Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tayyib, yalla bye

Frequent visitors of this blog will have noticed a lack of new postings. Reason is that I have changed jobs which does not leave me with enough time and focus to keep up the blog. So, it’s time to say goodbye and to thank you, my reader, for giving this blog your time of day. It was a great experience and I’ll never forget the first time I was asked if I was the same Riemer as the guy that writes the blog. Ah, the sweet taste of pride:-)

Lebanon Update started in Dutch, and was a direct result from the outbreak of the July War in 2006. Later on, I switched to English to reach a larger audience. I am proud to say that this worked out well: after a while, Lebanon Update started to receive 500-700 hits per day. This might be small potatoes compared to the more professional blogs about Lebanon, but for this amateur the numbers showed that other people share my love and fascination for Lebanon.

Being a blogger was an interesting experience. Often, people would ask me how I came up with all the topics for my articles…a question that always amazed me: there is so much to write about Lebanon! Many stories have been left untold, lots of events have never been published.

I tried to limit myself to one article per day, so the articles would build up….often only to be permanently deleted because some major incident happened. All in all, any journalist suffering from writer’s block should stay in Lebanon for a while, there’s just too much to write about.

Another question people usually asked was how much time it would take to write a typical article. Without being snug about it, but the answer is that it wouldn’t take me much more than 5-10 minutes. After forming a blog entry ‘in my head’, the physical act of typing it up was simply that: typing it up. Lucky for me I am not a professional writer, so I could get away with the rough edges, the spelling errors and the grammatical mistakes that resulted from not polishing the articles.

Blogging is a highly addictive activity and it is with fear for withdrawal symptoms that I bide you all farewell. I had a great time writing the blog, hope you had a great time reading it. Tayyib, yalla bye.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

All Lebanese prisoners freed from Israel's jails

Yesterday saw massive festivities in Lebanon to celebrate the release of all Lebanese prisoners from Israel. Sure, there are those who are quick to point out that the price of their release has been enormous, just as quick as Hezbollah leader Nasrallah was quick to point out that the release of all prisoners was the original goal of the July War.

And he made sure the rest of the Arab world knew that it was thanks to Hezbollah they were released. One can only imagine how the average Arab felt when watching a proud Nasrallah saying that resistance is often the only way to get Israel to act, as opposed to diplomacy as is so often suggested by their leaders. Most likely, they would have gotten the implicit message that their leaders are weak whereas Hezbollah was strong.

Still, it requires some mental acrobatic maneuvering to hear Nasrallah claim that this results vindicates Hezbollah for any blame for the July War. Gone are the days back in August 2006 when Nasrallah expressed regret for the ‘unexpected’ harsh Israeli reaction. In the end, the goal justified the means.

Now that all Lebanese prisoners (dead and alive) have been released to Lebanon, this chapter can be closed. There are still some remaining issues, though. Still, hopefully the coming home yesterday of so many Lebanese will contribute to a more solid quiet on our southern front and not the starting shot of yet another round of violence now that Hezbollah can freely revenge Mughnieh.

Monday, July 14, 2008

First Lady's first visit to...Qartaba

If you were the First Lady of Lebanon, where would you have your first public appearance as (incoming) First Lady? That's a no-brainer: Qartaba of course! That quaint little mountain village, dubbed The Bride of Jbeil and already home to so many first-things, was the proud hostess of first lady Wafa Suleiman last weekend, who opened an nargileh place and playing area/swimming pool for kids.

Photo 1: First Lady Wafa Suleiman in Qartaba on July 5, 2008

Her visit can be described as highly efficient as it took less than 30 minutes to attend a few speeches by the locals and to cut the ribbon. Unfortunately Wafa didn't give a speech herself and she left right after the opening ceremony was concluded. But then again, being selected for the first visit is already a huge honor in itself.

Photo 2: Toute Qartaba went to see the First Lady

The first speaker made a passionate plea to improve the quality of the road leading up to Qartaba, hoping perhaps that the First Lady would bring up the topic with her hubbie later that night.

