Thursday, September 29, 2005

I want to stand on top of a mountain and shout this out!!!

The state ... isn't - or shouldn't be - something separate from and in charge of those who are subject to its laws (i.e. citizens). Rather it is the collective agent of the citizens, who decide what its laws are. So the question of how the state should treat
its citizens is that of how we, as citizens, should treat one another.

This quote is from the introduction of a book I'm required to read as part of my ethics class in Public Policy. The title is Political Philosophy: A Beginner’s Guide for Students and Politicians. It struck me so much because it is so relevant to Lebanon and what we perceive as some of its major problems (and solutions).


On the first level, there is this notion of state as "a collective agent of citizen" rather than "something separate from and in charge of those who are subject to its laws." The sense I get from most Lebanese is their belief that the state SHOULD be an entity that is separate from society, as a means of protecting Lebanese from themselves - i.e. from the "evils" of sectarianism, nepotism, etc.... Citizens demand that the state become a collection of institutions that is technocratic and fair even though they themselves are not so, and even worse, do not desire to be so!


I see the Tayyar el Wattani as the perfect manifestation of such a movement. Their main goal is to isolate the state from society and protect it from the negative influences of society so that it may become effective and just. Of course, considering that it is much easier to mold a state than it is to mold society, I can totally understand their rationale. Moreover, I can understand the appeal of a military man as the leader of this project. The army is the ultimate bureaucracy. It is the most powerful state entity that is given the authority to forcefully eliminate any outside influences that would threaten its chain of command and ability to accomplish its objectives.


The danger of course is that if the state does not reflect society, then it will not respond to society's needs, but rather to the individual or collective that controls it. The developing world is filled with such states - states that are increasingly being referred to as "failed states" because of their inability to maintain stability and any sense of order within their internationally recognized boundaries.


On the other hand, we can look at East Asia for examples of states which, in my opinion, are "separate from and in charge of those who are subject to its laws," yet remain (in certain senses) legitimate in the eyes of the societies and individuals under their control and are more than able to maintain order within their territory. What is so different about these states? Can the model of development they went through be applied to the Middle East successfully? Keep in mind that the closest comparison to the relationship between society and state in Singapore in our region is a country like Syria. Syria is definitely less economically successful than its counterpart, but it is also, in certain aspects less totalitarian.


Now lets go back to a section of the quote that, in my opinion, is the most relevant for Lebanon as we see it today.

"So the question of how the state should treat its citizens is that of how we, as citizens, should treat one another."

This quote is so profound for the Lebanese context! There is simply no comparison! Let me make it clear: the Singapore model will not work in Lebanon. A strong state that imposes its will on society is a recipe for disaster in our country. Therefore, in the Lebanese case, the state will always be a "collective agent of the citizens, who decide what its laws are." I know that some people will say that it is not exactly the citizen who makes the laws in Lebanon, but rather, the Sectarian Chieftains. However, the citizens do have a say because they have the opportunity to elect representatives. The results of these elections reflects on the way Lebanese treat each other and perceive each other in day-to-day life. Consequently unless that behavior changes... Or more precisely, unless Lebanese decide to treat each other differently, we will always end up with Jumblatts, Berris, Hariris, Jmeyyels; and there will always exist a small educated and secular group doing their best to elect Aouns who they believe will solve their problems by isolating the state from the evils of society.


My advice to the Tayyar el Wattani is to reshape their strategy because they are fighting a loosing battle. The only way they can win is by committing, or at least, supporting a grass roots campaign to change the attitudes of the average Lebanese and teach them the modern principles of citizenship and social justice among others. I will close with another quote that I find extremely relevant.

The state is a coercive instrument. It has various means - police, courts, prisons - of getting people to do what it says, whether they like it or not, whether they approve or disapprove of its decisions. Political philosophy, then, is a very specific subset of moral philosophy, and one where the stakes are particularly high. It's not just about what people ought to do, it's about what people are morally permitted, and sometimes, morally required, to make each other do.

We need Lebanese citizens to be aware of the philosophy that is the foundation of the modern citizen and state. Although technically and culturally savvy, Lebanese, as individuals, are too ignorant of these principles. They look at the superficial aspects of "Western" society/state and seek to emulate without going to the core - or rather the religion - that makes "the West" what it is today.

May's Tragedy: A Message To Everyone?

May Chidiac's assassination attempt has generated multiple interpretations on who is this message directed to.

Reporters and journalists think that it's a message against our free press.

LBCI think it's a message directed towards them as a broadcasting agency.

The Lebanese Forces think May's assassination attempt is a message addressed to them, as she is a loyal member of the party. Even Geagea in his first public appearance in an LF rally in Paris had this to say, "It is definitely a clear message addressed to us, but it will not affect our determination."

The March 14 politicians have declared it a message from the Damascus-Baabda-Moukhabarat axis aimed to paralyze Lebanon's walk towards liberty.

Other Lebanese believe that May's tragedy is a message against a Free Lebanon.

Are there any more interpretations? Please share with us whatever you've got!

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Youth Revival and the War On Terrorism

Two insights I want to share with you this day:

1) Thank you May, thank you! You have revived a revival, a youth revival and unity. Today student representatives of political parties across the spectrum have decided to gather tomorrow in Martyr's Square/Freedom Square at 6PM to say "Enough!" Amal, Hizbullah, LF, Future Movement, FPM, PSP, the Commoners Movement, and others, all have gathered and agreed on common denominators, agreed to carry one flag--the Lebanese flag.

What May is doing, the late Hariri has not done even. Is it all a show? Or are we seeing a genuine move?...To be seen. But there is hope.

2) Second, it seems that a new term has been coined in Lebanon which reflects our trying times at the moment--everyone is calling it now: The War on Terrorism. Interesting...This is all new.

PM Seniora today lashed out at Al-Manar reporter when the reporter talked about replacing a "wisaye" (tutelage) for another "wisaye". Seniora said that there is no "wisaye", that this is the era of when the Lebanese rule themselves by themselves. He added that we the Lebanese will win this war on terrorism and that he has been soliciting the help of Egypt, Qatar, France, the U.S. and the U.N. in the field of counter-terrorism. He claimed that terrorism is a phenomenon faced by countries way before we were struck by it.

So...we're in a war (even Pierre Daher of LBCI said it), a war on terrorism and we will win.

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

We Are Left In The Dark: To Cheer Or To Drive Out

Now that Elias Murr detonated the bomb, namely claiming that he received death threats from Syrian intelligence officers prior to his assassination attempt, will Murr ever return to Lebanon while Lahoud is in Baabda? Will Murr ever assume his position as Defense Minister in this government? Especially after Lahoud was quick at lavishing Syria with talk of a"model" relationship with the "shaqeeqa" and is glad with buddy Yacoub Sarraf as Defense Minister substitute?

These are good questions to ask. I am indeed so interested in the details that we the public rarely get any glimpse of. There is definitely a power struggle between Elias Murr and his father-in-law. Is it possible that Lahoud has severed ties even with his son-in-law just for the sake of keeping his "stellar" ties with Syria?

