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Saturday, November 22, 2008

The First Flag of Lebanon... Immigrated to Canada

On the occasion of the Independence Day of Lebanon, I thought that this gem from Now Lebanon is the most deliciously sad bit of irony, if there ever was such a thing.

In particular, the author of the relevant report , decided to visit Bshamoun and the house in which the free members of government in 1943 sought refuge from the French who had incarcerated the president and prime minister among others. In any case, to cut a long story short, May the granddaughter of the 1943 owner of the house - and the current occupant of said iconic residence - is at one point prodded repeatedly as to the whereabouts of the first flag of Lebanon. Loosely translated, the conversation went like this.

"Where is it?" She is asked.

"Its rotting but its preserved."

"Yes but where?"


"Preserved where?"

"In Canada"

"Why in Canada?"

"My mother took it with her when she left."

"Why did your mother leave?"

"To be with my brothers, they are all there."


"Because this country is not big enough for its children."

I guess in a way, its fitting that the first ever flag of Lebanon, ends up in Canada, thereby fulfilling the Lebanese dream... of immigrating.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

When Silence is Golden

Every time president Michel Sleiman represents Lebanon at an international event and the press reports excerpts from the speeches he gives, I take a deep breath, sigh, rub my forehead and wonder. Most recently

He told the U.N. interfaith conference in New York that Lebanon is a place for coexistence and a country functioning as a "laboratory" of interfaith and cultural dialogue.
Lebanon is "rich in its diversity…Lebanon is qualified in having a wider room for interfaith dialogue," he said in his address.

You gotta love the way the faiths "dialogue" in Lebanon. In fact we should take this model and generalize it to the entire world. Nothing like sectarian warfare on a worldwide scale every few decades... Makes me wonder whether I am living in some alternate universe or whether the president is, or whether he just thinks that the world is too dumb to notice that his words don't match our history or our politics... Its just painful.

PS: I just noticed that the title I chose for this post is fitting - on more levels than what I had intended. This blog has been quiet for quite a while and most other political blogs on Lebanon have seen very little activity recently as well. To this blogger, our collective silence is a testament to the disgust we feel towards the situation in Lebanon. I don't even have any idea why of all the recent events in Lebanon I chose to comment on this one...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On this day (July 16) in Lebanon: 1948

July 16, 1945,the New York Times reports that

An agreement on the construction and operation of two oil refineries near tripoli has been reached...
The agreement was negotiated by F.C. Le Rocker, of New York, Socony manager in the Levant, and O.A. Seager of Standard Oil in discussions with Premier Abdul Hamed Karamy and Foreign Minister Henri Pharon.

On this day (July 15): in 1958 and 1949

On July 15, 1958 The Washington Post and Times Herald reported

American Troops will be landed in strife-torn Lebanon within the next 24 hours, President Eisenhower made it clear to Congressional leaders...

The decision came after a formal request from Preseident Chamoun... immediately following news of the surprise Nasser coup d'etat in Iraq, long considered the strongest Arab ally of the West.

I found this one from the July 15, 1949 edition of the New York Times particualry interesting.
Ghassan Tueni, editor of the Beirut newspaper An Nahar, was sentenced today to three months' imprisonment for an article that had insulted the military tribunal that sentenced the rebel chieftain Anton Saadeh, to death... Mr. Tueni's trial took place before the same military tribunal that had sentenced Saadeh.

New Feature on This Blog

Well today I want to give a new feature a shot. Every now and then I will post, old news snippets from western newspapers about Lebanon. Mostly they will be along the lines of: "On this day in 1958, the Boontown Tribunal reported ..." Hope you like em.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Great Strides.... Backwards!

I came across the recent (2008) Foreign Policy "Failed States Index" where I was proud to find out that Lebanon is steadily and surely making its way to the top of the list.

We are now number 18 on the list and by overtaking such worthy opponents as Ethiopia, North Korea, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Sudan, we can claim the coveted poll position. We should be careful though, we don't want to slip to position 19 since Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Yemen are tight on our heels. In fact we can take pride in being much more a failed state than either Rwanda and Angola, countries with life expectancies of 47 and 37 respectively.

Even more worrying than our current position on the list, is our trend in the last few years. Taking a look at the table below ( lifted from the Fund for Peace which co-authored the index), we can see all the red arrows indicating that the trends are heading for even more failure of the state.

