Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tribes with Flags

O Tempora O mores,

Gone is the secular nationalism of those Arab leaders of yore. More importantly, gone is the greater achievement of Lebanon's "Cedar Revolution", the great March 14th Universalistic rally. We will soon emulate the Jewish tribe and each try to carve out our own "canton" again. We tried to wake up in March 14, 2005, but the inertia may be too strong. Today, Islamic fundamentalists are on the rise.

.الله يستر While it has enough to quench the fire, it has more to keep it burning; UNSC Resolution 1701 will fail. It will only serve as an “intermission”, give time to the warring tribes to regroup; this war may only be “a foretaste of larger furies to come”.

Let us review the actors of this bloody farce.

Israel: the Jewish Tribe

Gone are the Universalistic ideals of early Zionists. Israel has been overtaken by a wave of base ethnic feelings. No, Israel’s unilateralism is not the problem; it is a symptom of this new tribalism. As Israeli leaders ignore the lessons of history, this disease continues spreading.

As I watch cute Jewish kids writing cute words on bombs destined to cute Lebanese kids. After this latest bout, Israeli popular has "Ben-Ladinised" Hassan Nasrallah, "Talibanised" Hezbollah, and in the process, lost all empathy.

Still, while they cannot allow Hezb to regroup, by they do not know how to stop this from happening. When the soul searching is over, when the accounting is done, and Israel recovers from its bloody nose, then they will regroup, under new leadership.

Syria and Lebanon: The Warring Tribes of “Greater Syria

Soon after March 14th, the Sunnis (Hariri) made a deal with the Shiites (Hezb/Nasrallah and Amal/Berri) and the Druze (Joumblat, a.k.a Svengali) to circumvent the Christians (no Leader there; if you think Aoun and Geagea, think again). As expected, the Christians split, with most of them supporting Aoun who made a deal with Syria's ex-henchmen (Murr, a.k.a Schuschnigg), and Geagea carping out to the Sunnis. The alliance of anti-Syrian Sunni and pro-Syrian Shiites won the day, but Aoun managed his upset.

Alawite: Overlords of Syria. For now…

I will not get into debating who the Alawites are, or how many there are. The fact is: they rule Syria. They have ransacked the country’s economy, and profited enormously from the occupation of Lebanon.

As Syria’s oil reserves dwindle, their mafia-government cannot not easily give up the juicy morsels of Lebanon's carcass so easily; after all, didn't the Baath and the National Socialist ideal prophesize an Anshluss, reuniting a "same people" separated in "two countries"? Most Lebanese leaders, ex-lackeys of Syria, have neither spine nor brains left, but their US and French backers are not such easy targets for the Alawites.

Unfortunately for Syrians, “Talis pater, talis filius” does not apply to their myopic leader, Bachar, son of Hafez el Assad. By turning Syria into a Sunni gateway to Iraq, and a Shiite gateway to Lebanon, he is only strengthening his future enemies. In their fear of losing control over Syria, the Alawites turned it into Iranian vassal state. They hope to regain a measure of control over Lebanon by fanning the flames in that country; but they may be making things worse in the long run.

Don't you love that picture? Bashar is sooo happy. Sieg Heil. But he does not hold as many cards as he thinks. Iran reminded him who's boss, via Hezb MP Hussein Hajj Hassan; in response to his diatribe against the Lebanese government, "the Hezbollah [stated that he] does not agree with Assad's statement on March 14th Movement". Then again, it could all be doulbe talk...

Sunni: Well Financed

Many Lebanese have reached a certain accommodation with Syria, but it failed in the face of greed. After their bad experience with the PLO, the Sunni had tried working within the system in Lebanon. But the government remains weak, and the institutions still infiltrated by Syrian agents. It is not clear what direction they will take; next to the Christians, they may be the least tribal of Lebanese Communities. Except for the northern part of the country, many of the merchants that made modern Lebanon are Sunni Moslems.

There are, however, strong Sunni Fundamentalist undercurrents, nurtured mostly during Syria’s tenure as Lebanon’s overlord. Saad Hariri had to kiss-up to Sunni fundamentalist; witness the strange events in February 5th, when the civil war almost restarted as the Ahbash and Jamaa Islamiya attacked churches and burned the Danish Consulate/Embassy.

Those fundamentalists are not necessarily aligned with Hezb. Sunni and Shiite interests remain unaligned; during the civil war, when Sunni Mufti Hassan Khalid called for the freedom of Palestinian guerrilla action, he was opposed by Shiite Leaders, grouped behind Imam Musa al-Sadr.

Then Aoun made a deal with Hezb and the Shiites; his presidential candidacy was at stake... All the while, Nasrallah and Hezb were consolidating their power, their Shiite state within the mess. This shortsighted approach, however, may not work on the long run; in the presence of a weak Lebanese government and an ineffective army, all the inhabitants of Lebanon stands to lose. The Sunnis may not be very active in teh militia scene, but they are well funded, and the Saudis may not kindly look upon a growing Shiite influence in an Arab country.

