Friday, April 29, 2005

an appeal to fellow bloggers Lebanese everywhere!

Fellow bloggers and Lebanese everywhere,

Over the past few days, politics back home seems to have degenerated into the usual sectarian bull**t that we've gotten used to for most of our lives. Let us not waste our precious time and effort analyzing and writing about the game the "political elite" are playing... let us play our own game.

Let us write about what we would like to see happen in Lebanon, and how we can make it happen. While the politicians back home bicker about how much power they want to divy up to each other, let us dedicate ourselves to creating wealth and power for all of Lebanon.

Yesterday, Reem wrote about adding value to Lebanon
Maya, also wrote about an association that we could create to identify with, freely associate in, and maybe ultimately become a real NATIONAL force for Lebanon as a whole.

This is the discourse that I want to flourish. Blogs are supposed to be alternative voices. Let's keep it that way... but we shouldn't just observe, we should also play our game.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Adding Value to Lebanon

The discussion about identifying valuable areas of economic growth for Lebanon is a very, well….. valuable one! I started by adding a comment to Raja’s post [Assignment for all Lebanese: think about what you want for Lebanon!] but then decided to write a full entry.

Firas, your first point reminded me of a book I read when I was younger. It's by Jean Giono, a famous French author, and it's called (translating the title literally from French): ‘the man who planted trees’. It's a simple story, about a simple man who wakes up every morning, takes the acorns that he has carefully sorted, walks up to a barren area of the mountain, and plants the acorns. He does this for years, and so he can witness the growth of trees he has planted a few years back. All it takes is some willingness.

Doha, I agree with Raja that retail is not a high-value area to explore for Lebanon, unless we really find goods which are produced in a special way. But there can be high-value opportunities in what seems to be traditional areas, like agriculture. I mean, we import so many kinds of fruits and vegetables (did anyone try to buy a broccoli in Lebanon? They are so expensive, while in the UK they are among the cheapest). Lebanon’s climate allows growing a very wide variety of vegetables. I don’t think broccolis require very special conditions. Of course, there is the cost of going into such ventures, but some agricultural products are quite at the high end of the food chain, such as mushroom, avocados, etc.

It seems there is a consensus that Lebanon’s competitive advantage is situated in the services industry. That is what some of you termed ‘the knowledge economy’ and ‘medical tourism’. Those are definitely areas where Lebanon is ahead of other countries in the region, but time must not be wasted: Dubai is also capitalizing on those areas, and investing in them. Raja, the figures that you posted on the cost of doing business in Lebanon indicate that we have an overall advantage over the region, although we may not be as business-friendly as the OECD yet. Dubai has specifically created a ‘knowledge city’, with all sorts of research and technology resources. As for medical and university staff, they are able to draw qualified people thanks to attractive salary packages and quality of life.

I believe Lebanon has to find its niche goods-and-services areas to be a healthy participant in the global economy. There is no way Lebanon can compete with countries that benefit from economies of scale, with low labour costs. Lebanon therefore has to target certain high-end markets by producing high-end goods and services. This will require aggressively expanding our export markets. And I believe everyone could win from such a situation! For example, I live in London, a very cosmopolitan city. So you would expect to find foods from all over the world. Well, you probably do, but you have to look for them (for example you would have to go to certain neighborhoods where Chinese, Arab or African communities live, or to specific gourmet places). Today for instance, I spotted some ‘jarareng’ in a little Lebanese-run grocery. They were overpriced, but I still bought them, perhaps to remind myself of the smells and flavours of Lebanon. The high price would be explained by the fact that the supply of such goods, unique to Lebanon (if I am not mistaken), is extremely limited in the UK. But were Lebanon to expand its distribution channels, these products would enjoy larger export markets, while still commanding reasonably-high prices, which would in turn help maintain the production of such agricultural goods.

An important point in any growing economy is job creation. The challenge for Lebanon will be to find industries that can generate enough employment opportunities to absorb both skilled and less skilled members of the labour force. As you mentioned Doha, I feel Lebanon at the moment is very much a consumer society, rather than a producer society. There seems to be much more investment in consumption ventures, such as restaurants, entertainment, etc., than in productive ventures. Of course, all of these create a demand for jobs, but a country is better off in the long run when investment goes into “forward-looking” areas, such as R&D.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Visualization of Lebanon

Posted by Hello

Okay, I'm not as good as Beirut Spring, but what can I say? At least I tried!!! Please click on the picture to get a larger version of the chart.

What I tried to convey through this chart is, simply put, the "make up" of Lebanon - or in Arabic, "tirkeebit Libnan". Society in the right, political elite in the middle and the state in the left. There are several points that I wanted make:

1. The circles represent only a small selection of the communities in Lebanon. The dark green is supposed to represent the socio-economic elite, and the yellow is basically every body else (don't read into the size of the green; it doesn't mean anything). Every single one of these communities is slightly different in its social and religious norms. Two variables have to be taken into consideration: religion and traditions. Every single community has its own unique combination of tradition and religion: their own formula for social order. I see no problem with that at all, and hence you could say that I see no problem with "sectarianism." The caveat is that people don't try to impose their own formula on me, and that the state provides a protected haven for those of us who would like another community in Lebanon: the secular cosmopolitan community. Unfortunately, both of these conditions are very far from being met. The danger of people calling for an elimination of "sectarianism," for example, is that they are calling for other Lebanese to conform to their own notion of social order without consciously being aware of it.

2. The political elite section by no means represents all the politicians/political forces in the country - it is a small sample. The main point to take out of it is that the overwhelming majority of interaction that takes place between politicians and the sectarian communities is the unhealthy patron-client relationship. The communities support the sectarian system for two reasons: (1) they depend too much on the politicians for essentials of daily life (2) they fear that other sects have the intention of imposing their own notions of social order on the entire country, and ultimately on them. This fear is, of course, encouraged, or at least, not discouraged by the political elite.

3. Finally, the state is the sliver platter from which politicians distribute their "gifts". Politicians' gifts include such things as: a seat in any academic institution in the country, deferral of utility bills, deferral of tax-payments, and all other ridiculous bits of minutia. When the state no longer plays that role, its raison d’etre evaporates, politicians withdraw their support from it, and it breaks down.

PLEASE: Don't hesitate to criticize. This model is far from perfect, and I am fully aware that it can be built on. A good example of a shortcomming of the model is that I failed to address the relationship among the different members of the country's political elite. Had I done that, then there would be no avoiding the intervention of foreign powers in domestic politics. I am sure there are a lot more ways the model can be improved; however, keep in mind that models are inherently general and do not necessarily account for details.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Historical day for Lebanon!

I agree with Doha's statement that we can not be overly optimistic about Syria's withdrawal and that TIME is required. Nevertheless, I was slightly idealistic in the thoughts that I sent to my classmates today that are shared below.

" Today marked a historical day for Lebanon. Syria has officially pulled out all its troops and intelligence apparatus after a "three decade reign"!

Although there had been pressure on the Syrians to leave since the end of the civil war in 1990 and in compliance with the Taif Accord, the agreement for national reconciliation that ended the war, only certain segments of the Lebanese population were vocal about this. The assassination of the former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri on February 14th of this year, which public opinion blames Syria for, served as a catalyst to mobilize a significant representation of Lebanon's constituency. The Lebanese had had "Enough!" of political manipulation and economic exploitation by Syria, and stormed onto the streets in peaceful protests that were inspiring. For once in a long time, Christians, Druze and Muslims (mainly Sunni) were united in demanding Freedom, Solidarity, and Sovereignty, with the biggest gathering estimated at 1 million protesters - roughly a third of the population!