Demographic pressures are increasing, as is the number of refugees and displaced people. Group grievances are on the rise. Human flight, uneven development, are increasing and the legitimacy of the state is getting worse... You name it and its getting worse.

Also worth mentioning is that there is at least one component that is clearly correlated to the failure of states, as is apparent from this next table.

Our parliament having been decommissioned for so long now has contributed its share of damage.

Of course, every single one of these indicators can be explained and none of this is remotely surprising; however, the fact that a catastrophe is predictable or explainable does not make it any less alarming. We need a paradigm shift in the way politics are conducted in Lebanon. Unfortunately, any shift that is restricted to the upper echelons of the elite - as unlikely as that is looking - is also purely temporary. The only paradigm shift that will really be of use, is one that the citizens will have to make. For example... by actually becoming citizens.

Now if only pigs could fly.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Oh really ?

Here's a quote from Lebanese president Michel Sleiman.

نحن نتقاسم واوروبا القيم الانسانية المعاصرة ذاتها، كالديموقراطية والحرية واحترام حقوق الانسان، والعدالة والسلام. وقد تمسك لبنان دوماً بهذه القيم الاساسية، على رغم كل الظروف الصعبة التي مر بها

We share with Europe the same contemporary human values like democracy and respect for human rights, justice and peace. Lebanon has always held on to these basic values despite all the tough times that it has been through.

Now lets not kid ourselves, there is nothing in our long civil war that respects justice, peace, human rights or democracy. There is nothing in the events of the recent coup that respects democracy, justice or peace. Lebanon has never held on to the principles of human rights, be they the rights of refugees, foreign laborers, sexual minorities, or any other group we are capable of oppressing. In fact, we have very little to be proud of in the way of our respect for either democracy, social justice, rule of law, or any of the contemporary values that we are supposed to share with the west.

We need to be honest with ourselves and admit that we have a problem in all those areas, and if the highest ranking official in Lebanon does not recognize that, or chooses to ignore all our problems and claim otherwise, then he is only exacerbating the situation. What we need from our officials is honesty, not empty rhetoric.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Whats cooking

Doha agreement, Syrian-Israeli negotiations, election of a new president, Sarkozi's visit, Syria alledgedly allowing nuclear inspections, news of a visit by Bashar to Lebanon...

Something's rotten...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Indirect Syrian-Israeli Negotiations Confirmed

Both Israel and Syria just confirmed indirect Turkish-mediated peace talks "in good faith and openly". Now legitimate questions and conspiracy theories can begin about the connection to the Lebanese deal and the huge effort that Qatar conducted to push the Lebanese deal through.

Deal Reached in Doha: Great Step or a Step Backwards?

It seems to be true. Our feuding leaders have reached an agreement under Qatari and Arab supervision/arm bending/baby sitting.

The Good
Some (for example Michel Murr in his LBC interview) see this as a great victory for Lebanon and the Lebanese and a step towards prosperity, and they may have a point or two. The interviews with politicians from Doha seem nothing like the rhetoric of just a few days ago, and one may hope that the politicians are serious about keeping the discourse peaceful and civilized. As much as I would like to believe in this rosy picture, I tend not to.

The Bad
For one, nothing could hide the fact that this is just another piece of strong evidence that our consensual sectarian democracy is a disaster. In fact, even if (especially if?) we disregard the shameful coup, raids and counter raids that plagued the prelude to Doha, we have to realize that it took the Arab league, the Qatari Emir, all his relationships with regional and international powers, and no small amount of cajoling and hard diplomacy to forge a deal that can only be objectively viewed as a defeat to Democracy first and perhaps to March 14 - but only as a distant second.

That our country needs foreign mediators to resolve a national crisis is a testament to the failure of the current Lebanese political and social culture. That even then, no serious issues were solved in Doha, but only a power sharing agreement was reached is a testament to the lack of a will for progress and a consecration of the patronage mentality that has plagued us for centuries. That most of the terms of the agreement are easily in favor of the opposition is a testament to the usefulness of possessing arms and using them to forge a political agreement that is favorable. Hizbulla did it at the cost of a sectarian schism that may take years to heal. That our leadership manages to polarize our public on a sectarian basis by using violence is a testament to our ever-continuing lack of a national identity. That our army's cheerleading a coup is lauded as wise behaviour that preserved its unity is a testament to the malaise that plagues our social fabric.

