Friday, September 29, 2006

the lord or the end?

"your men, my lord, will follow you to whatever end."

is that asserssion genuine? What do we long for? The end or the lord?

How do we select this lord? How does he become our lord?

What role does the lord play in defining the end that we seek?

How does kinship impact our decision?

Monday, September 25, 2006

a little introspection

It amazes me how those of us who like to think of ourselves (or present ourselves) as above sectarianism, never the less, cannot seem to escape from the sectarian pull or grip. Very few bloggers blog as Maronites, Sunna, Shi’a, Druze, Orthodox or as representatives of other sects. Most of us wrap the Lebanese flag around ourselves and suggest to each other that our voices are those of independent free-thinkers, who are able to transcend our sectarian folds and reach out to one-another as Lebanese. Yet, although we refuse to identify ourselves as sectarian partisans, openly promoting the interests of our respective leaders (we are obviously above such behavior), we consistently appear to carry the banners of the causes adopted by those very men. As such, we as individuals sum up to not much more, in an intellectual sense, than those high school drop-outs who make a living as bullies and thugs, roaming the streets to enforce the wills of their respective patrons.

Every one of us ought to remember that one of the main tasks of a politician is to define the boundaries of, and lay out the details of what constitutes “appropriate” political discourse. Therefore, we, as Lebanese do not need to come out and scream: “Druze Power!” or “Shi’a Power!” or articulate similar overt sectarian gestures. Fortunately/Unfortunately (however way you wish to see it), much more subtle means of practicing sectarianism exists; one of which being, acquiescence to the boundaries and rules of political discourse set by our sectarian leaders – all we effectively do is translate their words to English.

To give a very obvious example, a battle between two discourses exists in Lebanon today: one that asserts that the last war was a catastrophe for Lebanon, and another that characterizes it as an unprecedented victory. The level of consistency whereby bloggers of certain sects (and I know quite a few, including, of course, myself) took the side of their particular sectarian leader was frightening. This reality begs the following question:

Are we Lebanese Citizens who, like shoppers in a competitive market, have the power and judgment to choose among the different discourses displayed to us? Or are we, unbeknownst to ourselves, partisans who merely justify and promote the discourses of leaders based on sectarian kinship?

I think that bloggers need to step back, take a moment, and answer these questions. For ultimately, doing so will help us realize whether we are merely peddlers or Citizens.

In answering those questions, I suggest asking another: What is it that I would like Lebanon to be, or to look like in the near (and not-so-near future)? I need to know what it is I want, and therefore, what it is I expect before I can judge politicians and their discourse. Inevitably, we all have our unique answers because we are all different – but I doubt the differences are enough to justify the dramatically polarizing (and sometimes, unnatural) political choices we have made.

Friday, September 22, 2006

why hugo chavez bothers me...

dear hani g. and fga,

I'm tipsy. I have a glass of black label in me (thanks to Lazarus's inspiring example), and I have decided to respond to your critical comments regarding my deriding depiction of Hugo Chavez.

By the way, you-all should watch "All The Kings Men." Great movie!

Anyways, I actually left home thinking about your comments, and promised that I would respond. Of course, the both of you are dear to me, so maybe that is why your comments have taken such a toll. Anyways, here goes:

I cannot bring myself to support a demagogue dictator-in-the-making (if not already so) like hugo chavez.

Foreign policy-wise, his drive against the US is almost maniacal, and definitely comes at the expense of Venezuelan interests. For Example: He goes and signs deals with China to export crude because he wants to decrease his country's dependence on the US market (as if the US itself were not equally dependent on his oil).

Well, guess what? That shift comes at a price! The dude has to pay god-knows-how-much-more to ship the crude to China (including the exorbitant fees of using the Panama Canal). That money could have went into the Venezuelan economy, or maybe into programs to help Venezuela's poor. But instead, The Benevolent Shepherd is burning it because he wants to slay el Diablo.

Have either of you heard of the news that Chavez is increasing the amount of subsidized heating oil available to "America's poor?" (I use quotation marks because I wonder what kind of infrastructure Chavez has in the US to actually determine his oil is going to the targeted populace). Well, if you haven't, then you should know that he has doubled the amount of heating oil available to poor americans from 400,000 barrels to a million this winter.

Of course, our immediate response is, "wow, what a manyak!" That Hugo! He's definitely sticking it to the American elite! But, weigh that "policy" against opportunity costs, and then maybe it would appear to be a tad wasteful.

It is no surprise at all, that analysts are saying that Venezuela has the most to lose from low oil prices. As a matter of fact, Venezuela's representative at OPEC has consistently called for decreasing the supply of crude in order to raise prices. When I say consistently, I don't just mean over the past couple of weeks, during which oil prices have declined; I actually mean over the past several months.

Finally, ask yourselves this: if elections were held tomorrow in Venezuela, and Hugo loses, do you actually think he would leave office?