These are exciting times but Lebanon still faces many challenges. First, the current President is pro-Syrian and there is no guarantee that Syria's influence will be totally erased in the short run. Second, the Lebanese no longer have a scapegoat for their political woes and must take responsibility for shaping the future and restoring trust in the government and its institutions. The first opportunity to do this would be to vote responsibly in the May parliamentary elections. Lebanon's sectarian laws still stands (for example, Lebanon's President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament have to be Maronite Christian, Sunni Muslim, and Shiite Muslim respectively) and it will take time and national dialogue to restore an efficient system of meritocracy. Many other complications remain including Hizbullah's disarmament.

There is tension ahead and the ensuing complexities would realistically present different setbacks for the Lebanese. But, more importantly, there is hope (!) that Lebanon will take its own reigns and steer itself to an even more properous future as a truly sovereign nation! "

What Next?: Questioning the Speaker of the Parliament's Role

It just dawned at me as I was reading Elias Abu Rizk's statement calling for the resignation of the President and the Speaker of the Parliament, that this is the first time Berri's position is questioned. Since the late Hariri's assassination, the positions of the President and the Prime Minister have undergone heavy questioning and constitutional speculation, while the Speaker of the Parliament went untouched.

Why? Why has no one touched Berri? He remained fairly silent all this time and now today we saw him on TV during the Parliamentary debates...just the same, the same attitude, always taking the role of the Speaker of the Parliament lightly, well-known for interrupting the speakers during the hearings with unsophisticated comments, generally biased, and of course biased, because he has always taken sides.

So I asked myself what are the rules governing the role of the Speaker of the Parliament in our constitution. A glance at the Constitution, nothing there about the role of the Speaker of the Parliament nor on the mechanism of electing one. Is he appointed? Elected? If elected, by whom?

I'm curious. If someone out there knows, I would like to get their insight. I will do more research, but being far from home, I might be limited in the resources I can dig through.

I believe it's time to truely and genuinely see a fresh start to our Parliament. Berri should not sit untouched; in a democratic system, all political positions are subject to accountablity by the public.

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."

Assignment for all Lebanese: think about what you want for Lebanon!

I want to join my fellow blogger arch.memory in calling for all Lebanese to think about specific changes that we want for Lebanon. Forget the threats of foreigners; forget the fear of the future; its time to think about possibilities!

Those of us who are abroad have a special responsibility in this regard. Although no place in this world is ideal, there are some places that "work" better than others. Lebanese who are in Europe, the United States and East Asia should do our best to carefully study our environment, and relate it to Lebanon. We owe it to our parents, siblings and friends who we left behind.

Let us not fall into the trap of criticizing those in power, or even seeking power, without having articulated political thoughts and opinions. One of the most important processes in politics is when individuals and groups in societies are able to inform politicians and leaders specifically what they want - and then pressure them to deliver.

On that note, I will end my commentary, and provide you with some interesting data that I got from a World Bank web page. Maybe, it could be a launch pad for further discussion about what is next for our beloved country! It summarizes for us the challenges that Lebanese face in attempting to realize the fundamental right of every human being to make a comfortable living in his own land. I look forward reading feedback pertaining to the validity of these measures, whether they deserve to be listed as a priority in the Lebanese political agenda, or whether there are other economic indicators that supercede these in importance (in the Lebanese context), among other things.



Starting a Business in Lebanon(2004)

The challenges of launching a business in Lebanon are shown below through four measures: procedures required to establish a business, the associated time and cost, and the minimum capital requirement. Entrepreneurs can expect to go through 6 steps to launch a business over 46 days on average, at a cost equal to 131.5% of gross national income (GNI) per capita. They must deposit at least 82.3% of GNI per capita in a bank to obtain a business registration number, compared with the regional average of 856.4% of GNI and OECD average of 44.1% of GNI.

Number of procedures6106
Time (days)463925
Cost (% of income per capita)131.551.28.0
Min. capital (% of income per capita)82.3856.444.1

Getting Credit (2004)

Measures on credit information sharing and the legal rights of borrowers and lenders in Lebanon are shown below. One set of indicators measures the coverage, scope, quality and accessibility of credit information available through public and private registries. A second set measures how well collateral and bankruptcy laws facilitate lending. It ranges from 0-10, with higher scores indicating that those laws are better designed to expand access to credit. Lebanon has a score of 4, compared with the regional average of 3.9 and OECD average of 6.3. The Credit Information Index measures the scope, access and quality of credit information available through public registries or private bureaus. The index ranges from 0-6, with higher values indicating that more credit information is available from a public registry or private bureau. Lebanon has a score of 4, compared with the regional average of 2.1 and OECD average of 5.0.

Cost to create collateral (% of income per capita)
Legal Rights Index43.96.3
Credit Information Index42.15.0
Public credit registry coverage
(borrowers per 1000 adults)
Private bureau coverage
(borrowers per 1000 adults)

Protecting Investors (2004)

The degree to which investors are protected through disclosure of ownership and financial information is measured below. The Disclosure Index captures seven ways of enhancing disclosure: information on family; indirect ownership; beneficial ownership; voting agreements between shareholders; audit committees reporting to the reporting to the board of directors; use of external auditors; and public availability of ownership and financial information to current and potential investors. The index varies between 0 and 7, with higher values indicating more disclosure. Lebanon has a score of 1, compared with the regional average of 2.6 and OECD score of 5.6.

Disclosure Index12.65.6

Enforcing Contracts (2004)

The ease or difficulty of enforcing commercial contracts in Lebanon is measured below, using three indicators: the number of procedures counted from the moment the plaintiff files a lawsuit until actual payment, the associated time, and the cost (in court and attorney fees), expressed as a percentage of debt value. In Lebanon, the cost of enforcing contracts is 26.7, compared with the regional average of 17.9 and OECD average of 10.8.

Number of procedures393819
Time (days)721437229
Cost (% of debt)26.717.910.8

Time: The Cure for the Lingering Traces of Occupation

As much as I am supposed to be celebrating the Syrian army's withdrawal from Lebanon, I am still cautious and skeptical. The Bush Administration has stated yesterday its doubts about the end of the Syrian influence in Lebanon. My reaction to such statement is that many Lebanese are not only doubtful, but sure that such influence would still exist beyond April 26, 2005.

Realistically the traces of any occupation linger...and sadly enough, it is usually not the occupying force that keeps on interfering, as much as it is those lingering blind "loyalists" who perpetuate that state of fear.

I believe that the only way to a waning Syrian influence is Time. Time will play a key role in this weeding process; through successive parliamentary elections, the remainig agents of the dark ages will begin to fade and be replaced with new faces who bring new life to the definition of loyality. Loyalty to beloved Lebanon.

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."

Monday, April 25, 2005

okay... Iran is taking it too far!

Okay. I think Iran is going too far now! We all know that Hizballah is intimately connected to the Iranian regime. However, we were told over and over again that it was a "national" resistance force fighting to liberate Lebanon from foreign occupation.

Today, Mr. Khatami warned that "the possibility exists of an escalation of differences and degeneration into a civil war." hmmm... Who is he to say that there is a possibility for civil war in Lebanon???

If I were in a leadership position at Hizballah, I'd release a statement demanding an immediate apology from the Iranian president! Especially if I've been claiming for the past couple of months that the "weapons of the resistance" will only be used against Israel. Of course, if on the other hand, I was, in effect, merely a mid-raking official in the Iranian regime, then I'd just shut up and obey my orders.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Rationalizing Middle Eastern Politics

I am currently reading Thomas Friedman’s “From Beirut to Jerusalem”. Some of you may have read it a long time ago, and I would appreciate your views on it. The book is written in a journalistic style, with many anecdotes; however it also presents some broad analytical lines along which to think, which I found can still be applied to the problems we see today in Lebanon and the region (Of course, those problems are an extension of the events Friedman was writing about in the 80s).

In order to understand the 1982 events in Hama, Friedman identified three different political forces which helped explain the dominant political dynamics of the Middle East. The first and oldest of the ‘traditions’ was tribalism, or tribe-like politics. Friedman defines this as “a pre-modern form of political interaction characterized by a harsh, survivalist quality and an adherence to certain intense primordial or kin-group forms of allegiance”. This mutual loyalty within clan, sect or village takes precedence over allegiances to the wider national community or nation-state.