The Ugly Truth
The truth is that regardless of winners, losers and political analysis of the deal, the bottom line is that between the inaction of the army prior to Doha, the subsequent capitulation of the goverment to Hizbulla's demands, and then the agreement in Doha on the election of Michel Sleiman, the adoption of the (modified) 1960 electoral law for one time only of course, the absence (as of yet) of a clear statement about the weapons of Hizbulla, and the forging of a power sharing agreement between Lebanese political factions outside of Lebanese political institutions, one thing remains truer than ever.

Our constitution, the Taif accord, our parliament, our government institutions, our police, and our army, are worth nothing. Indeed both our archaic societal structure and our political culture need to be reformulated on sound principles if we want to avoid repeating our shameful history - as we usually do - in the near future. But in the meantime, preytell, now that they are reinforced, what do we do about Hizbulla, their weapons, their ideology and their methods?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Prosecution anyone?

In the aftermath of the madness, I noticed that one thing whose appearance would have been so natural in the discourse of any civil(ized) society, is absent. In the rush to calculate political gains and losses and to analyze the political results of the attempted coup, to fly to Qatar to negotiate a settlement, everybody seems to have forgotten that what happened, remains at the very least a collection of crimes against the law. Guns were wielded and used, people killed, injured, terrorised and kidnapped, institutions burnt and looted, roads blocked.

Will anybody be prosecuted? Pictures and TV reports abound with gunmen's faces plainly visible in many of them. Will there be investigations ? arrests ?

Probably not. In the end, in Lebanon, artists guilty of blasphemy get prosecuted, but gun wielding militias roam free...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Early indications that the Arab delegation will fail

Not that anyone had any hopes that the Arab delegation would succeed at mediating between the pro-government and anti-government factions in Lebanon, but there are more early indications that they are predestined to fail. FOr example, NowLebanon reports (emphasis mine):

12:00 Head of airport security Wafiq Choucair and resigned Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh await the arrival of the Arab Ministerial Committee at Rafik Hariri International Airport.

If true, this is more needless display of force, this time of the political kind. I read this as juvenile behaviour aimed only at "rubbing it" in the face of the government's (useless) Arab allies, reminding them of the facts on the ground. In the same vain, Future TV (whose objectivity at this point is more in question than it was before) is also reporting a heavy presence of Hizbulla members along the airport road. This kind of behaviour will only serve to deepen the rift between said allies and the Syria/Iran axis. Unlike some hopeful observers, I don't see any of what happened in the last few days as hastening a solution to the political crisis, but only precipitating it - highlighting the nature of the events of the last few days as a coup - and expanding the crisis further both locally and regionally.

I could be wrong. In fact, I hope I am wrong, but I doubt it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Myth of Resistance and The Myth of Lebanon

This blog has been quiet for months because this blogger did not see any changes in the political landscape that deviated from previous analysis and that required commentary. Arguably, the tragic events of the last few days were not unforseeable either. They have, however, been momentous.

First, I commend the magnificent job done by Lebanese bloggers Abu Kais , Jeha, Blacksmith Jade, and others in providing first hand analysis and breaking news. I could not bring myself to write during those times.

That said, I would like to give my own take on matters.

The government
The claim that the government's decision to dismantle Hizbulla's telecom network and to dismiss the chief of airport security was the direct cause of the rampage witnessed in Lebanon in the past few days is a loaded one at best. While it is true that at some high level the March 14'ers gravely miscalculated by either underestimating Hizbulla's response or overestimating the army's reaction to such a response or both, the truth remains that the organization, tactical efficiency, and speed with which Hizbulla orchestrated its rampage indicates that this was a preplanned assault awaiting nothing but an excuse.

Future Movement
Despite that, it is also clear that the Hariri component of March 14 was severely humiliated in its own centers of support in the capital which also happen to border Hizbulla centers of support. The consequences of that are yet to be seen, with the radicalization of the Sunnis being one strong option - with whatever effects on the strengtening or weakening of the Mustaqbal (Future) movement that may carry - and the increase in Sunni sectarian anger (read hate) against the Shias in general and Hizbulla in particular being a certainty.

