebanese citizen took the streets, peacefully, to demand the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Crowds from all over the country converged around Martyrs Square, where a temporary podium was set up from which politicians could harangue a relatively small audience ; probably less that 10% of the people amassed around the square could hear them. But that didn’t matter much. People were not here to listen, but to throw their weight behind a politician or an idea; they were here to make numbers, to assert that a majority of Lebanese was with the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and supported an international inquiry into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.

This event was undoubtedly a memorable one, an estimate of 1 million people (about a quarter of the national resident population) converged to the city center…  but there were many memorable events during those months of 2005:  the assassination Rafic Hariri, his burial, the sleep-in calling for the resignation of the government, the sunday demonstrations, the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, the political assassinations, the return of General Aoun from exil… Interestingly enough, only three dates are commemorated today: February 14th (commonly referred to as St Hariri day), March 14th (national folklore day), May 7th (Orange Tsunami day). The most iconic is undoubtedly March 14th. Why? The reason is very simple, it has become a national myth, one that reflects on two of the elements it refers to: the political coalition and the “public” that marched down to the city center on that sunny spring day.

March XIV® as a national myth. National myths usually refer to a distant past with legendary figures and acts. In our case, we’re dealing with an instantaneous myth, one that refers to the present. This feature has become a rather common phenomena these days. We saw it all across Eastern and Central Europe in the 1980 and 1990s, the most iconic event is obviously the fall of the Berlin Wall. These events share many things in common, they are extraordinary, they are supported by visual material, they were quickly branded and exploited by entrepreneurs, and they are considered as watershed moments. Their promoters believe that they represent important values and make an inspiring narrative that can serve as an important symbol (“lieu de mémoire”) that brings the nation together. One ingredient is essential for an instantaneous myth, and that’s emotion! Not only this ingredient must be present on the day of the event, but it should be nurtured and sustained.

The massive demonstration of March 14th obviously has all these features. And the emotions that is aroused were nurtured throughout the year thanks to the political discourse and a servile media.

Representing a crowd as a unified audience

The public of March XIV®. One fourth of the resident population is quite a lot of people. And it becomes a very interesting audience to refer to because of its numeric importance and the fact that it shared the same “moment”. Tapping into that feeling can help any politician reach this audience and manipulate the people’s feelings, hopes, fears and expectations. It’s not actually the emotion that is nurtured or sustained, but the emotional response. The characteristics of the initial emotion is of no importance, what is important is to convince the audience that it is the same as the one that is being triggered, that what is being prompted is simply its actualisation (while in fact, it’s the other way round, the memory of the initial emotion is modified and the present emotion is projected onto the past).

What is fascinating with instantaneous myths is that they are interactive. The audience is part of the production. It surely is the weakest player in this interaction, nevertheless it is still a player. Its collaboration is needed if the myth is to survive. This gives instantaneous myths a reflexive dimension. The participants need to think of themselves as participants and act accordingly. They have to nurture the myth socially and psychologically, even if it is by repeating a mantra. And truth to tell, there are a lot of mantras surrounding March XIV®. One of the most important one has to do with the participants themselves, the public of March XIV® or its audience جمهور اربتعش ادار. So you repeatedly hear about jamhour arbata3sh adar in the media, in coffeeshops and living-rooms. But is there such a thing as a March XIV® public. Obviously not. But like all abstract categories they work as long as people believe in them. But this can only work as long as there is an authority that supports this category, recognises it. And so politicians and the organic intellectuals actively supported this category, selling it as a cristallisation of the “majority of Lebanese” (annulling the other part), “the Lebanese in general” (insinuating that those who didn’t participate were less Lebanese) or the “Democratic Lebanese” (insinuating that those who refrained from joining were undemocratic), while it was an aggregate of individuals and groups motivated by many different things: personal initiative, group pressure, communal mobilisation, political mobilisation… Some people took their cars and walked to Martyr’s Square, others received calls inviting them to go, or were pressured or convinced by their socio-political network or several private TV channels that made a live coverage of the event, and regularly announced where one could take the free bus to Beirut. Many people wanted to participate in this event that was already being marketed and labelled as a groundbreaking event.

Once the label of March XIV® and the Jumhour of March XIV® were well established, their use became quite practical to reorder the political landscape. Lebanese political groups or communities could be brought together or separate once needed by simply granting them the label or depriving them of it. In 2006, the politicians who controlled the label (most importantly the Future Bloc and Walid Jumblatt and his followers) took the Shiite component out of March XIV® in a process I call tighyib تغييب (making absent those who were present), at first this was implicit, but then it became very explicit (during the governmental crisis). The same thing happened to the FPM, an important component in the March 14 mobilisation, and the only party at that time that called for a complete withdrawal of Syrian troops (the Future Movement and the PSP at that time was ready to settle with a redeployment to the Beqaa valley). The same techniques were used to symbolically bring together people who had no ties with each other of any kind (political, geographic, communal) and put them under one label. The label was practical in blurring the sharp division one found in the crowds that gathered on March XIV®. A friend had qualified the event as a tribal confederation. And people were admonished to hide their true political colours. I actually witnessed several battles around political banners: people wanted to march under their own banners (party flags), but their leaders forbade them to do so to give an image of unity and because they were afraid that some banners would demobilise their own group (I remember several clashes with the Lebanese Forces when they showed their colours; at that time were considered political pariahs, and totally “infréquentable”).

