Friday, September 09, 2005

Lebanon Updates

I have been a bit busy recently with my new pastime (, thank you Lazarus for pointing it out), but I have been also wondering what to say in my post.

However, and considering that I promised last week to post something from the Lebanese ground zero and/or my own view on Saad’s incompetence, I chose to go for the first option today. And, in order not to reinvent anything, I’ll do this partly through the eyes of my favorite, and less quoted, writers in local newspapers, mostly Assafir and Annahar, adding my own analysis from “the street”, which is obsessed with Mehlis’ report mostly for the consequences. I’m including things that aren’t usually translated by bloggers. That may be of benefit. I’ll also try to get some field work later with the Maronite Bishops’ statement. The peak will be polling the family about it if I go to the South in the weekend.

So the people in Lebanon still want The Truth, but no one is sure how they’ll handle it. On one hand, a significant number of top politicians have already vouched for Mehlis’ credibility, integrity, and competence, as has Nasser Qandil J. This basically implies that they will accept the report as is and act accordingly. Of course, each of them has their own backgrounds for this stand. They share, at least publicly, an optimistic look at the future, expecting prosperity and democracy… Here, Jumblatt stands out as saying that he fears for Lebanon’s sense of Arab belonging in the ensuing period. Do I believe this guy? That’s irrelevant.

A point to make here is that the first actions of the new ruling classes have not been very encouraging. Saad’s resorting to sectarian attitudes, especially in the North elections, as well as the structured bribery, oppression, and political vendettas, are no better than the actions taken by the old system and Syria’s thugs, starting when they assumed power some 15 years ago. Legalizing imprisonment in (Hasan Saba3’s) Internal Security Forces is the same as adapting the Defense Ministry’s cells that would later accommodate Samir Geagea and some of his comrades. I will overlook the police state practices that persist till this day in different security bodies, as one might attribute them to the residues of the old Lebanon. But there is the unconstitutional practice of alternating the venue for the government’s meetings between Baabda Palace and the Seraille. A system that justifies constitutional breaches is as dangerous as one that justifies civil rights infringement, all for the higher cause, of course.

Anyway, this same team is the one reminding us all the time of how blessed we are with the international attention and the compassionate nature of Bush’s interest in our cute little country. This is all crap, and we all know it. So they move to more pragmatic rhetoric to say that Lebanon’s interest lies in making a stand closer to the US and France, our future source of economic power, in keeping away from the suicidal tendencies of countries like Syria and Iran, and in assuming a less humiliating version of Amin Gemayyel’s motto “the strength of Lebanon is its weakness”. Basically we shouldn’t get too strong a military lest we shall provoke our big neighbors. How sovereign indeed, and very becoming of the proud state that we aspire to be.

LP made a point along those lines some time ago. I agree that, in the long run, a Lebanese army is a trivial but stupid idea, only because I know that the real battles of our time are better fought through other means. But I also know that this will entail having our neighbors more easily provoked when we exceed a certain limit of growth. If we use Gemayyel’s words the way he meant them, we should decide not to grow beyond certain limits on al levels that may provoke our neighbors; to lay low in fear of reaching a state that our neighbors may deem as too “strong”, on any level. Considering that Israel and Syria can do, better than us, anything we do, the limitations apply to all aspects of our growth.

And please spare the talk about tabbouleh, arak, kebbeh, and dabkeh. And I definitely don’t think it’s special to be able to go from the mountains to the sea in 5 minutes, if it is indeed 5 minutes. Most of all, I don’t find it so special that Lebanon allows you to ski in the morning and then swim in the afternoon or vice versa. Who the hell wants to swim and ski in the same day?

To go on, the second team is saying that the Mehlis report is not to be pre-approved and given such credibility before it is actually published and scrutinized. This side’s official rhetoric is to calm things down under many pretenses. Consider Hizbollah: Nasrallah made a speech last week, wondering what will happen if Mehlis says that HA is somehow related to the assassination of Hariri.

This is also relayed in Ibrahim Amin’s piece on Tuesday in Assafir questioning Mehlis’ integrity and competence, according to his conduct in a previous case, namely that of the 1986 bombing of La Belle West Berlin discotheque (DISCO!!! Those were the 80’s. I was barely 5 years old in 1986!!). There are many issues pointed here by Amin. I also did some more research (good and better) for details on my own. First, apparently Mehlis violated a clear article of German law by striking a deal with a suspect (Musbah Eter) who gave him viable info (incriminating Youseef Chraidi) in return for immunity and guarantees against persecution. Second, it seems the Americans or the Israelis (as usual) were implicated in the assault on a DISCO frequented by American soldiers, partly to justify later attacks on Libya, the usual suspect of the mid-eighties. The third point was a book by a Mossad guy (Read By Way of Deception, by Victor Ostrovsky, now an active artist/novelist) where he says Mehlis followed the trail of bogus evidence set by the Mossad to guarantee Libya’s incrimination. Note that Libya’s involvement is irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. What matters is that, if this account is true, Mehlis was led on. Now usually I try not to credit these conspiracy theorists too much. Most of them are too biased and imaginative, but it struck me. Conspiracy theorist is what you would have called me had I said in 1954 that the bombing of US and British targets was an Israeli plot to reverse Britain’s decision to withdraw from the Suez area. So I’m not ruling out any possibilities in fear of being called “brain washed”. Thank you Doug Soderstrom! I’m not saying all Ibrahim Amin says is true, but I’m not negating it just yet.

