Saturday, February 03, 2007

Lebanon's brain drain alarm

By Kim Ghattas
BBC News, Beirut

Two years ago, Ossama Kabbani was the poster boy for the newly rebuilt downtown Beirut.

In a slick television promotion put out by the ministry of tourism, over breathtaking pictures of the Lebanese capital and Lebanon, the architect and urban planner talked about how he put his soul into the glitzy project.

He had returned from the US in 1991, after the devastating, 15-year long civil war ended, and embarked on his dream: to help put Lebanon and Beirut back on the map with what he described in the advertisement as "the single largest renovation project on earth".

"Ten years ago, we had a dream, and now we're seeing the dream come true," he also said in the television spot, explaining that everything had been rebuilt and tourists were flocking back.

But the dream came crashing down last summer, on 12 July, when two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped and eight others killed by Hezbollah, Lebanon's guerrilla movement and political party.

Read full article

Monday, January 29, 2007

Proxy war in Lebanon

From Financial Times, 29.01.2007

Proxy war in Lebanon

A national entente and new elections may be only answer

For the umpteenth time in its history, Lebanon is becoming a preferred arena for proxy war in the Middle East. Lebanese fought on both sides of the Crusades and hedged their bets even when the Mamluks defeated the Mongols in the 13th century. They have provided almost the only Arab allies (Maronite Christians) Israel has had in the region, as well as the only force (Hizbollah) to match the Israelis at war. Still unable wholly to shake off the 1975-90 civil war in which the main of many faultlines was between Muslim and Christian, the Lebanese are in danger of sinking into a new sectarian cesspool, this time between Sunni and Shia. It must not happen.
Lebanon came out of the civil war with its politics (and some very remunerative rackets) in Syrian hands and its south under Israeli occupation. The Shia Islamist Hizbollah saw off the Israelis in 2000, while a civic uprising triggered by the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the former prime minister and architect of postwar reconstruction, forced Syria to withdraw its forces.

Relief though all this was, it did not stop Israel trying again and again to destroy Hizbollah, especially as a way of bloodying the group’s Iranian sponsors, or stop Syria dreaming of its Anschluss in the Levant. Neither Hariri nor the inept Sunni leadership that succeeded him, moreover, ever really tried to forge the country’s 18 sects into a nation or – a linked problem – promote economic and social equity.

But last summer’s war, in which Israel, with Anglo-American support and the acquiescence of Sunni Arab leaders across the region, tried and failed to crush Hizbollah, has opened another front in the Sunni-Shia conflict haemorrhaging out of Iraq.
This is in part the fault of Hizbollah. Celebrated as heroes after resisting Israel’s onslaught, their fighters could again put off deciding whether they are a national party or the regional spearhead of Shia Islam. They instead chose to withdraw from and then confront the democratically elected government led by Fouad Siniora. The problem is that many Shia believe Mr Siniora and his allies were complicit in the attempt to destroy Hizbollah. They point out that he did not even visit southern Shia areas destroyed by Israel.

With such bad blood it is hardly surprising last week’s Hizbollah-led strike slid into violent confrontation. Saudi and Iranian diplomats helped calm the situation, acting for their Sunni and Shia proxies. As a stopgap, that is fine.
But it is the Lebanese who need to seize control of their future – unless they want their country again to become the address through which Syrians and Saudis, Iraqis and Libyans, Israelis and Iranians communicate with each other by car-bomb. A national dialogue leading to new elections and a new entente may be the only answer – with external support for this national process rather than sectarian surrogates or political clients.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Hezbollah-led opposition with Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement and other pro-Syria political groups have taken the streets of Beirut demanding change of Fuad Siniora government. Clashes were reported between opposition demonstrators trying to block roads and pro-government supporters attempting to stop them.

Pictures from today's demonstration and of smoke of burning tyres in Central Beirut, 23.01.2006

Friday, December 01, 2006

Reflections on Today's Demonstration

AP -BEIRUT: Thousands of protesters from Hezbollah and its pro-Syrian opposition allies descended on downtown Beirut Friday to force the resignation of Lebanon's Western-backed prime minister, who was holed up in his office ringed by hundreds of police and combat troops.


Our blog reflects:

- This is indeed a massive demonstration but mobilising the crowds is double-edged. The more one group mobilises its crowd, the success of the other group in mobilising theirs is higher.

