Monday, October 31, 2005

A step in the right direction?

Fellow Lebanese blogger Khaled has posted an entry in the Lebanese Blogger Forum that lists senior government job openings in Lebanon. Positions are listed, and links to application forms are also made available along with an article that contextualizes everything for you.

Go check it out!

Thanks Khaled.

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Army Assuming Its Role...Like Never Before

This is what I read today:

Troops closed all illegal trails from Syria with huge earth mounds and sealed off all supply lines to the four besieged bases of Ahmed Jibreel's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and Abu Moussa's Fatah Uprising...All routes of smuggling gas and livestock from Syria have been shuttered for the first time since the Syrian army evacuated Lebanon in April...The army command in Yarze said the Bekaa operation would be called off only when the killers of a civilian topographer shot dead on Tuesday are handed over to Lebanese authorities..."The army's weapons will not be used in the interior against anyone," Defense Minister Elias Murr told reporters.

The Lebanese Army for the first time is exercising its rightful role, which is to namely protect the borders of Lebanon. Their first step was to move forward with ensuring that the illegal routes to Syria are secured and the hopes that our Army be also able to fully deploy on the borders with Israel.

Our Army is not only assuming its role (for the first time since I was born...), but also I value Murr's statement that the Army's weapons will never be directed towards the interior. I believe that this is the way business should have been conducted in our country. But there's always a beginning.

Moreover, the tight stance that the Army's leadership is taking towards the party that shot the innocent topographer on the border is impressive (...the Bekaa operation would be called off only when the killers of a civilian topographer shot dead on Tuesday are handed over to Lebanese authorities.

For the first time (and how many times have I been writing this phrase these days?...) our Army is showing us what it can really do, that it's above and beyond the petty concerns that it would split and that it's incompetent. I am a proud Lebanese!

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

what is going on??? Iran and Hizballah raise the stakes!

Okay, so yesterday, the Iranian president (i.e. the head of state of one of the most powerful nations in the region) said that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth. He said that a Jewish state in the heart of the Muslim world is simply unacceptable.

Also yesterday, Hassan Nasrallah gave his speach in which he asserted that "[we] stand on the side of Syria's leadership and people as it is being targeted by American and Zionist attempts to punish it...."

My guess is that these two speeches are reactions to developments in the Security Council pertaining to the Mehlis and Larsen reports. Iran's strategic link to the Mediteranean Sea through Hizballah and Syria is under threat in an unprecedented manner. In other words, although Iran itself is not directly under attack, its strategic outreach (its ability to project power in the region and internationally) is, and ultimately will be cut down to size.

How far will the Iranians go to protect their interests? Well, yesterday, we also saw the explosion in an Israeli market. And, as I mentioned above, Hassan Nasrallah gave his speach, which basically threw the idea of seeking justice for Hariri's murder outside the window, and completely redefined the issue in political terms (justice out, international relations in). In other words, Nasrallah has now become an obstructionist. Eventhough he has not said it flat out, he has withdrawn his already precarious "political cover" from the Mehlis investigation, hence eliminating the national consensus and unanimity it has had thus far (and needs in order to continue its work).

What are the next steps the Iranians may take? Well, 1) they may pressure Hizballah to withdraw from the government, 2) they may escalate bombings in Israel, 3) they may also escalate violence in Iraq. Again, as I metioned in a previous comment in From Beirut to the Beltway, I believe Hizballah is too valuable to the Iranians for it to be utilized lightly. However, the following questions linger in my mind: 1) How far will the Iranians go if they really feel threatened? 2) How much will they ask from Hizballah? 3) What will this mean for Lebanon? 4) What will all this posturing mean for the next UN Security Council Resolution concerning Syria?

This is a truly epic battle between the West and Iran, and it has just been raised to a whole new level. As always though, the "little guys" pay the price for the games played by the big shots. I hope we, in Lebanon, don't end up in such a situation. I already feel sorry the Palestinians though... their's is the "front of first resort". They're already paying the price.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Jumblatt and his perpetual desire to remain relevant.

Everything Joumblatt does, and I mean everything, revolves around his desire to remain politically relevant. Above all else, that desire is what guides his politics .

Arguably, a leader of the Maronite, Shi'a or Sunni community is automatically relevant, whatever he or she does. The mere fact that that particular person is in control of such a large community is in and of itself politically significant. Of course, such a reality is very far from the truth for a leader of the Druze, a community, which as we all know, is one of the smallest minorities in the country.

What irritates me so much about Jumblatt's drive for political relevance is the fact that his politics is extremely volatile. For example, today he's allied with the Future bloc. If, for some reason, he feels that they are "taking him for granted" and following their own agenda without consulting with him, he'll give a speech tomorrow that would confound everybody, and beg the question of what in the world the man is thinking. Although this tactic may be politically shrewd, it is the cause of one of Jumblatts most annoying traits: the man appears to have no political principles. The only things that are nonnegotiable for him are his personal significance and the security of his community (i.e. he is even willing to sacrifice on certain political demands of the Druze community if they stand in the way of his own quest for political significance).

This apparent "lack of political principles" has a good side that very few people acknowledge (well, there was that one Michael Young article a couple of months ago that did a very good job at analyzing Jumby). Jumblatt appears to be the most effective conduit between the political heavyweights in the country. Every once in a while he states his position with regards to where he thinks the country should go, or what he believes certain individuals should do, but of course nothing happens if it contradicts the interests of those heavyweights. In other words, Jumblatt simply has no power to enforce what he thinks are good ideas. However, his worth in Lebanese politics is exactly the consequence of his political impotence. He can be an advisor, a mediator, a visionary, a manipulator of the heavy weights, but he cannot publicly proclaim and seek his own position and be taken seriously by anybody. Jumblatt's proclamations are always some weird combination (i.e. compromise) of two or more heavyweights in the country, or some idea of how these heavyweights should work together to arrive at a destination that is close to their original desire.

