Thursday, May 26, 2005

Reformers in Lebanon

A couple of days ago, the dailystar published an article that covered a conference in Notre Dame University. (NDU). It appears that three speakers spoke, and I thought it would be interesting if I laid them out, what they said, and attach a few of my comments:

Speaker #1:

Issam Suleiman - Political Researcher and Professor

Calls for:

-developing Lebanon's democratic experience in its political, economic and social dimensions
-renewing social infrastructure
-strengthening "the nation"


I've never heard of a more abstract reform plan! I think this tendency to be abstract is one of the greatest flaws of most Lebanese academics and "thinkers" - a flaw, that I have to admit, I succumb to sometimes. What does Mr. Suleiman mean by his first point? What exactly does he mean by social infrastructure? When he says "nation," does he mean the country or the Lebanese people melting into an organic nation?

Speaker #2

Ali Fayyad - Consulting Center for Studies & Documentation

Claims that:

- Political parties should play an essential role in developing democracy & modernism, and fighting sectarianism. His caveat is that "considering Lebanon's structure this role seems impossible... 'Therefore Lebanese parties either adopt a sectarian identity or face marginalization.'"

-Unless a secular system based on the Taif Accord is not adopted, no real reform of the government institutions will be allowed.


Mr. Fayyad is a little more concrete. He believes that political parties and the Taif accord can be used as mechanisms for reform. I think he skips the hard part, though: The biggest challenge for reformers in Lebanon has been reconciling political parties with the political realities that already exist in Lebanon. For example, a good question he should have raised is: what kind of mechanisms do you infuse into a political party so that it does not become a sectarian body? Do you have a rotating presidency? Do you run the party via committee as opposed to an individual? Although these ideas may seem like compromising the "integrity" of such modern institutions, I believe it is essential to adopt them (or similar ideas) at least as a transition.

Speaker #3

Kamal Hamdan - Head of Economics Department; Consulting Center for Studies

Claims that:

"the lesson Lebanon had learnt after 15 years of civil war was the incredible fall of theories that suggest it is possible to build a modern democratic state based on religious sectarianism."


This is a very controversial claim. My friends at Across the Bay would definitely disagree with Mr. Hamdan. In Lebanon, there seems to be two schools of thought concerning sectarianism. The first school, houses people like Mr. Hamndan and the other two speakers in the forum. People within that school argue, for a plethora of reasons (some of which have been listed above), that Sectarianism is the bane of Lebanon. The second school is best represented by Tony at Across the bay, some of his readers, and my former PSPA department chair at AUB, Dr. Farid el Khazen. Generally this school sees political sectarianism as a virtue. They argue that had it not been for the sectarian nature of the Lebanese state, dictatorship would have replaced consociationalism, and we would not have been different from any of the other sorry excuses for states that exist in the Arab world.

I agree with both schools. I really do believe that Lebanon's sectarianism, and the political acceptance of sectarianism has manifested in Lebanon a value that is crucial to democratic governance (a value that does not exist anywhere in the Middle East): respect for minorities. Furthermore, I disagree with Mr. Hamdan's assessment concerning what the civil war taught us. The United States fought a bloody civil war, but as far as I am aware of, did not change the fundamental characteristics of their Polity or their governing system.

However, just because I agree that sectarianism ensured a semblance of democratic governance in Lebanon, doesn't mean that I think that we should stay where we are. I really think that we should build on our political strengths which, as I've already mentioned, can be summed up as "respect for minorities," and move our country towards a more secular and modern polity (as opposed to a completely "secular" and "modern" polity).

Rami, one of the readers of Across the Bay says the following: "...[I] seek the building of a coherent nation (out of the multiplicity of nations and conflicting national narratives that we have in Lebanon....)"

Tony, asks the following question:

"How do you introduce non-consensus procedures and elements into the existing [sectarian] framework that would capitalize on the new-found sense of security, while not recreating the fear factor by saying we're overhauling the entire thing?"

He goes on to say:

"You start by introducing key elements, strategically and wisely. The end not the elimination of the consensus model because there's an ideological underpinning there of coexistence and compromise, that understands that ethnic identities can be very difficult to eliminate...but also understands that in a plural society it's actually GOOD to acknowledge this diversity "

Finally, Tony ends his comment by asking the following question:

"The question is how to enhance this system. The end result I believe would be something closer to the American mixed system, and not a Westminster model."

Both Rami and Tony raise essential issues for Lebanon. Furthermore, I totally agree with Tony's prescription. The American system is the best model for Lebanon for many reasons pertaining to the power and autonomy of states as well as the overriding respect of minorities which you do not see in a Westminster model.

Going back to my comment on Ali Fayyad's remarks, Lebanon could adopt the same mechanism the Unites States does for their Republican and Democratic parties. Both parties are, in effect, 50 parties! There is a Republican party in every state... the same applies for the Democratic party. Each of those parties are focused on electing state governors, state legislatures, and other elected officials at the state level. The National Committees of both parties offer support, try to set the agendas, and coordinate efforts for national campaigns such as the presidential race. Maybe this system, or something similar, could be the key to creating national parties in Lebanon, and of course, helping to foster a less sectarian political environment and discourse.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

We Don't Need An Alexander!

Lebanon cannot take another Alexander!

And I cannot say they did not try, that they did not spend the past week negotiating till the early hours of the the hope of striking a deal, of securing a front, a front that will bring about change, change at last.

Just when we thought the election race has been settled; Aoun emerges as a contender. In a democracy, he can and it's healthy to have diversity, to allow for choices, but I have this fear that his ego will be his downfall, ego being a fatal flaw. I am still in shock at Aoun's "Alexander" story: he is Alexander and the Opposition is represented by Persia??!...

Aoun wants to be the opposition of the Opposition--the embodiment of all oppositions. And I believe that he WILL be that opposition in Parliament, the opposition to any initiative coming from the Opposition, simply because it is from the Opposition.