- Taking the streets - if it does not reach the tipping point of toppling the ruling government which might lead to uncontrolled instability- won't add much in the negotiation cards.

- Hezbollah showed formidable acts of resistance and militancy against Israel but the internal complex politics of Lebanon and its power-sharing mechanism needs a complete change in their modus oparandi.

- Whatever the speeches of the leaders Hezbollah and its allies say about their objectives of this demonstration, (and to use statistics language) there is high correlation between their acts and demonstrations, and ratifying the Hariri International Tribunal.

- No one of the various quarrelling political groups has ever thought of the extra millions of dollars being spent on policing and securing the streets of Beirut at these times of high tension. No one has ever took any consideration of Lebanon's average men and women who as taxpayers see their money (millions of it) being inadequately spent.

Ends (for now).

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Black Widows

Widows, mothers, daughters, relatives and friends of assassinated politicians of 14th March Coalition send a strong message today from Bkerki, the Maronite Church HQ, against destabilizing Lebanon and against the demonstrations of Hezbollah and its allies.

8th, 14th or the Airport

Cartoonist Armand Houmsi in today's An-Nahar:

'Exits for the Citizen'
- 8th of March Stree
- 14th of March Street
- the Airport

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Seeking a Political Career in Lebanon? ..think again!

A picture taken today (23.11.2006) in Beirut during the funeral of assassinated Minister and MP, Pierre Gemayel [click on picture to enlarge]

Thousands attend Beirut funeral

Thousands of mourners gathered on Thursday in the centre of Beirut for the funeral of the assassinated industry minister, Pierre Gemayel.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

When a Sign of Power becomes a Sign of Weakness

"The authority team [Lebanon’s 14th of March coalition and ruling majority] today is in a state of weakness.” Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, in a speech aired on 19.11.2006

A prophecy that Nasrallah has been telling in a way or another for the last few weeks; and he appears to be right.

So the news that Prime Minister Siniora ordering ministers to move to the Prime Minister’s headquarter did not come as a surprise. The Grand Serial, an impressive Ottoman building used as the PM’s residence and office, is under transformation to host cabinet members as a living and working place. It is a bid by the PM to ensure the safety of his cabinet members and ensure that the cabinet can meet safely to approve the Hariri Tribunal.

There could do not be a better sign of the security anxiety that ministers and politicians of the 14th March Coalition are currently facing in Lebanon. Moving them all together to a fortified building is just a manifestation of the current crisis in Lebanon. It is an irony when the sign of power – politically and spatially – becomes a sign of weakness.

The 14th of March Coalition looks indeed very feeble; the group has –so far- lost a number of its prominent members since the attacks started on Marwan Hemadeh in December 2004. Politicians, Ministers and MPs are under continuous stress of an attack or an assassination. And they are quite right to fear their lives with the list of fallen colleagues growing.

If the ruling majority succeeds in passing the Hariri Tribunal peacefully,
Lebanon would be spared from dire consequences.

Hands off The Lebanon

Steve Bell in today's The Guardian - 22.11.2006

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Political Violence; Again

Breaking News

Again, Lebanon is facing a new act of political violence. Today (Tuesday 21.11.2006) Pierre Gemayel, Minister of Trade and Industry and MP for the Maronite seat in Metn District, was assassinated by gunmen in an eastern suburb of Beirut.

The 34 years old Gemayel, a son of former president Amin Gemayel, comes from a traditional Maronite Christian family. He was a prominent member of the 14th March coalition and a vocal critic of Syrian role in Lebanon.

Lebanon is indeed in the midst of political crisis.

Blog team will be posting regularly from Lebanon with critical analysis of the current affairs.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Israel Says the P Word: Does Geneva Listen?

After agonising denial and media spinning, Israeli Officials admits to using phosphorous bombs in the infamous July war. Confessing in the ABC of legal logic is self-incriminating. So in the mind of any sensible human being following the disgusting attacks, Israel is guilty as confessed. Consequently, Israel should be punished as by international law.

Unfortunately Geneva and its conventions will not take action. No sanctions will be called. No premptive, punitive, or proactive measures will be even contemplated. The international community will turn a blind eye and a deaf ear and will allow Israel to place itself above all international law. And no finger will be raised. This will go on as long as the BBC still calls them 'controversial' instead of illegal phosphoric bombs, and as long as Israel is allowed to justify their use in 'open ground' on its pages.

