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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 »

La Syrie en six scenarii et une bonne dose d’élucubrations géopolitiques

Posted by worriedlebanese on 18/07/2011

"And Assad vanquished"... Found of facebook

Peut-on imaginer un pire article sur la crise syrienne que celui paru dans Le Mondece mardi ? Si vous l’avez raté, retrouver l’article de Hosham Dawod, “Quand le régime syrien tombera”, ici. L’analyse politique y est réduite au plus bas degré d’une discussion de comptoir au café de commerce… mais cette fois estampillée « CNRS ».  Son auteur est anthropologue, mais il le cache bien. Loin de toute approche anthropologique, il s’adonne à la spéculation politique la plus débridée en montant d’abord des scénarii sans rapport avec la dynamique socio-politique qui a cours en Syrie, pour ensuite enchainer dans des digressions géopolitiques « comme on les aime ». Mais alors pourquoi s’attarder sur son texte et perdre quelques heures dans son analyse et sa discussion ? L’exercice peut paraître futile si l’on cherche à comprendre ce qui se passe en Syrie. Mais il se révèle extrêmement intéressant si l’on cherche à éviter de tomber dans les mêmes écueils en s’adonnant à une analyse aux mêmes ambitions prospectives.

J’imagine d’abord que l’auteur de l’analyse se veut de gauche puisqu’il ajoute une couche économique à son analyse qui se veut renseignée sur les dynamiques ethniques au sein des différents pays du Proche-Orient. Mais cette couche est bien mince, à l’image de l’analyse. En fait, peu importe les préférences idéologiques de l’auteur, puisqu’elles n’ont pas d’incidence sur sa soi-disant analyse. Celle-ci appartient à un genre qui dépasse tout cantonnement idéologique, celui qui domine les analyses du Proche-Orient, quelque soit l’appartenance nationale ou idéologique de leurs auteurs.

La spéculation scénaristique
Même s’il énumère 5 scenarii, l’auteur en vérité présente 6, mais qualifie la première de modèle. Le plus surprenant dans l’exercice est qu’il n’essaie que rarement de mesurer les chances de matérialisation du scénario. Bon, il est vrai que l’information disponible sur la Syrie est à la fois réduite et médiocre. Le régime et ses opposants se sont lancés dans un exercice de désinformation totale qui s’articule autour de deux idées :
–       le régime prétend que les protestataires sont islamistes et manipulés par l’étranger. Il a donc tendance à éliminer ou à mésestimer toute information qui va dans le sens d’une protestation authentiquement syrienne et économique, même si elle est à dominante arabo-sunnite.
–       les opposants prétendent que le régime est strictement aléouite (comme si une communauté pouvait gouverner…) et que la répression est soutenue par des forces chiites (Iran et Hezbollah). Tout élément qui n’entre pas dans cette lecture strictement communautaire est ignoré.

On comprend que l’auteur évite de peser les différents scenarii pour des raison quantitatives et qualitatives liées à l’information. Mais alors quel est l’intérêt de cette spéculation scénaristique ?
Il aurait dû commencer par énumérer les ingrédients de cette crise… tout au moins ceux que nous connaissons. Certes, il en mentionne un grand nombre en passant mais sans s’y attarder et sans les intégrer dans une analyse de la dynamique.

Passons en revue les différents scenarii qu’il énumère et essayons de les retraduire en terme plus significatifs

  1. Scénario de l’équilibre entre répression et de réforme « à l’Algérienne ». C’est en gros la voie choisie par le régime. Mais ce scénario a été accompagné par une guerre civile d’une violence extrême (1991–2002) et d’un accaparement du pouvoir (et des ressources rentières) par l’armée qui gère seul un processus de réforme extrêmement lent et hésitant (depuis 2002). La situation en Syrie est bien différent. On ne peut pas encore parler de guerre civile et il n’est pas certain que le régime puisse survivre longtemps avec un niveau de contestation qui risque d’accroitre.
  2. Scénario répressif réussi : comme en « Iran en 2009 ». Là aussi, la situation est différente et en annonçant très tôt des réformes, le régime a montré qu’il voulait combiner répression et réforme. Ceci est bien différent de la situation Iranienne où le régime ne voulait même pas entendre parler de réforme.
  3. Scénario de la réforme du régime. Avec une absence totale de crédibilité, cette option semble peu probable
  4. Scénario de la dissension au sein du régime « à l’égyptienne » ou « à la tunisienne ». Encore faut-il qu’il y ait des institutions autonomes qui puisse procéder à un “coup d’État” comme en Egypte et en Tunisie. Mais ces institutions n’existent pas en Syrie. Et ce scénario ne pourra faire surface que si le régime s’entredéchire, avec le risque que ce déchirement précipite sa chute.
  5. Scénario de la dissension au sein des élites au pouvoir. Là aussi, il faudrait qu’une partie de l’élite soit sûr qu’elle court peu de risque à ce dissocier du régime. Ce n’est manifestement pas le cas aujourd’hui.
  6. Scénario de l’intensification du cycle « protestation/répression » et de la polarisation ethnique de la société qui mène à la guerre civile. La Syrie est déjà dans ce scénario, tout au moins la première partie, celle de la polarisation ethnique de la société.

