Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Lebanese Blogs & Paradigms

This is the third post in a series of posts that started as an expression of disappointment at seeing our local paradigms and attitudes dominate Lebanese blogs; the current post is a deleted (long) comment on Raja's post (Does Lebanese History only Repeat Itself? ). You will find it useful to refer to previous comments by Doha and Raja.
I don't mind getting recycled news on a blog or reading it there right after I’ve read it on Naharnet on The Daily Star. What I do mind is getting that news from such few sources, mostly unanalyzed. It is like we have a "mainstream media" for the forces hogging the "March 14" tag. I say "hogging" because they are trying to except Aoun. Anyway I agree that I can give you a better feel of the Lebanese street. But I am starting to think I should dedicate my time to translating quotations from other places, which blogs tend to ignore, such as from editorials in Assafir for example. I will be doing some of that soon. I also have a side note here which is our newspapers. It feels like Assafir and Annahar are published in two different countries. Ironically enough, each has its own standards of patriotism. I am disappointed that we just accept that as the status quo, rather than object to it. This objection is definitely more worthwhile than quoting a news item that any interested reader of English will find on its primary site, especially when the adoption of such an item compromises the integrity of the blog, and this applies to almost every Lebanese blog that deals politics.

On point number 2. Closure issue: In addition to the newspapers, check the people. I live in Hamra but work in Mdawwar and it feels like the ten minute drive to work really beams me to a different country. I have also made a point of walking the slums of Beirut (East, West, and South), and they all look the same. The people on both sides are suffering the same issues, but, like in the war, they blame it on different sides. Have you never heard a service driver say he can’t take you from Sanayeh to Ashrafieh, or the other way round, because it is “the other area.” They still use the wartime word sector “qi6a3”. You may say this is because no people take that line and he won’t find anyone on that route or back. The only significance this argument has is that the frontiers still exist in the people’s minds. I actually heard many “open-minded” people saying they would rather go out “in our areas”, bi-manateqna.

Moreover, I feel that the general atmosphere of "unity" exhibited, albeit verbally, by otherwise-sectarian chiefs allowed the Lebanese to follow them, guilt-free. Many of my university friends, once-distinct voices of the Druze, Sunni, and Maronite communities, were actually declaring that they were now happy with the performance of their respective chiefs and felt well represented. These are the same people who had previously been fighting to stand out against all the conformists of their sects. I was disappointed with them praising their chiefs because I felt it was a need to conform, against their own critical thinking. Then suddenly, mostly with the elections in mind, the chiefs were acting all sectarian, self-centered and short-sighted again. This inconsistency is what blew the chance for real unity. I am not calling for a uniform society. I iconize diversity as much as the next Lebanese. But I do think we need to choreograph our diversity!

As for Saad's incompetence, I really think he has failed to make anything of the great vote of trust that was bestowed on him by the Lebanese people. This is a totally new discussion I would like to postpone, unless this is the portion of point number 2 that you wanted me to elaborate.

As for the "national unity dream," if this really is how you feel, I respect your honesty, and urge you to acknowledge the next logical step: it is now time to sit down and discuss- actually negotiate looks like a better word- how our country should be functioning in order to work out for all of us. If the States is built on opportunity for all, “the American Dream”… let’s compare ourselves with the States, provided we can handle that. This does mean canceling all confessional distinctions in, say, “public jobs.” Yes I want to allow everyone to run for whatever post they want, with their chances being a result of their competence rather than anything else. Human Rights 101. A New Lebanon requires equal rights, and it will definitely mean the abolition of the sectarian system. This is where all those calling for “a modern state” will be expected to make a stand. I leave it to Assaad Abou Khalil to describe those people, but I have heard someone else saying "Masks will fall!"

About the history book, your point is very futuristically viable on its own, but will only hold when the history books are credible rather than full of crap and lies, and when the Lebanese decide they want to be honest with themselves and look to the future. It may help if we stop referring to different histories as our own when we practice politics. It’s also an integrity issue. The next time a politician refers to the French Revolution and how we need Western values, let’s demand that he support the implementation of all those values, including Equality, in the Lebanese system. I remind you of some of the replies LP got when he said this system should empower the Shia in return for letting go of HA weapons. Any relinquishing of the current rights is out of question by many sides in Lebanon. I don’t totally agree with LP’s point, but the counter logic he got is also counter-productive. This sectarian system is feeding on and from sectarian clustering. Many say it’s a matter of interests, not ideals, and should be treated as such. I respect that too, but I ask them not to preach ideals or utopias within a system that they see as geared by interest. In such a system, blame no one for wanting their interest. That would be pure hypocrisy, another bad Lebanese habit we bloggers should avoid.

Silencing the Noise: Equality Before Justice

Yesterday, PM Seniora addressed the Lebanese public by letting them know that all Lebanese are equals before the law and justice. I must say that I started to believe that for the first time.

Reading today about Nassir Kandil made me for an instant remember former Minister Wi'am Wahhab. Where is he these days? He used to be all over the place, in Baabda, in Rabieh, in Salim Hoss's house, in Bkirki even. Where is Talal Arslan? Where is Assem Qanso?...

Suddenly I'm getting the feel that all those who were emboldened enough to spew hate words, emboldened enough to undermine the significant strides taken right after Hariri's assassination, emboldened enough to mock an international investigation into the February 14 massacre are no where in sight. Somehow the fear that justice will take its course, that in fact everyone is equal before the law has rendered them absent from our TV stations on on the pages of our newspapers.

Someone like Wi'am Wahhab did feel that he was above the law. The same goes for Nasser Kandil. Interestingly enough, in Kandil's TV appearance at the Syrian-Lebanese border, he sounded emboldened, so above it all, defiant to say the least. Right after his release past midnight, he had nothing to say except attesting to Mehlis's professionalism and neutrality.

In the hope that this mantra "justice above all" will silence the stray unpatriotic noise. Isn't it too good to be true, that at one point in our history everyone will be equal before the law?

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

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Does Lebanese History only Repeat Itself?

Or does it Progress Somewhere?

Yesterday Hassan posted an entry where he implied that the discussions we have had in the blogosphere today are simply a replication of discussions that took place in the 50s 60s and 70s. Hassan implied that history was repeating itself and that we ought to acknowledge that fact and change our discourse accordingly. I initially wrote a reply to his comment, but then was advised to post it as an entry.

Hassan, first, thanks for the link to Rahbani's work. I spent at least a couple of hours listening to the recordrings yesterday. I especially liked the one titled "the Mountains." I don't know if I totally agree with you that history repeats itself though. Most people (even those who were once oppressed) like to keep things the way they always were because that is how they feel most comfortable and secure. They feel safe in their environment. A very good example of such irrational behavior is the fear and reluctance a prisoner could feel before leaving prison.

Change does come though... it is almost a force that is uncontrollable and those who wish to keep things as they once were are forced to adapt. In the case of Lebanon for example, I can think of the rise of the Shi'a community demographically, socio-economically and politically. Another real change is the fall of the Soviet Union and the victory of only one paradigm for material progress and development in this world; therefore, all who seek such progress (from all sects) now fall into one large camp, rather than two which once conveniently housed people based on sect rather than conviction in the actual paradigm. Today, we are all Capitalists! This relative unanimity reduces reasons for divisions among Lebanese (it gives us less reason to disagree with one-another) and increases the potential for cooperation.

These two developments constitute a tiny sample of changes which the Lebanese political elite have had to adapt to. The sectarian fissures remain the same however, and I'd bet that if the Soviets were to reemerge, the Maronite political elite would probably ally with them just to stick it to the Sunni political elite who seem to represent Western interests more than at any other time in Lebanon's history. Would the Maronite community fall for that though? More pertinently, would the Maronite community continue to support Aoun if he does eventually visit Assad and form an alliance with him just to stick it to the Sunni political elite who are running the show with Western blessings? I personally doubt that Maronites would accept such a political move, which could lead to the ousting of Aoun himself from Parliament.