All this is not new, it is just additional evidence to throw in the face of any pro-Israeli self-rightous blinded paranoids who claim that the Israeli army is a 'moral' one, and that Israel is a 'civilised country'. Until Geneva wakes up from the coma, the international community shouldn't wonder why phosphorically affected generations are still saying: Bring it On!

BBC Top Story: Israel admits phosphorous bombing
Israel fought Hezbollah in Lebanon in July and AugustIsrael has for the first time admitted it used controversial phosphorous bombs during fighting against Hezbollah in Lebanon in July and August.....

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lebanon businesses try to bounce back

'In normal times, business on Beirut's busy seafront would be brisk. But, in the aftermath of the recent conflict, the Beirut Cafe on the Corniche is struggling to get back on its feet.'

Read Alex Klaushofer's story on BBC

Monday, October 16, 2006

the thin line between commenting & spin-doctoring: Joseph Samaha and Al-Akhbar

Joseph Samaha is a gifted columnist. His arguments are well-put and are always analytical of the current affairs. His latest argument, however, is somehow flawed. In today’s column in Al-Akhbar, he sounded like a typical ‘regime propagandist’ - not different from writers in neighbouring Damascus or in Cairo or those in party-owned media. He constructed a one-sided argument in defence of former army general Michel Aoun.

Samaha was commenting on Aoun’s undelivered but broadcasted speech in yesterday’s Free Patriotic Movement rally that was cancelled due to weather conditions. He rightly described the speech as ‘typical of the middle class Christians’. The speech, as analysed by Samaha, raised issues of interest to the ‘middle class’ such as the values of ‘democracy, sovereignty, human rights, gender equality, citizenship, human and just society, solidarity with unprivileged groups, rule of law, good governance, …. economic development, fighting monopoly, privatisation, and taxation’; values that the columnist described as typical of ‘modern’ and ‘modernising’ classes.

Then Samaha starts mixing-up.

When posing the obvious rhetoric question of ‘where is the originality of the issues that Aoun has raised?’, Samaha gives his rubber stamp without a blink of eye that Aoun is genuine about what he says while others are not. Although Aoun has merely touched on how he envisages the ways to achieve these raised issues.

The obvious example was in the area of economic development, where Aoun was simplistic and general when said that:

‘The main criterion for establishing economic justice is equality and balance between obligations and opportunities among all of our people. We can achieve this by re-writing our tax laws, by austerity in public spending, and by revisiting the meaning of balanced development throughout all areas of the country.’
‘This economy’s main priority should be the support of institutions which promote social solidarity, especially those which deal with health, retirement, and the protection of the Lebanese peoples’ assets from any kind of threat or abuse’.

Then Samaha continues and justifies the ‘sectarianism’ of Aoun and his movement as not ‘bad as the word implies’. His sectarianism, according to the secular Samaha, is justified as a reaction of the foul-play of others.

In 968 words, Samaha made several mistakes. His major failing was in his moral judgement on three main issues:

  1. The neo-liberal economic model of Aoun is a sign of modernity but that of 14 March coalition is harmful.
  2. The democracy of a former army general is definitely good but that of others including those in a coalition of political movements is flawed
  3. The sectarianism of Michel Aoun is benign but that of Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblat and Samir Jaejae is carcinogenic.

While commentators should not be apolitical; there is a thin line between sound arguments and spin-doctoring. Samaha is moving towards the latter.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Logic Lost?

Just after the ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah was brokered last August, some of the ‘celebrators’ of the ‘divine victory’ (never mind if they are staunch secular or hardcore leftists) presented a new thesis. “Lebanon of ‘post July 2006’ has become a way different from Lebanon of ‘pre July 2006’; and politics has to change in accordance with the new victory”, they claimed.

Their argument stresses that the discourse and narrative have to change to reflect this victory (never mind its ‘divine’ and ‘holy’ nature). But most importantly, a change in power has to occur. The pre 'July 2006' power-sharing mechanism where 14th of March coalition controls the majority in cabinet was rendered out-of-date with the new geopolitical developments – (never mind if the first to mention this was Bashar Assad of Syria). And a new cabinet has to be formed to include the victors (Hezbollah) and its allies (Michel Aoun, Suleiman Franjieh, Wiam Wahab etc.. to name a few).