Of course, let’s not neglect that this second team is abusing, to exhaustion, the Israeli aggression idea by investing it to make internal gains, mostly through sectarian clustering of the Shia. This is done the same way that the first team uses the current situation to make internal gains. This general atmosphere is supplemented by the failure of the ruling majority to give guarantees to the non-HA Shia that their rights will not be compromised. The so-called “Cedar Revolution” was viewed as a Maronite-Druze-Sunni alliance since Day One, and it failed to correct that. The lack of vision for a new Lebanon basically made people identify more with their sects, and sectarian chiefs. A new Lebanon does not have to mean one man = one vote yet, maybe even ever. But it should mean equal socio-economic rights.

Ironically enough, this is more of a demand by the Shia than the Sunnis, who are the supposed effective majority in the country as shown by the election lists.

The best example of socio-economic rights is jobs. In a third-world country, the career of choice for a lost youth with no prospects is the armed forces and security, particularly the officer’s career. There was a request to recruit some 80 officers with law degrees a couple of years ago for the internal security forces. 80 would be divided to 40 Muslims and 40 Christians. According to unofficial, but usually credible, estimates, around 250 Muslims and less than 60 Christians applied. This leaves around 200 Muslims and twenty Christians. Those 200 Muslims know that they would have had a better chance if not for the sectarian system. The same is going on these days. The army wants to recruit university graduates. Similar numbers are repeated. We will have a similar outcome.

For now, I’ll ignore LP’s premise of July 28 that the Christians are wealthier in general and control more resources. (Lebanese Political Journal, Hezballah Willing to Die for Cause, Capitalists are not). By controlling more firms and resources, they control more jobs.

Let’s leave that aside for now and take those rejects and try to get them jobs. It is probable that at least all the Christians (20 only) and a few Muslims (probably 35-50, say 100) will find jobs. I am wrongly assuming an equal opportunity of employment in the private sector that does not consider sect. This leaves at least 100 Muslim guys unemployed. We’ll get social problems, unemployed Muslims in the streets, blaming, at least subconsciously, the Christians for their situation. This is not an illusion. This is what I have heard over and over again about Lebanon. This is what you get from people saying: “the Maronites have it easy; they get jobs more easily; and they can get visas or immigration more easily. They can work wherever they choose. They have more prospects than we do and even limit ours.” Ideologies come and go, but this logic will always get people to fight.


Raja said...

Hassan, I just wanted to thank you for this informative post. Your review of the positions of the two teams (as you refer to them) was clear-headed and insightful. Your research into Mehlis was also revealing. It is good to keep this in mind, eventhough I desperately hope that the conspiracy theorists are wrong, or that at least Mehlis has learnt his lesson.

Anyways, these matters of intrigue are beyond our capacity to comprehend, because we simply don't have the information that is necessary for any kind of serious analysis. What we can do is merely speculate.

Your last segment on socio-economic inequalities and the lack of a vision for a new Lebanon is your own opinion and it is what I agree with most. Where is the vission?

It is an inherent fact: a leader must lead his or her followers somewhere! Where do our leaders want to take us? Unfortunately there really is no satisfactory answer comming out of their mouths at this moment. We are currently at a disgusting standstill. I feel that we are in a sitting around in a gutter; and that we're going no where fast!

Doha said...

Thanks for your insight, Hassan. I agree with Raja on his last point, that we're in a standstill right now. No leadership whatsoever, except for waiting for Mehlis's report. A family member from Tripoli told me when I was back home last month; Saad Hariri needs to show up, he needs to talk to the poeple like he did during the elections, when there was a lot of hope and not much of it is left. That was last month, what about now?...

Charles Malik said...

It seems a lot of us are currently blogging out of anger.
The most pathetic part of it all is how little control we have the country.

Lazarus said...

LP, what anger are you talking about? I didn't sense anger in this post. Writing about the reality isn't an expression of lack of control, or of anger.

I don't think any of us should have the misconception that blogging will give you more control over the country - the most it can do is allow an exchange of ideas between people who are related in one way - they are lebanese.

Raja said...

Hassan, some questions:

1. Is the street really obsessed with the Mehlis report and its consequences? Please be more specific.

2. With regards to Jumblatt's stand on Lebanon's "Arab identity," please explain why you think he's so worried. Considering that Future, Hizballah and Jumby are among the most powerfull players in Lebanon, one could easily assume that Lebanon's "Arab identity" (whatever the fuck that means) is pretty secure.

3. I just wanted to mention that I disagree with your assertion about Lebanese growth and relations with its neighbors. If Lebanese economic growth instigates growth in certain sectors of our neighors' economy, they will think twice before doing anything. Furthermore, if Lebanon allies itself with regional powers that are not necessarily immediate neighbors, the threat from our neighbors could be mitigated. What do you think?

4. Hassan, when you mention the failure of the ruling majority to give guarnatees to the non-HA Shi'a that their rights will not be compromised, what exactly do you mean? What kind of guarantees? If political, then elaborate. If economic, also, please elaborate. You give an example of jobs. But could anyone guarantee jobs? And even if that were possible would such a guarantee entice members of the Shi'a community to shift political loyalties.

Okay, those are my questions. I think you might find it necessary to post an entry in response. Don't take too long to answer, though!