Archive for July, 2008

Exchange

18, July, 2008

Interesting to see how all the Sinioras and Junblatts who have continually lambasted Hezbollah for 2 years over their ‘ill judgment’ in capturing Israeli soldiers in 2006, were falling over each other yesterday to bask in the glory of the eventual success of that action. Equally interesting to observe the ‘shocked’ reactions worldwide to the celebration in Lebanon. It is amazing how many people keep swallowing Israel’s version of the ‘Kuntar is a child killer’ story – i.e. he was convicted as such by an Israeli military (kangaroo) court, but has maintained during his trial and still maintains that the victims were actually killed by Israeli soldiers coming to ‘rescue’ them. (Israel typically never admitted this, and didn’t actually release the trial records until… last week). But even if he did kill them, what’s the difference with what the IDF has been doing and keeps doing in Occupied Palestine? The same goes for Dalal Mughriye – oh no, she killed innocent civilians! Well, I suggest all those ‘disgusted western liberals’ have a look around ‘our’ terrorism and wholesale killing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq right now – or in Palestine for that matter – rather than reserving their disgust for people who kill Israeli and western civilians only. I never heard those same people expressing their disgust earlier this year when Israel was celebrating 60 years of massacres, apartheid, land robbery, torture and systematic ethnic cleansing. Not to mention the consistent terrorizing of all its neighbouring countries. There are no terrorists, you see, there are only wars. And civilians are always the first and main victims of war – any war.
For an amusing sampling of the ‘shock and disgust’ of the ‘liberal circles’ at anybody stating the obvious, i.e., that violence is the only language that Israel understands (and speaks), have a look at the comments on this article on the Guardian’s website by Charles Harb, who teaches social psychology at the AUB here in Beirut: ‘Hizbullah’s success can be added to its already long list of achievements, and reminds Arab and Muslim audiences worldwide of the effectiveness of a steadfast resistance. In an Arab world used to humiliations and defeats, the list of achievements claimed by Hizbullah in the past decade is indeed noteworthy. The resistance movement was able to liberate most of Lebanon’s territory from a two decade-long Israeli occupation, conducted a successful prisoner exchange in 2004, broke the invulnerability myth of the Israeli Defence Forces in the 2006 war, and managed to return all Lebanese prisoners held in Israel this past week. Hizbullah’s charismatic leader has argued that his movement has never capitulated to Israeli demands, and thus never been defeated in its 25-year history – “the era of [Arab] defeats is over”. This is in stark contrast to what “Arab moderates” could show for in the same decade they spent negotiating with the Israeli state. The much-publicised and now barren “peace process” keeps edging “forward” through road maps, countless summits, visits, and vague “visions” of a Palestinian state that fails to materialise, and which remains as elusive as it did 60 years ago. Expanding Israeli settlements keep shrinking the space of a Palestinian state, and Israeli checkpoints still pepper the West Bank. Half the population are refugees scattered around the globe, and the other half live in confinement behind a segregation wall. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s repeated pleas for the release of some (if any) of the 11,500 Palestinians held prisoner keep falling on Israeli deaf ears. Only armed resistance seemed able to edge Israeli settlements and checkpoints out of the Gaza strip, and only Hamas seems able to force Israel into negotiating a prisoner release. Israel seems more likely to yield to the demands of resistance movements (Hamas, Hizbullah) than to friendly pleas and peace offers. This is a strong message that further undermines the US’s Arab allies.
(…) Current western support for Arab dictators and the associated labelling of resistance movements as terrorist organisations may not be to its best interest. Striking mutually beneficial deals with those that more closely represent Arab populations rather than with the corrupt dictators that rule them may have better long-term pay-offs.’

Hezbollah in action?

14, July, 2008

Weeks after a rather confused statement by the ‘supreme leader’ of the Phalangists, Amin Gemayyel, about Hezbollah takng over a mountain top near Sannine with ‘military installations’ (Gemayyel offered no proof or substantiation whatsoever), Debka-net (a paysite which I cannot directly quote) comes out with the following story (this quoted from Naharnet): ‘Hizbullah has reportedly set up radar-guided missile positions in Mount Sannine, commandeering the 7,800-foot mountain range, according to an Israeli news report. The report, carried by Debka-Net website, said that in the past few weeks Hizbullah, upon instructions from Iran, seized control of Mount Sannine which it described as a “strategic asset capable of determining the outcome of the next war.” It said radar-guided missile positions and an early warning station have since been deployed on Sannine peak, “which are capable of monitoring and threatening U.S. Sixth Fleet movements in the eastern Mediterranean and Israel Air Force flights.” Debka-Net said that this development was “serious enough for Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to repeat three times in as many days that the IDF is keeping a close watch on events in the northern front, especially the deepening ties between Syria and the Lebanese Hizbullah.” Sannine’s “takeover on behalf of Tehran places Israeli security at a grave disadvantage,” it said. The website quoted military sources as saying that “military movements carried out in the last two weeks by Hizbullah … can only be interpreted as preparations for war.”

