Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Chapter 7 Elections?

This has been an odd few weeks in Lebanon... No, I am not talking about all the political "noise"; the local marionette act, for all the high profile talks, remains largely irrelevant.

Fath Al-Roumieh?

I am talking about the (odder than usual) rumours that circulate around of a failed escape from the Roumieh Jail.

It appears the terrorists and terror suspects holed up there, have been plotting some "great escape", with "tools" provided by their colleagues over at Fath Al-Sukleen, and some other remaining "friends" still infiltrated in the armed forces... This may explain some demos about prisoners rights that were seen in Tripoli earlier; it appears the Lebanese Security Forces were a wee bit too harsh when they discovered the plot... So they may have cracked a few skulls, and worse, shaved a few beards.

The fact remains that the Lebanese "justice" sytem is a double oxymoron; there is little justice, and not much of a system. So while our local police brutality still pales in comparison with the competition, and while the danger is far more "tangible" than mere "insults to the state", the fact remains that there are few innocent bystanders who do linger there.

So the truth of this particular matter may remain elusive, much like Abou-WhozUrDaddy's escape...

Fath Al-UN?

Another odd story that lingers around is the one about Joumblat's real motivation in his trip; to try and "sell" a Chapter 7 UNSC resolution that will force the Lebanese to gather around for a vote. I would not this gamble past him, or any other Lebanese politician... The reason is simple; with so much sense of their self-worth, it is easy for the foreign powers to manipulate our politicos, by buying Lebanese politicians for what they’re worth, and selling them for what they think they’re worth
The danger is not that it may happen, and not that Joumblat or Hariri keep trying to sell Ghattas Khoury... If they really think he would make an ideal president, they have another "Aoun" coming... The danger is that those policos forget that, all the current attention our country is getting is only circumstancial, related to great power politics. In the grand scheme of things, Lebanon is a relatively insignificant small country.

No wonder this place is a mess; it's not a country, it's a souk...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Too Little, Too Late

Rather than breaking bones, break the ice.

Not a bad idea if you can implement it; Aoun and Gemayel meet to calm things down as the Presidential vote is delayed once more.

… Or to bring Der General back to reality?

Or at least back to a modicum of logic, or to this planet of ours, where things have not been going so well for his candidacy. As Rizk is pushing his Shehabi-style campaign by leveraging Bank Al-Madina, with Harb and (the good) Lahoud still in play… But oddly enough, (the other) Ghanem’s star is rising…

Let’s hope those guys stay away from my neighbourhood until election time…

With all this, Der General has betrayed many, angered many more, and is left with few options short of a Hezb’o-led coup d’état. For all his support base, it has more to do with opposition to the establishment rather than any quality he may claim to have. And now that he has spent his capital, any illusions he had about his “allies” were soon dispelled:

First, in his meeting with Saad Hariri, his “ally” eztez Nabih did not mention once the name of Aoun among the many other candidates he named. Needless to say, Saad was surprised at such a display of duplicity…

Then, the representative of his other “ally” Franjieh, during the Christian pow(but no)wow at Bkerké, rather than pushing for a Aoun candidacy as agreed upon, only called for a consensus candidate, mentioning…. Michel Suleiman.

And yesterday came Hezbo’s announcement of a “stealth” candidate, with no mention of Aoun, and no coordination with the poor beleaguered general. Their postal system still leaves much to be desired, but at least the hate does go through

Too soon for Maroun Ahamdinejad?

With Friends like this, who needs enemies?

Certainly not the general, who is now hurriedly running to mend fences with his other March 14th half, in a desperate attempt to make up for lost ground.

So Aoun met Gemayel. He also met a few others, far less significant figures like (the bad) Lahoud’s pet one-man-party Emile Rahmeh. And he was sure glad to see the pope’s ambassador. Maybe he can put in a good word for him; last time Aoun went to Rome, the pope was too busy to see him.

