As mentioned in my previous post, the best illustration to see a complete breakdown of communication is the simple question: how many times did you have an open political conversation with someone belonging to the other camp during the last year?
For many Lebanese the answer will be hovering around zero. Instead of talking with the other, they prefer the comfort of hearing their friends fully agreeing with them.
Without dialog, people tend to drift away from each other and this is exactly what's happening in Lebanon. Also, the fact that most people simply vote for their zaim (a local political leader) doesn't really help in making a conscious decision. To make matters worse, the sectarian character of Lebanon contributes significantly towards this.
So how about a radical proposal:
During the next election, you cannot vote on candidates having the same religion as you.
This will remove the automatism of voting for one of your own, which is not really that interesting anyway: we all know who our friends are. Instead, my* proposal will force people to think who they want as their opponents. This will require opponents who, despite their different views, appeal to their voters. Hopefully, this will lead to moderation and thus to more consensus.
"Why use religion as a criterion?", you might ask. Simple: most Lebanese are affiliated by one of the religious groups in Lebanon and politics are usually divided exactly across those lines. Not being able to vote on candidates having the same religion as you, will effectively assure you have to vote on your enemy. So pick your favorite one!
My estimate would be that this approach could severely reduce the unnecessary tension in Lebanon and would prod people to start communicating once again.
Sure, there are details to work out such as ensuring balanced representation, people not belonging to any religion and all that, but let's focus on the big picture for now. Would this work?
*: Disclaimer: This proposal might already have been suggested by others. Great men think alike. Or: simple minds seldom differ...you pick:-)
Thursday, September 27, 2007
As mentioned in my previous post, the best illustration to see a complete breakdown of communication is the simple question: how many times did you have an open political conversation with someone belonging to the other camp during the last year?
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Pity the Nation, where an announcement of talks between leaders is front page news and where failing of such talks is already expected.
Pity the nation, where men elected to the highest post of representing one's people, stay in corridors, refusing to do their work.
Then again, just ask yourself: when was the last time you had an open and frank political discussion with someone belonging to the opposing camp? (foreigners and journalists are excluded from answering).
Friday, September 21, 2007
On this sad day when the murdered MP Antoine Ghanem is buried, here are some thoughts on the role of opposition in a democracy. It’s based on the political process in my home country, The Netherlands, where unanimity would be the last desire of the opposition parties.
In order to fully appreciate the often difficult role the opposition has to play in the Netherlands, it was an interesting week to watch the political spectacle over there because it was the opening of the Parliament after summer recess. Every third Tuesday of September, the so-called Day of Princes, the Queen will open the Dutch Parliament by holding a speech outlining the plans of the government for the upcoming year.
The next two days were spent on discussing the government’s plans in detail. And here is the thing: the government has a majority and can thus push through all their plans without even bothering with the opposition’s points of view. Likewise, why would the opposition bother so much trying to influence a government that can ignore them at will?
One reason only: the opposition believes in the necessity of its role in the political field as a check on unlimited execution of power by the government. Furthermore, they use these debates to profile themselves and to gain votes for the next election, which happens every four year. If you perform well as an opposition party and the people like the way you oppose to the government, they might vote for you next time around.
Quite often, political parties who lose during elections actually prefer to be in the opposition instead of joining the government coalition. Being in the opposition allows them to recover and to work on their image. In many cases, parties come out stronger after being in the opposition for a while.
And what about the ruling parties, why would they even care for the opposition’s demands? They could simply win every voting round because they hold the majority. One reason only, also: if they are seen as uncooperative, people might accuse them of abusing their powers and thus not vote for them during the next elections. There is always a price to pay for being seen as inconsiderate. Therefore, government parties have a vested interest in listening to the opposition and granting their demands whenever possible to come across as open and reasonable.
This delicate balance of listening to the opposition while implementing the government’s own agenda is what makes the opposition so valuable and powerful in any democracy. It’s the system of checks and balances that gives the opposition sufficient grounds to be quite effective, either now or after the next elections.