However, none of such 'wafa-wasta' was needed as the next speaker, the chairman of CDR, was quick to mention the planned road improvement project: within two to four years time, Qartaba will be connected to civilization by a much wider road. Blessing or curse? Only time will tell.

Photo 3: The World Bank funded the nargileh place...sahtain!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sowar: Snapshots of the Civil War

As part of the "Let Us Not Forget" campaign to keep the memory alive of the Lebanese Civil War, the Sowar magazine (lit: "photo's") has dedicated its latest edition to war photography. What is it with photo's from war zones that always make them so fascinating to watch, to study, to absorb?

Sowar's choice is no exception: the pictures are carefully contributed by top photographers, including Pulitzer prize winner Bill Foley, and show the various stages of the Civil War. My favorite is included below, and if you are in Lebanon, be sure to pick up a copy of this magazine at your local bookstore.

Photo 1: A militia member playing the piano at the Holiday Inn rooftop restaurant in 1975

Berri likens SSNP to justice squanderers

Naharnet quotes Berri as saying that "Whoever squanders justice and the justice ministry should accept the whole Syrian Social National Party (SSNP) in the cabinet, not just Ali Qanso". In other words, once you start squandering justice, you might as well invite the SSNP to the party.

....Hrm...Interesting to see how Berri likens the squandering of justice to SSNP's participation. Slip of the tongue, error of the journalist, or a heart-felt opinion?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

So who's blocking who?

Finally and after much delay, the Opposition has given its names and posts it wants in the new government and still there is no cabinet. Why? Because now it's March 14's turn to bicker about the distribution of their seats. What on earth have they been doing the last five weeks?

For once, Aoun is making sense when he says that they don't have the right to delay for even five minutes the line up of the new government.

Syria hints at disarming Hezbollah

The other day, this blog was speculating about the possible rift between Hezbollah and Syria and presented four pieces of 'evidence': the killing of Mughnieh in Damascus under the eyes of the always alert Syrian secret service; the documents president Suleiman suddenly found regarding Lebanese ownership of the Shebaa farms; the canceling of the national strike by the Syrian controlled Labor Union early May, after which Hezbollah took over West-Beirut; and the resurrection of Fatah al-Islam leader al-Abssi

Now, we can add a fifth piece: Syrian president Bashar Assad openly saying that Hezbollah should disarm once peace in the Middle East has been reached. With Syria and Israel talking, such peace might be closer by than you'd think. Hezbollah must be feeling the pressure to disarm, hence they started adding new conditions, such as liberation of all Lebanese and Palestinian detainees from Israel's prisons.

A simple regional peace alone is no longer good enough for Hezbollah, while Syria is now saying that such peace actually should be good enough reason to put down their arms. If any March 14 politician says the exact same thing, Hezbollah is quick to label him as a traitor to the Resistance. Now let's see how they will react to Assad's words.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Composition of new cabinet according to Nahar

If we are to believe Nahar, the new cabinet is pretty much a done deal now that the Opposition has formally stated the seats it requests. Unless I (and Nahar) am missing something, it would be a no-brainer for Siniora to accept their suggestions. The Opposition does not want any of the core ministries, such as Justice, Foreign Affairs, Finance, or Economics. How come?

Take a look at Aoun's shopping list, e.g. His bloc wants to have the following 5 posts:

  • Telecommunications (Gebran Bassil);
  • Social Affairs (Mario Aoun);
  • Agriculture (Elias Skaff);
  • Energy (Alan Tabourian);
  • Deputy Premier (Issam Abou Jabra).

Well, Siniora, by all means, give it to him...and quickly before he changes his mind and realizes that these posts aren't really that important. Being responsible for Energy won't get you any votes since most people complain, rightfully so, about the lack of electricity for often 12+ hours a day. And the post of deputy premier doesn't come with much power either.