It's important to note that although we saw PSP and Tayyar Al-Mustaqbal represenatives engaging in the 11th hour negotiations with Aoun, Aoun has issues with the Christian Opposition itself. Wherever there was an offer to place one of FPM's representatives in an electoral seat, Aoun would ask for another seat, more contentious and as if aiming to further divide the Opposition by making Jumblatt and Hariri appear as if they are compromising on their strategic Qornet Shehwan/LF allies, whether it be MP Butros Harb in the north or Gemayil's Kataeb in Zahle.

I think that if 18-21 year olds were allowed to vote, Aoun would win with majority of the seats he's fielding. This is because his rhetoric appeals to the youth: first his movement was undercover, which makes it appealing to "rebellious" youth; it defied the state, again attractive to the rebel in everyone of us; it aims to "prosecute" the corrupt and political feudalism, which is rhetoric common to many parties in Lebanon, whether it is LF, Amal, Hizbullah, the Commoners', among other leftist/rightist movements that are popular among college students; and finally his unwillingness to compromise, an absolutist stance which many youth identify with and love to cheer for. I was like that in college, "disgruntled" with the political elite, dreaming up a revolution from "within."

Past that age, I can see how we start to think in different ways, about economics and business, calculating the prospects of returning home versus that of staying in the First World, that of using the heart versus the head; we start to mourn the death of absolutes, where every color becomes a shade of grey...I believe in what is now a "pragmatic" view of mine, Aoun scares tourists, investors, many Lebanese in the diaspora, including me. He's extreme, unwilling to compromise, and frankly has a military background and wants to field runners up to Parliament who are of military background as well. He is reminding me of Lahoud when he assumed the Presidency; how he started "purging" the corrupt and shortly thereafter we suffered foreign investment flight.

I never had a Lebanese "za'im", was never raised to pledge allegiance to a political figure nor assume a local "assabiyyah"...but everyday when I read the news, I see only two figures who are working right now for a Lebanon that goes beyond these elections, I see only this couple gathering the investors and members of the business community to give them a glimpse of a better future for Lebanon and ask them to contribute to its prosperity, two figures who provide a sense of assurance of stability to many and exude a sense of wisdom absent of sensationalist rhetoric: PM Mikati and Saad Hariri. Of course, I'm not saying that they are savvy politicans, but I am only shedding light on an aspect we are so much in need of in our country and so urgently, namely to regain our economic/financial stance before the government announces its bankruptcy, to create jobs and prospects so we could all be not afraid of returning home soon.

As for politics: politics is what it is, shifting of alliances and rhetoric. I only hope that past these elections, we would be able to build for a better future. My bet is on the elections after four years; this is when we can see clearly the outcome of what has been said and done today.

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

Friday, May 20, 2005

I Say: "Stop The Senseless Rhetoric!"

I was struck by a quote from Hayat Arslan, who is running for elections in Aley. She said, "What type of democracy in elections is this? When the circumstances decide a person is the winner without consulting the people's opinion then this is not elections at all." (The Daily Star)

For some reason I remembered MP Mosbah Ahdab. In the summer of 2000, when the country was boiling with the heat of the elections then, MP Ahdab ran at the last minute on a third list as an independent with MP Butros Harb in the north, as an alternative to the Omar Karami list and the Ahmad Karami list (close to Hariri). He was lucky and he won. He won despite the 2000 election law, despite the "mahadil" and "boustat", despite the Syrian intelligence influence. He had the people power.

So when someone questions the democracy in these upcoming elections and questions the elections in general (in a Syrian-intelligence free environment, and presence of election monitors), all I can say is: "STOP THE SENSELESS RHETORIC!" And what an amazing marketing tool this talk of lack of choice in these elections. If this runner-up is nominating herself for a seat in Jizzine; I would then definitely understand her situation, but she's running for an Aley seat.

She criticized the "circumstances" that decided who the winners are in Beirut. I tell her: better for it to be circumstances than intelligence officers and intimidation.

I wonder why she is running in the first place if she is that disgruntled with the whole process. Her doubts made a headline in the Daily Star (read article), instead of the fact that she is running to carry women's voice into the Parliament, which in my view should have been a headline and is by far a worthy cause than to talk petty rhetoric.

It's amazing how the Lebanese want a Parliamentary elections of the caliber of the U.K. and France right at this moment! Patience is virtue; we're getting there in time.

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

The Missing Variable: International Elections Monitors

For the past two weeks, we've been talking elections and all the respective variables that have and will affect our elections...but we've forgotten to talk about one important variable, even Lebanese newspapers and media do not broach it much, namely: the presence of international elections monitors.

Have we come to the realization yet to what this variable means, and how it will affect our elections, its process and results? Let me share with you my thoughts:

The presence of international elections monitors has never happened throughout Lebanon's modern history. This is a new phenomenon and in my view will definitely make the 2000 election law garner results different from what we expect.

The presence of monitors in essence will level the playing field amongst all those running for elections. It will push all to try to garner public support and get as many supporters to vote on election day. Why? Because elections cannot be rigged anymore: no more "sudden" electricity breakdowns while monitors and volunteers count the ballots; less or perhaps no more intimidation on the part of "security" figures; no more outright "miscounting" ballots; no more raising voters from the dead; no more buses of non-registered, newly naturalized Lebanese driven to certain electoral areas, like the Northern Metn for instance, upon the request of political figures, and the list goes on...

Yes! We can all believe that, because we have elections monitors for the first time, and again I'll repeat it so I can believe it, their presence will make a difference.

Returning to the discussion on levelling the playing field. Now, every politician, whether it is as important as Sleiman Franjieh or not so prominent runner-up Dr. Kassem Abdel-Aziz (who's running for a Dinnieh seat), has to be sure that at the end of the day, the votes they'll be getting in the ballot box are the votes that will make them win or lose. That's it! No trading votes, or adding a couple more...

Further, the "Mahadil" lists everyone talks about, cannot be "Mahadil" that don't appeal to the public. For instance, Hizbullah cannot forge an electoral list for the Bekaa and include figures who will not get votes, because this time there is no way to rig the voting process, and those individuals on the lists need to get the numbers to win. Now, of course, the pressure will be to do all what political groups can do to market to the "Lebanese public" their runners-up, as opposed to market their runners-up to some "foreign" power.

