Walid's Wanderings

Reflections on life, good-and-evil, family, humanity, and anything else that occurs to me, usually when I travel. Right now I am on a 6-year trip through Lebanon, the homeland I had never really lived in before.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Is Syria holding the remote control?

Perhaps the most effective slur against the opposition is that they are doing Syria's bidding. Most Lebanese remember to well how the Syrian occupation destroyed their livelihoods with a combination of zero government accountability and economic corruption.

Most Lebanese also very fondly remember how one man, Rafik Hariri, was able to come up with a formula that kept our economy growing in spite of Syrian occupation. Somehow, Hariri managed to create investment opporutnities for lots of people, over and above the opportunities for personal profit for himself and his loyalists, as well as enough to bribe all the parasites to leave us all alone, from the Syrian generals to the Lebanese warlords. It was easy for us to believe that the departure of the Syrians would allow the growth to continue minus the corruption, allowing us as a nation to start repaying our loans instead of increasing them forever. Instead, we got Saad Hariri, whom I do not know personally, and to whom I do not feel inclined to attribute any qualities, good or bad. All I can judge is his actions, and perhaps I can speculate on why it is understandabel and human for him to act that way. Saad inherited a system from his father, but, like all heirs, he did not inherit the memory of having built that system and of having made decisions that influenced the design of the system. The same can be said for Bashar Al Asad, or even for myslef had I decided to contonue my own father's business. We see what is working today, and we try to plug the leaks and change the oil and keep it going as best we can. Now the system that Saad inherited was a necesssary compromise between the need for growth and the need to pay blackmail to the Syrians. But with the Syrians gone, a man with Rafiq Hariri's reputed business acumen would have seen the need to rein in the corruption because the need to pay all that blacklmail was no longer there, and the need for economic growth for the whole nation was greater than ever. Instead, Saad Hriri decided that his chief ally and advisor in the world was Walid Jumblatt, a chief bribe-taker from the days of the Syrians. The corrupt system that was siphoning off Lebanon's past economic growth and strangling hopes for its future economic growth remained in place. According the Forbes' survey of the wrold's wealthiest individiuals, the combined fortune of the Hariri family tripled in less than one year. The skimmed profits were coming in, but the bribes going out were much reduced.

Now this is the system that Saad Hariri and his new (and old) bribe-taking allies are cementing in Lebanon for perpetuity using the tools invented by the Bush administration in the US. The rules of democratic fair play are observed, so the press is not censored and torturing political opponents is not reagrded as a legitimate debating tactic. But, electoral districts are drawn to the liking of a slim ruling majority, and all institutions capable of standing up for the rights of those outside the slim parliamentary majority are legally re-populated with bought-and-paid-for individuals. It is far from certain that Lebanon's newborn constitional balance will survive this attempt as well as the 200-year-old constitution of the USA did.

Of course the Syrains would like nothing better than a share of the revenue stream created by this system, and given the relative sizes of Syria and Lebanon, no Lebanese would benefit if this were to happen. The Syrians and their professed think-alikes also want to avoid being put on trial for Rafiq Hariri's murder. But neither of these demands is carried by the leading tributaries of the opposition. Fiscal transparency is the main condition of the FPM, which goes against the Syrian regime's will, and a coherent defense strategy for Lebanon is the main demand of Hezballah, which happens to concide with Syrian best interests. Best of all, both of these sides are willing to help the other get its goals in exchange for support for its own goals. This is a true alliance of cooperating equals, indicative of how a health democratic government should work. It's an added bonus if both goals are good for Lebanon, but whether or not they are is another topic.

So, yes, Syria holds a remote control for the smaller parties of the opposition, because those parties want exactly what Syria wants. But the main tactic of the Saad Hariri bloc, which is just as bad for Lebanons future as Syrian reoccupation, is to confuse the demands of the opposition to move forward and furhter away from the practices of the days of Syrian hegemony, with a cartoon image of three million blind mice who wants nothing more than to move backwards to the embrace of the knife-wielding farmer's wife of full Syrian hegemony. The tactic is working, becasue the feelings against the bad old days of Syrian occupation are so strong that many are not willing to consider exactly what it was about Syrian occupation that made our children leave Leabon to find work and our businesses close down for lack of connections and our phone calls to our departed children or our suffering business suppliers cost from twice to ten times as much as they should. Families are split between their feelings of learned revulsion (agains Syrians) and their understanding of where these feelings came from (economic strangulation.) I hope that more and more people see that being stangled with invisible carbon monoxide is in the end just as bad as being strangled with a hemp rope areound your neck and another around your wrists and another around your ankles. Only open, transparent, representative government can save us from both fates.


  • At 16/12/06 4:23 PM, Anonymous be real said…

    I think you are seeing the politics from your side with rose tinted glasses. The FMP may refuse syrian return, but the power is with Hizballah not Aoun. Hizballah have no allegiance to syria, but Hizballah has a history of doing anything to forward their cause. They need the syrian highways and by-ways to get their weapons shipment. The added defense pact between syria and Iran adds another layer to the proceedings, but I think in the end Hizballah are using syria and that is all. I seriously doubt someone like Nasrallah feels anything but disdain to a weak leader like bashar, but nasrallah will do whatever it takes to keep his roads open, including allowing them to have a larger influence in Lebanon (covertly-since I doubt overt influence like before is an option any more). From your writings I'm assuming you support the FPM, one day the anti-syrian stance of the FPM (whatever their behaviour now) will collide with the pro-syrian stance of Hizballah. I will be interested to see what will happen then.
    PS when I talk about anti/pro syrians you ofcourse know I mean government and government intreference. I am in no way against having close relations with the syrian people as two separate but whole nations.

  • At 16/12/06 10:42 PM, Blogger Walid said…

    I never denied being an optimist. I just want to ask you to examine your own assumptions, which to my Arab eye seems to flirt with a Jewish supremacist stance; namely athe assmption that there are people out there who live for the purpose of killing Jews, and hence no behavior change on the part of Israel will appease them, and hence Israel does not need to do anything for anyone.

    I understand that there are jew-haters out there. There are also various disappointed adherents of dead empires, notably (sunni) Islamic, Arab-Islamic, Pan-Arab, and Pan-Syrian, who refuse to yield any sovreignty to Jews on the lands of the extinct empire. My personal understanding is that neither Hezballah nor Iran belong to either category: they continue to demand that Israel simply play nice. Hezballah presents its arms as defensive, and as long as this stance is supported by the actions of Hezballah, very few Lebanese would deny the need for them.

    Regarding your argument that they need Syria as a supply route, the strneght of this need really depends on how much arms flow they need, which in turn depends on whether these arms are defensive or offensive. If I were to be convinced that these arems were intended to help annihilate Israel in the distant future, then it would follow for me that these arms are not worth Lebanon's growth and Lebanon's independence, in addition to their being immoral and repugnent to my world view.


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