Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Persian Miracle

Politics may be the art of the possible, but it is also the “last of the arts”, as one Lebanese political old hand once quipped. In Lebanon, sadly, politics is about sweeping things under the rags… but backroom deals are not limited to us; they are played on the grandest scale, but under the loftiest of goals.

OK, maybe not the Russians; they do not mince their words, nor their actions… But I digress

Arab Purchase

One such interesting example was the sale by the United States of USD 20 Billion worth of weapons to the Arab Gulf States. Pundits quickly linked it to the ongoing cold war with Iran, and noted two things;

1- The systems will be integrated. In those days of the modern Military-Technical Revolution (in American jargon; “Revolution in Military Affairs”, RMA), integrated systems are a must. Weapons and troops need to be able to talk to one another, the better to coordinate their actions and maximize their punch.

2- The purchase will create a stronger Arab force in the Gulf, better able to face-off Iranian challenges to sovereignty. Iran has therefore a choice; play nice, or waste more cash on weapons in an arms race it can ill-afford to play.

It looks like the Mullahs want to play… They have little choice in the matter; Persian nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism are the only goods they have on sale, and they have no other way to hide their economic incompetence. So far, they have banked on the United States tiring after the Iraqi quagmire and the sputtering of Lebanon’s Cedar revolution, but no dice; the stakes are much too high. Now, they seem hell-bent on waiting for the democrats, as if this is going to change much, pace Chomsky

And it looks like Russians, who know a thing or two about cold wars and the economy, jumped at the chance to offload more weapons for cold, hard cash, and maybe even some leverage with the Americans… You can hear, in the background, the sound of factories retooling to make tractors and cars rather than tanks, thanks to all this Iranian cash.

Gifts to Israel

No pundit, however, made the true link with the donation of USD 30 Billion worth of weapons over 10 years from the United States to Israel.

Question: Why the link?

Answer: How much would USD 20 Billion yield, when invested at say… 10% return over 10 years?

The answer to this question will reveal the true Persian miracle; being so obnoxious and threatening as to get Arabs to fund Israelis

I just hope there was a Lebanese in on the deal, with a juicy commission; it will be good for our economy.

Thanks Br. for the artwork

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Risk and Rewards (1/2)

We Lebanese wear our emotions on our sleeves, and we often tend to overreact with passion. Doing so, we can greedily focus far too much on the potential Rewards, and forget about the Risks associated with our actions.

The Elections in Metn and Beirut 2nd District are a case in point.

Greed is Good…

But only as a motivator, that should be kept in check by reason and an attempt at foresight… Otherwise, the risk of overreaching is real, and far too many politicians in Lebanon make that mistake…

One example of overreach was the huge demonstration of March 8th, when Nasrallah marshalled a motley bunch of 400,000 Sturmabteilung, drawn mostly from his flock, with the addition of a few Syrians and a few smudges of their Quislings… Confident they have intimated Lebanon with this “representativity”, they did not see the coming of the Huger demonstration of March 14th 2005, when a grassroots movement drew in more than 1,200,000 Lebanese, not counting those who were delayed by Hezb & Co…

Another example of this overreach was the “quadripartite” agreement, between those who rushed to claim March 14th as theirs, and a much humbled Amal and Hezb. They though that, when more than 50% of the Lebanese population walked or tried to walk to Beirut on March 14th 2005, it was a sign of blind support for them, rather than a grass-roots expression for real change. So they maintained he much hated 2000 electoral law, the better to ensure an absolute majority, and make the country as they see fit… They did not understand the depth of Lebanese despise to a discredited political class, and thus did not see the coming of Aoun’s “orange tsunami”…

And neither did Aoun. He provided us with another example of overreach during the closure of downtown and the January “strikes”. Ever since his “memorandum of understanding”, he has been losing ground among most Lebanese who dislike such amateurish / foolish politics. He did not see the coming of the hard reaction this past January, when his “hardcore” supporters proved far too few, or far too undetermined, to hold their ground…