Jumblatt and the PSP
On the other hand, the resistance offered by the (Druze/PSP) residents of Mount Lebanon and the Chouf and the reportedly high casualties that they managed to inflict on their Hizbulla assailants circumvented, with no small price paid by their own, a similar humiliation to the Druze - for now. This has arguably damaged and thwarted a consolidation of the negotiation leverage that Hizbulla may or may not have been seeking against its March 14 opponents. While they made a strong point for their military prowess in Beirut, they failed to make the same point in the mountains and in the Chouf.

The Christians
As for the Christian component of March 14, it has been untested so far. Michel Aoun's claim is that his stupid memorandum of understanding (read subservience) to Hizbulla has spared the Christians the rampage of the Hizb is at best hypocritical. What his statements so blatantly imply is that by capitulating to the Hizb, you can spare yourself from their terror. Unfortunately this is both dishonorable and false, and reduces the previous general to a satellite of and apologetic for a group of religious radicals.
In any case, the Christian component of March 14 can only stand to gain from the events of the last few days at the expense of the humiliation of the Future movement of Beirut and the resistance of the PSP elsewhere, provided that the onslaught of terror does not try to break into their areas.

Satellites to Radicals
With regards to the small parties orbitting around Hizbulla, it is unclear what the outcome is. The arms of the SSNP and similar parties were on display and they got a chance to show that they still exist on the streets. Beyond that, they need to remember that they mainly exist in areas were they are - to say the least - not liked and very likely in the future, not welcome. update: For example, Already there are indications that Talal Arsalan (Jumblatt's political foe among the Druze) has already lost a lot of his meagre support among the Druze. A similar conclusion also holds for Omar Karami's support among the Sunnis of the North. Moreover, the massacre of Halba committed against the SSNP shows how thin the ice these groups are walking on is.

Radicals and Myths
This leaves Hizbulla (and Amal). Arrogant, agressive, angry and self-righteous, the radical "Party of God" got a chance to display its MO in all of its "glory". Most notably they unleashed all their hatred against Hariri's legacy be it in the media or social and charitable organizations. The ease with which they captured and controlled west Beirut while the army stood watching probably emboldened them further. They believed that the next step would be the subjugation of the areas were Walid Jumblatt was popular. The resistance that they encountered in Choueifat, Aley, the Chouf and other areas was probably more than they had expected and the sad fact remains that they used artillary and mortar fire to try to crush those resisting them - while at the same time accusing their resistors of using heavy weaponry against them. Someone must have been reading Nazi history. To this point they have failed at gaining military ground despite overwhelming force, and while they most likely have the ability to eventually defeat the mountain residents what remains stunning to me is their use of heavy weaponry... This all serves to destroy the myth of a resistance dedicated to protecting Lebanon from the Israelis and comitted to using its weapons to that end only. To all those with eyes, ears and a functioning brain, this myth should be dead and buried by now.

As for the reprecussions and reactions on the regional and international fronts, that deserves a post on its own, and I will leave it to a future time.

In short
One could go on and on but I would like to end this post with two quotes. This first one was from an old post on this blog dated November 2006 - which I apparently like to repeat:

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.

The second is by American satirist Ambrose Bierce who over a hundred years ago said that
... Democracy is defended in 3 stages. Ballot Box, Jury Box, Cartridge Box.
Unfortunately, parliament has failed us and is held hostage by Hizbulla and its allies, the judiciary has so far failed to uncover and try the assassins of the March 14 leadership, and the armed branches of the state have refused to use force to uphold the law in the face of terror.

The people were left to fend for themselves in this battle for Lebanon. That is the lesson that will be learned from this episode and that may be the most dangerous consequence of all, one that may put the final nail in the coffin of the myth of Lebanon.

Friday, February 15, 2008

What now ?

M14 showed that it can still draw a crowd, but a crowd does not a strategy make. What now - especially after this ?

Monday, February 04, 2008

On some old posts

The wonderful recent post by Jeha has spurred me to re-examine some of the old posts on this blog and I dug up some of this past analysis that remains dangerously valid to this day. When the posts were written things may have been salvagable... Now, I am not so sure...