The Leaderless Christians and the Druze Svengali.

There is no “Christian Tribe”; this remains true as long as Dinosaurs such as Aoun, Geagea, Gemayel, Murr, and others are still in “power”. To consolidate their “power” within the community, Christian “Leaders” have to find support from outside the community. Some like Geagea and Gemayel compensate for their lack of popularity with money, and align themselves with the Hariri clan in the “March 14th Forces”. Others, like Aoun, compensate for their lack of appeal outside the community by aligning themselves with Hezb.

So what of the “Christian Tribe”? Its leaders are divided. While it remains to be seen whether Aoun’s alignment with Hezb will lose him support, the other leaders are despised by most. Most people are broke, or have emigrated, or both. But in this global atmosphere of “clash of civilizations”, the terrain is now free for a well funded demagogue to take it over. It is a little known fact that most Arab immigrants are Christian Lebanese, a potentially powerful source of funding.

Yet this war brought in a new factor. The fighting has destroyed the Southern part of the country, but it has ruined the rest. Most of the small businesses that lost money in this venture are the Christians and Druze of Mount Lebanon; this will be demonstrated in the rise of non-performing loans. In Lebanon, credit has grown over the years of “peace”; if we consider that 100,000 businesses have taken loans averaging about US$ 100,000, the amount of non-performing loans may reach US$ 10,000,000,000. Personally, I have no doubt that this figure will prove to be a low estimate.

Add to this the fact that those businesses were the ones subsidizing other tribes. Shiites, at least those that enjoyed the patronage of Amal and Hezb, rarely paid for public services. This fact is demonstrated by the huge deficit of Lebanon’s mismanaged power company, EDL; the company collects almost no money from areas dominated by Hezb and Amal.

Extremism will then be faced with renewed extremism, in the absence of a state, an alliance among Druze, Christians, and Sunni may materialize. This will be especially the case when many businessmen would come to see a war more cost-effective than continuing to placate the Shiite tribe.

I am afraid that such shifty shenanigans would get all the Lebanese in an even bigger mess. I do trust none of the Svengali-in-training who claim to rule Lebanon. Soon after March 14th, when we gave them a mandate to create a "real country, Joumblatt maneuvered with Saad Hariri to block Aoun’s ascent and bring back pro-Syrian Parliament Speaker Berri, and get his help in replacing pro-Syrian President Lahoud with another patsy. Aoun’s success in the election unraveled this little alliance, and got us in the blocked politics that lead to this war.

Shiites: Armed to the Teeth

The Shiites were historically the downtrodden of the Middle East. Until the rise of Hezb, they were not officially recognized, and had little political power. Now, with their enormous arsenal and Iran’s backing, they became the single most powerful tribe on the Lebanese scene. No doubt a great achievement.

While it is true that Iran’s interests will stand in the way of the disarmament of Hezb, it is not the only factor. The Shiites have long been excluded from Lebanon’s sectarian political system, and have only risen to power under Syria’s occupation of the country. The Syrians had “kept them in check”. Yet the events have shown that it was the Hezb of that was holding its fire; Shater Hassan’s troops have shown a high degree of professionalism and preparation that the cash-strapped Syrian army does not have.

In order to service the debt, the government has put a 10% VAT on consumer goods as well as tax on other services. This tax disproportionately affects the poor, who have to resort to smuggling and other ways to resolve it. Social strife is not far away; on May 28, 2004, as Beirut was gearing up to host the OPEC summit, during a demonstration in protest against soaring gasoline prices, the Lebanese Army opened fire, killed six people, and wounded dozens. The demonstration was organized by Hezb, most of the people involved were poor Shiites, and the Prime Minister at the time was Rafic Hariri, head of a government Nasrallah had blamed for the deaths.

No wonder many follow Iran's mullah. Those fanatics could not countenance religious harmony; after all, didn't the Great Khomeini teach us that non-Moslems are impure beings, beneath dogs and excrements? No wonder few demonstrated against Syria’s occupation of Lebanon; many prefer this “loveless alliance” to integration into the country. Many find Justification in a fascistic Iranian ideology (Maybe Aoun should read more).

The Road Ahead...

Make no mistake; as tribes rise, nations will fall. Thanks to American know-how, it happened to Iraq. Thanks to American short-sightedness and Israeli amateurism, Syria is again fueling the fires of Lebanon. This time, however, the fire may spread. When it spreads to Syria, you will forgive me for feeling Schadenfreude.

The rest of the world need not worry, however. Civilization may have begun in the Middle East, but it will not end there. As Middle East Oil Supplies dwindle, will all of this still matter to the rest of the world?

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