Of course, this is where Jumblatt's selfish desire to remain relevant benefits the country. If the heavyweights are not talking, he is worthless. People may say that he will also be irrelevant if the parties merely talk to each other rather than through a go-between. My response is that in most cases, conflict resolution requires a third party that is (ideally, uninterested in the outcome of the negotiations - very far from the case with Jumby, of course). However, when it comes down to it, no matter how annoying Jumblatt may be, his worth in Lebanese politics should never be discounted.

In other words, I would never follow the man as a leader because I have no desire to be "relevant." Jumblatt perpetually seeks political relevance, and the Druze who follow him seek relevance through him - that's the way it works, there's no principle or "End" that is being sought after. Rather, I would feel much more comfortable with leaders who are comfortable enough to have certain fixed political objectives or ends; and who are working to achieve them - whatever the cost.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

ooooof... the entire arab world is turning against us! has published an article titled, Regional views supporting Syria on accusations of Mehlis report. I read it, and eventually experienced heart palpitations! Very few people piss me off as much as the average Egyptian who is so gung ho about "anti-imperialism, Israeli, Europe, Westernism," and the list goes on, yet who's government has signed a peace agreement with Israel. When you raise that point, the person will look at you and say, "ya you lebanese are lucky, you get to elect your leaders, but we don't!" I never respond, but deep inside I say, BULL S..T!!! The only reason they are so anti everything, is because they can be so, and not pay the consequences. It's almost like my Communist cousin who used to get dropped off to school in her dad's Audi A8.

Why am I saying this? Well... check out what the Egyptian press is saying about Mehlis' report:

Egyptian newspaper al-Akhbar denounced on Tuesday "claims and sayings," repeated by some Lebanese newspapers over Syria.

In a column, the paper noted that the timing of repeating these claims is a "conspiratorial fatal timing," that came a few hours before the UN Security Council session on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

"Do the [rioting and provocations against Syria in Lebanon, which also deteriorate the situation in Egypt by raising sectarianism], come in the framework of the so called policy of creative chaos that some have talked about in Washington," the paper asked.

Oh yeah! This is the kind of journalism and logic that the Egyptian press offers the Arab world and beyond. The exact same type that claimed that 9/11 was a conspiracy that was carried out by the "US Mukhabarat." Egyptians! From now on, everytime somebody makes a dumb comment, I'm gonna tell him that he's such an Egyptian! I've had enough of the nonsense that comes out of that country!

As for our other favorite Arab countries, go read the article to find out what they have published in their propaganda (oops, sorry, I meant news) papers.

The UN Variable: Lebanon and Muqdad

For the first time in decades we witness Lebanon taking a position so diametrically opposed to that of Syria in the UN. For the first time in decades a spokesperson from the Lebanese Foreign Ministry relays to the UN body, the Security Council, what the Lebanese people want, representing the true official line of his country.

Don't we remember the days when it did not matter what the Lebanese delegation in the UN said; all it took was to listen to the Syrian side to deduce Lebanon's official foreign policy line?

What I saw yesterday was a country, our beloved Lebanon, refusing to be cast in the shadows, as it has been for so long; refusing to remain in the darkness of regimes upholding murder, fear, and intimidation.

On another point, it's funny how the arguments of the Syrian ambassador to the UN, Muqdad, were so weak and can be easily shot down. For one, he claims that it is despicable how Mehlis argues in his report that because the Syrian intelligence apparatus maintains control over Lebanon, the Syrian intelligence apparatus is definitely implicated in Hariri's murder. He goes on to use examples of the September 11 bombing in New York and the Madrid bombings to show that the respective countries' intelligence services were not implicated in the bombings.

Well, I say to Muqdad (and trust me, I wish I was a journalist), at least in the US, after the September 11 tragedy, a probe was conducted which showed loopholes in the operations of the intelligence services and based on that these services were held accountable and the probe was published for public consumption (I'm sure you've read it).

Muqdad, yes we thank the Syrian regime and the brave Syrian soldiers and the Syrian people for giving us a helping hand in 1975. But this argument does not mean that your intelligence apparatus and even President should make or break our policies, make or break our leaders, make or break our future. There is no logic in the arguments you posed.

And more, who were you fooling when you said that both Syria and Lebanon are "independent" countries? No, Lebanon was never independent! Do you think that the Lebanese watching you will not roll their eyes? That the other UN ambassadors sitting before you will not know that what you said is untrue? Lebanon is not independent, neither from your country nor from Israel (for that matter). Your country is even unwilling to provide proof to the UN to show whether the Shebaa Farms is Lebanese or not; because if you cooperate, we can resolve this pending issue diplomatically, spare death and strife, and regain our independence.

Then you claim that the report was influenced by the political sentiments that ensued after Hariri's death. Well, I say, why not? What were these sentiments? That we want to be free? That we're saying ENOUGH of the same thing? That this time around we won't accept getting a bulldozer to cover up the evidence and move on with business as usual? Yes, of course the report came about because the Lebanese themselves have asked to learn the truth, have asked for an international probe; this is why the report came about.

And lastly you say that Mehlis should not have pointed fingers at anyone, because the report is not final. I say to you Mr. Muqdad: then what is Mehlis supposed to say in the report? Just empty rhetoric and words? I believe then you'd be more emboldened to say that the report IS empty. And you claim that Mehlis should not have come to the conclusion that the Syrian intelligence apparatus is implicated because the report is work-in-progress. I say, "c'mon" Mr. Muqdad, give me a break here, it's clear in the report who is involved in the planning, staging, and committing of the 14 February massacre. All what Mehlis needs is more time to patch up the gaps in the report, such as putting the final touches on the Abu Adass story, on the Ahbash involvement, on how the bombing took place, and so on....He does not need more time to figure out what parties are involved in the murder. I mean, aren't the four Lebanese "generals" in prison already?

