Archive for April, 2010

Who needs scuds anyway…

29, April, 2010

In case you still weren’t convinced that Simon Peres’ Syria-supplies-Hezboollah-with-scud-rumour is just a dud, have a look at this attractive alternative option the Russians have on offer for your homegrown guerrilla movement: ‘Now it appears that Russia has entered the ready-to-use, weapon-in-a-box market. Reuters reports from Moscow that a Russian company is marketing a new cruise missile system which can be hidden inside a shipping container, potentially giving any merchant vessel the capability to wipe out an aircraft carrier. The Club-K was put on the market at the Defense Services Asia exhibition in Malaysia this week for $15 million. Debka reports that at the Malaysian exhibition, the marketing film showed the Club-K being activated from an ordinary truck. The truck pulls up and the container roof lifts up to reveal four cruise missiles ready to fire. The operator then pushes a button and the missiles, which have a range of 350 km, are launched without further preparation. Defense analysts say that potential customers for the Club-K system include Iran and Venezuela – and, in the words of the Telegraph, other “rogue bidders,” including terrorist groups. Reuters quotes Robert Hewson of Jane’s Defense Weekly to say that “at a stroke, the Club-K gives a long-range precision strike capability to ordinary vehicles that can be moved to almost any place on earth without attracting attention. The idea that you can hide a missile system in a box and drive it around without anyone knowing is pretty new,” said Hewson, who is editor of Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons. “Nobody’s ever done that before.”’

To see pics and specs of the K-12 Container Missile System, check out Friday Lunch Club here.

But of course, whether Peres’ contention was true or not was never the point. It was meant to provide a justification for war, and that it did: ‘While it remains uncertain whether Syria has provided Hizbullah with Scud missiles, as Israeli President Shimon Peres said two weeks ago, the Israeli charge unquestionably provides a major justification for the Israeli state to attack Hizbullah in the future, said Hilal Khashan, who teaches political studies at the American University of Beirut (AUB). “With or without the Scuds, there is a crisis now … of broad proportions,” he said. “We have a casus belli. There is a cause for war.” (…) In any case, the Scud crisis reaffirms that Lebanon sits firmly in the Iran and Syria-led camp opposing Israel and so would absorb the consequences should that enmity explode into war, [retired LAF general] Hanna added. “It means that Lebanon is really f****d,” he said.’

Laïque Pride and a Lebanese primer

26, April, 2010

Resuming after another few months of absence from the blog, let’s for a change not talk about impending wars (although the latest and much-ridiculed stab bu Shimon Peres at making us believe the nimble guerrilla fighters of Hezbollah would have any use for cumbersome Scud missiles does present a tempting occasion). Yesterday morning some 3,000 people showed up in downtown Beirut for a march demanding an end to sectarianism in Lebanon, carrying banners saying ‘Civil marriage, not civil war’, and shouting slogans such as ‘Shu tayftak? Ma khassak!’ (What’s your sect? None of your business!’).  The march has received wide coverage in the international press, see e.g. here, here and here. Despite the crowd being as young and photogenic as any in the Independence Intifade of 2005 (and much more diverse, as virtually every sect was represented), the problem remains – as Elias Muhanna argues here in the Guardian’s Comment is Free section – that nobody really knows (or agrees on) what exactly the concept of ‘secularisation’ would entail in a sectarian system such as the Lebanese. A law to install civil marriage is an obvious starting point on a road which logically would have to end in abolishing the entire Ottoman millet-like legal peculiarity which submits personal status issues of the individual (laws governing birth, death, marriage, divorce, inheritance and the like) to the religious courts run by his or her sect, resulting in widely divergent laws for different citizens of the same country. Additionally, this system is a severe impediment to inter-sect marriage. Currently, Lebanese (or foreigners and Lebanese) of different sects who want to marry face a choice between either one of them converting to the other’s religion or concluding a civil marriage abroad, typically in Cyprus, which is then paradoxically recognized by the Lebanese state after all. But there is also the sectarian distribution of every important, and many rather unimportant, government positions according to fixed quota for each religious group – from the maronite president and army commander via the sunni prime minister and the equal division of parliament seats between christians and muslims right down to the four greek-catholic ambassadors and the alawite assistant vice-secretary to the director of some minor government department. Obviously, this does not make for a system where the ablest person is automatically put in the position most suitable to him (or rather seldom, her).
On the other hand, this vagueness  also presents an opportunity to develop a system unquely suited to the Lebanese situation, as pointed out by another frequently chanted slogan at the demonstration: ‘La Turkiyyeh, la franjiyyeh, 3almaniyyeh lebneniyyeh!’ – meaning ‘(we don’t want) the turkish or the french (forms of) ‘laïcité, (we want) a Lebanese one!

Anyway, one of the main incentives to reform the current system is its immense complexity, which makes it a legedarily daunting task for journalists to explain in anything like a comprehensible fashion in the usual 800 words of a newspaper lead. I have spent some time recently writing a general ‘primer’ on Lebanese politics, trying to explain in some detail who is who and what is what, where the current situation is at, and how we got there. It is kind of a project in progress, but those interested can find the entire text (some 12 A4 pages) in its current state below. I used the most recent Valentine’s Day as an opening to hang the rest onto, which obviously is a bit outdated even now already, and by the time this project is finished (if indeed it ever will be…) I’ll have to think of a new opening but whatever, here goes: (more…)


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