Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Liaison: Spinning A Virtual Table

The Liaison--he is. As if MP Saad Hariri heeded our calls here on this blogosphere when we wished he would take an independent stand from Jumblatt's moody decision-making process.

While Jumblatt and Aoun did not shake hands yesterday on the first day the newly-elected Parliament convened, Hariri not only shook hands with Aoun, but ended up in Rabieh that evening putting the Future Movement's "Open Hand" policy into action. He was in Mukhtara for the first time yesterday night over dinner with Jumblatt. A few days back, he visited Samir Geagea in his jail, again putting into action the Future Movement's "National Reconciliation" policy.

As for the Hizbullah/Amal cluster, Saad did not alienate. As always, MP Bahia Hariri used to be the strategic liaison between the late Hariri and Berri, taking a seat for herself in Berri's electoral list in the South. She was exactly that liaison, sitting between Berri and Saad yesterday in Parliament. And while his movement nominated Berri, it was apparent the agreement that his movement would nominate and his allies would cast a white ballot--a move that upholds their "National Unity" policy.

It is clear what Hariri's role is in all of this: he is the Liaison, between factions, groups, and politicians that might not meet on one table; but he has somehow spun a virtual table wherein everyone sits to decide the future course of our country. It is almost as if Aoun, Jumblatt, Geagea, and Berri sat on one table...but not.

On another point: the wind is moving Southward, back to Saida, after lingering in Tripoli for a while. Sanyoura is in. I hope Saad's Virtual Table comes into fruition.

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

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A prayer appropriate for all of us...

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.



--Reinhold Niebuhr

This is a prayer that all Lebanese should keep in mind when discussing Lebanon, and the situation that exists there -- especially when we start talking about what is usually referred to as the "BIG picture"!

There are powers that are much bigger than us in this world. If we are not able to understand our place in their game and act accordingly (in a prudent and wise manner), we will destroy our selves - just as we did in the civil war. Within those restrictions and limitations however, there are a million things that can be done to improve the wellbeing of the average Lebanese and the prosperity of our country.

These are the activities we should focus our energies and even discussions on because they are the ones that, in the end, will reward us with the largest dividends.

Ahdab: Independent In Principle

He was the only one who represented the Tripolitans who said NO to Berri and YES for change. It's MP Mosbah Ahdab; he voted with a white ballot.

Ahdab has been that independent voice of many voiceless Tripolitan youth. He stands by his principles, he runs independent, he refuses to follow like a sheep in a herd, and best of all he took part in finding a movement so cosmopolitan, diverse and non-sectarian, far away from the hyper-localism of northeners: the Democratic Renewal Movement alongside Nassib Lahoud and Rafi Madoyan. He is in fact now the only representative of this movement in Parliament, keeping its calls for social justice alive.

Ahdab is what we all aspire to be. He has proved that he cannot be reduced to a beautiful face, or to being branded as a son and grandson of important Tripolitan social figures. He carved his own niche; and he carved it under Syrian tutelage. He voted against the extension of President Lahoud's mandate. He was one of the rare MPs who picked into the heart of the "hush-hush" Dinnieh convicts issue and framed it as a human rights violation (due to the convicted imprisonment without granting them any rights). And now he votes en principe, against voting in Berri for another term; however he conceded that now Berri is back again, he looks forward to seeing through the promises he made.

I endorsed Ahdab five years ago, when I was an AUB student relying on the Ahdab busses to get back and forth from Beirut to Tripoli. I thought then that what he was doing as an aspiring legislator was not simply throw money at people so they could vote for him, but instead, through his transportation company, he was providing decent employment to Tripolitans. And when you help provide food and shelter to people through employment, as opposed to simple charity, it means that he stands by the principle of building and bettering the human element.

I endorse him this time around. I wish him the best of luck in representing my voice. (voiceless, I am...never got the chance to vote and never met Ahdab and I am not related to him in any way.)

On another note: MP Ahmad Fatfat, another one of those sizzlingly exciting fresh figures on the northern front, have asked for the Bristol Gathering to accomodate the Shiite component that was missing all along. Why would a northener care? He's larger than Dinnieh.

One more note: MP Edmond Naim from LF voted for Berri...

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

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Lebanon's Oddesy - The Energy Sector (2004 - 2005)

Here are some articles in The Daily Star that are relevant to the issue of Energy - each is followed by a quote from the article that I found relevant and interesting:


Thursday, February 12, 2004 "The multibillion-dollar power grid will link Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Libya in the first phase."

Thursday, March 04, 2004 Energy and Water Minister Ayoub Humayed said that the gas pipeline, GASYLE I, linking Syria’s industrial compound in Banias to Lebanon’s Deir Ammar power station would be completed in June 2004.

Saturday, March 13, 2004 "Spectrum and TGS-Nopec carried out a 2D seismic study of Lebanon’s seabed, ECL and AT Energy conducted geological assessments of the offshore area, Suez/Tractebel advised the ministry on the Syrian-Lebanese natural gas transmission project and the liquefied natural gas terminal, Baker Botts will work on the upstream legal guidelines and Denton Wilde will work on downstream legal guidelines."

Thursday, June 17, 2004 The sources did not explain the technical reasons for this delay but stressed that the power plants in Lebanon will definitely switch to the Syrian gas before the end of 2004. The new flow of natural gas into Lebanon will be made possible as soon as the construction of the 32-kilometer natural gas pipeline, GASYLE I, is completed.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004 Speaking to reporters in Beirut after attending a weekend meeting of Arab energy ministers in Cairo, Humayed said that it was agreed that Syria would link its own gas network with that of the Arab Gas Network. The minister predicted that by 2006 the Arab network would be linked to the Turkish gas network, thus achieving a six-state gas link-up.

Saturday, November 06, 2004 To appease growing Lebanese anger, Khoury told officials here that Damascus is ready to help Beirut overcome some of its problems, such as reducing the cost of electricity production. Khoury said Syria is building a gas pipeline that would supply gas to two power plants in Tripoli and Sidon.

Saturday, November 13, 2004 Ministers and economists warned on different occasions that the government cannot afford to keep spending money on EDL, adding that the Treasury had spent over $11 billion over the past 10 years trying to fix the company's problems.


Wednesday, February 02, 2005 Syria was supposed to supply natural gas to Lebanon in 2002 through a pipeline but due to technical difficulties the agreement never materialized.... The cost of kilowatts in Lebanon is three times higher than in Syria, Egypt and Turkey.

Thursday, February 10, 2005 The International Monetary Fund and many rating agencies have been urging the Lebanese government to restructure EDL, warning that Lebanon's energy sector is draining resources from other areas of the economy.

Friday, April 01, 2005 The pipeline was completed on March 17 and when the upgraded Deir Ammar power station, built near the Syrian border in 1997, comes online it will save Lebanon $100 million in energy costs, said a ministry statement.

Thursday, June 09, 2005 "Officially [the Syrians] told us there was a problem with software which will take some time to fix. They told us they need some instruments from the U.S. which will be difficult to get because of the embargo...." The Syrian Gas Company could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005 There were numerous efforts to restructure EDL and cut losses but the problems were overwhelming.

COMMENT: These "technical difficulties" have been going on since 2002, and they never seem to end!!!

Monday, June 27, 2005

elections are over, but democracy doesn't have to end!

all right! I've noticed an uncomfortable silence in the Lebanese blogosphere. I don't like it! Elections are over, the intrigues of alliances and electoral match-ups have come to a close. However, the democratic process does not have to stop just because votes have been cast!

In fact, a sense of normalcy can now return to our daily lives. The issues we care about and the ones that affect us can now drive our political activities rather than our preferences for one politician or political grouping. Those of us who are not politicians or cogs in the political machinery of politicians can and should act as members of civil society who hold the entire political class accountable for its actions - no one should be allowed to get off the hook. All must at least feel threatened by accountability: the accountability of the ballot box.

I hope that this Lebanese blogosphere, of which I am a small part, wil contribute to that cause, however marginally.

Alternative Energy: Curing Lebanon's Hemorrhage

- Lebanon is a net importer of oil and (soon) natural gas. Natural gas will be used to power three new power plants that are currently running on fuel-oil, but can be switched to run on natural gas.