But it seems that these ‘celebrators’ have either lost their ‘calendars’, lost their ‘binoculars’, lost their ‘logic’ …or lost them all.

They lost their ‘calendars’ forgetting that Lebanon of ‘post 14 February 2005’ is different from Lebanon of ‘pre 14 February 2005’. They forgot that what followed after killing Rafik Hariri including the UN resolutions, the Syrian withdrawal, the mass uprising, and the mobilisation of the Sunni community were not incidents to undermine or ridicule but events that have changed Lebanon’s politics.

They lost their ‘binoculars’ for not seeing beyond Lebanon’s coasts. Since the ceasefire last August, navies from European states have been monitoring the Lebanese seashore. Not only they cannot see the size of warships that are sailing few kilometres from the Lebanese shoreline but they fail to notice the international decision behind these ships; and that destabilisation of Lebanon would not be accepted.

Indeed, these ‘celebrators’ have lost some ‘logic’ or got a unique one. Their ‘logic’ does not see that developments in Lebanon are related to those in the region; their ‘logic’ believes that ‘Syrian’ interference was over the moment Syrian soldiers left Lebanon; their ‘logic’ still believes that ‘shouting’ and ‘ridiculing’ others brings popularity; their 'logic' thinks that it is easy to go back to pre 14 February 2005 situation...

A clash of logics is not necessarily bad; but it becomes risky when logics are asserted by force. And this is the logic of violence in civil wars.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Inside Hezbollah, Big Miscalculations

"They don't attempt adventures. They're not adventurous types," Goksel said. In every operation, they would project "what it means for Shiites, what it means for the party, what it means for Lebanon, what it means for Syria."

He paused. "One wonders if that process collapsed somehow," he said...

Read Anthony Shadid's article in the Washingtonpost

Monday, October 02, 2006

A Bouquet of Generals

General Michel Aoun (above right), is a man of ambitions; at 75 he is still full of energy to nominate himself for Lebanon’s presidency. A retired army aommander, he seeks to win the presidency from the current incumbent, General Emile Lahoud (above left)- also a retired army commander.

The tale of these two generals has always been melodramatic. Lahoud took over the Army command from Aoun in 1990 after Aoun was forced into exile in France for 15 years. When Lahoud became president in 1998, Aoun was a fierce critic of him as a pro-Syrian and corrupt president. But upon his return from exile in spring 2005 and in the wake of Hariri Assassination and Syrian withdrawal, Aoun shifted into protecting and defending Lahoud against critics from the anti-Syrian control group of 14 March Alliance who were demanding his resignation.

It appeared that the two generals have struck some kind of a formula: if Lahoud has to go, then Aoun is to replace him. The General has left, long live the General formula. But expectedly the 14 March Alliance rejected this proposal fearing that Aoun is a continuity to the authoritarian rule of Lahoud; two generals of the same coin.

Ironically, the choice beyond the two generals looks to be ……a general; not retired though. Slowly but surely, the current Army commander General Michel Suleiman is raising his profile as a strong contender in the Presidential race. So far, he has played it right. He did not clamp down the anti-Syria demonstrators during the Beirut Spring 2005 but ensured that Lahoud is protected if demonstrators move to the presidential palace. He sends troops to South Lebanon as a result of the 1701 UN resolution but makes it clear that his army is not disarming Hezbollah; and that the Army along with Hezbollah will be protecting the ‘land and the people’. In so far, he has succeeded in playing a win-win formula.

Today, General Suleiman scored more points. Amid the political bickering and while General Aoun has not stopped giving populist but content-less speeches and while General Lahoud has been waging a ‘Idi Amin – style’ war on the French President, General Suleiman chose the right moment and the right place. In a victory celebration and with news that Israel finalised its withdrawal from South Lebanon, he raised the Lebanese flag on the last point of the Israeli-Lebanese borders.

A third General is rising. More sensible than other generals? yes indeed. But more democratic? time will tell.

Army commander, Michel Suleiman (Middle) at the borders at Laboune today celebrating Israeli withdrawl

Sunday, October 01, 2006

'the Marwahin 23'

..."The problem," she [woman at Marwahin cemetry] said, "is that these poor people belonged to a country called Lebanon and our lives are worth nothing to anyone else. If this had happened in Israel - if all these children were Israeli and the Hizbollah had killed them all with a helicopter - the US president would travel to the cemetery each year for a memorial service and there would be war crimes trials and the world would denounce this crime. But no president is going to come to Marwahin. There will be no trials." ....