What about when Elias Murr was assassinated a couple of months back, it was claimed that even pro-Syrians are being targeted? Well, after all, I guess it wasn't a message to a pro-Syrian; it was a message to someone who has challenged the Syrian tutelage and we didn't know about that then.

My question then is: what did Lahoud do to protect his son-in-law? He did nothing; of course he knew of the threats against Elias Murr, but Lahoud did nothing. Lahoud could sacrifice widowing his daughter for the sake of staying on. What about Mrs. Lahoud? What's her take on her husband's actions towards her family?

I still haven't heard the father, Michel Murr's take on his son's declarations. Did he put his father in a tough situation? Will Aoun change his stance towards Lahoud after all? I read that this time around with Chidiac's assassination attempt, Aoun did not go all out defending Lahoud.

On another note, we are still in the dark when it comes to what Aoun's representative discussed in his meeting with Saad Hariri in Paris. Shortly after, Aoun claimed on Assafir that he asks Seniora and his defense minister to resign. What happened in Paris?

We are left with so many questions; we demand the answers to issues that are shaping our political and national destiny. We are kept in the dark. We as youth demand to know the facts so we could be able to decide for ourselves whom to cheer for and whom to drive out of power!

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

New website?

I don't know if I was late in discovering this website, or if it is new. However, I bumped into earlier today while browsing the net. It's motto is "Lebanese news that matters." I'm not too sure about what matters in Lebanon, but they do manage to highlight events and issues that don't get too much attention.

One particular story I found interesting has to do with Lebanese driving. It appears that Lebanon was represented in an A-1 race (read junior sibling of Formula 1). Wanna guess how the race ended for the Lebanese team??? Check it out!

Lebanon's ISF Gucci Team!

Commenter Anon 1:07 of the entry on Lahoud's self righteousness brought my attention to this crazy picture of a Lebanese Cop. Anon 1:07 thought the policeman belonged to Lebanon's SWAT team. I think he belongs to Lebanon's Gucci team! Look at him! Even the strap of his gun is stylish. He, on the other hand, looks scarier than a gargoyle!

By the way I got the picture from this article.

Send May Flowers...

Most of you have already seen this poster in Mustapha's Beirut Spring. I'm posting it up in solidarity with his initiative. Please put the effort to send her a message or flowers. The initiative may seem trivial, but it most likely counts.

Mustapha recommends the following on-line links. (1, 2, 3, 4) If you have your own means, then please use them. The address to use is on the poster.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Lahoud's self-righteousness is the worst thing for Lebanon

This thought has been developing for quite some time now....

Two days ago, I met with Ya Libnan's webmaster, and had a really good discussion about Lebanese affairs. He pointed something out that was so obvious, yet somehow hidden from me. When the cellular companies LibanCell and Cellis were established in the early nineties, Lebanon was a regional leader in GSM technology. Yet, look at where we are now - MTC is run by a Kuwaiti company. When Lebanese first got access to the internet, Lebanon was also a regional leader. It had the largest number of ISPs and a correspondingly high level of service. Today, whereas countries like Dubai and Jordan have provided their business sectors and private consumers with broadband service, Lebanon remains in the relative Stone Age of dail-up modems.

I will not elaborate on these technical matters because I don't want to monopolize the issue. Hopefully, Ya Libnan will pick up on my momentum and publish a more detailed and better researched piece. Where I do want to go, is point to the role Lahoud has had in this retardation of Lebanese development.

Lahoud came to power some time in 1998. After a while as President, he successfully maneuvered politically to bring Hoss and his hapless team of technocrats to power. Ever since that team stepped onto the podium, Lebanon's cellular industry came under attack, and development of the internet stalled. Issam Na'man, with the encouragement of Lahoud, began harassing Cellis and Liban Cell, and prevented the introduction of any technology into the telecommunications industry that would cut the revenues generated by the Ministry of Telecommunications.

Lahoud's headbutting with Hariri cannot be manifested in any better place than in the telecommunications sector. The man's self-righteousness pushed him to crack down on anything his political rivals achieved, or were in the process of achieving. He perceived himself as the only True Lebanese, in a sea filled with blood-thirsty warlords and Saudi front-men who were using their money to do whatever pleased them in the country. He, on the other hand, was a loyal officer of the Lebanese Armed Forces - the only True Lebanese who did not turn his back on the state or participate in senseless sectarian killings. He, unlike the rest, was the only one who had Lebanon's true interests at heart. He was the only True Lebanese.

Despite his apparently spotless record, this attitude, which expressed itself excessively during Ba'bda's responses to Jumblatt (et al)'s open calls for Lahoud's resignation was the worse thing to hit Lebanon in its post-war history. With such an attitude, everything Hariri or the other politicians did was wrong. Hariri was robbing the country and the others were warlords looking after their own interests, not Lebanon's. For all we know, the man was probably justified in his actions. But in going after every single wrong doing committed by Hariri, Lahoud stunted the development of crucial economic sectors that could have led the entire region - and more. By insisting on putting his sacred Lebanese State first, he squeezed the private sector and all the added prosperity it could have brought to the country. In the end, he hurt Lebanon more than helped it.

We see the effects of Lahoud's self-righteousness today. His strong-headed belief that he knows what is best for the security apparatuses is one of the major reasons heads of the security organizations have not been appointed. Again, the man may be right, but look at what we have now - a country without security chiefs! This short-sightedness and wanton distrust in Lebanon's political class is the last thing we need right now. The Lebanese President and Prime Minister must be able to work together and compromise to come up with policies for the country that might not be the best policies, but are definitely better than gridlock or simply no policy at all.

Lahoud and his self-righteousness have cost Lebanon a whole lot since 1998. He is costing us a lot now. It is time for the man to go. We don't need a President who thinks he is the Best Man in town. We need a president who can work effectively with what he has and within his environment. Most importantly, we need a President who is wise enough to see what is best for Lebanon and shrewd enough to work with the political forces (rather than against them) to arrive at his vision.

Lahoud... Get the hell out of Ba'abda! You should have stayed as head of the Armed Forces. That is where you belong.

Update: It appears that Ya Libnan! has already published an expose on Lebanon's internet infrastructure. YL brought the article to my attention in the comment section of this entry. It turns out that Lebanon does offer "broadband" service, which is actually slower than dail-up. Click here to read more.

the time for talking is over!

We've all talked. We've all protested. We've given this government and parliament the strongest mandate of any in Lebanon's short history.

Politicians and politicking are one thing. Administrators and management are another. The security situation will be solved when this government does what it is supposed to do: administer and manage the affairs of government.

The solution is there. I know we cannot get there now, but again, the solution is clear: The time for protests and politics has passed - our role is over. Now it is the time for the government to step up to the plate and do what we have mandated it to do.

I want to see arrest warrants followed by detentions and trials. I want to see announced lay-offs in the ISF, and other security apparatuses. I, and all who are whitnessing this insecurity, want to SEE these developments. This situation has created a crisis of legitimacy in the apparatus of the state itself - it is no longer a battle of wills between different political groups.

Are We Aware That We Are Fighting A War Of Liberation?