- Lebanon suffers from brown-outs because it is unable to purchase the fuel-oil it needs on time. A new government is about to be elected, however. And one of their primary goals is to fix the problem (presumably by speeding up the transition to natural gas). As a side note, the natural gas is to be imported from Syria by pipeline. A pipeline to one of the power stations has already been constructed, but it is not currently operational. It remains to be seen whether the pipeline will be extended to the two other power stations, or whether the government will take the route of liquid natural gas (LNG), which was offered to Lebanon at subsidized prices by either Qatar or Bahrain a few years ago.

- Some oil exploration has been conducted off the shores of Lebanon. The finds do not seem to be significant, but drilling has been proposed as a solution to the problem posed by the expenses of importing fuel. This issue has not been brought up recently, and is probably infeasible in the short-to-medium run.

- Almost five years ago, taxis and commuter buses (which are privately operated) began a mass transition to diesel-run engines. Almost the entire fleets converted their engines from petrol to diesel. The justification was that fuel was becoming too expensive to use. After four or five months of using diesel though, the government banned the fuel, and subsidized a transition back to petrol engines. This government initiative took place after considerable protest with regards to pollution emitted by the diesel engines, which was perceived to be both a health risk and a threat to the tourist industry - one of Lebanon's most profitable (and, consequently, powerful).

- Lebanon's agricultural industry is struggling. Farmers are always complaining that they have no markets for their products, and that costs of production are too high relative to neighboring countries. One of the major reasons they cite for high production costs is the cost of fuel.

- Finally, all of these facts should be put in the context of Lebanon's trade balance, and public debt. Lebanon's public debt in 2004 was 177% of GDP - approximately 35% of that debt is foreign and denominated in either Dollars or Euros. The consequence of those figures is that a significant amount of the country's foreign currency reserves leaves its shores in the form of interest payments to overseas entities. Furthermore, exports in 2004 were estimated at $1.783 billion as compared to imports, which were $8.162 billion. That difference between imports and exports is almost eight-fold! The 2001 estimate for oil consumption was 107,000 bbl/day. At today's prices ($60/barrel), the total cost of importing the fuel adds up to around $2.343 billion per year (assuming that consumption has remained constant since 2001). That price tag adds up to 29% of Lebanon's total import expenses in 2004, and around 131% of the value of exports for the same year.

- Two extrapolations can be made from the above paragraph:

1 - the oil importing and distribution industry is the largest sector in the country's economy, and is likely to defend itself against any threats to its profitability. I have heard that almost every major politician has his or her own distribution franchise and/or storage capacity.

2 - the country is in dire need for alternative energy sources. The import-export figures speak for them selves. Agriculture could be a good way to go since it is a struggling industry, but also the source of strong political constituencies that might counter-balance the power of the fuel industry. Ethanol from farm products such as corn is a good way to go. Bio-diesel is another alternative. It can be made from either farm products such as soy-beans or grease that is collected from restaurants, which is no longer useful for cooking. Either way, we really need to find ways to reduce our dependence on imported energy. An initiative to encourage alternative energy will decrease our current account deficit, and divert money that goes overseas into local industry, hence stimulating sectors of the economy that continue to struggle 15 years after the close of the civil war.

source of data: CIA world fact book

Looking Always At The Bright Side Of Lebanon

We think it's the end of the world; a setback almost because Berri is back to head the Parliament. Yes, our blog was one of the first on this blogosphere to broach the issue of the constitutionality of the Parliament Speaker's mandate and Berri's role in Parliament and the dire need for a change. But, I will not let his return, due to power balances and strategic circumstances beyond our control, bring me down.

I'll tell you why. I got amazing news yesterday that the Civil Service has approved several new government positions entitled "NGO Liaisons"! Do you know what this means? It means that our government for the first time recognizes the existence of civil society and the need to work with them in order to achieve its intended goals.

Has this piece of news struck you yet?!

Two years ago, I interned at a certain Ministry, and at that time USAID, the World Bank, the EU and other multinational and foreign entities were offering the Lebanese government small grants to achieve high-impact, short-term goals; the twist to these grants was that the government needed to partner up with a local NGO in order to secure the funding. Government agencies then were scrambling for grant writers to prepare their grant proposals. But not only were they looking for grant writers; they were also looking for people who might have connections to certain NGOs that might be willing to parnter up to implement the grants.

The process was difficult and chosing NGOs to forge partnerships with was very ad hoc. Any talk at that time of employing civil servants as NGO liaisons was indeed alien.

I recall suspecting that our public administration will be eventually conceding to a worldwide trend which is namely recognizing the presence of civil society (as opposed to just the private sector) and the need to partner up with its diverse organizations to achieve essential goals, such as awareness, the provision of public and educational materials, outreach, among many other services.

Fast forward two years: It is happening! The new government (which will be sworn in in ten days) will be signing off on those new positions. Now, government agencies will be looking for employees with knowledge and background in nonprofit management, including contract management and grant writing.

For me at least, this news was cause for celebration! This piece of news is intended for those who are pessimistic about our country. Don't be! I myself long for returning now. Our public institutions are finally able to react to international and Lebanese social trends. Finally what I have studied in a class, I can see being achieved in reality!

I am an optimist by nature, but not a foolish optimist. I can point out the silver linings in the midst of darkness. It pays off sometimes to dig deeper and to see that there are still a few good men and women in our public agencies who believe in the public good. Thank you for staying there and fighting the fight. We will be coming soon to join your forces!

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

Friday, June 24, 2005

Freedom-Martyr's Square: Where is Freedom?

Another Martyr buried, and they say that there is more...that the List is out and nothing can stop the Scheme. Who is next? It's a legitimate question.

In the past month, Jumblatt has become more and more isolated by the Maneuvers on the political scene. Does that mean something? From being a National Leader representing Lebanon in the international forums, to a Mukhtara Prisoner representing his people only. Why the induced isolation and what are its implications?

Yesterday night, Samir Franjieh's house was lit on fire!...Ghattas Khoury faces charges on an issue that has gotten larger than its mandated scale which has morphed into allegations of corruption...

With every Martyr who falls, the Crowds dwindle, the numbers carrying the Coffin shrink. It's the Old Tactic of All Times: Divide and Rule!

But with every Martyr, Eulogies have transformed from: Truth, Freedom, and National Unity for Lebanon! to: An End to the Arab Prison, the Only Way is Democracy!

With every Martyr, another First-World Country sends in her investigative experts to crack down on the Perpetrators.

We will not fall, because that is not what we do. We will wipe away the Tears and move onto what seems to be an Uncertain Future now, onto the Unknown.

If Martyr's Square signified a Memory, a History of sorts..."Freedom Square-Martyr's Square" connotes a Present, Blood, Tears, and a Trail of Coffins. Yet with our Confusion and Fear, we are even on the verge of considering dropping "Freedom" from Square to keep it the way it was...

Do we deserve Freedom? And if Yes, then why are not we allowed to See its Light?

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

Damascus to Washington: A Clear Message

The blast that killed former Lebanese Communist Party leader, George Hawi, left many wondering “Why him?” True Hawi had been a critic of the Syrian and Lebanese security services, yet he recently kept a low profile and was not at the forefront of Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution.”

The inaccuracy of such an analysis lies in the assumption that Hawi himself was the objective of the assassination, while in fact he was merely the vessel. The principle target of George Hawi’s assassination is the U.S. policymaker.

Since the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February, debate regarding a policy of “regime change” towards Syria picked up steam amongst U.S. policymakers. Setting a precedent, Department of State officials even conferred with Syrian dissident groups and discussed possible future scenarios.

Others in Washington policy circles, including Brookings’ Flynt Leverett (Former Senior National Security Director on Middle East Affairs), advocated for a return to the traditional “carrot and stick” policy with Damascus. They continue to argue that no viable alternative exists to the current Syrian regime and therefore the U.S. might as well do business with them.

Such are the stakes for Syria that its ambassador to Washington recently took the time to author and publish a lengthy two part praise of Leveret’s new book. The recent assassinations in Lebanon must be viewed in light of the current debate in Washington. The message is loud and clear: “deal with us or else turmoil in Lebanon and Iraq will continue.”