This is my piece of mind. Again, I wish I was a journalist; I would have asked all the questions that lurk in my mind; at least I would have gotten some answers.

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Chapter VII UN Security Council Resolution Against Syria?

I've just read that the US, France and the UK are circulating a draft resolution among security council members. In my opinion, there is nothing objectionable in its content. I'm not too sure the usual obstructionist countries will be able to justify vetoing or voting against it. It basically calls for:

  1. The Syrian authorities to allow the commission to interview Syrians that it considers relevant to the inquiry "outside Syria and/or outside the presence of any other Syrian official if the commission so requests."
  2. It also calls for anyone designated by the commission as suspected of involvement in Hariri's assassination to be subject to a travel ban and to have their assets frozen.
  3. I believe that it requests that Syrian authorities detain those individuals the commision percieves to be suspect of playing a role in Hariri's murder.

From a standpoint of justice, there really is nothing so controversial about these demands. In fact, it could be extremely embarrasing for any member of the Security Council to vote against it. The controversy will probably sorround the "chapter 7" nature of the resolution. Chapter 7 is different from Chapter 6 in the sense that it legitimizes member states to use force to impliment the clauses written into the resolution. Will China and/or Russia accept such a resolution to be passed against Syira? Here is where I predict most of the wrangling is going on in current to near future.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Christian Science Monitor advocates for sanctions against Syria

In an commentary titled, Bush's tipping point with Syria, The Christian Science Monitor declares that recent developments concerning Syria have culminated into another test of the Bush Doctrine, which among other things, calls for "drying up support for terrorism by democratizing Islamic nations."

  • The article briefly surveys recent developments with regards to the Mehlis report
  • It articulates what appears to be the Bush administration's current strategy towards Syria: "Trying to play relatively good guys off bad guys within the Damascus establishment to either buy time or instigate an internal coup."
  • And, it highlights the fact that American military resources and international good-will are stretched too thin to allow for force to be a feasible option.

The commentary is sound up to this point. It's conclusion though, is considerably disturbing:

International economic sanctions would send a message to the regime as well as to Syrians that they, too, can help lift the Arab world by relying on ballots instead of bombs.

Okay never mind the fact that a "Christian" publication is advocating for economic sanctions as a foreign policy tool (a tool that not only failed to accomplish a similar policy objective in Iraq, but also lead to the deaths of thousands of children among tens of thousands of civilians); it also assumes that the tool will actually succeed in "helping to lift the Arab world by convincing 'Syrians' to rely on ballots instead of bombs."

That statement presumes that the Syrian people prefer bombs over ballots!!! It also implies that had it not been for ten years of murderous sanctions on Iraqis, they would not have chosen to vote in recent elections and referenda, but would rather be killing each other with even greater intensity than what we are whitnessing today.

That, my friends, is shoddy thinking coming from what I otherwise consider to be a respectable publication.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Track Changes Scandal? Why not Hide Changes Scandal?

Lebanese blogger Ramzi has written a few words on the "track changes scandal" that revealed the unedited version of Mehlis' report. I would like to complement his work, and if the pundits don't mind, rename this fiasco into the "hide changes scandal"
I've used "track changes" before, and I have to say that it is a somewhat troublesome tool. For example, once you've edited a paper, you can click on the option: "hide changes". The problem I find with this option is that it is somewhat inconsistent. On more than one occassion, I have clicked "hide changes", saved a document, and sent it by e-mail to a friend, only to realize that when he or she opened the file, they saw all my changes because their "hide changes" tool was turned off.
I speculate that this is exactly what happened with Mehlis. Of course, the conspiracy theories might be right... But I am 100% sure about the "hide changes" option. In case you guys are wondering, the way I remedy it is by copying everything I wrote (edits included) in the original Word document and pasting it on a new document. The new document won't even recognize that you made any edits, instead it will assume that the edited draft is the only draft.

The Report, The Dark Ages, And Moving Forward

It took me half a day to read the report, to digest it; but only seconds to react and feel so much anger. And if I wrote right when I finished the report, I would have probably used foul language to reflect the anger.

Let me say this: the report is not "politicized". And whomever says that has not read the report. You think Wiam Wahhab has read it, Raja, when he regurgitated what the Syrian offical line is saying?

And guess who killed Hariri afterall? Not a surprise: Not the Zionists; the Syrian regime and all the pathetic Lebanese puppets are the culprits.

I am disgusted of Mr. X; may HE rot in hell and not Rafiq Hariri. It is disgusting how those who lived with blood on their hands, do not mind death whatsoever, except for themselves; they are cowards!

The steam of anger has crystallized my stance towards the whole issue: Now I not only ask for the continuation of the investigation until the details are complete and an international tribunal to bring the perpetrators to justice, but I ask for the following:

  • I ask for the Syrian regime to cooperate fully with the UN investigative team (UNIIC) to move forward with the Hariri investigation;
  • I ask for an international tribunal that looks into the crimes that the Ba'ath Syrian regime has perpetrated against the Lebanese people over 30 years;
  • To ask for reparations for all the death and loss in life that they have caused for many Lebanese families (starting with the 22 who have died alongside Hariri on February 14, 2005);
  • To ask for Ahmad Abu Adass's body to be returned to his family alongside all the other bodies of Lebanese who have been detained and then have disappeared (heck, perhaps they have used the tens of those Lebanese as decoys, just like Abu Adass, that's why the Syrian regime keeps on saying that those Lebanese missing do not exist....this is where I am so angry most by the way...); and
  • To ask finally all Syrians to start moving forward in asking for a Syria that is modern, democratic, that respects its citizens' consitutitional and human rights, and upholds the rule of law (everyone deserves all that)
It's time for the light to shine on all the darkness, on that Dark Age the Arab world has been immersed in for so long.

