Monday, January 30, 2006

Two Instances, Worlds Apart!

Yesterday I was struck by a great example which depicts the dichotomy in our Arab society.

I was watching "Super Star", the Arab version of the American Idol show, where three contestants were competing for the Super Star title: one Syrian, one Tunisian, and one Saudi. There were two women from the audience, looking glamorous and young, carrying the Saudi green flag, showing support for the Saudi contestant.

This picture struck me, because just a couple of days back, Hamas won the parliamentary elections in the Palestinian territories, and they too carry the green, Saudi flag, which contains the shahadatan inscription on it and symbolizes the Islamic umma. This flag is also used by the Jama'a Islamiyya of Lebanon as their emblem.

In one instance, the flag was used to support the Arts in the Arab world, a cultural aspect which is viewed as disgraceful and blasphemous in some Islamic fundamentalist circles; not only that, a cultural aspect that has become in the Arab world extremely vulgar and commercial as well.

In the other instance, the same flag is used to stand for politics in the Arab world, which carry notions that nowadays have become increasingly extreme, fundamentalist, and violent. Think resistance, jihad, religious puritanism, death cults....and mob rule.

But this is our Arab world for you, symbolized and nicely summarized in these two instances...and pictures speak more than one thousand words....

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

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The dirty secret of sectarianism in Lebanon

I came back from Lebanon with a new belief engrained in my head. That belief is that changing Lebanese living in Lebanon is an impossible task. The people living in Lebanon will basically remain sectarian until Kingdom come.
Let me put it this way: if I was a "reformer" going to Lebanon to attempt to resolve this issue of sectarianism, and I had to list all the barriers I saw in my path, I would list the following:
  1. Lebanese are financially encouraged to remain sectarian
  2. Lebanese are emotionally bribed to remain sectarian
  3. Lebanese are spiritually cajoled to remain sectarian
Financial, emotional and spiritual reasons to maintain the status quo. Of course, juxtapose these incentives with the excommunication that one would experience if he or she decided to take the unthinkable path of (for example) marrying an individual from another sect.
Now you tell me how it is possible for any one in Lebanon NOT to be sectarian!
The notion of a third path is nonexistent. The third path, of course, is your own - your individual path. That route, in Manichean Lebanon, where you are either "with us or with them," is simply laughable. In our wonderful Lebanon, you are either an "insider" or an "outsider," there is no other way.
What is discussed at home is, at the best of circumstances, a mix of rational discourse with irrational sectarian jumble. The irrational jumble is the most prominent portion of the discussion in almost every occasion. It is during these grueling sessions where you begin to realize that political disagreements and conflicts are used to reinforce the long-established sectarian divisions within society - not the other way around. In other words, sectarianism would not go away if, somehow, Jumblatt, Aoun, Future, Hizballah, Amal, LF and the rest were best of buddies!
Generalizations about the "characteristics" of Mwarni, Shi'a, Druze and Sunna are thrown out there to reinforce sectarian bonds and fissures. Usually, nothing else unites the people in the room except familial and sectarian ties, so they are most comfortable when nonsense about other sects starts spewing out of someone's mouth. If you interject and try to infuse some sanity into the discourse, you will be ostracized, because you threaten the cohesion within the group and the cordial atmosphere that this insane sectarian discourse is fostering (ironic, isn't it?).
In summation, I have come back to the United States with a staggering weight on my chest. Even my desire to blog has diminished somewhat because I have come to realize the futility of this exercise. My innate desire has always been to somehow try to foment change for the better in Lebanon. Now, I believe that I need to reconcile myself with something a close relative of mine has told me over and over again:
If you want people to acknowledge that they cannot change you, your own thoughts and the choices that you have made in your life, then you must accept that you cannot change them, their own thoughts, or the choices that they have made in their own lives.
Well... there goes Lebanon!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hariri And My Question

Raja is back to the business-as-usual mode, which really means that I'm not going to be the only one "managing" our dear blog. Welcome back Raja!

On another point, Raja mentioned that we attended the presentation MP Saad Hariri conducted at the Woodrow Wilson Research Center in DC yesterday. I was bold enough to ask Hariri a question, during the hour-long question-and-answer session. You can find my question referenced in Al-Mustaqbal on page 4:

بعد لقائك الرئيس بوش كيف سترد على من يتهمك بتدويل القضية اللبنانية؟ـ لن اعير هذا
الامر أي اهتمام وأنا اؤمن بأنني اعمل لصالح لبنان ومصالحه، ولا اكترث لرأي أي كان
في انتماءاتي فانا انتمي الى لبنان الحر.

