Sunday, December 24, 2006

Concepts

I'm back to griping about an obliviousness of concepts and notions that public figures in our part of the world convey whenever they open their big fat mouths and speak to the public. Why? Because, today, the Daily Star ran an exclusive interview with the VP of the Lebanese Communist Party. Just read the introductory paragraph of the article and weep:
The Lebanese Communist Party (LCP) and the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) signed a memorandum of understanding on December 7, 2006, as a result of a mutual goal of combating sectarianism in Lebanon, according to the LCP's number two. In an exclusive interview with The Daily Star, LCP Vice President, Saadallah Mazraani said that despite maintaining distance from the current anti-government demonstrations, the party feels it necessary to join forces with any secular party in the country.

combating secularism? secular party? We're talking about the FPM right? Funny. While we're at it, let's just go ahead and declare that the PSP is a secular party! Or let's also take that extra step and assert that Hizballah is a religious party that is not sectarian.

What kind of nonesense is this communist spewing? The FPM has as much of a claim to secularism as any of the other major "political parties" in the country, if not less. All you have to do is read that ridiculous Los Angeles Times interview of Michel Aoun (pulished around a week ago) to realize the depth of that party's sectarian agenda. In that interview, Aoun declares that his actions will save all Christendom in the Middle East - never mind Lebanon's Maronite community.

Secularism. Of all people the "Comunists" should know what it means!

Friday, December 22, 2006

Amr Pasha - the Vanguard

Some would like for us to believe that Amr Pasha does not merely seek to save us Lebanese from ourselves. No, no, no... You see, Amr Pasha represents the vanguard of a new initiative by regional powers to forge an independent path that would save the entire region from American folly, Russian machinations, European temerity and Iranian expansionism. The Christian Science Monitor (12/22, Murphy) wrote yesterday, "this high-level dialogue appears to reflect a new reality: With US prestige crippled by the war, regional actors are bypassing the West to forge partnerships and find solutions on their own." (By the way, I'm tickled whenever I find the word "solutions" and "regional actors" in the same sentence).

Anyways, let's look at this "high level dialogue" between "regional actors" who seek to find "solutions of their own" from a different angle. In fact, let's just look at one of these regional actors - arguably one of the most influential.

The New York Times (12/22, Fattah) wrote yesterday that "across Saudi Arabia" the "once-quiet concern over the chaos in Iraq and Iran's growing regional influence has burst into the open, with many saying a showdown with Iran is inevitable." The Times added that the "apparent split burst into the open last week when Prince Turki al-Faisal...abruptly resigned [as ambassador to the US]." His resignation, writes the newspaper, "is seen by many...as part of a long-running battle over Saudi Arabia's foreign policy," and "privately some Saudi officials and analysts with knowledge of the situation say Prince Turki resigned over deep differences with Prince Bandar bin Sultan," who is "believed to favor the tough American approach of confronting Iran, analysts say, while Prince Turki advocates more diplomatic tactics, including negotiating with Iran."

Even the Washington Post (12/23, Wright) pitches into this discussion surrounding the bickering within the Saud family. The newspaper writes, "the woes within the royal family reflect a tug of war over how to handle foreign policy." Over a year ago, "Prince Bandar bin Sultan ended a legendary 22-year career as the face of Saudi Arabia in the United States. ... As it turns out, however, Bandar has secretly visited Washington almost monthly over the past year - and is at least as pivotal today in influencing U.S. policy as he was in his years as ambassador." The Post also points at factional infighting, unrelated to matters of foreign policy, when it writes, "The rise of Bandar, who is now Saudi Arabia's national security adviser, may reflect the waning influence of the sons of the late King Faisal, who dominated the diplomatic and intelligence services for decades, say sources close to the family."

Here we have an embarrassing portrayal of, arguably, the most powerful "regional actor" struggling to find "solutions" of its own - never mind one working with other regional actors in such a quest. In fact, the notion that there is this "Arab" or "Regional" path, autonomous from the influence of other major powers, is as preposterous as the existence of the Arab League. No... the lines in the Middle Eastern sands have been drawn, and it is clear where each player stands, who they're allied with and who they depend on. Moreover, the rise of Bandar bin Sultan out of the tumult in Riyadh - a development that both newspapers seem to agree on - reconfirms where the Saudis themselves are headed, and I am quite certain, it has nothing to do with "the crippling of US prestige by the war in Iraq."

So, for his sake, let's not make Amr Pasha out to be more than he already is. The man is already the governor of Lebanon's Mutasarrifs! He has enough on his plate.

let's have a massive conference...

Two days ago, standing next to Syrian foreign minister Walid Moualim, Amr Pasha praised Bashar, saying "I informed [Assad] of the Arab initative. I am extremely happy with the support I received." For his part, Mouallim noted, "The Syrian president expressed his support for Amr [Pasha's] efforts and his initaitve...to bring stability to Lebanon without any foreign intervention." (Naharnet)

I really think that people from our part of the world need to organize a massive, all-inclusive coference. The objective: decide - or rather, standardize - the definitions of "foreign" and "domestic."

Here we have an Egyptian going to a Syrian to ask for support to solve a "Lebanese" problem without, and I quote, "any foreign intervention."

FABULOUS!

I mean... this type of language doesn't even qualify as Orwelian double-speak. It's pure lunacy!

p.s. I know this thought is somewhat belated. However, I was writing an altogether different entry, and citing the Naharnet artilce. I just couldn't help but drop that whole post, and write this one up instead... .

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Fortune Telling Lebanon's Future

Today in Lebanon,

Security

Reuters reported that Lebanese police found and confiscated large quantities of explosives, detonators and timers in houses owned by members of a pro-Syrian group in north Lebanon on Thursday, security sources said. They said police had also moved to encircle some offices of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) in Beirut after making some arrests in the northern Koura province. Alas, the state flexes its miniscule muscles. I Expect protesters tomorrow to chant against an "autocratic" and "dictatorial" regime.

Politics

The Daily Star reported, "A meeting of Parliament's Administration and Justice Committee scheduled for Wednesday was cancelled after a clash between" MPs Neamatallah Abi Nasr and Walid Eido. Apparently, "Abi Nasr had taken issue with Eido's rejection at a separate committee meeting earlier this week of a proposal to create a separate electoral governorate in Mount Lebanon comprising the qadas of Kesrouan-Ftouh and Jbeil." You know what really caught my attention here: the fact that a parliamentary committee is actually meeting! So parliament's doors are locked, but committees are holding meetings? Interesting

Economy

The Daily Star reported, "hundreds of bankers, businessmen and merchants held a meeting at Beirut's Phoenicia Inter-Continental Hotel on Wednesday to condemn the standoff between the government and the opposition over the latter's demand for more influence in Cabinet." If Lebanese were sane, and Lebanese politics not so dysfunctional, this group would constitute the most influential body in the country. Politicians would appeal to them for support, and would coordinate pulic-private initiatives to help boost economic performance. But, of course, Lebanese are not sane, and politics in Lebanon is dysfunctional... which brings me to the real news of the day,

What International Developments Will Steer Lebanon In The Near Future?

Yesterday, in a press conference, President Bush emphasized commitment to the Iraq mission despite the fact that his party lost both houses of Congress, and his recent declaration that the US is not winning the war. The New York Times writes that as he spoke, he "showed no indication that he was inclined to change goals or pull out of Iraq." The newspaper writes that he "used the news conference to confirm his plans, disclosed Tuesday in an interview with The Washington Post, to propose an increase in the permanent size of both the Army and the Marines. He called the global campaign against terrorism 'the calling of our generation,' and he said the military needed to be beefed up to fight it.

On that note, the Wall Street Journal published a very telling article about the how the State Department percieves the region, and what it plans to accomplish in the foreseeable future.

The newspaper writes that Condi Rice is about to embark on “a new diplomatic push in the Middle East to win increased support in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories from what she calls ‘mainstream states’ such as Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.” She “touted what she described as ‘a new opportunity’ to get moderate forces in the region 'to support the development of stable new governments in Iraq and Lebanon...and to make progress toward the emergence of a Palestinian state that is founded on the same principles.’”