And let me tell you something: I believe that the Syrian President Bashar Assad has shown everyone not only his short-sightedness (he needs to prescribe new glasses for himself), but his lack of intelligence. Number one: it started when he said to Amanpour on CNN that there is no history of assassinations in Syria. This was the lamest statement an Arab President can ever say to the world. What did he want to portray to everyone when he rushed that fast to be interviewed by CNN? He made a fool of himself and of his regime.

Number two: Assad and his intelligence entourage's order to get rid of Hariri was the biggest mistake they have ever made. Assad threatened then Hariri that he will break Lebanon over his and Jumblatt's heads. But they eventually decided to go for Hariri.

Tell me: what were they thinking when they did that? That on that same night they can bulldoze over the bomb scene and move on? That Chirac, Hariri's friend, and whose country has great leverage in not only the UN, but also the Security Council, will sit and watch? That Saudi Arabia, Hariri's second home, will sit and watch as well? What a HUGE faux-pas, Mr. Assad!

I won't go close to Lahoud, because I think he is really nothing in all of this. He is NOTHING! He needs to leave right now; he did not rule whatsoever. He told Rustom Ghazale that he's sick of Hariri. Mr. Lahoud: Please step out of Baabda. This Presidential Palace is not for you! It should be occupied by a real President of the Republic of Lebanon. Please spare us the talk of protecting the Constitution. You are marring our Constitution. Please LEAVE NOW!

And Mr. X is no one but Berri. No one has 1) the respect of Ghazaleh (as the conversation shows), and 2) has the power/jurisdiction to tell Hariri to resign "God dammit!".

Two more points about the report itself: One, it is apparent that Mehlis's report is in no way politicized because it is HONEST; the report points out clearly to areas that require more work, that are not clear; so how could it be then politicized when there is humility in admitting the gaps and the shortcomings? The report was technical, relied on analysis based on many times on reconstruction of events, on interviews with hundreds and documents, on regression and statistical projections, on extensive research and data probing.

Do you all recall Colin Powell on the eve of Iraq's war in the UN Security Council? Yes, his report was politicized; because it did not say that the Americans were not sure, they were not humble enough to admit that; but on the contrary said that with no doubt Iraq possesses WMD's. This time around, it's different. The Mehlis report IS different; not politicized; just read it.

The second point is that I was proud of the report's recognition of the "praiseworthy" efforts of the Lebanese judicial and security component in helping the UNIIC with its mission of finding the truth. More striking was the report's concluding statements that the Lebanese judicial and security authorities are able with some help from the international community to move forward with further investigating the Hariri case as well as others, such as the other assassinations and assassination attempts that took place after Hariri's murder and the Bank Al-Madina case which in their assessment plays a pertinent role in funding the massacre of February 14.

Of course I'll write more in time. This is my piece of mind for now. Very charged!

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

Friday, October 21, 2005

Bashar, the Gulf, Iran and Israel

the death of the military elite in the middle east is comming very soon. Mehlis' report may very well be one of the last nails in that coffin. The first domino to fall was Jamal Abdel Nasser. Eventhough he died of natural causes, he died a defeated man. Communist Yemmen fell soon after, then Saddam, and now, maybe the Ba'ath in Syria. Who was this epic battle waged against? The business/oil elite of the Gulf, who have no armies, yet who do not suffer from a lack of dollars.

I am of mixed feelings about this development. Jamal Abdel Nasser, in his own way, represented a modern option for the Middle East. He ruled Egypt in a time when you could watch Um Kulthum sing to a mixed crowd of men and women (the overwhelming majority of whom were not wearing hijabs). Of course, the Assads, and Saddam also raised the banner of modernity in their own respective countries (at least up to a certain point in time).

The Gulfies, on the other hand, represented traditionalism, tribalism, fundamentalism and everything I stand against! But now they won. They want to get rid of Bashar because they are sick of the old military regimes, and they want to show everyone in the region who's the boss. They also want to get rid of him because they need as much help as possible in their never ending conflict against the Iranians.

Although divided, I sense that the one threat that brings all the gulfies together, is that behemoth called Iran. I've said this before and I'll say it again: I truly believe that they percieve "the persians" to be much more of a threat than the Israelis. And now that Iraq (once a buffer against Iran) is up for grabs, they're probably gonna wanna get Syria on their camp as soon as possible.

Once bashar is out of the way, the Gufies are gonna wanna do two things:

1. gradually suffocate hizballah
2. come to a quick and amicable agreement with Israel

I am definitely seeing an implicit Metternicht-style alliance between the Israelis and Gulfies against Iran. Heck... why not? Haven't the Turks done it? Are they not Muslims? Shit...

We are in for one heck of a ride in the Middle East! And if the Iranians acheive their nuclear ambitions, I wonder what the hell will happen then! All I know for sure is that Bashar is fighting for his life, and that the odds are stacked against him.

Wi'am Wahhab opens his big fat mouth again!