So why May? Is it a message to LBCI or a message to every Lebanese, to all of Lebanon? Is it because LBCI was allocating more air time for Seniora's visit in the U.S. than that of Lahoud's? Is it because of what is happening on the Mehlis front and his visit to Damascus?...And the list of questions goes on.

I wish I was in Lebanon right now and today to be able to flock to Martyr's Square for the demonstration this evening. May Chidiac touched a sensitive nerve; so far all of those who have been targets for assassinations have either perished or came out alive, alive but whole. May came out alive yesterday but not whole and this strikes a bitter, angry, distressed, and painful nerve inside of me.

She is that nation that they want to kill inside of us; the Lebanon they want to amputate from our hearts, from our bodies. They have been twisting and twisting the tourniquet around our limbs for so long now. We are a nation in limbo. We are waiting for Godot, waiting for the Truth. And while we wait, the blood flow to our limbs is starting to weaken, just in time for amputation.

What can we do? The Lebanese blogosphere has been on leave for a while (include me on the list). While I wait for Godot, I have been found guilty of turning my eyes and head away from Lebanon; my heart still there, but excuse human nature that awaits an action to react.

If today no one shows up to Martyr's Square, perhaps then it would be time to pack the bags and leave the Lebanon. Is it too late? Is it too late for us, the Lebanese youth? Have we been desensitized all already? Will Hizbullah, Amal and FPM youth be there? Will they stand hand-in-hand with the Future, LF, and PSP and others to say "ENOUGH!"? To say that this is going too far, that Lebanon is being targeted, not only a person?

I wait with much anticipation. Mind you, that fear has sunk once again in people's hearts, fear of death, fear of saying the truth, fear of saying "Souriyya, Tla3i Barra!"

Even journalists today on TV had to make a decision, to say or not to say it all. I personally pray for Faris Khashan's life; he almost has put his life in God's hands as he lashed out fiercely and openly on TV today morning against "Al Kouloub Assawada'" (the black hearts.)

We are fighting a war here; are we aware of this? We are fighting our war of LIBERATION!

Allah Yihmeek Ya Libnan!

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

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Why her???

These guys are going too far! This is really getting disgusting! What the *%&@ did she do in her life to deserve this??? Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Call me the energy man - for that appears to be my specialty.

Thanks to The Oxford Business Group's Emerging Lebanon 2005 publication, I have the opportunity to shed some more light on Lebanon's mysterious energy sector - the one industry that will likely lead to a considerable amount of contention once Mehlis' investigation has been concluded.

I've accumulated some interesting facts about the sector that I think all citizens of Lebanon should be aware of during the upcomming debate. There are too many hiddens and unknowns in Lebanese politics... too much that citizens do not know.

Interesting facts and figures about the importation and distribution of all kinds of fuel.

For a brief period after the war, the Lebanese authorities nationalized the importation of all fuels in the country (i.e. petrol, diesel, Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG), etc....) Ever since, the sector has largely been under the control of unregulated, and might I add, unknown private control. Here are some details regarding how things turned out:

1 - Lebanon has six active and seven idle fuel import terminals even though demand can be satisfied by merely two.

Why should you care?

Think of opportunity cost. What could we do with the land where 11 unnecessary fuel importation terminals (very large structures) are situated. Is this land legally government land? Most likely yes. Is the government in dire straights with regards to debt and inefficiency? Yes! hmmm....

2 - Lebanon is known for setting precedents - a very good example is hosting the only McDonalds restaurant that offers valet parking (Ain Mreiseh). Another precedent that the country has set is one of the highest number of re-fueling stations per capita than any other country in the world. The major distributors are:

- Medco: 12.0%
- Wardieh: 9.6%
- HYPCO: 6.0%
- Falcon: 6.0%
- Cogico: 6.0%
- Laipco: 2.4%
- IPT: 2.4%
- Others: 41.0% (notice how large this category is?)

Okay, so why should you care?

Most of these stations are unregulated and, according to Emerging Lebanon 2005, fail to meet even Lebanon's minimal safety standards - some are even built on the ground floor of apartment buildings! Of course, when I say safety, I'm not implying that these stations will blow up (a very unlikely, but considering the situation in Lebanon, possible event). There are much more subtle issues that have larger long term impacts. One such issue is ground water.

Most of our fresh water comes from sources in our mountains. A lot of our re-fueling stations are also built on our mountains. Fuel is stored underground. Leakage of fuel storage tanks is a common occurrence. You do the math!

Another issue is not so dire, but it counts: aesthetics. How many times have you driven down a street in Lebanon and seen 20 darn refueling stations? Or maybe, the ugliest structure that simply gets you wondering about how it's able to maintain its integrity.

3 - It would take $800 million to build a new oil refinery in Lebanon. Since the Lebanese state is broke, private investors will be needed to make the investment. In all likelihood, it simply ain't gonna happen. Why? Lebanon's fuel market, despite the insane numbers of participants, is, to put it mildly, tiny. There's also the inconveniency of political instability in the country itself and its immediate environment. Finally, to quench that last flame of hope, the Eastern Mediterranean already has an excess of refining capacity.

Why should you care?

Well, if you ever had any hope that we'd get that refinery in Tripoli up and running again, forget it.

Another reason you should care is related to the hubbub that was created regarding oil-findings off of Lebanon's shore. If commercial quantities of oil really do exist, then it will not be so much of a panacea after all. Lebanon will simply export crude oil where it will be refined and used to make end-user products, and ultimately import the finished products - not too much change, if you ask me.

4 - Currently, our rabble of fuel importers buys their products from Greece, France, Italy and Turkey. They buy 4.5 to 5.0 million tons of fuel products, sell them to one, or a collection, of 30 distribution chains, who then distribute the fuels to around 2400 refueling stations.

Why should you care?

Well, I haven't really come up with a reason; except maybe to comprehend how big this monster really is. Maybe this sector is the MEA of the entire Lebanese economy!

ADDENDUM: Bloggers Mustapha and Lebanon Profile have posted entries (Mustapha, LP) on the issue of privatization, both of which criticized Speaker of Parliament Berri and MP Jumblatt on their positions regarding privatization. Although I am not against privatization in principle and do not support the rationale that the Speaker and MP use, this entry should serve as a warning that the private sector definitely does not imply salvation. To emphasize my point I will directly quote Emerging Lebanon 2005.

In January 2002, parliament appoined French investment bank BNP-Paribas as advisors for the proposed sell-off [of EdL], and in August passed Law No. 462, which was inteded to act as a framework for a limited sell-off of EdL's operations to take place by 2005.... [Among other things], the legislation failed to take into account ... the need to create a competition-based market rather than simply substituting a state monopoly for a partly privately owned state monopoly.

In short, my message is that if the government does not play its proper role by regulating the industry and ensuring that no abuses occur at the expense of hapless consumers, then privatization is definitely not a solution. Private monopolies are no better than public monopolies ... and in fact, in a theoretical sense, are much worse since public institutions are accountable to the electorate.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Justice Done: Between the Gaurdians/Friends and Washington I/Beirut I

Right after the round of the "Cedar Guardian" detentions, a group of Lebanese met in Akkar to salute and vindicate Shartooni and Alam for assassinating the late President Bashir Gemayyel. I recall that LBC in its coverage of that event questioned whether justice will be extended to those who vindicate the assassination of a President, and not just only those who call for killing others (the Cedar Guardians and the Palestinians). I asked myself the same question. Something inside me was telling me that of course back in Lebanon it is always unjust.