Les élucubrations géopolitiques
Hosham Dawod passe en revue : la Turquie, la Jordanie, l’Iraq, Israël… Après nous avoir confié d’un ton marqueur que « l’Orient arabo-musulman se fait et se défait dans l’imaginaire de certains politiques locaux en adoptant toujours la forme du croissant », c’est dans ces même termes qu’il prétend analyser les préférences des différents régimes au Proche-Orient ou en Occident.
Mais en fait, il n’avait pas besoin de tous ces développements pour arriver à une conclusion qui semble évidente. Tous les régimes craignent l’écroulement du régime syrien, et préfère qu’ils moyennant quelques réformes.

Posted in Speculation, Syria, Version Francophone | 1 Comment »

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 »

The Truth الحقيقة… l’évolution d’un slogan (2)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 27/12/2010

Je vais essayer d’examiner aujourd’hui l’équation quatorze-marsiste ânonnée sur toutes les antennes: ”The Truth” <=> Justice <=> TSL <=> Réconciliation <=> Paix. Je ne vais prendre aucun des arguments présentés à la défense de cette équation parce qu’en réalité, ils ne la démontrent pas, ils brodent autour, l’amplifient, la célèbrent, l’exultent. L’approche généralement est abstraite, dogmatique, normative, désincarnée… théorique. Je vais plutôt prendre chaque partie de l’équation, les mettre à l’épreuve de la réalité et, je l’espère, en tirer quelques conclusions.

”The Truth” <=> Justice: Idéalement, ou pour ainsi dire en principe, la Justice (c’est à dire un tribunal) dit la vérité. Mais en fait, la réalité est plus compliquée. La Justice, c’est à dire un tribunal, ou plus précisément un ou plusieurs juges, rend[ent] un jugement, et ce jugement a l’autorité du “vrai”. C’est à dire qu’il est “vrai” parce qu’il est dit par une autorité qui a le dernier mot, et cela indépendamment de son contenu. ֵCe jugement dépend de plusieurs facteurs qui sont entièrement indépendant du fait jugé: la loi, la procédure, la qualité du juge (ou des juges), la manière dont les faits sont rapportés au tribunal… On est bien loin de l’équation. “The Truth” <=> (la) Justice.

”The Truth” <=> Justice <=> Paix: Bon, la paix civile, c’est quand même le but de la “Justice” (c-à-d les tribunaux). Les tribunaux sont là pour arbitrer entre des intérêts, pour trancher des conflits… Ces tribunaux bénéficient de l’autorité publique et peuvent recourir à la force pour assurer de l’exécution de leurs jugements/décisions. Mais bon, plus les jugements des tribunaux paraissent justes à la population, moins l’Etat aura besoin de la force pour assurer la paix… il existe donc bien une équation, mais elle est beaucoup plus complexe. Et elle est devient encore plus compliqué lorsqu’il n’y a pas monopole de la violence, et donc lorsqu’il n’est pas sûr que la force derrière le tribunal puisse s’imposer en dernier ressort.

”The Truth” <=> Justice <=> TSL <=> Paix: Les considérations que nous avons vu plus haut sont valables pour des Etats. Ce même raisonnement est plus ou moins facile à transposer au niveau international lorsqu’il est question de conflit entre Etats… mais lorsque le conflit n’est pas entre Etats… la transposition devient impossible.

”The Truth” <=> Justice <=> TSL <=> Réconciliation <=> Paix: Alors là on est en plein science fiction. Une partie de la population (essentiellement Chiite) et du voisinage (la Syrie) montre une méfiance extrême par rapport au tribunal. Donc l’usage de la force pour imposer le jugement contre elle devient nécessaire au cas où ce jugement la concerne… on est bien loin de la paix, et encore plus loin de la réconciliation.


Posted in Hezbollah, Lebanon, Semantics, Speculation, Syria, Version Francophone | 3 Comments »

Can we stop the reconstruction of St Vincent de Paul?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 30/12/2009

(that's the kind of picture u get at 3 o'clock in the morning)

I learnt  from a friend four days ago that the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul planned to restore their church in downtown Beirut. I was totally shocked by the news. I realised that I always hoped that the society would never come up with the funds to rebuild it. I wished this church would become Beirut’s Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche. You’ve certainly heard of this church in the center of former West-Berlin. All that remains of this neo-romanesque building bombed by the allies in November 1943 is its damaged tower. It stands today as a reminder of the destruction of war and the symbol of the city’s resolve to rebuild itself after the war.
In Beirut, there is no strong reminder of the war and the city’s resolve to rebuild itself. Solidere has erased all traces of the war and added to the destruction of the old to make way for the new, the expensive, the profitable. The semi destroyed St Vincent the Paul church is a strong symbol that is worth preserving. I wonder if I will be able to convince many people of this. Is there any reader ready to help me