As the White House continues to weigh changes to its Iraq strategy, Rice, writes the Journal, “argues that a new alignment is shaping up in the Middle East that offers fresh promise for a new US diplomatic effort.” According to her, the US is “calling upon Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and key Gulf states to help calm the sectarian passions in Iraq, even going so far as to recognize the current Shiite-led government in Baghdad.” They are also are being asked to “ramp up support for the embattled Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and for Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to weaken Iranian-aided radical groups” such as Hezbollah and Hamas. In exchange, the Bush administration is “promising its Arab partners to try to reinvigorate the long-moribund peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.”

For its part, the Washington Times notes that Rice said the US will not even “wait for Palestinians to agree on a unity government or to hold elections in order to push for a renewed peace effort with Israel and will step up its support for President Mahmoud Abbas.” Rice pointed out that “the chief mission of US diplomacy in the Middle East in the next two years will be to strengthen the ‘alignment’ of moderate forces so they can take on extremists who have enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years.”

Now if we juxtapose this American position (as articulated by both Bush and Rice) with that which Russia articulated two or three days ago, you see two powers that perceive themselves playing fundamentally clashing roles. Neither power mentions the other in their discussions - nor even institutions or entities designed to foster at least a facade of cooperation (like the Middle East Quartet).

This collision makes me worry that Putin will continue to play the role of "spoiler" to American policy in the Middle East until he gets the kind of recognition from the Americans that he wants. He uses oil and natural gas for leverage in Europe, and he'll use weapons (as well as the nuclear issue) as leverage in the Middle East. Yesterday phone call to PM Seniora, in which Putin "expressed concern" about Lebanon falling into the same sort of chaos that the Palestinians in Gaza are experiencing was not a good omen at all - I perceived it to be more of a warning than anything else.

Yalla... let the roller coaster ride begin. Truth is: whether you believe that Hizballah or March 14 is the "righteous" party, righteousness is irrelevant. In fact, I'll take it one step further and say: Lebanon no longer matters now. The big boys apparently have only just started to get their hands dirty.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Russian Question

A few days ago, Lebanese Prime Minister Seniora returned from Moscow saying "I am deeply convinced of support from Russia." A close Seniora aide told Deutsche Presse-Agentur that "Seniora stressed during his talks with the Russain officials that Lebanon's aim was to have 'good and friendly relations based on mutual balanced respect [with Syria] and that any effort in this direction would be useful.'"

Today, Bashar el Assad is in Moscow.... . In explaining the visit, a Kremlin official told Interfax News Agency that the main item on the agenda is "a just and lasting settlement of the crisis situation in the Middle East." He added, "Particular attention will be given to the situation in the Palestinian territories, around Lebanon and in Iraq ."

Furthermore, Agence France Presse quotes Russian newspaper, Kommersant, saying "Moscow wanted to restore something of its Soviet-era influence in the Middle East" and "Putin would seek [Bashar's] support for a long-standing bid to hold a Middle East conference in Moscow." The conference, writes Kommersant, could bring together "opposing sides - Lebanon, Syria and possibly Iran and the Palestinian authority and Israel." (pretty ambitious, I must say)

The AFP adds, "Kommersant noted that al-Assad's visit comes immediately after a visit to Moscow by Lebanon's pro-Western Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, whose government faces a revolt by a Syrian-backed opposition." Moscow, the newspaper writes, aims to enable "an exchange between Beirut and Damascus" by which "Syria would refrain from trying to bring down the Siniora government and Lebanon would stop accusing Syria of involvement in the murder last year of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri, Kommersant said."

With regards to what the Syrians will give the Russians , AFP writes that "in an interview Monday with the official Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper, Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Shara talked of an important role for Russia and hinted that Syria would like to buy more Russian weapons systems." More specifically, "Kommersant said Damascus is considering buying MiG-29SMT fighter jets from Russia as well as possibly Amur-1650 submarines, Yak-130 planes and additional Pantsir-C1 air defence systems."

My Take On This Story is that the Russians are very ambitious all of a sudden. I'm left asking myself: exactly what has boosted their sense of relevance (confidence?) all of a sudden? They're talking of throwing the tribunal into the dust bin of history, hosting a peace conference that would, of all things, bring Iran and Israel to the table, and spewing all sorts of audacious initiatives into the wind. Essentially, they're telling the Americans: leave the Middle East to us, and we'll take care of things!

This tangent is, to say the very least, an interesting one to watch. Let's see where it goes.

The Lebanese-Palestinian Link

And as if any more evidence to prove the linkage between the “two fronts”were needed, we are now greeted by a call from Lebanon’s opposition to hold early parliamentary elections. This initiative comes merely two days after Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, raised the stakes over at his own neck of the woods by – you guessed it – calling for early legislative elections.

For its part, the venerable Daily Star penned an article titled, “Opposition raises the stakes with call for early legislative elections” - as if this move comes out of the blue ... and, in so doing, (inadvertently?) ascribing to the opposition undue originality and independence.

The newspaper does not even bother to mention developments in Palestine throughout the artilce's body – never mind attempt to link the two together.

Daily Star aside though, coordination between Lebanon's opposition and Hamas at such a level does not surprise me - although it is quite disconcerting. Politicians and parties in Lebanon have always been so much more responsive to foreign actors than to their own constituents (all of them have the illusion of being "bigger" than Lebanon, for some reason). Yalla, I'm waiting to see what will happen if the Palestinians descend into all-out civil war.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Economist

...used to be my absolute favorite magazine. In Lebanon, I believe about 200 Economist publications wait patiently for me in one of my storage areas. Back in the day, as I stashed them away, I told myself that maybe 10 years down the road I'd pick them up again and get a glimpse into my past.

Today, however, is a different story. I read the economist at work because I must. The magazine, quite frankly has become too pedantic for my taste. Too much policy recommendations... too little analysis. Frankly, I think it is committing hubris - what sort of contributions, for example, can a magazine called The Economist make to enriching the debate on the Palestine-Israeli conflict or the genocide in Darfur?

Sometimes however, the magazine gets it right - and usually, it does so when it sticks to subjects close to its "core," if you will. Last week's edition contained two quintessential examples of such brilliance: their cover page, and a commentary about Dubai's stock exchange. Here's the cover page:

Of course, some would argue that this image has more to do with international relations or geopolitics than economics - but don't tell the Economist's editors that, because they probably won't let you escape from their lecturing until they convince you otherwise. Whatever the case, I just love this cover, and it deserves recognition!

The other coup de grace pulled by this edition of the Economist pertains to Dubai's stock exchange, and why it has experienced lack-luster performance despite its declared ambitions to grow into a truly global capital market. On that particular issue, the Economist writes,

To win a place in the top club of financial centres, Dubai must attract not just providers of capital but users, too. The bankers need companies that want to sell their shares and bonds in the region; fund managers want local companies to invest in; and private-equity partners need a pipeline of enticing ventures and the prospect of listing their companies after a few years. Dubai has sought to profit from the unprecedented mobility of markets, but without local demand for capital, that same mobility will start to count against it.

The trouble is that few local companies are ready for Dubai's capital markets. The Arab world includes plenty of sophisticated large investors but few modern companies. Long ago, the region's failure to develop joint-stock companies was one reason why it fell behind the West. Even today, financial transparency is weak and accounting is erratic. Most enterprises are family owned and, since they operate in protected markets, have no great need to raise capital, especially if it means exposing themselves to greater scrutiny.

Iranians

...voted on Saturday. The Iranians voted overwhelmingly for a list of candidates composed of a coalition of reformists and the former president Rafsanjani. They voted to fill the slots of municipal councils (including that of Tehran). They also voted for the country's Council of Experts.

After snooping around a bit, I have to come to the realization that Iran's Council of Experts actually oversees the Velayat e Faqih - i.e. Khamanei. Therefore, if theory actually applies in the real world, who knows? Maybe this new election may yield some positive results after all!

Another very intriguing aspect of this election is what may be construed as a dialogue between the Iranian and American peoples. I know that I may be stretching it a bit with this thought, but I wonder if the Iranians would have voted the same way if the American electorate voted overwhelmingly for the Republicans - as opposed to the Democrats.

Finally, I have to insert a comment related to these developments. Whether or not you are supportive of Iranian foreign policy (I'm definitely dead-set against it), you have to give them credit for holding these elections. Frankly, I consider that country to be one of only three real states in the region - the other two being Turkey and Israel. All the rest are mere mirages.