Okay, how does this person have the audacity to open his mouth? It is so damn obvious that he is on the Syrian payroll, yet no one seems to care or do anything. Okay, its not like he is powerful, or has any real impact on developments, but the guy is simply so damn annoying. Today (or yesterday) Wagoofy said the following:

"I am flabbergasted at the Mehlis report, which is empty of any serious evidence
and is mainly an instrument designed for usage by the U.S. and its European
allies to upgrade political and economic pressures on Syria,"

Not even Lahoud or Franjieh went as far as him. In fact, I believe he basically took those words right out of the Syrian "information minister's" mouth. Why the hell doesn't someone arrest Wi'am Wagoofy for treason??? Just lift the bank secrecy laws and you'll see the stash of Syrian money there! Maybe then, we can start setting a good example!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The heretical idea of loyal oppositions in the Middle East

In the midst of the tempest that Lebanon and the Levant are currently experiencing, I offer a philosophical distraction.
One of the weakest points of regimes in the Middle East is that of having more than one competitor vying for the seat of power. In Algeria, you have the "republican generals" on one side and the fundamentalist Islamists on the other. In Egypt, the picture is somewhat similar. In Syria, the picture is presented to us as "the Ba'ath" vs. the Muslim brotherhood.
The common thread in all of these countries is that you have an opposition that not only seeks power, but also appears to seek fundamental changes in the structure of the state and society, as well as the direction taken by the country with regards to international relations. In short, "the opposition" in most Middle Eastern countries appear to be too extreme in their policy positions, and ultimately illegitimate in the eyes of at least the intellectual and economic elite.
So now the question is: what can be classified as a "legitimate opposition"? What are the conditions that any political entity should satisfy in order to be classified as legitimate?
Here's what Rawls has to say about "loyal oppositions":

One way to see the point of the idea of constitutional essentials is to connect it with the idea of loyal opposition, itself an essential idea of a constitutional regime. The government and its loyal opposition agree on these constitutional essentials. Their so agreeing makes the government legitimate in intention and the opposition loyal in its opposition. Where the loyalty of both is firm and their agreement mutually recognized, a constitutional regime is secure. Differences about the most appropriate principles of distributive justice in the narrower sense, and the ideals that underlie them, can be adjudicated, though not always properly, within the existing political framework.

Therefore, for there to be a secure constitutional regime, there needs to be both a government and a loyal opposition that mutually recognize certain constitutional essentials. What can then be adjudicated by the parties through the political process are two things:
1. the most appropriate principles of distributive justice in the narrower sense
2. the ideals that underlie them
On the surface, this idea of Rawls appears to prescribe very boring politics. I mean, look at the Middle East! So much more is at stake in our politics. Some prominent political players even make it seem that what is at stake are the souls of all citizens, which would end up going to heaven only if they arrive at the helm of their respective countries.
Anyways, sarcasm aside, if we do prescribe to Rawls's idea, we need to answer the following questions: What do Middle Eastern countries have to do to their constitutions so that these documents play the role that Rawls thinks they ought to play? Are the Iraqis doing the right thing by giving the public a chance to vote - assuming that this would create a feeling of ownership? Or are the Turks the ones we should learn from? They have an Islamic party in power - albeit one that "agrees on certain constitutional essentials."
What about content? For a constitution to play an essential role in politics, should it reflect society and its mores, as in Iraq and Lebanon? Or should it reflect ideals that do not necessarily correspond to society's values, structures and sensitivities?
Assuming we wish to see the rise of secure constitutional regimes in the Middle East, of which "loyal oppositions" are essential components, then I believe that this subject needs to be broached more often. This trend across most countries in the region of diametrically opposed political entities, only gives those in power the excuse to hold on to their seats indefinitely and gives them a mandate to crack down on all forms of opposition (even those that consider themselves to be "loyal" in a constitutional sense). Loyal opposition vs. illegitimate opposition: I definitely like the idea.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Partial Hall of Shame

In the spirit of changes we see taking place in Lebanon today, I thought it timely to publish information that was itself published by the "venerable" Daily Star on Saturday July 14, 2001. I had cut out that article and saved it for posterity in my little collection of "eternally interesting articles."

Most of you will remember the time Electricite du Liban (Lebanon's national electricity company) and its labor union clashed to such an extent that the union took an initiative that I believe remains without parrallel in Lebanese politics even today: they released a "Partial 'Hall of Shame'" which listed a number of high profile Lebanese individuals and institutions which owed EDL a commulative sum of around LL 1 Billion ($1 = LL 1,500 (Lebanese Lira)).

As usual, once EDL and its union patched things up, everything was swept under the carpet and no one ever heard anything about the allegations made by the union, which claimed that even higher officials have not paid bills, but were simply untouchable - hence the word "partial" in the title of their list.

The Partial Hall of Fame (note: this was published in 2001, it is an exact copy of the list published by the Daily Star)

BLUE highlights the top five debtors
OLIVE GREEN highlights members of the Khazen family

1) Beirut MP Mohammed Qabbani.....................LL15,643,300
2) Baabda MP Salah Harake................................LL7,650,000
3) Western Bekaa MP Sami Khatib....................LL58,506,950
4) Baalbek-Hermel MP Ghazi Zeaiter................LL10,953,780
5) Former MP Tala Merehbi................................LL7,723,478
6) Nabatieh MP Yassin Jaber..............................LL20,000,000
7) Nabatieh MP Abdel-Latif Zein........................LL21,000,000
8) Zahle MP Mohsen Dalloul................................LL7,871,000
9) Former Jounieh Mayor Haikal Khazen..........LL21,059,000
10) Home in Aintoura........................................LL30,266,540
11) Haikal Khazen and Butros Shehwan.............LL11,802,130
12) Haikal Khazen and frmr. MP Rusheid Khazen..LL7,485,900
13) Rusheid Khazen..........................................LL5,749,680
14) Rafik Khazen...............................................LL95,858,090