Read Robert Fisk's full article: Marwahin 15 July 2006: The anatomy of a massacre in The Independent

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hassan Nasrallah Superstar

The battle to win sore hearts and minds has gone beyond conventional and confrontational bashing. The latest PR trend tends to sex-up profiles in a Superstar - Groupie type of relationship. Some while ago, the Young Nasrallah photo has been widely circulated echoing a not so subtle 'Che'-ian revolutionary glamour pose. Arab newspapers boasted the politicisation of the 'brands labelling' in the Cairo dates market wich is the equivalent of an Arab 'Top Ten Popularity Charts'. Nasrallah has surely been pleased to know that his name has been given to this year's top date brand, making him the second Lebanese title holder after pop singer Nancy Ajram few years ago.

The 'Abaya appeal' surely contributed in nationalistic fantasies. A widely circulated video clip featured a funky young lebanese woman wishing that she would get hold of Nasrallah's abaya and rub herself with its sweat, and then distribute its pieces to people for some dignity. A serious newspaper article later confirmed that Nasrallah's abaya has been effectively sent this woman. She decided to keep it to herself though but welcomed any viewings by the public.

An improvised attempt to get into the PR race has quickly set in the other camp. An abaya counter-attack was launched by Saad hariri's sympathisers, as they ceremoniously wrapped him in one after his speech. One wonders if he received any fantasizing requests yet. but not to worry, newspapers will surely have updates on similarly vital news!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

'Million bomblets'

Up to a million cluster bomblets discharged by Israel in its conflict with Hezbollah remain unexploded in southern Lebanon, the UN has said.

Read story on BBC

Monday, September 25, 2006

My 'martyr' is better than yours!

"We don't hide our martyrs. Throughout history, we have not done so."
Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, Chief of Hezbollah in an interview to al-Jazzera TV Channel in 20 July 2006

Yesterday Christian Lebanese Forces celebrated its ‘martyrs’ day, a rally that the Christian militia-turned political movement used to organise during its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s until early 1990s while it controlled East Beirut and other Christian regions in Lebanon.

The practice of celebration of martyrdom and martyrs is not unique to one group in Lebanon. Throughout the period of civil war (1975-1990), all militias and political groups had their ‘martyrs’ and had some kind of celebration for them. A major reason was to use the memory of those fallen to show the groups role in the war (or struggle) and to mobilise support. Hezbollah is one of the leading parties to use the concept of martyrdom. Squares, streets and communal places where named after the party’s ‘martyrs’. It is rare not to find a street in South Beirut or in South Lebanon without a mural for Hezbollah’s martyrs. The celebration of martyrs is not only among religion-influenced groups but also a practice among secular political groups. The secular Syrian Social National Party (SSNP) has a long tradition in commemorating its ‘martyrs’ with its unique posters on the walls of Beirut; so is the case with the Communist Party.

But whose ‘martyr’ is better? It goes without saying that one person’s ‘martyr’ is another person’s ‘criminal’. And this is the essence of the problem.

Let’s take yesterday’s ‘martyrs’. Some supporters of the Aounists National Patriotic Movement see them as a bunch of thugs that were killed during their militia control in East Beirut. For Hezbollah and other pro-Syria and anti-Israel camp of Islamist, Arab Nationalist and secular parties, ‘martyrs’ of the Lebanese Forces were members of ‘isolationist gangs’ and Israel collaborators who deserved being killed. Reverse the formula, and you get similar answers for Hezbollah or SSNP ‘martyrs’.

The issue was unresolved in the post-war settlement process with the shy and ineffective efforts of reconciliation. The ideological roots of the schism were never tackled and the war of ‘martyrs’ is only its manifestation. Without a state-run initiative to commemorate all fallen victims during the war (militants and civilians) regardless of their religion or political affiliation, the schism will continue.

Picture of a Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) 'martyr' fallen in 1985 during civil war in Lebanon

Friday, September 22, 2006

Beirut's two DIVINE rallies

Two rallies are under way in Beirut. Two rallies that vividly reflect the current political schism in Lebanon.

