Updates on #YouStink

Sami Atallah of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies has a concise piece on the waste collection issue that was the direct reason for the ongoing protests (which last night swa the wiorst police violence yet, with mass arrests, not covered live by any Lebanese media as far as I can tell.

“The root of the problem goes back to the mid-1990s when the government contracted a private company to collect waste in Beirut at twice the amount that the municipality would have charged. However, the government chose to ignore the numbers. Since then, the value of the contract has increased much faster than the scope of work originally slated for the private company, which started with an estimate of $3.6 million in 1994 and has increased to more than $150 million today. In fact, the cost of solid waste collection has been increasing at an average of 5% in real terms since 2002. Furthermore, the contracting was devoid of any competitive bidding and the details of the contract remain confidential. Consequently, Lebanese pay one of the highest costs per ton for garbage collection in the world. Furthermore, the government has decided to tap the Independent Municipal Fund (IMF), a trust fund whose money is allocated to all municipalities, to foot the bill. Since the private company will not provide services for all the municipalities in the country, the government issued a decree (article 1 of Decree 3038 of 2000) that gives the Council of Ministers the authority to spend IMF money on works that can benefit some but not all municipalities. The Court of Account considered the above amendment to be in violation of the principle that deductions should benefit all municipalities as stated in Decree 1917 of 1979.   Following the adoption of Budget Law 326 of 2001, the government was authorized to charge municipalities benefiting from solid waste collection services 40% of their IMF share. What is strange is that the 40% of a municipality’s IMF share has no bearing on the actual cost of collecting garbage for that municipality. In other words, citizens do not know whether the cost charged to municipalities is more or less or equal to how much it is actually costing the government. Looking closely at the numbers, the total amount collected from the municipalities’ IMF shares covers about 22% of the actual cost of collecting waste in 2009. When I once asked the Ministry of Finance how the remaining 78% is covered, I was told that the Council for Development and Reconstruction was paying for it but registering it as debt for municipalities. So not only is the government using the municipalities’ funds, also it is not informing them of the real cost of the service they are providing and that they are accumulating debts for a service they did not ask for.”

Middle East Eye has more on the increasing irrelevance of the original organising platform which is being overtaken by the people in the streets: ”

“Lundi, le communiqué publié par le mouvement « You Stink » ne comportait pas la mention de la chute du gouvernement, ce qui expose un clivage au sein de la mobilisation, selon Marie-Noëlle Abi Yaghi : « La rue le demande, les slogans chantés appellent à la démission, c’est donc grave de ne pas le mentionner dans un communiqué, c’est comme si on n’écoutait pas le peuple. Le terme d’« organisateurs » est déjà étrange ! Un mouvement social appartient à la rue, pas aux réseaux sociaux. En traitant certaines personnes de voyous, on ne se pose pas les vraies questions, on reproduit les clivages libanais habituels entre ceux qui souhaitent une loi et ceux qui veulent renverser le système. J’ai peur que ce mouvement s’essouffle de lui-même, alors que la vraie force est celle de la rue ».

Même si la mention « démission » n’est pas comprise dans le communiqué de « You Stink », elle semble bien être le but du mouvement. « La démission du gouvernement, ainsi que la tenue de nouvelles élections législatives, est évidente car aucun des députés ni des ministres n’est capable de répondre à nos revendications », déclare à MEE Lucien Bourjeily. « Ils nous disent ‘’on ne peut rien faire’’, donc si ce n’est pas en leur pouvoir, pourquoi ne pas organiser des élections pour élire les gens qui auront ce pouvoir ? Cela revient au peuple de choisir ses propres représentants. C’est très basique : on leur dit de faire quelque chose s’ils le peuvent, et s’ils ne le font pas, ils devront laisser la place à d’autres qui pourront. »

Il mentionne aussi la notion de « long-terme », car « le changement ne va pas se faire en une nuit », et appelle les manifestants à « persister, et tenir contre la corruption ».

Devant le Parlement, dans les manifestations qui ont suivi les violences de dimanche soir, bien que moins nombreuses et unitaires, les Libanais présents tiennent un discours plus ferme, évacuant de fait la question des casseurs. « Ce n’est pas grave s’il y a des dégâts », estime ainsi Anthony*, 30 ans, venu lundi soir. « Si les gens veulent arrêter maintenant, on va garder le même gouvernement ! Les gens qui ont organisé les manifestations ce week-end ont de bonnes intentions, mais ils n’ont pas forcément l’expérience pour mener à bout une telle mobilisation. C’est nouveau au Liban. »

Une nouveauté que met également en avant la chercheuse de Lebanon Support : « C’est un moment très important pour les Libanais. J’ai rarement vu autant de gens descendre dans la rue pour des raisons économiques et sociales, c’est exceptionnel ! ».”