I was so glad that yes those who called themselves "the Friends of Shartooni" were detained and questioned. Perhaps for the first time I felt that justice was being done; that the days of the Syrian tutelage were over and gone; for the first time, such shady people are not covered by the "invisible hand" and allowed to roam the streets with their deeds of hate.

...So that was a move forward in my view.

On another note, after the word was out that after this preliminary donor meeting held today in New York, the main one would be held in Washington next November, Seniora suggested that the meeting should be held in Beirut. So, after all, the meeting might just be called Beirut I. Frankly, I would like it to be Beirut I, as Seniora would free himself of the criticisms (especially those of Hizbullah's and Amal's) that the main donor meeting which marks our independence was held on our territories (free of any "manipulation" and "tutelage"....).

The problem in my view is, though, that it might just be difficult to market Beirut as a same place to meet for all those world leaders...

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

Friday, September 16, 2005

Free the Cedar Guardians!

For God's sake!!! If the authorities really inserted the statement that "every Lebanese should kill a Palestinian" into the Cedar Guardian declaration just to create a premise to arrest them, then those who arrested them should be in jail! In fact, I would suspect that that is exactly what happened....

We always say: "ya it's okay to arrest them, look at what they did in the war!" But, whatever happened to "General Amnesty?" Besides, aren't all Lebanese pretending that the war didn't happen? So why should we pretend in some cases and remember in others?

Where are the human rights activists that called for the release of those who were arrested and tortured in Dinnieh? All those "brave souls" who staunchly stood against public opinion and asserted that those supposed religious fanatics in Dinnieh who got arrested without trial needed to be freed because they weren't afforded due process? If anyone of you "activists" is reading this, shame you for not even raising a finger in protest!

This is ridiculous! We friggen invited Omar Bakri to live in our country! I remember Jumblatt and Nayla Muawad (of all people) vociferously protesting against his detention after appearing on a Future television show even though there is hard evidence that shows he endorses terrorism (i.e. the murdering of innocent civilians just because they are of a certain nationality or believe in a certain religion).

If these guys aren't released soon, or taken to court where they can (or rather, ought to be able to) defend themselves, then I say: shame on "the new Lebanon." If those so-called human rights activists that are based in Beirut don't move their asses and say something soon, then I unequivocally tell them shame on them! There are no excuses....

A few days ago we were cheering Mehlis for trying to achieve justice and hoping that his activities would set a precedent. These next couple of days will be our first test. Just because I don't agree with what someone says doesn't mean that I have the right to arrest and torture him.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

...And So We Met To Coin A Term

Last month, I met with Beirut Spring's Mustapha and Lebanon.Profile of the Lebanese Political Journal back in Lebanon. The meeting was in the heart of Beirut, Hamra Street.

What did we talk about? About ourselves, about politics (of course!), about our blogging experiences (a serious conversation on Macintosh navigation between Mustapha and LP), and most importantly about the words "blog" and "blogging" and whether we can coin a term for them in Arabic.

So...what would we call "blogging" or "weblogging" in Arabic? We started coming up with funny terms, all of which sounded horrendous. What can we say...Arabic is a classical, flowery language that has failed to keep up with the quick pace of things, especially in the face of rapid technological change. In English, even "google" has become a verb; watch it be included in the upcoming edition of Webster's dictionary.

Anyways...We're still working on an Arabic term for an activity that has become a reality in our part of the world and will sure become part of our everyday discourse in the near future. This is why it is important to start coining an Arabic-specific term (as opposed to the typical transliteration of an English word to Arabic--blog will become "blogh" (check Arabic spelling above)...)

What do you say? We're open to ideas here. We'll sure get back to you when we find the term. Perhaps then we can copyright it and claim credit!

Note: A special thanks to Mustapha from Beirut Spring for his creative graphic contribution above.

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

Washington I and the Shining Light

I'm looking forward to the donor meeting that is going to be held here in Washington during November. So this will be called for sure, Washington I. I know, I know, it would have been nicer if it went down in history as Beirut I, but what is important is despite all the criticism of the majority in Lebanon (some calling it a "Wahhabi hydra" which is pathetic at best), PM Seniora has been working diligently to move this important and crucial meeting forward.

And this time around, it will be different--the promises we'll make for political, bureaucratic, economic, and judicial reforms we will have to abide by. And I must say, this is all making me extremely optimistic about Lebanon.

The new surge of funds and international confidence in Lebanon is the crux of our development, is the shining light--minus the darkness of a dead security regime and a Syrian tutelage that has robbed our country of any form of well-being.

Yesterday, I saw Ghassan Salame talk from New York about the upcoming Washington I, about all the preparation work done by the Lebanese side (in silence--I guess that's how Seniora works...) and Seniora's full agenda for Friday, Saturday, Sunday, building up to an important meeting on Monday with the donors in New York.

And let me tell you, when I see Ghassan Salame talk, I feel that Lebanon is still vibrant and alive, that I can be proud to be Lebanese. That's how I felt yesterday--so much waiting for Washington I.

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Scope of investigation becoming clearer

How big is the scope of the investigation into Hariri's assassination going to be? How many people were involved in the operation? How many people will be tried and sent to prison? All these questions haunt us in some way because we know that the answers are inextricably linked to the credibility of the entire investigation.

Well, one hour ago, the Associated Press published an article written by Bassem Mroue which asserted that prosecutors have requested from the Central Bank to lift bank secrecy laws from the accounts of 30 Lebanese public officials.

30??? Wow... I must say that I was pleasantly surprized. The investigation is beginning to look less like a vandetta and more like a sincere (and, may I say, civilized) effort at holding all who are guilty accountable.

Finally, the scope and nature of this investigation is being revealed with actions rather than words... Assuming that all 30 officials get arrested and tried (which is highly unlikely), the investigation would be unprecedented in Lebanese history. As I always say, maybe (hopefully) it will set a defining precedent in the country's history.

Here's a small excerpt from the AP article:

Prosecutors asked the Central Bank on Wednesday to grant access to the bank accounts of 30 Lebanese officials as part of the investigation of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, security and banking officials said.

The officials, who speaking on condition of anonymity owing to the sensitivity of the issue, said they expected the Central Bank to agree to lift banking secrecy on the 30 people named.

Lebanese newspapers have reported that the U.N. investigation into Hariri's assassination has asked for access to the bank accounts of four generals whom it has named as suspects. The reports, which have not been confirmed by U.N. officials, indicated the investigators wanted to see if the suspects received large deposits before a massive bomb killed Hariri and 20 others on Feb. 14.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

On the Eastern borders of Syria...

Joshua Landis at Syria Comment just posted an entry that focused on American-Iraqi efforts to impose order on Western Iraq, and the Syrian role in the entire affair. After reading his post, I thought it would be timely to post a picture of this fort, which the Americans are building along the Iraqi-Syrian border.

