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.

Monday, December 11, 2006

It's simple ; It's complicated

With access to all the satellite TV stations controlled by different factions, I hear rousing speeches from both sides of the current debate in Lebanon all the time. Some come close, but none so far have convinced me to change my view that the current cabinet is bad for the democratic future of Lebanon, and that the current opposition is more in tune with the true best interests of virtually every third party affected. I find the main distinction to be a simple one.

Why Simple?

Lebanon is faced with a governing coalition that has won fair and free elections using techniques that are 100% in tune with democratic best practices as observed in the world's most powerful democracy. Votes reliably for the ruling coalition were distributed so as to dilute the votes of potential opponents, and potentially neutral parties were wooed by campaign promises that were not intended to be kept. The single electoral victory is used to cement control over other institutions that could sand in the way of permanent one-party control first the constitutional court, and next the presidency. The ruing coalitions also exercises its authority to grant lucrative no-bid contracts to its own members and their relatives. All indications are that this status quo is inte4nded to be prolonged indefinitely by retaining control of electoral districting and by manipulating the alternating election dates (presidency, parliament) to pass on the baton of control. A cloud of obfuscation is thrown by appealing to solidarity in a war against an invisible enemy, and opponents are smeared as conscious or unwitting supporters of the powerful invisible enemy.

On the other side is a coalition of everyone else not directly benefiting (or still hopeful of future promised benefits) from the largesse of the ruling coalition. The opposition has succeeded in bringing together ex-fundamentalists who renounced fundamentalism and espoused multi-confessional coexistence, ex-communists who now believe in free and fair elections, and ex-fascists who are not sure where they belong yet but, being a tiny minority, have not yet been called to sign a memorandum of agreement on fundamental principles as the previous parties did.

Put that way, the choice is simple. But there are complicating factors, some genuine and some, in my personal opinion, spurious.

What's complicated

I hardly know where to start. If only I could make this part of my blog post a Wiki and all of you can add any comments you have until the best possible picture of the ruling coalition's message emerges. What about Iran? What about Syria? What about all the assassinations? What about Israel's right to exist within recognized boundaries? What about international terrorism? What about the Sunnis and the Shiites? What about ignorance, poverty, and deodorant malfunction?

Inside my head I have a way to deal with all these complications. First I eliminate the nonsensical. If someone does not agree with me that we are all human beings worthy of equal rights and considerations, then meet me outside. For the rest, please be quiet about why the Syrians cannot be trusted because they are Syrians, the Iranians cannot be trusted because they are Persian/Shiite/short, the Sunnis cannot be trusted becasue of Bin Laden and King Saud and Hosni Mubarak, the Shiites cannot be trusted because their Hejab is black instead of white, the Israelis cannot be trusted because they are imperialist zionist pigs who do not eat pork because it would be cannibalism, and so on so forth. It is people's policies that matter, not their ethnicity. If you act like the Syrians acted when they ruled Lebanon, then you are my enemy, even if you have a Harvard tie and a Cambridge accent. And if you take me in when I am homeless and feed me when I ma hungry and medicate me when I am sick, then why should I care if you pray towards the south or towards the north, or if you cross yourself form left to right or from right to left?

This leaves two main issues: connections to international terrorism (against Israel) and to foreign dictatorial ideologies, Syria's Baath and Iran's "wilayat al faqih". Both issues ar pretty hard to resolve from a distance, because the argument against both accusations requires access to good reporting about the day-to-day practices of the coalition that has bound the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which opposed Syrian presence in Lebanon but does not feel obliged to liberate Syria form the Syrians, and Hezballah (HA), which opposed Israeli meddling in Lebanon and which adheres to strict rules of engagement when they cheer the Palestinian factions that continue to fight in Israel. The way I see it, if I do not like the behavior of my neighbor, I can move away, remove the neighbor, or change his behavior. In allying itself with the FPM, HA has changed the last of the behaviors that many Lebanese opposed. A decade ago, HA declared that is will only seek an Islamic state by providing a good example, not through violent means. Since then, it has declared that the multi-confessional nature of Lebanon makes it impossible to have an Islamic system. However, the latest change was declaring the popular will as expressed by democratic elections supersedes the right of clergy to rule. This is exactly the kind of Shiite jurisprudence that the free world would yield its biggest oil well to see espoused by Iran, or even by the Iraqi Shiite militias. Conversely, it can be argued that Aoun's pre-1991 statements that Syria is a land of palaces and dungeons is long forgotten in the crucible of today's opposition coalition, which professes neutrality (as opposed to hostility or admiration) towards Syria in Syria, and vehement opposition to any return to Lebanon.

And what about terror and Israel? I have argued that HA's power to deter Israel from motoring into Lebanon at will is a prerequisite for true peer-to-peer negotiations and a model for resolving all the different branches of the Arab-Israeli conflict. If you read carefully the text of the US law that defined terror organizations, you will find that an organization accused of past terrorist acts must cease to have any military capability before it is taken off the list. Present or future terror intent is not necessary for the classification to be renewed. Now HA denies that is was institutionally liable for the terror attacks against American civilians in the 1980s, and I do not personally believe these denials. It denies complicity in training Iraqi militias and bombing Argentina, and here I am inclined to wait until proof is given, because I recognize Israel's advantage in spreading these allegation. But the real point is that HA cannot disarm without an alternate guarantee of safely against Israeli retaliation. Unlike the Baath or other parties that are predicated on opposition to non-Sunni domination of any areas of the past Islamic empire, HA is not unwilling to coexist with an Israel that respects their rights. If the long-running offer by Palestinian Hamas to have an indefinite truce with Israel is ever accepted, HA will have no bone to pick with Israel, and when that happens you will see how quickly all the accusations of terrorist activity will cease. I feel that HA has already renounced terrorism, and the only obstacle to universal recognition and applause of this renouncement is the dispute with Israel, which is not in the hands of HA to unilaterally resolve.