I am all for systems and institutions. Demagogues irk me! And Hugo is no exception to that rule.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I'm sorry, I just had to post this...

How does that saying go? A picture's worth a thousand words? Well, this one may be worth a little more. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A 19 year old, and her lesson

Several days ago a pregnant 19 year-old was kidnapped by her parents. They planned to take their daughter to an abortion clinic, where they would do the obvious to the fetus - whose father was locked up in some prison.

To cut the story short, the lady eventually escaped from her parents and called 911. Policemen eventually arrived at the scene and arrested the couple, who now face the prospect of spending up to 15 years behind bars (a somewhat ironic outcome, if you ask me).

I look at this story, and my immediate reaction is a conflicted one. On the one hand, I ask: how could any son or daughter take actions that could lead to his or her parents’ imprisonment. On the other, I ask how the parents could have taken actions that would push their daughter to take such extreme measures.

I wonder what kind of reactions such a fiasco would garner in Lebanon. Actually I know the reactions: They would range from, “why didn’t the parents kill the girl when she eloped in the first place?” to “the girl should have listened to her parents and not resisted because they know what’s best for her.”

What intrigues me most though is the actual arrest of the parents – and what such an action symbolizes. Here, we have one coercive force in society (the police) thwarting the will of another coercive force (the parents, and by extension, the institution of the family). By listening to the daughter, the police ultimately took her side and protected her from her parents (who we should not forget, believed that they were doing what was best for her).


All other considerations aside, this case is one where the individual trumped the collective – where the traditional notion of “parents knowing better” or “deferral to the elderly” succumbed to the modern notions of (and accompanying) individualism.

Lebanese who so desperately wish to break free from the bonds of sectarianism need to keep this story in mind. Too many of these individuals tackle sectarianism as intellectuals, and deal with merely the abstractions of the matter. Ultimately, although such efforts are noble and based on good intensions, tackling “the problem” of sectarianism can be boiled down to simply breaking the will of parents on the most intimate of issues – and doing so confidently. Of course, it would also be nice to have the backing of a coercive element whenever the need for one arises - as it did in the case I wrote about above.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Time to go back to the basics

We need a Lebanese political process that yields political decisions that all Lebanese parties and individuals abide by. I do not care how sacred certain Lebanese believe their missions or causes to be. I do not even care how unjust they believe a certain situation is. The Primary rationale, or reason behind any action (a reason that supersedes all others) must be that it is a product of the Lebanese political process.

Lebanon. Lebanon. Lebanon.

What I have despised (and I mean utterly despised) about Hizballah, and its behavior over the past two years has been its arrogance, and its insistence on taking the entire country on a direction that it deems as right. The party (and its supporters) scoff at the Lebanese political system and pay lip-service to whatever existing processes exist for the country to reach some sort of consensus over the its fate. Their motto has been: it's my way or the highway, and they have the guns to give that phrase re-enforced meaning.

When a plural majority in Lebanon decides that it is time to disengage from a conflict, then Lebanon must disengage from that conflict. In such cases... disengaging would be the "Lebanese" thing to do. When the Lebanese political process (however imperfect it may be) yields a decision to change course, then not changing course would run contrary to "Lebanese interests." For all of its faults, Lebanon’s political process is the only mechanism currently available that can yield national decisions. That process manifests Lebanon on the political plain, just like how the Lebanese Army manifests Lebanon on the military one.

The natural inclination of individuals is to assume that notions such as "Lebanese interests" are set in stone - i.e. Lebanon's interests have always been to do this or do that. This assumption could not be farther from the truth. Notions such as national interests are subject to debates, discussions, and ultimately decisions (decisions that all parties must accept, and abide by).

Truly “Lebanese” interests can only be the product of such processes. In Lebanon the process remains at its infancy; however, it already favors pluralism. Such a bias is a good start. Lebanese should build on those foundations, if they would like to help bring a “Political Lebanon” to life.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Discourse of Immorality

So I refused to write for a while, just wanted to wait, wait until something worthy of commenting on appears on the Lebanese political arena. I didn't want to rush to conclusions or make faulty judgements. I wanted to see where the country will head after the war.

More and more the divide in the country grows; it's a divide on the vision. PM Seniora in his efforts during the war to reach out to the international community was successful, successful in pushing to end the Israeli aggression, successful in garnering plenty of funds to kickstart the reconstruction effort, and successful on a diplomatic level to set a course for the country following the war. His efforts reminded me of the late PM Hariri in 1996 when he rallied the world during the Israeli Grapes of Wrath campaign and manged to coin a new term for our resistance then, the Lebanese resistance.

Right after the war, Aoun unleashed a scathing attack on the Cabinet, then the "choir" followed. But the most significant of the calls for dismantling the government came from Hizbullah the past three days. Yesterday Sayyid Nasrallah accused Seniora of immoral acts and of colluding with the enemy on Al-Jazeera. I wonder what the vieweres were thinking while they watched Sayyid Nasrallah. Perhaps they were conflicted because Seniora was also a hero during that war in his own right. How easily people forget....

