Monthly Archives: December 2006

Have you ever read the Ta’ef Agreement?

By Mezzo

When a politician communicates a message to his electorates or to his opponents, regardless of whether the information is true or false (read: a lie), the listener would interpret it and classify it depending on where the listener politically stands vis-à-vis the politician. The listener would call the message “information” if he is in favor of this politician’s views, or “news” with all kind of possible annotations if not.

For a politician, what matters is not the integrity of the message but what he thinks the listener wants to hear or has to hear. Whether the politician knows it up front, or had to research it, or was tipped by his advisors, it really boils down to making a hit that is as accurate as possible. In most cases the politician could safely assume that at least his electorate won’t question him and that he is taking a fair bet of what the listener knows already and what he could possibly remember from that same politician’s past statements and speeches. Of course, his political opponents will make sure that no misinformation goes unpunished; a corrective statement(s) will follow and we fall back to the previous paragraph.

Is the spirit of the Ta’ef Agreement favoring political sectarianism or not? The 8th of March coalition says no and the 14th of March coalition says no also. Both parties seem to be in agreement when it comes to the wording of their messages but not in agreement when we compare their actions and stands. Therefore, at least one of the two parties, if not both, is communicating “news” and the other one, or none, is communicating “information”.

Let us investigate the Ta’ef Accord and take note of the arguments that have been picked up by both parties:

The first one is Article I adopted by the 8th of March and taken from “The General Principles”:

“I. No authority violating the common co-existence charter shall be legitimate.”

The one adopted by the 14th of March refers to the “Cabinet Resignation, Considering Cabinet Retired, and Dismissal of Ministers” that says that the cabinet shall be considered retired in the following cases:

“a. If its chairman resigns;
b. If it looses more than 1/3 of its members as determined by the decree forming it;
c. If its chairman dies;
d. At the beginning of a president’s term;
e. At the beginning of the Chamber of Deputies’ term;
f. When the Chamber of Deputies withdraws its confidence from it on an initiative by the chamber itself and on the basis of a vote of confidence.”

What I would like to refer to is the section that follows on the abolition of political sectarianism:

G. Abolition of Political Sectarianism:
“Abolishing political sectarianism is a fundamental national objective. To achieve it, it is required that efforts be made in accordance with a phased plan. The Chamber of Deputies elections is the basis of equal sharing by Christians and Muslims shall adopt the proper measures to achieve this objective and to form a national council which is headed by the president of the republic and which includes, in addition to the prime minister and the Chamber of Deputies speaker, political, intellectual, and social notables. The council’s task will be to examine and propose the means capable of abolishing sectarianism, to present them to the Chamber of Deputies and the cabinet, and to observe implementation of the phased plan. The following shall be done in the interim period.”

If I try to analyze the “information” and make an effort to position the three sections in respect to each other, I can make at least three statements:

1) The existing government did not violate the common co-existence charter. Six ministers chose to resign and their resignation is yet to be accepted by the President and by the Prime Minister.
2) The cabinet cannot be qualified as resigned on the basis of any of the items listed from clauses a to f.
3) The abolition of political sectarianism is a specific objective and a corner stone for a modern Lebanon and therefore the spirit of Ta’ef cannot possibly give room for any specific confession to tumble the government any time it wishes to do so.

And now to those who are still not convinced of my argument and who would claim that my statement falls into my top first paragraph, I would say: “The General Principles” are meant to be general and Article I is here to protect a confessional or political minority (in today’s case, the Shi’a) from a biased majority (in today’s case, March 14) that would create an authority (i.e. a government) whose purpose would be to discriminate against this minority (the Shi’a) and then go on and defend this wrongdoing on the basis of the Ta’ef Agreement… that is if Article I did not exist.

Isn’t this what Syria did since 1990?

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Funny how little we’ve progressed

By Ana

So since I had some time this winter break to do some “pleasure reading” and not focus too much on my academic texts, I bought a few books from Virgin Megastore and quickly browsed through the comments I had marked on the margins of my copy of Kamal Salibi’s Cross Roads to Civil War: Lebanon, 1948-1976.