Among the attendants was journalist Naseer As'ad, who alternates the writing of Al-Mustaqbal's editorials with Fares Kashan and who is a favorite analyst, MP Bassem Sabeh, MP Farid Makari, and former MP Ghattas Khoury.

When Saad Hariri entered the conference room, my eyes got fixated on him. His features are strong, he's tall, has a wide chest and shoulders, and he looked serious. His soft eyes contrasted the boldness of the dark hair and the beard.

When he spoke, however, that impression changed. He is soft-spoken, in contrast to his features. Some of what he said was overshadowed by my thoughts of asking a question to him. I hesitated by raising my hand to request the microphone, but I did, and he was funny and nice when he answered my question.

What struck me though, was when journalist Hisham Melhem asked him a tough question about how Hariri would face the vision he has of Lebanon with that of Hizbullah's, which is diametrically opposed to his. Hariri said that he liked the question, because it is a tough one. His answer, unfortunately, was vague; he believed that the Lebanese need to be given enough time to resolve all their standing issues amongst themselves. So basically he thinks that time will be the solution. I wanted to grab the microphone and say: but as we wait longer to resolve those contentious issues, regional pressures are increasing and affecting the country's stability...but of course I didn't.

Despite his lack of political savvy, his sincerity and belief in Lebanon were very powerful. By virtue of answering my question, saying that accusations of internationalizing Lebanese affairs will be ignored, as he stands strongly by his convictions...shows his strength of heart and determination.

This answer reminded me of the late Rafiq Hariri; his strength lied in his determination and perseverance to resolve difficult problems and his love of Lebanon...all shrouded in a soft-spoken, calm, and quiet aura. The late Rafiq Hariri was not politically savvy, but he always surrounded himself by experts and always listened and was willing to learn. I believe his son is following in his footsteps. I wish him luck. In the hopes that the idealism he carries will not be tarnished by years in politics, especially the Lebanese type.

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

back in the States! Sa'ad's performance and bad news from home...

I'm back in the States. Home? In certain ways, yes. In other ways, home is thousands of miles away.

With regards to my trip to Lebanon, I don't believe that I have the words to express the feelings I experienced. Maybe they will come with time. Thus far though, I have two words: profound and volatile.

As for today, my second day in the States, I have already experienced a significant event: Sa'ad al Hariri's speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC.

Doha and Firas also attended. Unfortunately, we really did not have time to flesh out our thoughts about Sa'ad's performance since both of them needed to return to their jobs in a hurry. Therefore, I will post my thoughts on this entry, and hope that both of them reciprocate with their own thoughts on the event.

My thoughts on the speech:

Saad is a poor speaker: he lacks the political vocabulary - in both English and Arabic. The man needs to invest the time and money needed to improve his communications skills. He is yet to master some basic concepts and terms in the political lexicon of both languages. His father was a poor English speaker, but at least he was comfortable with Arabic.

The guy is definitely sincere: There's no doubt about it. As Firas said in our brief discussion, the man talks too much from his heart, and too little from his mind.

He didn't really answer questions: Considering that he is a politician, I wonder whether that is a bad or a good trait!

Hariri seemed upbeat: He claimed that the political deadlock Lebanon is currently experiencing would end in a couple of weeks. This prediction is based on his assumption that all political parties have Lebanon as their number one priority (a very weak assumption indeed).

On that note, I will end my observations, and interject with some news that I bring with me from Lebanon. We should all watch out for developments in the Shi'a ceremonies of Ashoura. Focus your telescopes on the town of Shoueifat, a formerly Druze town that now hosts a diverse population of Shi'a and Druze (approximately 50-50). Security personnel that I have talked to are worried that violence may erupt on that day – assuming that either side wishes to escalate, what better opportunity. Moreover, even if both sides do not desire escalation, tensions are so high that a third party may do the trick and instigate bloodshed.

Hopefully, nothing will come of these fears. But rumors like these, and others around the country, just go to show how tense the situation in Lebanon is today. It ain’t pretty!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Traces Of Memories

A Swiss friend of mine, Mathias, is working on 'TRACES OF MEMORIES' about Lebanon, as an elective diploma project and it is very much worth checking out. It would also be great to hear your comments on the work he’s done so far. I’m starting with this: a photo he took in Gemayze. It’s right under the balcony of a good friend of mine, and an FPM office, which I pass by every day on my way to work. The thing about it for me? The first time I went to Gemayze itself was in 2000, when I met this friend.