Today will be the big day in South Beirut. The Shiite Party Hezbollah is organising a huge rally to celebrate the party's 'divine victory' over the Israeli Army. The rally will take place in a huge square that has been prepared for the occasion not far from the destroyed quarters of South Beirut. It is not known if Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, will appear in person or if he will deliver a pre-recorded speech. There are fears that Isareli Army may seize the oppurtunity to assassinate Nasrallah if he makes an appearance. Today's 'Divine rally' will be a show of force by Hezbollah and its pro-Syria allies in addition to Michael Aoun's Movement.

On Sunday, Christian Maronite Lebanese Forces will organise its 'Martyrs Day' in the church of Harissa to the North of Beirut. It will be the first time that the Lebanese Forces organsie a public event of this size after being banned for more than 10 years. Lebanese Forces with its anti-Syria allies are expected to rally for this event to show their popularity.

Two rallies organised under religous banners; Though the two rallies are attracting support from across the sectarian communities, they reflect the role of religion in shaping Lebanon's politics. Whatever comes out of these two rallies will contribute to the polarization of Lebanon's political factions. The political tug-of-war shall continue.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Moral Superiority, Sectarianism and Conspiracy theory: Al-Akhbar newspaper

Al-Akhbar newspaper brings the worst of Lebanese politics to the fore, as illustrated in the transformation of leftist politics into the cheapest form of sectarianism. In other words, it combines the defects of leftist analysis (conspiracy theory, bitterness, moral superiority) with the worst form of sectarianism.
A glance at today edition illustrates this point. The front-page article, by the editor-in-chief, exemplifies the bitter Marxist use of sociological analysis, attempting to portray all its enemies as opportunistic politicians whose political discourses can be mapped directly on their cheap attempts to survive politically. This trick, widely used in leftist circles, avoids having to engage with their discourse or to consider these politicians as having a different perspective. The moral superiority of the author, combined with the sociological analysis of his targets, transform these latter in the condensation of evil. The editor-in-chief would definitely not want us to apply this mode of reasoning on himself; this trick works in one direction. It is too bad because an as-credible narrative can be made, starting from the early career of this author to finish with his glorious following of Gebran Bassil. The narrative could be weaved around the attempts of the author to find a political role to himself, attempts continuously failing until the divine alliance gave him a role as the mouthpiece of this understanding. Of course, the conclusion of such narrative is that we do not really have to engage with his writings, since he is only in it for his personal political gains.
Moving to the inside pages, we find the illustration of this divine understanding when a very cheap form of sectarianism meets the resistance discourse. The specialist in Christian affairs in this newspaper has been following very closely, almost religiously, the trend of sectarian employment in the government and is shocked to discover that there are more Muslims than Christians. Of course, forgetting his alliance with the Hezbollah, whose latest war is one of the main drives of the renewal of Christian emigration, and the demographic change for the last 50 years, the author, in charge of the section ‘Christian sectarianism’, find the fault in the Sunni community, and the continuation of the Hariri policies, which as we all know and any decent conspiracy theorists would approve, was just aiming at controlling the lands in Kesrewan and Jbeil.
Continuing our trip, we bump into the transformation of leftism into a blind form of respect of tradition. The author, happy of his religious baggage, comments on the latest statement by the Pope. His secularism is conveniently brushed aside when he wholeheartedly supports the calls for apology, after his reading of the pope text. Where did all the secularism go and why do we have to cater for the ugliest part of religion is a question left unanswered. Leftists in Lebanon have always had a binary understanding of religion: either a lie or an unbridgeable gap. Everything in between is usually discarded. There is no place for nuances when one starts from this height of moral superiority.
As for the front page, the main story according to the newspaper is how PM Siniora is trying to block the help to the inhabitants of the south. According to their conspiracy theory, PM Siniora is currently punishing the inhabitants of the south by blocking the billions of aid, which are supposed to get to them, continuing the policy of collective punishment started by the Israelis. One would ask how did his policy of giving 30,000$ per house fits into this story? But these are just details. He is evil, and if he is not he is incompetent, and if he is not, he is a traitor, and if he is not, he is a sectarian bastard, and if he is not… In other words, he just needs to go.
Looking at this newspaper, one wonders how can these various perspectives coalesce into a political project. Actually, there is no political project. The only aim of this paper is to topple the government, and to realize this divine goal, all the tactics are permitted starting with the most potent, sectarianism. The main message of today’s edition is simple: the Sunnis dominate the Christians and starve the Shiites. Christianity, on the other hand, hates Islam as the Pope indicated. There is no possibility of sectarian understanding. Conveniently for the authors, the parliamentary majority is the quintessence of this sectarian evil. As for the non-sectarian components of this majority, well according to the conspiracy-theorist-in-chief, they are only in it for the money, and they are incompetent at it on top. In other words, the only credible policy of this newspaper is to ignite a sectarian civil war to topple the government, the only conjuncture that could give them a role to play.