The opposition in The Netherlands, and in any western country for that matter, would never dream of constantly trying to reach consensus with the powers they are fighting. They’d much rather prefer belonging to the opposition. Being the underdog can generate great political pay-off if played out well.
It amazes me to no end to see the current attitude of the opposition in
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Yesterday, Antoine Ghanem was murdered with a car bomb two days after he returned to Lebanon to participate in the upcoming presidential elections from a stay in the UAE. He was an MP belonging to the March 14 camp. Just a few days before the presidential elections on September 25, this leaves the pro-government with one less vote. They now have a 3 person margin to retain 51% majority.
Upon hearing the news, you automatically turn on the television. Michel Aoun’s station OTV was the first on the scene. Sure, people joked that they had inside knowledge, but surely it must be that their offices are just close by. For quite a while, other stations were borrowing their images.
Kuddos to OTV for doing a good job of bringing the news. What was also worth noting, was that they kept on covering the event, long after other opposition stations returned to their regular programming.
Since a few days, we have the
When the reporter pointed out that Antoine Ghanem was an anti-Syrian politician and thus unlikely to have been killed by America, Franklin Lamb simply saw this as an even greater indication that America was behind all of this: to damage the image of Syria!
A few moments later, Robert Fisk came on the air. I have stopped reading his articles long time ago because a. you have to pay for them and b. they always feel like a sermon. He would be an excellent priest for that matter. Anyway, Fisk was live on the scene, but that didn’t really give him an edge. All he could mumble was that this was a professional hit done in a professional way and surely the result of professional preparation by a professional organization. And so he rambled on.
As to who could be behind the attack, he dismissed the accusation towards
And finally, just for a sad smile, The Daily Star can’t seem to make up its mind about the number of dead people:
BEIRUT: A car bomb killed a pro-government MP and at least seven others in Beirut on Wednesday, just days before the Lebanese Parliament is due to elect a new president for the country, with many fingering Syria as the culprit.
Alongside one of the busiest roads in
UPDATE: According to a commenter on Beirut Beltway, March 14 has now effectively lost its majority since three pro government MPs will only vote for a president based on the two-third majority principle.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Photo 1: Suddenly, these mysterious wrapped poles started popping up
You can already see the meters being installed, but they are still wrapped up. Of course, nothing is too good for my beloved audience who deserve to know every bit of a sad story, so see below for a picture of the actual meter itself.
What is amazing to this blogger is that the brave and daring leaders of
Photo 3: Bliss Street: which of the triple parked cars will fill up the meter?
Still, the meters are here and the sad conclusion must be that
Photo 4: Beirut at its best: Parking beneath a no parking sign
In the everlasting search for consensus, a peculiar development has taken place: Berri is now claiming to support the patriarch who, according to Berri is supporting his position. Finally, one might think, leading figures from opposite agreeing with each other! But are they?
In today's Daily Star, the media advisor of Nabih Berri is cited: "There is a good likelihood the session on the 25th will not convene if agreement is not reached between opposing political sides," Hijazi told The Daily Star. "The speaker would then postpone the session for 15 days or a month."
He added that for the speaker, the matter of the quorum had been settled by Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, who has come out in favor of the two-thirds formula.
It usually is tricky to speak on other people’s behalf. So let's see if Berri would be right be claiming that the patriarch would be in support of the two positions held by Berri:
- To not convene parliament if no agreement has been reached
- The claim that the patriarch is in support of the two-third quorum.
