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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The cards have been dealt... Time for the showdown

In keeping with my tradition of diverging from the title of the post, I can't help but notice a convergence of the omens of doom, single file, in military formation under the leadership of the bearded one awaiting what has been dubbed the "zero hour"... On to the omens.

It seems that the flu of divine ligitimacy has spread to his holiness, general Aoun, who said (assafir) that they had reached the "stage of holy anger" (مرحلة الغضب المقدس) and added that "there will be no bloodletting, those who want to kill us can kill us, martyrdom is not only for Muslims" (wow and the guy is "secular"...), declaring that "our option is merge with our environment" (Syria? Iran? Political retro-Islam?) "because it protects everyone..."... Give me a break herr general...

Meanwhile, the other general, the one who sits at the helm of this wretched country of ours justified civil disobedience by government employees, citing disobedience in India at the time of Ghandi (So who exactly is Ghandi here? and who is the foreign oocupation? and since when has our beloved general turned president been a spiritual-intellectual figure?... Give me a break herr general...

About the same time, more signs whats to come "emanated" from Berri, who has shown his true colors and mettle yet another time, by declaring that there is no way now "to avoid the street even if its unwanted" (Really? Last I heard, free will was key, but then again that presupposes that you have it, and that you really don't want to hit the streets. I think both presuppositions are wrong...)

At this time, my only hope is in one of the institutions that I have a strong dislike for, the army. It is up to them to hold the peace, prevent rioting, clashes, and protect the government. What doesn't go for Lahoud, can't go for Siniora. Plain and simple. In the meantime, March 14 should finally grow a pair other than Jumblatt's and act rather than keep reacting, usually to murder, and by mass demonstrations whose numbers keep dwindling and by international whining. Enough!!!

The lines are drawn, and its obvious who is about to cross them. I suggest that March 14 pre-empt any "opposition" moves and mobilize its own public to camp in downtown, in defence of the Siniora government. The Siniora government should prove that it is worth defending, by appointing new ministers to replace the resigned 6 and murdered 1 and then wait for the general in baabda to sign, which he won't. At that point, it would be time to march to baabda... Take the initiative goddamnit...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Brinkmanship: you blink you lose...

A recent post, "To hell in a handbasket..." by Raja from lebanesebloggers, macabrely argues that the scenario by which Syria strikes a deal with the west and many prominent heads from the March 14 movement roll, may be the best for Lebanon's future. Such a conclusion pre-assumes that the alternative is nothing short of "tectonic plates colliding", i.e. civil war.

That in turn assumes that the parties involved, or some parties involved, are willing to take the country down that road. Ok, so lets look at who the parties involved are, and why none of them stand to gain from a civil war in Lebanon. If one agrees with the analysis that noone will take the last step towards such a bloodbath then you will also agree that the party that blinks first in this standoff, loses. But I am jumping the gun, so lets see why no-one wants a war:

Internal Forces

March 14 Unarmed, recently succesful at kicking the Syrian army out, looking forward to a stable country that they can rule, massively outgunned and outtrained by HA, has nothing to gain and everything to lose from a war.

Hizb Despite having a militia and hence the capability to wage war on the internal front, such a tactic would detract from their image in the arab world as freedom fighters and all that jazz and put them on the Shia side of a Sunni-Shia civil war. Moreover, this will take away precious resources that they would prefer to allocate to their "struggle" with their sworn enemy. It would embarass their lifelines in Iran and especially Syria and as I mentioned, isolate them in the arab world... On the other hand their "totalitarian" style ideology which seems incapable of adapting to or accepting the confessioanal nature of Lebanon, has put them in a situation where they cannot strategically gain without breaking March 14 completely. The question is how far can they go, and how clearly are they thinking...

Michel Aoun Ever the presidential wannabe, his entire polity is directed and governed by that dream. I do not see him gaining anything from a civil war.

Syria's Cronies It is completely pointless to analyze them individually, as they will simply follow Syrian orders.

External Forces

The US I cannot think of a reason whereby they would want to destabilize Lebanon, thereby increasing the chaos in the region especially with their pridicament in Iraq. Add to that I don't think they would want their ally Israel to have to deal with a volatile Lebanon where their northern border would be "uncontrolled"...

France The Chirac administration has proved to be an invaluable ally to the March 14 movement and whoever wins the election might be less enthusiastic towards supporting Lebanon, but in any case the fact that they have troops in teh South indicates that they would be genuinely interested in preserving a stable and safe environment there.