Saudi Arabia, for example, (the most influential Arab state) is nothing but Saudi Aramco - the largest company in the world, by the way - with a country and two holy sites attached to it. The closest parrallell to Saudi Arabia would be Harvard University - which, of course, is a massive $29 billion endowment with a university attached to it. As for the "Saudis," I am quite certain that if they were to hold elections tomorrow, the country would probably disintegrate.

Anyways, I should shut up now, because I'm betraying my foreign policy preferences. Go Saudis! Kick Ahmadenijad's Ass!!! Wohoow!

I think our salvation lies in the decisions made by the Iranian people. The "Arabs" won't step up to the plate because they don't have the legs for it. The West... well, what can I say? They had better deal with this new development wisely.

cheap wine

tastes disgusting.

friendly advice for those of you out there who like to enjoy a glass of wine every now and then: never buy a bottle of 2004 Piccini Chianti. If you haven't figured it out yet, it's an Italian wine, and it's got an orange-colored label. I think it cost me like 9 bucks. Disgusting!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Lebanon Next Week - a preview

Grass-roots activists in Western democracies like to believe that all politics is local. Or, alternatively, they like to say that "change" starts in people's backyards.

In Lebanon, on the other hand, every taxi driver knows that almost every aspect of his life is affected, in one way or another, by decisions made in Riyadh, Tehran, Cairo, Damascus, Paris, Moscow, Washington DC, and increasingly, even Beijing.

Starting from this premise, I will quickly glide through developments across the world today - developments that I believe will have an impact on Lebanese politics in the coming week. Events will be pigeonholed into three categories: International, Regional and the Regional-International nexus.

Allow to start with,

INTERNATIONAL

1. US North Korean Bilateral Negotiations. It appears that the US is quietly conceding to North Korean demands to hold direct talks. Agence France Press says, "US chief negotiator Christopher Hill has said he will meet with his North Korean counterpart in Beijing ahead of the opening of next week's six-way nuclear disarmament talks." Hill, "arriving in Japan for an overnight stop, said he will meet with North Korean envoy Kim Kye-Gwan in Beijing on Sunday."

US To China: I scratch your back, you scratch mine. I'll meet with the N Koreans if you vote a certain way at the UN Security Council. On another level, I wonder how Iran would feel if the "Axis of Evil" all of a sudden loses the venerable Kim Jong Il.

2. The Republic of Georgia, lead by Mickeil Saakashvili will not back down to Russian pressures and will continue on its Western-oriented trajectory. The Washington Times quotes the country's Prime Minister saying, "Georgia will not retreat from democratic reforms or its pro-Western foreign policy despite Russian pressure that could produce a total cutoff of oil and gas shipments this winter."

Hold On: I know what you're saying: what the hell does this have to do with Lebanon? Well the only way that Georgia manages to remain somewhat independent of its giant neighbor to the north is through US support. (sound familiar?) Russia sees this "breakaway" country as a major irritant, and definitely uses it as a bargaining chip in negotiations with other "international giants."

REGIONAL

1. Palestine. Hamas (backed by the Tehran-Damascus axis) and the PLO (backed by the Cairo-Riyadh, Amman axis) are on the verge of civil war. Mahmoud Abbas has just called for elections as a way to avert bloodshed.

The Wash Post says, "factions exchanged gunfire Friday in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, leaving more than 30 people wounded, as leaders from both parties warned of an escalation that could push the territories toward a deeper conflict"

The NY Times writes, "
the violence and the heated oratory in recent days have increased talk about [an outright] confrontation, or even the possibility of a Palestinian civil war."

Concerning the elections, BBC World writes, "Mr Abbas' call for elections is a dangerous political move. It comes at a time when inter-factional violence between his own Fatah faction and Hamas has left several Palestinians dead in Gaza and the West Bank. A senior Hamas leader rejected Mr Abbas's call for early elections, saying that would be tantamount to a coup. (sound familiar?)

I wonder: if one faction is able to win over the other in Palestine, what the implications for Lebanon's two coalitions will be. Will the pressure on Lebanon increase? You betcha! Whoever loses is gonna want to compensate somewhere else, right?

2. Iraq. The
Iraqis are apparently holding a "National Reconciliation Council." I wonder how effective such a conference will be in quelling the violence. However, at least it seems to be attracting some attention. Al Jazeera writes, "A national reconciliation conference designed to halt mounting sectarian violence in Iraq has opened in Baghdad. Hundreds of delegates from the country's divided political factions gathered at a conference centre inside Baghdad's Green Zone on Saturday in a bid to draw up a peace process."

Draw up a peace process? Is there a war? Anyways, sarcasm aside... if Sunnis and Shi'is are actually able to stop killing each other over there - or at least minimize the killing - we'll all be better off. Cross your fingers.


3. Iran. The Iranians are voting for municipal representatives, and for members of the "Assembly of Experts." The NY Times writes, "
Iranians went to the polls Friday in large numbers, which analysts said could be good news for reformers and could work against the hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad." The newspaper goes on to say, "in Tehran, many voters said they were casting ballots for reformers, not out of devotion, but because they wanted more moderate figures to confront Mr. Ahmadinejad."

The Associated Press notes that "
Polling hours in Tehran were extended for three hours to accommodate long lines. The head of the electoral organization, Deputy Interior Minister Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, told state TV that many polling stations had asked for more ballots."

The Financial Times writes, "
The turn-out was far higher than the 11 percent in Tehran's last municipal election, in 2003, when the reformists' defeat followed a period of internal bickering - and led to their setbacks in 2004 parliamentary elections and the 2005 presidential poll."

Please, Please: Iranians, vote for sane people this time! I beg you! On second thought, vote for whoever you wish. Khamenei really matters in your country. Besides, Hizballah gets its "guidance" straight from him.

REGIONAL-INTERNATIONAL NEXUS

1.
Turkey-EU negotiations. The Financial Times reports, "Europe's leaders will agree in Brussels on Friday to endorse the partial suspension of Turkey's membership talks until Ankara opens its ports to ships from Cyprus, an EU member since 2004." The summit "is expected to set tough new entry rules for all future EU members in an attempt to allay public concerns that the club is growing too quickly." However, "Tony Blair will on Friday fly to Ankara to reassure Turkey that its path to the European Union remains open."

Now that Turkey is being nudged to play an increasingly active role in the Middle East by, among others, the Saudis as well as the Europeans (witness Erdogan's recent trip to Tehran and Damascus), I am sure these negotiations will consider this new role. The question being asked: How will Turkey help the EU project its influence in the region? Maybe Erdogan's shuttle diplomacy is meant to answer that question.

2. Blair's "Legacy." After Blair leaves Turkey he'll visit Egypt.
Agence France Press writes, "the British Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected in Egypt to hold talks with President Hosni Mubarak," according to "presidential sources." The two "are expected to hold talks on regional developments during a lunch meeting, the sources said, without giving a precise time. AFP writes, "state-owned Akhbar Al-Yom newspaper, citing an unnamed spokesman from the premier's office, said the two leaders would seek ways to revive the Middle East peace process and discuss developments in Iraq, Lebanon, Iran and Sudan's troubled region of Darfur."

In light of the situation in the Palestinian territories, I find this meeting to be intriguing. How it will impact Lebanon? Well... I'm not sure. But it definitely has something to do with the PLO-Hamas "near" civil-war.

3. Saudi-American relations. It seems that the Saudis are bickering among themselves. They're trying to decide who gets to occupy the second most important seat in the kingdom: the family's ambassadorship to the US. Israeli backers in the US are jumping all over this one. The Wall Street Journal quotes the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Simon Henderson saying, this incident "provides yet another reminder that one of America's most important relationships is laced with surprise and mystery."

Of course, Saudi-American cooperation in the region, including Lebanon, transcends the matter of who is actually the Saudi ambassador in the US. However, I wouldn't discount this affair as irrelevant. I am confident that the ambassador plays an important day-to-day role in DC - at least as important a role as Amr Pasha is playing at this moment in Lebanon. I would keep an eye on this development.