Greed is Now…

Now, it is time for those who claim March 14th to overreach, if they think they can easily win those elections, we will soon see another example on display this coming August 5th

First, the FL and Gemayel may well discover that, while hoodlums are great in street fights, they can be next to useless in (some) elections… As in the Metn, where your opponents has a few hoodlums of their own, with more votes to match them, and a few real gripes about representatitivy to motivate their crowd… They should have pushed for elections when they had momentum, after Pierre Gemayel’s assassination, but maybe Amine had other plans… Greed, once again, unchecked…

Second, Hariri may well discover that Beirut is not as cheaply “bought”. Last round’s turnout was less than 20% of eligible voters, since most were generally disgusted by the “quadripartite agreement” with Hezb and Amal, which allowed Future Movement to leverage Shiite votes against their Christian allies. This weakness gives a real opening to marginal candidates backed by Hezb and Najah Wakim. However, the late Eido had grown into gaining much stature and popularity, and his anointed successor, Mohammad Itani, has much momentum, and a solid clan behind him…

Greed Blinds Us to Real Losses...

Either way, the entire political class overreaches if they think anyone really wins elections under the present conditions.

The system is hopelessly rigged, with a out-of-date unicameral parliament struggling to reconcile representativity and pluralismThe one to reach Parliament will be the one who has lost less in comparison with other sorry bunch.

In the past, it did not matter much. But this time, people are tired of those parasites, and moving away. So the parasites should worry about this, lest they kill the host...

Passengers are already jumping this ship,

leaving the rats to go down with it…

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Red, Red Lines....

Before you gag, I do not mean the direct variety.

I mean those indirect political ads. They do not remind us of all the dirt we already know about a politician, but still manage to reinforce any negative one may have towards their candidate’s opponent.

They let our minds do the dishing…

Family Moments

One type of such “negative ads”, they use “common knowledge” to discredit an opponent or highlight their candidate’s “good side”…

One of the best such type was the Carter political ads that aired back in 1980, when he was facing off a challenge from Ted Kennedy. It showed Jimmy enjoying a serene breakfast with his family, at the height of Kennedy’s attacks against him… That was it. It did not talk about Ted’s indiscretions, but sicne more people knew about Chappaquiddick than knew how to spell it…

Another example is the display of patriotism, with all the ads from businesses and “private citizens” extolling the army, and the coverage of the funerals of the fallen heroes...

Why is that an example of negative ads? Well, a cynical mind would expect Nahr El-Bared to be completed in time for August 14th, just when Hezb is due to celebrate their “divine victory”.

And a few cynics may even consider that, martyr-for-martyr, the collective Lebanese Consciousness will still favour those of army, who washed quite a few Red Lines with their blood… Those ungrateful heathens will even note that the Army has responded to unprovoked attacks, rather that those of a party which, after 2000, has been doing (most of) the provocations…

Odi et amo: quare id faciam fortasse requiris

Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

A Public Serving of Crow

Some may view another type of such “negative ads”, as more “Lebanese” with all its cultural double-entendre…

Those ads “link” to some unfortunate utterance from the opposite side, and reuse them. It works well with those verbal mistakes that stay in people’s minds, and with Arab politicians’ logorrhoea, this is all too easy… Recall Bashar’s zhoom-zhoom imprethion, Lahoud’s “غَذيلين” speech, or his swimming discussion

And closer to us, the pro-government “I Love Life” campaign, which was recycled by the opposition, only to be re-recycled by the pro-“Araftouna” crowd…

A similar on recycles Nasrallah’s ill-advised “Red Lines” speech that did not scare the Army from sticking it to the Granted, he was not the only one to draw lines, red or otherwise, but his defence of Fatah-du-Jour and their FPLP-GC-AMA-IGAF was a wee bi’ o’er the top…

So it is no wonder his opponents picked up on it, with their campaign entitled “Beirut is a Red Line”, and has just been launched in support of Mohammad Itani, the Future Movement’s candidate…

لِسانُكَ حِصانُكَ

،إن صنطَهُ صانَكَ،

إن خُنتَهُ خانَكَ

... و المحبّين كتار... ناطرينك عَ الكوع

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Dog, Meet Pony

As the government proceeds with by–elections to fill the seats left vacant by the assassinations of Pierre Gemayel and Walid Eido. After initially crying foul, claiming that the “unconstitutional” government has no authority to organize elections, the opposition appears to be playing along.