I got the picture from this website. You can read details of how the Americans are planning to use these forts and how many they are planning to build by clicking on this link.

Addendum: These forts kind of remind me of Lego toys. However, there is something about them that also reminds me of ruins in Jordan that were once a string of Roman forts. They protected a trade route, and were situated on hill-tops as far as the eye could see. Soldiers communicated with each other by fire during night times.

But really, something bothers (or rather, tickles) me about these forts. Aren't they kind of anachronistic? Haven't the days of forts come to an end? Why do they look so stereotypical... almost like the plans were taken straight from a cartoon? Maybe I'm a bit surprized because I'm not a military person, but I do consider myself to be a relatively well-informed layman. Anyways, however usefull they turn out to be, the forts definitely are eye-catching. I'm not so sure how the soldiers who man them will feel about that!

An Empty New York Schedule

Check out President Lahoud's schedule in New York:

Wednesday, 14th September:

7:15AM - Breakfast with heads of delegations in the presence of Kofi Annan
2:30PM - Photo with heads of delegations
3:30 - Meets with Iranian President, Ahmadi Najjad
4:00 - Meets with Bosnian President
4:30 - Meets with Deputy PM of Luxembourg
7:00 - Attend reception held by President of Gabon
8:30 - Attend reception held by Monaco's Ambassador

Thursday, 15th September:

10:15AM - Participate in heads of delegation of Francophone countries meeting
1:15PM - Attend reception held by South Africa's President

Friday, 16th September:

10:30AM - Meet with Estonia's President

Monday, 19th September:

4:00PM - Lahoud's speech before the General Assembly

Tuesday, 20th September:

6:30PM - Attend reception held by Turkish Deputy PM

What a waste of government funds on such an empty agenda! What is the President doing except attend receptions (which translates to: drinking, a lot of smiling, eating finger-foods, and empty talk). And worse, receptions hosted by so-so countries.

The President's trip comes at a time when PM Seniora will be attending an important donor meeting in New York on the 19th and 20th of September. Well...looks like Lahoud will be so busy during those two days...

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

Monday, September 12, 2005

Naharnet and its pictures... What's the deal????

I've always been intrigued by Naharnet's choice of pictures! Every English article has an accompanying portait published along with it. Ever since I noticed that Bashar el Assad's picture was one where he looked cross-eyed, I knew that the selections were neither benign nor the first result that popped up in a google query.

The selection of Jumblatt's pictures have been interesting. I've seen pictures that showed Jumblatt staring ahead, as if day-dreaming. I've also seen pictures that have shown Jumblatt apparently in agonizing pain, with his hands on his head (I wish Naharnet had archives so that I could publish the other pictures too). Today though I see the following picture (which was published in an article titled Paris Turns into Alternative Political Capital of Lebanon):

So my question is: What is Naharnet's editor trying to convey??? Is s/he having fun? Is this some kind of message which only the most loyal Naharnet readers can decipher with time? I don't know... Whatever the case, this play with portraits is definitely intriguing and a little funny. What can I say? Another quirk courtesy of the one and only Naharnet!

Forget About Everything! Let's Go!

Between rumors of Jamil Sayyid banging his head on his prison cell's walls in a fit of rage, talk of Raymond Azar losing control of his bodily functions just after 10 minutes of questioning, and Mehlis's visit to Damascus for questioning, President Lahoud heads to New York, accompanied by his wife, Foreign Minister Salloukh, Justice Minister and favorite Charles Rizk, and a large group of "aides".

I'm aware that the Lebanese diplomatic corps in New York is anti-Lahoud. So who will be courting the President?...

Will the President return to Lebanon after his trip?...What he is leaving behind in Lebanon and in Damascus is more than he can fathom. I'm amazed at the irony of life; when Lahoud used to move at the behest of Assad, now Lahoud is heading to New York, while Assad stays back. How could that be?!!!

Eesh, bit shoof kteer!

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

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Iranian Society and History - drivers toward a more plural paradigm

Iranian influence in Lebanon has always been perceived by the overwhelming majority of Lebanese as cultural and religious. When we juxtapose Iran with Lebanon, most Lebanese imagine black chadors, mosques, bearded men screaming Allahu Akbar. Only today however, after the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanese territory are we beginning to perceive the role Iran plays in regional politics through Lebanon, and more specifically, Hizballah. The facade of Syria has been removed, and the Iranian role is now naked for all to see.

Now that that role in Lebanese affairs at both the cultural and political levels has become clearer than ever, it is probably high-time that we as Lebanese start learning what we can about Iran and its people. Being in the States, I can only learn and share with you literature that has been written in English (usually by Americans). In that sense, I am limited. But hey, something is definitely better than nothing. Here goes:

What We Must Learn From Iran is an article that was published in the Parade Magazine, which until today, I never knew existed. It just so happened that I had the time and patience to go through almost every section of Washington Post's voluminous Sunday Edition while at a Starbucks Cafe, and eventually discovered it. Anyways, the article is authored by Bruce Feiler, who is married to an Iranian woman. He wrote the essay after a visit to Iran. It is an interesting take on the characteristics of Iranian society today....

What We Must Learn from Iran - a Synopsis

Okay, the main thesis of the article is that Iranians and Iranian history is much more accepting of other cultures and faiths than the facade of the current regime would have you believe. Feiler provides us with evidence from daily Iranian life, Biblical reference to an historic Iranian figure, Cyrus, and an interview with a prominent figure in Qom to prove his point. He finally says that although he fears that the current fundamentalist grip on power is simply too severe, it would only take a look back "at the origins of faith itself" to find the seeds of [religious] coexistence that would ultimately help us all avoid an all-out religious war.

Evidence of youth rebelliousness in Iranian public life

With two-thirds of the population under 26 and lacking work, social restrictions had lessened. A friend explained that she now wore makeup outdoors and shook hands with male colleagues - something unthinkable five years ago. Another friend took us to a popular satiric film that poked fun at clerics. A woman at an internet cafe used her fake fingernails to e-mail her lover. Walking to dinner one night, my wife grabbed my hand. I slapped her away, saying, "We can be arrested!" Later we saw many lovers holding hands. Linda grinned as only a vindicated wife can.

Evidence of divisions within religious circles with regards to separation between "state & mosque"

...[W]e also met the wife of a Vice President who had opened a center for inter-religious dialogue [in Qom]. Mrs. Moussavi-nejad replied in response to a question that “like everywhere, there are fundamentalists here, but also open-minded people. Some prevail for a time, but then others succeed, as in America. I believe life will be better if we separate the spiritual aspects of religion from the political. If you read history, whenever religion has been used as an instrument for government, the religion has been harmed. Religion is too important for a few men to destroy.”

Historical evidence from Biblical References to Iranian tolerance

The Hebrew Bible mentions Cyrus the Great 25 times. In the Book of Isaiah, God calls Cyrus His "anointed one," mashiah in Hebrew, or messiah. "I call you by name," the text says. "I hail you by title." Cyrus is the only non-Israelite figure in the Hebrew Bible to earn such a distinction.