Such a reality is a case of convictions and beliefs overcoming the pulls and pushes of Sectarian Machiavelism - which, no doubt, exists. The reality is that if Aoun continues to refuse Franjieh's offer to sign a pact with the devil for the sake of "Maronite power," then I will continue to remain hopeful. If however, the Aounis, who I once accused of having no agenda except expelling the Syrians from Lebanon, do accept such a deal, then I will be distraught, and Hassan, you will be proven correct: We are doomed to witness history repeating itself for eternity.

Leaving Mines Behind

We can't but be happy and wary almost at the same time that something is up Mehlis's sleeve. We can't deny that!

But the story does not even end with Mehlis's report. After the report comes out, a decision needs to be made as to what judicial body will handle the actual trial. Will it be in Lebanon handled by Lebanese judges, or would it be in the Hague handled by the International Court of Justice? Mind you, that even Justice Minister Charles Rizk, Lahoud's man in the Government, begrudgingly professed that an international judicial body is more qualified to handle the trial; that Lebanese judges are able to hold the trial, provided that the judicial system is reformed...we know that this is a long stretch and he is indeed stretching it too far.

As you see, nothing is easy where we're at, because there is yet another chance for obstructionists to stand in the way. Another obstacle to overcome once the report comes out.

Definitely, there are a thousand question marks in my head about the course our country will take once the report comes out. The Syrian-Lebanese intelligence apparatus of the previous era (if it's possible to say previous at the moment) have set some major landmines in Lebanon before they departed. They have nothing to lose...(Even former MP Nasser Kandil is in Syria....) It's a mirror-image of Iraq's case: Saddam left behind insurgents of every kind wreaking havoc in every corner of life.

Naseer As'ad of Al-Mustaqbal some two days ago wrote about the Islamists' landmine. Many have returned from Iraq through Syria, many small groups in the north have been furnished with arms right before the April 30th declaration of independence, sectarian mobilization, death lists ad ma biddak...and the list of mines goes on...

Let us beware of these mines. In the hopes that our beloved country makes it through this critical moment.

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

What's going on???

What's all the hubbub about? A lot of my fellow bloggers are celebrating as if the culprits of Hariri's assassination have been arrested, but I don't see any indications that point to that conclusion. True Naharnet's headline reads that Mehlis Rounds up Sayyed, Hajj, Azar, Summons Hamdan, and Lebanonwire even published an article titled Lebanon arrests ex-security cheifs over Hariri murder. But I'm not convinced.

I don't have a subscription to Lebanonwire, so I couldn't read their article. I can read the Naharnet article though, and if you scrutinize it closely, you'll realize that the "ex-security cheifs" have been detained (as opposed to arrested) for questioning, and that the only change since the last time they were questioned is that they're now officially considered to be suspects. Furthermore, didn't Mehlis say that he needed a few more months to finish his investigations?

All I know is that I'm not convinced, and I won't be won over by any outcome until the culprits are sent to the Hague. Today's celebrations are simply premature.

Monday, August 29, 2005

To learn from others

I always thought Ziad Rahbani was overrated, until, at 19, I heard some (prohibited) cassettes of the radio show “baadna-taybeen” (We are still alive). This satirical radio show by Ziad el Rahbani, and was broadcast on the Sanayeh (West Beirut) transmitter of Radio Lebanon during the early years of the civil war (1975-1978). These sketches are a series of courageous, forthright and candid views on various aspects of the war. Both dramatic and humorous, they are acutely perceptive and free of political inhibitions and as such tell the story of the war up until the Israeli invasion with little necessary supportive documentation. These recordings have been prohibited for a long time now. They were available on the Al-Mashrik site and its mirror site on AUB’s intranet.

Click here to visit the site

The first episode I ever heard was “history repeating itself”. From there on, addiction was easy.

For those of you with a certain Southern nostalgia, start by listening to “El Khiam”. This also goes for followers of the Lebanese left, the “authentic” left anyway. Otherwise, You can always listen to “The football match”.

For those of you who feel like whipping the Syrians, listen to “What did they tell you?” addressed to Syrian soldiers entering the Lebanese villages. You can listen to any of the three episodes “Yesterday” on the ceremony inaugurating the presidency of Elias Sarkis.

Anyway, my point behind these I that the discussions we are having today are the same ones that have been had over and over again. Let’s learn a bit from out history. Just a call for all my fellow bloggers.

I also came across a great poem, that I found fit for us, to try to transcend out inherited paradigms. Oh, I’d add Ziad’s name down there. The organization we are to "fight": the Lebanese system.

In Remembrance of Loose Cannons
Thursday 2nd June 2005, by Doug Soderstrom

AW yes,
To be an honest human being,
Honest with one’s self,
Honest with God,
Honest with others.

Enough of,
Being an organizational man,
A team player,
A status-quo oriented,
Whatever you say boss,
Yes I’ll kiss your ass,
Anytime you want,
Kind of guy.

What the world does not need,
Is another bunch of,
Scum-sucking sycophants,
Back-slapping toads,
Submissive slaves,
Grinning fools,
Yes men,
Truckling turds,
Ingratiating goons,
Partisan flunkies,
Good old boy,
Government lackeys.

Enough of that shit!
To hell with that kind of life,
No more being just another,
Damn wage slave!

What the world does need is more,
Doubting Thomases,
Devil’s advocates,
Recalcitrant radicals,
Mutinous mugwumps,
Seditious subversives,

People who,
Quite frankly,
Don’t give a good damn,
About anything,
Except what is right.

What the world needs,
Is a few more,
Leo Tolstoys,
Henry David Thoreaus,
Martin Luther Kings,
Mohandas Gandhis,
Bob Dylans,
Jesus Christs,
A few more,
Loose cannons.

That’s what the world needs!

Doug Soderstrom, Ph.D. May 14, 2005

Thanks for reading so far!!

Energy: The Daily Star Reveals More...

Coverage of Lebanese affairs by the Daily Star continues to surprise me in a pleasant way. Today's edition includes an article by Bechire Saade titled Fneish close to energy deal with Syria. The article is interesting because, among other things, its subject is one of the most intriguing, mystifying, and politically charged subjects in Lebanon: the country's energy sector. However, it is also well written, and dare I say, quite daring, especially when compared to Daily Star norms.

Saade's piece revolves around his interview of Energy and Water Minister Mohammad Fneish, and it coincides with a visit to Kuwiat by Fneish and Seniora where they will sign a six-month agreement to supply Lebanon with "gas-oil" (someone please explain to me what that means!!! I thought we used "diesel-oil" which I found equally incomprehensible).

Anyways, I will highlight some points in the article that really caught my attention:

1. Fneish is negotiating with the Syrians to supply Lebanon with electricity. If the deal goes through, two power plants in Tyre and Baalbeck would be shut down. His rationale is that the power plants are too expensive to run, and that the only way the energy sector can recover is if Lebanon imports cheap subsidized energy from its neighbors.

Considering the border crisis, and the fact that Syria is the only neighbor we can import electricity from, I wonder about the wisdom of reducing our own energy-production capacity. Should we pay more for energy just to be "energy independent" from Syria? I'd say yes! I'd also say that there should be other ways to cut costs!

2. "Fneish stressed that a political consensus is needed for any reform [in EDL] to occur."

This caught my attention because we all get the impression that the Shi'a are the major beneficiaries of free electricity in Lebanon. Therefore, having Fneish as minister would consequently solve the problem of collection.

However, according to the article, some experts claim that at least 40% of Lebanese don't pay their electricity bills. Therefore, even if the entire Shi'a population didn't pay their bills (which is far from the case), then there'd still be around 15% of Lebanese who aren't paying up (assuming Lebanese who happen to be Shi'a are somewhere around 25% of the population). Furthermore, I recall the scandal a few years ago that was caused by EDL's release of some major debts owed to it by major Lebanese businesses, educational institutions and government agencies.