Let’s see how long this display of sanity will last…

Technically, they do not need a consensus president; after this last delay, the assembly can now gather anywhere, anytime to vote for a president, and with only a simple majority, since the convocation for presidential election cannot be cancelled. Still, it may already be too little, too late. As the Daily Star’s editorial puts it;

There is considerable reason to fear, though, that the alternating bouts of dithering and demagoguery have put a negotiated solution out of reach.

If this is the case, the best that can be hoped for is a temporary agreement to disagree, an imperfect arrangement that leaves some form of the status quo in place until a long-term formula can be hammered out.

Even that may be too optimistic; for all the eloquent rhetoric, others may have decided to escalate matters… “They” have invested far too much in weaponry to lose it all if Lebanon ever becomes normal. Yet “others” have their own unresolved succession issues to deal with, and they cannot suffer anything else than a pliant Lebanon

So Christian “leaders” can do little at this stage. Pace any past pretence at grandeur, they forget that their past divisions have reduced them to bit players in a widening sectarian fight … They can do little else but wait to see what's cooking up in the sick sectarian minds of the terrorists who now hold sway over Lebanon.

Then again...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Dantzig

Run away from a fight, only to fall into a larger fight.

Such has been the modus operandi of those who claim March 14th, ever since they mistook our resolve on that fateful day for a blank check to go back to their old simagrées

Yes, Democracy is, for all practical purposes, is worst of regimes with the exception of all others. However, it generates too many damp squibs in lieu of real leaders, and then struggles to face determined dictatorships… At least in the short term. Today, we do not have democracies in the world, as many fear the excesses of the past; so we only have representative republics instead… And our Lebanese version of the republican system is not as representative as it should be.

The Byzantine debate goes on among the “elites” on whether this is a systemic feature due to our people’s divisions, whether it is due to foreign interference… Or both…

Yet it all irrelevant at this stage

With old occupiers banging at the gates, and a de facto parasitic state growing within our midst, we desperately need to get our affairs in order, or have others do it for us.

And this is where our representative system of government is failing; rather than addressing real issues, our “leaders” are wasting our time in sand box fights, cheap thrills, and letting opportunities wither away. It is no wonder such systemic decision avoidance leaves many holdovers from Syrian days.

Much like the Western nations facing the Nazis on the eve of the Second World War, they have kept avoiding hard decisions, allowing the militarization of the Ruhr to proceed, participating to the Berlin Olympics, caving in during Munich, only to be forced into a fight with a far stronger Germany over Dantzig.

In Lebanon, this Presidential election is our Dantzig.

They have delayed far too much, and now they need to vote and get it over with. I do not care whether you are pro or against Hariri, Aoun, Nasrallah, Berri, Geagea, Joumblat … etc… The stakes are too high; we need this election to proceed by the rules of the game.

Yes, it may be a flawed game. But it is the only “free” game in the entire Arab world… And may be even beyond it.

If you want to improve it, better keep the game going.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Hold the Huddled Masses

It is as if International watchdogs are after us, with Amnesty International accusing us of mistreating Palestinian Citizens.

Well yes, we are.

And no, it is not that simple…

In Principle; They Have a Point.

For all practical purposes, Palestinians are now citizens of Lebanon, though it is not Politically Correct to state this, as all Lebanese now unanimously reject any talk of “nationalizing” (tawtin) them in the country. This taboo even lead to an absurdity, as Lebanese women cannot pass their citizenship on to their children

After all, for a while, they ruled the roost, and abused the population so much that many were glad to see Israeli tanks waltz in over the PLO… Incidentally, the mothers of most of those who now excoriate the “little Satan” were throwing flowers are the Merkavas and Ben Gurions rolling by… But that was then, in another Lebanon.

There was talk of giving them some sort of “automatic work permits”, but short of citizenship. This suits many business leaders fine; The Lebanese market currently takes 400,000 to 700,000 Syrians. So it can easily take 100,000 to 200,000 Palestinian workers.