Born around 590 B.C.E., Cyrus forged an empire from India to Greece. While earlier leaders banned their enemies' religions, Cyrus respected [original emphasis] the religions of other people. He bowed down to his subjects' gods and rebuilt their temples. He issued what is called the first declaration of human rights. "I respect the traditions, customs and religions of the nations of my empire," he declared, "and never let any of my governors and subordinates look down on or insult them." His empire lasted 200 years.

Concluding Remarks

The impression I get from this article (and other reports from friends as well as published literature) is that Iranian society is gradually but surely resisting the forces of religious fundamentalism and asserting its demands on the clerics who have chosen to assume political responsibilities. I might be wrong, but I see this trend as an irreversable move away from the ideals of the revolution and ultimately, a threat to the clerics' hold on power. However fast change will come though, it is more than clear that the stereotypical image of Iran as a bastion of popular religious fundamentalism appears to be very far from the truth.

Paris: A Slew of Questions on The Safe Haven

News says that Walid Jumblatt just headed to Paris, and so has Ghazi Aridi, Nayla Moawwad and Ghattas Khoury. And so who's there right now? Marwan Hamade, Gibran Tueini, Elias Murr, Giselle Khoury, Saad Hariri, Ghassan Salame, Johnny Abdo, and who else?....Berri was there too, some few weeks ago. Is journalist Ali Hamade still there?...

So...what makes Paris a safer place than Lebanon? I mean, they all get to meet and talk with one another; something that is almost impossible to do back home. But I'm curious: if someone's life is threatened, is it only threatened in one geographic location? Well, it just seems that there is this assumption that the "assassinators" cannot travel, do not have the outreach....

What about the French? Are they providing security services to each and every Lebanese politician/journalist staying in Paris right now? Is it for a price, or have the French taxpayers agreed to the importance and value of protecting Lebanese politicians?...

Many questions in my the hopes of getting your insights. I watched the movie "The Constant Gardener" two days ago and it almost gave me a close look at what happens to people when a "death contract" has been issued on their life; it's not a joke, it is indeed very real. But the "assassinators" in that movie go anywhere the victim goes equipped with the mission to end the victim's life.

I believe that there a couple of heroes in Lebanon right now. One of them is PM Seniora. He's still in Lebanon, while half of his Cabinet is out being hosted by Paris. The other hero is the Lebanese person...who is still persevering in the midst of uncertainty.

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

Saturday, September 10, 2005


Well I now know some of you actually read my last entry “Lebanon Updates” because there has been a lot of traffic and new commenters on…. Janfoora’s blog!! So please feel free to read through five A4 pages; it’s past midnight on a Beirut Saturday and I’m still blogging, so they have to be worth something. Thanks go to Raja for single-handedly inflicting more damage on my social life than four years of Aub engineering study, seven months in the Army, and a very demanding job!!!

Anyway, here is a more profound analysis, mostly as replies to Raja’s inquiries, on my entry “Lebanon Updates”. First, please note that I am intentionally ignoring the HA arms issue for now mainly because it often leads to futile discussions and tediously unsubstantiated theorizing, while focusing on more tangible issues is proving very helpful and enlightening, plus it brings out some not-so-groundless thoughts in most of us.

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

Well, I must lay some background for my statement. I think we can safely say that, while “The Truth” was the headline demand of the massive rallying that took place in Lebanon since Feb. 14, there were other demands. The most pragmatic of these were very narrow and “sect-specific”, though later portrayed as national accomplishments; examples here are the return of Aoun, freeing of Geagea and Dinneyeh group.

Then again, there were many other major demands for the rallies that were more popular and widespread, in a trans-sectarian way that gave the movement much of its momentum and glow. These were mostly associated with the removal of the “Syrian occupation’s influence” from the Lebanese system, political life, and everyday life. This is when you’d hear how the Syrians played one sect against the other to maintain control. I won’t drag into a position where I’ll be accused of defending the Ba’ath regime, and it’s irrelevant for now; let’s say that there were many major demands associated with the creation of a new Lebanon, from the election law to the security branches. We now know that these ideas have been delayed (indefinitely, = aborted) by our politicians, or carried out in distorted counter-productive ways. (Example: I am suggesting that the breakdown of most security networks essentially led to looser security. I believe that the enforcement of security by the army is not a very healthy practice, and only reflects a lack of situational awareness on part of some security branches. The more lost our intelligence people are, the more army you will see on the street. I definitely need other inputs on this from ground zero, but I think needing so many soldiers, not even policemen, is a bad sign).

Anyway, the Mehlis report is the only chance for a “gain” out of the “Cedar Revolution”. Except the Syrian withdrawal, all the “gains” attained so far were not very tangible to the March 14 people as a whole or even of interest in everyday life. Most Lebanese, especially Muslims, do not associate with the release of Geagea or the return of Aoun as a gain or a big step forward. This is one reason why people would anticipate the report; in their minds, they made it happen. It is a great feeling and much-needed fulfillment in this time of despair.

I was in Martyrs’ Square when the Karami Government fell on Feb. 28, and I SMS’ed a friend saying I was amazed by “the power of the people”. Now I realize that this assumed “power” is one more “opium”, actually “sedative” is more precise, just like vain/fake/assumed victories would be used as proof of accomplishment, to justify failures in other domains. An example here is using the Arab Israeli conflict to justify political atrocities; Hafez Assad was a “hero of peace and war”, so it was ok for him to be a dictator; the Syrian people’s fulfillment with being a “proud Arab nation, making the last stand against Israel and the US” would make up for the oppression they underwent, or so the logic assumes.

On a brighter note, the mere questioning of security chiefs is a breakthrough for Lebanon, regardless of my personal opinion of the theatricals surrounding this case. It is a positive step, and the Mehlis committee is definitely making effort towards accountability in the Lebanese system. Ironically enough, I see that the committee itself still has to provide a transparent account of its composition, dynamics, method of operation, and mechanisms. I believe his account should be provided in the final report, at the latest.

On the other hand, there is a fear of the consequences, especially in terms of the Sunni-Shiite relations. There is also the “Jumblatt fear”, which I will address in next part.

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

I didn’t say I believed his worries, but I’ll give you the possible reason for such worries. In theory, it’s related to the fact that a Syrian involvement, once confirmed by Mehlis, will alienate Lebanon more from Syria. In pure economic terms, this basically blocks our only gateway to Arab countries; remember the border issue many weeks ago.

But the main point here seems to be that of Lebanon’s stand in regional politics. Refer to various declaration of neutralizing Lebanon in the Arab-Israeli conflict, mostly on the basis that Lebanon has “paid too much”, and supplemented by claims that this conflict is on its way to resolution, with other countries building better relations.

Refer also to the “choice” we will supposedly have to make, now that we are no longer under a Syrian guardian, in terms of which “axis” to join: the “axis of evil” with Iran and Syria, or the new free world under Bush. The issue of HA arms is being portrayed as the essence of this process of choice.

On a narrower scale, Jumblatt knows that his status and that of his sect will be affected if Lebanon’s ties with the Arabs are weakened, or re-channeled through France/US proxy. He has no external “foreign” powers protecting him, and the current dependence of the Bush administration on Saad is temporary and very fragile, and will change if the US-Saudi relations are shaken, if they deem him and his constituency unfit for certain roles, and/or if the US tries to replace the Syrian guardian with an Israeli one.