From here, posted in April '07:

"The reason behind Hizbulla choosing to fight a losing battle is simple: the stakes are simply too high and eventhough the deck is stacked against them, Hizbulla have no choice (short of changing their very identity, ideology and MO) but to continue in their desperate tactics aimed at preventing the game from changing...
... Hizbulla is putting its willing Shia base in an increasingly precarious situation, as the Sunni leadership in March 14 is becoming more and more comfortable with its Sunni identity, that can be a dangerous game to play...".

and from here, posted in November '06:
"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."

As well as (from the same post):
"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"

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Soldiers, Civilians Arrested - Implications

Apparently, 6 civilians and 11 soldiers (including 3 officers) were arrested in the aftermath of the January 27th clashes between the army and protesters who had "spontaneously" rioted against electricity cuts. Investigations were launched after several protesters from Amal and Hizbullah had been killed in unclear circumstances with opposing Lebanese sides hurling accusations at one another and interestingly, at the army.

I for one am completely for the rule law and support the arrest of all individuals - military and civilian - involved in either breaking the law, abusing authority and endangering or taking lives.

What is disconcerting however is that there have been several brazen attacks on army barracks and checkpoints, which according to the army "serves Israel's interest" but somehow not Syria's.

I seriously hope - but clearly do not expect - that all these "incidents" be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. The loss of life that occurred on that fateful day in January is more than deplorable and the nonchalance with which the Lebanese treat each other's lives and well being is more than despicable. This goes for the leaders whose rhetoric can only fuel violence, hatred and dangerous "spontaneous" riots. It goes for the army and security forces whose attempts to quell the riots are unprofressional and open the door to confrontations that lead to confusion and loss of life. It also goes for the Lebanese people who pimp themselves to the wills of domestic and foreign leaders at the expense of their own safety, prosperity, and well-being.

In any case, I can only wonder at the circumstances surrounding the investigation, from the threats and warnings that the opposition hurled at the army and its commander in chief, regarding his almost botched bid for presidency, to the spew of attacks against army baracks and outposts... It make me wonder about the kind of message being sent when some of the only perpetrators brought to justice in 2 years time are military personnel - while the people who attack the army roam free.

The oppostion, the government and especially both their supporters, not to mention the leadership of the army and security forces, should all pause to think about the consequences of their actions and about the strain they are placing not only on the fabric of Lebanese society but on the fabric of one of the supposedly secular institutions that is supposed to safeguard it - the army.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


As "spontaneous" and mobile demonstrations protesting electricity shortages escalated into rioting and spontaneous combustion of tires, Syria decided to cement its status as cultural capital of the Arab world by blocking off shipments of food items into Lebanon.

"Interesting" developments, especially in light of the recent Franjieh rant and Nasrallah's repulsive display of barbarism and linguistic prowess, not to mention that January 23rd is approaching - again ...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Omen (and other stuff)

I am not one to believe in omens but this particular crow seems to always be a harbinger of doom (usually of the political assassination type).

On a more grounded note, what is most telling about Franjieh's rant is not necessarily the attack on the "old man of the mountain" (to borrow a reference from Shunkleash), but the vehement attacks on both the Arab League initiative and the supposedly consensual presidential candidate the details whose presidency the AL is negotiating on. Clearly nothing has ever materialized from any Arab League initiative ever, so this one in particular was bound to be blown out of the water (so nothing to see there). On the other hand, it is the (stupid) honesty with which Franjieh states that the opposition does not trust Michel Suleiman that further confirms my previous feeling that the general's candidacy has turned into a dud. Of course, I could be wrong and his presidency could materialize but would itself turn into a dud. Whichever...

Either way, Suleiman should just give this Arab League initiative a chance to fail completely and then declare that he does not want the post of president anymore. His wings have been pre-emptively clipped. The questions is whether he cares.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Damascus, Arab Cultural Capital for 2008: A fitting title

Damascus welcomes 2008 as the cultural capital of the Arab world.

While this may be amazing - considering the Syrian regime's track record, I find that it is a fitting title in an Arab world where the pervasive ruling culture is that of oppression of the masses, repression of dissent, stifling of freedoms, incarceration of liberals, persecution of intellectuals and brutal crack downs on opposition, not to mention political assassinations.

If the "culture" that permeates the Arab ruling classes is to be celebrated, then what better capital than Damascus.