Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Politics is not our problem, it is our salvation

Fellow Lebanese... we are now in the spotlight. The news coming out of Lebanon and Syria is ludicrous... Heated (and sometimes, disgusting) exchanges between commenters have been taking place... and some of our blogs (including yours truly) have been subjected to the equivalent of "hate mail" through our comments section.

In response to all of this hubbub, I felt the urge articulate in a very concise fashion what I think is unique about Lebanon. When one is under siege, it pays to look within to discover what his or her real streangths are. In fact, in doing so, I will paraphrase none other than the Afandi at Across the Bay:

Lebanese are unique in the Middle East because we manage to live with our differences, rather than deny that they exist.

Tony goes on to say that the desires for secularism and "a united Lebanese voice" are misdirected and even dangerous because they essentially sum up to a desire to emulate the political systems of our Arab neighbors. I agree with Tony on this issue. I agree with him fully. Lebanese are so comfortable under their sectarian skin that it sickens me! However, from a political stand point there could be no healthier situation.

I am very aware of the recurring nature of this debate. In fact, I am quite sure that bloggers will keep it alive as I lay on my death bed (hopefully, at least 50 years from now). But, in the interest of elevating the discourse by a notch or two I will make the following recommendations concerning political sectarianism in Lebanon:

  1. We, as Lebanese, should not think that all of Lebanon's problems will go away when we all "speak with one voice" as a secular Lebanese community. Even when all of us become agnostic, we will still have differences and perceive different "Lebanese interests."

    Rather than strive for a politically immature ideal, we should all strive to accept two principles: 1) respect of the will of the majority and (paradoxically) 2) respect of specific minority rights. When Lebanese understand that breaking the will of the majority is a sacrilege (on condition that minority rights are respected), we will all be in political heaven. Democracy is key. The democratic process defines us as a country and is our country's salvation.

  2. I am also aware of the popular adage that claims that Lebanon has not achieved its economic potential because of sectarian politics and all the baggage that our political system brings with it. My response is simple: The political system is too valuable to dispose of because it is the guarantor of Lebanon's integrity. Therefore, rather than get rid of it, we should strive to diminish its influence.

    Markets should play a larger role in decisions pertaining to allocation of resources. Lebanese should arrive at a consensus to immunize certain governing decisions from politics (more bubbles such as that which currently protects the Central Bank should be created). Once these oases of policy are created, the state will become more effective, and will help enlarge the Lebanese Pie rather than simply act as a conduit for distributing the existing one.

In suggesting these two points, I hope that I have contributed positively to the never ending discussion about sectarianism in Lebanon. Lebanese will never have one voice, and we should all be proud of that fact. Lebanese are sectarian, and we should accept that fact. Once the Democratic process is viewed by all to be above any cause or sect, the insecurities that lead many to cling to their sectarian identities in political contexts may decline. The possibilities from there are endless... but let us not forget that democracy is the key!

Opium Of The Masses: Food for Oppression

...So after all this stalling, I guess there was a price for giving up the 5 Syrian witnesses to the U.N. Commission investigating Hariri's murder. The price is Hussam's "confessions" on Syrian TV. It is clear, that in return for giving up Syrian officers for questioning, the Syrian regime is trying to bolster its position in its public's eyes...or else, such yielding of power and "sovereignty" would lead to disasterous outcomes on the Syrian streets.

It is clear that the Syrian regime treats its peoples like they are simplistic, and easily swayed by hearsay and rumor. Perhaps the regime is targeting those who are simplistic and parochial; perhaps they compose that popular Baathist base. As for all those other Syrians, isn't it embarassing to hear Hussam talking and using obscene language and still be counted as credible? Isn't it shameful that such cheap moves be sponsored by your government? Isn't your government truely mistreating your intelligence?

A lot of what Hussam said during the press conference were quickly disproved on the news yesterday. An example was the whole story of the car that Mehlis gave to Hussam as a gift. I mean, why would he give out the car's plate number only making it easy for the Lebanese to locate the car and find out that it's nothing like what he described it to be? Is he mocking us, the Lebanese? Is he messing around with us?

It is clear that this media stint is food for the Syrian publics, of course not the Lebanese. But again, what a strategy on the part of the Syrian regime to spew more "opium to the masses."

I think it's enough of treating your people like that. They're not even allowed to question Hussam's credibility out of fear. These games only show us more as Lebanese that the Syrian regime is implicated in one way or another in Hariri's assassination...or else why the games?

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

Monday, November 28, 2005

And the Man of the Year award goes to...

This is what the regime in Damascus offers us! Oh my God! I really want to know what this "khaaazou2" was supposed to do for the Syrian regime. Is this a case of the Syrians screaming uncle!?!?! Are they telling us: Okay, you Lebanese... you got us! Here's this idiot... you can crack some Homsi jokes now... Just leave us alone!

Are we good? Can we shake hands now?

I'm marking my calendar! Oh, and as if on cue, Wi'am Wagoofy opens his big fat mouth again to say that Fares Khashan should be a suspect in Mehlis' investigation and Interior Minister Hassan el Sabeh should resign because the allegations made by this Homsi are "quite serious." I actually feel bad for Wagoofy! I feel bad for him because his paymasters are turning him into the laughing stock of Lebanon.

You see the regime in Damascus is trying hard to mend its relations with us and is conveying the following message: "here, we're not only giving you the opportunity to come up with new Homsi jokes, we're also giving you Wagoofy.... Crack as many jokes as you want on him!"

If only I had a picture of The Druze Goofy! I'd give him the honour of sharing the Man of the Year title. But... what can I say? Whoever said life was fair?

In all seriousness though, this man appears to have attempted to infiltrate the investigation and failed. His initial contact with Mehlis and Khashan prove that he at least tried. His failed infiltration only increases the credibilty of the Mehlis investigation. By concocting such a public affairs fiasco, it appears that the regime may be trying to make the best out of the investment they sunk into this project.

Friday, November 25, 2005

A Rational Debate About Hizballah's Arms

Politics aside, let us focus on policy today.

What are the most contentious policy issues in Lebanon today? In other words, what is the essense of the political tension that Lebanon is experiening today?

  1. Lebanon's "contribution" to the Palestinian cause
  2. Lebanon's defensive posture against "Israeli aggression"

I highlight these two policy issues because they should be dominating political discourse in Lebanon today. Hizballah represents one side of the debate. Future leads representatives of the other side. Hizballah's argument is that its weapons assist the Palestinians in their goal to establish statehood and reclaim Jerusalem. It also argues that its military capabilities are a deterrent against Israeli aggression towards Lebanon.

My take on those two policy issues is different. Moreover, whereas some on my side of the aisle are shamed into silence by the other side's incessant call to do “whatever it takes” to help Palestinians, and prevent Israeli aggression, I say no! There are better ways to protect Lebanon and to help the Palestinians, and that healthy debate can only help those two policy objectives, rather than harm them.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that Hizballah's arms are meant solely to further those two policy objectives. Fellow blogger Anton at Across the Bay, Hani G. (who writes in this blog), and others have argued that Hizballah's arms have as much to do with local politics (inter-sectarian politics) as it does with national defense issues and the Palestine-Israeli conflict. I concur with that argument and with Hani's claim that Hizballah appears to want something in return for giving up its weapons. I also believe that Hizballah has a role to play in Iran's regional designs and that its weapons are an essential component of those designs.

Let's go back to policy though. Lets go back there because it is important that an effective and valid counter-argument to Hizballah's claims about the necessity of its weapons exists. For Lebanon to arrive at effective policies, there must always be at least two opposing sides on any policy issue. No one side must be shamed into silence because all will suffer from bad policy decisions, not just those who make them.

