Monday, January 28, 2008

Night of the Long Shots

Once again, Ain El-Remmaneh flares up… Well, almost.

Yesterday, when some fine lads decided to block the street with burning tires, a few persons died. It was not the fumes who got them, just some stray bullets that were fired in the air…

Or Through the Air?

As in, like… horizontally... Either way, a few things were clear; Hezb does not have exclusivity anymore.

1- No exclusivity over the country’s thugs. Not since last January… Yes, they may have the most formidable fighting force, but the conditions of civil strife are different. When such chaos ensues, the coming flood will wipe us all. All of us. First, the layout of the country will ensure that no winner will emerge from within the country’s borders. Second, since regional interests have changed, and the current sectarian divide will ensure that it will not be limited to just Lebanon.

2- No exclusivity over indignation. Yes, there will be much indignation over yesterday’s assassinations (what else?), but the grief is shared across the board. And Hezb showed poor judgement by their show of force so soon after the assassination of a key policeman. They also showed a dangerous arrogance by placing their goons close to such a sensitive “border”. Even if they believe their own crapola, and if the Evil Zionist Empire had really committed all those crimes, why not go to “Fatima’s Gate”? Pollute another country for a change.

3- No exclusivity over excuses/reasons to be pissed off. That power cuts were the reason for their ire is disingenuous at best; not has the nation’s electricity has been their playground for the past 15 years, but all of us suffer through its incompetence equally. In Lebanon, government incompetence is equal opportunity.

Since it’s too much too ask to help build a normal country that could invest in technologies that can help, expect more power cuts, and more expensive “generator bills”… And more thugs.

Lucky for us, this time, they all missed the bus.

But I doubt the wise leaders of both “sides” learned their lesson in the current standoff. And, as they keep pushing on those sectarian buttons, sooner or later, the accumulated stress will reach the breaking point.

For now, they have managed to stay “just a little bit pregnant”…

But it won’t last long…

No one can be sure as to “what now”, since it increasingly appears that we’re moving beyond the election. But one fact should give us pause; after the shootings, the second “wave” went into Ain El-Remmaneh “unopposed”. This ensured that a little anti-Christian pogrom could ensue.

Last time something like this happened, it saw the “formalization” of an alliance between Aoun and Hassan to pave the general’s path to Baabda.

And this time?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Michel, Fares, and the Bomb

Ah, those Michel’s ….

Yesterday, Michel (Aoun) wanted to strike, but he could not because Michel (Murr) opposed it. Maybe Michel (Murr) was upset with Michel’s (Aoun) effective scuttling of the election of Michel (Suleiman) to the presidency, and election he was strongly backing… And one the country desperately needs.

The strike was only effective in areas controlled by his Hezb “allies”, they happen to think they’re Mikho'il, and they have the arguments to convince you. But they have been blocking the presidential election, in line with Syria’s demands and in coordination with Michel (Aoun). But for all Syria’s hold over him, that did not endear them to Michel (Murr), who strongly supports Michel’s (Suleiman) bid to the presidency. Add to that the fact that neither are they the only ones with strong arguments anymore, nor are they the only ones who claim to be Mikho'il, and you see how the strike could only be marginal.

So they called for a strike, but no one came

It is still far too premature to read into this any defeat to Hezb’LA. But it shows the true limitations in the present Lebanese context, where no single group can hope to force his agenda on all the others, no matter how powerful their hold over “their” community.

Striking words…

The most striking is Michel’s (Murr) opposition to Hezb’LA and Michel’s (Aoun) little strike.

"Speaking as a Christian, the Arab initiative gives the president the swing vote in Cabinet, a right the Taif Accord [which ended the 1975-1990 Civil War] did not," Murr said. "What more could we as Christians ask for than this initiative?"

Asked for his view of Aoun's ultimatum that the opposition be granted a third plus one of posts in a national unity government or take to the streets in protest, Murr said: "Not the streets of Metn. The people of Metn do not express their opinions through demonstrations ... There is an initiative for the benefit of the Christians. Do we answer it by taking to the street?"

Murr added that anyone who disagrees with him on this point does not have Lebanon's best interest at heart.

… Et tu, Brute?