Now that we've included this critical variable into the electoral equation, we can then understand why many of the nominees are withdrawing from the race, such as Beshara Mirhij; why many current MPs are not planning to run for elections; why until now nothing decisive has come out of Franjieh/Karami and from the Murrs; why someone like Jamil El-Sayyid who was set to run is not longer running; why despite knowing beforehand that nine Beirut seats have been guaranteed, Saad Hariri is still calling on everyone to come out and vote....

Have you all noticed how Carina Pirelli, the chief of the United Nations' Electoral Assistance division, has been to every single home of MPs, politicians, those in power and out of power? She reminded me of when Investigator Fitzgerald was in Lebanon three months ago. I believe she is studying the Lebanese political landscape and she claims that they are here not to monitor but to aid in elections logistics (as separate monitoring delegations have been sent) which in reality translates to: "If politicians are complaining of the election law, if they're complaining about paying people to vote for this person or that, if they're fussing about electricity cuts during the voting process, if, if, if...she will be there to remedy the flaws and provide the missing logistics to ensure a transparent and free election process...

I want to note that yes, the 2000 election law is unfair and has been designed and blessed by Syrian intelligence officers...but this time around we are guaranteed one good thing in the midst of chaos: the election PROCESS on the days the Lebanese people are scheduled to vote will not be rigged. And isn't it strange that no one has written about this variable yet?

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Aoun the Dissapointer

I like political competition. I like it because it forces politicians to say what we want them to say, and in some cases, nudges them to actually implement their promises. If there is any silver lining to the hate-filled and whining diatribe that is coming out of Aoun's mouth, it is this new sense of volatility that exists in our politics - this sense that not everything is going according to the plan of the most influential players.


Aoun, the political amateur:

Other than that though, Aoun's return to Lebanon has been a big disappointment for me. His interviews with Marcel Ghanem that used to take place once every couple of months in Paris were interesting, if not entertaining. But this daily dose of Aoun-medicine courtesy of LBC's evening news is becoming unbearable.


If anything, these past few weeks have proven that Aoun is a political featherweight! I'd even call him an amateur - a naive narcissist who can barely see beyond his own pride and ego. My doubts began to emerge when he made his famous declaration in Paris: "I want to bring those who were responsible for creating Lebanon's debt to justice?" After hearing that, I asked myself: does Aoun really think that he's going to be a serious contender in the Lebanese political landscape if he threatens almost every member of the country’s political elite?


Today, when I think back and try to imagine the moment he decided to use those words as his campaign slogan, I ask myself whether he actually believed he would be able to carry out such a cataclysmic program. Or was it that he thought that people would flock to him under that banner? His behavior has forced me to even question whether the man has actually been living in Paris for all of these years. If he did actualy reside there, should it not have been clear to him that the Hariri family is fully supported by France? Most of us amateur news-watchers were even able to figure out that the family also has the support of the United States (never mind Saudi Arabia). Was it so difficult for Mr. Aoun to comprehend that?


Aoun the reformer?

On top of his political clumsiness, it is beginning to appear that Aoun is not that much of a reformer either. As every day passes, it appears that he's just another Lebanese politician who above all else is simply power hungry! His discourse about programs and reforms has never evolved from his mere assertion that he wants reform, and that all Lebanese who want reform should vote for his movement. His daily ranting about how Jumblatt betrayed him, or how both he and Hariri are worse than Rustom Ghazali is, in my opinion, antagonizing voters rather than attracting them. Investing his energy and breath in talk about the specifics of his vaunted reform plan would have showed that he is truly an alternative, and may eventualy have led to a higher following among all sects. Today, however, he has personalized his politics and is looking more and more like a Maronite Za'im rather than a Secular reformer.


My humble message to Aoun:

Mr. Aoun, even though everything you say may be true, that is not the kind of rhetoric that wins elections! No one likes to vote for whining losers! In fact, if you continue like this, no one except your core supporters will vote for you if you run for elections.


Mr. Aoun, you try to sell yourself as the alternative. You tell everyone that their lives will be better if they elect you because you will "reform" the country. If you want people to believe you, then you'd better start acting and talking like a reformer! People watch you on television and say that you've definitely done the impossible! You've lowered the political discourse to a level that Rustom Ghazale's goons didn't reach!


My Appeal to the Tayyar:

I call on members of the Tayyar. I call on all my friends who I met in AUB and in Washington DC. I know at least some of you guys are gonna be the ones who run the show behind the scenes! I also know you will be the ones who make the difference if anyone in the Tayyar is able to. Do something about Aoun! He's hurting your cause. Hire handlers who control his behavior in public occasions. Hire speech writers so that he sticks to the Tayyar message, rather than rant, whine and complain about traitors and corruption. Get him some political advisors, so that he doesn't drag the Tayyar down into the political abyss. Do all that or just get rid of him...


Aoun might be a great guy. But, thus far, he has proven himself to be politically inept. He has cornered himself. Forced you to ally with parties like the SSNP, and has reverted to being a spoiler because he did not have the wherewithal to get a better position on the negotiating table. Time will show whether my assessments are wrong. However thus far, I can’t but repeat: I’m disappointed!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Light Might Be In Sight

I saw a ray of light...I couldn't hide my smile today when I was hearing Saad Hariri announcing the three electoral lists for Beirut and he asked all of the Lebanese to repeat "national unity" three times when we wake up and three times before retiring at night. I felt a ray of light shine through the TV screen, because where do you see a group of politicians who would sacrifice so much for the sake of national unity...ask Dr. Ghattas Khoury. He bowed down, at the peak of his popularity, to let Solange Bashir Gemayel run uncontested.

On another note, Aoun upon his arrival to Lebanon last week asked everyone not to fall for the trivialities of the election rhetoric; he was armed with a reform program. I was so eager to learn more about that program, but alas all that I heard since then was basically threats to sue those who wasted public funds during the past 15 years and only to see him yesterday fall into the trap of talking "trivialities" of elections. I must say I am disappointed; when I thought Aoun would be different than the others on the political arena, I realized that he is just the same.

Interestingly, I am getting the vibes that the Lebanese Forces are not entirely on par with the FPM. Sitrida Geagea has ignored calls to halt LF alliances with the "Muslims" and forged an alliance with Jumblatt in the Jabal and is most probably set to ally with Al-Mustaqbal in the north.