The second ‘tradition’ is authoritarianism, i.e. “the concentration of power in a single ruler or elite not bound by any constitutional framework”. This force is linked to that of tribalism. Because it is difficult for any clan to voluntarily accept being ruled by another. Authoritarianism may come in two forms: gentle authoritarianism (e.g. The Ottoman Empire in its Golden Age, and to a certain extent Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and the Gulf Sheikhdoms), and brutal authoritarianism. Those countries where society is more fragmented (such as Syria, Iraq and Lebanon) are more prone to brutal forms of authoritarianism. As an example of brutal authoritarianism, Friedman cites the foundation of Abbasid dynasty in Baghdad (A.D. 750).
Those of you having taken CSVP 202 at AUB will recall Ibn Khuldun’ s cyclical view of Islamic history: a nomadic tribe with strong blood ties conquers an area by force; once in power though, it gradually is weakened by the corrupting attributes of power, sedentary life, and “civilization”; another tribe then comes along and takes its place. It would be interesting to think about those dynamics in the context of the current Middle East. Is the sectarian nature of Lebanon, in any way a barrier to the emergence of such “authoritarian” takeovers? Can it act as a system of check and balances in a democratic environment?

The third force identified by Friedman is the concept of the modern nation-state imposed by Western powers. And here he quotes from the orientalist Bernard Lewis: “Countries and nations existed; they had names, and evoked sentiments of a kind, but they were not seen as defining political identities or directing political allegiances” [in the modern European sense]. (And we go back once again to the notion of identity already debated in previous posts!!!). Friedman thus concludes that “many of the states in the Middle East today –Egypt being the most notable exception- did not emerge out of a social contract between rulers and ruled.” Of course, with time (and in a powerful example of the adaptive capacities of men), these states no longer represented just an agglomeration of clans, sects or villages; and the first artificial demarcation lines began to harden.

Although most of the ideas presented here come from Friedman, they might be a good launch-pad for further discussion.

Friday, April 22, 2005

To be, or not to be (an Arab)... that appears to be the question!

It is interesting to observe how long and passionate discussions about identity can become. Personally, I take pride in my identity, as I am sure most people do. That probably explains part of the intensity of most discussions that revolve around the issue.

But I am curious: when Lebanese talk politics, we always end up talking identity. Why is there this unbreakable link between politics and identity? Don't get me wrong! Politics everywhere involves some form of identification (for example: you identify yourself with a labor union you belong to, or a political party, etc...) But in Lebanon, the identities that matter are tribal and religious (i.e. personal) identities that, at best, have extremely vague policy implications in today's world. Personal identities are also very intimate. Therefore, discussions that revolve around them are prone to be very emotional, and the results are high-intensity debates that are ends in themselves rather than means to a productive outcome!

For example, if you identify yourself with a labor union, everybody knows where your stands are with regards to minimum wage, or health insurance. But, if you identify yourself as a Maronite, or a Dirzi, how the hell am I supposed to figure out what your stance on those issues is? Would you even know? That's a silly example, but try this: expand it to every single issue that comes up in managing the affairs of a modern state, and you'll realize how politically immature we are as Lebanese.

There's no escaping it: the way we organize ourselves as a society in Lebanon is COMPLETELY out of sync with the demands of the modern world and the affairs of the modern state! There is NO doubt about that!

However, since this phenomenon is doing so much damage to our country, i'd like to understand it. The best way to do this is to figure out what concrete policies (if any) go along with identifying yourself the traditional way. I'll start with the easiest identity because we've already brought it up in previous posts: the "Arab" identity. Then I'll try and build on it.

Identity: Arab

1. Continue fighting the Israelis until only God knows when

2. ummm... can someone help me out here? what other concrete policies does labeling yourself an "Arab" lead to? my head's starting to hurt!

Okay... since that was a fruitless exercise, lets go down to the sect-level. We all know that Lebanon is a small country, and that within this small country, Lebanese are divided into smaller groups. Every single one of these groups seems to have this urge to identify with something bigger and (hypothetically) better:

Sunnis are perceived to idolize other Sunni-Arab countries (or in some cases, the way things were 700 years ago)

perceived policy objectives:

1. get all men to grow beards
2. get all women to wear hijabs
3. be the most powerful group in Lebanon
4. continue the war against Israel

Shi'as are perceived to idolize Iran

perceived policy objectives

1. get all men to grow longer beards
2. get all women to wear black hijabs
3. be the most powerful group in Lebanon
4. continue the war against Israel

Christians (and maybe even Druze b/c of proximity) are perceived to idolize Western countries

perceived christian policy objectives

1. get all women to wear skimpy clothes
2. get all men to be clean shaven and to speak french
3. be the most powerful group in Lebanon
4. stop fighting Israel

perceived druze objectives

1. get every one to act like he's from a different religion!
2. be the most powerful group in Lebanon
3. confused about this whole Israel thing

Okay, this is all an extreme caricature, but its not that far from the truth! With traditional groups, there really is no room of complex political classification and discourse. Traditions and religion are all about securing social order, so when the political groups are religious/sectarian, ultimately every group becomes irrationally paranoid about protecting its own way of life.

All of this has to change! personal identity, beliefs, traditions, need to be pushed into the backburner of Lebanese politics. Our politics needs to catch up with the times... its either that, or we'll always be behind... we'll always look outside of Lebanon for inspiration... and worst of all, the prospect of civil war will always be with us!

The next time you talk politics with a Lebanese friend, try not talking about sectarian affairs.... I know its hard, but test yourself; and see how long the discussion lasts!

The Silver Lining Is In Sight

Washington DC is gloomy and rainy today, reflecting the sadness in many of our hearts for losing Dr. Fleihan. The funeral service was moving. He must have felt peace listening to the warm eulogies praising his soul. I skipped half a day of work to watch it through; spent my morning in mourning. Mourning is overcoming grief; we must do that in order to follow in his path of loving Lebanon till death.

...And in fact, there is cause for rejoicing today despite all the pain: Jamil El-Sayyid and Ali Hajj have resigned and PM Mikati confirmed that elections will be taking place before the 31st of May.

The silver lining is in sight...

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Lebanese make me laugh sometimes!

I was watching a TV show the other day. It was on Future television. Six or seven guys 'n gals from different parts of Lebanon's political spectrum were brought on set to discuss the major differences between Lebanese. You all can immagine how lively that must have been! One guy said he doesn't percieve himself to be an Arab... another guy responded that he thought Lebanese were getting closer together, but after hearing that comment, he began to reconsider.

The one good thing that I percieved was that most of the guests appeared more inteligent and articulate than Future's special guest, Mr. Wael Abu Faour (the new big-shot spokesman for Jumblatt). Whereas Mr. Faour would spit out the regular, boring and incomprehensible rhetoric, I actually enjoyed listening to some of the ideas that the other guests were bringing into the mix. All of them were young - and I got the impression that most of them were in some form educational institution of higher learning. I wish the news covered more voices like theirs rather than what we hear every friggen day of our lives!

Something else in the show caught my attention. We all (as Lebanese) are only a few steps away from thinking we're God! When we talk about the Arab-Israeli conflict, we act as if the fortunes of that war depend on our own participation. We forget how small and irrelevant we are in the big scheme of things. We forget that there are players like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Europe, Russia and the United States that have vested interests in the region.

That is why I chuckle everytime I hear Nasrallah, or (recently) Jumblatt or any other "leader" scream that we will not "abandon" the Palestinians - as if we're really 'helping' them in the first place. I get furious when I catch myself reciting their lines. Hizballah is an extension of Iran, so when it says it will maintain a state of war with Israel, you can basically interpret that as "Iran is maintaining a state of war with Israel." But then other politicians go on and say it as if they mean it. They play on our egos: "we're never going to abandon the quds," "we should assist our brothers in Palestine," etc, etc... Then we buy it and think the fate of the world depends on us! C'mon guys!!! Do you really think you can take the Israelis on??? I thought so when I was 18... maybe 20!