Salafiye Lebnene

14, July, 2008

Mona Alami at IPS offers a rare and insightful article on the indigenous Lebanese salafist movements in Tripoli (as opposed to the Palestinian ones in the camps) and their foreign and local sponsors:‘The intricate political and social fabric within the various Salafist movements is deeply divided, as with the rest of Lebanon. Not only are Islamic factions in Tripoli manipulated by foreign powers, but they are also pawns in the hands of local politicians, who use them in their political game. “By radicalising people, political factions can guarantee a larger base of supporters in the upcoming 2009 parliamentary elections. Salafists, like many others, are lured by false Messiahs,” says Sheikh Chaaban, referring to the role of politicians in the ongoing violent conflict in Tripoli between Sunnis (including radical Islamists) and a pro-Syrian minority.
Different sources interviewed by IPS report that most Salafists seem to follow the government’s majority bloc, while other radical Sunni factions, such as Tawhid, are sponsored by either Syria or Iran, and hence, support the opposition.
“Most Salafists are allied to the Saudis and, thus, aligned with American Middle East policy. They maintain excellent relations with the government and the Hariri family,” says Bakri. The Hariris are a powerful Lebanese political clan with strong ties to Saudi Arabia. Saad Hariri, son of slain prime minister Rafik Hariri, heads the majority parliamentary coalition in Lebanon.
According to a source, who chose to remain anonymous due to the topic’s sensitivity, many Salafist preachers are on the payroll of Arab embassies located in Lebanon. Bakri says this support can be partly explained by Sunnis’ growing fear of Lebanese Shias, represented by Hezbollah. Bakri believes that although Fateh el-Islam (a terrorist group that battled the Lebanese army at the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in Tripoli for over three months in 2007) might have been spawned by Syrian intelligence, it was then probably hijacked by local political factions from both sides of the divide. “This can be clearly observed in the series of bombings orchestrated by Fateh el-Islam, as some were condemned by their leader Chaker el-Absi while others were condoned, indicating conflict within the organisation.” As for al-Qaeda’s possible hand in Lebanon’s growing Salafist movement, the country’s diverse sectarian landscape and traditional allegiance of Sunnis to the government has in fact hindered its influence. Although the organisation might have many staunch supporters who believe in the ideology it advocates, it has not necessarily been able to achieve an infrastructure. According to IPS sources, most Salafist movements in Tripoli have regular contacts with the police, military or intelligence, and are being supplied with weapons. Allouch believes that most Islamist factions are now armed. ‘

Unbelievable! They did it!

11, July, 2008

It’s finally there, the new government! They managed to divide the spoils, and in only 2 months time…
So how does it work out? There are 30 ministers in all, 16 of them appointed by M14, 11 by M8 (the famous ‘blocking third’) and 3 more by the president.
M14 got the prime minister (Siniora), finance, culture and education (Future), environment and justice (Lebanese Forces, although somebody had the decency not to give either to Geagea himself…), economy & trade (Tripoli Bloc), transport & public works (Junblatt’s PSP), tourism (Phalanges), information and administrative development (independents) and the ministry of the displaced (independent). Plus some ‘ministers of state’, whatever that means – there are some for the opposition and the president’s men too.
Suleiman’s appointees include defence (Elias Murr, succeeding himself) and interior (Ziad Baroud), i.e. guaranteeing the neutrality of the army and police forces.
The opposition hold a deputy prime minister, social affairs and telecommunications (Aoun’s FPM), foreign affairs, industry and health (Amal), labour (Hezbollah), agriculture (Skaff, Popular Bloc), youth & sports (Arslan) and energy & water (Tashnag, an Armenian party).

So after all the demonstrations of street power, we have one (1) Hezbollah minister (Mohammed Fneish) in the government, i.e. 2 (or 3?) less than in the former cabinet?