Let's see what today has in for all of us....

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

Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Facts: So We Wouldn't Forget

I feel compelled to translate this piece of news from Al-Mustaqbal:

On the 22nd of December 1999, the Parliament then passed an electoral law, known now as the 2000 election law, voted in by 81 MPs and turned down by 17 MPs among whom are the late Hariri and his parliamentary bloc, including MPs Nassib Lahoud, Kamil Ziade, and Najah Wakim. Four abstained and 26 were not present.

The President, along with his close circle of politicians and MPs, have been voicing for the past couple of weeks their complete refusal to support the 2000 election law, when back then they were its avid supporters. On December 24, 1999, President Lahoud claimed that the 2000 election law upholds the principle of "no one cancels the other" and he praised the "democratic" atmosphere in which the parliamentary debates to elect the law were conducted.

Michel Murr, then the Interior Minister, applauded the election law (Dec. 27, 1999) and believed that 80% of the Lebanese approve of it. He also added, "circumstances and the President's absolute impariality put a limit to our ambitions by promulgating a law that will not allow any to 'tailor a suit to fit his size.'"

So we wouldn't forget....

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

(part 2): more on the Lebanese Army from JANES - March 1995

...(continued from previous post)...

The LAF has 11 infantry brigades, each brigade comprising three
infantry battalions, one armoured battalion, one artillery battalion,
one logistics battalion and a company of engineers. There are also a
number of special forces regiments, comprising five intervention
regiments, one commando regiment and one airborne regiment.

Under the pressure of the civil war, army units tended to break down
on confessional lines. For instance, the 6th Brigade in Muslim west
Beirut became a mainly Muslim formation, while the 8th Brigade based
in Christian east Beirut became a mainly Christian formation. Said
one officer: `Lahoud took steps to change all that. For instance, he
appointed a Maronite Christian to command the 6th Brigade, even
though the commander used to be always a Shia Muslim, and instead of
the usual Christian officer in charge of the 8th Brigade, Lahoud
appointed a Sunni Muslim. Also, he ordered each battalion to serve in
a different part of Lebanon every six months as part of the process
of building up what can be called a truly national army, as opposed
to a collection of individual battalions, with each battalion
excessively attached to its particular confessional stronghold.'

Senior LAF officers boast that, with the exception of the
self-declared Israeli security zone in southern Lebanon, there is no
part of the country where the LAF cannot go. This may well be true,
but one only has to visit the eastern part of the Bekaa Valley to see
that the Syrian army holds sway there. In fact, the LAF is not
present in Baalbek, a town in the eastern Bekaa noted for its
concentration of Hezbollah activists but which, nonetheless, is
dominated by the Syrians. Informed sources in Lebanon say that up to
40 per cent of the strength of the LAF is now concentrated in
southern Lebanon, with a strong LAF presence in Tyre, Sidon,
Nabatiyeh and the western Bekaa. The LAF maintains a strong presence
around the two big Palestinian refugee camps in the region - the Ein
Hilweh camp in Sidon where there was fighting in late 1994 between
pro and anti-Arafat factions, and the Rashidiyeh camp on the
outskirts of Tyre.

In 1993, the LAF moved several hundred soldiers into parts of the
UNIFIL zone in southern Lebanon, in a move agreed between the
Lebanese government and UNIFIL. However, the deployment, made without
consulting Syria, is believed to have caused at least a temporary
strain in Lebanese-Syrian relations. The deployment of the Lebanese
army was seen as a step towards the implementation of UNIFIL's
mandate (defined in Security Council Resolution 425) to assist the
Lebanese government extend its authority to the frontier with Israel.
The LAF has two liaison officers with each of the UNIFIL battalions
but, ironically, it has no liaison officers at UNIFIL HQ in Naquora,
as this is located inside Israel's `security zone'.

Just as one does not see Lebanese troops in the eastern Bekaa,
neither does one see Syrian troops in the region close to the UNIFIL
zone. The official explanation from Beirut sources is that the
Lebanese and the Syrians, in order to make best use of resources,
have agreed amongst themselves who will take responsibility for a
particular area. However, one experienced Beirut-based observer
expressed the view that the Syrians do not want to have their troops
near the UNIFIL zone in case the Israelis launch one of their
punitive raids and the Syrians are drawn into a conflict with the
Israelis at a time or in a place not of their choosing.

Relations with Hezbollah

As regards the Hezbollah fighters who operate in southern Lebanon,
the official stance adopted by the Lebanese government and which, by
definition, reflects the stance of the LAF, is that these are
resistance fighters who are entitled to engage in operations against
the Israeli occupation forces. In a public statement last November,
General Lahoud said that independence would never be complete as long
as the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon and western Bekaa
continued, adding that the state `would continue to support the
resistance' until the occupation ended.

The fact that the Syrians, who wield so much influence with the
Lebanese government, have helped to arm Hezbollah fighters, may have
influenced the regime in Beirut to adopt a more accommodating
approach to the movement than it would otherwise have wished to
adopt. At the same time, it is clear that there is no love lost
between Hezbollah on the one hand, and the Lebanese government and
the LAF on the other. In September 1993, Lebanese troops shot and
killed seven Hezbollah supporters during a Beirut demonstration
against the PLO/Israeli accord. Then, in July 1994, President Hrawi
offered to send in troops to end the resistance struggle in southern
Lebanon if the Israelis were to withdraw from the `security zone'. On
another occasion, in July 1993, Beirut newspapers reported that
Lebanon's foreign minister was accusing Iran of ignoring the
legitimate authority of the government in Beirut - an obvious
reference to Iran's support for Hezbollah. However, a crackdown by
the LAF on Hezbollah resistance could create internal pressures for
the army as there is a long tradition of Shia Muslims joining the LAF
as enlisted men; some of these would have relatives, friends and
neighbours who are involved in Hezbollah.

Some observers detect a conciliatory approach by at least some
Hezbollah leaders towards the LAF, and believe that this may derive
partly from grassroots Shia links with the army. They say that
following the shooting of seven supporters in September 1993,
Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah was relatively restrained in
his protests and, in their opinion, `went easy' on the LAF.