Let's all just listen to those university students and forget politicians... it's much healthier! We can focus on fixing ourselves before fighting wars!

Monday, April 18, 2005

I Believed He Would Return

I really did believe that he was going to return after 18 months, return to beloved Lebanon, return for a better future. I really did believe that he will return with stronger conviction to continue the path he has started. I really did believe that there would be a place for me serving under his direction....

I really did believe what has not happened: Dr. Fleihan has left us. His heart was not able to accept the medicine of life; life was too harsh, eternal peace is his lot.

Dr. Fleihan: you are in our hearts and minds. You have been an inspiration, an inspiration that many very much aspire to put into action.

May God bless your soul. Adieu!

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."

a star has faded...

I am sad that Basil Fuleihan has left us so quickly and in such a terrible way. My concern and empathy goes out to his wife, his children and his family. Basil dedicated his life to serving the Lebanese public - something that too few of our politicians do. In his 42 years of life, he has accomplished more for Lebanon than multitudes of others who have lived to be a hundred.

may he rest in peace!

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Lebanese public policy 101 - oh how depressing!!!!

When I read articles like this one, a huge fire begins to burn inside of me! I am not sure who to blame: Bahia, the Daily Star, or the overall shallowness of Lebanese policy discourse. What I am sure of is that something serious is wrong when crap like this gets published in the only English newspaper in Lebanon which, by the way, the “elite” are supposed to read!

The title of the article is “MP Hariri announces new development plan for Sidon.” But does the article say ANYTHING about this plan of Bahia’s??? NO! NADA! NOTHING! The following are quotes from the first line of every paragraph in the pathetic 250-word piece:

- Hariri addressed thousands…
- The celebration started with…
- Hariri told the crowd that she "will never accept words of condolences…
- She added: "I have called you to meet together today as one family…
- "Everyone is invited to start the development process in Sidon in order to have a city fit for Rafik Hariri…
- Commenting on the ongoing investigations into her brother's death, she said …
- "Sidon is a strong city which deserves Rafik Hariri…

Okay… so where is the economic plan? What is Ms. Hariri thinking of doing? The closest she came to an economic (???) objective - forget plan - was that she wants a city "fit for Rafik Hariri”! Okay, so what does this city look like? Please, I’d like someone to define what “a city fit for Rafik Hariri” is! If I was a resident of Sidon, how the hell would I decide whether on not to support her economic plan?

This is all just crazy! This is Lebanese public policy 101 for you everybody! I hope you’re enjoying the view! I keep on having to remind myself that the Daily Star is an English newspaper that is supposed to be read by the elite; but every time I do so, I shudder at the thought!

Mustapha, in one of your posts, you raised the issue why the dailystar was experiencing a decline in ratings.... Maybe this is your answer buddy!

The irony is that the newspaper probably has nothing to do with it, and there is really nothing to report. Poor Daily Star! Poor Lebanon!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

The "Other" Perspective: Part III - Whats Next?

This is the last of three parts of "the other perspective". For those of you who are just now joining the show, I highly recommend that you read the first post "The 'Other' Perspective: A primer." I'd like to remind everyone that these words come from a friend who currently resides in Beirut. For professional reasons requested to remain anonymous, and thus, is referred to as "M". Please read the "Primer" to understand why I have done this; and at least read the introduction that "M" wrote in part I to better understand his own intentions and convictions.



So, what's next?

Economically, and as long as the standoff continues, the attrition for all is very high, and the opposition will lose momentum. I'm not sure of this, but I hear that this is especially true when it comes to sunni support of the opposition, as sunni capitalists supposedly have the most to lose if downtown continues to be closed. This may be true in terms of shares owned by sunnis in solidere, a predominantly hariri thing which most others tended to boycott at first. But I don't think it's very true when it comes to the shops, as many are owned by Shiites and Christians. Also, despite being an economic power, the
sunnis are not the only ones suffering from the country's current stagnation, so I don't think this will play much of a role.

The elections will eventually take place. It remains the strongest bargaining item against the opposition: berry told joumblatt that the elections will take place when "things cool down". For the opposition, "cooling down" means losing momentum, and credibility, because they are still using the thrust of their parading, and hope to do so till they reach a peak around election time, in which case they expect to win most seats. This is why they still insist not to start any dialogue till after the elections. They expect to be in a better
position to bargain then. Hezbollah, the main side calling for comprehensive dialogue, has announced it is willing to even negotiate its own status as an armed movement. They see the opposition's delaying of dialogue not only as an anticipation of more bargaining
power, but also an over-dependence on an assumed "international" cover (mainly the US and France). This image was created when a formal declaration by the maronite church called on the Lebanese to "benefit from the international thrust for freedom". The question, should such a cover exist, is whether it will continue to the end or just leave the opposition in mid battle the way it did when the Americans gave up on the armed rebellion in iraq in the early nineties, in the middle of its first attack.

Also the election law will be passed by the current parliament and its majority of 70 "syrian soldiers" as the opposition puts it (formerly 71. ali khalil died in a car accident last week). Each opposition leader is calling for a different law, as fits their status. It is also surprising to see general aoun supporting the authority's suggestion for relative representation with the mohafaza as the electoral precinct/zone/division. (I need a precise translation of da2era 2intakhibiah, but u get the idea, right?)

One more thing about the elections is that they will split the opposition even more when maronite sides have to divide the seats among themselves, and with joumblatt, if he remains their ally that long. The best examples are "joumblatt's" maronite seats in the southern mountain, and the maronite seats in kesserouan, where most of the opposition leaders will be running. I find it hard to imagine that aoun, whose supporters already expect a sweeping victory there, will allow others, mostly old enemies and much less representative, to run (and name candidates) as equals. I also think the relation with the
Lebanese forces will be a very decisive factor here. The "smartest" thing for the president to do would be to release the Lebanese forces leader samir geagea in the right time. This is either before the election to create a real crash between him and aoun over the seats,
or just after the elections, rendering most of the opposition's elected MP's virtually useless and un-representative, as geagea is expected to regain great popularity among maronites.

So the latest joumblatt declaration is to ask the opposition to start working on their electoral lists and divide the seats now. He's anticipating the problem. There was huge intra-opposition divide in the last week over the elections of the syndicate of engineers. The aounist free patriotic movement withdrew from the opposition block. The result? Victory of: samir doumit, backed by Hezbollah, hariri's future movement, aoun's "tayyar", and the "pro-syrians". Imad wakim, the Lebanese forces candidate backed by joumblatt and some leftists, failed.

Relation with the US: The new ground for settling regional politics is Iraq, not Lebanon. It is still a place where the Syrians and Iranians can hurt America a lot, each through different Iraqi sides. If they feel they are next, and they certainly do, they will react soon.

As for Hezbollah, read the daily star's article on nasrallah's latest speech. The link is

Friday, April 15, 2005

what monkeys can tell us about ourselves!

Try the following experiment

Get a large cage with five hungry monkeys. Hang a banana on a string inside the cage, and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will approach the stairs and climb towards the banana. However, as soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with freezing cold water and temporarily withdraw the banana.

After a while, another monkey will attempt to get the banana - react the exact same way you did with the first monkey. When the third or fourth monkey eventually tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will do everything in their power to prevent it (fearing the blast of cold water).

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt, and attack, he finaly gets the point that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another member of the original group of five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer eventually goes to the stairs and is attacked (the previous newcomer also takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm)!

Likewise, replace the third member of the original group with a new monkey, then the fourth and ultimately, the fifth.

Every time the new-commer takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they themselves were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are beating of the newest "gullible" monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, absolutely none of the monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, they never approach the stairs and beat any newcommers who try....