Meanwhile, the political caste just remains mired in its own inefficiency and corruption: ”

“Lebanon’s cabinet ended an acrimonious meeting on Tuesday with no solution to a trash crisis that has sparked violent protests and calls for the government’s resignation.

Impromptu protests on Tuesday descended into violence once more in the evening, as a small group of young men threw rocks at Lebanese security forces.

After more than five hours of talks, the cabinet decided to reject a list of tenders for waste management contracts across Lebanon and refer the problem to a ministerial committee.

“Given the high prices (quoted by would-be contractors), the council of ministers has decided not to approve the tenders and is charging the ministerial committee with finding alternatives,” a cabinet statement said.

The decision came after a session that saw six ministers from one political bloc walk out.

For months, the 18-month-old government has been paralysed by political disagreements between its two main blocs, rendering decision-making virtually impossible.”

Also interesting (albeit translated into horrendously bad English) is this interview on the interplay of class and sect in Lebanon and the way it is exploited by the elite, given last year by the late Bassam Chit of Socialist Forum:

In one of your speeches you argued that, “sectarianism is not a tribal or feudal tradition, but it is actually developed by capitalism in Lebanon. It’s rather a modern story not a traditional story. Sectarianism is actually a distorted class struggle, not related with tradition”. Can you tell more about the class consciousness within a society which is claimed to be sectarian?

The idea is that you have to seperate two things; the class struggle as a material existence which is an objective reality within any capitalist system and the idea how people take up ideas to understand it. So any person that is trying to make sense of reality. Within these contradictions, for instance, if we look at the development of the economy in Lebanon, we have the France in the first of all that started investing in the Christian areas of Lebanon during the control of Ottoman Empire through deals. That meant that a new economy was developing in one area when the other areas stays in the old economy. So we had silk factories being erected in Mount Lebanon in the Christian areas, you have a new working force developing, a diminishing feudal class and a rising petite bourgeois class.

In 1860, we had the –what they call- a civil war which was actually a peasant uprising which included Maronite, Shiite, Sunni and Druze peasants against the feudal lords. But the new Christian bourgeoisie and Christian feudal lords allied with the Druze feodal lords temporarily in crashing the peasant revolt. So in that sense it wasn’t a civil war, what we had was a peasant uprising. Later on, the leaders of this peasant uprising changed their rhetoric from peasant revolt to a sectarian discourse of protecting Christians. But we have to see that the first attempt was to crash the revolt and shift to a sectarian position from the ruling classes at that time.

So within that sense, we have to understand there are two dynamics that happened. You have the conditions of class struggle rising from the ground. People started to perceive it but they perceived it based on a tradition of ideas. When we move to later on, we had a very powerful Christian political elite by the day of independence because of their economic developments. At the same time, we had a very powerful commercial elite within Beirut which is around the Sunni community. In the meantime, we also had a much weakened feudal structure in the mountains in the Druze areas and the Shia areas in the south. At the start of the civil war by the 1970’s due to the deterioration of feudal structures meaning the deterioration of peasant economy, people were moving more and more towards the cities. When you move towards the cities, you see the injustice in the economic structure. That meant the state which was controlled by the Kataeb or the right wing Christian parties attempted to gain their legitimacy through the sectarian practices. That means, for example, facilitating the Christian workers while not allowing Shia workers to benefit or vice versa.”

I am still working on the English translation and update of my piece (in Dutch) published by DeWereldMorgen, but the constantly evolving situation means I need to go back and rewrite things all the time, so hopefully by tomorrow…

Breaking: Turkish government concerned about the ‘territorial integrity and political unity of Syria’!

Simply touching, this newfound concern of the Turkish regime about the ‘territorial integrity and political unity of Syria’… especially as expressed in their intention to occupy part of Syria’s territory and exclude the majority of the Syrians living there from playing any role in controlling that territory…

“Cavusoglu said Syrian Kurdish PYD militia forces, which have proved a useful ally on the ground for Washington as it launched air strikes on Islamic State elsewhere in Syria, would not have a role in the “safe zone” that the joint operations aim to create, unless they changed their policies.