The Future

Sources in the Lebanese government say that in building up and
reorganizing the LAF, the government has learnt many lessons from the
long years of civil war. One source reflected that the Lebanese army
of pre-civil war days was a highly professional force, probably the
best conventional army in the Arab world, with a strength of about
20000 and with officers who had been extremely well-trained in
France, Italy and the USA. However, the army, although well prepared
for a conventional role, was not prepared for the internal security
problems posed by large, well-armed Palestinian forces, who were in
turn backed by large numbers of armed Lebanese elements. Now, the new
army is designed not primarily to fight another conventional army but
to deal with security threat from within, while at the same time
being able to face any external threats as well. `This is a new
approach for our army', said the source, who added that the LAF had
been built up so that it could replace Israel in southern Lebanon
when Jerusalem pulls out - and so that it could also replace Syrian
forces when they are withdrawn from Lebanon. At the moment, however,
there is no sign of President Assad evacuating his army from the
territory of his smaller neighbour.

Sean Boyne is a journalist based in Dublin who has travelled widely
in the Middle East.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Janes Inteligence Review: Lahoud, Aoun & the rebirth of the Lebanese Army


DATE: 01-Mar-1995


General Lahoud was appointed commander of the LAF in November 1989 by the incoming President Hrawi, whose Syrian-supported regime was then based in west Beirut. Operating out of east Beirut, meanwhile, was the rival regime headed by the Christian warlord, General Michel Aoun. Lahoud had served under Aoun, who had been appointed commander of the LAF in 1984. By early 1989, Lahoud was head of operations at
the army's headquarters in Yarze in the eastern suburbs of Beirut. However, when Aoun decided to embark on a campaign of violence to assert his power and rid Lebanon of the Syrians, Lahoud and a number of other officers made it clear that they did not want any part in the civil war. Aoun accepted this and allowed them to leave his

It was just a few months afterwards, however, that Hrawi appointed Lahoud as head of the army - a divided army, nevertheless, with one section supporting Hrawi and the other Aoun. In fact, Lahoud was probably the best man that Hrawi could have chosen for the delicate task of heading the LAF. Lahoud has always been widely respected as a man of integrity in Lebanon, and he adopted a conciliatory approach towards those who followed Aoun while, at the same time, holding aloof from any involvement with the Lebanese forces. When, ultimately, a Syrian onslaught forced Aoun to agree to surrender in October 1990, part of the agreement was that Aoun would order his men
to place themselves under the command of General Lahoud. It appears to have been an order that Aoun's men had no difficulty in following. Lahoud was trusted by them and joining him was certainly a far more attractive option than surrendering to the Syrians.

Lahoud quickly took control of the army base at Yarze and the presidential palace at nearby Baabda. But before the Lebanese moved in, the Syrians had apparently rifled through the files with a fine-tooth comb, and had taken any documents of interest to them back to Syria. No doubt the `raid' on Aoun's files provided much useful intelligence for Brigadier General Ghazi Kenaan, head of the Syrian intelligence network in Lebanon, a network that works closely with Lebanon's own intelligence apparatus headed by Colonel Michel Rabbani. (See also pp 126-128.)

When the dust settled following the defeat of Aoun, Lahoud set about the mammoth task of rebuilding an army that had been riven by politics and civil war. In the process, he has managed to perform the remarkable feat of retaining the trust of both Americans and Syrians. In fact, Lahoud would be unable to function in any meaningful way without the approval of the Syrians. They wield enormous power and influence in Lebanon where an estimated 30000-40000 Syrian soldiers are based - some Israeli estimates put the figure as high as 45000. At the same time, Lahoud is by no means a puppet of Damascus, and remains an old-fashioned Lebanese patriot.

A Force to be Reckoned With?

As regards relations with the USA, the Americans have signalled their approval of Lahoud and, indeed, the Lebanese government, by supplying large quantities of non-lethal equipment to the LAF. The strength of the LAF is presently about 52000 but, with the aid of an intake of several thousand conscripts, senior LAF sources say that this figure will rise to an unprecedented 60000 during the course of 1995. It is
a big army in Lebanese terms, the estimated population of the country being only 3.5 million. Despite the paring down of costs - conscripts only get food and lodgings - and grants from the USA and various Arab countries, an army of this size is a considerable burden on a fragile economy. The defence expenditure for 1992 was US$271 million.

However, sources in the Lebanese government say the security situation demands an army of this size, and they reckon that this will remain the case for at least the next 10 years.

The LAF has officers and men from many different confessional and political backgrounds, some of whom would have fought each other as members of opposing forces during the years of conflict. One can speculate that, from time to time, this must lead to difficulties. However, senior military officers interviewed at their headquarters in Yarze insist that this is not the case. As part of the process of
disarming and disbanding the militias following the end of the civil war, General Lahoud absorbed about 6000 former militia into the LAF. Obviously, one of the reasons behind the recruitment of the militia was to provide them with jobs, and thus with a vested interest in the new Lebanon that was taking shape following the end of the fighting. But there was also a gamble involved: would, for instance, men who
had fought for General Aoun be able to integrate well with former members of the Lebanese militia who had been involved in a particularly bitter war against Aoun? Also, would former Aoun soldiers integrate well with men who had been with the mainly Muslim sector of the Lebanese army that stayed loyal to the Syrian-backed Hrawi regime in west Beirut - a regime that had opposed Aoun and, ultimately, seen him off? The answer to all such questions is a resounding `yes', according to senior LAF officers who insist that the integration process has been extremely successful. Indeed, one well-informed Lebanese political source claimed that to have been on
the losing Aoun side in 1990 was no bar to advancement in the new army that has emerged from the ashes of the civil war. This source pointed out that, for instance, Michel Abirick, the officer who once acted as General Aoun's own personal head of security, now has the prestigious post of head of the LAF's military academy.

By tradition in Lebanon, the chief of staff of the LAF has always been a Christian, an arrangement that was formalized under the Taif agreement of 1989. Lahoud's deputy is a Shia Muslim, and other senior officers, members of the Army Council, are drawn from the other main confessions such as the Sunni Muslims and the Druze.