Hezbollah is even less demanding and is willing to settle for only two posts, namely that of Labor and that of Youth & Sports. Ayup, that's the right set of posts to promote one's platform! And what a 'reward' for May's actions.

Berri is equally modest when requesting the usual Health ministry and Interior. No more talks of Foreign Affairs for his brother Mahmoud. Was he used as a threat to get the Interior ministry? Not likely, Berri would have gotten Interior without much problems anyway.

If Nahar is correct, it would imply the Opposition has pretty much given up on this cabinet. Why is that? Do they know it's not going to last long? Don't they want to take on responsibility to create some form of deniability during next year's elections? If so, then why take the Energy position?

It doesn't make sense: after all the delays and objections to settle for something so little as this. Only future will tell what the real reason is behind this unexpected and sudden submissive behavior.

Friday, July 4, 2008

1960 Election law won't benefit Christians

What better day to talk about democracy than on the Fourth of July? And yes, let’s leave it as an exercise to the reader to decipher if this is meant ironic or not. In any case, the other day L’Orient-Le Jour’s columnist Emile Khoury provided a highly interesting analysis of the impact of the 1960 Election Law the opposition wants to be reinstated. Conclusion: While marginally better than the current one, it still would leave the Christian candidates at the mercy of the Muslim voters.

The reason for this is that most electoral districts under the 1960 law still would have a majority of Muslims in them and thus they would ultimately decide which Christian candidate they’d like the best. According to the stats quoted by Khoury, roughly 40 out of the 64 "Christian" districts are dominated by Muslims. In other words, only 24 out of 128 seats are directly decided by Christian voters whereas the Constitution grants Christians 64 seats.

So why is that a problem? Personally, I would favor the abolishment of the confessional voting system which in my view undermines democracy. In fact, it has been argued that Lebanon is not a democracy for this very reason. [Note to self: blog about this in the near future.] Still, if a country wants to have a confessional system, it better be a representative one.

All Lebanese would agree that the current law used during the last election was anything but a fair law. But the thing is, the new law won’t bring much improvement. Yet, especially Michel Aoun is lobbying feverishly in favor of the 1960 Election law, which in his mind would address the problems of the current law.

So what’s wrong with the current law? For starters, it didn’t get Aoun the expected victory, which according to his followers, is already a major indication something is fundamentally wrong. But seriously (which I already was, actually), the 1960 Law won’t change the fact that Christians will be overruled by Muslims…again.

The opposition must know that their fight for the 1960 Law is merely a fight for fight’s sake. Is Aoun used again by Amal and Hezbollah into fighting for something that won’t improve the situation of the Christians and perhaps would only benefit the Shiites? Now that we know the 1960 Law won’t bring much to the Christians, it would be interesting to see whether it would strengthen the position of the Shiites.

See also this blog for another analysis of Aoun’s position.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

So Mughnieh is now revenged?

Ever since the murder of Hezbollah's leading operative Imad Mughnieh, the Lebanese and the Israeli's have been concerned about the act of revenge by Hezbollah. The organization was expected not to take lightly the killing of one of its most important fighters. Many feared that a gruesome attack against Israel by Hezbollah could easily trigger another round of war.

"Luckily", it seems the revenge wasn't as bad as expected, assuming the news is correct that the bulldozer attack yesterday in Jerusalem was meant as retaliation for Mughnieh's death. Letting a new organization claim responsibility gives Hezbollah the freedom to distance itself from the act and yet hurt Israel where it hurts, namely in the capital Jerusalem.

Icing on the cake would be Hezbollah's present to the Palestinians of demonstrating them a brand new tactic that might inspire plenty of others to creatively use similar vehicles to wreak havoc.

All innocent deaths are terrible, obviously, and anyone in their right mind would feel sorry for the victims of yesterday's action, but still, it's a safe bet to assume many people on both sides of the Lebanon-Israel border will sleep a little bit better tonight...unless of course Hezbollah wouldn't be using a third party to do their revenging for them, after all, what's the honor in that? If true, we still have to wait for its own response.