Michel’s (Murr) Reasons were unclear as I was posting this…

Was the wily Michel (Murr) was really able to drift away from Syria’s orbit on this one? His own Son is still in the government that the Syrians are so desperate to see out of power…

Or is it just as possible that the Syrians were giving their former lackey some leeway? This strike could still have had an impact. However, it fizzled mostly because Hezb’IL kept his stormstruppen and their accompanying ninjas at bay, maybe in reserve for another day.

Then Came Syria’s Answer…

Never to disappoint us in their brutality, the Assad clan soon responded. It makes it all clear why they did not worry too much about Michel’s (Murr) little spat with Michel (Aoun); they had in mind Michel (Suleiman).

More accurately, many of the good men one would rely on to build a country. Which is increasingly unlikely in this Lebanon, as the election gets more and more postponed by their mailbox. The Syrians even dropped all pretence last time Moussa paid them a visit, when they “proposed” Fares Boueiz for the presidency…

I guess a President (k)Hrawi part deux is just what the Doctor orders around. And I guess this means the Syrians will only leave us in peace when Hell freezes over… So there’s hope, the way things are going.



H/T Blacksmith Jade for Video Link, and Julstar16 for the feed...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

eBay's BodyShop

It’s always fun to catch up with old friends, as they come back to visit the “old country”. You get in the old familiar spat of how much they’ve grown, and how much you’ve aged.

... For Auld Lang Syne

And, as you reminisce about the good old times, you cannot help but go back to the politics of old… In a get-together with friends and friends of friends, we had fun reminiscing about the past. We seem to all have gone in three phases.

In a first phase, back in more innocent times, we had easily banded together against the odd playground bully, permanently inducting a few apprenti dictator into the Vienna Boys’ Choir…

But as we grew up, we entered a second phase and started thinking about more “important” issues. It is then that our good judgment started slipping away, and rather then dispatching them to their maker, we started flocking around any bully who was smart enough to wave a flag. The mistakes took their toll on the group, and we only learned our lesson by attrition, as most “grew up” and moved on, while others did not survive.

In a third phase

Well…

We’re still working on it.

…Repeat?

Rather than moving on to Phase 3, maybe we're set for a repeat of Phase 2... While most of us grew up and moved on, but quite a few “irredentists” remain, still faithful to the same vacuous slogans and empty promises. I find it striking that, whenever their faith meets facts, they simply ignore them, or expend considerable mental capacity in side-stepping reality. Maybe they have too much mental capital invested in this impasse to turn around and move away from the precipice. Or maybe they have a different outlook on life…

But I am quite sure they are wrong.

However, as the country gears up for another round, I am sure many stand ready to herd the next generation of fodder towards the gathering cannons. And while each still thinks their “side” can win, I am convinced that all will loose. Then again, all have already lost; in their fight for control of the country, they may have destroyed it, with nary a single shot fired… Were it not the own-goal aspects, Sun-Tzu would have been impressed.

Maybe they will recoup their losses by trading body parts on e-Bay.

… The thing is, aside the obvious potential repercussions, with the supply of imports running out, suppliers will soon have to find domestic sources.

So, to paraphrase Fubar

Got Guns?

And if so… Need Ammo?

… More on that later

...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Clutching at Straws

With so much signal noise, there has been little meaningful news. One would expect even more useless banter and gimmickry in the weeks to come, as the Syrian “counter-revolution” gears up, to accelerate in full swing after our tired diva does her thing…

Sleeping with the Enemy

Underneath all the manoeuvring lies a hidden sectarian agenda; what was once a Alawite regime has now been reduced by internal squabbles to a regime of (some) Alawites.

Faced with a potential resurgence of a once oppressed community, the regime is reacting in a classical sectarian manner, painting his opponents as Sunni extremists. By placing the debate in the context of a Sunni-Alawite opposition, the regime is able to stoke the fears needed to circle the wagons. But it needs to build a sectarian alliance would have Shiites, Christians, and Druze aligned together. However, while this bill of goods found willing buyers among many Lebanese, no sale; there is little unanimity.

Yes, the Assad strategy finds willing allies among Shiite parties, whose stranglehold over their community is reinforced by a combination of coercion, cooption, or a sense of collective grief… However, since Lebanon is a collection of minorities, the “Qajar’s method” needs some adjustments, and only an alliance of sectarian groups can work.