Lebanon is an extremely complex society, and people have to be pragmatic and adaptable. It seems that General Lahoud's gamble in recruiting the former militia and taking under his command former `enemies' of the Hrawi regime has paid off after all. No doubt the integration process in the army has been aided by the fact that the
LAF has always been held in high esteem by many elements in Lebanese society, and that this respect for the army survived even during 16 years of civil war.


Purgatory: Refusing To Wake Up From The Dream

And as if Samir Kassir spoke my mind when he broached the issue of demographic shifts in our country. Just yesterday I was squeezing my brains to make sense of all that is happening back home and this is what I concluded with:

Demography has done what it has done...Maronite Christians have to realize that we are not back in 1972 any longer; things have changed since then and it is unfortunately a sad reality for many. But add 15 years of civil war, then 15 years of Syrian occupation and you'll get around 30 year-period where change has occurred demographically and has marked itself territorially.

Cardinal Sfeir talks of the 15 out of 64 (which Samir Kassir explains that in reality it is 40 out of 64) and that Christians have to vote for Christians and not have their hands tied, as in being accountable, to the non-Christian political leaders who head many of the electoral lists in the country. The reality of the matter is aside from a number of areas, such as Jezzine, Kissirwan, Bsharri, Zgharta, Koura, Northen Matn, and Zahle, Maronite Christian presence has dwindled and this is due to demography as well as other factors. For instance, Haret Hreik in Beirut was a Christian-dominated area (to note that Aoun is originally from there), but the war transformed it into a Shiite-dominated area as the Christians fled to the east and the Shiites fled to the southern suburbs of Beirut from the South due to Israeli belligerency.

...Yes it is a painful reality, but what has happened on the ground has happened and not much can be done about it, unless for example the government promulgates a law that allows for the Lebanese to vote where they live, as opposed to where they originally come from...that might mitigate the situation and allow for a better mix. But again, the point is to move towards a better "mix" of people not a movement towards more "segregation" for which I feel that Cardinal Sfeir is calling and is in my view a step backwards. I understand many of the Christians' frustration, but it is important not to be swayed by sentiment and look at the situation with some logic.

On another note, I wanted to remind everyone how when the late Hariri decided to ally with the Christian opposition right when the electoral law was being debated in Parliament back in January, Franjieh along with many loyalists were ripping Hariri apart and threatening him from joining the forces of the opposition; if you recall, Franjieh called him the "head of the snake."

Fast-forward 4 months and now that we're back on the same subject, Franjieh's (along with many others) hate towards Hariri resurfaces once more. Again, we hear the same talk, that if Sitride Geagea visits Saad Hariri she is "begging" for Parliamentary seats and that it is better to lose Bsharri than to forge an alliance with a Sunni. Again, the same talk...nothing has changed.

Hariri's death has not changed and will not change those poeple. These poeple have withstood deaths and assassinations, have engaged and thrived during and after the war....Hariri's death might have led for the first time to the Lebanese call for change, had made people come out to the streets, have made 1559 a reality as the Syrians left the country in less than a month...but his death is not the magic wand that will change our beloved country's political system.

I'm afraid that after we, as youth, felt that we had some power to make a change, here we're back to the back-burner, back to the purgatory...not hell, but not heaven...a wait and see situation...and just look at our Lebanese blogosphere...silence and confusion, I can deduce, just like I feel, because I've been refusing to wake up from the dream, when we all wore the blue ribbon on our hearts and tied the red and white on our necks. I'm refusing to wake up from the dream, to talk sectarianism, because I am embarassed to.

I will close my ears, shut my eyes...I want a better Lebanon that we can build together.

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

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

15 out of 65 is a scandal!

Yesterday, I witnessed a rarity in Lebanese political discourse - the effective utilization of numbers. The Maronite clergy announced in their statement that only 15 out of 65 Maronite MPs are accountable to their constituencies. The rest of them have to answer to political honchos like Jumblatt, Berri, Hizballah and Hariri.

15 out of 65!!! Wow! I've heard over and over again that Lebanese Maronites were underrepresented in the post-taef era, but nothing I ever heard was as dramatic or powerful as 15 out of 65.

Thus far, in Lebanese Bloggers, I have dedicated my posts to challenging the sectarian status quo and advocating for a secular, and ultimately more prosperous Lebanon. Today, however, after hearing what I heard, I've decided to take a few steps back and say that in today's Lebanon, such a statistic is scandalous. It is unacceptable because it completely demolishes the notion of a Lebanon that is composed of Christians and Muslims who deal with each other on an equal footing (i.e. 50-50). It is also unacceptable on the grounds of Democratic principle. The remaining 50 MPs are not accountable to modern political parties with national agendas that encompass their regions, but rather to parochial leaders who care first and foremost for their "own people" in their own regions!

The electoral law must be changed! As long as politics remains sectarian, and the notion of 50-50 remains valid, the 15 out of 65 situation is simply unacceptable.

Karami: Leave Tripoli Alone!

Look who are the traitors! I can't believe my eyes! But I read that after Karami met with President Assad two days ago, he went to visit Rustom Ghazaleh who's now in charge of Lebanese affairs and had lunch with him, including MP Jihad Samad (from Dinnieh), Nader Sukkar, and Jamil El-Sayyid.

The aim of such meetings is to basically forge a "Syrian" alliance in the north and the northern Bekaa, where El-Sayyid is said to be running for these upcoming elections.

So, tell me who are the traitors now? Don't tell me that Karami or Samad are nationalists. Doesn't that tell us that Karami is isolated? That he has no one to look to inside of his country? Why go outside of the Lebanese borders, so openly and casually, to forge alliances with a "Syrian" rubber stamp when the Syrian military and intelligence forces de jure have left the country?

Please, Karami, do not treat Tripolitans as if they are backward. We are not backward and we wish not to be treated as if we are so. Do not fool us any longer that Arabism is equal to what you are doing in Damascus. It is not! Please, Karami, quit the political scene and leave Tripoli to its loyalists.