15) Beirut MP Nasser Qandil...............................LL7,011,190
16) Melhem Barakat.........................................LL27,518,516
17) Frmr. Army Comander Ibrahim Tannous...LL6,950,260
18) Notre Dame Du Liban Hospital......................LL227,861,250
19) Hospital owner Fawzi Odaimi........................LL53,919,950
20) Frmr MP Mounir Abu Fadel..........................LL15,180,666
21) Frmr MP Michel Sassine (home)...................LL54,928,600
22) Frmr MP Michel Sassine (office)...................LL720,200
23) Frmr PM Adel Osseiran.................................LL44,791,910
24) Frmr Civil Servant Lucien Dahdah..............LL22,942,640
25) Nohad Soueid Hospital....................................LL77,557,100
26) Frmr MP Abdallah Rassi.................................LL4,633,260
27) Businessman, George Milad Ghazal-Mouawad..LL14,887,250
28) SSNP official, Inaam Raad...............................LL7,523,394

The following individuals challenged the claims made by EDL's Union and, in some cases, took their complaints to the courts:

Beirut MP Qabbani
Baabda MP Harakeh
Nabatieh MP Jaber
Zahle MP Dalloul
Beirut MP Qandil
Frmr. MP Sassine
Businessman Mouawad

-- END --

Three reasons I published this post:

1. Although LL1 Billion adds up to around $667 thousand, which is relatively minor compared to the overall EDL debt, that sum of money allegedly owed to EDL in 2001 is a tremendous amount in absolute terms - especially when superimposed on the fact that a little over twenty people people owe that money.

2. The nubmers listed above (again, if true) should also help to debunk the myth that the reason EDL is in such shambles is because the desperately poor Shi'a of Southern Beirut do not pay their utility bills. The habit of not respecting state institutions and accepting citizen obligations permeates all segments of society - especially the elite.

3. I want closure. Developments in Lebanon have a habbit of leaving spectators hanging! As I said in the beginning of this entry, I hope the apparently new spirit of reform we are seeing today will tackle some of the toughest issues that haunt us, such as the one highlighted above.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Faces of Change: A Paradigm Shift

To all of those who are not noticing the change in Lebanon. What is happening?

I've been wanting to write a post since yesterday morning, but I got swamped with work; so here's my piece of mind:

We are starting to see the first glimpses of change in Lebanon, despite the turmoil, the silent unrest, and the wait-and-see attitude everyone is taking.

First, weren't you all shocked to read/hear what our Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh said about his meeting with U.S. State Department official David Welch? It was for the first time a pretty amicable press conference, especially coming from a minister who is backed and blessed by Hizbullah and Amal. He started the press conference by saying, "We did not disagree on any point with the Americans." Then he extolled Lebanon's relationship with the U.S., historically and strategically. I was amazed and couldn't believe what I was hearing. I guess for the first time, we are truely listening to the real Lebanese foreign policy line.

Second, today in the news President Lahoud stated (of course through his favorite mouthpiece, former Minister Wadih Khazen) that he has full confidence in PM Seniora's wisdom to handle the Palestinian security issue. Wow! Again, another exclamation. PM Seniora indeed has proven to all of us his wisdom: he not only has broken the ice with Lahoud and defied all odds and sat on one table with him to hash out pertinent issues away from political polarization and for the sake of Lebanon's interest, but he also has handled the recent Syrian and Palestinian issues in such a surprising way. He has disproved many who said that Seniora and his Cabinet cannot accomplish anything with Lahoud's presence.

It has been always understood that the Sunni Prime Minister in our recent history is an advocate of everything Arab, especially on the issues of the Syrian involvement/tutelage and the Palestinian question, of course to the resentment of the Christians. This time around, he not only has put a limit to and drew a thick red line on the Palestinian militancy/threats on Lebanese soil, but he also has outstandingly spoke for all Lebanese when he snubbed Syrian threats towards him and Lebanon. He said to the press, "I have never heard of the Tichrine newspaper (official Syrian newspaper) and have never read it." And then when asked what his thoughts were regarding Kanaan's suicide, he simply said, "Allah Yirhamoo" (May he rest in peace). And this is why we see, and I have the feeling, that PM Seniora has gotten the buy-in from most Lebanese (of course, but for a number of groups, especially the Hizbullah/Amal faction).

One more striking note was the scene in the Parliament two days ago during the government accountability session. For the first time we see Ministers and the Prime Minister explaining and justifying to Parliament (and the public) their policies and decisions pertaining to the issues that MPs were inquiring about. For the first time, we see a Prime Minister standing in front of everyone explaining in details and figures the consequences and impacts of this or that policy move (such as subsidies, impact on budget, etc.)

MPs might not have been satisfied with the Ministers' responses, but we should at least note that yes there has been a paradigm shift, a holistic change in the way things are done. Even House Speaker Nabih Berri, I felt at least, was jealous of such transparency and dynamism that he tampered with the agreed protocol letting MPs ask questions on the spot, as opposed to submitting their inquiries ahead of time to the cabinet to prepare its response adequately. And he also cut the session short, 1.5 hours.

We cannot deny it; Lebanon is on the right track. Ministers are starting to reflect a true Lebanese policy line and the Parliament is reflecting more of what the poeple want to know and has regained its stance as an equal partner with the Executive branch.

Thanks to FPM and Aoun's parliamentary bloc for pushing forth the government accountability demand and thanks to PM Seniora for accepting this request whole-heartedly and for complying with it. What we need right now is a President who can show us a new face for this new and emerging independent Lebanon.

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

Thursday, October 13, 2005

World Bank Snub

I am doing some research for a Program Evaluation class. My task is to try to find a specific evaluation report and critique it based on what I've read (and been taught) in that class. So my first instinct is to find some kind a report on Lebanon. The two major international instutions that come to my mind are USAID and the World Bank.

- USAID has some evaluation reports from the NGOs that spend its monies in Lebanon. Unfortunately, the quality of these evaluations are so poor that I don't think I'll be allowed (or even able) to tackle them. In other words, rather than critique what they did wrong in their report, I'll have to design and construct a proper evaluation from scratch.