Ankara is concerned that the PYD and its allies aim to unite Kurdish cantons in northern Syria and fear those ambitions will stoke separatist sentiment among its own Kurds.

“Yes, the PYD has been fighting Daesh … But the PYD is not fighting for the territorial integrity or political unity of Syria. This is unacceptable,” Cavusoglu said.

“We prefer that the moderate opposition forces actually control the safe zone, or Daesh-free areas, in the northern part of Syria, not the PYD, unless they change their policies radically in that sense.”

You Stink! as the next color revolution?

“What began as an expression of legitimate grievances, however, quickly spiraled into the world’s latest Color Revolution attempt.”

Korybko is seriously getting ahead of himself here. Maybe in a few weeks or months this will sound like a prophetic statement, but right now it is a serious stretch of the imagination and most of all: Korybko is strangely mixing up the different sides and parties: if anybody it is (some of) the organisers of the original ‘peaceful’ protest who are the ones with ties to the NED/USAID/OTPOR complex, while the ‘radical youth who started throwing rocks and petrol bombs at police officers’ are squarely and decidedly on the other side. So the specific scenario Korybko proposes here requires drastic suspension of disbelief…

As a general point, of course, it is valid: the organisers of the protests already seem to have lost control over the crowds and are running behind events – first announcing a suspension of the protests, then realising nobody listens to them and the protests continue anyway, then rushing to call people to join the protests after all…

It is worth remembering how very similar protests in Syria and elsewhere have been infiltrated/taken over very quickly by armed elements controlled by various interested outside and inside parties. With a fragmented state like Lebanon, where not only different regions but different institutions and departments are controlled by different factions, and with pre-existing entrenched group identities which people very quickly (are forced to) return to when shit hits the fan, the risk of protest, unrest and violence being exploited or pushed into a certain direction by either Lebanese regime factions or ‘outside interests’ is very real. The protesters should be aware of that and closely guard against it to preserve their own agency.

On the other hand, the question is how can they possibly do so? The country is, as always, flooded with weapons, filled to the brim with refugees from the Syrian and Palestinian war zones, divided into bitterly opposed sectarian and political sides, with a large diaspora continuously entering and leaving the country. Powerful embassies, such as the US, French, Saudi, Qatari and Iranian to name the most obvious ones, control entire Lebanese constituencies and have massive political influence. Moreover, the course of any evolution in the country can be drastically changed if the southern nuisance decides to raise its ugly head in attack again (as it is continuously threatening to do in its eternal delusional plans to ‘finish off Hizbullah once and for all’)…

So many factors are beyond control that predictions are virtually senseless.

“Lebanese protesters demonstrated in Beirut this weekend as part of the “You Stink” movement, which was organized by citizens fed up with the garbage that had been piling up in their streets for weeks.

What began as an expression of legitimate grievances, however, quickly spiraled into the world’s latest Color Revolution attempt.

Some radical youth started throwing rocks and petrol bombs at police officers (uncannily reminiscent of the earlier hijacking of the peaceful-intentioned “Electric Yerevan” protests), which resulted in a forceful counter-response that was then immediately used to ‘justify’ the movement’s transformation into one of open regime change ends.

The thing is, however, Lebanon doesn’t really have a functioning government to begin with, having been without a President for over a year. If the Prime Minister steps down as he threatened to do, then it would create an unprecedented constitutional crisis that might bring the formerly civil war-torn and multi-confessional state back to the brink of domestic conflict.

Any significant destabilization in Lebanon is bound to have a serious impact on Syria, which would be put in a difficult position by the potential cutoff of the strategic Beirut-to-Damascus highway and the possible redeployment of valuable Hezbollah fighters back to their homeland.”

You stink!

http://www.dewereldmorgen.be/artikel/2015/08/24/straatprotesten-libanon-trotseren-brutale-repressie

This is an article I wrote (in Dutch) on the protests going on in Beirut last weekend and which are continuing today, despite the original organisers seemingly doing their utmost best to call them off and to exclude as many people as possible…

An English translation will follow tomorrow insh’allah…

Meanwhile, this is an interview I did a few years ago with some of the people who are also involved in the demos today.

http://mepei.com/in-focus/372-we-want-to-reform-the-system-not-become-the-nineteenth-sect

And the spy wars continue…

A thorough treatment of all the Israeli stooges caught in Lebanon over the past three years is here. It is written by Nour Samaha, who poses the obvious question: if Lebanon’s telecom operators have been infiltrated by Israeli henchmen to the level where they had access to passwords and software enabling them to change data, including ttrack records of calls and names associated with phones, where does that leave the STL investigation? The STL has accused first Syria and then Hizbullah of being behind Hariri’s murder, but all their evidence – besides being circumstantial and inconclusive even in  their own admission – is based on telecom data… unless you count the paid false witnesses which have already been discarded.