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

More on Constitutionality of the Speaker

As you recall in two previous posts of mine, I brought up the subject of the constitutionality of Nabih Berri's position as the Speaker of the Parliament. I was glad to come across an article in Al-Nahar that broached this issue and hence I would like to share my findings:

The Taif Accord stipulates that the Speaker of the Parliament's term ends after four years, at the time the Parliament's mandate expires. Prior to the Taif period, the Speaker's term terminated annually and was subject to renewal if the majority of the MPs support the renewal.

Secondly, the Speaker under Taif has the power to decide not to convene a certain Parliamentary session, even if the majority of MPs wish to hold that session.

Section 44 of the Consitution states that the Parliament after two years from electing its Speaker and Vice-Speaker, has the right to withdraw confidence from the Speaker and the Vice-Speaker by 2/3 of the attending members and based on a petition signed by at least 10 MPs.

Some political sources, as mentioned by Al-Nahar, wish to see changes in such laws and standard operations procedures, such as to reduce the Speaker's term to only two years and to allow for his/her withdrawal to be determined by a majority vote of 1/2 of the attending MPs, as opposed to 2/3.

Such mechanisms would help keep the Speaker of the Parliament accountable. On Thursday, when a number of MPs visit Berri in Mseileh and submit their petition signed by 40 MPs calling to hold a Parliamentary session to discuss Geagea's release and the electoral law, no rule or law can pressure Berri to agree to hold this is basically up to him to decide.

It's time to change these laws!

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

Monday, May 09, 2005

My take on Aoun and the Tayyar

Aoun's national credentials appear to be spotless. His major advantage, in my opinion however, is that a significant component of his supporters are young, patriotic, relatively secular, educated, and dedicated to improving the status quo in Lebanon. A lot of the ones that I've met did not join the Tayyar for personal benefit or glory, but rather to sacrifice for what they perceive as a better future for Lebanon.

I personally identify with that constituency more than the constituencies of all the other politicians in the Lebanese political landscape. They seem to be the only group that are not in the political game for themselves, but rather are genuinely motivated to move the country forward, and see Aoun as the individual who will clear the path for them.

The onus is now on those (mainly) students that I am talking about. The future of the Tayyar depends on them, not Aoun or the other geysers in his entourage. I am waiting to see what their role will become as the Tayyar enters mainstream Lebanese politics. Will it turn to just another “party” that is a mirror reflection of the other political entities in Lebanon, or will it become a new kind of force – one that I can admire?

Saturday, May 07, 2005

the complexity of Lebanese politics

the complexity of Lebanese politics seems to be boundless.... For anyone trying to read the political landscape there, the ability to grasp so many conflicting forces can sometimes be overwhelming. The few that come to my mind are:

- Tradition vs. Modernity
- Family vs. Family
- Coast vs. Mt Lebanon
- Bekaa vs. Jabal Amel
- poor vs. privelaged
- Maronite vs. Druze
- Sunni vs. Shi'a
- Rural vs. Urban
- Tripoli vs. Beirut vs. Saida
- Arab vs. Lebanese
- Religious vs. Secular
- etc....

Every conflict among politicians in Lebanon is, in essense, a unique cocktail of two or more of the conflicts listed above. It is left to the observer to decipher which cocktail is relevant to a specific conflict because although some of its elements are made explicit, others are not. In some cases, the politicians portray their duel as something that it is not - therefore making it that much harder to grasp.

This beadth of issues and forces is, in my humble opinion, one of the main reasons Lebanese have turned "politics-watching" into a national past-time. So much appears to be at stake for everyone! A good indicator that supports this argument is the fact that the evening news is probably the most popular television show offered by the local television stations.

I will limit this post to stating these observations. However, it is worthwhile to note that the price paid for what some may consider to be such a "rich and engaging" political discourse is always high, and in certain periods of our history, intollerably so.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Saturday, Oh Saturday!

Saturday, Oh Saturday! The showdown! What can happen?..I bet many are betting their money and life on that Saturday. Speaker Berri has called for a Parliamentary session tomorrow; I really don't know why when he has made up his mind that the session's agenda will not include a debate on the electoral law.

What can happen? A lot of question marks. I'm looking forward to watching the heated session; it's always exciting watching our politicians bicker on TV, but I'm also afraid of what might happen and not happen....

I am still in awe at seeing Speaker Berri for the first time use his "powers" (and again, I would like to see those powers somewhere in writing) to the utmost level to block a move that would bring the real spring to our Lebanon. How can the country's fate be in one person's hands--not Lahoud, not Assad...but Berri.

Who knew that it would be easier liberating the country from the Syrian military?...The losers are here to stay...

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

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Sectarianism, Media, Marginalization & Awn

So LBC decides one day that it wants to "investigate" what the Maronite perspective on a specific issue is. Does it go to a Maronite living in Beirut or Achrafieh? No! Instead, it finds a 60 year old jiddo who can't tell the difference between political parties and sects to express his political opinion about proportional electoral systems at the level of the region. Once that ignoramous manages to blurb out a couple of words, every body watching their TV set will somehow convince themselves that this man is saying what all Maronites think. No TV station is any different in their coverage - i.e. it is very rare for them differentiate the opinions of members of the same sect based on class, or socio-economic status!

Call me an idiot if you want, but I'm sure that the majority of AUB graduates at least appreciate that issues are more complex than what Mr. Ancient in a village populated with 40 other retirees somewhere in the Lebanese mountains can fathom. Why are there only two overlapping opinions in Lebanon: the mob and the demagogue? Why are the moderate and more complex opinions of the socio-economic elite marginalized by political news broadcasts?
The answer seems obvious, but I won't give it away! ;)

On that note, I just want to make a comment about General Awn's return to Lebanon: I think that two aspects of his return are sad and dangerous.

1. The sad part is the feeling most of his supporters have, that somehow he is going to save them. This idea of a Mesiah comming to make your life better is a big problem - you basically forgoe responsibility of making anything different and unfairly put everything on the lap of your leader.