La quadrature du cercle: the leaders of March XIV... what do they say about too many cooks?

The March XIV® coalition. One couldn’t think of a more heterodox group of politicians. Two things united them: their slogans, and their opposition to another group (either a rival within a community or a geopolitical opponent). A non-identifiable political object was created to support the “independents” (those who did not have a large or autonomous socio-political clientelist network): the secretariat of March XIV®.

As for the strength or coherence of the coalition, I have written a dozen posts on it and wouldn’t want to bore you by repeating myself. The length of this post should do this job.

Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Discourse, Diversity, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Political behaviour, Politics, Semantics, Values | Leave a Comment »

Lanzmann, the Holocaust and I

Posted by worriedlebanese on 21/01/2010

Claude Lanzmann in the early 1980s

I just finished watching the first part of Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 documentary on the Holocaust:  Shoah. I’ve been viewing it for the past 4 hours and a half. The full version runs 613 minutes, but Arte chose to show it in two parts. The second half will air next Wednesday, but I’m not sure I’ll have the courage to follow it.

This documentary is considered by many historians as a watershed in European historiography of the Holocaust. I had seen bits and pieces of the documentary on two occasions before. But this is the first time I see such a large chunk of it. I’m a bit frustrated because this viewing prevented me from finishing a report that I’ve been editing for the past two days, but I thought to hell with deadlines, this film could help me on another project that I’m working on, a socio-cultural peace project: how to discuss the holocaust in the Middle Eastern while the Arab-Israeli conflict rages on. Some work has been done on this issue, some material has been made available in Arabic, however I haven’t found them very convincing and I know they wouldn’t work very well in Lebanon. I’ll explain the reasons in a forthcoming post.

As I watched this extremely long documentary I grew increasingly uncomfortable with it. Caude Lanzmann’s approach wasn’t informative. He was conducting an inquisition. Sure, the director is a trained journalist, sure, this project took him more than eight years to realise. But his approach to “oral history” is a very disturbing one. Instead of letting people express themselves freely on a subject, he cross-examines them. He doesn’t listen to them, he makes them say what he wants to hear. His approach is extremely manipulative. His judgement is already made. What he’s looking for is the right footage that would express it.

In this documentary he uses no archive footage, no dramatic reconstructions. He insists on restricting the images he uses to contemporary shots of landscapes, villages and the sites of concentration and extermination camps. He defended this choice as an ethical one. He believes that the suffering in the camps cannot be recreated on the screen. So he leaves it to our imagination to recreate the actual scene by offering us very graphic descriptions of what happened, showing us the sites where these dramatic events took place and adding some suggestives images (such as factories with smoking chimneys).

He is quite present in the documentary. You see him on many occasions interviewing people. These interviews are actually cross-examinations. With survivors, he shows extreme compassion (which is only natural). With guards and local villagers (those who live or have lived in former jewish houses or next to the camps), his approach is very different. His long conversations with local villagers has one specific aim, to prove that they were either active participants in this barbaric process or at least passive collaborators in this crime against humanity (that seems to him to be restricted to Jews).

You hear Claude Lanzmann flattering the people he is interviewing and leading them on. While I watched him asking his question, interrogating the “witnesses”, I had the impression of watching a court room drama. I knew exactly what he was getting at, but the “witnesses” weren’t aware that they were dealing with a prosecutor. They weren’t aware that they were being cross-examined, that their weakness, their fragility was being exploited, that the interviewer was actually denouncing their complicity, getting them to express things that could easily be interpreted as anti-semitic, that he was actively participating in writing the “oral history” that they were expressing. He was imposing on them the Nazi racial division between Jew and Pole, Jew and German. He was refusing to acknowledge the suffering that Poles and even ordinary Germans endured because of the war and the persecution they encountered. He mocks their pride, and their national feelings, the clumsy strategies with which they deal with a painful past. These are  strategies that all humans would use. I’m not sure he’ll get a different kind of answer if he asked Israelis about the Palestinians who owned their house or  who lived in their neighbourhood before 1948.

Furthermore, he obliterates the presence of non-Jews in concentration camps (and their systematic persecution). He discusses the Chelmno concentration camp quite lengthily and mocks a German woman who lived next to the camp when she fails to give him the figure he wants to hear when he mentions the victims: “I don’t know, maybe 40 000” she asks… “400 000” he answers, to what she clumsily replies “I knew there was a 4 in the figure”. Well, interestingly enough, many historians think that the figure is closer to 160 000 and that it includes catholic poles, soviet prisoners and gypsies, three other categories of victims that Lanzmann doesn’t even acknowledge. He is too busy hunting down anti-semitic feelings and actions in the past… and in the present. For him, things are pretty simple: you have the survivors (Jews), the bystanders (guilty for not doing anything, and thus behaving inhumanly) and the perpetrators (monsters).

Posted in Antisemitism, Communication, Discourse, Judaism, Memory, Politics | Leave a Comment »