To those who try to follow the opposition’s logic, there is a discrepancy here; their claim that the government is illegal does not jive with their participation in elections organized by said government.

But to those who note that those who claim March 14 have squandered away the legacy of the Cedar Revolution by short-term thinking and petty corruption, another question looms;

Can the opposition win?

The Metn: Presidential Hopes

On the face of it, this is a reasonable assumption, especially when one considers the Metn District, home to the “Bteghrinator”; Michel Murr and his Armenians allies. Conveniently for Aoun, his “Bteghrinator” ally holds the balance of power in the area…

But looks can be deceiving.

True, Gemayel is much discredited, but the “Bteghrinator” has to contend with him on the long run, and he cannot count on Syrian support this time. Like it or not, Aoun will be gone tomorrow from the Metn Landscape, but the Gemayel clan is still a permanent feature in the area, and Amine has a few tricks up his sleeve.

More critically, the “Bteghrinator” has to contend with the Americans. They may be discredited but, for all the talk about a deal with Syria, they are still dead set on supporting a government, of which his son Elias Murr is also a member as Minister of Defence. Those same Americans recently declared a few shady characters persona non grata for their support of Syria.

This may hurt; it is not clear how the increasingly restive Lebanese and Armenian Diaspora would react…

Beirut: Naming the Prime Minister

At first glance, this one looks like an easy Hariri win… But looks can be deceiving, again, partly because of blatant elitist politics, and partly because of math;

First, Hariri remains to many Beirutis a Saidawi upstart. Many a Salam, Solh, and Co. resent being sidelined by him, and would like nothing more than to stick it to the son. With this in mind, the Hariri’s running of a member of a powerful Beiruti clan is smart; those extended families were often MP-makers… Now they have a shot at the throne…

Second, there is a little math in this; Beirut’s second district has a strong “Shiite vote”, which can add to those who resent the “Hariri years”. This means that Hezb can play a role in this game, especially if it plays with Najah Wakim and his Nasser nostalgic crowd…

So Hariri has much at stake here, especially now that France appears to be moving away from Chirac’s “Tout Hairiri”, with Sarkozy’s trying to strike a more balanced relation with other Lebanese partners.

…Let the Games Begin

It all looks hard to predict, since all the contradictions will cause a lot of manoeuvring, in the run up to August 5th, we shall see how much the pro-Syrians have lost or gained. So time will tell whether the “Black Arabist” are now running out of options, like those like so many other dead-enders who are getting increasingly desperate for issues on which to squander oil money.

They cannot afford missteps, since the importance of those 2 elections extend beyond a couple of MP seats, for two reasons;

First, Aoun, with his claim of representing the majority of Christians, cannot afford to lose in Metn. And now that he named a candidate, withdrawing him would be viewed as a sign of weakeness. If he can’t elect an MP in a Christian-majority region, many would argue that he cannot claim the Christian seat, i.e. the presidency.