The first claim has been vehemently denied by the patriarch who insists on holding the parliament regardless of expected outcome. In his own words: "Presidential elections must take place…No one can boycott a nation"
Well, that certainly sounds clear to me. The next point regarding the two-third quorum is a bit trickier. Depending on which newspaper you read, the patriarch is quoted differently. See also Failasoof's article on this bias in Lebanese newspapers. Even Naharnet seems to be confused. The opening line of a recent article states that:
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir stressed that a two-thirds quorum is needed to elect a new president for
Based on this quote, the patriarch seems to be fully in line with Berri’s position. However, if you continue to read the very same article, you come across this quote:
"The Constitution is clear. The president of the republic should be elected by secret ballot and by a two-thirds quorum of PMs, and if the quorum is not secured, then a president will be elected by a half-plus-one vote," he clarified.
The constitution is clear…he clarified…u-hum. This might all be crystal clear to the patriarch, but others might be left with certain questions. Like, why bother with a two-third quorum if all you need is the half-plus-one vote? Furthermore, is the half-plus-one rule based on the total number of MPs (128) or the MPs present during the session?
What is perfectly clear, though, is that Berri cannot possibly claim the patriarch agrees with him since the last thing Berri wants is a majority vote in the house over which he presides. Too bad, for a moment you could hope that major players have reached an agreement, only to find out that things aren’t that simple in
Monday, September 17, 2007
Lebanese politics is often underrated, and many times even ridiculed. That’s a pity because there’s so much to see. Any Political Science student looking for a thesis can stop searching and start observing the events in Lebanon. From the nitty-gritty political handwork to meta-level politics: it’s all here.
Take the last developments, e.g.: Nabih Berri’s proposal is to agree on consensus for the presidential election. Sure enough, everybody agrees on principle that a consensus candidate is the best thing that could happen to Lebanon. The first hurdle towards a solution from the current stalemate was therefore easily taken: all parties all agree that we should agree on consensus.
The next hurdle, however, that of the consensus itself, has been left as an exercise for the reader. In other words: every politician wholeheartedly agrees to agree, but on what exactly is not yet clear. Or rather, everybody knows precisely what the other should agree on, however, getting the other to buy your position is not that easy…
And thus the talks about reaching consensus remain alarmingly empty when the consensus itself is not discussed. Should be new president be in support of UN resolutions, the UN Tribunal, border demarcation, establishing embassies with Syria, privatizing state companies, strengthening ties with the EU?
Difficult questions indeed, but they are squashed aside for now: let’s first agree to agree and then we figure out on what. How much more meta can politics get in this country? The sad part is that many politicians actually see the initial agreement as an achievement. Who was it that said that in order to be happy you have to lower your standards? Very true indeed and the behavior of Lebanese politicians would be a perfect case study.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Although even if you don't speak or read Arabic, every so often you can get a glimpse of what makes this language so mysteriously beautiful. Take a look at the cancellation of the scheduled visit of Syrian FM to Saudi Arabia: it was canceled, not postponed.
"What's the deal here?", you might think. But, according to a diplomat familiar with the Saudi way of thinking, there is no small difference between canceling a meeting and postponing it. While the latter formulation keeps the option of a later meeting wide open, the former choice of words slams the door shut.
You just got to love those subtleties, well, at least I do. Thanks to Naharnet for reporting it like this. Yet, it makes you wonder how many more nuances get lost in translation and/or lack of cultural understanding.
The other day, e.g., I blogged about the statement of Sinioria who said that he was willing to listen. Instead, I observed, it would be better if he was willing to talk. Turned out that, actually, as per Arabic culture, what Sinioria said was quite something. In a region where everybody always talks and regularly shouts, offering to listen is unusual. It puts you in a weak, subservient position which most Lebanese rather avoid: it’s better to keep on talking and believing that what you say matters, than to shut up for a while and show interest in what others have to say.
How many more of such misinterpretations are made by foreigners like me? Plenty for sure and that’s understandable. Still, it is examples like this that make you realize the depth of the Arabic language and culture. Most likely, I will never be able to fully grasp it. Then again, I have the rest of my life to try!