Business Profits

However, doing this in isolation, without other measures, will only deepen local inequalities in the country, and add more instability. Initially, the location of the camps was not chosen randomly. They were set up in the 50's in this manner in order to provide cheap labour to expanding local industries. And, incidentally, to "break" nascent labour movement. Over time, those “labour souks” turned into fortified camps, home to Arafat & Co, SAR(T)L…

So this proposal will not work, unless it comes with real labour protection rules, or at least he enforcement of existing ones. It would also be nice if work permits were not free; at least charge the Syrians the same rates they charge other brotherly foreign workers…

You know, the stuff normal countries do.

Yes, this whole thing will push wages up by some measure. Yes, it will not benefit some in the construction industry and other industries, but labour costs are not a large percentage of total costs… And this will force some level of automation. It may benefit the country as a whole, by "retaining" a certain amount of hard currencies inside the country, rather than exporting them; many people in the poorer areas of Lebanon will not mind the added income.

In Practice: It’s Bad Timing…

Bad timing indeed. No way can we discuss those things now; a trip to Akkar, Tripoli and Dennieh would changed the minds of anyone who is considering things like the rebuilding of Nahr El-Bared.

When a people, traditionally fanatical about education, are unable to afford bus fare to free public schools, you know something is wrong.

Recall that all those reported attacks against Syrian workers in 2005 were not carried out in the supposedly anti-Syrian regions, but in the poorer, pro-Syrian areas. There were worse unreported clashes soon after the withdrawal; when Syrian workers tried to come back to “their” job sites, with no Mokhabarat to protect them, they were many unreported attacks against them by their Lebanese competitors…

The Proletarian struggle ain’t what it used to be… Or was it ever? it is always the poor of the world that face one another, brandishing their masters’ banners, driven by their masters' opium

Incidentally, who printed those slick posters that were brandished by last Friday’s demonstrators? A dead soldier’s pension makes for a tight pension for his parents. More especially that the army appears to have forgotten the tradition of promoting a martyred soldier, in order to boost that same pension… But I digress

For all their misery; it looks like the Palestinians will have to wait… Ever longer.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Vae Solium...

Hands off the chair!!! … Or so it goes among many politicians, at least those concerned that this little ad from OGERO, the state Telecom monopoly, is apparently demeaning to the president and the presidency.

The print ad shows a chair that looks like the presidential chair, with a line; “sit twisted and talk straight”. The dig is directed at Lahouss; since he has been imposed by the Syrians, he is “sitting twisted”, in Lebanese slang…The TV ad is funnier; they have an actor who mimics the current president, and manages to sound just as smart as the current occupier of the “seat”… the only thing missing is the characteristic speech impediment.

Down Go the Chairs…

That the ad is seen as disgraceful by some is no surprise. And principled outbursts of potential candidates for the same “chair”, like Boutros Harb’s, only serves to highlight how deep Baabda sank. And as Baabda goes, so go Ain-El-Tineh, the Serail, and all other “chairs”… Lahouss is just an easier target...

Yes. It is disgraceful, but for less obvious reasons. I will cite two;

First, it is worth noting that the minister in charge of the Telecom, and therefore OGERO, is Marwan Hamade, an opponent to the current chair occupier and survivor of a past assassination attempt. It is a different thing when any one of use lowly peones to make digs at our “leaders” (we do a far better job). It is also a different thing when politicians slug mud at one another. But it is an entirely different things when they use state funds from a state-owned company to do so.

Reformers, eh?

Second, the campaign is really about nothing much. All the information provided, and then some, can be delivered to us when we line up to pay for our phone bill. At least, that will make for some reading during those long queues. Better yet! save some paperwork, and create a jingle that we can hear when we first pick up the phone; that’s how they used to inform us of the time to pay phone bills, didn’t they?