Second, Hezb has been much weakened, not only by the shortage of cash, but also by the loss of Sunni consensus. With Nasrallah’s “red line” at Nahr El-Bared and Fathi Yakan’s travails, the Hezb has lost any pretence of Sunni support. If it enters the fray in Beirut, even by offering limited opposition to Hariri’s candidate, it will lose even more; words do not come cheap, and there is a price to pay for the return of Sawsan “What-Took-Them-So-Long” Darwish to NBN, her non-apology… and for Berri’s non-condolences for Eido…

The opposition could still be short-changed by their Syrian masters, who cannot stand still. The Syrians may find it hard to “stay out” of it for now, and hold off the assassinations and terror attacks, the better to resume them later on…

If they lose, the opposition’s own contradictions, short-term thinking and petty corruption will be laid bare. They will have time to be reminded that they could have played it smarter. They could have avoided this predicament by offering to “resign” a couple of their MP’s to compensate for the “majority” loss. After all, they have Maronites and Sunnis to spare.

But jobs are rare in this recession.

Especially MP jobs

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Words against Deeds

“Revolutions accelerate the pace of history”… But in some cases, it makes it advance in slow motion. With all the “noise” surrounding us, it is useful to step away from it all, the better to watch from some “mental distance” as events unfold.

There was some lucidity on display on this week’s “Kalam El Nass” on LBC. I got an an eerie feeling of “déjà blogged”, as Marcel Ghanem’s three invitees were debating one another, you could see “between the words”, the outlines of the developing fight Lebanon has stepped in.

Comedia Syriana

Viewers had the usual dog and pony show, delivered artfully by a Syrian MP, “Doctor” Muhammad Habash. For all his rants about who’s the real terrorist or assassin, quite a lot of truth underlay all his lies, and revealed much on the Syrian thinking. Much of their strategy is based on two things;

1 – The Syrian regime feels it is winning, with the US in the Iraqi quagmire, the Lebanese divided, and the Saudis still too conciliatory. You can hear the ruffles of Mawiya’s Abaya in the background when the Syrian MP reminded viewers that next year’s Arab league talkathon will be held in Damascus, a first.

2 – Syria also counts on its “dialogue with congress”, which it thinks it can leverage against the White House. The regime misunderstands the complexities of American politics, and may soon be reminded that Americans, unlike the Lebanese, do not substitute their own narrow interests for their country’s long term security… Even if they did, the regime will remind them of what side is up… And this congress may not as “pro-Syrian” as the Syrians may like to think…

No matter the messages delivered, the Syrians will not divert from this track. They may pause for a while, but the long term needs remain the same.

Furore Saudiensis

The Saudi side was represented by Jamal Khashoggi, editor-in-chief of the Saudi al-Watan. He reminded the Syrians of this; in view of the larger US interests in the region and of their alignment with an increasingly assertive House of Saud, the Syrian strategy of “waiting for the democrats” may soon backfire…

The Saudi focus is simple. First, it wants an uninterrupted business corridor between Lebanon, on the Eastern Mediterranean Coast, and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. Second, it does not want Iran to be too powerful, and may even find and opportunity in the current regime’s divisions. This means three things;

1- With its current obstructionism, Syria is “in the way” of complex interests. For example, to Saudi/Gulf interests, the Syrian regime’s Iranian alignment is unacceptable, since it serves to give Iran too much leverage in the Persian Gulf, where it still occupies Arab territory.

2- They have given up talking to the Syrians. They prefer to address the Iranians directly; in the past, they talk to Syria to ensure their interests in Lebanon. Now they are talking to Iran to ensure their interests in Syrian and Lebanon… This, however, should not be construed as a tacit acceptance of Iran’s role in Lebanon on the long run; their “natural” sphere of influence is limited, and so are their means

3- Because of the nuclear issue, Iran is facing an economic blockade. It is far from a monolithic country, with much divisions of its own… Syria is even less monolithic, and could be facing an interesting predicament when the Indictments for the Hariri tribunal are in…

Pax Libanium

Nohad Mashnouq cautioned both that their goals will not be easy to reach… Enthralled by their passion for “their” side, each appears to misunderstand the real dynamics that animate the complex Arab psyche, and they could both misjudge the West’s and the Saudi’s real resolve and foresight in the face of determined threats.