- Do you know how many published evaluation reports the World Bank has for Lebanon? None. For the entire Middle East and North Africa? None. Here is what they have on other regions, though:

- East Asia & the Pacific.......................6 reports
- Europe and Central Asia...................5 reports
- Latin America and the Carribian.....54 reports
- South Asia...........................................10 reports
- Africa...................................................15 reports

Why? That's an interesting question. In fact, it is the one question that drove me to publish this entry. It appears that god intervenes in the affairs of the Middle East too much for there to be an effective evaluation of a World Bank program. A more accurate analysis would also consider the number of World Bank projects in the specific regions; but I simply don't have time to do that right now. Whatever the case though, the fact that the Middle East does not even have one evaluation report is somewhat indicative of the way things work in the region. Who knew? Influence is a two-way street... even in the case of the all-powerfull World Bank!

Addendum: It appears that the links above don't take you where they're supposed to. Click here, instead.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Foreign Policy Magazine chimes in on Lebanon-Syria relations

Fellow bloggers and readers, in light of recent developments, such as Mr. Ghazi Kanaan's "suicide," I bring to your attention the following article from the Foreign Policy Magazine. The author's message appears to be that hawks who are salivating at the opportunity to take Bashar down should relax and wait for the hapless president to knock himself down.

With Syria blundering, Washington may be salivating at the prospect of pushing a teetering Assad from his perch. But the Bush administration would do best to let the current situation continue to unfold. For now, at least, Assad is doing enough to undermine himself. And, over the last nine months, the Lebanese have shown the world that, when pushed, they are willing to push back. Once again, the streets of Beirut have been filled with Lebanon’s multiethnic crowds. They are united both by fury and by a vision of an independent, inclusive, and pluralistic Lebanese state. Syria’s arrogance gave them both.

I'm not so sure about his Lebanese part of the analysis. I think Mr. DeVito has too much faith in us. We blunder as much, or even more, than the Syrians do. Anyways the unity of Lebanese is only a minor factor in the future that awaits Syria and Assad's regime. What awaits us is a whole different matter all-together.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

On vacation

I've been on a short vacation. I travelled to the Great Lakes region for the first time in my life. Must say that it was gorgeous! I've even started considering whether I would like to move up there. The air was crisp, the foliage was beautiful, the lake was as large as a sea, the cities were clean.... The one problem: I wonder what I could do to make a living!

Forget Chicago for now.... what other industries are there in the great lakes region other than the agro-industry and food processing? I saw some banks and restaurants, but those two enterprises are definitely not what I plan to get into for the rest of my life - and besides there's New York.

Anyways, it definitely was a blast!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Lebanon's Behemoth - The Audi-Saradar Group

These are some crazy figures... check them out!

- In June of 2004, the group had assets of $9.75 billion, equal to 48 percent of GDP and 15 percent of the banking sector.

- The group is the largest employer in Lebanon with a total staff of 1,959

- Profits in 2004 were $71.3 million, a 31.5 percent rise on the previous year

- By 2005, assets reached$10.5 billion, around 80 percent of which were deposits rather than loans.

- By the end of 2004, shareholders' equity reached $686 million, one of the highest capitalization levels in the sector.


Lebanon Oportunities
Emerging Lebanon 2005

Social Justice and Rawls in Lebanon

Social Justice: Adam Swift tries to answer your questions in his book Political Philosophy - a beginners guide for students and politicians

The idea only came about relatively recently, creeping into use from about 1850 on…. It developed only as philosophers came to see society’s key social and economic institutions, which crucially determine the distribution of benefits and burdens, as a proper object for moral and political investigation. (pp 9)

Justice is tied to duty – to what it is morally required that we, perhaps collectively though our political and social institutions, do to and for one another. Not just what it would be morally good to do, but what we have a duty to do, what morality compels us to do. (pp 11-12)

The state is justified in making sure that people carry out their duties to one another. It is justified in using its coercive power to force people to do what they might not do voluntarily…. So justice is central to political morality, because of the widely held claim that once we know what our duties are to one another then we also know when we can justify using the machinery of the state to get people to do things they might not otherwise do, and might even regard as wrong. (pp 13-14)

So now the question is have Lebanese as citizens decided what exactly their duties are to one-another, and consequently when state-intervention in personal freedom justified?

One of the most influential philosophers about Social Justice in the United States is John Rawls. He believes that Social Justice is fairness. His premise is that people matter, from a moral point of view because they are “ends in themselves.” People are “free and equal beings” who “have the capacity to frame, revise and pursue a conception of the good.” (pp. 22)

Rawls suggests that if you were put behind a veil of ignorance (i.e. you did not know whether you were going to become a Maronite, Shi’a, Orthodox, Druze, or Sunni; gifted with talented or dumb, ambitious or laid back, etc…) you would choose the following principles upon which to base your social and political institutions:

  1. Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all.

  2. Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both (a) to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged and (b) attached to offices and positions open to all under condition of fair equality of opportunity.

The first principle is quite simple and straight forward. The second principle is a little more complex. Therefore, I will elaborate. In Part (a) of that principle, Rawls basically assumes that you are risk averse, and that behind the “veil of ignorance,” you would want the worst off in your future society to be “in the best situation possible.” In other words, you would justify disparities in wealth and income as long as you were sure that if you ended up poor, your situation would be as good as possible given the circumstances.

Part (b) basically is another way of promoting meritocracy as opposed to getting positions based on social connections.