At any rate, Al-Mustaqbal daily today published an article reminding Sayyid Nasrallah that if Seniora's reception of Britich PM Tony Blair was immoral, then what about Qatar, for instance? Qatar, which her Emir's visit to Lebanon was trumpeted by Hizbullah, hosted on its airport runways the first batch of smart bombs that headed to Israel before the war.

Again, if Sayyid Nasrallah considered Seniora's reception of Blair as hurtful to many's feelings, then what about when Nasrallah presented a submachine gun as a gift to the Syrian Head of Intelligence in Lebanon Rustom Ghazaleh on the eve of their troop withdrawal from Lebanon, ignoring the feelings of many Lebanese who considered the Syrian regime as the culprit in PM Hariri's assassination (to say the least).

What about also when Parliament Speaker Berri, as Hizbullah's representative during the war (as claimed by Hizbullah then), met with U.S. State Secretary Condoleeza Rice while the fighting was still ongoing? Couldn't we consider that a meeting between the U.S. and Hizbullah? Wouldn't that be immoral in Sayyid Nasrallah's eyes?

When immorality becomes a concept used widely in political rhetoric, then in my view the political discourse has regressed to a dangerously low level, regressed to the olden days. And we all remember what those days were like....

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

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The problem with regimes like the one ruling Syria...

...is you never know what to believe.

Apparently 4 terrorists attempted to detonate a bomb that was placed in a van outside of the American embassy in Damascus. Reuters reports that,
Four men shouting religious slogans tried to blow up the U.S. embassy in Damascus on Tuesday but their car bomb failed to go off and Syrian security guards killed three of them in a shootout... .

Syrian state television said the attackers had tried but failed to detonate a car bomb.
The nature of the Syrian regime makes such acts highly improbable unless they are sponsored or supported by one of its many tentacles.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Friday, September 08, 2006

Some sane voices speaking up in the region...

In Iran, one of the highest-ranking Shi'a clerics openly spoke against Khamenei's drive to attain nuclear weapons. Of course, if you asked Khamenei, he would tell you that Iran is only interested in nuclear energy. Moreover, whoever said that the highest ranking clerics were the most influential decision makers? I wonder how Iraq would have turned out, for example, if Sistani actually had real power. Anyways, the AFP reports,
The development of nuclear weapons goes against the teachings of the Islamic faith, a senior Iranian cleric said Friday in an interview with Portugal's Lusa news agency.

"The nuclear bomb goes against Islam. Including producing and storing it. To use it would be much worse," Grand Ayatollah Yusuf Saanei, 79, told the agency at his seminary at Qom, Iran's clerical capital just south of Tehran.

"If the government wants to produce this type of weapons it is going against Islam," he added.

Iran failed to meet an August 31 deadline set out by the United Nations Security Council to stop enriching uranium, which Washington says is aimed at producing nuclear weapons but which Tehran says is to fulfill civilian energy needs.

Saanei, one of five senior clerics in Qom, Iran's spiritual nerve center, is known for his pro-reform positions. He has called for dialogue with the West and has issued rulings banning workplace discrimination against women.
On another front, King Abdullah of Jordan is beginning to make some noise with regards to peace in the region. He was interviewed by TIME magazine, and in essense, said that peace-makers of the region have been sidelined for the past several years. He offered an ominous warning to hawks in both the US and Israel. Reuters reports,
The world will be "doomed" to years of violence in the Middle East if there is no major effort by 2007 to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jordan's King Abdullah warned in an interview published on Thursday.

"I believe the Lebanese war dramatically opened all our eyes to the fact that if we don't solve the Palestinian issue, the future looks pretty bleak for the Middle East," the monarch told Time magazine.

Blair is nothing more than a lame duck. Olmert is heading in that direction. However, they both seem to agree with the king of Jordan, and appear to be taking the necessary steps to ameliorate the problem. The AP reports,
Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said Friday that although the agenda for Blair's meeting with Olmert had yet to be set, the two men were likely to discuss options for resuming peace efforts with the Palestinians.
And finally, I wish to point out a development that is more insane than sane: It appears that Morocco is a new runner-up to developing "nuclear energy" capabilities. Frankly, and politics aside, this new global interest in nuclear energy is scaring me. Forget nuclear weapons. Just the fact that people have no clue of what to do with the waste generated by nuclear power plants should give people enough reason to think twice. Anyways, read and weep!
Russia's state-owned nuclear power company said on Thursday that it would bid to build Morocco's first nuclear plant, while Russian President Vladimir Putin signed co-operation deals with the Moroccan king as part of an economic mission to expand Russia's African reach.

The right kind of noise?

The AP reports,

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has signaled that Israel might cede the disputed Chebaa Farms area to Lebanon if the Lebanese carry out all provisions of their cease-fire with Israel, including the disarming of Hezbollah guerrillas, Israeli media reported on Friday.