Surprise, surprise: Druze leader Walid Jumblat has described the holocaust as the biggest crime in the 20th century. That's refreshing to hear in this part of the world where holocaust denial is very much en vogue. Next step would be to start teaching the Lebanese children this fact and to clean up the Arabic newspapers from disgusting cartoons.
To give credit, though, where credit is due: Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Lebanese writer Elias Khoury and others brought about the cancellation of a holocaust denial conference that was planned to take place in Beirut in 2001.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Of course, I don't want to be telling you 'I told you so!", so I won't. Suffice to say I'm not surprised Al-Abssi is still alive. What's almost hilarious is to hear the State Prosecutor seemingly believing a captured Fatah al-Islam soldier that Al-Abssi has left the camp just a day before the fall.
But of course, we should all believe this Yemeni prisoner: Al-Abssi is a hero and would never flee like a coward weeks before the final showdown. No, no, good ol' Shaky hangs on to the end...and then some!
Just like we had to believe his wife identifying him. Amazingly enough, Brigitte and I were watching the news and her first reaction was that the wife was lying to protect her husband. Sure enough, it happened to be true.
Now, let's arrest Abssi's wife for hindering justice, giving false testimony and whatever else lawyers can come up with...oh wait, she's a wife and thus considered to be innocent by Lebanese prosecution. Just like all the other terrorists' wives, she has not been arrested, was hardly questioned and is now enjoying her presumption of innocence...
Friday, September 7, 2007
Just when you think nothing ever happens in Lebanon except boring meetings between political leaders, there’s the new clip of Arab sex symbol Haifa! Anyone thinking that all Shiite Muslims are ultra conservative should check it out. Granted, it’s pretty tame compared to western video clips, but to Arab standards, Haifa’s latest clip is almost pornographic.
There’s this double standard in the Arab world whereby Arab women should all be more virgin than Mary while non-Arab women are sluts and worse. Ask any foreign woman and she’ll readily confirm this: many Arab men behave like sexual predators when spotting a foreign woman and treat her like they would never treat ‘one of their own’.
Hence the shock of Haifa’s latest video clip and the associations with porn. The clip is actually quite innocent, especially when judged against the average rap clip on MTV where you get bombarded with as many half naked ho’s they can cram into a 4 minute video. But different standards apply for Arab girls and accusations came quickly. If you can read Arabic, check out the Elaph.org website or here for a heated English discussion.
What’s telling in this respect is the enormous interest for Arab women who behave daringly. Even though Arab men can watch porn 24x7 via the satellite, they still get aroused when watching Haifa strutting around in a skimpy bikini. No need for Viagra in this part of the world, just show them Haifa’s clip. Somehow, that’s pretty sad, actually. See also an interesting article about using porn to achieve regional peace
Anyway, check out the video clip for yourself:
Check out the blog of Harald: he was one of the writers of the original script of Richard Gere's latest movie, The Hunting Party.
From a review:
“In war what you see, and what really happened, are sometimes two very different things.” TV News reporter Simon Hunt (Richard Gere) and cameraman Duck (Terrence Howard have worked in the world's hottest war zones: from Bosnia to Iraq, from Somalia to El Salvador. Together they have dodged bullets, filed incisive reports and collected Emmy awards. Then one terrible day in a Bosnian village everything changes. During a live broadcast on national television, Simon has a meltdown.
After that, Duck is promoted and Simon just disappears. Five years later Duck returns to Sarajevo with rookie reporter Benjamin (Jessie Eisenberg) to cover the fifth anniversary of the end of the war. Simon shows up, a ghost from the past, with the promise of a world exclusive. He convinces Duck that he knows the whereabouts of Bosnia’s most wanted war criminal “The Fox.” Armed with only spurious information Simon, Duck and Benjamin embark on a dark and dangerous mission that takes them deep into hostile territory. It’s the scoop of a lifetime but will they live to report it?"
Totally amazing, sure hope they will release the movie in Lebanon.