Confessionally speaking, there are 6 sunni ministers (all M14), 6 maronites (M14, M8 & Suleyman), 6 shia (including an independent with M14), 3 orthodox, 3 druze, 3 catholics and 2 armenians (one M14, one M8). Surely this is not a coincidental constellation. Observe that the only sect to be represented in just one of the sides is the sunni who are all (affiliated) with Hariri. All other confessions are divided over M14 and opposition (and/or Suleimans appointees).

A balanced gender representation, on the other hand, was clearly not an issue: there is one single woman to be found in the entire 30-member cabinet (Bahia Hariri on education)…

Soccer again

7, July, 2008

Karim Makdisi writes an excellent article about the politics of football – and its politicization, aslo mentioning the ‘Hezbollah’ team’s al-’Ahd’s recent win of the league competition – and why there was nobody there to see it: The events of the past three years have produced two definitive moments that further illustrate the Lebanese authorities’ attitude and explain why Lebanon’s soccering future will remain bleak, just like all national projects in Lebanon, so long as the existing political class and system remains in place. The first was the Council of Minister’s decree in 2005 preventing fans from attending club matches, meaning that such matches were held behind closed doors, a most demoralizing punishment generally used by soccer associations worldwide to sanction clubs in extreme cases of crowd trouble. The explanation for this Council of Ministers’ decision was that this was a pre-emptive measure to avoid sectarian trouble-making among Lebanon’s partisan fans. Considering that the overtly sectarian nature of the political discourse served by the political hacks and politicians broadcast on television 24 hours a day was never seriously addressed, this decision reinforced a clear philosophy of Lebanon’s ruling political class: ‘only we get to control and distribute sectarian poison.’ Perish the thought that the ‘Lebanese street’ might initiate or take control of its own destiny, or that this ‘street’ might actually behave in a more dignified manner than its leaders. Such a scenario — genuine national unity, national reconciliation outside of official control—is the biggest threat to the established sectarian order in Lebanon. Even in light of the Doha Agreement of 21 May, the Council of Minister’s decree remains in effect and there is no reason to think that it will be rescinded in the near future.
The second illustrative moment occurred during the recent world cup qualifying round matches against Saudi Arabia. It is customary worldwide that group matches include ‘home’ and ‘away’ matches for the teams drawn together. On 2 June, Lebanon played Saudi Arabia ‘away’ in Riyadh, performing fairly well until the closing stages when a clear lack of fitness meant that the close 1-2 score became 1-4. For the ‘home’ game scheduled five days later (7 June), Lebanon naturally should have played in Beirut. However, presumably due to the on-going political and security problems, Lebanon agreed to play its ‘home’ again outside of Lebanon. Still, when a ‘home’ team is compelled to play abroad (this is normally the world federation’s decision taken in exceptional circumstances, as usually national federations fight quite hard to retain their home advantage), it selects a neutral country to play in, preferably one that would still give it some kind of advantage in terms of support. So, Lebanon could have played in a nearby venue with Lebanese expatriates such as Damascus, Amman or even Cyprus.
As it happens, Lebanon’s ‘home’ game fixture was scheduled nearly three weeks following the Doha Agreement and selection of Lebanese President when there was a positive mood, so Lebanon could easily have demanded to play its game—a crucial tie by then that would determine if it had any chance of staying in the tournament—in Beirut. It is easy to imagine the following scenario: the Doha accords produced a positive national mood, the tents in downtown Beirut were lifted, Lebanese flags waved everywhere, nationalist music broadcast, so why not unite behind a national soccer team as a unifying event? Why not at least play in Doha? No, the Lebanese authorities sanctioned what this writer believes to be an unprecedented decision to play its ‘home’ game against Saudi Arabia in….Saudi Arabia. Much can be said about the fact that Lebanon’s parliamentary majority leader and Prime Minister in waiting, Sa’ad Hariri, is a Saudi subject and that Lebanon’s political class on both sides of the political divide panders to Saudi’s petrodollars (the opposition did not protest this unseemly episode). However, the most likely explanation for this incredible decision—Lebanon was trounced 3-0, and in its final match against Singapore, only ten players bothered to even show up for the final practice match—is that Lebanon’s authorities simply do not care. They are unimaginative, incapable of thinking or planning for a nation or national projects as their interests do not reside in such endeavors.’

And no, there is no national unity government yet. Or any government. The latest episode in this at times very entertaining sitcom has Samir Geagea demanding the Ministry of Justice. The mind cannot but boggle…..


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