Can Lebanese adopt these principles? I don’t know. In fact, I’m too tired to contemplate such an unlikely scenario at the time. But, there is one idea of Rawls that I would definitely like to see applied to Lebanon: “the veil of ignorance.” What principles would you choose if you did not know which sect you were going to end up in? Maybe that’s a good starting point! Maybe more Lebanese should read Rawls!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Syria in Lebanon - a small contribution to the discourse

Tony at Across the Bay has posted an entry with a link to a very interesting article published by the Middle East Quarterly. The article is titled Syria After Lebanon: Hooked on Lebanon. It was written by Gary C. Gambill, who was the editor of the Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, an e-journal that used to be published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

I present this background information because it is important to be transparent when it comes to such investigative articles. Before anyone starts bashing the author though, I urge that you take a good look at his comprehensive set of footnotes. In short, if you're going to do the bashing, bash his work, not his background.

Tony, if you're reading this, I don't mean to hijack your entry or piggy back on it. It is just that I read the article, thought it was great and also realized that I had written about the financial impact of Syria's departure from Lebanon on the regime back in July when the border blockade was in full swing. The difference between the two pieces is that whereas Gary's main focus was on the underground economy and corruption at the level of the political elite, my focus was specifically on what I termed the "border mafia" - a much narrower field of vision which could be justified given the nature of developments at the time.

In the interest of complementing Gary's contribution I will paste certain portions of my entry which I thought were the most elucidating:

To the Syrian officer or soldier, the most sought-for posting was at border crossings. If they managed to get posted in one (especially a crossing that experienced considerable traffic), it meant that they were set for life! Only those with enough connections (wasta) however, could pull such a stunt off. Furthermore, the armed forces had institutionalized and strictly enforced short-term rotations, so that as many well-connected servicemen as possible could get a taste of that “border honey” as possible.

How did these state-sponsored border mafias make their money? Well, the list is quite long, and anyone who crosses the border with Syria can easily find out.

1. Passport Control: Put in a dollar or two inside of your passport for “express service.” Otherwise, the questions will go on and on, and five or six other passports will be stamped before yours

2. Car Registration: Every time, you enter or leave Syria, you have to register your car. Again, there’s the option of express service

3. Car Searches: You have two options: 1) comprehensive search 2) half-blind search. I don’t need to mention what the variable here is

4. Customs Laws for Goods: The real money is made when Syrian Customs officers search trucks carrying goods to or through Syria. These guys can make life really difficult for truck drives and transport companies especially because the laws in Syria are not exactly “business friendly”.

5. Smuggling of Goods: I’m not too sure what the scale of these operations is. However, considering the intensity of complaints from Lebanese agriculturalists in recent years, it is most-likely quite considerable. The three partners of these operations are (or were) the Syrian military, the Lebanese military and Arab/Bedouin tribes.

At the time, my analysis focused on looking at the Syrian soldier and officer as Assad's "most important constituents," rather than Syrian merchants who would not have perceived the border blockade economically punishing, in any sense.

But I do know that the regime in Damascus is prohibiting Syrian officers and soldiers from accessing one of their major sources of (outside) revenue available to them. Unless Damascus can come up with an alternative gold mine, it is easy to conclude that such a policy is not sustainable. So my advice to Lebanese authorities is to keep up the pressure by prohibiting the smugglers from running their operations. If the authorities in Damascus won’t feel the pressure from Syrian merchants, then they’ll hear it from their officers pretty soon – a much more powerful constituent!

Gambill, however, takes the discourse to a whole different level. He focuses on several dimensions of the Syrian regimes financial interests in Lebanon:

  1. The underworld
  2. The corrupt dealings of the elite
  3. Syrian Labor
  4. Syiran Agriculture
The most interesting aspect in his piece was his research. The information he provided was fascinating and will, at the very least, help everyone understand the depth of Syria's "penetration" into every single aspect of Lebanon's socio-economic fabric. It is simply scary!

The Camp Wars: A Battle of Hearts

It is interesting to note the battle of hearts going on between the Syrian regime and the Hariri bloc with regards to the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

While we've heard and have been hearing that the Syrian regime is playing up its Palestinian refugee card (weapons, terrorism, fanaticism and what not), Bahia Hariri has been meeting in Majdilyoun day in and day out with representatives of Palestinian refugee camps, especially Ain El-Hilweh, discussing venues of dialogue and development, the latest of which was on Sunday, the details for a project to re-develop Ain El-Hilweh's infrastructure is in the works.

The Syrian regime, as always, using the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and even Syria as bargaining chips; never really cared about their cause in of itself.

But we say, "ENOUGH!" "Kafa!" Enough using the refugees as bargaining chips, enough of leveraging their desperation to create terroristic time bombs. Enough, we say.

And I say, YES to development, YES to initiating a dialogue that has been suppressed for so long, YES to resolving the standing, sticky issues, YES to breaking the stereotypes.

What will those in Ain El-Hilweh choose? The Syrian gift of death, terror, fanaticism, and perpetual destitution, or the gift of moving forward, a chance of change with a commitment ot relinquish the arms?

It's indeed a battle of hearts and we are yet to see its outcomes unfold.

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

Some Recognition

It appears that reporter Naoki Tomasini of Italian e-journal interviewed both Mustapha and I for a report on the May Chidiac assassination attempt. It is interesting to notice how the both of us gave her almost diametrically opposed views. I must say that I was pretty ticked when I wrote her an e-mail in response to the questions she sent.

A few words on the article though. I originally responded to Ms. Tomasini's questions in English. The author then wrote her article in Italian, and it was then translated into English by Michael Cullity. Therefore, the final product is not a totally accurate reflection of my words. The most flagrant example is the last sentence of the article, where I was quoted as saying:

"Although it must also be said that in this country only Christians have the means to make similar donations." (i.e. donations of a million dollars)

Of course, such an assertion is ridiculous. But just for the sake of clarification, I originally intended to say the following:

The means in Lebanon exist for Christians to donate to Christians and Muslims to donate to Muslims - whereas there are very few secular charitable institutions that take money from all sects and distribute its resources accordingly.