Where Are The Damascene Women?

I recently reread a dissertation written by Dr. Michael Provence entitled Plowshares into Swords: anti-colonial resistance and popular nationalism in French mandate Syria, 1925-1926. Dr. Provence begins Chapter IV of the book with a very interesting quote - one that points to the political vitality of Damascenes prior to the Ba'th-takeover, and one that I hope is a forcast of things to come.

Allow me to contextualize:

It is the year 1925. A popular rebellion against the French madate has just begun in the Syrian countryside. The Druze, with Beduin help, have just vanquished a French expeditionary force sent to occupy the town of Soueida'.

The Quote:

Appeal for the Women's Society to Damascus

O Arabs, descendants of glorious ancestors, we appeal to you to awake in these critical times of great tragedy under the government of France. There is nothing left to us but to mount a vigorous attack and expel this government from our country.

O People, this is an auspicious moment, we must not let it pass, To Arms! To Arms! The time has come to realize what you have promised to yourselves.

O People, your brothers of the countryside have made an appeal to your courage. Unleash your arms before the enemy who has invaded our homes, set fire to our temples of God, and tread on our sacred books...

This quote highlights the level of grassroots political activity that appeared to manifest itself in Damascus as far back as the 1920s (just in case, you all should have taken notice that it was a woman's society that released this pamphlet). I hope it reminds this blog's Syrian readers that there really was a time prior to the Ba'th hegemony during which politics was the peoples' business, and not necessarily the business of a specific family and its violent thugs.

I am looking forward to reading similar pamphlets coming from Damascus.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Assad's Latest Speech: Nothing Has Changed!

Bashar now says that the call to demarcate the Lebanese-Syrian borders around the Shebaa Farms is an Israeli demand! He compared the Shebaa Farms' size to the complex he is delivering the speech from, to basically ridicule its tiny size.

He also said that present in the Arab lawyers' conference in Damascus are Lebanese lawyers, who came from the alleys (zwereeb) of Lebanon onto the Arab Highway leading to Damascus!

Please, silence this man!

More to come on his latest speech...

The March 14 bloc has responded by saying that despite how tiny the Shebaa Farms are, they detemine Lebanon's destiny. Moreover, the bloc said that those parties condemning the internationalization of Lebanese affairs, have also taken part in such internationalization by visiting Damascus yesterday, meeting with Iran's President Ahmadinejad, and bearing witness to the Iran-Syria consolidation of regional policies.

More strikingly, the bloc declared Berri's visit to Damascus as that which has undermined his position as a House Speaker who has initiated national dialogue as a national leader, to that of solely the leader of the Amal Movement. I agree with that point.

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

Friday, January 20, 2006

Beyk And Sayyid: Jumblatt On Future TV

Just heard Jumblatt's interview on Future TV; a venue through which, as the reporter said, Jumblat was able to respond point-by-point to Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah's New TV interview which touched on Jumblatt's latest statements and the March 14 bloc.

I am not going to recount the interview but I must state the following striking points made by Jumblatt:

One, Jumblatt said that the point of contention between him and Sayyid Nasrallah is basically on their position towards the Syrian regime.

Second, when asked whether Jumblatt would be willing to meet with Sayyid Nasrallah, he replied that any talks or discussions should take place through the Cabinet; that's the priority now.

Third, when asked to respond to Sayyid Nasrallah's point that he gave up his son for Lebanon, what more should they do to prove that they're Lebanese, Jumblatt said that he wished if his father Kamal Jumblatt was killed by the Israelis; unfortunately, he was killed by the Syrian regime. He added that he appreciates Hizbullah's sacrifices, but that many parties and groups in Lebanon have given martyrs as well. He also added that his belief is that Hafez Assad's reign was far from being humane; however, he was forced to concede to the Syrian forces upon his father's assassination in order to protect his people during a difficult time in Lebanon's history.

Fourth, he asserts Lebanon's right to decide what is good for itself; so he thanks Arab efforts for helping us, yet at the end of the day, we should be able to make the final decision.

Last but not least, he said that if Ahmadinejad and Bashar Assad both agreed back in Damascus that they endorse resistance, then why isn't Ahmadinejad sending his army to the Golan Heights, and why isn't Assad opening up the Golan front for resistance fighting?...