Therefore, in shaping Syria policy, the U.S. must first understand the Syrian message, and then develop the necessary policy tools.

With the withdrawal of Syria’s overt forces from Lebanon, U.N. Security Council resolution 1559 no longer offers the U.S. any leverage. This development has allowed Damascus to act with impunity in Lebanon, targeting opponents at will.

Thought must now be given to a new U.N. Security Council resolution. Perhaps floating the idea of a U.N. stabilization force for Lebanon would cause Damascus to pause, think and reconsider before delivering its next message.

Maronite League says a word or two about the security apparatus.

The Maronite League has just publicly weighed in on the battle to purge/reform Lebanon's security services. In a Daily Star article published today, the league was quoted as saying the following:

...[We Call] for the creation of a central crisis management cell that would coordinate with different security forces and the Lebanese Army in order to fight terrorism and put an end to the spate of assassinations of prominent Lebanese figures.

What a brilliant use of language!!! It is simultaneously clear and vague. Clear because it clearly states the demand for new leadership in the security services. Vague because such a leadership is called on to "coordinate" with "different security forces and the Lebanese Army," whereas in reality the real duty of this new body would be to challenge, and ultimately, subordinate the leadership of the existing security institutions.

Whether or not something is going to come out of this particular proposal is not very clear - in fact, it is not the point. What is significant about the statement is that it proves that the political initiative to purge the security services is a priority, and that almost all (if not all) the political entities are on board that particular initiative.

A perfect example of what could go wrong with such a proposal: bickering over the sect of the person who will lead this new entity, and ultimately achieving nothing.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

in a place far far away...

The smiles hurt.... Posted by Hello

We are Lebanese. That is the answer to all my questions.

We are Lebanese
Adib Samara

With car bombings and civil unrest in the news these days, what does it mean to be Lebanese? The same it always has, says Adib Samara: You have hope.

I often find myself comparing everything in my life to Lebanon. When watching TV, I point out big Hollywood stars that were originally Lebanese. When talking about business, I point out various Lebanese CEOs who have made some great contributions to our world. When chatting with friends and colleagues, many conversations end up with "oh, we have that in Lebanon" or start with "In Lebanon...." I often wonder how annoying it is to others that I constantly change the topic to Lebanon. It's as though I'm trying to prove something to the world; trying to put Lebanon on the map; trying to make it seem as though it s the greatest place on the planet.

For me, it is the greatest place on the planet. It is part of my identity. It is what has shaped the way I think, and how I feel about many issues. I hate war because of Lebanon. I hate war because as a young boy I had to experience sitting in the comfort of my home, and having it invaded by an artillery shell. It is Lebanon that has destroyed my image of religion. To watch Christians and Muslims fighting over everything because of their religion was something I could never understand. Why are there Christian basketball teams and Muslim soccer teams? Why does a mosque have to be bigger and louder than the church next door? Why does our president have to be a Christian? What does religion have to do with sports? Or television? Or politics? Or anything?

Many of my thoughts and emotions have been influenced by my being Lebanese. Some of them are not so positive, but how can I shun a nation that has played a great part in creating me? I can't. For me, Lebanon is a symbol of hope. It has gone through the worst, but it always seems to dig itself right out. It represents the journey of life. Lebanon isn't afraid to live life, and though doing so has cost many lives, it still portrays a romantic struggle with a magnetic power, pulling its people towards it every time they try to run away. You ask many Lebanese about their identity or their feelings, and they will tell you: "I'm Lebanese," and they will say it with such conviction, and even arrogance. And they will go through the trouble of glorifying Lebanon and what it means to be Lebanese.

For most of the world particularly for the many people who have never been to the Lebanon or the Middle East, and do not have the courage or the audacity to take the journey into the heart of the Fertile Crescent it is a symbol of violence and destruction, terrorism and secularism. Stereotypes and generalizations undermine the image of Arabs and Muslims alike. You're probably wondering if I m Muslim. What does it matter? Perhaps it is these stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims that I'm trying to break down. By making Lebanon seem as though it is everywhere and everything, I can get people to forget about what has been socially constructed in their mindsets. I want people to think that Lebanon is great. I show them pictures of the white tipped mountains and the golden beaches, of the incredible nightlife and its beautiful people. I just want them to realize that it's not just a war-torn country with backwards people, but a vibrant and energetic nation filled with vibrant and energetic and loving people.

And then it happens: Lebanon is in the news again, and something terrible is happening. The whole world is watching as Lebanon is in the spotlight for yet another world political disaster. A car bomb. Seven hundred pounds of explosives wipe out part of the city. All that remains is a crater. Our former Prime Minister is dead. The people are in the streets protesting. But I can't be there to witness it all. Instead, I'm across the world in Costa Rica, and surrounded by questioning faces. What's going on? Do you think the civil war will start again? Who was behind it? What do you think will happen? How do you feel?

As I answer the questions with "I don't knows" and "we'll sees", I am stunned. I feel shivers running down my spine. My body is weak; I don't know what to say. Since the end of the civil war Lebanon has been moving towards this spotlight, but dazzlingly, proudly, flaunting its success. It was one of the only democracies in the Middle East. It was developing rapidly. National reconciliation was successful. Tourism was beginning to boom. Television stations across the globe portrayed all the images that Lebanon had to offer the Roman Temple of Jupiter, the Crusader castles, the ancient Phoenician cities that line its coast, and the world class ski resorts and health clubs. Everything seemed like it was on the way to taking back the title of the Paris of the Middle East and the centre of culture, music, poetry, and cuisine.

When I found out about the assassination of Rafik Harrir, I cried. I have to admit, however, that I didn't cry for him. Sure I mourned him, for he was part of Lebanon's climb to the top. He was responsible for the Taif Accords after the 16-year civil war, and responsible for the country's development ever since, rebuilding the city and attracting foreign investment. But when I cried, I cried for Lebanon. I cried because I couldn't believe that there were still people out there who were willing to destroy Lebanon, and what it meant to be Lebanese. And before my tears could empty, the world witnessed what it really meant to be Lebanese.

On March 14, 2005, a million Lebanese took to the streets. This wasn't some form of proletariat revolution foreseen by Marx. This was different. For the first time, it didn't matter what religion you were, or to what political party you belonged to. For the first time, your economic background and social status, and the socio-cultural habitus in which you were raised had no value. Construction workers, garbage men, business men and women, doctors, lawyers, engineers, everyone - they went out to demand freedom, sovereignty, independence, liberty and justice. They went out as Lebanese, for Lebanon. This was not just about nationalistic, emotional euphoria, where people were lulled by selective amnesia. It was not promoted by economic or political elites manipulating the chaos to promote their own agenda through the rhetoric of national liberation and cultural reconstruction. This was simply about the people. This was about the Lebanese for Lebanon. It was about finally realizing the potential behind the dot on the map. The world finally had a chance to witness the strength of a people that for so many years was concealed by labels and social constructs.

Now, with the first democratic elections taking place, the future of Lebanon is vague, but there is much hope. I cannot explain what s going in Lebanon right now, because I do not have the privilege of being there. When I ask my Lebanese contacts there about the situation, they say they are waiting anxiously for the outcome. Some are sceptical. Others are confident that it s a new era in Lebanon. We are finally free, they say victoriously. When I ask my friends and family about the situation, and the car bombs that continue, they say, "Don't worry, they are nothing. Car bombs will not stop us from accomplishing what we are destined to bring about. It's just people who are trying to scare us. Don't worry," they say, "we are Lebanese." When I ask about the nightlife, they reply, "Yeah, it has calmed a little, but everyone is still partying. We are Lebanese."

We are Lebanese. That is the answer to all my questions. It's what I would have answered if someone had asked me a similar question. It's a powerful answer that shows what we have been through. We are Lebanese. We are survivors. We are warriors. We have lived through endless civil war and occupation. We have seen it all. We are not afraid anymore. We will have barriers and obstacles, but we will break them down. We will live and enjoy life regardless of what may come our way. Who knows what will happen, but it doesn't matter: we are Lebanese.