1. Are Hizballah’s weapons helping the Palestinian cause?

Hizballah's argument is that Lebanon should remain at a state of war with Israel, and utilize Hizballah's military capabilities rather than the Lebanese Armed Forces in conducting that war. The public reasoning it gives to Lebanese for relying on guerilla rather than conventional warfare is that the Israeli Armed Forces would wipe out the Lebanese state; but that if only Hizballah attacked Israel, then Hizballah will be targeted for retaliation, thereby sparing all other Lebanese.

Hizballah's arguement concerning the utility of violence

First we need to tackle whether military operations in general actually help the Palestinian cause before we deal with the type of military operations that are most suitable. In my opinion, violence does not help. It no longer helps, because there already is an international consensus for Palestinian statehood as well as some formula of joint-sovereignty over Jerusalem. Violence, rather than improve the Palestinian position on the bargaining table, has gradually eroded it. First we had Rabin, then Perez, then Netanyahu, then Barak and now we have Sharon. Israeli offers to the Palestinians progressively got worse with each of these leaders. The more violence Israeli society experienced, the more right-wing they voted.

I do not want to go into the details of the Oslo Accords and Palestinian-Israeli negotiations because a ton of literature already exists about them (from all perspectives). What I do want to get across is that there is no more need for violence. The entire world has come to an agreement that the Palestinians will get their state, which will share sovereignty over Jerusalem as well as control the West Bank and Gaza. Violence only prolongs the pathetic status quo.

Hizballah's argument concerning the means of conducting warfare.

Remember, Hizballah claims that its guerilla operations to assist Palestinians will spare the Lebanese state and people from violent retaliation by the Israelis. I also beg to differ in this regard. Any military activity conducted from or on Lebanese soil, no matter how limited, is damaging to all Lebanese becausem, at the very least, it scares away business activity from Tripoli to Tyre and Beirut to Ba'albek. This business activity could potentially have helped improve socio-economic conditions for hundreds, if not thousands, of Lebanese. Consequently, even though Israelis conduct most of their retaliations in Southern Lebanon, and attack "suspected Hizballah bases," Lebanon in its entirity feels the consequences of those strikes.

Recent history has also shown us that even though Hizballah suffers the burden of most Israeli retaliations, the Israelis do retaliate directly against the Lebanese state, and other Lebanese entities. I need say no more than point to Operation Grapes of Wrath, during which more than a hundred civilians were murdered in a UN compound, and power infrastructure throughout the country was targeted and destroyed by Israeli aircraft.

In conclusion, it appears that both of Hizballah's arguments for maintaining its own military capability and autonomy cannot stand on their feet. If the organization has other arguments, then I urge someone to bring them on the table so that we may have a rational debate concerning the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and Lebanon's role in that conflict.

2. Do Hizballah's Weapons Enhance Lebanese National Security?

One of Hizballah's relatively new arguments for maintaining its weapons is that they deter the Israeli state from violating Lebanese sovereignty and from acting belligerently towards Lebanon. They argue that since Lebanon does not have a "shield" to protect itself from the Israeli "gun," Lebanon must also have its own "gun" pointed at Israel - a gun that the Israelis have no "shield" against. That Lebanese gun, they argue, must be Hizballah, since it has proven its mettle against the IDF by expelling it from southern Lebanon. Only if Lebanon possesses this particular gun will the Israelis think twice about violating Lebanese sovereignty and conducting illegal military activities on Lebanese soil.

Hizballah makes a stronger argument here than it does in its Palestine-Israeli argument. However, it crumbles in the face of demands that Hizballah merge with the Lebanese Armed Forces. The only difference between then and now is that there will be one chain of command that will ultimately lead up to the President of the Republic of Lebanon. Furthermore, unlike operations intended to “help the Palestinian cause," all states have the inherent right to protect their sovereignty, and consequently, the Lebanese Armed Forces will have the obligation to retaliate against any violent assault on Lebanese sovereignty to the best of its abilities.

Let me take this argument one step further. The Lebanese Armed Forces must also defend Lebanon from Syria. The duty of an Army is to prepare for all eventualities and have the means to deter all potential adversaries. For God's sake, the Canadian Armed Services have plans drawn up to defend against an American invasion!!! I don't know how much that would help, but it's still there! Therefore, allow me to recommend the following:

  1. Hizballah should join the Lebanese Armed Forces
  2. Once that process is completed, the Armed Forces should redeploy some of the short range missiles targeted at Tel Aviv to the Bekaa and redirect them at Damascus.

Concluding Remarks:

I have attempted to rationally debunk the three or four arguments Hizballah articulates for maitaining the status quo with regards to its weapons. Let us all assume that Lebanese policy is concocted only after rational deliberation. Therefore, let us debate the issue rationally as Lebanese, without emotions and sectarian prejudices. We would all be better off if politics in our country was conducted under such conditions. At least under these conditions Hizballah would have either already disarmed or convinced the majority of Lebanese of the necessity of maintaining its military capabilities.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

In response....Hizbollah

Hi Raja, I'm glad you have developed this blog. I read it often and I have come to learn that you've built a suitable ground for healthy debates even if some are from programmer Craig.Hizballah does need to behave more responsibly for it is alienating the Lebanese public especially when battles are flared on a time like Lebanon's independence day. However, you can't compare the actions of the US to that of Hizballah. While one waves a police mans stick in the direction of any country or person seen defying Israel, another is just flexing its muscles for some attention. I was actually very sad that 4 Lebanese young men gave their lives for a political stunt. Lets not forget that Hizballah are Lebanese.

Forgive me programmer Craig, but although I also want the dissarmament of Hizballah, I certainly won't support that taking place under pressure from the likes of you and those wishing peace for Israel at the expense of security of the Lebanese in the South. I am in full support of the Lebanese Army and I believe it was the wrong decision not to replace the IDF with the Lebanese Army in 2002, however I don't believe the time is ripe to disarm Hizballah. Certainly not when there are insecurities among their supporters. Western pressure on Hizballah is only creating the opposite effect, just as Israeli bombing of Beirut did in many of their failed operations of the 90's.

If the Middle East is mind boggling to you then I urge you not to voice your opinion as you may only be causing more boggling to a feeble mind. If your interpretation of the bright side is the dropping of papers from f-16's which 'do much' to calm the noise polution in our tiny country instead of bombs, then it a bright side I don't want to see. You are misinformed and I suggest you stick to programming. Don't patronise a people as a whole by stating that Israel has a right to defend itself. We all have a right to defend ourselves! We know these are testing times for us and I believe we are stepping in the right direction. Right now what is more important to us is national reconciliation, a healthy economy and peace for all the people of Lebanon. Frankly the solving of Hizballah's weapons so northern Israel can feel more secure is very much secondary.

Domestic Lebanese Affairs - a needed distraction for all

The following dailystar article caught my attention: Azour warns EDL subsidy can lead to VAT increase. Three themes emerged from the article as I was reading through it:

  1. Lebanese policy discourse is finally presenting people with rational choices: higher taxes or increased energy subsidies. It is high time Lebanese realized that they can't have it both ways, or rather, every which way that exists.

  2. Hizballah is increasingly being sucked into domestic political issues. Since its activities are no longer limited to criticizing government as an outsider, it is now participating in the search for solutions. Two major issues have put Energy Minister Fneish on the spotlight: diesel and now energy subsidies. This development is good. We need to see more of it.

  3. And finally, all this politicking that is taking place in Lebanon has come at the expense of real, concrete initiatives directed at solving the real problems that Lebanon currently faces. What I mean by polititicking is limited to the Lahoud's presidency and Hizballah's new role in Lebanon. Because of the political paralysis that has come about because of these two issues, the mandate of this government might actually come to an end without scoring any large achievements in either administrative or economic affairs. That would be a shame - especially since Seniora has shown such potential as a statesman.