CONCLUSION:

So what am I trying to say here? Where is Lebanon going next week? The answer to the first question is that it seems the two "grand regional-international alliances" are still on a collision course - their posture remains one of confrontation, which brings me to my answer to the second question. The implication for Lebanon is that the country is going no where. The stalemate will continue. Seniora's visit to Moscow may lead to something positive, but I doubt it. None of the players in the "bigger game" appears to dominate the other, and that stalemate will more than likely reflect itself on the ground in Lebanon.

I feel that the violence in Gaza, however, is an attempt on the part of one group of powers to break the deadlock. We'll have to wait and see what happens there before we assess the repercussions on Lebanon. Moreover, let's wait and see what comes of this new initiative to take the Iranian nuclear issue to the Security Council . Maybe something will give on that front as well.

Otherwise... well, I'm sure that taxi driver is giving all his riders some free advice: get out while you can!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Amr Pasha

Amr Mousa, the knight in shining armor, rides to our rescue – to save us from ourselves. And in doing so, the cause self-governance and democracy in Lebanon suffers yet another setback, as one more layer that separates Lebanese from politics emerges.

During a short interval of time, beginning with the expulsion of the Syrians and ending with Moussa’s arrival, the only layer that separated Lebanese from true political participation (as opposed to passively watching, commenting and protesting when ordered to) was that sorry excuse of a political elite, which have helped nudge us ever closer to outright civil war.

This proximity to politics was tantalizing. For 20 years we were kept from getting this close – our "sisterly" neighbor made sure of that. Today, Moussa comes to Lebanon and brings back that dreaded second layer of separation and things are starting to feel disgustingly familiar.

Going back to Moussa's original purpose for riding into Lebanon though, I'll add that I abhor the notion that a people needs saving from itself. How condescending! Are these people animals? Why should they be saved from themselves?

But then, I look at Iraq, Lebanon's bloody history, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and tens of other places, and one quote comes to mind:
The epitaph written by God on humanity's gravestone will be: “I thought it was a good idea at the time.”
While I'm at it, I'll put in another quote that comes to mind:
Somewhere on this globe, every ten seconds, there is a woman giving birth to a child. She must be found and stopped.
At this particularly depressing juncture in Lebanon’s history, I have two pieces of advice for Lebanese:
  • Let's keep Amr Moussa and divide Lebanon into Mutsarrifs. Let him govern our lands with the help of a Mejlis composed of a certain number of Lebanese from various sects. In fact, let’s take this idea all the way; and, from this point forward, refer to Amr Moussa as Amr Pasha.

  • Or, let us just get things over with and split the country apart. Lebanese are (or rather, insist on believing that they are) so different from one another, they might as well be from separate planets. Let each Lebanese return to his or her village of origin, and stay there – for all Lebanese are villagers at heart, if not actual villagers. This way we can eliminate all pretense of civility or cosmopolitanism, and just be our pathetic selves. Then we can engage in something I am really looking forward to: perpetual warfare. (Whoever says Hobbes wasn’t an astute observer of humanity is an idiot!)
Who am I kidding? A region populated by villagers and bedouin can never be governed democratically. We need the Turks to come back, or the Persians – whichever one…. So long as they govern with an Iron fist, and delegate Amr Pasha to manage the day-to-day affairs in Lebanon, we’ll be our happy, clueless, irrelevant selves.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

stop with the suffocation.

Let me put it out there: I agree with the assertion that the “historical development of [what some call] Lebanon’s ‘Shia ideology’ and power is understandable.” I also agree that “Iran was the [Shi'a community's] natural choice” when it came to accepting a foreign patron that would help them face the challenges they had to deal with as a community. Moreover, like all people raised never to bite the hand that feeds them, the Shi'a community refuses to turn their backs (or, at least, hesitate to turn their backs) on their patron.

However, this reality creates what could amount to an existential problem for Lebanon. I see a fundamental clash between what, over the past 20 years has developed into this “Shi'a ideology” and the loose amalgam of usually contradictory ideas and ideals that characterize what can be said to be a “Lebanese ideology.” Specifically, Hizballah’s aggressive and chauvinist disposition, its explicitly religious cultural and political nature, its apparent need for enemies towards which it may direct all of its energies, and its absolute obsession with Israel all combine to turn the party into a significant destabilizing entity within the country as a whole.

Being a Lebanese who exists outside of Hizballah's yoke, I usually find myself saying, “as long as they remain in their quarters, let them do and believe as they wish.” However, if they seek to impose their ideas or realities (such as war) on me, then I will exercise my own right as a Lebanese to do whatever it is that I can to block and thwart them.

Come to think of it, the blessing inherent in the Syrian occupation after Israel’s withdrawal was that all Lebanese who were not Hizballah followers, somewhat naively believed that the party remained actively engaged in the South because Syria – a foreign, occupying power – wanted to use the party to secure its own goals, ostensibly, liberating the Golan Heights. Today though, the Syrian buffer between Hizballah and the rest of the Lebanese population no longer exists, and all of us are looking right at a local party and its base - both of which apparently seek nothing but to impose what they perceive as their own ideal realities on the rest of us (realities that even supporters of Aoun would fight vehemently against had they not been so blinded by their selective hatred of the political establishment and their desire for power).

In conclusion, I will say that the supporters of Hizballah are definitely not blind, uncritical followers. Hizballah has done for Lebanon’s Shi’a community what no other political entity could. And, indeed, if for nothing but a sense of gratitude, the beneficiaries of Hizballah and Iranian generosity should stand by their party. However, at this point in history, I see no reason why the Hizb does not decommission and commit more of an effort into integrating into the Lebanese political system. The time for war is over; Lebanese are tired. Now that the Syrians have left the country, Lebanese should be given a chance to prosper – as opposed to being suffocated by a local entity that is fearful of change.

Nothing New

So why is Amr Moussa holding a press conference in the Grand Serail today (right now actually) when he said outright that he will not disclose any specific information or points on the outcome of the negotiations? All he is saying is that there is progress (takaddoum). That's it!

Where does this leave us? More speculation, more rumors here and there...

Unfortunately, he might be leaving back to Cairo; so I don't know if we moved any closer to resolving this political impasse.

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tripoli And The One Dimensions

Nothing new so far. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa has just arrived to Beirut. We'll know what transpires from the Arab League's intervention shortly.

But I wanted to share with you something that struck me yesterday. Sleiman Franjieh from Omar Karami's home in Tripoli said that the Sunnis in Lebanon (particularly Tripolitans) are de facto aligning themselves with Israel, because some Arab leaders and Lebanese political figures have convinced the Sunnis that the "struggle" is no longer against Israel and are trying to persuade the Sunnis to believe that the Shiites are the enemy.

Why is Franjieh going there? Why does he have to remind the Tripolitans (me included) time and time again that Tripoli is a bastion of Arabism and home of Abdel Nasser? We know that very well. And the majority in Tripoli who have Abdel Nasser's picture hung on their walls are the same ones who choose not to align themselves with the Opposition. Does that mean that suddenly those Arabists are allies of Israel? If people disagree with Hizbullah's ways, does that mean that suddenly now Tripolitans have changed their enemy from Israel to the Shiites?

No, Franjieh! These black-white statements are rotten, from the olden ages. I'm tired of such compartmentalization of issues, of the "de factos". Why are we doomed to be one-dimensional? Why can't we have multiple causes, multiple struggles, multiple friends and foes?

Why is it that if I like Syria, I'm de fact a pro-Syrian? I'm not! But I like Syria and the Syrian people and that has nothing to do with the Syrian regime. And why is that if I'm against the Syrian tutelage in Lebanon, then I'm de facto someone who hates Syria?

Why is it that if I like America, I'm branded an "agent" and a de facto Zionist? I disagree with the current U.S. foreign policy, but that does not mean I need to chant: Death to America!

Why is it that if I am of the position that Hizbullah needs to integrate itself into the Army (which is a strengthening factor for Lebanon), I become a de facto Zionist (again), an agent, a traitor, and anti-Shiite? I believe that our state institutions can be strengthened through this integration and would be a move that would make Hizbullah popular across the country, as opposed to what Hizbullah is doing right now.

Why is it that if I am against the overthrowing of the current government, I'm a de facto Sunni? My position has nothing to do with my sect; it has to do with a set of principles I stand by.

So it's time to toss these de factos in the trash bin. Franjieh, you're old and rotten. Can we have new leadership in our country? A leadership that is more in tune with our multi-dimensional world, a world so diametrically different than Franjieh's world?