Reading his account of Lebanon’s “first” civil war, some of the events and conclusions struck me as too similar for comfort:

Firstly, a few of the points of the Five Demands of Kamal Jumblatt are still relevant and as urgent today as they were back in 1975: (1) Dismantling the confessional system; (2) Amending the constitution to redefine the responsibilities of the branches of the executive; (3) Changing the electoral law; (4) reorganizing the Lebanese Army; and (5) Removing restrictions on naturalization. Except for the last one, all the other remain extremely urgent in today’s political context. In due time, it would be great to see the last one materialize as well.

Secondly, during what Salibi calls the “Fourth Round” of the first civil war (i.e. the war of 1975-1976), Prime Minister Rashid Karami and President Suleiman Frangieh stopped talking to each other and the government’s mechanisms were fully paralyzed, a paralysis that was exacerbated by Kamil Chamoun’s demands as well. Similar to the time of Hariri and Lahoud and today with Seniora and Lahoud.

I also found it interesting that towards the end of 1975, Rashid Karami was considered to be “the only leader in authority who still represented the threatened national integrity of the Lebanese state” (133). Karami = Seniora today? Not so pleasant to point out that Rashid’s brother, Omar, has not been able to impress the populace as such.

Another interesting parallel was the Hay’at al-Hiward al-Watani (the Committee for National Dialogue) which is extremely similar to the roundtable discussions sponsored by Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri. This time around however, the dialogue is not under the tutelage of the Syrian government. Back in 1975, it was mediated by Syrian Foreign Minister ‘Abd al-Halim al-Khaddam.

Perhaps the most interesting point, however, is the fact that following Black Saturday, Saeb Salaam and Kamal Jumblatt, among others, openly called for the resignation of Frangieh from the presidency. They believed that this was the “necessary first step towards a national reconciliation” (147). Too similar for comfort? I don’t believe that history repeats itself, but this is certainly a bit too crazy.

The last thing I wanted to point out, is that while most people talk about Syrian occupation beginning after Ta’ef with the approval of the international community and the United States in particular, Salibi provides a different viewpoint, suggesting that in January 20, 1976, after the Syrian mediators arrived in Beirut, al-Jiyya (a Maronite resistance point) and al-Sa’diyyat fell, “the whole country fell now under Palestinian military occupation and, indirectly, under Syrian control” (158). This is the first time Salibi actually mentions formal Syrian occupation of Lebanon, albeit vis-a-vis the Palestinians. This book was published in April 1976. Syrian tutelage, informal, or not, had been around for almost half a century…

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Who has the true majority?

By Mezzo

Each camp did what it did and is now holding its stand based on the belief that it represents the true majority. Everybody agrees that the difference between a majority and a minority rests on few percentage points swinging one way or another. So instead of claiming who has the true majority, let us put the system in play and resolve the current crisis in the next 24 hours following the elections.

Indeed, as sad as it could be, we have a unique opportunity at hand with the partial Metn parliamentary election. What makes it particularly interesting is that the Metn is the main electoral stronghold of the FPM. In this case the election law of 2000 is as good as any law since it is meant to fill up only one seat. So why is the March 14 coalition so keen on carrying out this election while the 8th of March coalition is avoiding it?

One could argue that “avoiding” is not the appropriate qualification since it is on the basis of a non-existent government with a president that is not following through his responsibilities. So let us not argue this point and consider that the government has indeed retired. On that same basis we would all agree that the cabinet of today is merely an interim government dealing with day-to-day issues, and so evidently, President Lahoud could authorize the Metn partials… if the 8 March coalition wanted so.

Would the 8 March coalition continue its hold downtown if the FPM loses this election? Could the 14 March coalition say that Aoun lost considerable popularity if the FPM wins this election?

So cut it short ladies and gentlemen and run this election. You owe it to us…

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“Evil” becoming popular word in both March 8 and March 14 statements

By Ana

It is uncomfortable to watch Lebanese politicians adopting Bushism as their new dictionary. Surely, there are more appropriate, diplomatic, and non-provocative ways of expressing ideas or opinions rather than branding certain acts as “evil.” Such biblical diction is not amusing since it connotes a sense of divine authoritarianism and immunity, which none of the parties have. Furthermore, such talk enters a more petty level of negotiation and communication and places all sides on the defensive: politicians are hearing more and listening less. At such a critical stage, politicians should be listening more, accusing less, and using more proactive and diplomatic language that would hopefully lead to another round of negotiations at Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri’s table.