In a meeting with Russian Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday, Olmert said if the U.N. decides the area is Lebanese, and if Lebanon implements U.N. resolutions ending the war, "we'll agree to discuss it," the Haaretz newspaper
said.

... .


Is this just noise? Or is it a signal that things are moving in a direction that we all want them to move? Past experience has taught me to believe the former.

Besides, it's nothing new. The Lebanese Prime Minister has repeatedly suggested a similar exchange - except, in reverse sequence. Can Kofi resolve this sequencing problem, as he apparently did a few days ago?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

On The Bright Side Of Things

On the brighter side, I read in an article yesterday that, "If peace holds, Standard Chartered Bank forecasts 7 percent GDP growth in Lebanon next year," Monica Malik, an economist with Standard Chartered Bank in Dubai said.

One of the main reasons for such an optimistic assessment is that, "the Gulf harbors a financial interest in a quick Lebanese comeback. Companies in Kuwait and the U.A.E. have invested nearly $2 billion in real estate projects," and are projected to spearhead the investment comeback when international investors return to the country.

Most of the aid that has poured into Lebanon will be set to cover most of the direct damage. "Much of the emergency aid will be used to clear unexploded Israeli bombs, shelter the homeless and restore social services."

Another conference will be held this year for long-term reconstruction aid. I look forward to that conference when perhaps then the government will have a more solid reconstruction plan that will start Lebanon anew on the path to full sovereignty.

The most critical condition for all this to take place is of course holding the peace. It's a conflict inside me always: if we want to concentrate on the economy, then stability is important, but politically stability might mean maintaining a status quo that does not resolve standing, "explosive" issues in our country. That's where I hope that we can attain both a quick economic boost and a lasting resolution to those explosive issues.

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

Lebanon in shambles

Lebanon's Debt-to-GDP ratio has now officially topped 200 percent!

The debt at the beginning of 2006 was $38.6 billion. Today, it is projected to be around $41 billion.

Lebanese officials estimate that Lebanon's GDP shrunk by around 8 percent to $18 billion.

For their part, certain Business groups have estimated that the war cost Lebanon $7 to $8 billion in direct and indirect losses.

The Stockholm conference pledged approximately $2 billion.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

And the money pours in...

It all began with a competition over who would offer more mulla to the thousands of Lebanese whose homes were destroyed during the one-month-long Israeli offensive. Hizballah offered $12,000, the international community responded by pooling their resources together and offering $40,000.

Then, Lebanon's billionaire politicians started to compete over who would re-build the destroyed bridges that the Israelis so generously targeted "to prevent Hizballah from re-arming itself." They publicly selected their favorite bridges and promised to fork over the funds necessary to rebuild them - on condition that the bridges be named after them, once constructed.

Then, a new competition emerged: which country in the region would rebuild entire villages. Qatar, I think, started it. Several days ago, it declared its intention to rebuild Bint-Jbeil. Next came our wonderful neighbor to our east and north, which declared that it would rebuild three or four other villages... .

And now, this: The Saudis have offered to pay the dues and fees of all Lebanese students attending public schools "at all levels."

This is all very generous, and I am sure the recipients are more than greatful for it. However, please excuse me for being a bit cynical!

So now that the Saudis have offered to pay for public schooling, what's next? Cell phone bills? Will the Iranians offer to pay all the cell phone bills that Lebanese accumulated over the month-long offensive?

Lebanon continues to be an open field where regional and global powers play their soccer matches. When they throw cash at us, its all nice and dandy, however, we are the last ones they consult when they decide to convert those dollar bills into katyusha rockets and cluster bombs.

Jamal's Trip Beyond Bint Jbeil

Please read about Jamal's trip Beyond Bint Jbeil. Thank you Jamal for the coverage!

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

Israel's blockade, and Kofi's plan

The New York Times reported today that governments in the region have conveyed to Kofi Annan that the “single biggest impediment to beginning the restoration of Lebanon” is the Israeli blockade. The reason the Israelis give for not lifting it is the fact that they don’t see the UN force that is currently deployed as capable of filling the vacuum they will leave behind. Most noticeably the German fleet that is supposed to patrol the shores of Lebanon is set to arrive two weeks from now.

But Kofi has come up with a plan,

  • Under the plan, Mr. Chirac's announcement would bring an immediate dispatch of French, Italian and Greek vessels to patrol for two weeks, the time needed for a promised German fleet to arrive.
  • The second step is a letter to Mr. Annan from Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, formally authorizing the Germans to take up their positions off Lebanon.
  • The third and final step that Mr. Annan hopes for is an announcement that Israel will lift the blockade.
Mr. Siniora and Ehud Olmert...have disagreed on the sequence of events, Mr. Annan said. Mr. Siniora wants Israel to end its blockade before he authorizes the German assignment, Mr. Annan said. But he said Mr. Olmert had told him Israel would lift the blockade only after word that the Germans were officially committed.
I'm just wondering why Seniora is stonewalling on the formal authorization of the German commitment to fulfilling resolution 1701. Why this posturing over semantics?