Adib Samara is a Masters candidate at the University for Peace, studying International Law and Settlement of Disputes. He is from Lebanon

Bargaining Chips: Another Set of Concessions?


...And as if Faris Khashan has read your last post entitled "So...why Hawi?"...He wrote today about how Hawi's murder is a bargaining chip for another set of concessions that the National Opposition has to agree to in order to move forward in the face of decisive political, consitutional, and national matters ahead of our country.

And I say, "another" set of concessions, because after a series of bombs in the month of March culminated by the Tele Lumiere bombing, right after the success of the March 14th uprising, and as we were facing a constitutional and political vacuum represented by Omar Karami's "intentional" inability to form a government...the Opposition faced a set of concessions, presented and blessed through international and Syrian consensus: to bring Mikati as PM (Bashar Assad's business partner), to accept the 2000 electoral law, and to ally with Hizbullah/Amal so as not to alienate the Shiite component in this new phase.

Raja, you wrote: "I believe that some intense negotiations are taking place between the opposition and the Syrian regime as I am typing up this post; and I fear that the opposition is going to have to concede to at least some of the Syrian demands."

This is exactly what is happening...and shall we say that that new set of concessions might be Berri, Hizbullah's question, Lahoud, the fate of the new government, and the Hariri investigation that is threatening all heads inside and outside Lebanon??? Are we doomed to either face death or forever concede, in what Khashan calls the "Hariri formula"?

George Hawi (RIP) recently said that when Kamal Jumblatt was killed, no investigation went forward, because there used to be always a power that covers for the power that has committed the atrocity. He said that in Hariri's case, and for the first time, no power was willing to cover for the party that has perpetrated that crime. Are we going to witness anew the old way of doing things?

We are being silenced, but are we going to rise up to the challenge and say NO?! Khashan believes that those who chose to die instead of conceding are those who are worthy of building our nation, on whom our nation depends the most.

P.S.: Talking about the subject of concessions, yesterday in an interview on NBN, Jumblatt said that if the choice is between either the end of the security regime or opening the corruption files, he admitted for the first time that he is with opening all the files of corruption and seeking an international investigative body to look into this issue (provided that ALL the files are opened.) Moreover, when asked whether he endorsed Berri, he said that he did not endorse Berri by name, but rather supports whomever the Shiites nominate and if it is someone other than Berri that Hizbullah picks, then be it (a change from previous claims, but anyways, Hizbullah met yesterday and chose Berri.)

P.S.: Read this moving poem by Zahi Wahbi: Daily Questions in Anticipation of Death! (As'ila Yawmiyya Isti'dadan Lil-Mawt!) By the way, today he faces defamation charges formally before the courts.

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Samir & George: They've Talked About It Before...

As if they've talked about if before...that they will be the Martyrs of our Independence Uprising...Posted by Hello

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

So... why Hawi?


I was talking to Firas (member of this blog), and we came to an agreement that Syria is most likely behind this assassination, and will probably kill more people in the near future.

In our discussion, we tried to answer two key questions:

1. Why Hawi?

because he is a person of national prominence, yet without much national following. Therefore, although his assassination would definitely "shake" the Lebanese, it would not lead to a mass outpouring that would unite the country in outrage. Both Firas and I agree that individuals with such characteristics are the most likely targets for future assassinations.

2. Why the assassination?

Well, basically, we see the assassination as a response to the electoral results in the North. The Syrian regime is sending a message to the victors that they have the will and the ability to cause instability in Lebanon.

Their ability is derived from the Lebanese security apparatuses that remain intertwined with their Syrian counterparts, as well as all the other political institutions that the Syrians managed to create during their 15 year stint in the country. Their will is the consequence of the simple fact that the electoral results from the North have effectively expelled the Syrian regime from the Lebanese parliament.

Today, the Syrians have been expelled from Lebanon in the following manner:

1 - the Syrian military has left Lebanon
2 - the Syrians, as I just mentioned, have effectively been expelled from the Parliament

Syrian influence in Lebanon remains in the following manner though:

Economic - I haven't heard of any major economic interests being dissolved. Such an initiative could have taken place behind the scenes, but thus far I have not heard one story about what has happened to the economic interests of some of Syria's top-ranking Ba'athists in Lebanon. A very good example of how the regime appears to be exerting economic pressure comes from a daily star article that stated that Syria has yet to sell natural gas through the pipeline it built to one of our power stations in the north. Whether that "glitch" is a blessing or a curse is not so clear, but one would think that after a pipeline is built, the logical thing to do would be to start using it.

Security - The security apparatus remains untouched. After more than 15 years of being a sister institution, it is extremely difficult for me to believe that members of the Lebanese security apparatus have become independent of the Syrian apparatus in a matter of months. Most high and middle-ranking members probably have personal contacts with their Syrian counterparts, as well as solidified relationships which are most likely based on past favors, etc.... It is hard for me to imagine that these individuals have broken their bonds and all of a sudden become adversaries as is the norm in relationships between security services of two sovereign states.

Political - Syrian presence remains in other non-parliamentary political and even societal institutions. Labor unions, and non-security bureaucracies are prime examples of institutions in which individuals may have owed their positions to Syrian intervention on their behalf.

Now that the Syrian regime has been expelled from the country military, as well as from the national parliament, it appears to be exerting its power in Lebanon through the mechanisms and institutions where its influence remains. The assassinations appear to be a message to the victors of this electoral round:

"If you don't concede to some of our demands, expect instability and chaos."

I believe that some intense negotiations are taking place between the opposition and the Syrian regime as I am typing up this post; and I fear that the opposition is going to have to concede to at least some of the Syrian demands. Reforming institutions takes time (a lot of time) and both the opposition as well as the Syrian regime know that very well. Syria's message to the opposition is simple:

"we'll sell you the time you need to reform your institutions by not creating chaos, but it will come at a hefty price."

I can only imagine what that price may be. Maybe Berri was part of that package. I don't know... but unless there is some sort of an agreement, I believe that the killings will continue, and might very well escalate.

A Picture of Change

Veiled women raising the Lebanese Forces flag in Akkar celebrating election results. I couldn�t believe my eyes when I saw this picture!

On another point, yesterday after the election results were reported by Interior Minister Sabei, Sleiman Franjieh supporters burned tires and blocked roads in Zgharta. Meanwhile, around ten were arrested for firing shots of celebration in Tripoli.

Who knew that while the eyes and heavy security were looking north, a dark death was being planned out for Hawi in Beirut?.... Posted by Hello

Another Bomb, Another Death...Why Hawi?

And as if our optimism is a prohibited territory, a dream we can never realize. Another bomb, another death...Why George Hawi? Posted by Hello

Monday, June 20, 2005

I witnessed Lebanon's second independence...

I still can't believe that this happened during my lifetime. Frankly, I don't care what happens after today... all I know is that I can tell my kids that I witnessed Lebanon's second independence. Posted by Hello

A new website for a new era

This new design, although the result of an accident, symbolizes a new era in Lebanon's history. I hope that all perceive it as an improvement.



