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On Other Blogs: From Beirut to the Beltway

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On Other Blogs:The Beirut Spring

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.