However, the strategy has united the Druze, who have learned to have a “long view” of history. However, it has not united them against Bashar; for all the prodding, Joumblat is not budging (yet). Not only is his hold over the Druze is strengthening, but it is expanding into Syria proper.

Bishop Bating

Worse, this sectarian strategy has divided Christians. For all the Christians gather around Aoun (and the stress he’s under may be starting to show), they remain a shrinking minority, only held together by their revulsion of Geagea, or dislike of Gemayel. Those same aversions ensure that his Christian opponents are not much reinforced by his weakness.

So the regime is casting around for support in the community, but can only find the same old tools. The amateurish brutality of Slimy-the-Younger can not hide this bankruptcy, they highlight it. The Village idiot's attacks against the Patriarch are typical of past Syrian tactics; when they had let the kid loose on Rafik Hariri. Slimy would copiously insult him during the meetings of the council of ministers, and Hariri then had little choice but to ask them to hold the leash. This is when they would use a bigger pitbull such as Hobeika to rein him in, and Hariri would owe them a favour… But this time the conditions are different.

Body Snatching

Their tactics are not working too well on the Christians; all they have to show for it is a few songs and dances. So the regime tried to compensate its weak “cultural” pull, and exert some sort of “push” on the glacier tightening around it. In this, the old levers of Lebanese “opposition” can still be useful. Key to this tactic is their attempt to de-legitimize the Lebanese Government.

First, they push for a presence of the “opposition” alongside the government at Arab summits, but Qandil 2.0 can only waste more oxygen. They could hardly have found a worse spokesperson.

More credibly, they use Mailbox-Berri, to send the message that “Without Syria and Saudi Arabia, there will be no resolution to the Lebanese crisis”… But the mailbox is overused; yes, the Saudis are preparing themselves for a more active role, but they are slowly moving towards a collision course with the Syrian regime. In the games of cloak and dagger, brutality works, but money talks louder.

Then, they send ShaterHassan to push for (another) trade with Israel... aving little to offer in the matter of live prisoners, he can only "offer" body parts... Or is he desperately baiting them? Either way, the approach smacks of desperation; Israelis are either unlikely to go for the gruesome offer, or to take the bait. Whatever one thinks of Tsahal and their depredations in Lebanon, talk about traiding body parts remains beyond contempt. No amount of religious sophistry can justify it, and any short-term gains can only come with long-term costs, further isolating and weakening Hezb'O…

Digging Deeper

The Syrians will not give up so easily, and their little push-pull act is only the beginning. Do not expect the regime to pause; now that they have dug themselves in hole, they will keep on digging. The ongoing deconstruction of (an already poorly constructed) Lebanon will accelerate over the coming two weeks, and the pace of rotting will be maintained, beyond the next 3 weeks, and at least till March…

During that wasted time, whatever remains of Lebanon’s secular hopes could be even more reduced. But it will not be annihilated. By derailing the Suleiman candidacy in such a blatant manner, the regime has effectively alienated one powerful secular group; the Lebanese Army, further weakening Aoun and cutting him off from (yet) another part of his base. But I expect that enough "secular juice" will be left to fill the ever increasing political void; for all its faults, the alliance grouped around March 14th is not a completely sectarian one.

With the prospect of a Suleiman presidency all but "over", the pressure is back again on Syria, and the field is wide open again. So expect the Syrians to act "true to form", and to bring back the bombs... And, as the Regime misreads and miscalculates, it will all backfire again... So there is hope for those lucky enough to have made it. If they do not emigrate first, that is...

… But is there time?

The current US administration is attached to the success of Lebanon. Yet this president is a lame duck, and no since no incumbent vice-president is running this time (a rare occurrence), so is his entire team. So there will be an entirely new administration in the White House, and what the next POTUS plans to do. More specifically, how does he/she plan to realize a "a Lebanon whose government has a monopoly on authority within its country"...


Friday, January 18, 2008

Singing in Vain...

In Lebanon, it is easy to separate music from politics, especially in the case of the meaningless bimbo fare and other musical crapola produced by LBC & Co, SAR(trés)L. However, a few singers stand out, not least of them Fayrouz, our “Ambassador the Stars”.