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

French sending in the heavy equipment

The French don't appear to be too optimistic about the stability of the cease fire in Lebanon. According to certain press reports, they're sending in heavy equipment along with their troops into Southern Lebanon. The "package" includes heavy tanks and radar designed to track the source of artillery fire. The AP reports,

France is quietly preparing to play a tougher role in the strengthened U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, rolling out hefty tanks, powerful artillery, and sophisticated radar systems to pinpoint artillery launch sites.

French Leclerc tanks will be some of the mightiest vehicles deployed under the U.N. flag - an answer to critics who have moaned about toothless, ineffectual U.N. peacekeeping deployments over the years.

...

Heavy armor such as the Leclerc is not typically part of the force deployment package for a U.N. peacekeeping operation, although battle tanks have been used in past missions. Attack helicopters, for example, have been deployed for the biggest U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo.

Thirteen Leclerc tanks were expected to arrive by rail from central France to the port of Toulon early Wednesday, before being sent across the Mediterranean to Lebanon in the next several days.

...

France is also sending four 155mm surface-to-surface AUF1 canons, with a range of up to 17 miles, plus armored vehicles, short-range anti-aircraft missiles, and Cobra radar which can pinpoint artillery fire in a range of up to 25 miles.
The sad reality on the ground in Lebanon is that there isn't really a resolution to any of the crises that the country currently faces. Everything appears to be hanging in limbo, and this UN force only serves to emphasize that point. Whereas the "national dialogue" proved to be nothing more than a farce, at least Lebanese had a sense that a political solution to the deadlock was possible. Today... even that fragile but valuable mirage has dissipated.

The bane of rising petrostates and their coming demise

One of the most unfortunate products of the world economic order today are regimes that posses an inordinate amount of power (within the territories they control and internationally), simply because they have managed to secure control of oil that just so happened to lay underneath the ground they control. These regimes do not have to stimulate their societies to produce any sort of economic output of value that they can sell to the global market - why should they? They sell oil! In fact, all these regimes know how to do is to buy their place in power, to use their wealth to suppress their societies, and to enjoy an almost tragically prominent role in international affairs.

The biggest losers in this arrangement are the individual members of societies that live under these petro-regimes. Some of them may live comfortably, relative to global standards, but they live empty lives nonetheless.

Saudi Arabia and the gulf states would be nothing but the arid hinterland of a dramatically different Middle East. Whatever regime that ruled Iran would be a much more accountable one since it would depend so much more on Iranian society for its wealth as opposed to oil wells. Hugo Chavez would not exist, and the Russian state might have been forced to cave into the demands of Russian society. All of these realities may have been realized had the developed world not depended so critically on oil.

What reassures me though is evidence that this oil bonanza is only short lived. Tens Hundreds of billions of dollars have been invested in new infrastructure projects and upgrades, billions more have been invested in technologies that increase energy efficiency and provide economies with alternatives to crude oil.

Exxon Mobil's CEO recently claimed that he expected the demand for gasoline in the United States to decrease in the coming 25 years as a result of increased levels of efficiency. Technologies that convert coal to oil are beginning to get the kind of attention they deserve, and the money they need to become more economically feasible. Other technologies that convert oil shale to oil are also gaining prominence (the United States has the largest reserves of both oil shale and coal in the world).

All of these improvements and more will take years to yield any sort of tangible results. However, investors are already making decisions based on oil prices of $40/barrel, and prices have declined steadily over the past two weeks, to the dismay of some who wish for pertpetually high prices. And despite all the talk of unyielding competition between the United States and China, both powers have at least one common interest that they work in concert to realize: cheap energy for their growing economies.

The ultimate outcome is becoming clearer for all to see: oil prices will ultimately plummet. The petro-regimes that will survive relatively unscathed are those that are currently investing their windfall profits in non-oil related sectors of their economies. The petro-regimes that will crash and burn are those that are burning their petro-dollars in misguided dreams of regional military domination and economically unsustainable policies of buying popular approval.

Do I see the end of petro-regimes on earth? No. Especially in the short run, during which oil prices will remain volatile thanks to environmental and political factors. However, in the long run, I am beginning to see a clear and indisputable emerging reality that is very unfriendly to such regimes. I only hope is that this reality manifests itself sooner rather than later - i.e. in five, as opposed to ten or twenty five years.

Be Clear About What You Stand For


This caricature depicts the way I feel about Qatar.

Who are we kidding ourselves by believing that the Qatari Airlines defied the Israeli air blockade by venturing out to Beirut yesterday? The Washington Post here reported that the Qataris got clearance prior to the trip from Israel.

It's interesting to see that a gulf country, other than the typical Saudi Arabia, is dabbling with politics, which usually gulf countries like to eschew. Gulf countries are always known to send money, not troops nor emissaries. But Qatar, apart from Al-Jazeera, wants to carve out for itself a place on the table.