Iran Gradually Descending into Uncharted Territory

Two or three days ago, I posted a brief summary of Iranian academic Vali Nasr's interpretation of political developments in Iran along with some of my own analysis. Well, today, I thought I might provide you guys two noticeable updates:

  1. It appears that the Iranian parliament has vetoed president Ahmadinejad's nomination for the oil ministry three times. What is so significant about this development is that it is uncharted constitutional territory. The rejections came about because of Amnadinejad's tendency to take over a ministry and sweep it clean of all its senior employees in order to place his own cronies. Parliament expected him to do the same to the oil ministry, which Ahmadinejad claimed was ruled by an "oil mafia." In fact, "cleaning up the oil industry" was one of the major promises he made in his election campaign. Well, considering that Ahmadinejad's candidate for the post received less than 80 votes compared to around 140 votes against, I'd say this mafia he hoped to eliminate is pretty popular.

  2. The International Stock Market Federation revealed that Iran's stock market has become the biggest loss-maker in the world. Between December of 2004 to November of 2005, the stock market's index declined from 13835 to 9817 - a 39 percent decline. To exacerbate problems, around a week ago, the stock exchange's chief Hossein Abdoh-Tabrizi resigned from his post, leaving it open for one of Ahmadinejad's appointees. The resignation might have had something to do with one of Ahmadinejad's most briliant policy recommendation: In a cabinet meeting, he told ministers that "if he could hang two or three speculators, the stock exchange problem would go away!"

Okay, if news snippets like these continue to come out of Iran, I have to say that I feel sorry for Iranians - particularly those poor Iranians who overwhelmingly voted for Ahmedinejad. Let this be a lesson for those who vote for populists! When some guy promises you heaven, he'll most likely give you hell. History is simply unequivocal on this matter: demagogues are the worst kind of rulers.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Lebanese State Must Monopolize Use of Force

One defining characteristic of the state in political science literature is that it monopolizes the legitimate use of force. Why, you ask... Why is it that only the state has that legitimate right to use force? I’ll tell you why! Decisions pertaining to the use of violence against fellow men, be they within or without a country’s boundaries, are the most critical decisions in any civilization. Whether men are forced into orderly lines, or forcefibly arrested and thrown into prison for defrauding another person, violence stings, and there needs to be a consensus around using it!

Violence within the Polity

Political philosopher Adam Swift claims that “the state is justified in making sure that people carry out their duties to one another. It is justified in using its coercive power to force people to do what they might not do voluntarily….” I agree with Swift on the condition that “the state constitutes a collective agent of the citizens, who decide what its laws are, as opposed to something separate from and in charge of those who are subject to its laws.”

Violence Outside the Polity

Going to war against another state requires even more stringent controls and conditions because other states can and do fight back. Consequently, the risks attached to using force against another state is multiplied as well as shared by all citizens inhabiting the belligerent country. With such risks attached to using violence against other states, it is even more essential that the state act as the collective agent of its citizens in deciding to go to war, and in deciding what the objective of that war is.

As I’ve argued before, a military outfit must strive to maintain the highest state of readiness, it must train its soldiers and maintain its equipment to the best of its ability; but most importantly, it must submit itself to the will of the citizens it claims to protect. In so far as the state is the collective agent of that citizenry, the military must submit itself to the will of the state.

Lebanon's Legitimate Right, and Hizballah's Obligation

Of all the countries in the Arab Middle East, the Lebanese state’s claim to monopolize the use of force is the most legitimate because more than any of the other states, it is a collective agent. Hizballah must take heed of that fact. Its fighters are Lebanese. Its major constinuency are also Lebanese. Hizballah must recognize that those Lebanese who it does not consider to be its constituents have as much of a say in Lebanese affairs as its constituents do (or, more accurately, as certain elements in Iran do). Lebanon must have one voice on matters of going to war, and that voice can only belong to the state.

The cost of "going it alone"

Mustapha at Beirut Spring uploaded this image onto his blog. It is the message the Israelis want Lebanese to read. It is a thought that most Lebanese have in their minds. Israeli propagandists hit the bull's eye.

Hizballah may have the military means to "go it alone," just like the United States had the military capability to invade Iraq. Hizballah's actions though are much more egregious since it was not able to even gain a majority consensus within the country it claims to be a part of! We may be at a formal state of war with Israel, but we are also formally under a state of armstice.

Just like when the "Big Satan" suffered from consequences caused by its snub to the international community, Hizballah must accept that using a go-it-alone strategy will only increase its vulnerability in the home front. If the hizb wants to maintain its precarious legitimacy at home and gain recognition in the world as a "Lebanese political party," it needs to behave much more responsibly.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Precarious Independence Day

Mabrook! Congratulations to all Lebanese for our independence day today.

However, despite all the media hype on this year's independence being special and different; there is still this feeling inside me of emptiness, of fear...our independence is a fragile one indeed.

There is so much going on in our country, so much that has happened since last February...

Tension on the southern Lebanese border, Lahoud in Baabda, a precarious national unity, Syria's tug-of-war game with Mehlis...all mar the happiness.

In the hopes that next year would bring us an independence day less reminiscent of death and tears, and more hopeful of a brighter future for our beloved country, Lebanon.

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

The moral weakness of absolutism

The best thinkers, writers and artists have a gift for portraying certain human dilemmas in a way that touches most of us (their audience) in the deepest of our cores. One such thinker is French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. The specific work I will refer to is a play he wrote titled “Dirty Hands.”

I’ve never watched that play, nor have I read any of Sartre’s works. But I was reading a book titled Defining Moments – When Managers Must Choose between Right and Right. On page 3 of that book, the author cites Sartre’s work in his overall argument that leadership positions, be they managerial or military, are “crucibles of character.” He argues that at certain “defining moments” leaders will have to choose between right and right, rather than wrong and right. “In these cases, when [leaders] do one right thing, they leave other right things undone. They feel they are letting others down and failing to live up to their standards….” Back to Sartre, and his play. Here is how he articulated this dilemma:

The story takes place in wartime. Its main characters include the veteran leader of an underground unit of the Communist party and a zealous young party member. At a crucial moment in the drama, the young man accuses his leader of betraying the party’s ideals, through the compromise he has made with reactionary political forces.

The older man answers his harsh accusation in the following words:

How you cling to your purity, young man! How afraid you are to soil your hands! All right, stay pure! What good will it do? Why did you join us? Purity is an idea for a yogi or a monk… To do nothing, to remain motionless, arms at your side, wearing kid gloves. Well, I have dirty hands. Right to the elbows. I’ve plunged them in filth and blood. But what do you hope? Do you think you can govern innocently?

This quote from Sartre’s play reminds me of political discourse in Lebanon. The Lebanese population naively sets moral and ethical standards for their political leaders that none of them can follow without fracturing a political system that is defined by compromise. Furthermore, Lebanese are much more willing to forgive their own leaders than they are the leaders of others. These attitudes lead to discourse that is filled with acrimony and dishonest criticism, both of which can bring no good to the overall political situation. We, as Lebanese, should take this tendency into account when we discuss politics amongst oursevles.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Hizballah strikes for no apparent reason

As if to prove my point, Hizballah does it again! For no apparent reason, it has struck Israeli positions in the Shebaa Farms region, killing 1 person and wounding 3. Are we one country or not? Does Hizballah want to create a mini-Lebanon in the South and the Bekaa so that it may conduct its own foreign policy and do as it wishes?
This kind of behavior cannot continue. Matters of war and peace are the most critical for national governments. When a coalition that constitutes the majority does not wish to go to war, then the country should not go to war. Otherwise, we will simply be making a mockery of the democratic system we claim to possess!