Reformers, indeed…

Up Goes Aoun…

Some elements of the popularity of people like HassAoun may be found in this; maybe Der General is able to retain so much support in spite of his cowardice because the competition does not always look much better.

Further trouble may lay ahead, and we’ll end up paying the price of this little sandbox fightBad cases make bad law and create bad precedents; future “presidents” may feel the need to claw back much lost dignity.

... The crackdowns will come soon enough, as the (new?) incompetent-in-charge comes back to reassert his authority. So please, just vote for him/her/it, and get it over with…

…we’ve got to get to get the Buddha Bar back!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Addressing the In-Laws...

The newest Bashar rant that has been visited upon us is not so far off the mark.

He has a point

Yes, he does.

To stay ahead of the simplistic idiots (debunked elsewhere), we should always factor in the context.

About two weeks ago, “people” heard that a few posters of his uncle Rifaat were posted in some areas of Damascus. The Mukhabarat were able to see off this poster attack.

Then news came along this past week that the same Rifaat was being hosted by the Saudis.

The Real Audience

So, in spite of the brewing unrest in an ever-struggling Lebanon, Bashar’s real Audience may have been the Saudis and the west. To paraphrase a Lebanese saying he was “talking to the neighbours”, but “Addressing the In-laws”. In this case, we’re the neighbours who may be paying for the Rifaat’s little visit to Saudi; they were already warned by the mailbox, weren’t they? And last time Bashar talked to them directly, it took him a while to claw his way out of that hole…

Comediante!

Rifaat had fallen in disgrace after a failed coup attempt against his bother, then president Hafez. He attempted a timid “come back” since the time of Bashar’s rise, but he was seen off rather effectively. Back then, there was much talk about “younger Arab leaders”, of a “new generation” who could “change things” and “reform”…

That was then…

Today, the West would rather have a more pliable Syrian president; recall Chirac’s words in the aftermath of the Hairi assassination; he described it as “one crime too many”.

One crime too many, eh?

The key words here are “too many”. None of the brilliant minds present that day were able to point out; “how much” would it have taken for it to become “too many”?

Or was Chirac only stating the West’s position that the “free world” may only be willing to tolerate blood thirsty dictators, provided they do not step out of their allotted sandbox. Apparently, old Lyndon B. Johnson’s famous description of the leader of (another) banana republic still applies;

He may be an asshole, but he is our asshole

No wonder the Saudis prefer Rifaat; after Hama, he did not make any more “crimes too many”… Then again, maybe 40,000 unarmed civilians were enough to last several lifetimes.

Tragediante!

So, in the added context of a relentless UN bureaucracy, no wonder Hezbo, and more “thoughtful” voices are now acting up and talking tough… and no wonder Joumblat is upping the ante, in apparent response to Bashar…

Some may think it is good politics


But they better watch for Bad Karma

Friday, October 12, 2007

Monkey Business

Within the country’s deepening crisis, the different “services” had been busy… some of it looks like "delayed reaction", but I fear the "rot" goes a wee bit deeper...

More accurately, they had been busy giving the impression of doing stuff such as arresting budding fils-à-papa, nostalgic for a time they never knew, rather than dealing with the elephant in the room. But they had been doing little else, and even behaving rather badly...

Bad Behaviour

The most egregious behaviour was on display in the aftermath of the latest terror attack that took place in Saint “Theophile, when the Internal Security Forces closed the street, at the risk of hindering rescue efforts.

We Arabs tend to heap scorn at the way the Israelis treat our living and our memory, but we pause for a look at a mirror. And before, maybe we Lebanese should consider the way some Israelis respect their dead. Some of the parents of the deceased who had to wait hours, some even 48 hours, to remove their dead after the last terror attack.

While the need for proper investigation cannot be overlooked, the need for compassion should supersede it. Otherwise, what are we doing all this for? Was the goal of this tribunal merely to find the killers of the second (third?...) richest Lebanese, or is it also intended to help bring back the rule of law and some measure of good governance?