UPDATED: North Election Results & Numbers

Here are the election results for the north, after being updated:

1st District (Akkar, Dinnieh, Bsharri), 11 seats

Akkar, 3 Sunni seats:
Mohammad Mrad 85,265
Mostapha Hashem 83,302
Azzam Dandashi 83,046

First losers:
Wajih Ba'arini 52,243
Talal Mirehbi 46,600

Akkar, 1 Alawite seat:
Winner: Mostapha Hussein 87,966
First loser: Shehadeh Al-Ali 15,010 (I can see clearly that the Sha'ib list supporters crossed out his name)

Akkar, 1 Maronite seat:
Winner: Hadi Hbeish 91,568
First loser: Mikhael Daher 50,701

Akkar, 2 Greek Orthodox seats:
Riad Rahhal 94,683
Abdallah Hanna 88,509

First losers:
Joseph Shahda 50,166

Dinnieh, 2 Sunni seats:
Qassim Abdelaziz 94,760
Ahmad Fatfat 89,196

First loser:
Jihad Samad 52,889

Bsharri, 2 Maronite seats:
Sitrida Geagea 93,340
Elie Kairouz 91,161

First losers:
Gibran Tawk approx. 48,000

2nd District (Tripoli, Zgharta, Minieh, Batroun, Koura), 17 seats

Tripoli, 5 Sunni seats:
Mohammad Safadi 104,711
Mosbah Ahdab 97,137
Abdellatif Kabbara 96,922
Samir Jisr 93,903
Mostapha Alloush 92,015

Abdelmajid Rafei 74,860
Nadim Jisr 69,401
Ahmad Karami 66,914
Nawwaf Kabbara 63,482
Sfouh Yakan 61,405
Taha Naji 11,000 (The head of the Ahbash, he decided to run alone, even when Jama'a Al-Islamiyya boycotted)

Tripoli, 1 Alawite seat:
Badr Wannous 89,688

Ahmad Hbous 66,006
Ali Eid 4,565(Can you believe this?! Eid was an MP who represented overtly Syria in Tripoli for so long, he wasn't included on the second list, he decided to do it on his own, abysmal results)

Tripoli, 1 Maronite seat:
Winner: Elias Atallah 89,890
First Loser: Fayez Karam 75,408

Tripoli, 1 Greek Orthodox seat:
Winner: Maurice Fadel 99,284
First loser: Rafli Diab 65,077

Minieh, 1 Sunni seat:
Hashem Alameddine 89,060

Mahmoud Tibbo 63,484
Saleh Khair 8,077 (I also can't believe this number?! He only got 8 thousand votes and he was Minieh's rep. during the post-civil war era. This only shows how popular he is amongst the Lebanese. A member of the family who is a Khair claimed that Saleh had around 4,000 naturalized Lebanese residing in Syria cross the border yesterday to vote for him.)

Zgharta, 3 Maronite seats:
Nayla Moawwad 93,032
Jawad Boulos 91,786
Samir Franjieh 90,830

First Losers:
Sleiman Franjieh 82,670
Istfan Dwaihi 68,042
Salim Karam 65,325

Batroun, 2 Maronite seats:
Boutros Harb 95,554
Antoine Zahra 87,654

First losers:
Gibran Bassil 74,623
Nizar Younes 71,684

Koura, 3 Greek Orthodox seats:
Farid Makari 96,837
Farid Habib 93,169
Nicolas Ghosn 92,907

First losers:
Fayez Ghosn 68,888
Salim Al-Azar 67,002

A few thoughts on the election results

A few quick thoughts:

1. Future is the BIG winner in this round of elections. The numbers speak for themselves! Considering the nature of the movement and its broad objectives, I'm actually quite happy for them and for the country - especially when I take into consideration the MPs they replaced.

2. FPM is the other big winner. It won in Kesrwan and Jbeil despite the efforts of almost every other political player in Lebanon. FPM has to realize this reality and think about the best strategy to move their agenda forward given their current situation. Jumblatt should also tone down his rhetoric because he's beginning to sound like Aoun. My point is that the only two political "groupings" that have a vision for a better future for Lebanon are Future and FPM. These visions are not similar but they complement each other. The best thing for Lebanon is for these two groups to work together. As I mentioned in a previous post, I fear that politics, vendettas and personality clashes may get in the way.

3. Electorally, Amal and Hizballah are in the same situation they were before the elections. It doesn't seem like they've improved or gotten worse off. In fact, it seemed like the South was (electorally) a whole different country that was isolated from all the turbulence and excitement that took place in the rest of Lebanon. One of things I'd like to see soon is increased fluidity in the South. Amal and Hizballah have completely suffocated the region politically.

4. I'm glad to see the LF back in the game. I know some people might be hesitant. But, I'm really happy that an entity that once represented the majority of the Maronites has reentered the political landscape, and will shape it as time passes.

5. Ahmad Fatfat rules! The guy is so cool! Going to LF rallies, talking about Gaegae in Akkar with all confidence. He is outspoken, smart and witty. In my opinion, he is one of those politicians who is PM or even Presidency material. However, the rules of the game probably dictate that he'll never occupy those seats in his lifetime. In my opinion, that is Lebanon's loss. The guy definitely has my vote.

6. I'm glad Elias Atallah made it to parliament. He's no Einstein, but he is passionate and does manage to connect with the shabeb. I'm sure he'll make at least some of the parliamentary sessions more interesting.

7. And finally, I've realized that the one political persona who represents Lebanon's complexity and even its political impotence is Walid Jumblatt - Michael Young articulated that point best in one of his better Op Ed pieces which was published prior to the elections. For all his outspokenness, and gusto, I've also realized that Jumblatt has very little power on the ground. He wanted to get rid of Lahoud, but he was vetoed. He didn't want to deal with Berri in the beginning of the whole "intifada," but it seems like political realities drove him to do otherwise. He wanted desperately for his buddies in Qornet Shehwan to make it, but that didn't fall through. He didn't want Aoun to become a political player, but it happened nonetheless.

With all these thoughts and facts laid out, I have to add that I agree with Doha on one major point: Lebanon is now independent. I think all of us should take a deep breath and look back to see what we've accomplished - it's a whole lot. We should all pat ourselves on our backs and thank God all of this happened during a time when we were not only alive, but old enough to appreciate its significance! I never could have imagined that history would take place during my life time.

I'm definitely happy, and much more hopeful for Lebanon than I was a year ago.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

O Lebanon: The Cradle of My Freedom

In the heat of it all, the heat of counting the votes, the heat of victory and concession speeches...we forgot something so important, so crucial to our fight, the reason why we started writing to the whole world through this blog: Lebanon has won! The Syrian influence is out! The Lebanese for the first time have managed to compete amongst each other relying on themselves, not any foreign party. We did it! The north has bid farewell to the days of the Syrian tutelage; it's over. The north has sealed the victory for all the Lebanese.

And the FPMers did not lose, but they have won. They have won because all what they have fought for has been accomplished. The Syrian influence is to an end. The Parliament is Lebanese par excellence, with all its diversity, with all its contradictions. We are a country of contradictions, we are. And I love my country, I love it, I love it.

We have forgotten this point, this important point, in the midst of cheering for this list or that candidate, in the midst of bickering and accusing, in the midst of disappointment for some.

Let us not forget what this was all about. Let us not fall into the quagmire and the darkness of the past. Let us not hate and accuse one another. We, the poeple who have suffered the death and destruction. We the poeple who have smelled blood, who have been subdued. We the poeple who have a story with fear, with silence, with exile, with the imprisonment of the soul, the mind, and the word. We the poeple who have been scattered in the diaspora, who have our hearts attached to our beloved country. That country that never ceases to capture you until death.

We have all won! Congratulations! The elections have ended. We have just opened a new page in our history...I pray to God that every word written on this new page would be Lebanese, honest and true to the country.

Tomorrow will never cease to be an adventure; Lebanon is an adventure, an experiment in governance, in politics, in war and peace. Tomorrow: Samir Geagea, Hizbullah, the Palestinian question, Shebaa Farms, the Lebanese-Syrian diplomatic relations, the national debt, Paris III/Beirut I, the electoral law, the election of a Parliament speaker...Tomorrow: Can be summed up with the word "Challenges". If we proved today that we are able to govern an election campaign free of any foreign tutelage after years of occupation and war, free of firing a shot against our brother, let us prove it once more then in the face of resolving the challenges ahead of our country.

The Cedar and the Olive are chanting a hymn,
An earth hymn, a song of the homeland:
O Lebanon, you are the mother, the family,
O Lebanon, the cradle of my freedom.

June 19, 2005

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

Saturday, June 18, 2005

American coverage of Lebanese elections...

Hey guys, the Christian Science Monitor is one of those rare American news services that actually takes that extra step when trying to convey and explain foreign developments to their American readers. They asked me (as they did Mustapha) to link up their coverage of the Lebanese elections. I haven't really read the stuff yet, but at a first glance the material they offer looks interesting:

Profile of voters
Forum of Comments

They also claim that they'll have updates as soon as the elections are over.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Baathist On Aoun/Franjieh List: I Need An Explanation

It's confirmed, and perhaps it might be a bit late for a piece of news, but no one has written about it in our blogosphere: Aoun's FPM has just allied itself with a "Baathist" candidate in the first electoral district in the north, Shehade Al-Ali.