Syria Another Sunni-Shiite civil war on another of their borders, with them on the Shiite side and 70% of their population being Sunni, is nothing short of signing their own death sentence.
Moreover, in my opinion, their eggs are all in one basket. Killing the investigation and/or toppling the government and/or killing the March 14 leadership while trying to avoid a civil war that might be too much to handle and to check. In short desperate obstructionism... However the rationality of their decisions and the extent to which they are cornered might prove decisive in how crazy they might behave. Still history has shown them to be masters of brinkmanship without ever crossing the line. They realize that once the line is crossed, there is no turning back.

Iran The great unknown... also definitely the most influential player governing HA's decisions along with Syria. Notably however, they are the ideological parents of Hizb while Syria is onlt a strategic partner, a very crucial one though. That said, I wonder how connected are the timings of the G8 summit discussions on Iran and HA's cross border operation to capture the 2 israeli soldiers. Also, one has to wonder how cohesive the Iranian leadership is in its treatment of HA and how far they are willing to go in using HA as a pressure card against the west. Of course, I am sure they realize that by actually accepting a civil war in Lebanon, their card is burnt. So here again assuming a rational decision process implies that this player has stakes in avoiding the turmoils of internal war in Lebanon...

In Short

Under the very crucial assumption that all the internal and external players on the Lebanese arena are relatively rational and reasonable, the chances of any one of them pushing towards an escalation and a civil war is relatively small.

The only danger in my opinion is in the alliance of Syria, Iran and Hizbullah, not because they want a civil war but more because they might not see an alternative to it. In the case of the Syrian regime, desparation might (in the medium to long-range future) lead them to a point where they might decide to bring Lebanon down with them, or to think that a burning Lebanon might for some reason salvage their anomalous control of Syria. In the case of Hizbulla, the fact that they have been pushed away from the borders with Israel and are separated from their arch-enemies by thousands of international and Lebanese troops might challenge their very "raison d'etre". Moreover, the fact that they are armed to the teeth with nowhere to use these weapons and no enemy to channel them against might lead to them redefining the enemy internally. We are already seeing signs of that. Which brings me to Iran. They are the side I am worried about most, simply because they are in a situation they have never been before, and we have never seen them act under similar situations. What I am referring to is their new-found regional superpower status. With influences in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Bahrain, and perhaps even Kuwait, the Mullocracy has the power to both create and destroy which had been previously always checked by Saddam. To what extent are they willing to use Hizb in Lebanon, and would they push to a civil war? Their experience in Lebanese politics is more limited than other players and this lack of experience might cause decisions that are not hampered by previous pains...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Michel Sleiman's "Order of the Day"

From Assafir
<أيها العسكريون، ثقوا بأن انتشاركم على امتداد الحدود اللبنانية، البرية والبحرية، إنما يسهم في اقفال الابواب أمام رياح الحروب التي عاناها اللبنانيون طويلا، ويشكل حافزا قويا لاستكمال تحرير ما تبقى من ارضنا المحتلة في مزارع شبعا وتلال كفرشوبا وبلدة الغجر، ويعكس تعزيزا للامن والاستقرار في الداخل، ويهيئ مساحة رحبة للتلاقي والحوار بين ابناء الوطن وتحصين وحدتهم الوطنية. وإذا تعذر على شعب يعاني الفتن ان يحرر ارضه ويحمي استقلاله، فمن المتعذر ايضا على اي شعب حدوده مستباحة وساحاته مفتوحة لمختلف الصراعات، ان ينعم بالسلام والطمأنينة والاستقرار>.
"Soldiers, trust that your deployment along the Lebanese borders, land and sea, closes the doors against the winds of war that the Lebanese have suffered from for long, and forms a strong incentive for continuing the liberation of what remains of our occupied lands in Shebaa, Kfarshooba and Ghajar, and reflects a reinforcemnt of internal security and stability, and sets the stage for dialogue between our countrymen and reinforces their national unity. If it is not possible for a people that suffers from internal strife to liberate its land and protect its independence, then it is impossible also for a people whose borders are violated and its arenas open for various struggles to enjoy peace and stability."

In light of recent developments, I can't help but notice how much this sounds like nothing more than voices on the wind?

How many more to go? The Syrian Strategy in Lebanon

Yet another minister and member of the March 14 group in Lebanon, Pierre Jemayel, has been assassinated. Lebanese bloggers have picked up on the story and there is an abundance of posts on the calamity (see for example Abu Kais's entry or Doha's entry...). In the meantime the cycle continues.