Addendum: By the way, why is the Tripolitan cleric Yakan (who held the Friday prayers in Riad Solh last Friday) is saying that any move to occupy by force the Grand Serail is a red line and will lead to a massacre? Why? Perhaps it is on the Opposition's agenda and Yakan is just revealing in public that he's against this move.

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

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Today's speeches

Amal Representative speech - I didn't watch it. Irrelevant.

Hizballah Representative - split according to the following proportions:

50% of his speech was: you are the larger, more righteous, more courageous crowd.
10% of his speech was: this is not a sectarian movement
5% of his speech was: this government has failed and is not representative
35% of his speech was: we want Lebanon back under the Iranian/Syrian yoke - of course, he said so indirectly. He bashed American and Israel.

my comment: yepeee!

Aoun:

50% of his speech was: this government and political elite has failed
50% of his speech was: I will do a better job.

my comment: all right!

So from what I'm witnessing, I can surmise that Hizballah has the following plan: It seeks to take the country back to a state of active war with Israel - because that's all that party can demand - that's all it can actually do. And then, instead of having Hariri and Co. govern the internal affairs of the Lebanon, Hizballah will delegate that task (which, of course, is beneath them) to Aoun and Co.

Oh... I am sooooo looking forward to this new era in Lebanon's History. FABULOUS!

I am even tempted to encourage this new governing formula for Lebanon - a formula where Hizballah is effectively sovereign and Aoun, governor. Where one asks his crowd to scream death to America, and the other quotes the American constitution. Where one says we want a country that is not beholden to international resolutions, and the other says that he supports all international resolutions.

akh, akh, akh... la wayn? la wayn rayha ya libnen?

Friday, December 08, 2006

Lebanon's Ahab

Yesterday, I witnessed a sad and somewhat pathetic spectacle… a sight that reminded me of a documentary concerning Hizballah, in which a cleric who accompanied Nasrallah to Qom said something akin to the following: “Nasrallah stood out from the very beginning – he was brilliant. However, his brilliance revolved exclusively around the matter of Israel. In all other matters, even those concerning religion and theology, he was relatively mediocre.”

Yesterday, I watched a man that I once had a modicum of respect for, make a fool of himself. On that screen, he might as well have been naked - because all who wanted to could see through the garbs of confidence and impregnability covering his body.

For all his arrogant slogans about eliminating corrupt government; for all his mocking of political rivals; for all the talk from his supporters about ‘clean hands;’ for all of that nonesense, Nasrallah, yesterday revealed to his audience that he, the leader of the holy muqawama, is as full of hot air as the rest of his counterparts in Lebanon's political elite are – yet more dangerous because of his agenda.

Yesterday, Nasrallah articulated to the Lebanese people what he wanted. He asked all Lebanese, “across sectarian lines,” for support. Why? Because, 1) He wants war against Israel 2) And he wants a “fair, representative and clean national-unity government” with at least a third of the ministers to wage his war against Israel. Period. Everything else he said (and I mean everything), somehow found their way back to those two points.

And for all this religious cleric's talk about the nonsectarian nature of his movement, his biggest crowd pleasers (and he knew they would be, as he recorded his speech) were phrases like “you are a people that rises above pain,” and “you are a people that will not be intimidated,” and “you are a people who survived the heaviest onslaught of bombardment in recent memory.” Politically, he added, “we” seek “fair representation,” and “we” deserve a “national unity government,” etc, etc….

A reasonable question to ask at this juncture is: under what premise does Nasrallah base his argument that this government cannot be characterized as “fair?” Is his premise constitutional? Is it legal? Is it religious? Or is it based on foreign policy decisions? I want to know… What is his premise?

For as far as I can tell, Parliament’s make-up – and I’m talking about a parliament that Hizballah is very much a part of – dictates that this government (even as it exists today) is constitutionally “fair” and representative.

Yet, all this talk is merely marginal. What really surprised me yesterday, was what seemed to be Nasrallah’s rhetorical, but more importantly, mental limitations. The man appeared almost unable to formulate any arguments outside of the paradigm of war with Israel. Even when he sought to escape from it, he quickly ran back into his comfort zone, and spouted out the same pedestrian language with the expected accompanying haughty, arrogant tone. In short, his performance yesterday portrayed a man who cannot but infuse the struggle against Israel into every subject delved into, be it regarding issues of representation, or such mundane matters as social welfare, health-care and even street-cleaning.

In light of this realization, I asked myself: is this one-dimensional human being actually selling himself as a leader? This man who, like Ahab, captain of the Pequod, seems utterly overwhelmed by his irrational and uncontrollable drive to find and kill the ever-elusive Moby Dick – whatever the cost to himself and his companions. A man who, outside of his single obsession, appears as one who stumbles over and over again as he struggles to walk inside of a pitch-dark room!

Today, finally, one certainty has emerged: I can and will, with a clear conscience, rebuke all of Nasrallah’s supporters – especially those who argue that he has earned their support because of their unfounded assumption that he is somehow a more capable leader/governor/politician than his counterparts.

On that note, allow me to present at least some good news: Nasrallah may be aware of his limitations, and seeks merely to help bring about an environment in which he may do what he loves most. Simply put, the man seeks calm waters that would permit him to return to and focus on his hunt! It is for this particular reason that I will also, and again with clear conscience, rebuke those who argue that they support Nasrallah because they believe he has “clean hands.”

For if those among the political elite who are said to have “dirty hands” were to allow Nasrallah to feel comfortable enough to return to his obsession, the Seyyid would give them free reign to pillage and plunder as much as they saw fit. He did it before, and he'll do it again.

No, Lebanon… Nasrallah is not the answer. No, Hizballah... Nasrallah is not even your answer either. The Southern front is no more. The only way you can open it back up is by destroying the country. Therefore, for your sake, and the sake of the country, I implore that you seek new leadership.

Sleeping On Fear, Waking Up To Hope

I slept on Nasrallah's speech, slept on the wrong side of the bed (if that should help in describing my state of sleep this past night), and woke up to listen to PM Seniora's response to Nasrallah's serious allegations.

I slept on fear and woke up on hope, slept on negativity and woke up on an impeccable positive attitude on the part of Seniora.

PM Seniora in a calm way took Nasrallah's speech and broke it down in order to respond to it and explain his position and the position of his government.

The highlights:

Nasrallah has delegated himself as the ruler of the country; he has decided ahead of time who will be the majority if Parliamentary elections take place, he has decided the characteristics of the Cabinet that he would oversee and also, who would head the Cabinet, "A Sunni Prime Minister who is clean, true, nationalistic, etc..."

Seniora asks, "Who has given you the authority to say someone is clean or not clean, his money is clean or not clean? This decision rests with the Creator and not with you. Is you party God?"

But to go back to Nasrallah's voyeuristic attitude about the outcome of the majority in the country and who would lead the country, Seniora said that this is not democratic behavior, but an attitude that leads us to fear that Nasrallah is planning a coup.

Seniora was pained that Nasrallah said those in the Opposition are those who support the Resistance. Seniora said, "What about us? You took us off the list in a second? We never supported the Resistance?!!"

Then Seniora discussed the Shebaa Farms issue. Nasrallah yesterday said that Seniora and his government are traitors for trying to get back Al-Ghajar and the Shebaa Farms diplomatically. I never knew, and these are my thoughts, that diplomacy means branding someone as a traitor. Why can't we use multiple venues to liberate our country? Why does it have to be through one way, the use of arms?

Seniora questioned whether some folks want to truely liberate the Shebaa Farms. He said that during the hiwar sessions, the government saw that it wise to have Shebaa to be transferred to the UN's purview, not under Israeli rule, until the Syrians decide to provide the UN with documents showing that the Farms are Lebanese. Despite such a practical approach, Seniora revealed that there was someone who visited him in the Serail and who wanted the Farms to stay under Israeli rule: it's the Iranian Foreign Minister!

Then Seniora asked how Nasrallah says that the Opposition doesn't get foreign support when Hizbullah gets foreign financial support in the millions and unfortunately not through legal channels, such as through the Lebanese Central Bank. Seniora said, "Yes many Arab countries have sent us financial support, but by depositing that money in the Central Bank to benefit all of Lebanon." He welcomed Iranian financial contributions for all Lebanese to benefit from and through a transparent mechanism, by depositing the money in the Central Bank.