Of course, the two-hour long interview contained more pertinent issues fleshed out and explained by Jumblatt, which will most probably be in Saturday's press.

On another point, House Speaker Berri and Sayyid Nasrallah visited Damascus today to meet up with Iran's President Ahmadinejad. Just an FYI!

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

Aoun: Vague Stands For A Presidential Aspirant

Do we all recall when Aoun said back in the summer of 2005 that he agrees with the Future Movement on 90% of issues? Yesterday he said to a delegation from the National Council for Information that he considers the closest ally to him in Lebanon is Hizbullah, especially in the matters of reform, mass graves and internal issues, that they hold similar views on reform and corruption.

I am confused by Aoun's stands. It seems that he holds similar views to many parties in Lebanon, yet not.

What about the recent talk of closing ranks with the March 14 forces, especially the "cozying" relations between Aoun's parliamentary bloc and Jumblatt?

It's clear that Aoun is playing the balancing role of being "in the middle"; the role of a Presidential aspirant.

Nevertheless, I must concede that his statement yesterday that any entity disarming needs the Lebanese to be empathetic towards it as it transforms itself into a solely political force, of course implying Hizbullah, was a statement of a President's caliber...but despite that, vagueness has shrouded Aoun's stands since his arrival to Lebanon from exile in Paris. We are most of the time left unclear about what his views are towards the government, the March 14 bloc, Hizbullah, Syria, and many other issues...if he wants a true popular backing for President, Aoun must seize to remind us in his rhetoric of the vague statements coming from Baabda.

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

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Istiqrar wa Istiqlal: Different And Not The Same

I so much want to write this post in Arabic, but I'll do with what I can through this venue in English.

There is a great difference between stability (istiqrar) and independence (istiqlal). There is a great difference.

Yesterday, after meeting with Iran's President Ahmadinejad, Syrian President Assad said the following: "We have reasserted our support for stability in Lebanon, the importance of backing the resistance and preventing any intervention in Lebanon's internal affairs and in internationalizing these affairs."

President Assad continues, "We have agreed to support the Palestinian people and to endorse the formation of an independent Palestinian state."

The Syrian President very clearly still does not endorse an independent, sovereign Lebanon. He makes sure not to say these terms on record. However, it seems not difficult for him to endorse the independence for the Palestinian state; which I personally endorse...along with my country's independence.

But what does stability mean for Lebanon? Stability can mean not moving forward, not witnessing change. Change and progress have always brought with them turmoil; and people throughout modern history have come up with mechanisms to mitigate for the negative effects of change and to highlight the positive aspects of progress. I view instability at times in Lebanon as a healthy sign of us moving forward, of us progressing; unlike the past 15 years which I recall vividly, where I was told to be glad that Lebanon is being rebuilt, but that being afraid of instigating change should be a given.

I was raised to be afraid of a mythical character, a character I have not seen, but one which overhears, spies, bribes, tortures, and kills.

And what does President Assad mean when he declares that he has agreed with Ahmadinejad that any intervention in Lebanon's internal affairs should be prevented, including the internationalization (tadweel) of these affairs? Who will he prevent from intervening? And how will he prevent any internationalization of our affairs? I would have liked if President Assad educated his audience of the tools he will resort to in order to accomplish his foreign policies.

Of how much I thought that Ahmadinejad's statements would be more inflammatory than Assad's, I was disappointed to find the opposite was true.

Ahmadinejad, in fact, had a better statement to declare: "We are of the conviction that the Lebanese peoples are dear, generous, are able to solve the problems facing them on their own, and are able to rely on themselves."

I can say to that, yes, I believe so, Mr. Ahmadinejad. I believe that we can, and we will try our best, to rely on ourselves and face and solve our problems on our own, if we are given the chance to.

In the face of inevitable western and eastern internationalization of Lebanon, in the face of so many countries caring for our stability and independence at once, I stand helpless. Can our Parliament reconvene? Perhaps it was the days when free Parliamentarians raised their voices from the Parliament's podium into the viewers' and listeners' hearts, on the eve of March 14 of 2005, that I felt Lebanon was truely free and independent.

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Street Response To Strategic Destiny

I guess I did not have to wait until Friday, when Iranian President Ahmadinejad visits Syria, to know Hizbullah/Amal's stand and response to many of our questions on Lebanon's "strategic" destiny.