Consequently, I will believe Fneish when he says a political consensus is needed because all of those non-payers have their own political protection, and will lobby vociferously to protect their privileges. Fneish will also have his work cut out for him. He said some things that really impressed me:

3. "We have to fix our collection capacity by enlarging its scope [into areas of Lebanon that were considered out of reach].... And for this to happen, you need better administrative organizational skills.... The problem of the sector is not its size but its productive efficiency.... EDL had 5,500 qualified employees in 1974 for 300,000 subscribers; today it has a little more than 2,000 for over two million subscribers.... Furthermore, the average age of EDL's staff is 69."

Is this a Lebanese politician talking??? Is this guy supposed to be a "crazed fanatic" who only knows how to bomb people and kill Israelis? I've already mentioned the irony of Hizballah before in this blog... how it is essentially a modern organization with a religious garb. In fact, I will reassert that Hizballah has the potential to be a leading domestic force for reform and meritocracy, if only they focused their entire efforts on that front. This issue deserves an entire entry on its own so I won't go any further. However the subject definitely is intriguing.

4. Finally, Fneish's strategy with regards to securing fuel for our power plants apparently calls for seeking subsidized energy and oil from the region as a temporary respite, but ultimately to secure natural gas as a cheaper alternative to oil derivatives.

It is in this section, where you see the Dailystar's new journalistic umph. Here's what I mean:

Bechire Saade reports that "Syria agreed three years ago to supply Lebanon with gas at preferential prices provided it completes the necessary pipeline for transporting gas. The Lebanese government failed to do so due to management inefficiency and successful political lobbying to protect oil interests."

"Successful political lobbying to protect oil interests???" I've never heard that one before! I remember posting an entry a couple months ago placing all the blame of the failure to complete the natural gas pipeline on Syria's shoulders. Now, according to this assertion by the Daily Star, there's a Lebanese side to the coin as well! I would like to know who these "oil interests" are in Lebanon. There is relative transparency in almost every other Lebanese industry but why the big shroud in the oil sector? Why are the big shots shrouded in anonymity?

Finally, I'll close with a bit of good news... Qatar has expressed interests in building a Liquified Natural Gas refinery plant in Lebanon according to the article. I urge everyone to keep that in mind and keep a watchfull eye to see if the Lebanese government misses out on this economic opportunity as well!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Episode II: The Common Man And The Nature Of Opportunity

This is a series of episodes on my interactions with the Lebanese Common Man while I was back home.

He's wearing a decent black suit; he's quiet and composed. He's in his twenties, for sure. Me, a northerner; him, a southerner...meeting in Bhamdoun El-Mhatta. What is the likelihood of such a meeting in the everyday life of a Lebanese?

He, in fact, is working as a supervisor in a hotel, a summer stint before he starts looking elsewhere for a job on the coast at the end of vacation season. He is also a student, studying for a degree in Hotel Management but is doing it on a credit-by-credit basis—the option that many students who work to pay for their courses seek. So, of course, he probably is enrolled in one of those affordable, American-curriculum-based, non-accredited colleges that have mushroomed lately around the country, but that have indeed been a blessing for many ambitious youth who found in the Lebanese University an obsolete educational option and are unfortunate enough to attend the high-end private universities.

I asked him for his age; he's 23. He's younger than me! His life story is different than mine; the signs of a self-made man are on his face and looks like he's a 28-year old. But even if he was different, he still, like many Lebanese youth, values education so much that he would rather earn a degree in seven years, than simply seek the path of least resistance.

And like many Lebanese youth, he dropped the famous line: "I'm looking to go to America!" He wants to continue his education there. His uncle has been there forever, but he doesn't want to be a burden. He simply needs him as a sponsor and from then on, he can figure his way out in life. I smiled, because I live in America and my uncle has been there forever...Haven't we heard that famous line a thousand times before?...But again, at least this person is productive while he waits...for Godot!....

He lives in Dahieh, south of Beirut. He told me that he visits his village in the south perhaps every 3 years. He thinks there is nothing to do there, no prospects. Many well-to-do southerners have returned from abroad, mostly Africa, with great ideas up their sleeve for investment in their area, only to find out that each politician/party wants a sort of "tax" on the profits. Those ambitious businessmen would lock their dreams back in their hearts and return to estrangement. The South: many lost opportunities. He thinks it's a closed society, not open for change or prospects.

We talked more about the economy, the crazy driving, and tourism. We're from the same world, creatures of the same generation, yet what divides us is simply the differing nature of opportunity...nothing more, nothing less!

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Episode I: The Common Man On The Airplane And Our Particularisms

This is the first of a number of episodes on my interactions with the Lebanese Common Man while I was back home.

Kamal Salibi once wrote in "House of Many Mansions" about our society's different tribal particularlisms. In his view, Sunni particularism was known as Arab nationalism; Greek Orthodox particularism was pan-Syrianism; and Maronite particularism was what he called Lebanism.

I say my particularism is Lebanism. Therefore, Maronites no longer own this sort of particularism. We have been born in different times than our parents'. In our times there was no Jamal Abdel Nasser, no Ottoman rule, no French mandate. We were born to bear witness to a country wrecked by a civil war. We learned in the school of life that sectarianism and ideology equal death and estrangement.

When I was 8 or 9, I recall being made fun of in school because I didn't have a President, because our country was drowning then in anarchy. And whoever was laughing at me were fellow Arab children. I grew to love my country, Lebanon being an end in itself.

While I claim that my generation's particularism is Lebanism, I found myself astounded by a competing view of Lebanism, that of a fellow I met aboard the airplane that was taking me back to my Lebanon.

His notion of Lebanism is outright fear and disgust from Islamic religiousity. Not that I'm an advocate of religious fanaticism, but Lebanon is home for more than a dozen sects, and I was raised to coexist with and appreciate the diversity.

He was a person who has lived in Nigeria since the late '80s, has married an African, wishes to raise his children outside of Lebanon indefinitely, and claims that Lebanon will never change, that it's a hopeless case. Interestingly, however, he recently returned to Lebanon to hlep in the Aoun-Franjieh electoral campaign. I asked why he suddenly cared about Lebanon and he said that he was helping Franjieh win the elections as he is the sole service provider in his town where his parents still reside.

He kept on telling me that he's not sectarian, but continued spewing hate words towards non-Christians. I was unnerved, because my notion of Lebanism is different, a notion free of sectarianism, free of hate, free of fear, and free of militancy. He thinks that Israel is closer to us than Syria and that those in power (Hariris) have exchanged Syrian tutelage for Saudi.

I sat thinking about what I have in common with this fellow Lebanese...he has rejected me before knowing who I am. I kept on assuring him that there are a handful of Lebanese, like me, who think far beyond sectarianism, far beyond pan-something ideologies that transcend Lebanon as a permanent country in its own right. He succumbed reluctantly and said that he hopes my optimism would prevail and be translated into reality, but he has bet against progress for Lebanon...

It's funny, but long before, the Lebanese fought amongst each other because some wanted Lebanon to be part of an Arab nation as a final home, or a Syrian nation. I think I will fight to have Lebanon never divided, Lebanon that country that never had a chance at ruling itself in its own self. Now that many Muslims on the popular level have finally bought into this mantra (Lebanon-an end in itself), would some other sects in Lebanon start calling for Federalism?....

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Seven Questions Asked in February of 2005

Seven Questions I asked in February of 2005 - Exactly two weeks after Hariri's assassination. Let's see how the answers turned out:

1. Will this new optimism and patriotism continue... or will the opposition quench it now that there is no more use for it?

Well, the broad optimism and patriotism we all felt did collapse. However, the collapse did not come about as i thought it would (i.e. a deliberate effort by the opposition to restrain the flurry of patriotism and contain terribly high expectations). Rather, the snuffing of those wonderfull feelings and emotions came about as a result of the fracturing of the opposition itself.