Like him, I am not so sure that Lebanon will reach the New Year undivided. We may have been long time ago past the point of no return, with each side carping to their own supporters. New Year’s 2008 could be a hot rendez-vous indeed; this is the deadline by which Brammertz must submit his final findings.

Since the shooting did not start yet, there is still hope for us to “call the whole thing off”. According to Nohad Mashnouq, one way to sidestep this would be to expand the government, because it will be unable to deal with the looming presidential vacancy in its present shape.

To be sure, it will be no panacea, but it will postpone the reckoning till a more favourable climate develops in the wider “Muddle East”.

Comediante! Tragediante!

Marcel Ghanem was right when he complimented the Syrian MP on his gusto, stating that he would be a great anchor for a program on politics, or comedy, or both. A Dark comedy, to be sure; as Jamal Khashoggi cautioned, we’re in for an eventful 2 years in this fertile crescent of ours…

Interesting times, indeed….

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Eruptions, Eh?

Forgive me Father, for I have sinned… It’s been 7 days since my last post…

It’s just that the news have been so empty of anything but noise, so we had so little to post. Aside from the anniversary of the “Stupid War” (or is it operations “Morons in charge”?), we have;

Celle St. Cloud (Dud)

… Sarko calling Hezbo' terrorists (Duh)

… Syrian-sponsored “Eruption” (Doh!)

The last one reminds me of where we were back in the 60’s and 70’s, when the “Theatre de 10 Heures” ruled the Lebanese comedy roost. It was a time of smart(er) jokes, when Lebanese singers still had voices, and politicians were never taken too seriously, and when, while we partied, the country was gearing up for war…

Before their last hurrah, they came up with one more masterpiece of Lebanese humour, deliciously Un-PC, eminently untranslatable (not even in Arabic), and utterly disrespectful. Without further delay, here it is, in “Lebanese”;

The Epic of the Fart

The PLO:

ألّو الأوّل للتّاني

في فيدائي بِ شروالي

ألّو التاني للالأوّل

ما تخلّي يتجوّل

The Ain El Remmaneh Bus:

آم التّاني معط فصّ

كلّو عظمِه و متاني

ٳنشئّ شروالوا بل نصّ

و وِلعت عين الرماّنه!

The “Kataeb”:

تدخّل الشّيخ Pierre بلنصّ

ألّون "جيبولي فلاني،

"جيبولي صاحب هلّ فصّ،

تنشوف إج كان لبناني"

The “Ahrar”:

ألّو الرّيِّس Dany:

"إنسيلي هويِّة هلّ فصّ...

خدا منّي أماني"

ألّو الشّيخ وعمّ ب غصّ:

Lawlessness Spreads:

"ne me dit pas"

كاني و ماني!!

"ce sont des voyou" و كمّ لصّ

الحالي صارت خرباني

The Fighting Starts:

إمتدِّت ريحت الفصّ

لوصلِت عَ الدِّكوانه،

من البسطا لل دكوانه

صارت الحالي خرياني...

Enter the Mufti…

آمت الدِّني فوقا تحتا

و التَّجمُّع الإسلامي

أكَّد إنّو هيدا الفصّ

من أساسو علماني!

Enter Kamal Joumblat…

جمبلاط أكّد للعباد

إنّو الفصّ أمركاني!

و هيدا دليل الفسيد

بِِل النِّظام اللّبنيني!

Businesses Are Sacked:

و سرؤا كلّ شي ب ينبيع

من Bank لَ دكاّني

كلّ خاروف شيف حالو ديب

و فاتح حلوا دكاّني!

Mafia(s) Take Over…

و سرؤا كلّ شي لأطا

و جونيه صارت مليانه...

إي مين آل إنّو ضرطا

بتعيِّش كسرويني!!!

…… Sadly, the Epic’s still on.

So hold your noses,

and prepare to run…

Or am I the only one to note that all the illustrious persons quoted above are RIP, except for the Mafias?