I just watched the news right now: thousands of Lebanese youth chanting after former MP Khatib on the gates of the U.S. embassy in Awkar, "Hail to Ahmadinejad!", "Iran, Iran, Iran!" and "Hail to Bashar Assad!".

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

Honor And Arms!

Short of sending thousands to the U.S. embassy in Awkar to protest American "tutelage" over Lebanon today, while hailing Hamas and the insurgency in Iraq, Hizbullah's Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah declared that "the arms of the resistance (silah al-mouqawama) is the sanctity of all sancitities. It is like honor ('ard) and we are oriental. I cannot stand anyone meddling with my honor and the resistance arms are our honor!"

Note that it is not the resistance that is sanctified, which to me is a noble endeavour, though I believe in peaceful resistance, but Sayyid Nasrallah is declaring the arms of the resistance to be sanctified...which entirely shifts and rearranges, at least to my understanding, all that has been negotiated on...or perhaps I've been blind and deaf all along.

This means that Hizbullah can never be disarmed if it does not deem it time to do so or else it would put up a fight (which refutes what Hassan is claiming in his comments on my previous post that Hizbullah's arms will never be used internally). This means that all this talk about internal dialogue to disarm Hizbullah was a waste of time. How did Hizbullah agree to the Cabinet policy statement which stated that Hizbullah's disarmament is an internal issue to be resolved through dialogue? Were they lying to others? And why now are they choosing to delete any mention of disarmament in the Cabinet's policy statement? Do not tell me it is because of Jumblatt! This would be a petty excuse!

I demand to know the truth; I demand transparency!

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

Monday, January 16, 2006

When Will They Respond?

So...when will the Hizbullah/Amal Ministers return to the Cabinet? Is it after Iran's President Ahmadinejad visits Syria this coming Friday, January 20th? Is it after Ahmadinejad cements his country's strategic, military/defense pact with Syria, and by that putting all rumors at bay of an Iran-Syria axis?

When will Hizbullah and the Amal Movement return to the Cabinet? Return to the Lebanese umbrella? Or will they never after that historical meeting in four days?

After Jumblatt's 180-degrees move away from a stand he once took back then to bring all Lebanese "power-parties" together, namely extending a hand to the March 8 group, Hizbullah and Amal, and lobbying along with the Future Movement for the "sanctity" of the resistance (which burned his bridges with many in the Christian street), Hizbullah did not utter a word. No response: not in a speech, nor on the negotiating table.

And then in less than a day apart, Hizbullah and Amal respond: they respond by sending their youth on the streets to protest U.S. envoy, David Welch's visit, not absent of casualties, and then they take from all what Jumblatt has been saying for weeks on now a small, tiny sliver and attack, according to Naseer Ass'ad, the symbol of the "reconciliatory" move to bridge the gap between March 14 and March 8. That tiny "sliver" was when Jumblatt accused that some in Lebanon carry "weapons of betrayal" (silah al-ghadr); Hizbullah took it to be their weapons that Jumblatt was describing, while what he was describing was Ahmad Jibreel's Popular Front of the Liberation of Palestine.

Yet, the Lebanese are still waiting for a response from Hizbullah and Amal: when are they going to return to Lebanon's Cabinet? When are they going to let the Lebanese know of their stand towards many of the questions that occupy our minds about the fate of our country?

If it is true and we do not hear from them until after Ahmadinejad's visit to Syria, then it would be disheartening to learn that Hizbullah has declared itself indeed an appendage of the Iran-Syria axis, to the detriment of Lebanon's sovereignty, to the detriment of Lebanon's unity, to the detriment of ever dreaming that Lebanon can be at peace with itself.

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

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Hope springs eternal

I thought I should share this. William Saroyan's words on the Armenian people are a must-read whenever I'm feeling down:

“I should like to see any power in this world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people whose wars have been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, whose literature is unread, whose music is unheard and whose prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy this race! Destroy Armenia! See if you can do it. Send them away from their homes into the desert. Let them have neither bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then, see if they will not live again, see if they will not sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.”

Somewhere in me, I can say the same of Lebanon.

connecting the dots!