Iran and Lebanon - the saga continues

Recent developments in Lebanon as well as certain blog entries have spurred me to discover what I can of political developments in Iran. I have come to the realization that, more than any other international player other than Israel, Iran has the ability to cause havoc in Lebanon through its armed proxy, Hizballah.

Iran appears more threatening for two reasons though: 1) its proxy controls a major segment of Lebanese society, and consequently has the power to rip Lebanese society apart and 2) Iran appears to be under increasing strain as a result of the pressure exerted by "the international community." Such pressure makes it's leaders much more unpredictable, and more likely to revert to extreme measures that they perceive would defend Iran's interests.

Fellow bloggers Vox Populi and the Caveman Linguist hove both posted entries that elucidate on political developments in Iran. The general consensus is that there are some real fissures within the clerical establishment or between the clerics and the Revolutionary Guards. My own brief research basically lent credence to both of those conclusions. Rather than present my own analysis, I will basically provide you with quotes from the two journal articles I read:

  1. Nasr, Vali, "The Conservative Wave Roles On," Journal of Democracy, October 2005, Volume 16, Number 4
  2. Ward, Steven R., "The Continuing Evolution of Iran's Military Doctrine," The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2005, Volume 59, Number 4

I wil
l start with some quotes from the first article that answer specific questions I pose.

1. So how exactly did Mahmoud Ahmedinejad become president of Iran?

Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was elected President of the Islamic Republic of Iran in June of 2005. Ahmedinejad is a hard-line conservative populist and the first Iranian president since 1981 not to hail from clerical ranks. Here are some facts about the elections that brought him to power:

They were the most intensely contested of the nine presidential elections that the Islamic Republic has held since 1980.

The 2005 vote was also the first to go to a runoff, as the June 17 first round ended with no candidate having surpassed the 50 percent threshold needed for an outright victory.

In the second round, Ahmedinejad was elected president with 62 percent of the vote against former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (the guy on the right).

2. Why the hell did the Iranians elect this guy? Weren't they all for reform? Whatever happened to Khatami and the venerable movement of Reformers that supported him?

Khatami's failure:

  • Despite the enthusiasm surrounding Khatami's election, he actually had little authority and little desire to break with the ruling power structure. The reform movement remained the project of an ineffective presidency tied to the clerical establishment, and as such had little chance of reaching cherished reformist goals.

  • Security forces suppressed student demonstrations in 1999, 2001, and 2003, and in the lead up to the 2005 election the judiciary prosecuted a number of bloggers in order to chill political discussion on the internet.

  • Throughout the Khatami presidency, the courts and the Guardian Council impeached reformist ministers and vetoed 111 of the 297 bills that Khatami backed.

  • In 2004, the Council disqualified some 3,600 reformist legislative candidates in order to ensure conservative dominance of the upcoming legislative elections.

  • This "conservative coup" cast a shadow over the 2005 presidential election and led many reformists to question the utility of elections as a tool for change.

Ahmedinejad's Success:

  • Ahmedinejad reached out to the poor by focusing on Khatami's poor record for socio-economic reform. He also took advantage of popular dissent and fear of US actions in the region (Iran's international insecurity)

  • The 2005 election marked a transition of power to the postrevolutionary and even post-Khomeini generation, a new demographic cohort whose values have begun to define the tenor of Iranian politics. At the same time, the vote seemed to signal a shift of momentum away from the affluent or middle-class part of this cohort (particularly its youth culture, so prominent since 1997), and toward the poorer classes and their discontents. Indeed, it appears that Ahmedinejad owes his presidency to lower-income voters.
3. So, what are the implications of the collapse of the reformist movement and this "conservative coup"?
  • Ahmedenijan's win confirms the conservative consolidation of power.

Rise of Military in Iranian Politics and Economy
  • Through their central role in constricting reformists and facilitating the conservative consolidation, top Revolutionary Guards officers have gained prominence not only in foreign and national-security policy, but also in the economy.

  • In the 2004 legislative elections, Guards veterans won a third of all seats.

  • A year later, three presidential candidates were former commanders - including Ahmedinejad himself, who has also been in the Basij.
Factionalism Among Conservatives

  • The Conservatives in Iran have split into two large groups: hard-line conservatives and pragmatic conservatives. With the marginalization of reformers, the vigilant unity that lay behind conservative consolidation came to an end.... The paradox of the conservative consolidation that took place during Khatami's presidency is that the conservatives, in seeking to limit democratic practices, actually intensified competition within their own ranks.

  • One surprise of the election results was the degree of acrimony that broke out within the clerical leadership over the election's outcome. An especially deep rift opened between Mehdi Karrubi (who came in third place in the first round of the presidential race) and Khamenei, who traded caustic public remarks. After accusing Khamenei and his son of voter manipulations, campaign irregularities, and influence peddling, Karrubi attempted to leave his post as advisor to the supreme leader and member of the Expediency Council, but his resignation was denied.


Vali Nasr said it best when he alluded to the paradox conservative Iranians are facing in their victory over the reformists. Now that they have won, they are divided, and quarreling amongst themselves. If I were to stop here, my spirits would be high. Unfortunately though, I cannot.

For a more sinister development has, and continues to take place, in Iranian politics. Mr. Nasr highlights the rise to prominence of Iran's Revolutionary Guards in internal politics. After such a rise, who is to say that the competing conservative factions will not vie for the support of the Guards to eliminate their conservative rivals? If developments do indeed go in that direction, then the real power broker in Iran will not be Khamenei, but rather, Yahya Rahim Safavi, the Chief of Staff of the Guards.

Vali Nasr ignores this possibility, and concludes his article on an optimistic note. He believes that if the reformists are able to regroup and learn the appropriate lessons from their humiliating defeat in the 2005 presidential race, they can win future elections and may even end up accomplishing more than Khatami. I, on the other hand, believe that the future is most likely bleaker than he predicts.

The reason is that the conservatives effectively signed a deal with the devil when they invited the Guards into political affairs to help defeat the Reformists. And now that the reformists are gone, and the conservatives fractured, it appears that the Guards have come out on top. Moreover, now that they're there (at the apex of Iranian politics), I find it very difficult to imagine how the Guards may be removed! Unlike political parties and factions, military outfits are not affected by opinion polls and are much more cohesive. Could the conservatives have just unwittingly handed control of Iran over to the Revolutionary Guards in a silver platter?

If indeed the answer to that question is "yes," then I predict a more aggressive Iranian foreign policy coupled with future political instability. The conservative clerics will most likely continue to fight amongst themselves and attempt to wrestle power away from the generals. This infighting may ultimately lead to the collapse of the Islamic Republic itself. Unfortunately, I doubt it will go down without a horrendous splash that drenches Lebanon.

(Note: Unable to repeat this process for article #2. I'm too tired, and will do it some other time.)

Sunday, November 20, 2005


I don’t usually read Naharnet, and I rarely read anything by Gebran Twaini, but I was going over an editorial of his and read this remark:

“Any action against the government would be against the country and the people, and all those who back it would be collaborators in the war President Assad launched against Lebanon and its vocation.”

Does this qualify as “Takhwin” & “2irhab fikri”?

To our readers who don’t know Arabic, takhwin is the act of calling someone a traitor. The term was heavily used in the Syrian era because the authorities would label as “pro-Israel” or “pro-America” many people who went against their will.