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

I agree with this in general, but you are ignoring the effect of any comprehensive peace agreement, which will see full economic relations between the Arabs and Israel enforced. Keep in mind the current flourishing of Israeli trade offices in some Gulf countries. Anyone we may consider allying ourselves with will prefer Israel. The Arabs could afford to help “beautiful Lebanon” when they controlled the oil prices, but now the US is doing its best to assume full control of prices indefinitely.

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

Whether we like it or not, the Shia considered themselves the underdogs of the pre-war politics in Lebanon. They were also the first to suffer from the Israelis, even before 1948. Their areas were the most underprivileged. They never had a foreign “protector” like the others. Even the “Shiite post” of Speaker of Parliament was considered very weak and totally under the control of the Sunni-Maronite alliance. Essentially, it is the Shiites who have most to gain in a non-sectarian Lebanon simply because they have been discriminated against for so long.

In this sense, the Ta’ef agreement’s setting of more powers for them, and the supposed eventuality of abolishing most forms of political sectarianism, is viewed as a gain. The questioning of the rights of the Speaker of Parliament, and the asking that the duration of the post be reconsidered, were received with much alarm. Imagine if the speaker is to be re-elected in one year, as I think the old system was. This suggests that any Shiite figure aspiring to hold that post would be better off “sacrificing” the Shiite interest to please the majority block, which was a Sunni-Maronite coalition at most times. Accounts flourished recently of how the Maronite and Sunni politicians would play the members of the “Speaker of Parliament Candidate” club against each other and choose a new member of the three or four prospectus (Hemadeh, Osseiran, Ass’ad) every time, so as not to give any of them too much power.

Add to that the fact that the Shiites have relatively no economic power within Lebanon. Surely there are tons of very rich Shiite businessmen, but the absolute majority of them made their money abroad, in Africa or elsewhere, and continues to conduct business there. They can offer almost no jobs in Lebanon, and definitely little economic leverage in everyday life. Again, the Sunni-Maronite elite hold most economic powers. This is one of the reasons that the abolishing of exclusive agencies gained such politico-sectarian fervor a couple of years ago.

However, jobs in the public sector could be guaranteed to the growing number of unemployed Shiite youth if the sectarian sharing is abolished. This is why I gave the example of the officer applicants.

Also add to that the fact that the Syria-Iran alliance is the first ever to offer the Shiites an external protector, which other significant players have had for tens of years, even more. The demands for neutralizing Lebanon in regional affairs basically meant cutting off any links with those protectors, while the other sects kept their patrons. It is important to note the duality of the relation with Syria. The Syrians gave more powers in some political aspects, but did little to the ordinary Shiite guy in terms of socio-economic conditions. The Syrians were damaging the workers and farmers of the sect like those of every other sect, and maybe more, in some opinions. However, to keep the fine sectarian balance, they were also delaying the cancellation of some aspects of political sectarianism, which, as I explained, is a big factor in Shiite unemployment. The Shiites would join the move for a New Lebanon if their political rights were not questioned, and if their socio-economic rights were improved to equal those of others.

As for shifting political alliances, it would have been possible, in a more fundamental form. For me, the times when it looked like Berry would not be re-elected Speaker were when I admired the “Cedar Revolution” the most. However, the targeting of supposed “Shiite rights” meant more clustering, especially when Berry’s practices were being questioned under the general title of redefining the Speaker post. The HA decision to support Berry would not have been “necessary” had there been more acceptance for change within the sect. This acceptance would have been possible if the “Cedar Revolution” had had a clear vision and statement, truly geared towards a unified Lebanon that provides equal rights for all. Even Saad wasted his own father’s iconic image, favoring trivial political gains. The Shiite fears escalated when the then-Opposition decided to delay all negotiations till after the elections, and preferred to “let the street arbitrate”. (al-2i7tikam ila alshare3).

Again, ideologies come and go. It is the threat to basic rights that moves man’s deepest workings.

I’m thinking I’ll try to go out now. I’ll answer your comments later. Tomorrow, Jiyyeh.

I love this country! Wish you were here!

Draw your own Conclusions!

Countries that have higher Human Development Indexes than Lebanon:

Columbia: Continues to suffer from a god-knows-how-long civil war today
Boznia and Herzogovina: We all know what this country went through in the 1990s
Macedonia: a less well-known civil war took place here in the late 1990s
Thailand: Don't Lebanese import domestic helpers from that country?

-Overall, Lebanon is ranked 81 out of 177 countries
-The country is considered to be part of the "Middle Human Development" category
-It lost one spot from last year

If you'd like to take a look at the PDF file with all the scores, click on this link. Warning: site is not for the faint-hearted!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Lebanon? What Lebanon?

Dare I say it? I'm bored! I'm bored out of my ass! Lebanon's politicians and the news coming out of that place are simply repulsive! I was happy with two or three daily star articles... but that's that. There's no follow-up... they talk about one problem (in a little bit more detail than they're accustom to), but then move on to the next problem without informing their readers about what the government, civil society, and/or business community have done to remedy the first one.

Talk about stonewalling! Politicians are supposed to reel at news coverage of their incompetence, but in Lebanon no one gives a damn! There's a scandal for a day, and then everyone goes back to business as usual.

Then we have this obsession with the elite political game. Each person defines his political position by saying "I'm for Arabism" or "I'm for enlightened Arabism" or "I'm for 'the resistance'" or "I'm for a federation with Papua New Guinea," or "I'm for an alliance with Mars to fight Jupiter!"

These politicians play their little chess games with positions that mean a whole lot to their foreign patrons, but mean nothing to the average Lebanese who's trying to get through the day. The Lebanese will say I'm for Israel today, and I'm for Syria tomorrow just to get his belly filled by a politician and to save enough money to send his children outside of the misery of Lebanon! Oh but wait, "I'm an Arab!!!" We shouldn't forget that!

This kind of bullshit politics is designed to marginalize Lebanon's professional and technocratic elite. We all know how to manage the country better than a thousand Jumblatts, Berris, Lahouds, Aouns, Hariris.... But when the political discourse is designed to inflame popular passions with pathetic appeals to their "Lebanonism" or "Arabism," "Druzism," "Shiitism", we all just avoid the game because we're too good for it!

There are three winners I can identify who benefit from Lebanese politics as it is today:

1. The Zu3ama, of course! Their incompetence in managing affairs of the state is forgotten because they're "protecting the sect," or "they're standing up to those 'damned' Israelis," or "they're standing up to those Saudis who want to take over the country," etc...

2. Foreign Powers playing their own geo-strategic Chess Games who see Lebanon as an exciting yet conveniently small boxing ring where, really, anyone can overcome the other.

3. Brutes and idiots who are willing to kill for their political bosses; and who would otherwise be beggars on Lebanese streets!