I say, Great! But the downside is that Qatar just doesn't know what it stands for.

First, Qatar being a current member on the UN Security Council opposed UNSCR 1701, yet it just decided to send some 200 to 500 troops as part of the beefed-up UNIFIL peacekeeping force in the south (a la 1701).

Second, Al-Jazeera was one of the first Arab channels to interview Sayyid Nasrallah during the month-long war and has even dubbed that war the "Sixth War" and of course has openly supported Hizbullah in its war with Israel, unlike Saudi for instance. Yet on the other hand, Qatar is sending its troops to the south as part of an effort that consolidates the Lebanese state's control over its territories.

Third, Qatar has attempted at bridging the divide between Syria and Lebanon by taking up a mediator role of sorts taking the side of Syria, yet at the same time, I hear rumors circulating that Qatar is mediating secretly between Syria and Israel. Wow!

Fourth, the "defying the blockade" incident when Qatar has gotten Israel's permission, knowing very well that both countries cooperate economically.

And so this goes straight to the puzzling question in my mind: Al-Jazeera's political stands versus Qatar's diplomatic relations with Israel. A contradiction. It's none of my business to question any country's policies, heck, most Arab countries have such double standards shouting, "Hey look at me!", but out of concern, you cannot dabble in everything, you're a political novice, thank you for your efforts, but be clear about what you stand for lest you lose your credibility.

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

The other war

If Afghanistan is the war that nobody notices thanks to the mayhem in Iraq, then Syria's war on Lebanon can now be characterized in a similar fashion. Except in Lebanon, both battle zones actually over-lap. Lucky Lebanon!

Naharnet reports,
A senior police intelligence officer, involved in the investigation into ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's murder, survived an assassination bombing ambush with minor injuries in southern Lebanon Tuesday.

Media reports said Lt. Col. Samir Shehade was moderately injured in the explosion, which went off as his car drove by the village of Rmaileh, near the southern port city of Sidon. He was taken to the Hammoud hospital in Sidon, and hospital officials said his condition was stable.

Security officials said four aides and bodyguards were killed and another five were wounded in the attack.

Shehade is deputy chief of the intelligence department in Lebanon's internal security force.

Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat said Shehade was involved last year in the arrest of four generals accused of involvement in ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's assassination. The four are Brig. Gen. Jamil Sayyed, Brig. Gen. Ali Hajj, Brig. Gen. Raymond Azar and Brig. Gen. Mustafa Hamdan.

The Lebanese Internal Security Forces are considered the most loyal security apparatus to the Lebanese government - i.e. the current governing coalition. This attack should be seen in light of the string of assassinations and bombings that have transpired since the attempted murder of MP Marwan Hamade, around two years ago. The bombing should also be seen in light of the recent political offensive carried out by Syria's allies in Lebanon to undermine the government. Fellow blogger Abu Kais has dealt with those particular developments comprehensively. I recommend you pay him a visit.

One step away from picking his toes


hat-tip, Firas.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

RE: Dissapointed

I received an e-mail from a regular visitor to the blog yesterday, that conveyed his dissapointment concerning my recent positions regarding the conflict in Lebanon and the region in general. His e-mail was long and articulate, so I decided to return the favor and explain myself.

The result was a "piece," which after some consideration, I decided to post on this blog. So maybe others who are wondering the same will understand a little more. Anyways, here goes:

Daniel,

Thanks for the long e-mail. I will try to explain to you why I a write the way I do. Before I do, though, I would like to say one thing about myself. At one point of my life (as a child), I admired Saddam Hussein's challenge to the West; I was (and still am) proud of what the Arab armies accomplished in 1973, and I even sided with the Russians during the cold war. I want you to know this about me because I do not wish for you to think that I am not conflicted, and have not really thought about my positions with regards to everything that is transpiring in Lebanon and the Middle East .

Conflicts are always multi-layered, and multi-dimensional. The recent battle in Lebanon is no different [I say battle because it is merely one chapter in a long war that goes back to (in Lebanon at least) the first Palestinian operations launched from the South]. The conflict in Lebanon , today, consists of a local layer, a regional layer and an international one. I don't think I need to explain each one to you because you seem like you're a well-informed individual. As for dimensions, I see a conflict between two visions of how people ought to live their lives, a sectarian conflict, a conflict between established elites and up and coming counter elites, and a conflict between two solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
.
I will delve a little into the dimensions of this conflict:
  1. Visions of how individuals should live their lives:

    Hizballah's vision is clear because the organization is transparent about it. For as long as I can remember, Hizballah has proclaimed its goal of creating what it calls a “culture of resistance.” So what does that mean? Essentially, a “culture of resistance” means a population that, in one way or another, takes part in a military struggle. A culture of resistance, in other words, means: a militarized culture that, in Hizballah’s case, is founded on Islamic Doctrine and the Sharia. You are probably wondering why I am against this since I do not appear to be a Shi’ite myself. Well, my answer to you is that such a vision inherently contradicts the vision (or idea) of Lebanon itself – which is a republic founded on modern principles (albeit, imperfectly translated on the ground). Another reason I am vehemently against a militarized culture is because such a culture needs an enemy, and Hizballah does not rule a Shi’a Lebanon. If Hizballah takes its militarized population to war, it takes the rest of us with it. The Shi’ite population under its influence probably won’t mind so much because they are constantly prepared for war psychologically by their leadership, but the rest of us aren’t, and can never be, since Hizballah’s ideology is limited to and defined by Shi’ism. This reality causes tremendous friction and tension in an already fragile country. It adds one more challenge to a country already fraught with challenges.
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  2. Sectarian Conflict:

    Lebanon is almost defined by sectarianism. Its political system is designed to accommodate a sectarian reality. For Lebanon to exist as a stable and viable country, no one sect can dominate. The Christians tried doing so, then the Sunnis and Druze, and now, I guess, you could say the Shi’ite political elite is having a go. Don’t tell me that all they want to do is fight Israel , and all that nonsense. The decision to go to war is the most important decision any polity can make, and by taking it upon itself to decide on behalf of all Lebanese to conduct military operations against Israel, Hizballah (de-facto) utterly dominates its counterparts – it acts as a national leader, whereas it is merely a sectarian one.

    You mention, in your e-mail, how “there is something positive to be said for how much Hizballah and Amal have played within the system to the degree that they have.” Well, in response to that, I say that if Hizballah and Amal gain any more influence, Lebanon will simply become a Shi’ite state!

    The Lebanese state spares no one with its incompetence! All regions of Lebanon were and continue to be subject to the state’s inability to offer services. The reasons for the relative wealth in Mt. Lebanon has nothing to do with state-intervention, and everything to do with immigration patterns (and the consequent remittances), as well as the Beirut-Damascus highway, which makes it a little more convenient for tourists to drop by! Over the past decade and more however, as more expatriate Shi’ites make their fortunes, the situation has changed dramatically, and the overall well-being of the Shi’a population has improved significantly!

    As for Beirut , what can I say? It is the capital of Lebanon , and welcomes members of all sects. You also have to keep in mind that Lebanon's resources are limited and that investments in infrastructure need to pay off (at least in the long run). Building a university in every region of the country for the sake of satisfying sectarian competition is simply unfeasible! Building a university in Beirut though, where all who wish to attend may do so is, of course, the better , more feasible, alternative.
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  3. A conflict between established elites and up and coming counter elites

    In Lebanon the established elites are members of old political families that still retain a traditional base of support. Jumblatt is a perfect example of this club. I am a Druze, and most Druze who support Jumblatt are people I dislike for a myriad of reasons, which can be summed up in one phrase: traditional communitarianism. Their support for the man merely manifests their “Druzeness” and has nothing to do with social, economic or political preferences. Anyways, the same can be said of most of the common Lebanese folk to some degree or another – except with Hizballah, which I will get to in a moment.

    Going back to the elite counter-elite competition though, you could easily place Hizballah as a counter-elite. The traditionally powerful Shi’ite families are the Khalils the Asa’ads, the Hamades and many more. Hizballah has used its religious legitimacy and the endless amount of resources it gets from Iran to undercut the support that these families would otherwise have received from the Shi’a population. The alliance between General Aoun and Hizballah, when seen through this prism, is actually pretty natural. Aoun sees himself as a common man, and despises the traditional Christian elite (including the Maronite Patriarch, who he perceives as a rival). Ever since his return to Lebanon , for example, Aoun has called for an overhaul of the Lebanese political class.

    Where do I see my self in this particular battle? Well, despite his political choices, alliances (at the local and regional levels), and his obvious flaws, I have always had a soft spot for Gen. Aoun. As for Hizballah, I acknowledge their skills and organizational capacity, however, I cannot but stand against them because of their vision.
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  4. A conflict between two solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict

    The first option is a diplomatic track suggested by the Saudis where the Israelis would get full recognition by all Arab states in exchange for returning to the 1967 borders. The second track is what I would call the Tehran track… which essentially implies that there will never be peace unless an agreement involves, and is approved by, Tehran . I have personal doubts regarding the rational capacities of Israel ’s leadership. However, their withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, and Gaza just this past year, at least indicates their awareness of the futility of imposing their will militarily.

    Some would argue that these withdrawals as well as the construction of the wall on the West Bank merely conveys that Israel is no longer interested in negotiations, but rather is creating a situation on the ground that it could live with indefinitely. If such were the case, these people argue, then the military activities of Hizballah and the Palestinians would be justifiable because it prevents the Israelis from imposing a settlement as opposed to negotiating a mutually agreeable one.