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Anyone listening to the hit of rapper Akon, can’t help but feel a similarity with
The HRW has published a report accusing Hezbollah of targeting civilians during the July War last year. That’s a pretty obvious conclusion, looking at the fact that Hezbollah did indeed fire their rockets seemingly randomly at times. Also, their own statements in which they openly said there would be no red lines (and we all know the importance of those!), was a clear indication they weren’t exactly going to check and double check.
Mind you, that was quite understandable given the Jewish mass slaughtering of innocent Lebanese civilians. Still, the response of Hezbollah and Siniora to the HRW report is telling. Instead of owning up to the consequences of Hezbollah, they went straight into denial mode.
HRW has announced they will also release a detailed study of
Or so you’d think. A lawyer has already sued the HRW for slander. “Attack is the best defense” or something equally deep, must have been the logic behind this course of action. Bet you can’t wait for the trial as it must be quite a show of creative law. Be sure to remember to hire this lawyer next time you get accused of say, stealing car:
Judge: “The defendant is accused of stealing a car, how do you plead?”
Lawyer: “Not guilty, your honor”
Judge: “But he was seen on three surveillance cameras at the parking lot breaking into the car and speeding off”
Lawyer: “The interpretation of these camera recordings is inspired by a baseless need to incriminate my client, your honor!”
Judge: “Err, but what about the fact that the police caught your client red handed while driving the stolen car?”
Lawyer: “That is clearly in support of our statement that this whole trial is a Zionist ploy to put forward their unfounded accusations, only trying to attack the reputation of my client!”
Judge: “Just to get this straight: he DID steal the car, no?”
Lawyer, blurting out: “Well, but his neighbor has stolen at least 10 cars, why don’t you go after HIM!”
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
A few days ago, Nabih Berri made an interesting proposal on behalf of the Opposition: they will drop their request for a new government in return for consensus on the next president. After all these months in tents occupying Downtown, the Opposition must have realized they’re not going to get what they want and hence, they are now dropping their number 1 request.
And that’s not all they’re dropping. By insisting on a consensus president, Berri, on behalf of Hezbollah, is letting go of Michel Aoun who is certainly not acceptable to the March 14 camp. That’s what friends are for…Surely enough, Aoun realized he has been duped by March 8 and rushed to the press to officially announce his candidacy.
What does the Berri Proposal entail, anyway? He’s suggesting to not demand the fall of the Siniora government in return for a consensus president. With only a few months to go, Berri’s concession seems empty at first sight. After all, what good would it do to have a different government from now until November?
Still, the real meaning of his proposal is that the Opposition is willing to drop a key demand, a red line even. In a country where losing face is the biggest loss one can face, this sure is a concession alright. And it has been recognized as such by March 14. The reactions have been carefully weighted and no one has dismissed the proposal outright.
The patriarch even ordered a committee to be formed so the proposal can be properly analyzed. No wonder, since the Christians’ position could easily weaken further. A consensus candidate almost certainly means a weak president, which would lead to more erosion of Christian power.
As for the consensus president, it remains unclear what exactly should the consensus be about. Should the ideal candidate be in support of the UN Tribunal, in support of the various UN resolutions, in support of reforming the economy to safeguard the many donations of
Asking for a neutral candidate in a country as divided as
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
After the victory over Fatah al-Islam, premier Siniora stated that the Nahr al-Bared camp will be rebuild and that the camp would be placed under the authority of the state and "only the Lebanese state”.
Now, would that mean Siniora single-handedly threw out the 1969 Cairo Agreement? This agreement between the PLO and the Lebanese government gave the Palestinians jurisdiction in their own camps. Up until then, the Palestinian camps were placed under control of the Lebanese government.
It was only a sideline in his long speech, but why did Siniora make this statement? Does the Lebanese government really want to rule again in the Palestinian camps and does it think the Palestinians wouldn’t object to this? Given the various rumors of Al Qaeda inspired splinter cells in the various camps, such a statement would be a great recruitment tool for them as it would affirm their impression of Siniora as a defender of American interests. They could easily argue that he is seizing the opportunity to reduce the sovereignty of the Palestinians.