I have been accused by some readers of being too narrow in my analysis and interpretation of recent events. Last week, when Khaddam was interviewed by al Arabiyya, I published an entry that essentially claimed that Khaddam's interview was a card in the Hariri family's war against the Assads. Numerous anonymous writers criticized me for limiting my analysis of Khaddam's interview to the Hariri-justice-Lebanon prism, rather than taking a broader view that included the US, Saudi Arabia and their designs over Syria.
Today, I plan to challenge that misperception by connecting what I see as the regional dots together. I hope to convey to you the idea that developments that occur in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Lebanon and Syria are not just isolated and localized, but rather parts of a comprehensive regional competition for dominance over the region.
First, we have Iran. A couple of days ago, the Caveman Linguist published a post that highlighted continued efforts by certain elements in the Iranian province of Baluchistan to challenge the regime's control of the province and consequently foment instability. Baluchistan is an overwhelmingly Sunni province, and one in which Ahmedenijad's convoy was attacked only around a month ago. Caveman suspects that the Americans, Saudis, and/or Pakistanis may have played a role in these efforts to destabilize Iran in response to Iran's own destabilization campaign of Iraq as well as its regional ambitions.
Second, over the past two days, over 183 people (at least seven of whom were American soldiers and marines) have died in Iraq as a result of a sudden resurgence in terrorist violence. The level of bloodshed is the highest since elections took place in that country. This escalation has occured immediately after Khaddam's interview, and the consequent UN investigating committee's formal request to interview Bashar el Assad. Could these events be the product of the official Syro-Iranian agreement to "protect each other from all 'foreign threats,'" which was signed merely a couple of months ago?
Third, and as if on cue, Iranian delegates left Vienna without showing up to an IAEA meeting that they were scheduled to attend. In the meeting, they were supposed to explain why they feel it is necessary for them to enrich their own uranium - or, in other words, justify to the international community certain aspects of their nuclear program. Apparently, they have come to the last-minute-conclusion that they do not need to justify anything concerning their nuclear program to anyone. They have also announced that they will begin to test machinery that can be used to make weapons-grade uranium in a "move that appears to scupper prospects of a settlement of its long-running nuclear dispute with the west."
And finally, ten Afghanis were killed and at least fifty wounded as a result of a suicide-bomb attack in a province that the American ambassador was visiting that same day.
Put together, these events may give a panoramic view of the tit-for-tat that is currently taking place between the regional and international powers that play the Middle Eastern game today. Assuming I am correct in connecting these dots, one fact stands out above all others: the common weapon that all of the belligerent parties share is instability – instability in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and even Iran. Another fact stands out: the recent spurt of violence in Iraq brings into question the popular belief that Zarqawi is the chief mover of terrorist violence in that country – unless he is in cahoots with the Iranians and Syrians.
Whatever the case, it is clear to me that the recent upsurge of violence in Iraq, coming on the tail of Khaddam’s interview and the increased international pressure on Syria, simply cannot be mere coincidence! Moreover, the sudden, "inexplicable" departure of the Iranians from Vienna is actually all too explicable. These two countries are flexing their muscles and showing the world that they can stir up a considerable amount of trouble. As for the disturbances in Iran, check out the Caveman's analysis. There is a liklihood that Iran's adversaries are giving it a taste of its own medicine.

On Khaddam And Regime Change

"Diq il-hadeed w huwwe hamee"

Jumblatt has openly called for regime change in that former Syrian Vice-President Khaddam has provided the whole world with an alternative to the either-the-Assad-rule-or-the-Muslim-Brotherhood equation.

As I read through the entire interview that Al-Arabiyya conducted with Khaddam, it was clear his intentions. His breaking away from the Syrian Baath party and his public confession of the internal dynamics within the Bashar Assad circle of the past five years are not a "cathartic" move, taken by someone who wishes to live in peace and quiet for the remaining years of his life. No! Khaddam's words (which by the way, he did not wish to be interrupted by the interviewer) had a message, they carried weight, they were ideological and strategic, they in short laid down domestic and foreign policies and strategies that Syria needs to take in order to move forward in these changing times.

Khaddam said that he had a choice, between the regime and the nation; he claims that he chose the nation. And for the nation to move forward, he believes that Syria should foster openness, not necessarily towards the outside world, no, but towards its people. He explained that at those critical times in Syria's history, what the leadership should do is to take a step towards national reconciliation (doesn't this term remind you of Lebanese political jargon? Syria needs some of it); instead of alienating Syrian citizens more and more from their country, through exile and persecution, which would inevitably lead to regime overthrow and chaos, it's advisable to bring everyone together under the banner of the nation (watan).

He further talks about a re-definition of an Arab umma, a re-definition of nationalism....

You know? These words might be coming from a corrupt person (as many Syrians and Lebanese claim), but they are not entirely worthless.