Meanwhile, the Iranians have apparently captured a US drone – presumably using the same hacking techniques employed by Hizbullah and the Mahdi Army of Muqtada Al Sadr since at least 2004, and the Israelis were forced (again!) to blow up one of their eavesdropping devices after it was discovered by Hizbullah. An “Iranian military official quoted on Iranian state television claimed that an Iranian military cyber-warfare unit “managed to take over controls of the drone and bring it down”. This on top of the CIA being forced to close down its Beirut station (or at least pretend to do so). Seems the powers that (used to) be are getting seriously sloppy and complacent these days… Only question is: if HA can control the Israeli drones, why did they allow them to blow up their telecoms toy? Or are they playing on US/Israeli hubris and reserving the big surprise for a more appropriate occasion?

PS On HA’s technical capabilities, see also Abu Muqawama (aka Andrew Exum)’s interview with Nick Blanford here – although regardless of Exum’s praise for Blanford, I maintain that he should not be taken at face value, as he has been employed by the Hariri faction and wrote a entire hagiographic, biased and totally flawed book about Hariri;s murder which was literally paid for and distributed by Saad Hariri.

PS2 Rumours are doing the rounds that the Iranians downed the Lockheed-Boeing drone using the ‘special Russian-made radio-electronic warfare system ‘Avtobaza’ delivered to Iranians few weeks ago’. This, incidentally, points to the greater war games going on behind the Iran/Syria/HA vs US/Israel- screen, and which involve Russia and China on the former side – still covertly and timidly now, but I would not be surprised if the Chinese were to announce soon that they had placed nuclear missiles in Iran – just in case anybody would stop barking and think of actually biting… I have said it before: whenever capitalism faces a structural and systemic global crisis, it needs to start a global war to save its skin. Whether the coming exercise in global slaughter will be won by neo-liberal capitalism or by state capitalism remains to be seen, however…

Hizbullah’s technical prowess

Several articles have appeared recently in the US which finally have the CIA acknowledging that their Lebanese station and network of informers have been virtually dismantled by Hizbullah, closely on the heels of HA finishing off the Israeli network of spies in 2009. See here and here, as well as here for a Lebanese perspective. That basically means that the Israel/US combine has lost a lot of its ability to independently assess HA’s military and will now have to rely on its Lebanese M14 partners, who are not only notoriously unreliable and prone to exaggerate or belittle facts as it suits them, but also have very little inside information on HA themselves. In a separate article, Nicholas Blanford also discusses HA’s military capabilities and its possible reaction to a potential Israeli and/or US attack on Iran. Now, Blanford is himself virtually a mouthpiece of the M14/Hariri camp and certainly not likely to have access to HA insiders, but much of what he argues in the article is common knowledge in Lebanon anyway, or can be deduced by simple common sense. Obviously, in a climate of constant warmongering of Israel and the US (and even the UK recently has joined the chorus) against Iran, HA will work out a contingency plan – they did that a long time ago already, and Blanford’s suggestion of dramaticvally expanded recruitment into HA’s military is just for propaganda purposes – neatly coinciding with the CIA’s admission – and why now, after months of official denial, as many ask – of its failure in Lebanon.

But the real question is: will the ‘western’ side actually be as foolishly suicidal to actually attack Iran militarily? Rationally speaking, they don’t stand a chance to achieve any military objective in doing so – not even taking out the ‘nuclear capabilities’ of Iran, if indeed any capabilities beyond energy generation are present, which has never been proven yet. The new IAEA report does not offer a single new fact or shred of evidence, its new chief has just rewritten and re-interpreted old known data to suit the US and Israel’s purposes. On the other hand, as an overwhelming majority of analysts and commentators keep pointing out, Iran has enormous capabilities of more conventional retaliation, starting with closing off the street of Hormuz and with it 40% of the world’s oil supply (and a far greater percentage of the ‘west’s oil supply), continuing with HA and Hamas attacking and possibly invading Israel and possibly even escalating to the point where China, Russia and India decide that they cannot afford to have an important business partner undergo the fate of Iraq or Afghanistan.