That, my friends, is tradition for you! Our vaunted "3awayed"!!!

The "Other" Perspective: Part II - Hizballah and the Maronites

March 8, Tuesday Rally by Hezbollah: pro-syria? Not really. It was more of a pro-Hezbollah rally if anything. Nasrallah didn't mention, in his speech, that he wanted the Syrians to stay in. In fact, the main theme of his speech was more a "thank you & good bye" tribute than anything else, as Annahar put it in its front page (ta7iyyat shokor wa wada3). In fact, the rally was called for only after asad
announced his plans to withdraw. The relatively late movement on hezbollah's behalf is despite (alleged?) secret requests/pleas from the Syrians for Hezbollah to launch a pro-syria parade long before having to withdraw.

One very important thing is that nasrallah didn't even mention Lebanese president lahoud. Hezbollah wasn't going to let bad allies and corrupt "friends" ruin its efforts. It was already being pushed to the front to defend and pay for 15 years of corruption which the others (from berry to joumblatt) benefited from. Suddenly, it became the sole representative of Syria in Lebanon, and that's one role it wouldn't play.

As a whole, Hezbollah involvement is now giving some room to the other, less popular shia party, amal, now that the situation calls for "dirty Lebanese politics" and little tricks of election laws, in which few are more skilled, or more willing to indulge, than nabih berry. The level of political practice deteriorates even further from Pierre gemmayel's "they threaten with quantity of people, but we have the quality" to michel murr's breaking heads "Taksir rouss" to gebran
tweini's describing the Hezbollah rally as sheep (ghanam), to walid eido's statement that "any level-headed person with any intelligence chooses the opposition,” etc….

March 14, Monday Rally by opposition: Huge crowd, Bahia Hariri's speech was excellent in Hezbollah terms, and distinguished the hariri family from the others in the opposition, who didn't necessarily like it that much, but still exercise great self-restraint when replying to it, in fear of losing the hariri supporters, and because the hariri family is still "above attacks" in the mourning period.

There is a prominent demand that the protestors wanted at some point, but the maronite opposition leaders were not willing to pursue fully: lahoud's resignation. There are many reasons for this, but the most obvious ones are the potential of a political gap and the size of the battle. A third, more subtle reason is highlighted by some analysts: the unwillingness of maronite leaders to jeopardize the presidency as an institution which guarantees the existence and role of maronites in Lebanon and the region. In many ways, this is inspired by Lebanon's first image as the "Christian home" or "Christian nation" in the arab
world. For a long time between the Lebanese "independence of 1943" and the civil war, this term stood for "maronite nation", or more precisely "nation of the maronites of mount Lebanon." This, almost like alawite Syria, was a minority role based on presidential dictatorship, in this case extremely well protected by the pre-war constitution. This maronite/Christian division was once quoted by the eloquent, though not so objective, sleiman franjieh, who said "the Christians on the outskirts of Lebanon (massi7iyi al-2a6raf) were not going to let the mountain maronites take them down with them." Sleiman is a maronite leader of the northern area of Zghorta. Another example along these lines is that Robert Fisk describes the Lebanese war as a conflict between the Maronites and everybody else.

When joumbaltt demanded that lahoud resign, the maronite patriarch sfeir answered that it was of low priority now. The answer was very swift, with joumblatt visiting Hezbollah secretary general nasrallah and "re-phrasing" his demands on most issues, in a way that made LBC, the most prominent opposition TV, include the visit and declaration as the first news item of the evening news, and question if he, as an opposition leader, was "allowed" to make such declarations. (hal min al-masmou7 li walid joumblatt 2an...?)

Comming up: the last of three parts - "What's Next?"

disclaimer: the above post is not my opinion. It is the opinion of a friend in Lebanon, who requested that I post his opinions. Please refer to my original post "The "Other" Perspective: A Primer" to get a clearer perspective of what is happening.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Loyalist Camp Falling Apart

I just read the Beirut Spring's last blog entry; Mustapha has read my mind as I thought that the loyalist camp is falling apart as well. It is indeed! MP Karami did not only step down from taking on the responsibility of forming a government, but left the Ein El-Tineh gathering altogether. Definitely a sign that the loyalists are scrambling while the Syrian military is rapidly withdrawing its troops.

Why then the deadlock on reaching consensus to form the government early this week? My understanding from all that I read and heard is that loyalist politicians want a reward, a reward for being "loyal." MP Wiam Wahhab two days ago was so blunt he confessed that those who have been loyal should not be left behind and was so rude to even request that there were outstanding funds, of several million Lebanese pounds, that were not disbursed to a group of displaced families (translation: I've been promised a monetary reward, where is it?) Then I read that MP Arslan did not accept the displaced ministerial portfolio, the reason being that the ministry has no funds.

Such accounts make it clear that as the Syrians leave the country, the loyalists are terrified for their privileges and assets. Their rationale for being picky about ministerial positions that will only last perhaps less than a month (as after the elections a new government will be formed)is that in less than a month, they can put just a bit more money in their pockets. God knows...maybe then they'll take a long trip somewhere far away from the shores of Lebanon.

Another issue I wanted to bring forth is MP Franjieh's refusal to assume the Interior ministry portfolio...Who wants to assume the toughest position of the Interior Minister who presides over the entire electoral process this upcoming summer? What a tough job. And of course MP Franjieh would never want to be in such a position. I guess then the ensuing deadlock was partly due to no one else having the guts to step up and assume this position...anyone?

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The "Other" Perspective: Part I - Sunni Politics, Jumblatt & the Opposition

Hey raja, here's my thoughts:

There are some places where I quote Arabic phrases, it's just the original quote that I translated, so don't worry if you can't read it.

I will also address major sects as a whole, so please excuse the generalizations. I know there are exceptions, and some of them are very refreshing, but the fact remains that this is what the main players are basing their moves on. Very few political leaders can claim they represent many people outside their sects. The opposition forces itself to put up with liability/allies like bassem sabeh in order to say they have a shia figure with them. There are other examples…

I may sound harsh/sectarian at some points, so please bear with me. Keep the following in mind:

The groups of Lebanese youth gathered in downtown are mostly driven by a true sense of patriotic duty, albeit slightly misdirected. Some are acting out of sectarian interest or vendetta, but these shouldn't tag the crowd. I believe firmly that they are acting out of their ideals and a belief in a unified free Lebanon, despite all the crap u hear from pro-Syrian politicians on TV. However, I fear that in many ways, the end results of the movement will shock them, disgust them and make many of them doubt the idealism of youth which now moves so many of them. Following this disappointment, many of them will go back to not dealing with politics, as they did before they discovered they wanted to be "Cedar Revolutionaries" or "Gucci Revolutionaries" as BBC called some. The others will just lose most of their perfectionism and adopt the stereotypes of their ancestors, really blowing the chance we have now for change.

Anyway, here goes:

Sunni Politics, Jumblatt & the Opposition

The political situation in Lebanon seems to be heading towards some rest, with some surprising results. I still think that hassan nasrallah is the strongest "player", and holds most of the keys to the situation, even regionally. However, it's usually more fit to track the situation through one of the most-involved, and smartest in regional politics, walid joumblatt, who's much more engrossed in it all. Joumblatt currently heads a parliament block of around 17members, including many Christians. Note: should he continue in the opposition, he is bound to lose many of these seats to give way to his new maronite allies in the mountain. He has been known to shift alliances at just the right time, making two major shifts in the last four years. In each of these times, he attacked the Syrians harshly enough to attract the maronite votes in the mountain, then shifted back after the elections.

In the first few weeks after hariri's assassination, the opposition were able to make enormous political gains: the government resigned(more by the pressure of the hariri legacy than the actual parading, but it still fell), the syrians are withdrawing faster than any one expected, and the people mostly seemed to be "100% behind us", a statistic which the opposition never failed to overrate and exaggerate.