But a decision for change can only come from the Syrian people themselves. I wish the Syrian people the best of luck and the Lebanese people (my people) the best of luck and peace.

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

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Beirut: The stories beyond the headlines

The Stories Behind the Headlines is an entry that summarizes what I have learnt thus far into my stay in Lebanon. There are four blurbs titled

  1. Beirut Needs to Calm Down
  2. The Lebanese Ministry of Public Works and Transportation Needs a New Minister
  3. AUB Needs Qualified Business Instructors and Professors
  4. Lebanon is Running Out of Engineers

As I stay longer in Lebanon, I will learn more and update this blog accordingly.

Beirut Needs to Calm Down

Today, at around 1:00 PM my brother called me and asked that I turn on the television. He said that he had heard rumors that a bomb went off somewhere in the country, and that he needed me to confirm whether or not it actually happened. As you all know from internet news sources, nothing really happened.

This little incident is evidence of the tension that most residents of this city and country are living under. Everybody seems to be going about doing their own thing, seemingly oblivious to political developments. Scratch the surface only a little, and it turns out that this indifference is only skin deep. Edginess is to be expected of course, but the experience with my brother was still hair-raising.

The Lebanese Ministry of Public Works and Transportation Needs a New Minister

My uncle is an American-educated traffic engineer. He is one of the only members of that profession in Lebanon, and has been working as a consultant for the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation for the past ten years.

Apparently, the worst minister he has ever advised is the current one, Mohammed Safadi. Mr. Safadi has no agenda (official or unofficial) for the post he was appointed to. He is simply using public office as a PR stint to further his personal goals, and to illegally asphalt roads he personally deems need to be asphalted.

AUB Needs Qualified Business Instructors and Professors

Rumor is rife: the AUB student body, specifically the segment that attends the business school, claims that around 60 percent of the faculty employed by that school (officially known as the Olayan Business School) is unqualified. Specific anecdotes from my sister’s experience support these rumors.

One of my sister’s lecturer asks her students to come to class 10 to 15 minutes late because that is when she usually shows up. She then leaves 45 minutes later despite the fact that the class is supposed to last for another half an hour. Her excuse is that she just delivered a baby.

Another one of my sister’s lecturers was just fired because the students petitioned to the administration and claimed that he was a miserable teacher. Only those of you who actually attended AUB will realize the audacity of business students petitioning to replace an ineffective teacher. A demanding one, maybe. But an ineffective one?!?!.
A sample of his behavior includes the following: 1) not returning any assignments graded, 2) postponing the midterm three times because he either didn’t show up on the day of the test (funny, I thought it was the students who didn’t show up to tests), and 3) having an overall attendance rate that even students would be ashamed of.

The ridiculousness of this situation can only be appreciated if you keep in mind this is happening in a business school, where if anything, punctuality and deadlines are emphasized more than quality of work. Follow that up with the fact that the Olayan Foundation donated tens of millions of dollars only a few months ago to improve the school, and then you start to wonder what the hell is going on.

I am going to do AUB a favor right now: If you have a master’s degree in business administration, finance or marketing, and are punctual and can communicate effectively to peers as well as subordinates, apply to the Olayan Business School. God knows, they need you and they definitely have the money to pay you!

Lebanon is Running Out of Engineers

The Gulf region has returned to its heydays. This year alone, it is investing $250 billion dollars in physical infrastructure. The consequence: Lebanon is running out of engineers, and AUB engineering graduates do not have to work for $400 dollars a month as site managers in Beirut. Urban myths are all over the placet. One such myth (I actually wouldn’t be surprised if it were true) is that a Lebanese architect who works in Switzerland went to Qatar to visit family. While in the hotel he met a Qatari man. He is now designing two residential towers for that individual.

Let me therefore recommend that if you have family in Qatar, or any where in the Gulf, give them a call, tell them you are going over for a visit (it doesn’t matter how distant these relatives are), insist on staying in a hotel, and mingle with as many khaleejis as possible. Who knows? You might hit the jackpot!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Ghassan Tueni Runs For Slain Son's Parliamant Seat

Ghassan Tueni, the father, has heeded the call and has agreed to run for his slain son's seat in Parliament.

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

Stop Being Agents Of The Killers!

Let's track the talk:

In a meeting with Talal Arslan, an SSNP official, Toufic Mhanna, said that in breaking up with the Syrian Baath regime, Khaddam has "assassinated himself."

Is this a death warrant?...