2irhab fikri is literally “mental terrorizing”. Again the threat of the tag is sometimes enough terror to stop people from freely practicing their beliefs.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Lebanese Divide: Leadership And Masses

The latest events taking place within university campuses has gotten me thinking deep about a trend that has become more than apparent to everyone. Interestingly enough, today's piece of news on LF and FPM student clashes in LU has further proven what I'm about to share with you.

It has become clear that there is a divide between the political (party) leadership in Lebanon and the people, the followers of these political parties. For the sake of Lebanon and the national good, Future Movement's Saad Hariri, along with the movement's March 14 allies (LF, PSP, Qornet Shehwan and others), held hands with Hizbullah and Amal during the Parliamentary elections and won in a landslide. Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement was the only opposition to the government formed by the winning majority.

Fast-forward couple of months, and as we saw during university student elections especially at AUB, the reality surfaced: the true opposition is not only FPM, but also Hizbullah and Amal. It is only natural that they line up together. And today we read that LF and FPM students clashed; again only proving the divide between the leadership and the people, the failure of the difficult-to-broker consensus to trickle down to the masses (even to those "enlightened" masses).

The "Istihqaq" political talk show on Future TV two days ago, accentuated to me the ideological, philosophical, social, and political hiatus between the Future bloc along with its supporters/allies and the Hizbullah bloc. Minister and MP Ahmad Fatfat and MP Ali Ammar, though from the elected majority, do not see eye-to-an-eye on any of the issues laid out for debate about our country's future.

While Fatfat sees that the ills of our region are a result of corrupt, dictatorial Arab regimes, Ammar sees that the US is the source of all our ills. While Fatfat focuses on Lebanon's security and sovereignty, Ammar focuses more than expected on Iraq (as if he is living in Iran...not Lebanon). And the list goes on.

But what struck me most was when Fatfat asked Ammar to have his ministerial bloc pose contentious issues on the ministerial table for discussion and dialogue (Fatfat further added that such steps have not been taken and the HA ministerial bloc has not discussed any of its grievances within the ministerial meetings.) MP Ammar rose his voice, telling Fatfat that such discussions have taken place...but not within the Cabinet, but between Sayyid Nasrallah and Saad Hariri and PM Seniora. And as if Hizbullah's dialogue is only restricted to its leadership...and therefore they are not able to see any politicians (below the party leader or government leader level) as worthy of dialoguing with.

Again...very different world views.

Personally, and you can read all my previous posts, Hizbullah's stances in most of the times aggravate me. Why? Because I am sick and tired of militancy; whatever its cause. I am an advocate of dialogue and diplomacy; I am an advocate of a sovereign, strong, free Lebanon, a Lebanon that reflects our aspirations and stands. There should be no place for "extremes" in our governing institutions, because with such extremes, Lebanon as a country will not stand.

I cannot tell you who is the culprit for the failure of that forged Parliamentary majority we ended up with: the March 14 bloc or the HA/Amal bloc? Who betrayed who? Who broke the promises of who?

I see that PM Seniora (in the absence of Saad Hariri, or perhaps Hariri has absented himself in the presence of Seniora as a leader) has been taking heroic, nationalistic stands worthy of a medal of honor. Beyond petty politics, he is trying to tranform the way business is done in Lebanon's government.

On the other hand, I see the same "callous" stands HA has been taking for years. I see that HA has failed to transform its dialogue to a Lebanese one and in fact has given us the impression that it has widened the scope of its justified existence to that which will defend on its own (without the Lebanese peoples' green light) Syria, Iraq, Iran, and the Palestinians in the face of the US (and Israel) ...and perhaps not even those Lebanese who live beyond the areas in which they dominate.

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

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Iran and Lebanon - Regional Politics vs. Sovereignty

I remember reading a comment once, in a Lebanese blog during the height of the protests and demonstrations that led to Lebanon's Second Independence. The commenter basically said:

Considering how much Lebanon's fate depends on foreign powers, it is amazing how little they discuss of regional developments and political intrigues in other countries.

That comment haunts me to this day, and will probably do so for a long time. For although no country is isolated from the rest of the world, Lebanon is unique in ways that are obvious to all Lebanese. And because of this unfortunate reality, an entry by the Unfrozen Caveman Linguist and an article Tony referred to in the comment section of that entry struck me to a degree that I did not expect.

The topic was Iran - specifically, recent developments at the level of Iran's political elite. In short, some Western analysts believe that an extreme hard-line clique with allegiance to either ultra-conservative clerics, or the Revolutionary Guard itself is gradually but surely replacing the relatively pragmatic cluster of clerics who have ruled the country since the revolution. The analyses refer to:

  • The Iranian president's recent recall of over 50 ambassadors
  • Ahmedinejad's firing of a similar number of high ranking civil servants for "corruption"
  • and, unusual public complaints by former president Rafsanjani about Ahmedinejad's behavior

The hypothesis that scares me most is the one that claims that Revolutionary Guards have essentially conducted a silent coup d'etat against the clerics (refer to Tony's article), who they percieve to be too corrupt and soft. It scares me because I wonder what the consequences of such a development would be for the region and for Lebanon (Hizballah). I wonder for how long Hizballah will remain confrontational if such a political environment in Iran persists. I wonder if Hizballah will ever be allowed to disarm and evolve into an exclusively civilian and Lebanese player rather than a regional, military organization that is under Tehran's control.

In my previous entry, where I described the interview between MP Ali Ammar and Minister Ahmad Fatfat, I expressed my strong opinion that although a necessary component of sovereign states, Generals should never be given a free reign to do as they please because they are one dimensional and trained to utilize force to achieve political objectives. At the time, I was referring to Hizballah. Now it appears that the Generals may have taken over Iran itself! If indeed that is the case, then I am afraid of what awaits us in the near future.

A far-fetched solution that I have recommended for Lebanon is to incorporate Hizballah's military component into the Lebanese State. The explicit reason I have provided thus far, was to place Hizballah's military wing in its proper place - i.e. to subordinate it to Lebanon's political elite. Now though, given this new information and recent developments, I will provide another explicit reason: Hizballah's officers and soldiers must fight and die for Lebanon alone, not Iran or any other sovereign entity.

Yesterday, for example, Berri claimed that Hizballah would remain armed until Israel started respecting United Nations Resolutions. Since when did Lebanese accept to become enforcers of UN Resolutions? Who was Berri speaking for when he made that ridiculous claim? I thought Hizballah was fighting for the Sheb'aa Farms and for the freedom of Lebanese detainees in Israel!

In the final analysis, I will return to where I started: that ominous comment. For it appears that Lebanon's best protection against the designs of other states is its much-derided political process. If the Saudis want something for example, Hariri may say that he'd also like to see that happen, but "there's that darned political process" that he has to go through, and results cannot be guaranteed. The same goes for Hizballah and Iran (although, I'm not too sure how frequently Nasrallah has used that argument).

Consequently, I believe that this obsession with internal politics that Lebanese harbor is somewhat of a blessing in disguise. At the very least, doing so is much healthier than simply turning our heads away from each other and observing political developments in other countries that we feel may affect or influence us in one way or another. The different parties are thus forced to deliberate, and consequently arrive at middle grounds that one may even refer to as 'Lebanese ground.'

Had it not been for this process, I doubt the guns would still be silent today. Politics, although "dirty" and "unprincipled" at least keeps the peace!

My favorite politician in Lebanon

Assem Qanso is one of those model politicians everyone simply adores. Yesterday, the head of Syria's Ba'th Party in Lebanon threatened to kill Prime Minister Seniora because Lebanon is ruled by "200 intelligence agents who are lead by Interior Minister Hassan el Sabaa." Such precise information is available to none but the best and brightest, you see!