Then again, at times when capitalism is undergoing a major global crisis – as it must in its perpetual boom-and-bust cycle – the way out has historically involved starting a major global war. As anti-capitalist protests are growing in size around the globe, and most threateningly in the core areas of the capitalist system, this is becoming an increasingly attractive possibility for the elite. Additionally, Israel and the US may decide that, having lost what eyes and ears they had inside HA, this might be the last opportunity to have a go at destroying it with any chance – however slim – of succeeding. In any case, if the ‘west’ is foolish enough to actually start that war, the outcome will be the end of Israel as we know it – and the end of a lot more of the world as we know it…

Update: 12 more CIA assets have reportedly been arrested in Iran. Here is a debunking of what seems to be a desparate damage control effort of the Mossad, who have not realised yet that their carefully crafted Hollywood glamour image is no longer fooling anyone…

In the middle of the west

Since I returned to Belgium last September, my blogging activity has sort of moved to my facebook account – somehow, I never really succeeded to make a satisfactory link in my mind between blogging about Lebanon and blogging about Belgium/Europe. I have also been very busy professionally and with our new family. And yet all the time – at least from the birth of our daughter on the very  first day of the Tunisian uprising on December 18th last year, the connexion has been staring me in the face. As Juan Cole puts it very eloquently on Tomdispatch:

‘If we focus on economic trends, then the neoliberal state looks eerily similar, whether it is a democracy or a dictatorship, whether the government is nominally right of center or left of center.  As a package, deregulation, the privatization of public resources and firms, corruption and forms of insider trading, and interference in the ability of workers to organize or engage in collective bargaining have allowed the top 1% in Israel, just as in Tunisia or the United States, to capture the lion’s share of profits from the growth of the last decades.

Observers were puzzled by the huge crowds that turned out in both Tunis and Tel Aviv in 2011, especially given that economic growth in those countries had been running at a seemingly healthy 5% per annum. “Growth,” defined generally and without regard to its distribution, is the answer to a neoliberal question.  The question of the 99% percent, however, is: Who is getting the increased wealth?  In both of those countries, as in the United States and other neoliberal lands, the answer is: disproportionately the 1%.

If you were wondering why outraged young people around the globe are chanting such similar slogans and using such similar tactics (including Facebook “flash mobs”), it is because they have seen more clearly than their elders through the neoliberal shell game.’

As Cole puts it: the focus of our corporate mass media in the ‘west’ on the emergence of islamist parties in ‘democratized’ Middle East is a conscious orientalisation intended to divert attention from the obvious similarities between the elites and their imposed economic system in east and west alike. The Muslim Brotherhood coming to (some) power is in no way different from the christian parties who have dominated or participated in European governments for over a hundred years. And Ben Ali’s family dominating the banking system and economy of Tunisia is not different from, say, Dehaene, Schouppe, Daems and all these neoliberal corrupt Belgian politicians selling public assets to their cronies for ridiculously cheap prices, then going on to sit on the boards of the corporations who benefited. The point is that our financial and political elites share all the wealth between them that was created by generations of tax payers, and then leaving those tax payers to pay for the resulting loss of income and debts incurred by ‘their’ state. Odious debts here as in Egypt, Greece or the US.

And the same protest movements are springing up here as there. The 99% are finally opening their eyes and this will have a serious effect globally in the next few years. Even if capitalism succeeds in plunging the world into another world war – which is what happens after every serious ‘crisis’, and is fully part of the cycle of the capitalist system – people might still succeed in toppling the oppressive government systems. Both the revolutions of 1789 and 1917 happened as a result of disastrous wars. It is time to get on with the unfinished business of 1789 in particular. Separating the executive, legislative and judicial powers was a step in the right direction, but neglecting to also separate and strictly regulate the economic and information powers (i.e. education and media) has rendered this separation practically meaningless, as wealthy individuals still have the power to buy the officials – whether elected or appointed – manning our  legislative, executive and judicial institutions.

The power – and subservience to the 1% – of the media becomes obvious just by observing how the only country that has managed to resolve its financial problems in a truly democratic way – i.e. Iceland – is totally blacked out from the news, while the mere proposal of Greek prime minister Papandreou of submitting the ‘solution’ of austerity measures to the people was enough to get him dismissed, while all of our ‘democratic’ European leaders were shouting and screaming about such a ‘disastrous’ proposal. While the new government of Iceland has issued international arrest warrants for its own banksters, our own governments continue to sacrifice their sovereignty and our democracy to unelected and privately owned ratings agencies and banksters.

How long until the guillotine makes its glorious return to decapitate the nouveau ancien regime?