National Anthem

Indeed, if there is one song that all Lebanese agree on, it is “Bhebbak Ya Libnan”. Thanks to Fayrouz’s rendition of this Rahbani masterpiece, the song has become the country’s stealth national anthem if there ever was one, far more inspiring than the platitudes of the “Koullouna”, our official national anthem that proclaims that we’re “All for the Nation" (What else would we be for?).

So, to say that singing and politics are linked in the case of Feyrouz is an understatement.

National Diva

Yet for all our pride, Fayrouz’ success in the wider Arab world is such that she has grown far beyond Lebanon. Like it or not, we do not “own” her anymore.

For one, many a Palestinian would feel teary-eyed when he hears her sing about Jerusalem. I have no doubt that, in spite of all their divisions, this is one of few songs all of them agree on…


One can understand the position of those opposed to see her singing for torturers, cultural capital or not... As we are often reminded, the Syrian regime only needs people to talk to them, and it will feel validated anytime someone does so. So, even when someone goes there just to spit at them, they will claim that it is raining.

Rain Dance

That said, if a regime feels the need to draw legitimacy from a singer, it means they are really in dire straits.

All the singing of Fayrouz will not help them understand reality any better, and neither will it change the key fundamental fact that the Syrian regime is clutching at straws, sending his lapdogs on a barking spree, and even threatening to pull a Delamarre on the foreign ambassadors. Bashar is mistaken in betting of French frivolity and Arab weakness; the fact is that, contrary to Kaddafi, Bashar learned all the wrong lessons from Saddam’s demise. In his stubborn alignment with Iran, he may well have “lost the Arabs”, and could soon lose the Turks.

On the positive side, our tired national diva may unwittingly help prepare the “post-Bashar” era. For all the miscreants who govern them, Syrians remain a decent people with whom we’re going to have to do business with after this regime is gone...

So, let the regime ignore the warnings and enjoy the songs. The last Ghost Dances were not very successful, but it occupied them for a while, until the day of reckoning.

So, with Damascus a “cultural capital”, the Syrian regime will try this little Rain Dance… And if the dance does not bring rain, they’ll kept dancing till it rains.

…And Lebanon will survive them.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Another Contagion

I could not just read Dave Kenner's post on censorship. I feel it needs to be taken up by us bloggers.

Aside from my visceral opposition to Anastasia and her scissors, I am strongly opposed to religious-inspired warmongering. Rather than censoring or ignoring such a message, newspapers in the Arab world should have taken up the ad (and the money that paid for it). And no, the well known, outrageous myopia of the ad's sponsor is no excuse, and since no one has a monopoly on terror, we risk becoming as bankrupt as our "Opinion Leaders", I feel we Lebanese bloggers should fight such censorship with all means available, and therefore take up this ad (for a short while; they don't pay us), especially considering the abyss we're facing. I am no beady-eyed peacenik, and I have no illusions that this will be taken up by others. But consider this;

1- Aside from the f
act here is no honour in attacking civilians, God does not need you to blow up her "enemies"; he can do that herself... Or better yet, he can make sure her enemies are not even born. So if you're looking for a place in the hereafter, get ready for a surprise... So, better brush up on thermodynamics.

2- To those who do not find the first argument convincing, recall that you don't win a war by dying for your country; you win a war by making sure the other poor damn bastard die for theirs...




Still, before you go all "Patton" on me, consider this other fact; since you cannot guarantee that you're not killing a Flemming, future Einstein, future Mozart.. better not start a war.
...



If you're still egged on by testosterone and yearn to kick some ass, take up Rugby; a hooligans' game played by gentlemen...
...That gives pacifists a reason to kick your ass...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Mighty Moussa

For all the professed optimism, the Arab League mission to save Lebanese sovereignty may well fall apart. That is, unless Lebanese sovereignty does not fall apart as a result of Mighty Moussa’s (renewed) search for “consensus”.

The Standoff

The “Lebanese” standoff is a complex crisis, having at least as much to do with the intransigence of the Syrian-Iranian axis regime, and the duplicity of the Israeli ruling class as with the incompetence of Lebanese politicians.

In the face of Arab and international efforts, the Syrians have already responded, and the Iranians have grumbled a little. To both of them, the only acceptable solution is a return of Syria to Lebanon, nothing less.