Yesterday alone, the word “evil” was prominently mentioned four times. The Lebanese Forces used it to describe the necessity for President Emile Lahoud to resign, calling him a “source of evil and corruption in the country.” The Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir also used the word when describing the pathetic state of the demonstrators in Downtown Beirut, calling their continued presence “a sign of evil.” Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah dubbed the United States and Israel “the forces of evil” when he called upon the Muslims of Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia to join forces against the two states. Finally, Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt used the word when talking about Hezbollah’s alleged coup against the Seniora government. “Who will achieve victory?” he asked, “The evil forces or the forces of love and good”?

Jumblatt is also using another word too often: “darkness.” The first time I heard him use it provocatively was at the Bristol gathering about three weeks ago when he mentioned that the region was dealing with “forces of darkness.” In his statement yesterday, he again equated this darkness to Iran and Syria, stating that the international community’s support for the Seniora government is helping it “confront the world of darkness, the Syrian-Iranian axis.”

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New Year Blues

By Ana

Many Lebanese who have returned to Lebanon for the holidays are making plans to leave earlier than expected. Most will be gone by the first week of January. Why? Because threats of closing down the road leading to the airport and engaging in disruptive acts that might trigger domestic violence, could lead to the airport shutting down. Better be safe and out of Lebanon before then. Such threats have been made by Suleiman Frangieh, who, for the past month or so, has been using increasingly vulgar and provocative language in news conferences and public statements. However, it appears that such language is not in line with what was negotiated between Hezbollah and the Zgharta politician. It seems that Nasrallah is losing his patience with Frangieh, whose constant provocative diction is making it increasingly difficult for the March 8 bloc to legitimize their cause(s).

In today’s Daily Star, mention was made to this disenchantment without pointing fingers: “Members of the opposition have threatened civil disobedience, such as refraining from paying taxes and bills, disobeying orders and attempts to block roads and shut down the airport and other facilities. There have been reports Berri and Hizbullah are unhappy with those making these threats.” These reports, however, appear to go beyond unhappiness to Frangieh and might also refer to General Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and in particular, MP Ibrahim Kanaan.

Prime Minister Fouad Seniora was quoted by As-Safir, a March 8 newspaper, and specifically, pro-Hezbollah, of advising certain parties to not block the road to the airport. Although the article featured certain irregularities and breached the newspaper’s journalist confidence since the statement was made in a closed-doors arrangement, except for its incorrect headline, a press release issued by the Prime Minister’s office mentioned that the quotes in the article were in fact correct.

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What is motivating General Aoun?

By Mezzo

Two weeks ago, General Aoun made a statement that puzzled me so much that I kept thinking about it, trying to make some sense out of it. He spoke of Ta’ef and how it deprived the Christian community of its rights and how it weakened its position in the country by reducing the powers of the president.

This is understandable if we consider that Aoun would endlessly try to justify his anti-Ta’ef stand ever since 1989, even during his years in France. I still remember his speeches and statements while the Ta’ef negotiations were underway, juggling between for and against as the political climate swung daily on the basis of his chances of being elected as the next president of Lebanon. Yet his chances were never meant to be and so he went against the agreement and its ramifications, as simple as that.

To our surprise, in February 2006, he signed the memorandum of understanding with Hezbollah, forcing us to wonder what he was up to, not about the agreement’s content as much as its timing. Straight after that and during the whole months of March and April 2006 he engaged himself and his subordinates in an orchestrated effort against Saad Hariri that seemed but exaggerated and grotesque at the time.

Then came the “hiwar” Berri’s roundtable initiative. Who would participate and who should not was the daily talk for 2-3 weeks, until Aoun gesticulated on TV for 2 days promoting to what seemed to him as the most logical solution: We do not need so many representatives, it should be reduced to the true representatives of Lebanon; Nassrallah for the Shiites, Hariri for the Sunnis and himself for the Christians. What a strange way to visualize the political distribution of power, as if Ta’ef did not exist! Isn’t Ta’ef’s final objective to abolish political sectarianism?

Is today Aoun any more in agreement with Ta’ef than he was in 1989? Is there an undeclared objective behind the memorandum of understanding signed between the Tayyar and Hezbollah? Or should we say between Aoun and Nasrallah? Today we know that following his “Divine Victory,” Nasrallah is aiming for a greater share of power in Lebanon and that Ta’ef is his greatest obstacle. In Nasrallah’s views, the Shiite community is poorly represented with less than 25% of the parliament members and ministers while the Christians have 50%.