Please can someone explain to me how this move illustrates the principles that FPM stands for?...

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

The North: The Highlight of the Battle!

Truth is being revealed, my head tells me to type. All is being revealed. If it wasn't the most heated election round, the North and its candidates would have been always. But this time, every TV channel is scrambling to get as many candidates to say a word or two as possible in one show. Even someone who has not known much of the north, like Cedar Guardian of the Lebanese Political Journal, has decided to drive north to get a feel of things there and report it back in a blog post.

There is one good thing that came out of all of this: We as northerners got the chance for the first time to hear candidates we have gotten so accustomed to seing their pictures plastered all over the autostrade and walls of Tripoli but yet never heard them utter a word. And so you know how a name and a picture without words can evolve into something more than it is. There is this sort of aura that we build around the silence of a name and a face.

Yesterday on Marcel Ghanem's "Kalam Innass" I watched Samir Jisr and Ahmad Karami talk. It was the first time I hear A. Karami talk. I remember back in 1996 and 2000 when A. Karami ran for elections...I personally had a vague assumption that if he's running against his cousin Omar Karami, this means that he's the opposite. Little did I know...

Ahmad Karami, sadly enough, had nothing to say. He ducked every single question by being sarcastic or joking. Whenever he was asked about the list he's running under, he would talk about himself. Whenever he was asked about his alliance with Aoun and Franjieh, he would talk about his former alliance with the late Hariri. Whenever he was asked tough questions about Aoun or Hizbullah or Berri or 1559, he would ramble a bit before a paper is slipped to him under the camera (as he was being filmed from his home) and then he would start reading from it simple rhetoric with no point. And after a truely embarassing situation, Aoun called (perhaps to save the show) to counter Jisr's statements. Jisr was extremely polite and eloquent when talking to Aoun explaining to him his genuine efforts at helping the youth who were arrested during the August 7 riots; Aoun thanked him. And guess what? He didn't even say "Marhaba" to A. Karami, supposedly his ally?!!!?

What does this all say? First, A. Karami has nothing to add to our Parliament, nothing to our politics. And he's just like Omar Karami a hyper-localist (yet he couldn't explain how he's allying with Aoun in the same list, Aoun being from outside the north). It all sounded to me as if the "Sha'ib" list is not united. And I'm speculating that we might just see that A. Karami's supporters voting for him and crossing out everyone else.

Was Franjieh sure that he was making the right choice when he picked A. Karami to be the Sunni figure on the Sha'ib list? It seems to me that Aoun is relying on the Christian votes to float his candidates and Franjieh on the Christian and other loyalist supporters to vote for his candidates, because there is no way in my mind that A. Karami will even vote for the Sha'ib list "zay ma hiyye." He appeared totally going for it on his own yesterday night.

On the other hand, not only was Samir Jisr talking of his list as a whole (never about himself), but also the day before in another TV talk show, Ahmad Fatfat and Mosbah Ahdab (the latter being an independent.) They gave the same answer on the meaning behind their list, which shows cohesion, unity, and full commitment to support the other. Moreover, they all talk of their Lebanese Forces allies with great respect to help facilitate the much-aspired-to reconciliation, which many Sunnis might just be reluctant to do. I might have been fooled, but I see a list of candidates who are running on an equal footing (Takattol Traboulsi, Ahdab, Qornet Shehwan, Democratic Left, LF, and Future).

The FPM has a good chance in the first electoral district (Bsharri, Akkar, and Dinnieh), as many who are in the army and from Akkar (from all sects) are sympathetic to Aoun. Plus, I know for a fact that some candidates running in the "Sha'ib" list have supporters and are respected on both sides of the aisle, the likes of Mikhael Daher. So we might just see in the first district incomplete lists being cast in the ballot box.

Long time ago, the electoral race in the north used to be of a different feel. It was very local indeed, even when Hariri used to "bless" this list or that candidate. Now, there is the Aoun factor which has pushed the new Hariri not to only bless but also to take part and get his hands dirty in the whole election campaign. The north has become a battle scene so decisive to the country's future...the north for once feels like a part and parcel of the whole country...the north for once has become a highlight in the news, the newspapers, TV, blogs...I am glad. This all means that Lebanon is in good health. Amen!

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

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The North: A Different Ball Game!

Elections in the north are different! The demographics play a large role. The marked difference is that there are no Shiites or Druze represented in that region, which alters the political debate and discourse overall.

Tony from Across the Bay has been
critical of the past two Al-Mustaqbal editorials claiming they are focusing more on the Christian component of the electoral race. The answer is simple--the alliances that the Future Movement is striking purely revolve around their alliance with the Lebanese Forces/Qornet Shehwan/Bristol Gathering representatives and of course other Sunni politicians. Therefore, the debate will clearly revolve around the Christian component.

Moreover, Aoun is only fielding Christian runners-up, as opposed to other regions. So, again, the race will inevitably be coined as that of Aoun's/Franjieh's candidates versus those of LF/QS.

Remember, Omar Karami opted out of the race as well as the Jama'a Al-Islamiyya, hence leaving Franjieh and Aoun (both Christian figures) to pick the Sunni/Orthodox/Alawite allies to complete their list for the second electoral district (namely Tripoli, Zgharta, Batroun, and Koura), which again puts the spotlight on the Christians.

So...the north is different indeed. Jumblatt can talk as much as he wants (though Khashan's Al-Mustaqbal editorial today did propose that he tone down his rhetoric), he will not affect the north elections in no way, except perhaps push some Christian voters to opt for the Aoun/Franjieh list. Further, the talk of the Shiite component will naturally be absent at the moment because Hizbullah/Amal do not assume any leadership role in the north region.

I suspect that naturally we will be reading and hearing more debates during this week being coined as follows:
  • With Taif (LF) vs. Against Taif (FPM)
  • Loyalists (Roumouz Al-Sulta) vs. Opposition/Bristol
  • Future vs. Others
  • Outsiders vs. Locals
  • Moderates (QS) vs. Extremism (Franjieh/Aoun)

And please I would appreciate it if I could get more input for the list of potential debates.

On another level, this is the all new, unchartered territory for the Future Movement by the way. That is the first time a Hariri visits Tripoli and addresses its peoples. Moreover, if the Future Movement allied with LF in the Jabal (first time that Future allies with LF), Hariri was flanked by Jumblatt. Now, the LF-Hariri alliance stands out in the north and has to be aggressively justified and mainstreamed to both the Christian and Sunni voters, but in a way this new alliance symbolizes a step forward in national reconciliation and towards cementing the Taif mandate. Future Movement, therefore, is taking a leap of faith and hopes that the northerners head the call for change.

That is also the first time that a Sunni figure from Saida not only manages to enter the hearts of Beirutis (it took Beirutis a long time to accept Hariri as a Beiruti) and to win the hearts of the Bekai's, but is also reaching out to consolidate his popularity in the north.

And you know how our country is; it's a tiny place, but we can be hyper-localists and parochialists. Hariri now is giving the northerners a choice for something different, not a Franjieh, not a Karami, not a Mirehbi, not that historical patron-client relationship; he's providing an alternative. And somehow I believe that many northerners, especially those who are cosmopolitan, see Lebanon as a whole and do not mind "outsiders", if those outsiders have a plan to move the region towards development, a region that has long been neglected by its local leaders, a region suffering from high unemployment rates, high incidence of emigration, and delapidated social and economic infrastructure.

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

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The North: Putting Battles In Order Of Priority

In my assessment, General Aoun and FPM have indeed succeeded in transforming the election campaign and political discourse from that of pro-Syrian loyalists versus Opposition. As one could see in the last election front, the north, strategies are shifting, being recalculated and redrawn to accomodate that tranformation.

But yet again, I would like to note that the Syrian intelligence influence has not completely disappeared. Intelligence officers have been emblodened and they are set to ensure a comeback for Franjieh and his allies. The news is disturbing but worth noting, even if the article is coming from Al-Mustaqbal newspaper whom some of the readers frown upon.