I can't summarize an one-hour long speech, but these are some of the highlights. I'm sure other blogs and news sites will shed light on other points Seniora made in his speech. But in general, I am comforted that at least someone in this craziness is not accusing, hating, insulting.

Even when some in the audience booed at mentioning some of what Nasrallah said yesterday, Seniora stopped them and said that this is not a civilized attitude.

I think about it: Even Shar'a, the Syrian Vice President, said that if they had a say in Lebanese political affairs, they would get everything settled in the country from the first day of protests. What does that mean? It means that in their regime language, perhaps he would order tanks to drive over the protesters. This is the language of the neighboring Arab regimes, but not the language of our system in Lebanon.

Who is besieging who? The Serail is besieged and Seniora still says positive things and commends the protesters for demonstrating peacefully because he believes in the freedom of speech and thought.

It is Nasrallah who cannot stand this right, this CONSTITUTIONAL right. I am a Lebanese; the last thing I want to be accused of is that I'm not a Lebanese because I have my OWN mind. I am a FREE Lebanese regardless of who I talk to, of who I associate with, of what I think. In Lebanon, it's not my way or the highway; it's never like that and will never be.

One more thing: On Kalam Innas yesterday, the talk show ended in a verbal fight between MP Ibrahim Kanaan of FPM and MP Mosbah Ahdab of March 14. The most striking insult is when Kanaan accused Ahdab of being a traitor "3ameel" (a disgusting insult)! And also said that he is "cleaner than him" (ana ashraf minnak!) And this is just because Ahdab was furious how Aoun is using terms such as "saramee" (a derogatory term for shoes) and "3uhr" (or prostitution) to characterize the March 14 coalition. Kanaan even said, "il 3uhr 3indak!" (you're the one characterized by prostitution!)

Anyways, today in Riad Solh the Friday prayers are being held by March 8, led by Sunni cleric Fat'hi Yakan (the same person who approached the government to broker a solution). I ask why? I'm a Muslim, but I don't see the reason for holding the Friday prayers in this square. Why can't they hold it in the mosque? Why turn the political podium into a place where sheikhs conduct their Friday sermons? Why turn it into a religious podium? Why mix the two together? There is no reason to do that?

I just listened to a part of the sermon, "How can we support the international tribunal, when one of those who were delegated by Kofi Annan to study the idea of the mixed tribunal is a Jewish woman who graduated from the University of Tel Aviv with a PhD?".....

Alright, time to leave!

Addendum: I remembered something: Seniora explained, in a unique explanation I haven't heard before, the reason why the Constitution stipulates that a Cabinet is dissolved when 1/3 +1 of the Cabinet members resign. Why not for instance when 20% of the Ministers resign? It's because the aim is not for one sect to hijack the decision-making process, to make or break a Cabinet. The ultimate reason for such a stipulation is so sects can work together to make a difference, if they wish so to dissolve a Cabinet or to uphold it.

Another point I wanted to make is that by virtue of a Sayyid, Sayyid Nasrallah a religious figure, taking up the role of a political/military commander, we are bound to see today Muftis of all regions take to the podiums to make speeches and to be provided with media coverage.

It's turning religious more than ever!

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

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Nasrallah still wants to play cowboys & indians...

... 'cuz apparently, that's all he can do!

- or at least that's what I've surmised from his latest speech.

What can I say? I'm not surprised.

the real threat...

...is not that these protests will overthrow the Lebanese government. For however well organized, however many, however frequently staged, no protest will bring down a government in Lebanon that is supported by the majority of Parliament. Despite all the enthusiasm evinced by the protestors who are down on the streets, Hizballah will never be able to storm the Serrail and form its own cabinet. Hizballah will never be able walk into parliament and call for new elections. Hizballah will never be able to seek and retain the Army's loyalty to achieve its own objectives.

Consequently, if bringing down the government is impossible, why is the ruling coalition so overcome with fear? What is Hizballah really doing? Why is the entire country purportedly on the edge of a calamity?

In trying to answer those questions, I’ll articulate what I believe to be Hizballah’s immediate objectives and then look at its actions from a more strategic vantagepoint. The party, it seems, seeks to achieve three short-term objectives, 1) as they've openly declared, they seek to “paralyze” the government and the country (to , among other things display what the repercussions of a “Shi'a walk-out” really means), 2) regionally, they apparently seek to shake the Arab dictators a little - the reason ostensibly being, these governments will prod the ruling coalition to make concessions, 3) and most dangerously, they seek to expose themselves to Lebanese in a way that they know would inflame passions.

This taunting... this provocation, Hizballah calculates, will inspire fear among its political rivals ... fear that they will lose control of their “streets” and ultimately set off a chain reaction of events that would destroy everything in the country that they have a stake in. Recent news coming from the country prove that this plan is working. The Army Commander's recent words concerning the strains being felt by the institution he leads only serves as further evidence that supports this contention.

On a more strategic level though, we can see that for the past twenty years Hizballah invested itself almost exclusively in fighting the Israelis – politically, ideologically, culturally and economically. Today, however, if local, regional and international political developments maintain the trajectory they have taken for over a year or so now, the party will, to put it rather crudely, simply lose all their “money.” Therefore, faced with this prospect of total loss or, alternatively, defeat, it now puts its counterparts on the other side of the “aisle” in a similar situation.

One of the least talked about strategies (one that was brought to my attention by Dr. Theodore Hanf) that was used to bring an end to the Lebanese civil war was a systematic effort to gradually give the warlords an economic stake in peace. The strategy could be seen as a marked success – with a few exceptions. One of these exceptions was the price average Lebanese paid as a result of unchecked corruption and perpetual economic underperformance. However some could make the case that those two depressing features of post-war Lebanon were prices worth paying for peace. Moreover, one could also make the case, that as peace became more entrenched and secure, the corruption would gradually recede to acceptable levels as a result of pressure from a public that felt more secure.

The more dangerous flaw of the strategy though, one that for numerous reasons could not have been averted, was the exclusion of certain parties from the system. Hizballah is one of them. The party, until recently, was not only independent of the Lebanese state politically, but it also existed and continues to exist outside of the Lebanese state militarily and economically the organization itself is quite understandably isolated from the rest of the country. Michel Aoun is another actor in the Lebanese sphere with no stake in the status quo. And lastly, Emile Lahoud, who dedicated his presidency to implementing Bashar’s plan of destroying this system, is a third.

It is no coincidence that these three players constitute the principal actors in the opposition movement today. The question that begs for an answer though, is: will the system (i.e. Lebanon’s political-economic establishment; the glue that has helped keep Lebanon together for this long) be able to withstand the onslaught? I doubt it. By maintaining its current campaign, Hizballah gradually but surely erodes the investment that yielded post-war Lebanon. If Hizballah succeeds in destroying it, then it would quite simply eliminate its political opponents without having to attack them directly. It would successfuly execute a coup d'etat without having to actually execute a coup d'etat.

In response to this threat, will the current stakeholders, the ruling majority, be able to extend the political and economic largesse they have accumulated over the years to their adversaries in time to save Lebanon? If they do, what will the implications for the country be? Politically, the electoral law will definitely play a role – at least with regards to the Maronite political elite. Other than the electoral law though, and specifically with regards to Hizballah, I predict that the ruling coalition will need to allow the party to maintain at least some of its own long-term “investments.” The ruling majority will have to do so because they are now faced with the threat of losing everything themselves. Will this mean a return to an active state of war with Israel? If not, what else of value would induce Hizballah to relent?

I don’t have an answer to most of those questions. However, we’ll either find out in the coming days, or say adieu to our beloved Lebanon.

Why Another Mass Rally?

No political settlement yet, but a new development: the Opposition has called for another demonstration in Riad Solh Square starting Sunday with the aim of toppling the government.

Why do that, when there is a genuine search among all parties to reach a compromise and a solution to this political deadlock?

At any rate, the government has three demands it will not compromise: 1) a national unity government, yes, but not that which gives the opposition 1/3+ of the Cabinet seats, 2) early Presidential elections, and 3) the international tribunal; there is a verbal agreement to the tribunal but the government has not seen this agreement operationalized in Cabinet meetings.