On the ground, a source of easing the tensions is that there was no direct blame of any local sides. The sunnis refrained from adopting some rumors spread in the first few days about a Shiite involvement, and didn't seek any vendettas. There was news of a huge retaliation campaign against Syrian workers, but that seems to be exaggerated.

In sunni parts of Beirut, such retaliation was probably directed at the (alawite) minority regime of Syria, but this was a relative failure, as most of the Syrian workers in Lebanon come from the far eastern side of Syria where places like "Deir Al-Zure" are. It is a sunni region whose poor come to work in Lebanon. The poor among Syrian alawites mostly join the army.

Back to the sunni street. The sunnis of saida and Beirut have been acting with great carefulness, though still not guided by any single side the way it was when hariri was around. This attitude, which will hopefully continue long enough to avoid any serious sectarian clashes, is nourished by the hariri family's flexibility after the government resigned, and by the general sunni unwillingness to associate with some members of the oppositions, mainly samir geageah's Lebanese forces, shamoun's free patriotic party (7izb al-wataniyin al-ahrar, not to be mistaken with the free patriotic movement, aka tayyar), and, to a lesser extent, joumblat's Progressive Socialist Party. This is seen in the sunnis rejecting the attempts to compare hariri's martyrdom with basheer gemayel's or dani shamoun's.

One note on Joumblatt is that he has been able to "inherit" hariri's constituency for a relatively long period. He became the actual (i.e.effective) leader of the sunnis, in addition to his own constituency, especially while the hariris sort their own internal business. To do this, he used his excellent relation with rafik hariri, the fact that "it was bound to be one of us two", as he says hariri told him fewdays before February 14. It was obvious for some time that sunni support would give great advantage to whoever gains it. This is true because the sunnis are a big population (20% of the population?) and without a leader or a clear agenda.

However, the sunnis of Lebanon are mostly urbanized traders and coast dwellers with little willingness for combat or tendency to cluster, so, as a sect, their participation in the last war was very limited, so they got few political gains after it, which hariri was able to change by giving them more political power. Now, they are still not intent on clustering, as the Lebanese fashion suggests.

The sunnis are more also reluctant to take extreme sides now because of the idea that they, as a sect, have lost twice, in "Lebanese terms". They lost hariri, then they "lost" karami when his government resigned. For the layman, even a futile leader is a good one in the absence of a replacement.

So, when the opposition said "all of Lebanon is with us", they were wrong, of course. The urge to highlight this was very obvious when they started asking for Hezbollah disarmament. It also became obvious when the opposition started to reply to any governmental procedure with a now-famous quote/threat "we'll let the street decide"(al-i7tikam ila al-share3/ literally means letting the street arbitrate).

Comming up: Part II - Hizballah and the Maronites

The "Other" Perspective: A Primer

Almost a month ago, I got an e-mail from a very close friend in Bierut who asked me to express my thoughts on developments taking place in Lebanon. Since, he was a close friend who I thought might not share my political opinions, I replied as tactfully as possible.

A day passed, then a week, then two... and no response. I felt that somehow I had failed in my polite approach, and that I either said something that was not appropriate, or that my position was so irreconcilable with his that he decided it wasn't worth responding to.

Yesterday, "M" finally sends me a response. I refer to him with a "nom-de-guerre" because he is in a sensitive job in Lebanon that forbids him from expressing his political opinions ("M", I hope I haven't said too much!). Well, it turns out that he took such a long time to respond because he was writing such a long e-mail! (5 pages!!!)

"M"'s perspective on what is happening is insightfull, definitely worth the read, and most importantly, somewhat divergent from what most Lebanese bloggers are posting. Furthermore, despite the fact that I have a personal policy of skewing "current politics," challenging it and advocating for alternative discourse, I have made the decision to post his comments on Lebanese Bloggers.

My reason is simple:

the benefit of posting an articulate expression of thoughts that have been under-represented in the blogosphere outweigh the harms that I percieve may come out of it.

I hope that his comments enlighten you as much as they did me. "M" will be visiting the blog and responding to questions and comments you raise - so don't hesitate and "bring em on"!

P.S. Since his e-mail was so long, i will break it up into the most logically coherent parts that I can, and post them at different times....

I pray I've made the right decision!

Monday, April 11, 2005

Electoral Choices for Lebanon

Raja asked me to elaborate more on proportional representation in response to the entry below:

The electoral system we have now in Lebanon is simple majority which stipulates that the winner in popular elections is the candidate who garners the largest number of votes, even if the majority of voters voted for other candidates. Example: In an electoral district of 150,000 eligible voters, from whom only 100,000 voted, their votes were cast on the following candidates: Candidate A 30,000 votes; Candidate B 25,000; Candidate C 20,000; Candidate D 15,000; and Candidate E 10,000. Candidate A who got 30,000 votes is considered the winner, even if 70% of votes were cast on the remaining candidates.

According to Dr. Salam, a simple majority system coupled with a small electoral district (qada’a, for instance) and in the absence or weakness of political parties, leads to the “reproduction” of traditional leaderships by casting a patron-client relationship overtone on the political landscape, as well as allowing parochialism to overshadow national issues and the public good.

The simple proportional representation system allows each contending group in the elections a number of parliamentary seats which equals at best the number of votes each group garners. Usually such system would be implemented in conjunction with an electoral district, like a province, or that of a unified electoral district for the whole country. In either case, the seats for the different contesting lists would be distributed after dividing the number of votes by the number of the designated seats for each district in order to come up with the “electoral quotient.” Example: if the number of voters in an electoral district is 100,000 and the number of seats is 10, the electoral quotient would be 100,000/10 or 10,000, and let’s say that three lists were running against each other and the first list won 50,000, the second 30,000, and the third 20,000, then the seats will be distributed as follows: List 1 50,000/10,000 or 5 seats; List 2 30,000/10,000 or 3 seats; and List 3 20,000/10,000 or 2 seats.

Of course, there is more to this system than what I explained, but I hope this explanation suffices. Proportional representation signifies a mature political culture in a country as it allows diverse parties/views to be represented in parliament; encourages running for elections based on political programs and nourishes political parties; allows the engagement of many societal groups in the electoral process, such as women, ensuring the widest representation of citizens; and ultimately helps lead to the much longed for national unity.

Raja, personally, I believe in a Mixed-Member Electoral system, which merges the majority and proportional systems. This system stipulates that a portion of parliament representatives are elected based on the qada’a and simple majority and the other portion based on the unified electoral district and proportionality, which guarantees at once the representation of Lebanese by their different regions and sects and by “national” policy choices they make that are not sectarian or regionally driven.

What do you think? Again, I repeat, that proportionality as a policy option should not be put up for debate now because it is being used by the loyalist camp for their own interest as opposed for the public good; however, we should consider this option in the near future.

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."

Proportional Representation: No Pure Intentions

So...Monday has come and no birth (or perhaps rebirth) of any government. The excuse: this time it is the electoral law, simple majoritarian with the qada'a as the electoral district versus proportional representation with the province as the electoral district.

I thought more about the reasons behind the loyalist camp's stance on the latter option. While simple majority means for the opposition that the winner wins all (which is what they aspire for), proportional representation means that everyone would be represented based on a proportionate calculation of sorts ensuring that no group is completely marginalized.

Now in ordinary circumstances, proportional representation would be a welcomed electoral policy option, however trying to force it down our throats by the Ein El-Tineh camp makes this policy proposal questionable, hence my entry. The loyalists want to ensure that they are represented. Moreover, in a proportional representation setting, candidates organize more effectively under political parties, which means a plus for parties like Hizbullah or Amal and might not be good news for those under the opposition camp as not all are affiliated to parties and would perhaps rely more on the "list" system.

MP Najib Mikati said something wise today (again, if wisdom ever exists in any political discourse): "I have been always an advocate of proportional representation, however it poses a point of contention right now, which leads me to the conclusion that I will agree with whatever electoral law is agreed upon among the various contending groups and would find it advisable to leave the debate over implementing proportional representation to a later time." (his idea, my words).