The north is different from the Matn and Kissirwan-Jbeil, especially the Akkar, Tripoli, Dinnieh, and Zgharta areas. The north almost reminds me of the Bekaa. The results in some parts of the Bekaa reflected the Beka'is call for change; a break from the Syrian intelligence influence. The same goes for many parts of the north. Yes, the northerners and Tripolitans in particular want reform and accountability, but they also have been suffering under the Syrian tutelage for long. We shouldn't forget that; ultimately that's what we want to see go first.

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

Zahi Wahbi: "Mr. Presidents" Is Every Lebanese!

Zahi Wahbi, as mentioned before, was charged for defaming President Lahoud in his poem Fakhamit Al-Katil (His Highness the Killer!). He has published another poem in response to the charges, entitled: As'hab Al-Fakhama! (Mr. Presidents!)--very moving.

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

Monday, June 13, 2005

Aoun gets the last laugh!

Okay... now that the election results are out, what are the factors that made Aoun win in Keserwein with such a huge margin?

1. I've already alluded to the Maronite community's desire for a "leader," as opposed to a collection of "timid" politicians

2. The other factor could be Aoun's political machinery. The hundreds, or thousands of motivated university students (and recent graduates) probably gave Aoun a political machine that is unmatched in the Keserwein/Jbeil region.

At the moment, I can't think of any other factors that contributed to such a victory. However, the fact that the opposition could not appreciate the danger that those two factors posed to them points to political incompetence. For Jumblatt, the situation is humiliating. The man who can supposedly detect political changes brewing on M Street in Washington DC, could not really comprehend what was going on right under his nose.

I don't think any of us bloggers could have even fathomed this turn of events. But that's no excuse for Jumby... why is he up in Mukhtara if he doesn't know any better than us? The "buffoon" has made the "know-it-all" look like an idiot!

I can't but tip my hat to Aoun and the Tayyar.

Enough Double Talk!

One of Aoun's slogans is to do away with political fuedalism: What do you say to Franjieh and Karami? Enough of political manuevering! Enough of double talk! Tripolitans need change!

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

Polarization: The Catalyst for Action

Polarization in Lebanese politics can be disturbing. Lebanon has yet to prove that polarization in politics can remain peaceful, co-opted by the democratic mechanisms of the Parliament, the highest democratic authority. History has shown us that polarization has led to destruction, to failure, to lawlessness, and to chaos. That is why I sit watching the story of our history unfold with my hand on my heart.

Last year around that time, polarization in U.S. politics was at its highest. In November 2004, the U.S. was divided literally into two camps, Democratic versus Republican. The race was heated; people sat to watch every single Presidential and Vice-Presidential debate. Rumors and rumors of scandals were rampant, political money was dumped everywhere possible. Come election day, President Bush won. I could swear that blood was rushing up my head that day; polarization yes was at its highest. But the difference between the American common man and me was that life continued and it was business-as-usual past 2:00PM, when Kerry read out loud his concession speech. No one went up to arms; life continued…and for those who have lost, they promised each other that they’d work harder the next time around, harder on the local level in preparation of winning a base for the upcoming Presidential elections. I said to myself: “Those Americans are patient; they’ll wait another four years…”

Polarization in America works; recent history has shown it. But in Lebanon, no! And we are yet to see the story unfolding.

I cannot but allude to Kerry and Bush when I think of Aoun and the Christian Opposition. I found out that anywhere in the world, the common man is thirsty for simplicity. Aoun, wearing his orange polo, his white hair, his simple, unsophisticated rhetoric appeals to the common man. He’s clear; the common man wants the black and white….just like Bush, Aoun could have been the guy next door whom many would have a cup of coffee with sharing small talk in a “soubhiyye.”

This simplicity, this black and white is exactly what the sophisticated, educated amongst us dislike, what many cosmopolitan Americans disliked about Bush. We know that issues are always in shades of grey. We thirst for complicated, sophisticated, smart political assessments and moves. We hold politicians accountable for what they say, opening up our history books to double-check on the facts, researching and fact-checking, analyzing and breaking down words and statements….

But who ends up voting in our country??? Half of us doing the fact-checking are NOT in Lebanon!!! We can enlighten ourselves as much as we can about the facts, about the intentions, about the consequences, but at the end of the day, we’re not there; we are voiceless! Even the journalists who do a great job of disseminating information about the intentions, consequences, and facts are not widely read…I remember reading two years ago that only 3% of the Lebanese read newspapers. The Lebanese rely on the TV, just like the Americans rely on Fox, CNN, and MSNBC for their news needs. At least here in the U.S. people have the internet to get their news.

My “activist” friend from the Democratic Party is leaving the cosmopolitan D.C and heading to the Deep South; she is armed with a strategy to appeal to the devout Christian base that has been loyal to the Republican camp. She is aware that the Democrats have done a bad job at appealing to a base that tips the balance in any election race. She believes that this is the place to start regaining a lost race; that’s the heart of the battle.

Let yesterday’s election race in Lebanon be filed under the “lessons learned” and marked as “to be reviewed soon for devising new strategies.”

I watch the story of our history unfold and I vow not to sit watching and commenting any longer. If yesterday’s elections achieved anything, it is indeed the polarization that pushes those on the sidelines to take action. But let us work together to ensure that the definition of “taking action” in our country is a far outcry from carrying arms to fight the brother, but rather by using our heads and leveraging our energy for positive action.

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

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Friday, June 10, 2005

New Rhetoric, New Stand!

The events the past two days have left me short of articulating a coherent entry; I simply tailgaited on other's entries writing comments here and there. But today I am pushed to note two important points that have struck me and left me asking: "What is going on?":

  1. Sayyid Nasrallah's speech today in the Bekaa was very different than his other speeches. He addressed the crowds by letting them know that Hizbullah's role as a party must change; that the party must be engaged in Lebanese politics and affairs. He also called for the implementation of the Taif Accord. (And two days ago he even talked of Bashir Gemayyil's 10,452 km2.) This was new rhetoric to my ears; well new as compared to what has been said and done prior to last Sunday at the eve of the elections in the South. Sayyid Nasrallah is breaking it slowly to the Hizbullah crowds the new reality that his party will be facing. What does this new language mean? Why the quick shift?

  2. Today I read that a group of FPM youth from the northern Metn who addressed Aoun asking him to dissolve his alliance with MP Michel Murr, reminding him of Murr's past actions and that they do not wish to compromise FPM's stands that they have long fought for. What many have speculated actually occurred and it was confirmed with this letter; the FPM is not about one person and its young supporters always emphasized that point and they proved it this time by asking of that one person not to represent them and their efforts and stands wrongly.

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

Thursday, June 09, 2005

"Trust" & Governing Institutions (in response to Reem)


I totally agree, Trust is another issue that we've brought up previously in this forum. I wonder how to solve the problem though! Fukuyama, and others who have written about differences between "first" and "third" world societies, refers to "Social Capital," which basically implies the same thing.

Dr. Lester Salamon, one of my Professors, says that civil society in America is one of the major reasons Social Capital exists. I don't think you can apply that to Lebanon, where we have relatively strong civil societies (or rather, societies), but very little social capital.

Who can prescribe the proper medicine for us?

As for my comment about Islam and "modern governance," I just want to offer my apologies. I really don't like delving into such sensitive issues, but I just allowed myself to type. However, I'd like to clarify a few things:

The philosophy upon which market economies are based on today is founded on two individuals: Adam Smith & John Locke. Ultimately, the market preceded religion and philosophy, however, it was the Western European elite who developed governing institutions that nurtured it and ultimately allowed them to draw strength out of it.

I'll provide you with a quote from a book I'm reading about the downfall of the USSR (and its aftermath). The title is Armageddon Averted; by Stephen Kotkin. The quote is from Pg. 18.

"Obsolete industry can in theory be overcome, no mater how vast its extent. But even after [abandoning the planned economic model], Russia was not able to overcome its unprecedentedly large industrial junk heap, or quickly to create substantial new, dynamic sectors. That was because Russia lacked the indispensable liberal institutions that make markets work, while it possessed a plethora of the kinds of institutions that inhibit effective market operation. Here was a banal but useful reminder: the market is not an economic but a political and institutional phenomenon."