2. I wonder whether this is really a change in the Lebanese mentality and political chessboard. The politicians say that they want Taef to be implimented to the fullest. Will it be so?

The Lebanese mentality will never change (at least in my lifetime). I'm happy I asked that question though because it highlights how euphoric those weeks were. Eventhough we witnessed some big changes in the chess pieces, I don't think that the chessboard itself actually changed. As for Taef, it is too soon to say.

3. I am specifically interested in the creation of "Senate" or Majles al Shuyukh. If it is created, then the sectarian distribution of the parliamentary/"House" seats will no longer apply. I can run as a Lebanese if I wanted to. Ibelieve that other positive consequences will also come about.

I'm not so sure I agree with this statement anymore. I am even more sure that I disagree with the rationale I provided because it was an incomplete one. I meant to say that if a Senate was created the sect would become irrelevant in the House. Furthermore, Historical precedent in both the the US and England proves that Upper Houses are usually more prominent in the early days of their formation, but then lose influence to Lower Houses. I support the creation of a Senate based on the weak assumption that such precedents will apply to Lebanon.

Anyways, this question is related to the last part of question #2 and consequently we have to wait and see what becomes of it.

4. How many Syrian politicians will be thrown out of parliament once real elections take place? I really hope Qandil gets the boot. Ialso hope Qanso gets arrested. But, I am afraid that these two have real constituencies.

This is one of only two questions that have a mainly positive response. Although Qanso is not in jail, he is definitely out of the business of politics (for now at least). Furthremore, the one institution that was most effectively cleansed from Syrian stooges was the Parliament. I also thought these guys had considerable followings - thank God events proved me to be embarasingly off the mark!

5. How long will Lahoud last?

Wow! I wonder what I was thinking back then. Could I have imagined that he'd last this long???

6. Will the investigations continue? Will there be justice?

The investigations have continued. As for justice, I guess it depends on what exactly is implied by justice.

7. Once the political system is purged (if it is purged), will the remaining leaders be able to play the game of politics without Syrian tutelage? It has been going on for so long, and as far as I know, habits do tend to die hard.

Here, unfortunately, I was correct in wondering about the issue of playing the Lebanese game of politics without Syrian oversight and intervention. Considering the bickering that some of the main political players are participating in, and the fact that no agreement can be reached with regards to the security services, I am not so optimistic. Maybe the guys back home need more time.

Loubnan: Thirsty For Us, Like The Pine Tree

Less than 24 hours before I leave this beloved country, Lebanon. I must say that I have decided--this is the place I want to be my home, this is where I want to live. No romanticism, no's reality and it becomes clearer the older I get....

Lebanon--it's the fertile ground for change, for opportunities. We should all start planning the return. We should! No doubt! It would be a shame to leave it behind, when it is so thirsty for our minds, for our endless energy, and optimism.

Yes, don't worry, I will talk politics, a lot of it, right when I return to the cradle of routine. Soon, I'll be giving you inside stories from the Lebanese Common Man.

I also met with Beirut Spring's Mustapha and Lebanese Political Journal's Lebanon_Profile. I will write about that as well. I just wanted to write these words...I can smell the fresh scent of the Pine Tree from the hills of Bhamdoun-El-Mhatta.

Forever, Loubnan Al-Moukaddas.

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

Friday, August 12, 2005

Is Hariri using the investigation to get what he wants?

My suspicions started when Hariri Jr. was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on the 24th of July. The following is the portion of the interview that caught my attention:

BLITZER: I interviewed the president of Lebanon, Emile Lahoud, on June 26th, and he flatly denied any involvement, and he also insists that Syria was not involved. Listen to what he told me.


BLITZER: Do you trust President Emile Lahoud?

HARIRI: I think all the circumstances, Wolf, now are different. You know, after the Cedar Revolution we had in Lebanon, after all the circumstances that happened, after the assassination of my father, you had the revolution, you had demonstrations, we had the free elections in Lebanon -- I think everyone is different now.

I don't want to talk about if I trust him or I don't trust him. I believe that now, if there is -- now as you see, there is a new government. I think we will be judging people on the way they confront this government and they work with it.

I think Lebanon has a new chance, and everybody has a new chance. But I believe -- I hope that the president works with this government in a way that is good for Lebanon

Two days later, Tony at Across the Bay posted an entry he titled Consolidation and Scapegoating. Tony posted the following:

You've already heard about the leaks about Mustapha Hamdan (head of the presidential guard) and his interrogation by the UN investigative team. Hamdan is likely to be assassinated soon, and he's being dangled as a threat to Bashar, telling him that this can go higher.

As if on cue, Ghazi Kanaan is now said to be leaving the Ministry of the Interior....
Tony also reported that both Farouq al Shara' and the head of Bashar's personal guard were on their way to getting booted (I'm not sure whether those developments have taken place yet).

Today, I hear that Chief UN Inspector Mehlis "wants a short extension to conclude the investigation." I really have my doubts about that assertion, and I have a suspicion that it was Seniora who asked for more time in that three-hour meeting he had with Mehlis yesterday.

If what I am assuming is really the case, then I think that it is politically shrewd on behalf of the Hariri family. I can't help but recall movie scenes where a clique seeking revenge get their target and debate whether to kill him or take the less satisfying (but ultimately smarter) route and keep him alive for future negotiations.

There is no doubt about it: as long as the UN investigating team is in Beirut, the Hariris are the most powerful people in the country by far. They practically have the capacity to throw all those people who are implicated into a jail in the Hague. Now if you were in their shoes, would you throw them in the Hague or keep them and have them beholden to you?

What are the issues that the Hariris are fighting for? Well... anything, everything.... However three things stick out:

1. I think they want to destroy the "tradition" Lahoud was trying to make with regards to the Presidents attendance of the weekly Ministerial meetings, or at least mitigate it.

2. I am quite sure that the request Mehlis made for postponement and the sudden ressurgence of the former head of Surete General was no coincidence.

3. Negotiations with Syria on a new relationship between the two countries

Again, so long as the investigating team is in Beirut, the Hariris are as close to cloud number 9 as they're gonna get. I think they're enjoying it too much though and really compromising their principles to get what they want. The investigation has got to come to an end some time though; and when it does, we'll probably witness another volatile period in the Lebanese political landscape as a new balance of power sets in. Some poor mid-ranking son of a bitch is gonna get the blame for the murder just because he followed orders. If not then I guess we can be sure that the Hariris weren't successful in getting what they wanted.

An Islamic Caliphate in Seven Easy Steps

  • The First Phase Known as "the awakening" -- this has already been carried out and was supposed to have lasted from 2000 to 2003, or more precisely from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington to the fall of Baghdad in 2003. The aim of the attacks of 9/11 was to provoke the US into declaring war on the Islamic world and thereby "awakening" Muslims. "The first phase was judged by the strategists and masterminds behind al-Qaida as very successful," writes Hussein. "The battle field was opened up and the Americans and their allies became a closer and easier target." The terrorist network is also reported as being satisfied that its message can now be heard "everywhere."

  • The Second Phase "Opening Eyes" is, according to Hussein's definition, the period we are now in and should last until 2006. Hussein says the terrorists hope to make the western conspiracy aware of the "Islamic community." Hussein believes this is a phase in which al-Qaida wants an organization to develop into a movement. The network is banking on recruiting young men during this period. Iraq should become the center for all global operations, with an "army" set up there and bases established in other Arabic states.

  • The Third Phase This is described as "Arising and Standing Up" and should last from 2007 to 2010. "There will be a focus on Syria," prophesies Hussein, based on what his sources told him. The fighting cadres are supposedly already prepared and some are in Iraq. Attacks on Turkey and -- even more explosive -- in Israel are predicted. Al-Qaida's masterminds hope that attacks on Israel will help the terrorist group become a recognized organization. The author also believes that countries neighboring Iraq, such as Jordan, are also in danger.