The Way Out

And pace the well-meaning idiots, Syria cannot be prized away from Iran. Sure there are disagreements; Syria needs Lebanon for the benefits of the lucrative rackets, Iran needs it to serve as a “second front” in the event of war in the Persian Gulf. But, in the present context, that is hardly an opening; more unites the two countries than divides them…

Still, Mighty Moussa’s mission is not completely useless.

Even if the Arab mediation is successful, Suleiman’s election will do little to change things. For all his professed good intentions, the General may well be as flawed as that other Michel… Unless you still think that the destruction of a camp and subsequent capture of various small fry is victory enough, Shaker El-Absi having escaped. Or worse, the General may find himself hindered by forces beyond his control. Still, if for some reason Moussa is successful, that may buy us some much needed respite. Even a flawed president may be better than the vacuum; time is not on our side, and the next US President will have other priorities

And if Mighty Moussa is unsuccessful? Well, we can fear the worse on the long term as many outstanding issues remain. But we have a pause of sorts at least till the conclusion of this US election. And the upcoming Arab Summit will be "interesting" to watch

...


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Bankruptcy

Striking the right tone for the New Year, eh?

It’s a tall order in Lebanon, especially for those of us who struggle to keep a level mind. Different people struggle, each with their way to maintain mental health and filter away the national insanity. Aside from nasty side effects or risks of recuperation, not drinking from the crazy well has its costs.

Still, I do not relish the bitter taste of pessimist pie, and I can find even less reason to endure the saccharine-laden ignorant bliss of the optimist’s offering. To both, I prefer to remain from Missouri, not least on all matters Lebanese.

Show Me

… And what do all the parties involved have to show for all their efforts since 2005? Nothing.

They are all bankrupt.

Financially, Lebanon is all but bankrupt. Or even beyond that. But this is not the worse of it; some numbers we can fudge. Others are far more stubborn.

And what makes it worse is that the moral and political bankruptcy of all “sides” of this new phase of the Lebanese conflict. Ever since the demise o

f Fakhreddine, our country has never really been settled; the periodicity of conflict is such that any peaceful period is only a “pause”, where the different sectarian interests regroup before jumping back again in the ring.

The sectarian interests can always play and cause trouble, but all the bluster and bravado is useless; they can never really win. Having grown to “conquer” their sect, the different leaders invariably find themselves prisoners in them, unable to “grow” their support towards the middle ground. In Lebanon, a politician consolidates his base only to find that he acquired a new set of concrete shoes. And this time, they will struggle to stay above water; the playground has expanded beyond their means, and the environment may be changing. But I fear there will always be enough idiots on this earth to feed the cannons of the sectarians. And i Lebanon, they are masters at obfuscation and delaying...

The non-sectarian, secularists fare no better, and the mostly secular Mount Lebanon Christians and Beiruti Sunnis have become irrelevant politically. Having evolved beyond sectarianism, they are unable to play a secular game; neither in a Lebanon increasingly divided across religious lines, nor in a “democratic” Syria. This remind me of a friend from Sarajevo; when the war started in her homeland, she was not sure what she was supposed to be, with her Serbian Moslem father, Albanian Catholic mother, and Croatian husband… So she moved out, since her brand of secularism was not selling anymore…

Silver Lining?

Still, there is a silver lining. The thing about bankruptcy is how much you owe; if you owe enough money, rather than the bank owning you, you own the bank.

And politicians are masters at this game. The Lebanese no less...

The presidency may still be an option, in spite of wasting the army’s great sacrifices to hollow-out a victory and let criminals live to kill another day.

Political Bliss is still possible in spite of criminally amateurish unscrupulousness that not only undermined us, but also endangers one’s own by reinforcing terrorists.

A first-class reception is still guaranteed, in spite of studiously cultivated irrelevance.

… And a place at the table is still possible, in spite of all the incompetence, corruption, terror, obfuscation, obstruction, parasitism…

So yes, creditors will hold their nose and fund this ride, at least for a while. The reckoning(?) will come soon enough.

Just not this year...

Yes, the Syrians are running out of cards. But they still have a few options, and besides, they are not the main player in this game. The main players, Iran and Israel, are still regrouping and licking their wounds, preparing for the next round. But in the mean time, one of the battle terrains is ready for the upcoming festivities...