Absolut Determination

Lebanon's heritage in danger

The Guardian, September 17

Monuments in two of the world's most important heritage sites are in need of 'urgent repair' as a result of the recent conflict in Lebanon, a United Nations mission to the region has discovered.
A Roman tomb in Tyre and a medieval tower in Byblos have been significantly damaged by the war, the official leading a survey of Lebanese archaeological sites told The Observer late last week.

At Tyre some of 'the finest examples of imperial Roman architecture in the world' had suffered direct damage, including the collapse of a fresco on a tomb only a few metres from the site's core. The official said that he intended to propose the commencement of urgent repair work in the area.

At Byblos the effects of an oil spill - which occurred after the Israeli government bombed a depot in Jiyeh, 15 miles south of Beirut - are more obvious. Bouchenaki said some of the archaeological remains from the Venetian period near the city's harbour were dramatically stained and would be difficult to clean. He said that a 'medieval tower' from the time of the Crusades had also been affected.

Read article

Watch video

Monday, September 18, 2006

The 5 preposterous things in Lebanese politics today

1: Al-Akhbar Newspaper keeping their irritating nagging on the ‘Marja’youn Barracks Incident’ where a police general surrendered to the Israeli forces and evacuated the place for them after offering them tea. The police force had only primitive rifles.

2: General Michel Aoun, head of Lebanese Patriotic Movement, lecturing on state building while distributing money, probably from Hezbollah, to Christians affected by the last war.

3: The fear and shame to name Hezbollah as a militia, whereas in its actions and organisation, Hezbollah embodies a militia that operates beyond state control.

4: Aoun’s Lebanese Patriotic Movement claiming to be a secular movement but at time and time again reminding the Lebanese that the movement got 70% of Christian votes in the last election thus representing Maronites.

5: Leftist, seculars and communists rallying after Hezbollah, a religious movement to the bone that is headed by a cleric and is built on a religious belief system. be continued

Friday, September 15, 2006

Hezbollah: strategy of containment or disguised coup d'etat?

To say that Lebanon is divided in two camps is a truism today. A cursory look at the Lebanese medias illustrates this unprecedented level of political polarization and sectarian tension. But the post-July war is not simply a continuation of the pre-war tensions, and could augur a more serious stage in the political division of the country.
In the period ranging from the assassination of PM Hariri to the beginning of the July war, the main division in the country was between the March 14 Movement and the ‘others’. What is meant by this distinction is that the division was between a well-defined political narrative on the one hand, and various opposing forces to it, coming from different perspectives, without a narrative uniting them or legitimizing them, on the other. The original event of the March 14 Movement was the assassination of PM Hariri around which a nationalist narrative of independence and sovereignty was weaved, structuring the domestic political field and the international relations into two camps. The effective culmination of this narrative was the international investigation, which was expected to consolidate the gains of the March 14 Movement by (probably) implicating Syria and (possibly) some of its local allies.
Faced with such a narrative, the opposition to the March 14 Movement, coming from different quarters, not the least being the Hezbollah, attempted during last year to slow down the rise of the movement. The critiques flowed from different corners, un-coordinated, contradictory sometimes, the goal being to mitigate the effects, rather than to eliminate this movement. The strategy of the Hezbollah, for example, was a series of contradicting positions aiming at disturbing the March 14 Movement without facing it upfront: understanding on the electoral law but only partial alliance, participation to the government but opposition to it, media attack on the government but meetings with MP Hariri, etc.
The July war offered these critiques a draft of a political narrative, around which they could unite and that could be opposed to the March 14 narrative. On an international level, the war offered a criterion for defining friends and foes, reversing the March 14 evaluation. Domestically, the war divided the political forces into two camps, the allies and the traitors. These two criteria were weaved around a narrative of resistance and honour, offering a fully formed counterpart to the narrative of independence and sovereignty presented by the March 14 Movement.
The new stage of division of Lebanon is reaching a dangerous turning point for two reasons. The first is the failure of the strategy of containment followed by Hezbollah and its allies in the pre-July war period. With all their critiques and weakening of the parliamentary majority and the government, the Hezbollah was unable to reverse the course of action: the international tribunal is expected to be ratified soon, the military infrastructure of the party is gradually being contained and rendered useless, the international investigation continued unabated, the internationalization of the country reached new heights, etc. Faced with this outcome, the Hezbollah could continue its earlier strategy of containment, which would practically amount to accepting these outcomes. Or the Hezbollah could offer his ‘resistance’ narrative as a national project, and with his allies, try to topple the current government.
Even though, the Hezbollah emerged victorious from the war, it is in a very tight spot, seeing its victory only accelerating the processes it attempted to oppose in the first place. The latest attacks by Hezbollah officials could be a simple exercise in rhetoric aiming at mobilizing their constituencies and disturbing, without toppling, the government. Or, they could illustrate the decision of the party to move from a strategy of containment to a strategy of coup d'etat. And in this case, we are heading for more troubles.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Politician, the Traitor and the Troublemaker