There are two losers:

1. Lebanon: the country, the nation, the state

2. Us: the intellectual, professional and technocratic elite. We avoid politics; and in the worst of cases, we avoid Lebanon all-together! Why? Because we're too damn good for it! Because we're sick of sectarianism. Because we're sick of being powerless in our own country. Because we're sick of regional powers playing their geo-strategic games in our country. Oh but wait! "I'm an Arab!"

The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen ... and stupidity (Harlan Ellison - 1934)

Lebanon Updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Writing Lebanon For Us: Reflecting A Missing Reality

And as if Lebanon is on hold, on hold until the outcome of Mehlis's investigation sees the light. But is that so? Has Lebanon been put on hold by policymakers?

I don't live in Lebanon; and I get my news from newspapers gleaned online and two satellite channels, LBC and Future. The news lately has been all about the investigation. I understand the excitement of detaining and then charging the four security "generals" last week, but until when the "pause" sign will still hold?

Where are the bloggers who live in Lebanon? Why don't they let us know about what is going on? Why can't they provide everyone an alternative source of news? Let us know, is Lebanon truely on hold?

I know it's not. I know that schools and universities will soon start. And we all know what sort of issues that brings with it: inability to pay tuition fees/buy books, increased pressure on a delapidated public school system and the Lebanese University, etc...

We all know that life goes on in our country. The media has been the driver of events this past year, but is it reflecting the reality at the moment? I was in Lebanon and I know that many people don't watch the news or read the newspaper (of course, unlike us...) They sense change and are faced with issues as they go about their life.

I wish I am able to see that and sense it, but alas, I'm far. In the hopes that some Lebanese in Lebanon will heed the call and write Lebanon for us.

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

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

American Sentiment towards Federal Government as a result of New Orleans

I know this is a blog titled the Lebanese Bloggers. But, most of us in this blog are intimately connected to the United States either through education, birth, or actual residence. Therefore, a calamity of the scale of New Orleans is a deserving topic to discuss.

One of the US networks that has shocked me with its coverage of the Hurricane and relevant commentary has been MSNBC. In my mind they conveyed the Republican perspective in most issues. Today though, even such staunch Republicans as Joe Scarborough has lambasted this administration and the general response directed at the Hurricane victims.

I don't want to turn this entry into a Bush-bashing session - there are enough of those going around. However, I cannot but admire how these people, even though staunch Republicans, have put politics aside and moved to hold those people they perceive to be guilty of mismanagement accountable before the American people. After years and years of viewing the American press with cynicism, I'm finally beginning to admire their work! It ironically appears that in catastrophic moments like these, some aspects of the American system actually begin to shine.

Below is a transcript from a show that was aired last night on MSNBC called Countdown. I barely watch that show, but yesterday I just flipped to the channel at exactly the right time. Keith Olberman, the host of the show, was angry, frank and simply disgusted. I wish all of you had watched it, but know that most of you probably didn't. The transcripts really won't do him justice, but its the best I can do:

OLBERMANN: [...] this is not typically a newscast of commentary. I can recall only twice previously offering such perspectives.

But something that Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff said at his news conference Saturday made this necessary.


MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Louisiana is a city that is largely underwater.


OLBERMANN: Well, there`s your problem right there. If ever a slip of the tongue defined a government`s response to a crisis.

Forget the history of slashed federal budgets for projects that might have saved the levees. Drop the imagery of the government watching "Monty Python`s Flying Circus" while New Orleans drowned. Ignore the symbol of bureaucrats like Mr. Chertoff using only the future tense in terms of relief that they could have supplied Monday and Tuesday.

We no longer need the president sounding like he`s on some sort of five-day tape delay to summarize this debacle. We now have Mr. Chertoff`s indelible announcement that Louisiana is a city. Politician after politician, Republican and Democrat alike, has paraded before us, unwilling or unable to shut off the I/me switch in their heads, condescendingly telling us about how moved they were or how devastated they were, congenitally incapable of telling the difference between the destruction of a city and the opening of a new supermarket somewhere.

And as that sorry recital of self-absorption dragged on, I have resisted editorial comment. The focus needed to be on the efforts to save the stranded. Even television`s meager powers were correctly devoted to telling the stories of the twin disasters, natural and government-made.

But now, at last, it has stopped getting exponentially worse in Mississippi and Alabama and New Orleans and Louisiana, the state, not the city. And having given our leaders what we now know is the week or so they need to get their acts together, that period of editorial silence I mentioned should come to an end.

No one is suggesting that mayors or governors in the afflicted areas, nor the federal government, should be able to stop hurricanes. Lord knows, no one is suggesting that we should ever prioritize levee improvement for a below-sea-level city ahead of $454 million worth of trophy bridges for the politicians of Alaska.

But, nationally, these are leaders who won reelection last year largely by portraying their opponents as incapable of keeping this country safe. These are leaders who regularly pressure the news media in this country to report the reopening of a school or a power station in Iraq and which regularly defies its citizens not to stand up and cheer when something like that is accomplished.

Yet, they couldn`t even keep one school or power station from being devastated by infrastructure collapse in New Orleans, even though the government had heard all the chatter from the scientists and city planners and hurricane centers and some group whose purposes the government couldn`t quite discern, a group called the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Most chillingly of all, this is the law and order and terror government. It promised protection, or at least amelioration, against all threats, conventional, radiological or biological. It has just proved that it cannot save its citizens from a biological weapon called standing water.

Mr. Bush has now twice insisted that -- quote -- "We are not satisfied" -- unquote -- with the response to the manifold tragedies along the Gulf Coast. I wonder which "we" he thinks he is speaking for on this point. Perhaps it is the administration, although we still don`t know where some of them are. Anybody seen the vice president lately, the man whose message this time last year was, I will protect you; the other guy might let you die? I don`t know which "we" Mr. Bush meant.

For many of this country`s citizens, the mantra has been, as we were taught in social studies it should always be, whether or not I voted for this president, he is still my president. I suspect anybody who had to give him that benefit of the doubt stopped doing so last week. I suspect, also, a lot of his supporters, looking ahead to `08, are wondering how they can distance themselves from the two words which will define his government, our government: New Orleans.

For him, it is a shame, in all senses of the word. A few changes of pronouns in there and he might not have looked so much like a 21st century Marie Antoinette. All that was needed was just a quick, "I`m not satisfied with my government`s response," instead of hiding behind phrases like "no one could have foreseen."

Had he only remembered Churchill`s quote from the 1930s. "The responsibility of government for the public safety," Churchill said, "is absolute and requires no mandate. It is in fact the prime object for which governments come into existence."

In forgetting that, the current administration did not merely damage itself. It damaged our confidence in our ability to rely on whoever is in the White House.

As we emphasized to you here all last week, the realities of the region are such that New Orleans is going to be largely uninhabitable for a lot longer than anybody is yet willing to recognize. Lord knows when the last body will be found or the last artifact of the levee break dug up. Could be next March. Could be the year 2100.

By then, in the muck and toxic mire of New Orleans, they may even find our government`s credibility, somewhere in the city of Louisiana.

(Source: Lexis Nexis)

For the sake of comparison, imagine Future TV unabashedly criticizing Saad Hariri after a debacle that he was partially responsible for! I know it is an unfair comparison, but maybe it is still worth considering.