When I read that paragraph, my eyes lit up because I saw it as a close reflection of the Middle East. Just let me provide you with another quote that is also very relevant to this discussion. This one’s from page 166 of the same book:

“All countries, not just Russia, are unique. Institutions differ markedly just within the G-7. But either a country has some form of an effective regulatory civil service, or it does not. Either a country has some version of a strong judiciary to enforce the rule of law, property rights, and the accountability of officials, or it does not. Either a country has a reliable banking system to make affordable credit available, or it does not. Russia did not. And the international power hierarchy (known as the world economy), making no allowances for culture, punished Russia for lacking efficacious variants of such institutions. Russia’s entire economy ($350 billion) was valued at little more than total US health care fraud.”

In short, Reem, what I’m saying is that there seems to be specific types of governing institutions that allow for a market to flourish. These institutions are based on the philosophies of Smith, Locke, and (in the case of bureaucracy) German philosopher Max Weber. They can definitely be adopted by Muslim or Middle Eastern elites and molded to suit the local modalities. However, unless they are adopted, I don’t think the region will be getting anywhere quickly in that “international power hierarchy known as the world economy.”

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Zahi Wahbi: The Word is In Trouble!

I just read in Al-Mustaqbal that journalist/poet Zahi Wahbe of Future TV will be facing charges of defamation of President Lahoud for his poem His Highness the Killer! (Fakhamit Al-Katil) that was published yesterday by the Al-Mustaqbal newspaper. Judge Said Mirza has filed to sue the journalist and the newspaper for the above-mentioned charge.

The word is in trouble!

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

Ghassan Tueni Turning Up The Heat!

I am amazed at Ghassan Tueni's last two editorials; he has indeed turned up the heat on Syria and Syrian affairs right after Samir Qassir's death...almost appearing as if he vowed on Qassir's grave to continue what he started. Not that the Godfather of Lebanese journalism, Tueni, was never bold, no, but because the last editorials have been of the same theme--namely on the need for change in Syria.

Please read (though in Arabic) today's editorial: An Open Letter...To "Abu Jamal"!

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

In response to Hussein

Hussein, I LOVE YOUR LAST QUESTION!!! (refer to the comment section of the previous entry) Unfortunately though, I don't think there's a clear-cut answer. In the Middle East, there seems to be an obsession with controlling individual behavior. The dress code, the looks, the proper type of behavior, arranged marriages (or simply sanctioned vs. unsanctioned marriages), sexual abstinence, etc.... How are all of these rules enforced? It's the family, or the village, or religion, or, as in most cases, a combination of those elements. The good that comes out of this type of an arrangement is that you don't see the crazy crime and murder rates that you would see in most first world countries (never mind struggling third world countries).

I mean, look at Beirut! A city of around 2 million people, and yet the only reason you wouldn't go to certain areas is because of sectarian prejudices, or fear of a certain political group... not because you're scared you're gonna get stood up at gun-point and get all your valuables stolen. So maybe that partially explains why the average Lebanese and Arab guy/gal (usually older folk) really likes the kind of controls that he or she is subject too. I can't recall the number of times I've heard from family members how "chaotic" and "dangerous" the west is. Or how many times WOMEN in my family have told me that their female counterparts in the West are "too loose" or some other comment of that nature. Oh, and then there's also the competition between members of the different communities (and even families): we control ourselves better than they do... or, we're more united and cohesive than they are... or, why aren't we as united and cohesive as they are? etc.... This kind of thinking is almost second nature to us!

Two concepts or notions that suffer as a result of the way our societies are organized are:

1. individualism
2. universalism

Individual choice, personal initiative and adventurism is frowned upon and effectively quashed. If my uncle was an idiot, it really doesn't matter. I'm supposed to be obedient to him because he's older than me, and he's my father's brother. People over here in the States don't understand that, and sometimes look at the way I treat older people, and think I'm weird! What matters here (in the States) is your individual characteristics and accomplishments... society awards you accordingly by giving you a "rank" irrespective of your age. Even in organizations that employ mediocre individuals, a younger employee could, without hesitation, pillory an older employee who was ranked under him/her. Try doing that in Lebanon, or Egypt, or Saudi Arabia, or anywhere in the Middle East. Under those conditions, what is the incentive for an individual in the prime of his or her life to work extra hard, to be adventurous, to break with the norms and discover something new if society is dead set against that? Don't we all want to be held in esteem by our peers?

As for universalism, the only universal notion that exists in the region is "Islamic" universalism, which brings us full circle back into the same problem: extreme control of individuals and individual behavior, but not much more. I bet that most of the people who advocate this type of universalism are people with good intentions who want to try and increase control in the grand scheme of things in order to reduce wars between tribes and clans, and decrease the likelihood of chaos. However, good intentions isn't sufficient, and the reality is that these people don't know any better. Islam (especially the Sunni sect) DEPENDS on the family, the tribe, the state and other extraneous organizations and institutions as implementation mechanisms (hence the cozy relationship with ruling institutions since the very beginning of the religion). So, saying that you’re going to use Islam to reform the ruling mechanisms is like saying you’re going to teach yourself how to write without having any arms.

The Sunni sect has never had an autonomous, hierarchical institution that is similar to the Shi’a or Catholic clergy. In fact, if you look closely at some Sunni political entities, like the Muslim Brotherhood, they are, in essence, modern political parties, with modern organizational structures, which were borrowed mainly from the West. In short, every concrete aspect about these entities, except the abstract ideology and the requirements/controls imposed on its individual members is Western!

I can think of two other problems that exist with the prescription of “Islam” as a universal ideology would unite the different clans and create some sort of big-picture order.

1. “Islam” itself is divided. The killing in Iraq today is a reflection of a wider Sunni-Shi'i struggle that has been going on since the revolution in Iran. Even within the two sects, there are serious differences that are well known to all who study the region.

2. Islam as a “governing philosophy” is obsolete in today's world. I don't have any evidence to show for that statement, except the following: I find it highly unlikely that an ideology that was created in the 7th century AD would be suitable in today’s fast-paced world, where power is overwhelmingly based on economic growth and wealth. Furthermore, if we look at Iran, the only country that is ruled under the guidance of one form of Islamic governing philosophy, we see a country that is definitely failing to meet its potential.

So the question is: why don’t we all see the short comings of our societies and prescribe effective solutions? Frankly, I’m not too sure. However, I do agree with Hussein in the sense that societies are not static, and they do change over time. A good example is the organizational mechanism that the Muslim Brotherhood uses today, which was mentioned above. However, I’m pushed to ask that since most “Sunni Fundamentalist” groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood are, in essence, modern organizations that would (out of necessity) become even more modern if they were to rise to power, why don’t they just get rid of their Islamic “veil” and adopt modern clothing?

In my opinion, one big factor is oppression from the ruling elites. Opposition parties need an ideology that is able to rally the people to their side, and win over members. And what better ideology than religion? I believe it is too valuable a tool for those parties to dispose of, especially in a context where opposition movements are persecuted, and only highly motivated individuals would risk their necks to bring down the existing elite. For God’s sake, most of the rich/westernized Egyptians are probably not happy with the Mubarak regime, but why risk their comfort (and worse, their lives) to form or join an opposition party? Moreover, if you were a regular Egyptian, would you risk prison or torture and death for promoting the abstract ideals of liberalism or the intimate and “holy” values of Islam? I believe the answer is obvious.

So Hussein, I hope I’ve (at least, partially) answered your inquiry pertaining to the paradox that exists within Middle Eastern societies. This paradox, which you so eloquently articulated in your last question, seems to be the result of a combination of (1) the desire for personal comfort in the form of security and the predictability in life, which can be attained through adopting traditional behavior (2) not knowing better on behalf of the local (good intentioned) reformers who think that religion is not only their personal salvation, but their polity's salvation as well, and (3) brutal oppression which drives the counter-elite (who for all intents and purposes, might not even be religious) into the mosques for cover.