Nearly one month after the cease fire, Lebanese politics are back to business as usual. Lebanese leaders and citizens are engaging more than ever in their verbal sparring to mark political territories. As they engage in this risky exercise, they redefine conceptions of citizenship and democratic representation into alarming hate-brewing reservoirs.

One can tell how politicians perceive their constituencies from their communication with them-and there has usually been hardly any, apart from the usual populist rallies. It took the July war with all its victories and defeats for politicians to address some unfortunate commons who happen to be caught under fire. Nasrallah primarily appealed to the support of the ‘Lebanese people’’, an imagined cohesive mass with no room for divergent opinion. Other politicians called on the solidarity of ‘the Lebanese’ and its variant ‘all the Lebanese’, probably referring to the various Lebanese sectarian groups rather than individuals. The media referred to them at times as ‘civilians’, only when they fell victims of the frequent Israeli attacks. More interestingly, they were hardly never consulted or even addressed as ‘citizens’. Once the war was over, got back to their self-centred paranoid bickering, after money-talking citizens into hundreds of thousands of splashed US dollars (ironically enough) handouts and promises of mass local and Arab donations.
The Lebanese version of citizenship works on a pre-packed basis. Under the multiple patriotic banners of Lebanon’s best interests, politicians make decisions for citizens, require their cooperation, and promise rewards or punishment accordingly. In this way citizens are stripped from their basic citizenship status, and loyalty overpowers accountability. Thus, politicians and citizens hang on to their patrio-meters and take to discrediting others as either traitors or troublemakers-depending which side they are on.

The labeling craze has taken its toll when anyone can be called a traitor for deploring physical damages, regretting human losses, or object to being thrown into war. Similarly troublemakers are accused of exhibiting excessive nationalist pride, expressing anger at an impotent international community, and believing in popular resistance.

This partisanship hell has been so much taken by scoring points and blindly justifying stands, at the risk of hindering self-reflection and silencing any questioning voices. Apart from the fanatic supporters of either camps, many people seem to agree with bits of both sides of the arguments. It is time move beyond the traitor/troublemaker dichotomy and debate priorities of public and citizens interests. Otherwise, such a vicious cycle would only lead to a situation of continuous political and social standstill, if not to the very recent troubled climate of assassinations and repetitive conflict.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

IDF commander: We fired more than a million cluster bombs in Lebanon

Haaretz, 12/09/2006

"What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs," the head of an IDF rocket unit in Lebanon said regarding the use of cluster bombs and phosphorous shells during the war.

Quoting his battalion commander, the rocket unit head stated that the IDF fired around 1,800 cluster bombs, containing over 1.2 million cluster bomblets.

In addition, soldiers in IDF artillery units testified that the army used phosphorous shells during the war, widely forbidden by international law. According to their claims, the vast majority of said explosive ordinance was fired in the final 10 days of the war.

Read article

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

hubble rubble

Three men smoking shisha or hubble bubble in a destroyed neigbourhood in Beirut .
- courtesy of -