So I continue to support the opposition. One might add that a coalition where different points of view continue to coexist with some points of mutual agreement and some points of mutually accepted difference will be vastly more effective in uncovering the truth about the assassinations, and in bringing the guilty to account, than a coalition held together by temporary advantage.


It might be tempting to believe that the existing institutional checks and balances will prevent the worse excesses of opportunistic rulers as long as some semblance of a democratic principle is being followed. Didn't the US Democrats win both houses of congress in the US when the harmful policies of the Bush administration became to obvious to ignore? Not necessarily, and not in Lebanon. We are still experimenting with a new constitutional balance that was selected in 1991 and never put in practice since due to Syrian occupation. Unlike Lebanon's previous constitution, there is no provision for dissolving parliament or for dismissing the cabinet. These powers are reserved for a monarch in the UK and for the president in France, and though rarely use4d, constitute a restraining force against a party rule system where the parliamentary majority elects the president and approved the cabinet. This new constitution of ours may or may not sand up to the strain under which the ruling coalition, lacking a popular mandate, is putting it. The time to ensure that the parliamentary majority acts according to the best interest of the popular majority is now, not later, if we want to maintain the main benefit of democracy: peaceful transition of power.

In addition, the lucrative no-bid contracts that we are talking about in Lebanon are not just distant defense-budget allocations. We have already ceded to the same clique monopoly power over mail (20 pounds to the US costs 200 dollars), mobile phones (12 cents per minute, any time, plus $35 per month even if you use no minutes) and garbage collection ($120 per ton of household waste.) The Syrians were blamed but, today, almost 2 years since they left, the same people are still collecting the same rates on it goes. ("The rope is on the tractor", in an idiomatic bilingual mis-transliteration pun!) Now were are looking at a monopoly on generating and distributing electricity, and regular land-line phones, to be transferred to the same clique. There is no mention of true privatization in the sense of a publicly-traded shares in these massive enterprises, or even regulation by an accountable independent agency.

We need rulers who are accountable to a public majority in these crucial times, and this is worth marching for.


  • At 14/12/06 10:18 AM, Anonymous be real said…

    "....the crucible of today's opposition coalition, which professes neutrality (as opposed to hostility or admiration) towards Syria...."

    ha ha ha, did you write that while crossing your fingers? In every speech, thankyou Bashar, thankyou syrian government you're so wonderful,lets not have proper delineated borders between the two countries so we can keep you happy,oh rustum habibi here is dir3 al-moukawama .... how neutral.

  • At 14/12/06 1:24 PM, Blogger Walid said…

    In Lebanon, we say ???? ?? ????? ??????? Now if you have really listened to "every speech" then I salute you, even I do not have that much patience. :).

  • At 15/12/06 2:10 AM, Blogger George said…

    I have resisted to jump in but these debates really frustrate me.

    Growing up in the war that started in 74' and living it daily was very hurtful, destructive, and took Lebanon back many years (not sure if you lived through it all back then or was gone by then as it pushed quite few people to leave) and I had to leave in 85'...

    In the last few years, we started seeing some hope of recovery, people returning to Lebanon, but we needed to work on the debt problem as many countries in the world have that problem, but at least banks like Morgan Stanley were starting to help us with Paris I, II, etc. as you know

    The July incident this year and subsequent so called resistence movement is sparking and waging an internal war that is ready to takes us back to a civil and extended syrian influenced war similar to 74'... and a major regression from many many aspects.

    Why, over Mazare3 Shib3a? to solve the Palestinian cause? Solidarity with the Arabic/Quamiyeh cause? Defense against Israel because only Jordan, Egypt, Katar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and other Arabic countries can have relationships with Israel, but not the Lebanese (otherwise labeled a traitor), and instead we want to keep a huge armed forces in the South to keep tensions with them?

    NONE of them worth destroying Lebanon like what is happening and going to happen. We can not afford it nor afford screwing around with Israel. Truthfully, they are not interested in Lebanon nor its water...

    The war that HN is waging against whatever cause he has brainwashed his followers is going to really regress anything we have built since we came out from the civil war. That is what is disturbing about it all...

    If both sides of the current factions are evil, at least the Siniora approach was not leading us into such a regression full of Terror! Economy is fine, but at least we can sort it.

    Do not fall into the trap of following/listening to charismatic speeches... Hitler was very charismatic and the German regretted following him when they did at the time as he brought huge amount of destruction to them, but they only realized that when they got defeated...

  • At 16/12/06 2:33 PM, Blogger Walid said…

    We probably differ in our understanding of what the sides really want, even though we agree on what we want, and we agree that each side is saying X and each side is claiming that the other side is saying Y. It just remains to show that the actions of each side agree more with its own rhetoric or with the rhetoric of its opponents against it.


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