I like Qanso because he is an idiot! He just opens his mouth and blurts everything out. After hearing what he said yesterday, my blood pressure rose for a few seconds, then I simply thought "Okay, I rest my case."

I rest my case because the head of Syria's Ba'ath Party in Lebanon has just threatened to kill Lebanon's new Prime Minister, Fouad Seniora. Okay, please tell me why hasn't he been arrested? Why hasn't someone taken this idiot to court? They have the tapes of the interview, don't they? Come on!!! Let's start setting standards and red lines in Lebanon! I'm all for freedom of speech, but we have to have standards that dictate "responsible" speech, as well as standards that define treason!

Anyways, from a political stand point, I would want nothing more than a free Assem Qanso who remains leader of the Ba'ath Party in Lebanon. My condition is that all the TV networks give him at least five minutes of air time a day. It seems that the more he talks the more he makes a fool out of himself, his followers and his paymasters.

Go Qanso!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Ammar vs. Fatfat - my biased opinion

"The Orthodox are coming!!! They're coming to steal our civilization,’ geography, women, and everything we've built!!!"

MP Ali Ammar's ominous warning to Minister Ahmed Fatfat went as such in Ali Hamade's show on Future Television. Ammar was implying that the Sunnis and Shi’as should unite against the Christians as Imam Ali and Mu’awia did against the Byzantine Empire in their days. At a later point in the show, MP Ammar criticized Fatfat for being a “romantic” (In light of his own words, I found that criticism to be quite intriguing to say the least).

An Observation About the Two Individuals:

It is easy to decipher the nature of the political organizations both these men belong to from their personalities and the way they communicated with each other. Ahmed Fatfat was gregarious, witty and quick to jump into a discussion when he felt that it was in his interest to do so. MP Ammar was quiet, somber, serious, quickly annoyed by any interruptions, and gave the impression that when he spoke he did so with tremendous effort. It appeared as if he was digging deep into his reserves to express himself.

In short, I can easily imagine Fatfat in a round table discussion attempting to grind out a common decision pertaining to a certain issue. On the other hand, I cannot imagine Ammar in such a situation. Rather, I see him as listening attentively in a quiet room to someone, and/or lecturing a political philosophy class - or, in fact, a class dealing with any similarly esoteric subject matter.

My Personal Standing in this Debate

Let me be explicit: My world view is congruent with Fatfat's, so I am biased. I don't care how powerful the United States is and how many "injustices" it has committed over the past 50 years, but I simply prefer the American way of life over the Iranian way of life. I prefer the American model of governance over the Iranian model of governance. I prefer American culture and norms over Iranian culture and norms. Consequently, I ask that no one expect an unbiased opinion from me on these issues because, again, I am extremely biased.

Some Comments Concerning MP Ali Ammar

MP Ammar was extremely emotional and appeared to be very sincere when he talked. In fact, at some points, he was even convincing. However, I completely disagree with most of his arguments. The entire point of the show in Ammar's perspective was simply to convey to his audience the impending American "slaughter" of Syria and Hizballah.

To make his argument more persuasive, he claimed that there was no difference between the Syrian regime and its people; he pointed to America's slaughtering of Iraqis (I'm so glad that Fatfat pointed out that the Iraqis were pretty much doing most of the killing); and of course, he mentioned the Palestinian-Israeli struggle. The MP basically told Fatfat and his Lebanese audience that Hizballah possesses a strategy to take on the "Zionist-Imperialist-European" coalition, and not only must all accept that strategy, but they must do so selflessly (i.e. without any thoughts to their own safety and wellbeing).

Ali Ammar's view was so one-dimensional at certain points that it eventually started getting annoying. For God's sake, when Hamade asked him to respond to certain claims that Lebanon was headed towards civil war, he said that any individual who made such a claim was an "Israeli!" Now isn't that a bit too narrow-minded? Can he not relate a negative action or entity to something other than Israel or the United States? Why does every bad or negative thing have to have some sort of connection to Israel in his mind?

Concluding Remarks About Hizballah

It is now clear to me more than ever. Hizballah is in essence a military outfit. Even though its leaders do not wear the modern outfits of officers, they are very much Generals. Every nation should have Generals and an effective military to go along with them. However, all Generals must come under the command of civilian leadership. Military men are one dimensional. Politicians are not. Military men are one dimensional because being as such is good for their job. If Nasrallah was not fully convinced that what he does is right, how could he justify his son's sacrifice? Politicians, on the other hand, look at things from different angles and compromise because those are traits suitable for their profession. They consider many tools that are at their disposal to achieve political objectives - not just military tools.

Hizballah must be absorbed by Lebanese state institutions - I'm refering to its military arm. Furthermore, unless some real changes take place from within, which would reinstitute civilian leaders as a replacement to the current military clique, I can only beg the Shi'a community to form alternative nodes of power that will better serve their interests. In short, an organization that is hell bent on taking on the world militarily no matter what the expense, is one that benefits no one, least of all those whose interests it claims to represent.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Arab Ideology - Good or Bad for Minorities?

There is a very interesting discussion going on in the Lebanese Political Journal thanks to a post by LP titled Sunday Blogging: The Orthodox Dilemma. Hummbumm’s comment pertaining to the Arab ideology caught my attention because it pointed to something that is true, yet simultaneously false.

The Arab identity, according to him, was once treated preferentially by non-Sunni and non-Muslim minorities because it was and remains the secular alternative to religious nationalism in a predominantly Sunni Muslim region of the world. Yet, on the other hand, academics like Fouad Ajami and fellow blogger Toni Badran accurately point to how certain Sunni political elites used the Arab ideology to persecute and dominate religious minorities across the region.

Prominent examples are the treatment of Shi'as, Kurds, and other minorities by the Ba’ath regime in Iraq, as well as the political marginalization of Shi'as in Lebanon prior to the civil war. Let us also not forget the tense relations between the PLO and Shi’a communities, most of which suffered as a result of the PLO’s defacto and relatively unchecked occupation of Southern Lebanon in the 1970s.

This apparent contradiction of religious minorities supporting the Arab ideology on one hand yet suffering from it on the other is one that is extremely interesting, and also one that can even be observed in action today.

  1. Wintess Bashar's speech and his uber-emphasis on Arabism. Of course, even though I am about to do it, I need not point out that Bashar is a member of the Alawite sect, one that is not even considered to be Muslim by many practicing Sunnis (an "honor" shared with the Druze community among many other "quasi-muslim" sects in the region, of course)

  2. Also witness Hizballah's obsession with "Arabism" even though you'd think that Hizballah's status as an exclusively religious organization would exclude it from salivating over a secular ideology as much as they’ve done over the past couple of months.

To a certain extent, you feel that both these non-Sunni political nodes of power attempt to shame their Sunni co-religionists by "out-bidding" them in a test of willingness to give to causes that have defined Arabism over the past fifty years, namely the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and some manifestation of anti-Imperialism.

So, one could come to the conclusion that both Ajami and Badran are not completely accurate in their assessments that the Arab ideology has been a curse for minorities in the region. Rather the picture appears to be much more complex and ever-changing. The quintessential example that highlights this complexity is actually provided to us by Lebanon’s Shi’ite political elite. Whereas the community suffered politically, militarily and materially from the PLO’s activities which were conducted under the umbrella of the Arab Cause, today, the most powerful Shi’ite political entity in the region (other than Iran itself) perceives the Arab ideology as an indispensable weapon in its propaganda arsenal.

An interesting dichotomy indeed!