What I want to focus on -assuming the obvious, i.e., that perpetrators are agents working for the Syrian regime or for their stooges in Lebanon- is the strategy that Syria seems to employing in Lebanon. For those who have offhandedly previously dismissed the regime as merely bloody and stupid, I beg to differ. The claim that it is bloody is obviously true; on the other hand, they may deserve more credit for strategy and tactics. This should perhaps lead to the Lebanese anti-Syrians to rethink their own strategy...

In any case, I believe that the Syrians are playing a very cynical game in Lebanon and Iraq, whereby in their smaller neighbour they harvest a policy of assassinations to weaken their enemies. The idea is to decapitate, debilitate and demoralize their Lebanese foes. Simultaneously, this strategy delivers a message to the international community that they are willing - and able - to outlast the "internationals" in Lebanon. They will do whatever it takes, bloodletting included. All the while, they meddle in Iraq, exporting Jihadis to their already volatile larger neighbor in an attempt to destabilize it. The goal you might ask?

As long as the Americans are tangled up in Iraq, and as long as they can eventually understand that they will not accomplish anything in Iraq without the Syrians (and Iranians) cooperating, the Syrian regime can eventually extract a price from a future US administration for said cooperation. That price is domination of Lebanon and possibly less importantly retrieval of the Golan and peace with Israel. To achieve that goal, the regime reckons that all it needs to do is outlast the US (and French) administration in Lebanon by maintaining a healthy arsenal of allies while systematically picking off its foes. If they can bring the Americans to a breaking point in Iraq, whereby Syrian cooperation is a must, then they can force their hand in Lebanon, making the Hariri tribunal disappear. With only a bloodied anti-Syrian group with no international support in Lebanon to oppose them, they will be in prime position for re-establishing hegemony and perpetuating their regime.

Perhaps it is not that stupid after all ?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Lebanon's Demographics Revealed

Last Monday, Annahar publishedan article reporting on a census conducted in Lebanon, revealing the changing demographics in a country, where the true numbers were previously held from the public. The census was conducted by a Yussef Shahid Aldweihy "يوسف شهيد الدويهي" by going through all the birth records (sijillat alnofous), leading to a clearer picture of how the Lebanese public is distributed according to age, religion, and geographical location. I personally can't wait to get my hands on Dweihy's complete results which are reported to contain 210 charts...
In the meantime, we have to settle for a summary of the results that annahar published.

Accordingly, Lebanon's population is 64.29% Muslim and 35.33% Christian.

Of the Christian population, the Maronites form the majority at 19.47% followed by the Orthodox Chrisitians at 6.85% and the Catholics at 4.55%, with Armenian Orthodox Christians at 2.27%.

On the other hand, among the Muslims, the Sunnis and Shias pretty much evenly split the pot at 29.6% and 29.5% respectively. In distant third are the Druze at %5.38, and then the Alawites with less than a percent.

The more telling statistic in Dweihy's report is that among those under the age of 20 , the Christians form only 23.31% compared to a whopping 76.59% for the Muslims.

Meanwhile, geographically, and using the traditional five Muhafazat, as opposed to the administrative eight currently used, Dweihy notes the following.
The Nabatieh and South Muhafaza contains 24.19% of all Lebanese, compared to Akkar and the North which contain 23.63%, and Mount Lebanon which contains 22.53%...

Which brings me back to an old point that I raised on this blog concerning sectarianism and minorities...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Samir Kassir's: "Being Arab". Will we get out of the "Malaise"?

Recently, a friend of mine and I were discussing the sad state of affairs that the cultural world of the arabs finds itself in. We noted how a vibrant nahda period around the late 19th and early 20th century when arab writers, poets and artists were extremely productive has become - 100 years later - nothing more than a thing of the past. We tried to understand what brought that sorry state of affairs about, and I suggested that the rise of Arabia (as in the gulf), after the discovery of oil, allowed countries that had previously been on the fringes of culture (and more or less political influence) to exert much more influence on their more cultured neighbours.

More recently, I started reading Samir Kassir's "Being Arab" (published after his death) which in one of its chapters forwards a similar argument. He supplies various examples of how the mini-renaissance (he doesnt call it that) that was being experienced in various arab cities around and after the late 19th century, was eventually turned back due to the rising "cultural" influence of the arabs of Arabia proper.