Lastly, I would like to refer you to a great resource: "Khiyarat Li Loubnan" or Choices for Lebanon, edited by Dr. Nawaf Salam, a compilation of ten essays on different policy areas and options to take in Lebanon. The article by Dr. Salam on reforming the electoral system informs the reader on the various policy options we could adopt to create viable electoral laws.

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."

Sunday, April 10, 2005

More on the Modern State

The diversity of points that were brought up -from economic to social and political- simply show how broad a definition of 'the modern state' can be. Having studied Economics and Economic History, I would like to contribute a few thoughts on the economic and political aspects of development. After all, isn't a modern state one that has been able to develop organically? (Of course, the relationship between economics and politics can always be seen like that between the chicken and the egg, but I don't want to get into that in this post).

Thinkingman, you referred to the examples of the Asian Tigers: Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore; as well as the new emerging economic forces such as China, Poland, Dubai, etc. I think that it is important to remember that the challenges faced by countries such as South Korea or China were very different from those that the Arab World face. Inparticular, the global geopolitical context has changed. Many countries such as South Korea, Japan and the Philippines saw inflows of US aid at a time when the US were strengthening the front against communism. I suppose now one could transpose this to the Middle East and say that countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia receive aid in exchange for their participation in "the war against terror". Of course, in all development stories there are common economic and political ills like unemployment and corruption, but while the main objective for the governments of the Asian countries was to lift the population out of poverty, the main challenges in the Arab world have become political.

The smaller the state the better?
Many of the countries cited as successes of economic development actually often had strong states. Corruption did not disappear, but it was targeted; for instance in South Korea alliances were forged between the State and the large business conglomerates known as chaebols. What lacks in our region is a visionary plan. Some may argue Hariri may have been such a visionary. But there is no single recipe. Taiwan's economy, for example, was much more based on small family businesses, which paved the way for the emergence of property rights and political representation.

As Hummbumm mentioned, Lebanon already has a developed banking system, and property rights (although are they always enforced?). Yet I have to disagree: I do not think that limiting the size of government on the assumption that it will be corrupt is the right way to go.
lebanon in the 1950-60s did alright, one of the reasons being a limited government, which led to manageable corruption as govt was a small part of GDP, very little debt, no foreign debt etc... But basically the same political leadership who enjoyed their perks but apart from destroying INTRA bank did not affect the economy too much one way or another. (Hummbumm)
Well, Lebanon did do well economically in the 50s and 60s. The state did not intervene much in economic affairs, yet corruption was still there. However the liberal economic model adopted created important weaknesses in the system which were to resonate significantly in the next few decades(much economic concentration occured, great imbalances emerged between Beirut and the rest of the country). Some academics even believe economic inequality widened substantially, exacerbating internal tensions that lead to the civil war. This view certainly downsizes the importance of external shocks and political factors, yet it raises the question of the sustainability of the economic model adopted in the 1950s.

It's education stupid!
if i was to pinpoint what i think is THE most important thing to change for the Arab world to function better, i would say education: (Mustapha)
Education has been identified as a key aspect of development in the last few decades. This shift from the macro perspective of states and markets, to the micro perspective of human development is illustrated by examples such as Sri Lanka and South Korea. Even for those countries which can grow by being the 'factories'of the world (such as China), it is no longer sufficient to have a cheap, unskilled labour force. Recent history has given us more than enough proof of what can happen when the gullible minds of ignorant people are manipulated. Of course, as Raja mentionned, it is not enough to provide education. States and markets should also create the opportunities for the educated to put to use their knowledge and creativity. But education is a double edged sword. The more educated the people, the more potential the country contains, but the weaker the grip of the state. Which brings me to my last point...

Lessons from Schiller
I went to see a play yesterday: Don Carlos, by the German 18th century playright, Schiller. It takes place at the 16th century Spanish court, when Spain's empire was caught in the stranglehold of the Spanish Inquisition. In the play, the larger themes of freedom of conscience and of expression, and the dignity of the individual, clash with the unforgiving and conservative forces of repression. Schiller actually wrote his 16th-century tragedy to challenge the political absolutism of the 18th century. The ideals of the Enlightenment taken up in the play also appealed to early-20th century German audiences who opposed the regime of the Third Reich. Although the global context and the nature of the repressive forces have changed, the struggle against unquestioning power today can still find echos in Schiller's protagonnists.

Domingo to Alba (both self-interested courtiers):
Elizabeth and Carlos were cast in the same mould-
Reformers, innovators, both over-full of zeal.
They have contracted the same terrible disease: Humanity
And Humanity, you know, is very contagious. (Act II, Scene 9)

the importance of political expression and discussion

Lonna Rae Atkeson & Ronald B. Rapoport write the following in an article titled: "The More Things Change the More they Stay the Same; Examining Gender Differences in Political Attitude Expression, 1952-2000:"

Although elections set very braod parameters for the direction of politics, perhaps even more important to the formation of public policy is the role of political expression and discussion. It is in the public forum where public policy is formed in open debates as different groups pursue their conception of the public good.

First, let me say that I could not agree more with that statement.

Second, it makes me wonder what "public policies" a sectarian public forum, like Lebanon's, can yield. When different groups compete to prioritize healthcare, tort reform, environmental conservation or economic liberalization, the potential benefits from all of these policies are felt by a country's entire population. So, in a sense, it really doesn't matter which public good comes in first place on a government's priority list, because the resulting benefits can be felt by almost everyone.

When the groups that compete to pursue their different conceptions of public good are sectarian however, that diffusion of potential benefits is limited to members of the 'victorious sect.' And since, every single Lebanese is a member of a sect (versus, for example, lawyers - a small minority of the population), we all become vested interests in a zero-sum political game! What the sunni gains, must come at the expense of the maronite or the shi'ite, etc....

There lies the greatest bane of Lebanese politics. In my opinion, it must change, or else Lebanese history will continue its vicious and bloody cycle!

Saturday, April 09, 2005

hidden wonders & lost potential!

That's a picture of Nahr Ibrahim (Abraham River) ... right next to the village of Shehwaan. I go hiking there whenever I'm back in Lebanon. The trail is wonderfull; the water is fresh and the vegetation is fantastic!

Everytime I go there however, I ache! It has such potential to be a tourist destination for both Lebanese and non Lebanese, but the local municipality does nothing to keep things clean and provide services. For example, campers leave some of their trash behind because there are no signs instructing them not to do so, and no park rangers to enforce the rule.

I also see such huge potential for entrepreneurs in the village! The hiking trail exists, and there is a year-round flow of hikers. But it seems like only a few people know about it, and unless you meet them, you're not gonna know how to get there!

So much more can be done: street signs, advertizements, vendors, etc....

If I ever get around to it, and no one else does anything, this place is definitely one that I will do something about when I return to Lebanon. I see potential!!!Posted by Hello

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Modern State in a New Order


You asked an insightful question in a comment under the Shiite Reservoir is Marginalized: “Do we all want a modern state, or are we going to even clash over that basic definition?”

I thought it would be more expedient to answer you in an entry: A genuine modern state should look inwards, inwards to its people and leverage their energies and talents for a better future; this is what we have been missing. We’ve seen, and as Raja claimed, where modernity has led Arab countries in past decades.

What we’ve seen of political modernity was countries, like Egypt , that relied heavily on the West for either or a combination of food, aid, power, and justification, while oppressing local ideas and marginalizing groups. Moreover, you have countries, like Syria, that defame the notion of looking at the West and instead attempt to create their own secular, modern stand, but you still see absent the leveraging of all their citizens’ capabilities to move them forward.

Therefore, I understand why religiosity and Islamism have crept back into the Arab political discourse. Islamism has become an alternative and a reaction to what Arab leaders have defined as a modern state.