Maybe those who were ordering them to do so were trying to compensate for the poor quality of security by the quantity of security personnel. This may work in some cases, but it does not apply in Lebanon’s case, however.

The ISF later went on to cordon off the area, checking who was going in and out of the area for about 2 weeks after the attack. This may work for serial killers, some of whom like visit the scene of the crime, just in case they chance upon him/her… But it is less efficient when dealing with the Syrial Killer who is plaguing Lebanon.

The Deeper Roots

However, such perceived incompetence is not due to any misreading of the situation. The soldiers posted there knew how useless it was to close the barn door after the horses had bolted, but they had little choice but to follow orders. Their superiors now well the limitations of their power, but they have little choice but to go through the motions.

This display of incompetence poorly hides the fact that, much like the country, they are essentially divided. What else can we expect, with a Hezbostate rooted in medieval oppression, and facing those around March 14th divided in their vision of freedom?

The root cause of the country’s deep divisions may not be entirely home-grown, whatever the simplistic NYT keep on blurting outIncidentally, those jokers are much like the rain makers of old; the dances do not bring rain, but the dancers keep at it till it rains. This rain they keep forecasting may well be on the way; given enough pressure, any country’s divisions can be brought to the surface.

Bubbling Up

Sadly, the fact remains that our country has never been really united. Today, with all the attentions of our many friends and neighbours, its deep divisions are showing at the surface. Back in the day, had the United States not been able to fend off foreign "aid", I doubt its own civil war would have ever ended... Then again, the Brits were diverted to India and Egypt back then...

For anyone who doubts it, HassAoun reminds them often enough… With a key difference; back in ’75, the people were divided, but the institutions were trying to maintain a semblance of unity. Today, aside for some “true believers”, the Lebanese share far more values than the west gives them credit for. However, the institutions are deeply divided, and “allies” are starting out at loggerheads.

Today’s “green line” does not divide Beirut along the old Damascus road; it divides Lebanon’s power brokers.

…And the rift deepens ever more as each community’s version of Faust is pulled away by his master.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Puhleeeeeeze!!!

This just in! The Aounists are training a Militia

Right…

It took me a while to think about it, and investigate it a little. The reason I did not dismiss this latest fable offhand was not related to the “evidence” presented, but rather to Aoun himself; one would not put massive miscalculations such as this one past such a great mind, after all.

But the photos so more than speak for themselves; they scream. Those kids can barely hold a weapon! Even our village idiot looks more war-like with his BB Gun. Sadly, the function has since been taken by Aoun, thus proving Brassens wrong but I digress…

Even their “formation” was soooo 18th Century; many would love to face enemies like this, so eager to assist in the demonstration of textbook “enfilade”… The make-up is a nice touch tough, I had no idea Estee Lauder had those colours. I am sure even the fashion police would not disapprove of such tasteless attire;

if you’re gonna fight, might as well clash!

Missing the Obvious

In any case, the obvious fact remains that, no matter how many fils-a-papa and nunuches Aoun enrols in his armée de puceaux eager for action, the real issue will always be Hezb’s weapons, unless one still lives on that other planet, member of the twin Alpha Syrianis-Beta Iranis system, where one is immune to facts and logic

And no matter the support Herr General finds in the United States, the US treasury would be better advised to look closer at Hezb’s support among Uncle Sam’s citizens, not all of them home-bred retards. No content for messing up Lebanon for us, many of Syria’s supporters are now preceding us to seek the protection of the Great Satan.

So Puhleeeze…

Do not discount Aoun’s stupidity, but before you accuse him of crimes he did not commit (yet), look closer at those Hariri is far too willing to compromise with.

And look for the real terrorists, real weapons…

BB Guns and (cute) babes don’t count.


Friday, October 05, 2007

... On the Starting Blocks...