  • The Fourth Phase Between 2010 and 2013, Hussein writes that al-Qaida will aim to bring about the collapse of the hated Arabic governments. The estimate is that "the creeping loss of the regimes' power will lead to a steady growth in strength within al-Qaida." At the same time attacks will be carried out against oil suppliers and the US economy will be targeted using cyber terrorism.

  • The Fifth Phase This will be the point at which an Islamic state, or caliphate, can be declared. The plan is that by this time, between 2013 and 2016, Western influence in the Islamic world will be so reduced and Israel weakened so much, that resistance will not be feared. Al-Qaida hopes that by then the Islamic state will be able to bring about a new world order.

  • The Sixth Phase Hussein believes that from 2016 onwards there will a period of "total confrontation." As soon as the caliphate has been declared the "Islamic army" it will instigate the "fight between the believers and the non-believers" which has so often been predicted by Osama bin Laden.

  • The Seventh Phase This final stage is described as "definitive victory." Hussein writes that in the terrorists' eyes, because the rest of the world will be so beaten down by the "one-and-a-half million Muslims," the caliphate will undoubtedly succeed. This phase should be completed by 2020, although the war shouldn't last longer than two years.

  • Read more: Click here to go to the Spiegel article

    Thursday, August 11, 2005

    Oooh... Political Scandals and Good Coverage

    Is this a sign of a revitalized political landscape? The dailystar has just published two articles that broach on subjects pertaining to the wheelings and dealings of politicians and businessmen.

    1. Officials scramble to explain free cell lines

    2. Qabbani says al-Habtoor hotel endangering air traffic

    The scandals are not so new. We've heard about the cell phone issue over and over again. It is the first time the Habtoor issue has been brought up, and I have the sneaky suspicion that Qabbani is not being 100% forthcoming with his motives. What is new, actually, is that the usually conservative (and tow-the-line) Daily Star coverage has all of a sudden become a little more interesting. These two articles present the opinions of all the concerned parties for the first time in a very long time (as far as I can remember).

    This new development could be the result of two reasons: The first is that Rami Khouri (Daily Star's editor) has become a little more gung ho. The second is that more people are now willing to speak and actually give the dailystar a story. I guess this new vitality could be a consequence of both. But anyways, here's a concrete example of what I'm talking about.

    In the article concerning cell phones, the dailystar reported that:

    Claims published by a Kuwaiti newspaper that 300 cellular lines were provided for free to Lebanese and Syrian officials have created a wave of reactions, with those accused of squandering public money angrily denouncing the allegations. Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamade had said Tuesday that he had cancelled "hundreds of mobile phone lines given free of charge to several Lebanese and Syrian security services, which cost the Treasury $6 million a year."
    Then the newspaper juices the story up as it has never done before. First, a statement by former minister Qordahi...

    Earlier this week, former Telecommunications Minister Jean-Louis Qordahi issued a statement saying the free lines were made available under an agreement worked out by former Premier Rafik Hariri with companies Cellis and LibanCell.
    Then a rebuttal from Liban Cell (I really liked this, and don't think there is a similar precedent at least in Daily Star reporting anyway):

    LibanCell issued a statement responding to Qordahi, saying: "LibanCell is sorry the minister has to involve the company in his political conflicts every time he feels embarrassed."
    Then LibanCell continues (pretty gutsy, don't you think?)...

    The statement said no more than 70 lines were put at the disposal of the ministry when former Telecommunications Minister Issam Neaman took over the ministry. It added that on April 2004, there were 445 lines at the disposal of the minister, including 100 requested by the minister for two weeks coinciding with the municipal elections period. The statement said LibanCell has no link with the way lines are distributed.
    You'd think that everything would stop there since the newspaper has basically helped Hariri & Co by bashing Qordahi, but they don't.... In the last segment of the article they take the initiative to contact someone they percieved as neutral: an almost forgotten Telecommunication Minister who reveals even more scandalous material...

    [Issam Neaman] also revealed that between 1998 and 2000, he reported to judicial authorities that "several phone lines were provided for free to persons who did not occupy any function as official administration."

    "Investigations showed that mobile phone companies distributed over four thousand free phone numbers and paid no fees to the government for these numbers," he said, adding the case is still "unresolved."

    All I can say is that I enjoyed reading a Dailystar article for the first time in a long time. Thank you Raed El Rafei for writing it. Thank you Rami Khouri for publishing it. Thank you Liban Cell and Issam Neaman for speaking up. Thank you Lebanese people (and Int'l Community) for kicking the Syrians out!

    Wednesday, August 10, 2005

    al Qaeda's next Objective and the Implications on the Region

    al Qaeda's two main sources of revenue appear to be contributions from oil-rich gulf states and opium grown in Afghanistan. It is so ironic how Western civilization's dependencies actually sustain the al Qaeda network and its terrorist activities!

    There is an old saying that says where there is smoke, you'll find fire. In Lebanon, the talk of some salons immediately after the September 11 attacks, was that Osama Bin Laden was actually a CIA agent. Of course, that is a ridiculous claim, but considering that Osama and his cronies fund their destruction with oil and opium revenues, which are made by selling those two commodities to mainly Western markets, such a ridiculous claim is not too far from the truth!

    al Qaeda's next rational step is to elevate itself from getting the scraps that are thrown from the dinner table to actually controlling the kitchen. Its next strategic objective appears to be gaining control over the oil fields and use the Western addiction to that commodity as a means of subsidizing its caliphate.

    In my last post on the subject of al Qaeda's war against the West, I motioned that the conflict was basically a do-or-die conflict for both sides. This war is being fought over the future of the Middle East, nothing less. Iraq is now the central battlefield. It has the second largest oil reserves in the world, and is currently experiencing an extremely volatile period as a result of the political vacuum created by Sadam's demise.

    I wonder though, if the al Qaeda goons are thinking about the Shi'a and the Kurds. All the United States and neighboring Arab states have to do to win in Iraq is contain the conflict within that territory. Iraq's Arab Sunnis are a minority, and will most definitely lose a civil war against the Shi'a and Kurdish "minorities."

    Here is America's Achilles heel with regards to its dealings with regimes like Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Unless these regimes are able to survive along with their actual states, the civil war in Iraq might turn into a regional war: a reality that al Qaeda desperately seeks.

    So long as that threat exists, I would not expect the United States to put too much pressure of any of the regimes for reform. Bashar will stay... So will all the others. Lebanon is now the token democracy in the region. Every one is happy

    Tuesday, August 09, 2005

    A Rare Inside Look into the Workings of a Regime in the Middle East

    The Atlantic, a monthly news journal printed in the US, published an article titled "How Yassir Arafat Destroyed Palestine." An important component of the article articulated the absolutely despicable way in which Yasser Arafat maintained his grip on power at the expense of almost everything else in the territories he controlled.

    The reason I have decided to post an entry on this article is because I consider it to have provided me with a rare insight into the operations of not only Arafat's regime, but most (or all) the regimes and Zu'ama that exist in the region. As such, it is relevant to Lebanon and definitely worth considering.

    In an interview with Mr. David Samuels (the author of the article), Munib al Masri, one of Yasir Arafat's oldest friends, and one of the leading financiers of the Palestinian National Movement said the following

    "With three hundred, four hundred million dollars we could have built Palestine in ten years. Waste, waste, waste. I flew over the West Bank in a helicopter with Arafat at the beginning of Oslo, and I told him how easy we could make five, six, seven towns here; we could absorb a lot of people here; and have the right of return for the refugees. If you have good intentions and you say you want to reach a solution, we could do it. I said, if you have money and water, it could be comparable to Israel, this piece of land."