Given the various rumors of Al Qaeda inspired splinter cells in the various camps, such a statement would be a great recruitment tool for them as it would affirm their impression of Siniora as a defender of American interests. They could easily argue that he is seizing the opportunity to reduce the sovereignty of the Palestinians.
Such feelings could quickly stir up anti-Lebanon emotions that are already highly present in the camps. Sure, the Lebanese army went into the Nahr al-Bared camp, but only after permission from the Palestinian camp commander. Trying to take “advantage” of this by simply taking over authority in Nahr al-Bared and possibly in all camps later on, could be a costly mistake, one that is best avoided at a crucial time like this.
Monday, September 3, 2007
After more than 100 days, the Lebanese army has regained control over the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared. In how far the actual victory can be credited to the army remains to be seen: it was only after a desperate attempt of Fatah al-Islam to flee the camp that the army could push forward.
The SMS alerts were telling in this respect: first, on Sunday at 9:57 AM a message came through saying that the terrorists were escaping the camp. Later, at 5:27 PM, an SMS stated that the Lebanese army has taken full control of the camp…doh!
Luckily for the army, they were able to kill the leader of Fatah al-Islam, Shaker al-Abssi during his attempt to break out of the camp. Initial reports that he might still be alive and among a group of terrorists who managed to escape, left people a bit uncertain as to how glad they should be. Well, that deliberation took perhaps a few milliseconds for most and the celebrations started soon after.
In our valley, e.g., many people were firing into the air. At first, this lead to a bit of panic because there was a rumor that a group of escaped fighters was heading towards Kesrouein, which meant there was a big chance they would pass through close to our village, Qartaba, with the main coastal road being checked. With this in mind, people feared they had run into a military checkpoint and started a fight. Thank God that was not the case.
Still, to hear bullets being fired from all over, enforced by a strong echo in the valley, was pretty scary nonetheless. To add, there was a huge fog that blocked the view, so the bullet sounds came from an impenetrable mist. Again, thank God nobody got injured by stray bullets.
Or rather, thank Sainte Therese, since it was her feast this weekend in Qartaba. My great-, great-, great grandfather-in-law (give or take a few generations), founded a little church right on the outskirts of Qartaba back in..oh…1850 or so. He dedicated the church to Sainte Therese and ever since the first weekend of September is when we have the annual Festival of Sainte Therese in Qartaba.
She is held in the greatest respect by the villagers and they didn’t waste time to contribute the army’s victory to her: nobody believed it to be a coincidence that they were victorious during her festival!
Anyway, back to the army. Despite all the cynical comments about how they could only win when their opponents fled, they did win and that’s what counts. At the cost of 158 soldier lives and an unknown number of civilian deaths, victory didn’t come cheap. From here, a heartfelt salute to those who gave their lives. May your deaths be the start of a new Lebanon, free of terror and religious madness.
What’s up by the way with the Lebanese government not keeping score of the civilian deaths? Remember the outcry when Israel stated they didn’t keep track of the deaths they caused among the Lebanese population during last year’s war? Now, it seems the Lebanese government is not that much better, either.
Will the victory at Nahr al-Bared be the starting gun for flare-ups elsewhere in the country, as some predict? Never say never in Lebanon, but then again, why would terrorists who are limited in number compared to the Lebanese army want to lessen their chances to fight the army consecutively?
It would have been more logical to attack the army while it was still occupied in Nahr al-Bared. Let’s first await the reaction of the March 14 camp to the latest suggestion of Hezbollah to have a unity president without a unity government. If March 14 embraces this idea, chances are the unrest will subside quickly. Berri not-so-subtle alluding to ‘hidden dangers’ is an indication, however, that the opposite could also become true: without an agreement on the president, who knows what lies ahead?