In my assessment, the Higher Maronite Council's statement yesterday, seems to provide a roadmap out of the impasse right now.

Aoun has sent a delegate to Bkirki in support of this roadmap. But if this is the case, then why is Aoun still calling on his supporters to head en masse to Beirut for a renewed mass rally on Sunday? Is it just a verbal agreement?

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Damage Has Been Done!

It doesn't matter anymore if the opposition decides tomorrow to ask its protesters to return home and to seek a political solution (like the one that is floating right now which might just end the political impasse, a suggestion by PM Seniora to accept a 19-9-2 Cabinet line-up), the damage has been done!

Pierre Ashkar, the head of the Federation of Tourism Syndicates, mourned Tourism in Lebanon and claimed that it died in 2006 as a "martyr". Hotel reservations around the country have went from 90%, to 50% when Hizbullah threatened to take to the streets, and now 0%.

Here comes the more painful piece of news: It is projected that in the next two months, 15,000 employees in the tourism industry will be laid off.

15,000 livelihoods, 15,000 families, 15,000 dreams...imagine the ripple effects of such mass layoffs on the country. Where will all the 15,000 Lebanese men and women go? What will be their alternative? And this is only in the tourism industry, then how about in the retail industry?

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

A Crystallized Justificationn

Update: Protesters in Mahmoud's funeral are calling for PM Seniora's death!
***************************************************************************

Today for the first time I got a crystallized justification of why PM Seniora does not want to step down.

The Presidency is with March 8 as well as the Parliament leadership. March 8 are now demanding 1/3 of the Cabinet seats, which will give March 8 control over the three branches of the government. Having 1/3 of the Cabinet seats, March 8 can veto holding a certain Cabinet meeting, can stall tabled draft laws, and have the power to topple the Cabinet.

My question is then: where do you see a balance of power between the three branches of government? And where do you see partnership in running the country?

A solution floating in the political sphere right now is calling for the formation of a Cabinet of Technocrats to manage the affairs of the state before it's time for new Presidential elections. I don't know if March 8 will agree to this solution.

There is this sick feeling I have when I wake up everyday. I don't know where the country is heading. Yesterday's news was disturbing; more clashes, this time protestors entered into a street not under the purview of the Army and ISF who were positioned in an adjacent street, and started breaking glass and destroying cars. Two were wounded. And then protestors blocked the road to the airport which was then re-opened and cleared after the Army's intervention.

General Suleiman is calling on the political forces to solve their problems quickly because the sectarian overtones characterizing the street clashes will compromise the Army's neutrality.

This is all happening while politicians are calling for calm, then how about if they stop doing that?

At any rate, this goes to show that our sectarian system has failed miserably.

On another point, a close source living in Saudi let me know that when March 8 started threatening to go down on the streets, his U.S. corporation received more than 800 resumes from young Lebanese applicants.

I know very well that many are not down on the streets, but in their homes ready to leave the country. My brother in law whose business suffered after the war this summer, is planning to head to Africa. He has charged political views, but he at the end of the day has a family and sees no future in Lebanon, just flashbacks of a civil war he lived through which he refuses to have his son witness if worse comes to worse.

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

Monday, December 04, 2006

sigh

today it got ugly.

al Manar, Hizballah's mouthpiece, referred to the mobsters who killed an Amal supporter as members of the Future Movement's "militia." Future Television, the (you guessed it) mouth-piece, spent at least five minutes of its news broadcast today lambasting al Manar for lying, for inflaming sectarian tensions and committing all other sorts of heinous crimes.

so, remind me: what was the title of one of my previous posts? "to hell in an hand-basket"? yeah... i think that was it.

anyways, i have to say that the way the ruling coalition has handled this Hizballah situation is pathetic. Enough with the speeches. Enough with the visiting delegations. Enough with the Egyptian ambassador and Jordanian minister.

If the people in Downtown Beirut want to flex "Shi'a power," then all the power to them. God strengthen the Shi'a all over the world and in particular Lebanon's Shi'a. However, to bring the entire damn country to a stand-still just because several thousand people are protesting peacefully within a secured area that is not even the size of a football field is - to put it mildly - beyond me.

If the Future Movement has any control of its "street," then it should get a hold of its hoodlums and allow the Shi'a convoys to pass Sunni neighborhoods however provocative the chants, slogans or flags displayed by them may be. As for the rest of the country, it should go back to business as usual. If employees insist on protesting, they should be fired and replacements sought - God knows, the country has enough unemployed people sitting around, waiting for something to do. If business-owners choose to shut down in support of the protests, then all the better for their competition.

Of all the initiatives and tactics that the government has used to shore up its legitimacy, the one that has proved most effective was one that (ironically?) the government had no role in planning - the Beirut Marathon. The event went through according to plans, even though it was launched in Downtown Beirut only a few blocks away from the protesters. If Nasrallah wants to prove that he can bring the entire country to a standstill by flexing his well-organized "Shi'a muscle" then the way to thwart him is by showing him that the country is still moving.

The claims that Lebanon is losing $70 million a day, that the down-town businesses are suing Hizballah for lost business revenues, and the shuttle diplomacy of numerous ambassadors "seeking to avert a calamity," all play into Nasrallah's hands. Send the Egyptian ambassador home, shut Jihad Azour up, control your stupid hoodlums (arrest them if you have to), get back to freakin' business, and inform you mouthpieces to focus their attention on other aspects of daily life in Lebanon - like say, the pollution emitted by the Zalqa power plant and reconstruction efforts.

Then, if Nasrallah decides to escalate, he holds full responsibility for the consequences. However, he has said he seeks peaceful protests, so we will take the Sayyed for his word.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Charged Streets Of My Country

Rumors of street clashes were rampant this past evening in Beirut. The ISF and the Army were moving to quell one clash before moving quickly to quell another.

Barboor, Qasqas, Sabra, Shatila, Rasul A3tham Mosque area (where the road to the airport was blocked for a short while), Corniche Mazra3a, Salim Salam Bridge area, and Basta.

These are all Beirut neighborhoods that witnessed clashes and gun fires. The outcome: 1 dead and 13 wounded.

Ahmad Ali Mahmoud was shot dead in the Shatila roundabout. He is said to be affiliated to Amal. It's not clear who fired the shots at him and another two who were on the streets, but security sources say that the shots were fired from far which implicates "fifth columnists" (Check Beirut to the Beltway's assessment on that).

An Annahar photographer sustained injuries and broken bones in his face in the Qasqas clash, a clash which lasted 45 minutes during which the Army was trying to quell it. A bus carrying Opposition supporters was heading back to Dahieh from the protests and passed by Qasqas. A verbal exchange took place between the neighborhood residents and the bus riders which led to fist fights, use of batons, and hurling of empty glass bottles and rocks.

The ISF rounded up three Syrians who were hurling stones on the bus from a nearby mosque. This led to a retaliatory move by burning several stores owned by Syrian nationals in the Sabra neighborhood.

Tripoli also witnessed gun fire in the Abu Samra area. As March 14 supporters gathered in Marj Zhour roundabout, men in a Range Rover started firing in the air using AK-47s. Their vehicle carried a red and white flag, without a cedar. After the Army's intervention, they found in their car guns and live ammunition.

On another note, the Annahar daily reported that ex-President Amin Gemayel visited Sayyid Nasrallah at night and then subsequently was in contact with March 14 representatives to discuss the outcome of the visit.

A group of March 14 representatives also headed to Ain El-Tineh to meet with Berri and request a call for a Parliamentary session to which Berri was reluctant and warned that convening a Parliamentary session now would transfer the problem to the Parliament and instead the Opposition's demands should be met.

Just several hours before it's daytime in Lebanon. Worried about tomorrow more than ever.

Update: BAD NEWS- another protestor died after succumbing to his wounds.

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

one's got to go...

Yesterday, fellow blogger abu kais and i sat down for a discussion. he said something profound: either hizballah goes or lebanon goes - simple. I agree. In fact, I feel Lebanon is on the brink of "going."