2. It is dangerous because Awn is not controling expectations. On Marcel Ghanem's show, he was told that some of his supporter's were comparing his return to Gen. De Gaul's return to Paris after WWII. Instead of humbly thanking the praise and downplaying expectations, he said that everyone has a right to express themselves. For his own sake, Gen Awn ought to control expectations.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Cleared Aoun, United Opposition, Conceding Mikati, Adamant Berri

A number of news items that are refreshing and also disturbing:

  • A Beirut court cleared General Aoun from all political and financial charges clearing the way for his return to Beirut unmolested Saturday.
  • Opposition showed its united face today as all gathered under the rain to call for Dr. Geagea's release from unjustifiable imprisonment.
  • PM Mikati concedes that the Syrian military presence in Deir Al-Ahaer does not violate Lebanese boundaries. I believe that it is just time for us to sign a treaty delineating the boundaries that we share with Syria. Can you believe that we have such a treaty signed in 1948 delineating our boundaries with what is now Israel, and not with Syria?
  • After President Lahoud headed calls to exercise his constitutional right to urge the Speaker of the Parliament to hold an exceptional session to re-evaluate the electoral law and the release of Dr. Geagea, Berri still seemed adamant at not holding any session before the elections. Again, and this goes back to a previous post I wrote questioning the role of the Speaker of the Parliament, it is time to have Berri out of his current position. He simply can't have it all: a head of a large, influential political party, the head of what was called the Ein El-Tineh Gathering, and the Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament. And again, I question the Speaker's rights which somehow grant him so much power as to block holding a session that a majority of members of Parliament wish to hold, that even the President wishes to be held. Is this what the Taef Accord has stipulated?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

a second look at developments in Lebanon today.

Please read Tony's "offensive charm" at Across the Bay for a nuanced and complex look at recent developments in Lebanon. Among other things, Tony reminds his readers of the regional and international conflicts that affect the Lebanese political equilibrium - a reality that simply cannot be ignored, especially at this sensitive juncture in Lebanese history.

To all my aspiring Lebanese political analysts, please don't forget that a new regional and international equilibrium is now finally being reflected on the local Lebanese political landscape. In moments like these, it is very dangerous to assume or desire that one side eliminate the other. It is also very ignorant to assume that the local players are independent from international pressure. Almost every one of them is, to a certain degree, executing his assigned role.

The balance of power is shifting (in my opinion, for the better of the country). But it is only shifting. There will be a new balance of power - one in which the only missing component will be those who relied on Syrian money and arm-twisting to get where they got to. For better or worse, all the other players will remain. Iran has not disappeared (and will not anytime soon), neither has Saudi Arabia.... I welcome France's new assertiveness, and the interest that the United States has taken in my country.

I can only watch and hope that the outcome of this new equilibrium will be a better, more prosperous Lebanon. A Lebanon where modernism, meritocracy, economic growth and development, and secularism gain ground against all other opposing forces in the country.

A message to all my fellow Lebanese... Remember this? Posted by Hello

Monday, May 02, 2005

Celebrating our independence in Washington DC

Celebrating our independence in Washington DC. The University of Maryland's Lebanese Student Organization made this event happen. Patriots from the Washington DC Metropolitan area braved the rain and ended up having a blast!

Click here to view some more pictures
... And herePosted by Hello

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Yahya Sadowski quoted in the FT

Some of us have had the honour and pleasure of being taught by Prof. Yahya Sadowski at the AUB.

The Financilal Times
US determined to keep up heat on Syria
By Guy Dinmore in Washington
Published: May 1 2005 17:25 | Last updated: May 1 2005 17:25
The US will keep up pressure on Syria long after the withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon, US officials say, outlining a policy that analysts believe is aimed at destabilising the regime led by President Bashar al-Assad.

Responding to last week's withdrawal, the Bush administration alleged that not all Syrian intelligence forces had quit Lebanon. It insisted that Syria keep out of Lebanon's elections this month and allow the “disbanding and disarming” of militia forces in Lebanon.

For the moment the US has no plans to send its ambassador, Margaret Scobey, back to Damascus. She was recalled in February after the assassination in Beirut of Rafiq Hariri, the former prime minister. “She will return to Damascus when we feel it's useful for her to return,” a State Department spokesman said.

Officials point out that the US still has a long list of grievances against Syria: its alleged development of chemical weapons and possibly bioweapons; support for militant Palestinian groups; co-operation with Iran in terrorism; its failure to stop Iraqi insurgents using the country as a base; and the shelter it gives to Iraq's former ruling Ba'athists.

Flynt Leverett, a former official in the first Bush administration and author of Inheriting Syria: Bashar's Trial By Fire, said President George W. Bush was moving away from a policy of engagement that had never been properly formulated towards a policy that was “basically regime change”.

More US officials were now inclined in that direction, accepting that forcing Syria out of Lebanon would cause the regime to start to unravel, said Mr Leverett, an analyst at the Brookings Institution. While the US was not gearing up for military action, it believed regime change could be done “on the cheap” through destabilisation.

However, the risk of unintended consequences was very high in both Lebanon and Syria. If the regime in Damascus collapsed and, for the moment, there were signs the withdrawal had made it stronger then the ensuing chaos could lead to a heavily Islamist replacement, Mr Leverett warned.

Yahya Sadowski, of the American University of Beirut, said US policy could be described as “constructive instability”, with the Bush administration believing in general that democracy could emerge out of turmoil.

“The Americans will make what trouble they can for the Syrians, presuming that this will at least reduce Syria's ability to make trouble for anyone else,” Professor Sadowski commented. “If, at some future date, this should trigger political changes in Syria, Donald Rumsfeld [defence secretary] will remind us all that ‘democracy is messy'.”

US diplomats in Damascus insist pressure is aimed at change of behaviour, not regime. But they say Mr Assad has not accepted there is no give and take, and that he has no choice but to deliver.

congratulations Carlos!

Lebanese Bloggers would like to congratulate Mr. Carlos Ghosn for rising to the very top of one of the world's largest corporations, Renault-Nissan. Mr. Ghosn is of Lebanese origin, and as you can read from this article, has become one of the most renowned executives in the world. His biggest accomplishment to date was helping to save Nissan from bankruptcy when he was appointed as the company's CEO. We wish him the best of luck as he takes on his new responsibilities.Posted by Hello

some new and fun stuff on the web

Check out Blogging Beirut's multimedia map of Lebanon. Also, Ya Libnan has been revamped... well worth the visit!