Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Chapter 7 (2/5): British Interregnum

Britain is the second actor in this comedy. Ever since the 1860’s, the British and the French had been rivals in the region. Their relative support of Syria appears linked to their history of “cooperative rivalry” with the French; their common interests drove them to cooperate on projects such as the Suez Canal, but almost drove them to war at Fashoda in Sudan, along the “Cape to Cairo” road. Ever since the 1860’s, it was enough for France to support one side to see Britan come to the rescue of the other.

Small wonder Churchill nicknamed DeGaulle “Jeanne D’Arc”, and joked they were “looking for a few bishops to burn him”… In our region, this stalemate resulted in instability; no sooner had one side found French support that the British rushed to the support of the other side. The exception was Israel; when the French were busy helping them build the bomb, the British we happy to equip their army. Then again, both old imperial powers needed Suez and the IPC; the structure of the latter was adjusted to include French interests, thanks to the offices of Calouste Gulbenkian, the famed Mr. 5 percent.

The same basic dynamic remains and the Mr. 5 Percent of the 21st Century may well prove to be Kurdish, but much depends on whether Salah Al-Din’s brethren are finally getting their act together

Side Effects

A modern side-effect of this rivalry is felt in Lebanon. In Lebanon and Syria, where the French voiced unequivocal support for the International Tribunal, the British were more “nuanced”. After all, they had invested much in a certain Syrian Doctor, with his British-born son. Their attempts at finding a reasonable compromise were faced with Syrian intransigence, however. While Lebanon sinks deeper in this farcical comedy of ours, the Tribunal continues unhindered on its way to Chapter 7 and more internationalization

The Syrians may feel far less in need for support nowadays; the troubles of the United States in Iraq may give an opening to Bashar Assad to repeat his father’s feat of controlling Lebanon. To the Syrians, Pelosi’s visit was more than a quickie; more like the light at the end of their tunnel. Their rising confidence rubbed on Nasrallah, who transformed his latest “victory speech” in a “declaration of war”, upstaging the Christian’s Easter Celebrations, and marking his territory for the coming Lebanese presidential election…

The ongoing “cooperative rivalry” may simply be the continuation of some good ol’ fashioned capitalist imperialism, and the light at the end of the Tunnel may well prove to be a train coming their way. A dead body may not be enough to terminate any dreams of engagement, but with British forces busy in Iraq, and with British politicians preparing for Blair’s succession, Britain is far too busy to think about it for the time being…

Return of the Conservatives ?

The current prime minister may be no lame duck; buoyed by a strong economy and an expanding military, he was very effective in dealing with the Iranian crisis.

However, the Labour government may be a lame duck, faced with its own “government fatigue” and the rising power of the conservatives.

It is too soon to tell how things will shape up, but Gordon Brown is already struggling to succeed Tony Blair. And he has to consider that the conservatives have their own youngish version of Tony; David Cameron


ghassan karam said...

Jeha, I would like to take an exception to a minor detail in your post. The infirmary at the AUB , where I completed my undergraduate studies, was donated by the Gulbenkian Foundation and I spent many a lovely week end at the grounds of the IPC in Tripoli where my father worked for many years. I mention this only to tell you that both Mr. Bulbenkian and the IPC have a very special spot in my heart and I have often during the years read articles and books about them.
When Calouste Gulbenkian came up with the idea for the TPC, he was already a millionaire and the French were not even remotely considered in his plans. That , I trust , was around 1912. One of his founding partners in the TPC was the deutche Bank but , as you might have already guessed, the Germans lost the war and so after San Remo the German shares were given to the French, The plans for the ownership of the IPC became concrete in 1928 but Mr. Gulbenkian was already the 5% man. Actually at one time his direct and indirect ownership of the TPC amounted to 15%. He agreed to settle for 5% and only get the financial rewards of his masterpiece.

As for the current state of affairs I feel obligated to mention again that I think that you are giving Nancy Pelosi far more importance than the trip desreves. You might think that the mission was misguided but I don't think that you can attribute much more to it than a minor PR coup that lasted for two hours:-) But more importantly I disagree wit the emphasis that the present Lebanese government is placing on the Hariri tribunal. I think that the assassination of Mr. Hariri was a terrorist act, most likely orchestrated by the Syrian regime with the cooperation of Lahoud/Berriand even HA and thus we must follow through in pursuing the perpetrators but I will not devote all my energies to such a pursuit at the expense of excluding the dire need to govern a state and take care of the affairs of its citizens. As I have often said I expect competent pols to be able to chew and walk a straight line. The fact that the perpetrators of this heinous act have not been caught yet should not and must not be used as an excuse not to govern. Is it possible that no one will ultimately be held responsible for the untimely death of Mr. Hariri? Of course it is and furthermore this will not be the first time in history that an assassin has gotten away with a crime.. It is high time that we stop this process of sanctification of Mr. Raffic Hariri. What are all of these meetings with all of these huge posters of Mr. Hariri for? Even when Pelosi visited Hariri Jr. she was surrounded by three or even more pictures of Hariri Sr. Justice can be sought without getting everything else to a standstill and without the need to transform Lebanon into a Hariri shrine.In my opinion this exessive use of his name and photos cheapens his memory.

Jeha said...


point taken; I have adjusted to the line, as it was a bit too acidic. Gotta admire that smart Armenian kid from Turkey who rose to become one of the world's top players... As well as a big philanthropist, and a top art collector. I can be too rash sometimes in my choice of words. I better focus most of my sarcasm for the caricatures that I draw and post.

As to the second point, I agree on March 14th lack of governance.

However, on Pelosi, I think she caused far more damage that many realize. She's no Prinzip, but her small inconsiderate actions may have started something far too big, and now she is talking about visiting Iran. I am basing this on no quantifiable measures or objective evaluation, but rather on the "chaotic" nature of Middle Eastern politics, where small, insignificant causes can have large effects. This is not a rehash of "chaos theory", more like the "Connections" TV show... The basic concept is valid; more often than not, there is a chain of events with connections among them, and I convinced the Pelosi trip is among them...

In time, either events will prove me right, or I'll do another mea culpa and correction.

ghassan karam said...

A side note about philanthropy. The Gulbenkian Foundation is the largest philanthropy in Europe and it pales by US standards. I have often discussed this issue with anthropologists, sociologists and other social scientists to find out if there is a logical explanation of why is it that the whole idea of organised Philanthropy was an American invention and why is it that none of the other people of the world has embrassed it. US style philanthropy can be a major force to change the Middle East but unfortunately neither the Hariris nor the Bin Talals or any of the other billionaires in the area has taken even a minor step in that direction. Philanthropy is NOT charity. Rockefeller, Gates, Buffet, Perot and others strongly believe that they are stewards and therefore obligated to put this wealth to the best use possible. They do give it away to causes that do the good works.

Jeha said...

You're right, Ghassan,

The US is an admirable example on this drive to "stewardship" among the richest, most of whom opposed Bush's tax "reforms" that did away with the inheritance tax. I think the repeal may revert back at a certain time, thus creating interesting incentives as the deadline looms.

I cannot imagine our Arab potentates emulating Gates and Buffet's example... The US was focused on this from its founding days, when the founding fathers were adamant not to allow a nobility to rise in the new world. In the end, there is a "nobility" of sorts in the US, but they inherit an address book rather than a large fortune.