    Masri's eyes mist over. "Abu Ammar, yes. He's a simple man. He slept on a simple bed. He doesn't want any houses. He doesn't want anything...."

    That last sentence really caught my attention. Arafat, according to Masri's recollection, appeared to be clueless and simply uninterested in policies pertaining to the development and wellbeing of his "constituents." As we all know, it appears that one of the only things Arafat was really good at was maintaining his grip on power. The following is another excerpt on exactly how the "Palestinian Hero" went about accomplishing that noble cause:

    A secret report prepared by an official Palestinian Authority committee headed by Arafat's cousin concluded that in 1996 alone, $326 million, or 43% of the state budget, had been embezzled, and that another $94 million, or 12.5% of the budget, went to the president's office, where it was spent at Arafat's personal discretion. An additional 35% of the budget went to pay for the security services, leaving a total of $73 million, or 9.5% of the budget, to be spent on the needs of the population of West Bank and Gaza."

    Of course, Mr. Arafat didn't just feed his Court. He needed to appeal to the masses as well. How could he do that when he basically spent 90.5% of his budget to maintain his grip on power and only 9.5% on his people through the PA? Personal charity of course! While the institutions of the Palestinian state were rotting with only a fraction of the budget they needed to operate on (I wonder whether 9.5% could even pay salaries, never mind fund any services), the institution of Yasser Arafat was flourishing!

    His people accepted his [faults] because he was their father.... He paid for their weddings and their funerals. It was part of this paternal pose that no Palestinian who asked him for money went away empty-handed. When he visited cities, he was followed by an aide with a Samsonite briefcase stuffed with bundles of cash, which he distributed to the people who lined up to beg for money. Ordinary Palestinians placed classified advertisements in the newspaper asking Arafat for money. Others wrote him letters....

    This ridiculous personalization of politics is merely one example of a broader trend that exists throughout the region. Just look at Lebanon and the personal welfare systems that each of the "zu'ama" operate for their constituents. What makes it even worse is that members of our societies accept such a sham - not knowing that well-functioning state bureaucracies could solve their problems in a much more equitable and consistent manner.

    It appears that people in Lebanon and the region don't really want to change the way they live their lives. Sectarianism, for example, is too convenient for people to have a real incentive to break it down. The state, on the other hand, can only function properly if society accepts it, and accepts the premise that all citizens are equal under the authority of the state.

    However, the "Paternal Father" system is so attractive because it allows people get at least a semblance of the services that they would receive from a welfare state, and remain in the same frame of mind they were in three to four hundred years ago. Why change their entire way of thinking and the way they live their lives to get welfare and other services from a state, when they can get similar services from a Za'im who only askes for their loyalty?


    Part of what differentiates and brings value to this blogg is the diversity of opinion of those posting on it. Allow me to respond to an earlier blogg posted by my colleague Hassan under the title "Schizophrenic little brother."

    Hassan’s blogg adds value by forcing others to consider current developments with Syria from another perspective. That said; it was certainly a biased entry that shifts all blame on to the Lebanese.

    I am amazed by the enduring capacity of some Lebanese who always seem to care more for other peoples rather than their own.

    In the seventies it was the “poor Palestinians who lost their homeland.” We allowed their armed militia in and let it take over our country. Lets not forget the Palestinian "hero" who famously said “I will not leave Beirut as long as one brick remain on top another.” He replaced his occupied country by taking ours, and we not only allowed him, but fought and defended him!

    Now Hassan defends the poor Syrians who we “treat like crap” but still expect goodies from. With all respect Hassan, please don’t forget your Lebanese brothers who for the last 15 years have been treated like crap by Syrian army and intelligence officers. They have been abused, kidnapped, jailed, blackmailed and tortured. Have sympathy for them too. Enough selling ourselves and bending over backward for “our brothers” ba’a!

    It’s the 21st century and we live in a world of nations. Let’s act like one and start worrying about our interests first. They want to block our borders, breach treaties, and kidnap fishermen, fine! But don’t ask us to say “poor Syrians” and lament ourselves for not being appreciative. Whats next? You want us to coerce the Lebanese media into only saying nice things about the Baath regime next door?!

    Like you I believe in Lebanon's Arab identity and that it must live and cooperate with its Arab surrounding. Like you I believe that the best of relations with Syria is in Lebanon’s national interest. But please Hassan, let us not blame the “little brother” for all the bullying and wrong doing of his “big brother.”

    Looking Inside Makes A Difference!

    A bitter day, a sweet day…this is the way I described how Lebanon makes me feel last month. Today, it’s a sweet day, news of a positive outcome ensuing from the five-hour long Cabinet meeting. The Cabinet decided on a number of important and pertinent issues, as promised in their Policy Statement.

    First, establishing the National Commission that will look into devising a modern and fair electoral system in the country. The likes of Dr. Nawaf Salam, Paul Salem, and Ziad Baroud are among the members of the commission and it is headed by political veteran, former Minister Fouad Butros (whom PM Seniora nominated for the position of Foreign Minister initially). If you recall, I wrote once about Dr. Salam’s recent book edited by him entitled: Choices for Lebanon, in which he explains in detail our electoral policy and provides several practical solutions to this policy. He personally advocates for proportional representation.

    In addition, the Cabinet passed a resolution which basically allows for the formation of political parties without the prior consent of the Cabinet, as stipulated by a 1993 decree; any party to be formed should get licensed by the Interior Ministry. There is talk now of course of the Free Patriotic Movement and Future Movement turning into official parties.

    Security-wise, a plan to integrate the security apparatus under one central direction has been commissioned to the Interior and Defense Ministries. Of course, more issues were tackled, but I focused here on what is of interest.

    On another point, the five members of the Constitutional Council who resigned yesterday from their positions claimed that they made this move in fear of being implicated in leading the country towards renewed political strife which they would rather be innocent from. We are seeing for the first time in a long time judicial figures rising to the national unity challenge and putting the national good above all parochial interests. For the first time they kill all attempts by the President (et al.) to resuscitate the tug-of-war between Baabda and the Nijmeh Square/Grand Serail with its majority representatives.

    Lastly, it is becoming clearer that the reason for closing the borders after a few days from re-opening them with Seniora’s visit to Damascus is that the Syrian officials were waiting for a certain outcome ensuing from their meeting with Seniora which was not fulfilled, hence the renewed pressure. I mean, a great example was the talk around the Syrian demand to control our media, which our government officials denied claiming that our media is free.

    Yesterday, I asked myself to look outside of Lebanon to understand our country’s fate; today, I look inside to gain a renewed sense of confidence that we are moving forward, step-by-step.

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

    Foreign Direct Investment??? Who ever heard of such nonesense!

    I just read this hilarious article! Saudi Arabia apparently is going to get around $360 billion dollars of investment in the near future - all of which will be coming from foreign banks and investment portfolios.

    Okay, the reaction you should have had as you read that sentence was:
    "WOW! Foreign investors really like the fact that Abdullah is now "king," and have decided to pour their monies into Saudi Arabia."
    However, that reaction would have been misplaced. It appears that while most of the countries in this world have to work their butts off to create conditions that would attract foreign direct investment and economic growth, which would lead to more comfortable standards of living, all the Saudis have to do is snap their fingers!

    You see, the $360 billion is actually Saudi money that was invested overseas. It appears that those who make the decisions in that Kingdom have decided that "the conditions are now ripe for investments."

    All that money... all that power... imagine! The Saudis don't even need foreign investors. In my opinion, that autonomy is one of the main reasons that kingdom's society is so backward and underdeveloped.

    Oil: the curse of the Middle East!

    Monday, August 08, 2005

    Celebrity moving to Lebanon!!!

    I am sooooo excited! Have you all heard??? Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed has packed his bags and moved from London to Beirut! Whoopi!!! Beirut is definitely becoming the Paris of the Middle East... Just look at what kind of high-quality people we're getting!