The 19-10-1 proposal offered by the 14th of March coalition addressed both calls for a representation of Aoun at the government and for securing the country from any unfavorable unilateral decision induced by the “Feltman Government.” Politically, Aoun and Nasrallah would argue that this is not good enough, however, and considering the political crisis we are in, we (the people) say that is good enough and because we are in a democratic country, then they should wait for better days to enhance their role and representation.

So what is motivating Aoun? A presidency that is meant to govern side by side with a fictive majority (or a real minority which ever way he wants to look at it) that does not want of him and lacks trust? So Nasrallah and Aoun start acting and talking like if there is no tomorrow, burning all bridges towards their political opponents, anticipating a no-continuity to the whole process like if they will not need to be talking again to the Sinioras and the Fatfats and some others.

Aoun and Nasrallah have been working very hard in rocking the boat that will ultimately lead to the renegotiation of Ta’ef in line with the strange article of the very dubious Al Dyar Charles Ayoub who suddenly brought back the long forgotten issue of federal states out of nowhere and poorly accused the 14th of March for the ownership of such a plan. Does Aoun sees himself as the leader of the Christians in a federal state side by side another federal sate for Nasrallah and another one for the Sunnis?

Now that Nasrallah has one third plus one of parliament members and ministers with no need for an additional political alliance, let us all take a guess to what will happen to: the tribunal, the implementation of 1701, the endless coexistence of the Moukawami along the Lebanese army, Syria’s recognition of its border with Lebanon, Lebanon’s privileged relationship with Syria and Iran, Lebanon’s devil relationship with the West, the Teheran-IV meeting intended to revive Lebanon economy with Iran and Syria as main donors, and last but not least the Willayat Al Fakih stronghold in one these three federal states.

Nice job, General.

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Merry Christmas?

By Ana

Today at noon, I went to mass at the St. Louis Church that is ten meters down from the Grand Serail. The church had been closed since the protestors moved in the first week of December. Today, the church received permission from security forces to open the road leading to the church. The Christmas Mass is one of the church’s grandest of events with a full house of 200-some people guaranteed every time. Today, there were less than 50 people present. So much for a merry day. Let’s hope next year’s Christmas will be more festive. Until then, Merry Christmas to my fellow Lebanese patriots. Please be safe.

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Christmas 2006 in Downtown Beirut

By Ana

I found this on The Ouwet Front, which I thought I’d share with you guys. The point is unfortunately true. Merry Christmas Lebanon.

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Why Western-backed?

By Ana

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Calling the Seniora government “Western-backed” began the week the six ministers resigned from the Lebanese Prime Minister’s government. The label was used by western media outlets, particularly the BBC and CNN International, whereby the latter used it one too many times. Beginning last week with Hassan Nasrallah’s video speech in Downtown, other March 8 political leaders have begun to refer to the Seniora government as Western-backed or pro-Western. Today, The Daily Star has decided to adopt the label.

However, how accurate is the label and is such a label relevant at all to the profound political complications that have stagnated this country? I find the relevance to be highly ambiguous. Firstly, the only reason why I would understand such a label being used on Seniora is because he is considered to be a moderate Sunni by the United States, Europe, and Israel. The fact that Israeli newspapers like the Haaretz often refer to the Lebanese statesman with much admiration to say the least, is testimony to this reality. However, although Seniora is a moderate Sunni, this moderate identity is constructed not on Western parameters but rather on Lebanese prerogatives.

Seniora is exclusively focused on a Lebanese agenda that is certainly not being dictated by Washington, D.C.. Although some might argue that the fact that Parliamentary Majority Leader Saad Hariri is warmly snuggled with members of Congress and the Bush Administration, I do not believe that Seniora is taking orders from Hariri. Seniora since July has proven himself to be very capable of leading Lebanon his way. Walid Jumblatt is not particularly trusted by members of Congress and Samir Geagea retains a civil war profile the United States is not particularly comfortable with, so the only person in the government who truly falls within the U.S. sphere of influence is Hariri. However, Hariri and Seniora are more mutually exclusive than most people might think. To create a loose link between the two when it comes to policy shaping and management is not an assumption that is particularly accurate.