In any case, the moral of the story (if there is one) is that the rising tide of political Islam (a product exported largely from the gulf) is a danger that threatens to nip the cultural development of the arabs. In fact, it has already done extensive damage to all forms of expression, be it cinema, literature, music (to a lesser extent), theatre... However, it is not too late to salvage the dying renaissance and to present it as an alternative to the fanaticism of politicized religion on one hand, and to complete subjugation to the West on the other. The idea is to promote the evolution of a modern cultural identity that is not un-necessarily confrontational and simultaneously a source of pride to people. What better than a flurry of writers, painters, poets, directors, artists, and sculptors producing high quality works that appeals to people, to rid us of the backwardness and despair that political-religion brings.
So... pull out a piece of paper and start writing, or a canvas and start painting. Its time to get to work!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Beware the Sectarian Divide: The Jumblatt - Hizbulla Split Manifests in Inter-Sect Relations

According to Annahar, the new head of Druze religious establishment (the Sheikh El-Akel) was accepting congratulations on his new appointment.
Notably, representatives of the religious establishments of all the major sects -all but one that is- were present, and so were "rebel" Shiite clerics like the mufti of Tyre, Ali El-Amine. However, there was no one to be seen from the Shiite religious leadership (fadlallah, kabalan,...).
Such moves are inflammatory and even outright dangerous. It is completely acceptable and fully reasonable to expect that the political leadership of various Lebanese sects not see eye to eye, and even to completely disagree and as such be political opponents. On the other hand, it is completely not acceptable that such disagreements between the various "civilian" or "secular" sectarian leaders, reflect on the relationships between the political establishments. For that is when things can take a turn for the worse. The absence of the major Shiite clerics from such an event can only be seen as a slap in the face of the Druze establishment, which may cause a reciprocating slap in the face. This can easily get out of hand and with the political leaderships of these two sects at odds, no good can come out of the religious establishments boycotting each other. Beware...

Note: I am an ardent secularist, and believe in the separation of church (in all its forms) and state. Moreover, I believe in the separation of church and politics. On the other hand, I believe that Lebanon is far from this ideal and that the actions of the various churches have direct consequences on the polarization of the masses. As such, I am only warning against irresponsible behaviour on the part of the churches.

Irrelevant Update: "Suicided" Syrian minister Ghazi Kanaan (who was once in charge of the Lebanese file for a long period of time), apparently shares the bug with his brother Ali, who was recently found "suicided" as well - on railway tracks (Wow, how creative!). Give me a break.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The one statement that Saad Hariri said that matters

From Almustaqbal :

وعن دخول النظام السوري على الملف السني اللبناني لاختراق الشارع قال: "ان شاء الله يتمّ اختراق الساحة السنية في سوريا، وليس في لبنان".

Rough Translation
...and on the Syrian regime trying to achieve a breakthrough into the Lebanese Sunni street, Saad said: "Hopefully the breakthrough will happen in the Syrian Sunni arena, not the Lebanese one"

Was he only referring to the fact that the Syrian regime has little support among the Syrian Sunnis, or to opponents of the Syrian regime being able to agitate the Sunnis there against the regime? I wonder... But at this point, it might be a good strategic option. The question remains, if thats the strategy, what are the right tactics to pursue?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Its on ! Is it on ?

It looks like its on. The final showdown, or a big bluff by HA, who knows. But assuming that they are planning the final showdown, it has to end with the emasculation of either HA and allies or of March 14. It is becoming clear that the March 14 gang will indeed agree to go to the stupid "mushawarat", albeit with an ammended agenda. In other words, March 14 is saying "fine, you want to waste time lets do it". Aware of that, HA in the words of its lunatic in chief, has set a one week deadline on the dialogue (consultations to be precise), after which they threaten to resort to the streets and lay siege to ... all state institutions. As you may have guessed, a countermove was declared by the opposing camp, and by none other than the unconstitutional president's son in law. Elias Murr, the defence minister, has announced (Annahar, Thurs Nov. 2) that 20,000 armymen from the special forces (wow, i didnt know we had that many), would be deployed in Beirut where they would confront any attempt at riot. And protect people's constitutional right to demonstrate...

Simultaneously, the US is warning of an attempt by Syria, Iran, and HA to topple the government while the Syrian press is launching an attack against the March 14 leadership...

Tense times east of the Mediterranean, as it becomes more clear that the battle for Lebanon is on. Will there be a confrontation and who will win? If not who will fold first, and concede defeat? Of course, Lebanon being Lebanon, there is always the possibility that some stalemate "deal" will be cooked up, only to delay the inevitable...