In the run-up to October 23rd, the Lebanese are enduring a gruelling question time… Most people ask; who’s going to be elected President? Smarter ones ask; which president will “they” agree on?

Deep I feel that either question misses the sad fact; if a president is elected, it will not be one chosen by our “leaders”, but one that accommodates powerful interests on which we have little control.

Hariri’s Friends

For all their diminished power the Saudi interests around the late King Fahd still wield some influence. As much as Rafic Hariri was close to their interests, so is Saad. Ghattas Khoury appears to be his choice candidate. A secondary one would have been Jean Obeid, who is close enough to the Syrians to be marketed as a “compromise candidate”.

The “quadripartite agreement” Saad and Joumblat had struck with Hezb and Amal would have allowed them to come up with the majority needed to impose such a pliable candidate. But they had not factored in the Christian anger at such shenanigans, which resulted in Aoun’s electoral upset.

Saad is still hopeful that Ghattas Khoury is still “in play”, and he drags him along to Washington any chance he gets. Odd that; how does he square all his talk of “reform”, with Ghattas’ plundering of the coffers of the Lebanese Order of Physicians?

Joumblat’s Suggestions

Ever the trustworthy ally, Joumblat is pushing quietly a couple of candidates. The “front” is fielded by Chibli Mallat, a brilliant jurist who should know better. The stronger candidate, however, appears to be Samir Franjieh, the smarter scion of the Franjieh clan, who actually knows better.

One potential advantage of a Franjieh presidency is that it would re-establish some “Lebanese” equilibrium among the Maronite clans, by moving the key Franjieh clan out of Syria’s orbit. The recent past is not encouraging; Samir has been so far unable to impose himself on his cousin’s hoodlums, in spite of the potential for patronage his MP seat gave him.

… Then again, he is not Saad’s prime Presidential choice, so his actual patronage may be limited “systemically”. Still, fronting such solid candidates would allow Walid Beyk a say in naming the next candidate.

Syria’s Puppet

This time, the Syrian candidate is less clear than it appears. Via Hezb, they are pushing for Aoun, but will likely drop him for anything that resembles Lahoud. One thing is certain; the Syrians cannot afford to have anything other than a Quisling in Baabda.

They may accept Michel Suleiman, whose family they can still influence. Or they may settle for someone like Jean Obeid who has apparently fallen out of favour with the Hariris. Some believe they may find an “arrangement” with Boutros Harb. But failing that, they would prefer a vaccum of sorts; no presidency, and two governments.

The thing is, while we survived similar “duopoly” in the past, we may not survive the next one.

… But nether would Syria if things go really wrong.

Abdallah’s In Laws

The Palestinians did not really sell their land away, but the Lebanese sure did. In an economy centred on construction and tourism, many Saudis purchased much of Lebanon’s choicest properties, especially in Solidere.

No wonder the landlords feel they have a say in the next presidency; they have to protect their interests, after all. Solidere has done so well in such a bad economy that is now going “global”…

However, the Hariris were allied to Fahd. With Abdallah now on the throne, the Saudis prefer to diversify, and appear to favour Nassib Lahoud for the Presidency. Not a bad candidate; Nassib may not be charismatic, but he has proven adept at navigating the country’s arcane politics, and has so far acted rather decently.

France’s Shehabis

One powerful “national” joker remains.

No, it is not Aoun; outside of a hardcore of supporters, the general is a much discredited figure. Were it not for the unpopularity of some of his other opponents, or for the chronic ineptitude of successive Lebanese governments, he would have been a long forgotten item in history’s dustbin.

The more “national” joker that remains has just completed long desert trek. Thanks to his position at the Ministry of Justice, Charles Rizk has control over the sensitive Bank al Madina file, that famous cookie jar in which all Lebanese presidential hopefuls have their hands in… And he is close to Johnny Abdo, that ex(?)chief of the Second Bureau...

So now, the scene is set. Let the play begin.

But I am not sure that it will end by October 23rd