Arslan and his SSNP friends previously have sent death warrants to the late Rafiq Hariri prior to his assassination, and Khaddam further solidified this allegation in his interview to Al-Arabiyya on the 30th of December.

Mr. Arslan et al.: we're tracking your words; so stop being agents of the killers!

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

On my way to Lebanon

I have debated whether or not to announce my return to Lebanon on this blog for quite some time now - just like how I debated whether or not to announce it the last time around. This fear, coming from an obscure blogger who speaks his mind (in English, mind you) without hiding his identity, goes a long way to highlight the atmosphere of fear that we as Lebanese grew up in, under the tutelage of a dictatorial regime, and in a society where the courts of law are not exactly the most effective deterrents against violence (be it physical or emotional). Despite this fear, I am typing this entry, because ultimately it is an irrational one that I need to overcome.
The possibility of a major "incident" taking place while I am in Beirut is a very real one that I simply cannot remove from my mind. Unlike the last time I visited, I am overwhelmed by concern and fear. In my previous visit, my priorities were to spend quality time with family and friends, as well as visit personal landmarks such as my old high school, ACS and the venerable AUB.
Now I return with a huge cloud over my head. I return with a desire to be closer to developments, and to even take part in them. Every other desire I used to have on the top of my priority list now seems pedestrian. My mind is clouded yet simultaneously focused.
Somehow, I am also preparing myself for disappointment. Every time I return to Lebanon, rather than feel closer to developments, I feel more distant. It is a weird feeling that I attribute to the powerlessness Lebanese feel about the direction of their own destiny. I usually find myself answering more questions than asking. People assume that I bring with me the secrets and intentions of Washington - and consequently, a peak into their own future.
Lebanese at home, it also seems, have found a way to carry on with their lives despite political developments. Maybe I should learn to do that.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Lebanese of the Druze sect have begun to pay their dues

The Lebanese Lobby News Website brought an article published by Deutsche Presse-Agentur titled Lebanese police defuse bomb in Druze shrine to my attention. The article declares that

Police in Lebanon on Monday defused a homemade bomb inside a Druze shrine in the western Bekaa valley, an area of Lebanon where anti-Syrian Druze leader Walid Jumblatt enjoys a high level of support, Lebanese security sources said.

A bottle full of highly explosive material and pieces of metal was hidden inside the shrine of Sheikh al-Fadel in Rachya, the sources said, adding that it was found by a shrine guard.

'The shrine and the sheikhs were saved by a miracle,' said a Druze sheikh who requested anonymity.
Efforts to destabilize the country have shifted into a new gear. Sunni, Orthodox, Maronite and Druze leaders and personalities have been targeted thus far. Christian neighborhoods have also been targeted. Now, sacred Druze shrines appear to be the new target. What can I say?

The world of undercover operations and covert wars are exactly that - covert and undercover. To those of us in Lebanon, the first impulse is to blame Syria. That is my own impulse, and I believe it is well-placed. What is more important though, is the law of unintended consequences.

In Lebanon, our salvation lies in that law.

  • Hariri's assassination brought about March 14.
  • Other assassinations brought us closer together rather than farther appart.
  • The political elite's desire to foment popular support rejuvinated patriotism and discourse on democracy like never before.
  • The drive to bring Bashar el Assad and his clique to justice, as opposed to simply attempting to overthrow him, has probably hammered in a new idea of justice to Lebanese and (hopefully) Arabs.
These unintended consequences, as well as others are what I am counting on for Lebanon. Hopefully, this attempted murder of hapless Druze sheykhs and sheykhat, will bring us even closer together.

The war continues.

UN Request To Question Khaddam, Sharaa, Assad!

It's around 12:30AM here, 7:30AM in Lebanon.

Latest news: The UN Investigative Committee into Hariri's murder has formally requested to question Khaddam, Shara'a, and Bashar Assad.

We will wait for more developments and keep you posted.

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

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Welcome, 2006

I cannot really say "happy" new year. It just won't come out of me. What I can say is that I hope that this new year is not as stressfull and draining as 2005 was. February 14 is only fourty five days away. February 14.... the day that probably changed my life, and the lives of millions of Lebanese, forever. What an anniversary!

  • My main hope for Lebanon is that we weather this regional storm that we have become a part of.

  • My other main hope is that we come out stronger than ever (in a political, economic and cultural sense) and that we are able to consolidate the gains made in our independence and sovereignty.
Very vague hopes. Vague but not too demanding.