    You see what’s happening here, don’t you? Each side is preparing for the next round of negotiations by doing their utmost to weaken the other in order to secure a stronger position at the table. The Iranians are basically saying, if you leave it to us, we’ll ensure that the Palestinians get a better deal! REALLY? How much of a better deal? And at what price? Will the “better deal” be worth everything the Palestinians and their neighbor to the North are paying? I doubt it. And all that is happening here is a prolonging of the conflict and a trend towards escalation that may lead us to Armageddon.

    No, in this case, I am with the Saudis.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Forced To Take Sides

I remember when the war first broke out, I bumped coincidentally into a friend on msn chat whom I haven't seen or chatted with since several years ago. After the niceties, he quickly asked me, "Who are you with?" I was a bit puzzled. What did he mean by that question, like I would not be with Lebanon??! I said, "I'm with Lebanon!" He replied, "But Lebanon is divided and this is the reality."

After the conversation was over, it hit me that his question was about if I was with the March 8 or the March 14 coalition. But it was so interesting to see that these sides during the war faded somehow; we were faced with different sorts of divisions.

The truth of the matter is that no matter what, the Lebanese are always forced to take sides. First it was pro-Syrian versus anti-Syrian. Of course to be anti-Syrian was always hush-hush. We could express our frustration to our closest friends, at home (but even at home we would whisper as if the walls can record every word we utter).

A couple of years before the Syrian troops left Lebanon, my family moved to work in Syria. I learned then the amount of misconception the Lebanese have towards the Syrians in general. Raja and I back at AUB organized two cultural trips to Syria; I recall how appalled many Lebanese were at the idea of organizing such trips. Interestingly enough, most of those who joined us on the trips were Lebanese expatriates and foreign students and professors. We saw the beauty and potential Syria has, how the people there are like us, and how the regime there rarely taps into the potential of the country and its people.

I was taught only then to distinguish between a regime and the people. I like Syria and because I do, I thought the Lebanese-Syrian relations would be at a disadvantage if the Syrian regime kept its stronghold on Lebanon and didn't leave it to be an independent state.

...So we took sides then and we gravitated towards the March 14 forces. Unfortunately then, not all saw eye-to-eye on this issue and we were forced to take sides.

And then this war broke out. Despite the unity that many politicians tried to forge through, frankly it was a facade. Yes, we were all united against the Israeli war machine, against the deaths and destruction, but again we did not see eye-to-eye on the politics. Then, last month, for me at least, March 8 and March 14 seized to exist as a viable division. The divisions morphed into: with the Taif State versus not with the Taif State, patriotic versus un-patriotic (or to some zionist), with Hizbullah's arms versus with Hizbullah's disarmament, and again back to pro-Syrian versus anti-Syrian.

I don't want to take sides. Lebanon entered into a dark tunnel and I simply want it back! I click on the Al-Mustaqbal daily and I read just the headlines...nothing appealing, just talk, the editorial keeps on instilling in us fear of a Syrian comeback which to me is pathetic. I click on Annahar, the same, just skim through the headlines. I click on Al-Balad, just check out the caricature.....

Nothing to say, the Lebanese are confused as never before. Perhaps I look at the Prime Minister and I appreciate his stands. I understand the difficulty in trying to bring a divided country together. He extols the resistance and asks for Lebanon's sovereignty in one breath. It's a difficult, delicate task.

I always believed in action as opposed to politicking. I wish the government can call on those Lebanese who live abroad to return to Lebanon to re-build it, but I know it's wishful thinking; there are many standing issues still unresolved. And who is to resolve them? I don't know. Is it time? Or some other factor?

The question is: Am I needed back home? The appeal of Hizbullah is that it asks its supporters to be there for it, for a cause that drives them. The figher is an engineer, is a relief worker, is a construction worker, is a doctor, a nurse, a teacher....That's what's missing in any Lebanese state plan. The Lebanese state is only good in asking those with the money to return so they could invest here and there, but what about those with just skills? Do we have a place in your plans?

I'll end with a poem I wrote during the Grapes of Wrath war back in 1996 when I was only 15, a tribute to the resistance. However, right now I believe in a resistance of a different kind, that of preserving a liberal, democratic, enlightened Lebanon, a Lebanon for all Lebanese.

(Originally in Arabic, translated to English for the blog's purpose):

Al-Thawra
The revolution is our daughter
The fighter spirit
One hand in the face of the sun
I wish I was one of them
The passing away of life after fulfilling the self
How beautiful it is...to die like that
My revolution
A war against the deadly machine
Facing blood with a white heart
Why don't you do like me?
There is no goal without the land
A land I have sipped from its wine until I was drunk
Soil and blue possessing no boundaries
A well reflecting the face of history
Oh what a land!
It deserves this crazy revolution
The body disintegrates
But my soul will chose Lebanon as its end
Lebanonize (Talabnanoo)....
You will attain love, beauty and wisdom.

April 19, 1996
Tripoli, Lebanon

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