The Democratic Dilemma to Foreign Policy

One of the big problems that dawns on me when I think about democracy in Middle Eastern countries pertains to foreign policy. Given the plurality that exists in most of the region's countries, and the specific nature of those pluralities (which entail loyalties to kinship and religious groups that cross state boundaries) can any democratic state arrive at a coherent and stable foreign policy?

This problem is merely one dimension of the larger question regarding whether the newly democratic state of Iraq, for example, can articulate and pursue "a common good" that all Iraqis will accept. The answer to that question is, of course, that it cannot, and cannot be expected to. The federal system in the United States, for example, allows for different states to define and pursue their unique conceptions of the common good within certain limits. Yale Political Scientist, Robert Dahl, has the following to say on the issue:
...in pluralistic societies, conceptions of the common good are either too indeterminate to provide guidance, determinate but unacceptable because they lead us to appalling results in conditions that are by no means improbable, or determinate and acceptable because purely procedural - because they define the common good as a democratic process.

Going back to foreign policy though, it is no big secret that despite the relative freedom the states in the US have to pursue their own conceptions of the common good, they are bound to the Federal Government's foreign policy decisions. Can we say the same about Iraq? Can Iraqis formulate their own foreign policy interests and objectives, or are they going to perpetually remain torn between the Sunni, Shi'a and Kurdish world views?

If we look at Lebanon as a sign of things to come, then I am afraid the future does not bode will for Iraq's Foreign Ministry. Yet, Iraq unlike Lebanon, has the potential to play a major geostrategic role in the region because of its geographic size and natural resources. It will be interesting to see whether Iraq's different sects are able formulate a common foreign policy or whether each political center in the country will pursue its own agenda independent of the central government.

This democratic transformation of Iraq may ultimately lead to a situation in which the state will never be able to utilize its full potential to pursue foreign policy objectives. Frankly, considering Saddam's recent track record, I prefer the impotence of plurality over the vigor of dictatorship.

News Out Of This World: Voluntary Or Imposed?

I have never heard of something like this before: that prisoners go on a hunger strike to protest the international pressure imposed on their country...this piece of news is coming from Damascus. I am indeed impressed at the prisoners' "civic responsibility". I am more impressed that they are getting access to a TV, newspapers, and a pen and a paper....just news out of this world, making me ever more speechless.

The vast majority of detainees at Damascus central prison are to refuse food for three days in a show of loyalty to the Syrian government which is facing mounting international criticism, Syrian official media said Monday.

"Ninety percent of the prisoners have decided to go on a three-day hunger strike to protest the pressure being put on Syria," the official SANA news agency said.Participants had sent a letter to the U.N. office in Damascus in which they "condemned the foreign pressure and threats against Syria which are based on unjust accusations," the news agency said.

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

Suicide Idiot

The emotions that ferment inside of me when I see this picture are indescribable. This wench who believes she was doing the work of God by killing herself along with others is... is... akkhhh... I give up. I have no words for this woman. None at all.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Digging Out The Truth And The Dead

News of uncovering a mass grave of 13 dead at the Defense Ministry in Yarze from the October 13, 1990 tragic events reminded me of when a mass grave was discovered of Iraqi prisoners right after the fall of Saddam's regime in Iraq.

It's as if the Baathist regime in Lebanon has fallen...even when Lebanon was never Baathist. But it's all starting to make sense now; the same face of the same coin.

It is painful to fathom that for 15 years Syrian-backed Defense ministers walked over that mass grave unruffled by the truth. That General Lahoud walked over those grounds unruffled as well.

It is time for them to all leave; it is disgusting what truths are being uncovered. They say that there are more mass graves in Yarze; more uncovered wounds to open and scourch. I am certain that they will be dug out, that the souls of those Lebanese fighters (and it does not matter what side they were on) will see the light, breathe the free air, and rest in peace at last.

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

Saturday, November 12, 2005


The current US policy is one of a weakened Syria. The administration is of the opinion that such a policy will limit Syria’s ability to harm US interests in the region, whether in Iraq, occupied Palestine, or Lebanon, without the instability a total regime collapse would cause. More importantly perhaps, the policy is convenient because it serves as a compromise on both the domestic and international level. It is half way between neo-con calls for regime change on one hand, and the traditional State/CIA approach of cutting deals with Damascus on the other. On the international level, a weak Syria policy is one with which finds resonance in Europe, particularly France. It offers the administration a platform through which it can bridge the US-Atlantic divide and pursue its policy objectives in a multilateral fashion.

On Deal Making:

Syria has put forward several generous offers in the past few weeks, one of which was in the form of a letter by Imad Mustafa to Congress. Still, there seems to be very little interest. To shift its current stance the administration expects nothing short of a complete strategic realignment that would break Syria’s alliance with Iran and bring it into the US orbit. It is equivalent to what Syria calls “surrendering all cards.” The response out of Damascus thus far has been “you can’t ask a leopard to shed all its spots.” That said, it’s my understanding that this leopard is now ready to shed quite a few spots.

Looking forward:

The likelihood of a deal will depend on what Syria is willing to offer. Anything short of a complete strategic realignment will not be sufficient to dislodge the convenience of the current policy. In its absence, the bar will be set high enough to insure Syria’s inability to cooperate with the UN investigation without endangering regime stability. Such a stance is buttressed by a belief amongst many administration officials that Bashar is too weak to deliver even if he promised. This perceived lack of cooperation will then be met with further isolation and possible punitive measures.

If, however, Syria proves capable of a shift that would leave Iran isolated and provide a counterbalance to Iranian infiltration of Iraq, then there might be a room for discussion. Such discussions will of course include the regular laundry list involving reigning in rejections Palestinian groups, assisting in disarming Hizballah, resuming intelligence sharing and so on.

In my opinion the first scenario continues to be the most likely absent a surprisingly irresistible Syrian offer.

Friday, November 11, 2005

The Arab Identity - Is it in the process of Changing

Yesterday, the dictator of Syria played the "Arab Card." Behind his podium was an intricate arrangement of Syrian flags. That display was his signal to the region and the world. Mr. Assad had raised the "Arab Banner" and wanted everyone in the region who identified with that banner to rally behind him, the only remaining Arab Leader of the only remaining Arab State.

To push his point further, he stated it explicitly: "there is a difference between Arabs and those who communicate with 'our language.'" He then went on to define the characteristic of a true Arab - all I remember him referring to was the Palestinian cause and the remaining old cliches that basically revolve around "injustices" committed by others upon "the Arab nation."

The point of this entry is not to criticize the speech, or Bashar. Look anywhere in the Lebanese Blogosphere, and you'll see plenty of that. My point is actually to highlight a conflict that some may find abstract, yet is nonetheless of critical importance.

Thanks to the long-awaited break between Lebanon and Syria, a war has emerged in the Middle East over what exactly being an Arab entails. Bashar, the dictator of Syria, espoused the old and hackneyed definition of that identity. Fouad Seniora, the elected Prime Minister of Lebanon, espoused a new and developing version. In response to Bashar's explicit distinction between those who speak Arabic and those who are Arabs, Seniora, proclaimed that "we are real Arabs, we are Democratic and we are proud of our openness to other cultures." His speech was a little more nuanced, and it was delivered at the opening of a French Cultural Center - of all places.

I am excited by this development. Too many people in this world identify themselves as Arabs for it to be an irrelevant concept or for this brewing war of ideas to be unimportant. Yet for too long, the "Arab identity" was and remains a hollow one that is defined by the Palestinian conflict more than anything else. Do the Brits identify themselves solely by their historical animosity towards the French? Do the French identify themselves solely by their not-so-historical animosity towards the Germans? What about the Chinese and Japanese? No! None of them do. The peoples of those countries have much more to cling to than mere conflicts or injustices.