Gradually, with the passing of time, it dawns on me that (as i alluded to in my previous blog entry, a message to hizballah) the very reason behind Hizballah's success on the battlefield and in the so-called "Arab street" will be its downfall in Lebanon - or, alternatively, Lebanon's downfall. Hizballah's black and white vision of the world: evil-good, ally-enemy, devil-god, etc... is incompatible with a fluid, complex and contradictory political field and process.

Today, the organization's main focus has shifted from south of Lebanon's border to Beirut, Lebanon's capital. Interestingly however, the party continues to utilize the same language, or more accurately, vocabulary, in referring to the Lebanese government and other political players.

In other words, the primary focus (or, maybe, subject) of the organization has changed, but the organization itself appears intransigently set against change. Consequently, Hizballah portrays its political opponents within Lebanon, and deals with them (politically) in a similar manner to its dealings with Israel. Nuance, subtlety, sensitivity, and all other forms of accommodation seem non-existent in that party's political tool-kit. In the gray zone of the Lebanese political playing field Hizballah appears as fish out of water.

The main problem with this situation lies in its implication for Lebanon and Lebanese in general. Farid el Khazen (AUB professor and current MP) suggests that the Lebanese civil war of 1975 began because existing political processes and institutions were not able to absorb all the pressures inherent in, among other things, the PLO's presence in Lebanon.

Today, I see a parliament that's defunct, a presidency that, for all intents and purposes, is also defunct, and a government that's struggling to stay afloat. Needles to say, this situation does not bode well for the future of the country. On this note, I'll add that it doesn't surprise me that among the MPs rumored to have left MP Aoun's bloc is Farid el Khazen.

In the mean time, everybody who can is leaving the country.

In light of these developments, one thought that comes to mind is how difficult the project of co-opting Hizballah into becoming a Lebanese political party is turning out to be. I am convinced that if this process is to continue, the party itself will have to undergo a considerable overhaul - starting with its leadership. Hassan Nasrallah has obsessed about Israel since the 1980s! It is humanly impossible for him to, all of a sudden, focus his thinking and efforts exclusively on, say, improving his flock's socio-economic conditions.

Tensions and conflicts will continue in Lebanon until something dramatic within Hizballah occurs. Hizballah's mission to Hizballah-ize the state will fail. I hope that the consequence of that failure will no be the destruction of the state itself.

Friday Meets Sunday In The Grand Serail

I am a bit speechless. Just how on Friday, Mufti Qabbani headed a Friday prayer in the Grand Serail in solidarity with the government, today a Sunday sermon in memory of Pierre Gemayel has been held in the Serail as well, headed by Bishop Mattar of the Beirut parish, in the presence of PM Seniora, the Cabinet Ministers who are staying put in the Serail, a slew of March 14 politicians, inluding Jumblatt and Amin Gemayyil and his family, and other media, industry and society figures.

This is the Lebanon that should be.

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

Saturday, December 02, 2006

the genius of hizballah

The genius of this political move by Hizballah is emerging to the surface.

Yesterday, I thought to myself: what's all this fuss about? Let Hizballah's supporters go and demonstrate. Let them sit for a year if they want to... as long as they do so peacefully, as Hizballah has promised, I don't see why people are screaming bloody Mary!

The government will continue to function. The businesses located in the areas in which the protesters have settled will relocate, and everyone will live their lives as usual.

Besides, most of these guys still have to rebuild their homes and both them, as well as their temporary hosts (cousins, sisters, brothers, etc...) would appreciate a breath of fresh air along with guaranteed food supplies as well as other necessities.

I know that if I had to live in my cousin's house for three months as my house is being rebuilt, I'd definitely appreciate free alternative lodging with the accompanying belief that I was doing it for a good cause.

However, today, the genius behind these protests is more apparent. Hosni Moubarak, the dictator of Cairo has come out saying that if this lasts any longer, Lebanon will be destroyed. The Saudis are very active - behind the scenes, trying to end this spectacle. It seems the entire officialdom of the Arab world is up in arms!

On a somewhat related note, I remember back during the March 14 protests how queasy the Arab dictatorships were - if you don't believe me, just order some tapes of al Jazeera coverage and notice the tone of both news reporters and anchors. The regimes saw mass protests and freaked out - except: they lived with it because Lebanese were protesting against occupation and the injustices of an occupying force (that the arab regimes themselves, conveniently despised).

Today however, we see the same protests, with the declared intent of bringing down a government. To make matters worse, the protesters happen to be Shi'a, and the government, led by a Sunni prime minister. Now if you were a suni dictator, or king, and you saw such a spectacle, how would you feel? What if you had an oppressed shi'a population watching their tv sets as these protests transpire?

Is this Hizballah's payback? Payback for the statements issued by the Arab states during the first days of the Israeli onslaught that essentially justified the Israeli response? I am afraid it is. Such an extreme measure (in a regional context) is also proof that Hizballah viewed the status-quo ante as untenable. And now, the Arab dictatorships are sceaming! I can't believe Hosni Moubarak came out and threatened the destruction of Lebanon! who the *%^$& does he think he is?

Anyways... I predict the pressure Lebanon will face in these coming days will be massive. Not so much because the protesters will have any domestic impact, but because of satellite television and the insecure Arab dictators and kings who, more than anything, fear their publics.

Hassan Nasrallah will either get what he wants in return for backing down from the streets or some other solution will be cooked up. Either way, this situation will come to an end very soon. Again, not because of Lebanese factors (if it were a purely Lebanese matter, Hizballah would definitely lose - protesters, no matter how enthused will eventually return home), but because of some insecure idiots who feel very threatened by the spectacle of a peaceful demonstration organized with the express intent of bringing down a government (and, a government that does not mow them down with machine-gun fire).

Friday, December 01, 2006

Small Fish And Generals

LBCI said the base of protestors comes from Hizbullah. My question is that why would Berri and Aoun accept to be small fish in a Hizbullah initiative?

Naseer Al-As'ad said it today in Al-Mustaqbal's editorial: That these politicians, not matter how important or high in stature, are but officers taking orders from the "General". He added that unfortunately that General is diminishing the magnitude of his stature by transforming his command from that of a leader of resistance in the face of Israel, to a leader of a coup inside his country. (Raja talked about this in his post: A Message to Hizbullah).

Al-As'ad also questioned whether what Hizbullah is doing looks like a party which considers itself as victorious in the July war against Israel, because what Hizbullah is doing is tearing apart this victory in narrow street protests. Or is Hizbullah in a bind it's trying to extricate itself from?

On another note, Al-As'ad believes that Lahoud's calling for civil servant disobedience of government orders is a direct message to the Army to not take orders from the government. Kudos to General Sleiman, who immediately issued a statement boosting the army's morale. Let's hope it doesn't get to that.

Alright, off to the TV!


Updates: The Christian participation (FPM and Marada) in the demonstration is weak, according to LBCI. 240 buses and 300 cars have come from the north (a mix of Marada and FPM). LBCI claims that perhaps Patriarch Sfeir's words yesterday impacted Christian participation today.

In general participation from Tripoli has been scant, especially from Karami's supporters.

Franjieh on Al-Manar TV has hurled insults at Patriarch Sfeir. He said that Sfeir got TURNED ON (t'hayyaj) by seeing all these women in Bkirki yesterday. He truely is of a lowly type!

Barbed wire around the Grand Serail; no one is allowed to get close from all four sides.

More Updates: The demonstration's main slogan is "We Want A Clean Government" (noureed 7oukouma nazifa). What does that mean? This is what Aoun is standing in front of.

He said that he does not want to speak in a sectarian way, but then he says that PM Seniora should yield his position so another Sunni can take over.

Anyways, his speech is weak all in all. He didn't say anything out of the ordinary, just calls for the government to step down and of course that he is more independent and will ensure a sovereign and clean Lebanon, etc....

And added that perhaps under his reign, there wouldn't be army tanks spread around the city to protect the government. I'm sorry, I fail to believe you GENERAL Aoun! Did you notice that Lahoud was a general, Aoun was a general, and Nasrallah is a general? How can I believe that under their reign, my country will not be ruled by a military junta?

Addendum: So that's it??? Aoun makes his address, end of story? Where are the other leaders who organized and called for this rally?

Is Aoun that desperate to leave Rabieh and address the crowds and make a statement, when Berri is still in Ain El-Tineh and Nasrallah already made it clear that he won't show up and address the crowds?...Any answers to these questions?

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