It is clear that a new order is replacing a dying one in our region. I would like to see genuine debate that revolves around what would constitute a modern Arab (or Lebanese, Egyptian, Iraqi, etc.) state in this new emerging order and the emergence of political parties and movements that rally around this new phase.

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."

The Handshake: Israel, Syria, and Iran

An interesting piece of news from Voix du Liban:

The Syrian and Iranian Presidents shook hands with Israel's President Katsav during the Pope's funeral in the Vatican today. The Syrian official response did not confirm President Assad's handshake; on the contrary, President Khatami confirmed his move.

What do you think? I'm interested in your insights.

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Shiite "Reservoir" Is Marginalized

Two days ago, I was on the airplane heading from beloved Lebanon back to the "ghirbe" and in my hands a ruffled Al-Nahar...a last attempt at squeezing every printed Arabic word from its pages...

I came across this insightful piece of news I would like to share with you some of its contents:

Ahmad Al-Ass'ad, the head of the Tayyar Loubnan Al-Kafa'at, answered to all those claims speculating that the recent events taking place in Lebanon are in truth a conspiracy against the Shia community. He asked whether persons from his sect should be judged based on who they follow and what political group they subscribe to or judged based on their merits and capabilities. He claimed that a handful of Shiite "icons" are benefitting from the current circumstances, while the true creative reservoir of Shiites are being marginalized.

He continued by asking: "Are we afraid of disarming the resistance?" He believes that the true battle with the Israeli enemy is not only a military struggle, but rather educational and cultural. He then questioned whether Hizbullah still needs to retain its arms once the Sheba'a Farms are freed. He asked, "To defend Lebanon, shouldn't it be the army who is in charge of such a duty?" He claimed that in reality the army was never given the opportunity or chance to truely defend its land.

I must confess that what Al-Ass'ad said truely impressed me, because I believe that many in the Shia community subscribe to such thoughts. It is wrong of us to take the path of simple generalizations....

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."

Monday, April 04, 2005

more of what we need least

I bumped into an interesting article in the Dailystar that basically referred to the resurgence of "oh I am Muslim, so I deserve to rule the world" political parties. Mustapha, Doha, what do you guys think of this? Do you think that the environment in Tripoli is conducive for these people to actually gain some legitimate political leverage; like maybe get elected to parliament? Or is the current secular leadership strong enough to hold their ground (i.e. Safadi, Fatfat, Ahdab, etc....)?

The names refered to in the article are:

- Harakat at-Tawhid al-Islaami
- Bilal Shaaban
- Sheikh Hashem Minqara
- Jundallah
- Sheikh Kenaan Naji
- Al Mukawama al Shabiyya
- etc....

A very interesting (and depresing) quote from the article is:

- Shaaban lamented the Syrian intervention of 1976 into Lebanon to help the Maronites who, he asserts, would have otherwise fled to Cyprus or Latin America.... and suggests that Muslims call for Islamic rule based on the Sharia, without which no government can be legitimate. (I believe those quotes came from the now-deceased father of Bilal, but still...)

Another interesting quote that highlights the claim some opposition members were making, which basically asserted that Syria was releasing armed deathrow inmates into Tripoli is:

- Sheikh Hashem Minqara became pro-Syrian after being released from Syrian prisons in 1998 following 13 years of captivity and created a pro-Syrian wing of the movement.... (hmmm, I wonder why he became pro-Syrian all of a sudden...)


These guys are the kind of "politicians" that give Arabs and Muslims a bad name! They practice lowest-common-denominator politics (i.e. Demagoguary), and as I mentioned in one of my previous posts, appeal to the basest instincts of people. It is my deep suspicion that they are being encouraged by Syria to at least become a disruptive element in Lebanese politics. I hope that Tripolitans are politically mature enough to give them no opportunity to become anything more than the equivalent of a Fascist group on the margins of mainstream politics. In the current environment of political sectarianism, all Lebanese communities have the responsibility for moderation. The last thing we need are extremists!

My beautiful Lebanon!

Every time I'm down and a bit homesick, this picture really lifts my spirit up! Reem took this awesome shot... I don't think I've ever met a better photographer in my life! Posted by Hello

Saturday, April 02, 2005

A comparative study: extended families and modern organizations

A very interesting field of study that is crying for attention would be comparisons between the institution of the extended family and modern/professional organizations.

1. Just as there are professionally appropriate means of communication/behavior, there is an appropriate way of communicating/behaving within extended families (that is as intricate, if not more intricate than professional requirements).

2. Just like how there are different corporate cultures and standard operating procedures, families diferentiate themselves by the way they interact and behave.

3. Families differ Horizontally and Vertically. Families from different clans & sects, regions & villages behave differently. Differences can also be found vertically (i.e. within sects and villages). Therefore, families that are "higher up" interact differently than those that are lower in the clan hierarchy. These differences can also be seen in the modern paradigm. Organizations have different cultures within each other (i.e. at different levels), and compared to other organizations.

My point is to "demystify" or break any barriers of understanding that may exist between different cultures. Organizations are organizations; be they traditional/familial or modern. Once we understand that, we can more critically analyze them.

Anybody have some thoughts on this one? It's really just a budding idea...

mukhabarat doing their thing...

I've been hearing a lot of "clicks" in my recent phonecalls to Lebanon. However, yesterday, something very interesting happened.

I called a friend's cell phone, and heard someone pick up. The person didn't say hi or anything of that sort, so I didn't say anything either... After about about 10 seconds of awkward silence, I decided to shut the phone.

After an hour, I called back and asked my friend what had happened. It turns out that the phone never rang, and it was never out of sight!

Then, while we were talking, I heard someone in the background but didn't make anything of it. My friend then asked me if someone was next to me because there were some voices in the background!

Hmmm... should I be flattered?

I've become popular all of a sudden.

Lebanese Marines

Their argument is that Syria shouldn't leave Lebanon because we don't have the means to protect ourselves. Well... these guys look pretty professional. In fact, I'm sure I wouldn't want to get on any of their nerves!

If the Syrians continue with their delaying tactics, I'm really gonna start looking forward to actually seeing these guys in action...Posted by Hello

on a much lighter note...

Absolute Independence... (thanx Ziad!) Posted by Hello

An illustration of 'cultural' persistence on the current political scene

I see that for the while beeing, the discussion has strayed from current Lebanese politics. I recently watched a debate on lbc (kalam al nas, with Marcel Ghanem) which sort of reconciles the current discussion on our system of values with the debate going on at the political level.

The two guests were Pierre Jmayel (son of Amine Jmayel) and a druze minister whose name I have forgotten. The argument went nowhere. The discussion only went as far as the druze minister saying the opposition should stop criticising the government and take part in it. He accused them of avoiding their responsibilities, and argued that the government is fulfilling the three main demands of the opposition. To that, Pierre Jmayel responded that the opposition does not wish to take part in a government that it holds responsible for much of the ills of the last decade, in particular the events of the last couple of months. The rest of the two-hour debate could be described as a competition, the winner beeing the loudest one on air.

The main exchange I wanted to relate, and which I think illustrates well the discussion we have been having so far on this blog, is the following: The minister openly accused Pierre Jmayel of having inherited his voice and political clout, thanks to his name. By contrast, he said, himself had won his position through the votes of 12,000 people, and by defeating the likes of Jmayel. Jmayel defended himself by saying that his name had not always been a positive thing. He had also had to detach himself from some of the political legacy his name carried. He then tried to dismiss the discussion as straying from what the audience expected from the TV debate. Anyway, the rest is not important. This exchange, live on TV, simply shows how far most of our political actors still need to go in terms of understanding merit and accountability.

The ironic thing is that the minister touched on the issue of 'inheriting political power', but presented it in a way that weakened his argument completely, because he came accross as bragging. Pierre Jmayel said something deeply relevant: at this crucial time when all Lebanese should be looking toward the future, and making essential decisions that will shape Lebanon's political landscape for years to come, all the two guests managed to do is bicker and talk about the past...