Posted in Civil Society, Culture, History, Lebanon, Memory, Personal, Speculation, Values, Violence | 2 Comments »

Confessionalism/Anti-confessionalism: Two sides of the same coin

Posted by worriedlebanese on 03/08/2009


Anti-confessionalism probably lacks historical perspective because it is utterly uninterested in context. It is obsessed with values and rules: it seeks to impose what it claims to be positive, modern (western), secular values (and rules), while claiming to combat what it defines as archaic, religious, oppressive values (and rules). By doing so, it defines itself (anti-confessionalism) and what it combats (confessionalism).

Before going into this dual definition (and its implication), let’s have a glimpse at these very values and value-laden political programmes anti-confessionalism vows to defend and implement.

A glimpse at the muddle

As Maria sang to the children, “let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start”. The whole debate over confessionalism started in the 1940s. Sure, one could trace articles and writing about its many elements to the 1930, and even to the 1920s. But they were still scattered then, and dealt with points that were quite rightly seen as unrelated: secularisation, modernisation, westernisation, nation-building and state building. From the 1940s onwards, all these views converged under the label of “anticonfessionalism” as their proponents defined a common enemy, confessionalism.

This conversion obscures the fact that we are dealing with distinct processes, political programmes and values. This is why we will look into each of them one at a time.

  • Secularisation: A process in which the various aspects of society (economic, political, legal, and moral) become increasingly specialised and distinct from religion (and religious authority). It is usually accompanied by a societal decline in levels of religiosity. Its proponents usually link the decline of religiosity to the increase of freedoms. In Lebanon, secularisation usually means three things:
    • Abolishing the personal status laws and courts (up to now, each recognised and established community has its own laws and courts), and replacing them by one civil legislation in matters of family law.
    • Supporting “secular” education, i.e. state schools and universities (vs schools and universities within religious networks).
    • Combatting religious authority and interference in public affairs. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Civil Society, Culture, Discourse, Diversity, Education, History, Identity, Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Pluralism, Politics, Prejudice, Religion, Speculation, Values | 2 Comments »

The Paradoxes of AntiConfessionalism (an introduction)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 02/08/2009

anti-confessionalismAntiConfessionalism! The word seems easy to grasp. The prefix and suffix speak for themselves. Intuitively, one could assume that anticonfessionalism is antonymous & opposed to a specific system, principle, ideology: confessionalism. Up to now things might seem pretty clear. But when you look a bit closer, you discover something completely different. It’s actually quite hard to oppose anti-confessionalism to confessionalism. It’s like opposing black and white. Sure it’s a common assumption that black is the opposite of white, but it doesn’t tell you much about one or the other, and so the opposition turns out to be meaningless.

I have already dealt with the issue of anticonfessionalism two years ago (albeit hysterically) through a “hate mail” sent to Amam05 posted here. The arguments haven’t changed, but maybe I should restate them more serenely.

We might have many bad intellectual habits in Lebanon, but anti-confessionalism is unmistakably the worst. If you’re looking for insight, learning, critical engagement… keep away from anti-confessional literature. On the other hand, if you’re looking for repetitive prose, dogmatism, distilled ideology, decontextualised constructions, baseless assumptions, groundless accusations… Then you should definitely check out the many books, articles and declarations written on confessionalism.

At first, I thought it would be possible to discuss this issue in one post, but judging from the reactions I’m getting, I think it better to discuss one paradox at a time.

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Civil Society, Culture, Democracy, Discourse, Diversity, Education, Identity, Idiosyncrasy 961, Lebanon, Pluralism, Politics, Religion, Secularism, Speculation, Values | 11 Comments »

Meet the next president? From Slimmy to Suleiman II

Posted by worriedlebanese on 30/07/2009

SlimmyIs Suleiman Frangieh Jr vying for the presidency? The obvious answer is yes. Which maronite politician isn’t? But this one’s chances seem quite good. You’ve certainly heard by now that he is moving to “Beirut” (Rabieh, to be precise). And you might have read a very flattering “portrait” of him that was published in the Akhbar (cf. a previous posting) or followed his meetings with Sami and Amin Gemayel. These are certainly no indicators of his chances for the presidency.

The reasons why he is the most likely candidate for the highest office lie elsewhere. They are to be found in his political & geopolitical positioning and to the fact that he espouses the predominant social values in Lebanon. Let’s first look into his positioning before examining how he reflects the country’s prevailing values. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Communication, Geopolitics, Intercommunal affairs, Journalism, Lebanon, Pluralism, Political behaviour, Politics, Semantics, Speculation, Values | 3 Comments »