    You see Mr. Bakri is definitely high quality. He left London for Beirut because it just wasn't good enough for him! The corrupt and incompetent bureaucracy in London was simply making it impossible for Mr. Bakri to go about carrying out his daily affairs.

    What are his daily affairs??? Well, just take a good look at the picture.

    You see, Mr. Bakri feels the unquenchable urge to "fulfil the message of Islam." He once told the Washington Post that he'd “ to see the Islamic flag fly, not only over number 10 Downing Street, but over the whole world.” Oh how proud I am of the fact that this man somehow has obtained a Lebanese passport. I just can't wait to go back to Lebanon, so that I can join his party and help him post the Islamic flag on the top of the Grand Serail in downtown Beirut. Oh how excited I am! Lebanon is going back to the 7th century AD any time now!!! This is so cool.

    Can anyone feel the excitement? Aren't we all so so happy? In the 1980s we got that wonderful toxic waste from Italy that we spread all over our mountains. And now we're getting celebrities too!

    Update: It appears that two sources have claimed that Mr. Bakri is a "dual Lebanese-Syrian" citizen. Click here to read the Reuters article that claims that. Click here to read the Naharnet story that also claims that. Naharnet reports that he is "visiting his mother" in Lebanon.

    The fact that Mr. Bakri attained a Lebanese passport is scandalous. He was born in Syria, and even though his mother might be Lebaese, Lebanese law stipulates that children of parents with mixed nationalities can only attain the Lebanese passport if the father is Lebanese. Where the &*^% is transparency??? What did the Brits give us for taking in this rubish??? I want to know!

    Bloggers Rule!

    You don't realize what you have until its gone.

    That's how the old saying goes I guess. Lebanese bloggers have all of a sudden drastically reduced their output. I have to admit... I haven't been writing much either. Either yesterday or today morning, I wanted to catch up with news from Lebanon, and found no new blog entries, so I did the easiest thing and checked out the English press.

    My reaction: blakh... (and the after-taste lasted a long, long time)

    So, Hassan, Doha, Tony and LP, thanks for writing today. I might not totally agree with your opinions, but you all totally kick ass for expressing them anyway!

    Schizophrenic little brother

    I wrote this quickly as a summary of a weird paradoxical approach by the Lebanese people and media to the relation with Syria:

    The double standards and schizophrenia in the Lebanese attitudes towards Syria never fail to amaze me. It all started with a little article I read on the Feb. 14 explosion that killed late Lebanese PM Rafic Hariri. The writer is one of those semi-literates-turned-explosives-experts whom I have come to tag “tunnel theorists”. At an early stage of his article, he counts a few of the atrocities committed by the Syrian Baath regime in our beautiful country; above all, our “friend of all classes” laments the jobs taken by Syrian workers from Lebanon’s hardworking people…He then proceeds to illustrate how the Syrians must be the ones who killed Hariri.

    First, of course, comes the irrefutable evidence: “expert” drawings that show with absolutely no doubt that the bomb was underground, and the explosion ripped through the street…

    Then he concludes the bomb was in a tunnel, maybe a sewage segment; consequently, it must be Syrians who did it because they are the only workers who are dirty enough to work in sewage and garbage collection (no idea why he mentions garbage). Now wait! I thought you wanted the Lebanese to take jobs back; suddenly that work is beneath all human beings and is suited for that inferior race dueling to our east? His logic was “these jobs should be done by Lebanese people”, but it soon switched to “only inferior beings would do that kind of job.”

    So now to Azmi Bshara’s question: “What do the Lebanese want from Syria?”

    Most of the Lebanese wanted Syria to leave Lebanon; eventually the Syrians left, albeit “unwillingly”.

    We are a sovereign nation! We want them to stop meddling in our internal politics. We have maintained for the last 15 years that there is no “brotherly love” between countries. Only interest, interest, interest! For the first few weeks of summer, we wanted to reconsider all treaties we had with them. Any reaction on their side would be an act of hostility, condemned by all international powers.

    We decided we did not need them. We adopted every possible form of racism against them; we would be free and they would be jealous.

    International winds would help us along the way when we needed.

    We had it all figured out!

    Political meddling: We think Syria still does that. US and French meddling? We say there is international concern for Lebanon, a rare moment of attention that we must make the most of. They have our best interest in mind. They have abandoned their habit of giving up on struggling peoples at the worst times.
    If the Americans express unwillingness to deal with a certain officer, we just accept it as is and make sure he is not appointed in any high post. When they say they will boycott a minister and an entire sector integral to our livelihood, we justify it.
    Jordan views Ahmad Jalabi as a fugitive criminal offender, but they deal with him as a government official because they “respect the wish of the Iraqi people”.

    Treaties: Syrians suspended the ones (borders, fuel, gas…) we need most, now we’re stuck. We want the preferential treatment we always got, but we will not give anything in return. We want gas and fuel for peanuts; we even want free electricity, but we do not want to have their products competing with, and beating, Lebanese products in Lebanon. We want our trucks to be granted free passage through their land, but we will not coordinate security efforts with them. We want the international community to crack down hard on them; we want them to know we’ve coordinated that, and we want them to like us all the same. We only want the perks of being “little brother”.

    So what do we want from the Syrian people: We want to treat them like crap and have them like it and choose our country for tourism!

    So we’re being immature; the Syrian regime is throwing a tantrum. Way to go!

    From Beloved Lebanon: A Whirlwind!

    From beloved Lebanon I write. I miss our blog and I miss all my fellow bloggers!

    What can I say? There are a million words in my head and if I write my heart out, I'll probably end up with a million pages...

    I've been around every summer in Lebanon and in each year, our country was improving, moving forward, at least tourism-wise. This year, Lebanon has witnessed a major setback.

    I must thank those from the Gulf who believe in our country and are pouring money into our businesses and shops in all the summer resorts around Lebanon, floating our ailing households. And of course, on the contrary, you have Syria which has abandoned Lebanon in every dimension.

    Lebanon being left now to international and regional tug of war. A special thanks to the truck driver, to the fighter...who ever thought that trucks and truck drivers would become part of a confrontation, the infantry and infantrymen of Lebanon.

    The borders are closed again. The Northern borders were never opened and now they have closed in the face of civilian cars.

    Lebanese workers and executives are asked to leave Syria. They started first with those who have no official work permits, those who abused the system and thought that there is no need for legality among sisterly countries. Now, they are targeting those with legitimate work they're doing it? They're basically not renewing the work permits.

    Al-Mustaqbal's editorial yesterday was clear: We're asked to bow under pressure and give up the great strides we made since February; either a Syrian-American settlement to bail Syria out of any connection to Hariri's assassination or have the head of the majority, Saad Hariri, pay a visit to Damascus...and we know what that would mean, the end of everything. I'll basically then just take my name out of this blog and forget about Lebanon forever.

    And then we have the Hizbullah issue. People out there, what do you think? Doesn't it look terribly complicated? I have no solution in my head. They have increased their confrontation, they are playing the regional card very well. It is not about HA anymore, we all know that, it's about the Iran-Syria axis. HA has made it clear that if you want to deal with HA, you have to work with Iran, full-stop!

    Lebanon, the small, beautiful country, the larger-than-life country, is too good to be true sometimes. Lebanon is beautiful like a dream. I've talked to many and funnilly enough, many are optimistic, and many are not. Many have bought in to the national reconciliation mantra, and many have become ultra-sectarian, it is but confusing to say which side is winning!

    When you don't read the newspapers, Lebanon is the way it is...just Lebanon, the Lebanon we all love. But just when you read the news, it is inevitable to be disturbed. The dark forces in our country are slowly getting emboldened. I hope we can stand in their way. Can we?

    Lebanon is weak, a sick-man, susceptible to all the viruses one can think of. Are we able to give it an immunization shot once and for all? I believe, if we can work together. We'll wait and see. But I'll remind myself everyday, that now in order to understand what will happen to our country, we have to keep up with the news around us. So let's keep our eyes open.