When fellow blogger Mustapha proclaims that he sees the Arab World as the Europeans see Europe, I could not agree more with him. Of course, an implicit prerequisite to that perception is that people within the states that make up the Arab World feel like citizens of their particular countries in every sense of the word. For that to happen, I recommend that the elite of all those countries take note of this quotation from T.H. Marshall:

Prefeudal societies were bound together by a sentiment and recruited by the fiction of kinship, or the fiction of common descent. Citizenship requires a bond of a different kind, a direct sense of community membership based on loyalty to a civilization which is a common possession. It is a loyalty of free men [and women] endowed with rights and protected by a common law. Its growth is stimulated both by the struggle to win those rights and by enjoyment of them when they are won.... The familiar instruments of modern democracy were fashioned by the upper classes and then handed down, step by step, to the lower....

So, I say enough with the platitudes and cliches. If the elites of Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and the other countries of the Middle East desire to win and maintain the loyalty of their respective populations, they will definitely have to do more than harp at them about the poor and suffering Palestinians, or the injustices in this world caused by "Imperialist nations." Seniora has taken a mature step by countering that hollow propaganda. I hope others in the region follow his brave lead and consequently help lead the entire region out of the Dark Age it is currently mired in. Ultimately, this new conflict revolving around the defining characteristics of an "Arab" may end up being much more than meets the eye!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

When He Spoke: Sowing Seeds Of Discord

I mean how can someone not talk about Syria when you're Lebanese? How can one do that especially with what is going on now between Syria and Lebanon? It would be insane, I would be blind and deaf.

Today, the Syrian President Assad spoke. We were all waiting for his speech; yes we, the Lebanese. But what he said alas truely hurt....and was disrespectful. First, he was saying "Hariri" when referring to the late Rafiq Hariri without saying "May he rest in peace" or the "martyr" Hariri (perhaps he's not a martyr in his view), or even simply the word, the "late" Hariri, or at least his full name.

Second, he deduced (through a convoluted way) that the Future Movement has made the late Hariri a traitor and has also insulted him by not blaming Israel for the attack. He even called them, "Buyers and Sellers of Blood" (ie. killers).

Third, he disrespected PM Seniora, who truely never said anything out of protocol towards any Syrian official on record, when he said that he's a slave of his master-slave (Saad Hariri).

Fourth, he ridiculed the concept of the truth which we have been asking for and asserted that Lebanon is a place where conspiracies against Syria are not only planned, but also funded. He also made fun of those who claimed that the Syrian presence in Lebanon over the past 30 years was called by those Lebanese as, the era of Syrian tutelage.

Fifth, he divided based on his own judgement the Lebanese: those who are traitors and those who are true nationalists. And of course he reminded everyone that the new 17 May Accord needs to be foiled.

I ask: why is the Syrian regime sowing seeds of discord amongst the Lebanese? Haven't we had enough?

The seeds of discord have already surfaced as the Hizbullah and Amal Ministers left this evening's Ministerial meeting. Why? They are protesting the addition of an item from outside the meeting's agenda, namely coming up with a response to President Bashar's statement. They left because they don't want to be part of defending Lebanon and the Lebanese from being called traitors, and everything else that is petty. They stepped out lest they are called traitors...they are the nationalists.

You should see the sight of reporters almost verbally attacking with their questions Labor Minister Hamade after he left the meeting. They were disappointed that they walked out.

Well guess what? The rest of the ministers remained and are determined to come up with an official "LEBANESE" response...which I'm still waiting for to be issued.

I am disappointed. I am afraid. In response to President Assad's speech, PM Seniora answered back briefly while attending an opening of a French cultural event in Beirut by saying out loud that Lebanon is an Arab country that is democratic, free, and independent! Everyone stood up and applauded.

Where are we heading? What is our fate? There is so much blood and death in our part of the world, it is disheartening. Is there an end in sight? Is my family going to be safe back home, or even anywhere in this world?

It's gloomy today and bleak. There is nothing to do but sit and wait...our fate being determined by others...

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

The Fundies Strike Again!

Yesterday in Jordan, three idiots who thought they were going to heaven to sleep with 100 or something virgins blew themselves up. A cousin of a dear friend of mine died in that explosion. He was 38 years old. He was engaged to get married in 2 months. He was a Jordanian. He was a Muslim.

I wonder how many similar stories exist in Jordan and Iraq. People who are still young, who are Muslim, yet who die because some depressed, sexually frustrated men want to... (I really don't know what it is they want to do).

The question now is: how do you stop these people? I spent about 30 minutes before getting on this computer asking myself this question. How do you stop idiots who want to kill themselves and kill others with them? What can Arabs and Muslims do to their fellow Arabs and Muslims that others cannot do for the sake of avoiding international uproar?

1. Should the bombers' families or villages be arrested? I don't think such an initiative would inhibit too many... Maybe the entire village or family should be wiped out! Yes, yes, I know... they are all innocent... but weren't the victims of the suicide bombers innocent too?

2. Should authorities target the women relations of bombers? Maybe, since these men percieve women to be their most precious possession, they will think more about the women here on earth than the virgins in heaven.

3. I really have no idea. I am frustrated and angry. I am frustrated and angry....

UPDATE: Al Qaeda has supposedly attempted to justify its pathetic attacks on Jordan by posting an explanation of why they targeted the hotels on a website. This is a first. I hope they continue this practice. The more they explain, the less credible they look.

They claimed that the hotels hosted Israeli and American intelligence services, were also a "rear base" for NATO troops going to Iraq, and were a "secure place for the filthy Israeli and Western tourists to spread 'corruption' and 'adultery' at the expense and suffering of the Muslims in these countries."

Of course, no al Qaeda statement is complete without a direct reference to women: "we have never noticed them caring when they shed the blood of Muslims and rape the honor of the 'decent women'...."

Such bullshit! Such idiocy! Too many people buy this crap. Too many.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Lebanese Bloggers is back

Fellow bloggers and readers, please accept my apologies on behalf of the other bloggers in this web site for our "disruption of service". Loyal readers probably have at least a hint at what has transpired over the past few days. However, suffice it is to say, that the days have been hectic.

The Lebanese Bloggers has a new URL:

http://lebanesebloggers.blogspot.com (previously, there was no "s" in the bloggers).

I intend to return to publishing my thoughts, opinions and research as usual.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Gun and the Atlantic Ocean

How do you oppose, argue or debate with someone who has a gun to your head? Why do I have to choose between a semblance of dull normalcy and participating in "dreaded" politics?
Across the Atlantic Ocean....
I just visited a Senator from the State Legislature of Maryland. His name is Robert J. Garagiola. I went to the meeting in my capacity as a member of the Solar Energy Coalition of Maryland. The meeting was great... the guy was exploding with ideas... he was so gung ho and excited about our combined efforts that he even made most of us advocates look cynical and jaded. At the end of the meeting we came up with a package of bills that he is going to champion in the next legislative session which starts in January.

At one point during the meeting, something hit me. The guy I was talking to was in his mid thirties... He was almost childish in his excitement... and I could feel that somewhere in his head he believed that he wanted to change his world for the better. It didn't take too long to get rid of the spell of intimidation that I was under, and begin to identify with the guy!

Why not? Was he not (relatively) my age? Was he also not somewhat as naive as I was? Hey it could happen to anyone, right? Hard work... a vission... good people skills....
Back across the Atlantic...
That gun... it's still stuck to my head! Politics? Who ever heard of such a thing? Hey, if I mind my own business and pay the right people the right amount, no one will bother me.... I'm leaving politics to the people who have guns. Dreams... "Bettering the world"... aaah, whoever heard of such things?!?! I need to take care of myself and the family.