The second reason why I would understand why the label is being over-used is because Seniora’s regime represents the anti-thesis of Nasrallah’s agenda. Given that Nasrallah is clearly anti-American, pro-Iranian, pro-Syrian, and anti-Israeli, one might be tempted to justify that Seniora’s stance therefore must be the exact opposite: pro-American, anti-Iranian, anti-Syrian, and pro-Israeli. This is certainly the logic the March 8 leaders have used. But, such an assumption reeks of logical fallacies, the most obvious one being that Seniora has his own principles and policies that are exclusive of those of March 8. The Lebanese Prime Minister has followed the same train of thought since he entered office and before March 8 firmly consolidated itself. Therefore, in my opinion, I don’t find that argument to hold much water.

What are the problems with such a label? Well, firstly and most importantly, the term “Western-backed” places Seniora’s government in the context of broader Middle Eastern politics. All moderate Sunni regimes in the region are backed by the United States. To infer that the United States has as much control over Seniora as she does over the other regimes is an easy link to forge. However, Seniora is not King Faisal and is certainly not King Abdallah either, nor is he a Mahmoud Abbas or is he a Nuri al-Maliki. Therefore the label is clearly a misnomer and inaccurately places Seniora in a broader Middle Eastern context he is not a party of.

The term is also highly provocative and entices those who are anti-American but not necessarily anti-Seniora to side with the anti-American forces in Lebanon: March 8. The label therefore does more harm than good for the Prime Minister.

Even more importantly, is the fact that the label does not address the true causes of the current confrontation between the two political poles in Lebanon today. The fact that the government is more pro-Western than the March 8 opposition has nothing to do with the problems between the two. The tensions between the two are much deeper and the interjection of a pro-Western label not only fails to address this reality but also unnecessaringly complicates matters, particularly now that the March 8 leaders have chosen to adopt this label that was exported from the West. Labels create realities and when unrealistic or incomplete labels attempt to forge a new order, we lose sight of the distinction between what is relevant and what is not. Western-backed or not, the fact that certain newspapers in this country and many of its political figures have chosen to adopt the term from the United States is not only ironic and hypocritical in the part of the March 8 leaders, but is unnecessary and journalistically stale in the part of the media outlets.

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Switching territorial grounds and a lucrative market

By Ana

Among the anti-government supporters that have been camping in downtown Beirut for the past two weeks are those that clearly do not fit in the chic-ness and capitalist elitism of their ralllying location. Hezbollah, Amal, and Communist supporters, whose strongholds are in the South, are all piled one on top of the other in the midst of the very symbol the first group in particular has always defied: Beirut. During the civil war and the dynamic reconstruction phase that followed, Beirut was always on the top of the government’s priority list. Beirut became the norm and outside Beirut became mere relative location points from the prestigious capital. Lebanon became Beirut.

It is therefore quite interesting to note how these territorial and symbolic claims have, to a certain extent, switched ownership. Although the government remains strong and firm in their grip over the Grand Serail, which is located in the middle of the downtown area, the streets have been seized mainly by non-Beirutis and non-upper class civilians. Meanwhile, the March 14 forces have held pro-government demonstrations in Tripoli last week, and yesterday in the Chouf, to pronounce their allegiance to Seniora. These civilians, who are higher up the social strata than those of Hezbollah have been forced out of the Beiruti symbol of materialism to the Mamluk features of Tripoli and the rural Cedar landscape of the Chouf.

I was talking this morning with a former member of Amal and former supporter of the March 8 movement. He was explaining to me how all of his friends have been spending thee past couple of weeks downtown hanging out around their tents and smoking arguileh most of the day. I asked him if he knew of any interesting details or stories. He told me that some entrepreneurs are taking advantage of their presence in the downtown area and have opened delivery shops for arguileh, manouches and lebanese mezza in Nazlit Sahyoun (Damascus Road which connects Sodeco Square with Downtown). The demonstrators can now order arguileh to their tent and payment takes place in one of two ways: either they pay for the service and then give the delivery person an ID which guarantees they return the arguileh, or, they pay for the service and pay an additional 15 000 LL deposit which they get refunded once they return the arguileh.

This former Amal member also informed me of the social incentive for many of the supporters to be present in Downtown. Groups of women go down because they know it is a place where groups of men with similar political and social views are there as well. Likewise, groups of men are going down knowing that it is an opportunity to meet women. However, given that Hezbollah political party organizers are present, no sexual activities have taken place and interaction between men and women have been limited to appropriate socializing.

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