    I hope to write soon!

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

    Friday, August 05, 2005

    Finally, the Europeans are beginning to move

    My absolute favorite quote from a European leader in God knows how many months (or maybe years):

    "They come here and they play by our rules and our way of life. If they don't, they are going to have to go."

    That statement should be put in its context. Blair gave a monthly press conference in which he announced the first real defensive measures Britain is instituting against al Qaeda.

    Here are some more quotes (Click here to read full article):

    Membership in extremist Islamic groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir would become a crime under the new measures.

    Blair said the government also would compile a list of Web sites, bookshops and centers that incite hatred and violence. British nationals involved with such organizations could face strict penalties. Foreign nationals could be deported.

    Blair said anyone linked with terrorism could be refused asylum, and the new measures make it easier for the government to strip extremists of dual citizenship.

    The government also was considering a request from police and security services to hold terror suspects for three months without charge. The current time limit is 14 days.

    Blair said the government will consult with Muslim leaders on how to close mosques "used as a center for fomenting extremism" and would draw up a list of foreign Islamic clerics "not suitable to preach who will be excluded from Britain."

    And finally, the British Prime Minister caught my attention by doing something I didn't expect:

    He said it was impossible to negotiate with al-Qaida leaders.

    "You only have to read the demands coming from al-Qaida to realize there is no compromise possible with these people," Blair said.

    The fact that even the subject of negotiations was brought up is significant, and is evidence that supports my conclusion in the last entry I posted on the blog. These measures are a threat to the Muslim community in Britain. If they do not control their children, all will suffer the consequences. If the suicide bombers are not scared for their lives, then they should be scared for the wellbeing of their families. If they are not, and these measures fail, then I am affraid the Brits (and others) will be forced to take even more extreme measures. It all depends on how steep a price they are willing to pay for the Middle East. My guess is that the price is quite high.

    "They come here and they play by our rules and our way of life. If they don't, they are going to have to go."

    Tuesday, August 02, 2005

    War Over the Core of the Middle East

    I remember when the United States invaded Iraq, the one sound-bite that kept recurring over and over again was that "America was in the process of implementing a new Sykes Picot Agreement." It seemed like everyone from the region I talked to subscribed to that line of thought without hesitation. For the longest of time, even I believed that there were at least some aspects of the claim that were true. If the Americans were not going to redraw borders, they were definitely creating a new regional balance of power, and appeared to threaten the status quo in a manner that was simply unprecedented.

    The recent suicide bombing attacks in London, Turkey and Egypt however, have instigated a “revelation” in my thinking. The revelation scares me though. It scares me because it points to certain new realities that make what seemed unfathomable yesterday, extremely viable today.

    In short, the bombings revealed to me that the war between al Qaeda and the West is not only about oil, nor is it only about “infidel” troops on “holy” land. Rather, the Americans, British and the French are fighting tooth and nail to protect nothing less than the Sykes-Picot Agreement itself (the agreement that signifies the birth of the Middle East as we know it today).

    Why the Islamic Umma May Win where the Arab Umma Failed

    It is no big secret; the legitimacy of most “Arab” states is, in the best of circumstances, precarious. Throughout its modern history there has never been a shortage of “pan-something” ideologies & identities in the region! Yet, with the brief exception of Nasser’s Pan Arabism (prior to Nasser’s humiliation in 1967), none of these ideologies ever really posed an existential threat to any of the Arab states. Quite to the contrary, most of the ideologies were adopted by regimes to increase their own legitimacy and consequently reinforce the status quo.

    Considering the absolutely miserable performance of secular “pan-something” ideologies, why should we be concerned about the threat that Islamic Fundamentalism poses on the Sykes Picot Agreement? Is it not simply another manifestation of previous failed initiatives?

    The main reasons I worry are as follows:

    1. the Pan Arab ideologies were state-sponsored and did not have a non-state champion with the popularity and destructive power of al Qaeda

    1. there was never a united counter-elite that spanned the entire world similar to al-Qaeda – an organization that utilizes the internet and other technologies that were not available in the mid-twentieth century to spread its message and coordinate “military” activities on a global scale

    1. al Qaeda is using Islam as a much more effective political tool than Pan Arabism could ever be used. Islam is an established religion; Pan Arabism was a hollow “quasi-ideology.” It can be argued that it has more of an appeal.

    1. Arab regimes, such as Egypt’s are inadvertently assisting al Qaeda by conceding ever more ground to religious fanatics in the hope of increasing their legitimacy. Why should Mullahs bother to criticize the regime when they are indirectly undermining the legitimacy of the state itself through their political sermons?

    1. Finally, and most importantly, al Qaeda is targeting what it perceives to be the Western “pillars” of not only the region’s regimes, but the actual states created by Sykes Picot. Could the Saudi regime survive without the support it receives from the United States? The first Gulf War proved that it could not. Could the Saudi state, (as it is defined by its current borders) exist without US support? The Iraqi precedent, which is taking place as you are reading these words, proves that it will not. The same applies to all of the other states in the region.

    Is al Qaeda Winning?

    Yes. If you go to any bookstore in the US, the number of books you see with titles that include the phrase, “Muslim world,” or “Islamic this or that” is simply unbelievable. The main unit of analysis for the “Western” intellectual is no longer “Egypt,” or “Syria” or “Malaysia” or “Morocco.” The unit of analysis is not even “Arab.” Today, Western intellectuals speak of the “Islamic” world (as if it were one entity) more than any other time in modern history. A former professor once told me that Samuel Huntington and al Qaeda were best friends because they both saw the world in a similar light. Today, Huntington is one of hundreds if not thousands of Western intellectuals who see the world the way al Qaeda wants them to see it.

    Even in military circles, the notion of a “Muslim Army” that fights wars in Chechnya, Kashmir, Israel/Palestine, the Philippines and West Africa is growing. According to this line of thinking, al Qaeda is the equivalent of a “Special Forces” that operates behind enemy lines, and causes as much chaos as possible. Michael Scheuer, the former head of a CIA taskforce that was created for the sole purpose of capturing or killing Bin Laden propagated that paradigm in his best seller, Imperial Hubris. On CNN, a General posted at US Army Intelligence proclaimed that there already exists a “virtual Caliphate” on the World Wide Web.

    Today’s war between al Qaeda and “the West” is a war over transforming that “virtual Caliphate” into a real Caliphate. It is a fight to the finish because everything in the Middle East is at stake – not just Israel, not just oil or natural gas, but the entire “Western Project” that is represented in the Levant by the Sykes Picot Agreement (which created the states of Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Iraq). If al Qaeda is able to increase the frequency and intensity of its suicide bombing operations in Western capitals, then I foresee no way out except either the expulsion of all known Muslim populations, or direct negotiations with al Qaeda accompanied by concessions.

    The suicide bomber is al Qaeda’s nuclear option. It terrifies the West because conventional armies, no matter how well equipped or trained, can do nothing about them. If countries like Britain, Germany and the United States are unable to diminish, or at least contain the intensity and frequency of suicide bomb attacks, the Middle East as we’ve known it since we were born may actually cease to exist. What seemed unfathomable yesterday has now become a terrifying prospect.

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    Monday, August 01, 2005


    The famously free Syrian press is continuing its campaign of slander against Lebanon and its leaders. Here is the latest as published by the Syrian weekly Al Iktissadiya:

    -A baby Saad Hariri crying because his father was killed by the Syrians
    -A Jumblat with many masks hanging out of his pockets telling a baby Sa'ad Hariri "the Syrians killed your father."
    -A Sharon embracing Jumblat telling him "Syria killed Hariri"

    This one depicts Lebanese Prime Minister Sanioura receiving commands by phone from the United States and Saudi Arabia. His assistant is also telling him of commands from the late Rafic Hariri's wife and sister.