Across the Bay

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Price of Disarmament?

Leila Hatoum has a couple of pieces on Jumblat's meeting with Hasan Nasrallah, which was held after consulting with US officials. Jumblat came out of the meeting with two main points, which summarize Hizbullah's conditions and the extent of its compromise:

1- The party will not disarm at this stage, until its "ambitions are met over the Shebaa Farms."

2- The UN international investigation should not include peace keeping troops.

First, the second point. Some of the statements quoted in the first piece are telling. Here's the most characteristic:

Hizbullah's Sheikh Mohammed Yazbek condemned all the recent bomb attacks, saying that "the hands behind the crimes aim at bringing international forces to Lebanon" precipitating a new "U.S. colonization."

Hizbullah is very concerned about any presence of foreign troops as it fears it will be used to secure its disarmament. The hint that the intention behind the bombings of Christian neighborhoods might be aimed at bringing in UN troops is interesting. This is an indirect message that despite the bombings of Christian neighborhoods (exclusively), the Christians, and the opposition, should not call for protection from the international community. Whether this was the actual aim of the perpetrators cannot be ascertained, but it's plausible, and I've heard it suggested.

The arugment is that the Syrians and their Lebanese cronies know that the state is not capable of protecting the Christians (its own security agencies are likely behind the bombings!). Should this escalate, the argument goes, the Christians might be tempted to do one of two things: defend themselves (i.e., arm themselves), or call for international troops, which in turn would give Hizbullah a field day, and a pretext to carry operations to "liberate" the country from "American-Zionist occupation." All this is speculation of course, and the Christians and the opposition have shown remarkable restraint and maturity, and expressed inter-communal solidarity and determination not to be provoked into war.

It's the first point that's the more significant. Could it signal Hizbullah's condition for peaceful disarmament? What does their statement, as related by Jumblat, mean?

The fact that Hizbullah has limited its ambition to what it holds as Lebanese territory is of major significance. No talk about the Golan, no talk about "liberating Jerusalem," etc. In other words, no regional agenda, as was the case before.

Of course, this is not without risk. For one, we don't know for sure if Hizbullah will keep its word. Secondly, the specifics of the condition itself (Shebaa Farms) are ambiguous. The first obstacle is that the territories are officially Syrian (the UN says so). How are we supposed to negotiate over what's officially Syrian territory? How will Israel respond to that (I'm assuming the US is aware of this as its officials met with Jumblat)? Will this be a never-ending condition (and will we move from Shebaa to other "Lebanese" territory)? Will this be done peacefully through negotiations, as Jumblat and the opposition have said, or is Hizbullah planning on keeping its weapons to carry on operations against Israel until it leaves the Farms?

Nothing is clear yet, except that this is apparently Hizbullah's condition. In fact, one could say that it was predictable. Hizbullah has built up the Shebaa Farms (its only remaining raison d'être) for a while now, and has been pumping rhetoric left and right about its "liberation." I've said before how Hizbullah is really hostage to its own rhetoric. How do you live it down and expect to maintain credibility with your diehard followers? So in a sense, this is Hizbullah's face-saving fiasco, its chance to say that it stuck to its guns (literally) until it achieved its promise, the liberation of the Shebaa Farms. Jumblat is pragmatic enough a politician to know the strength of his hand. And right now, barring military action against Hizbullah, this is the best offer he's got yet. This is more so if part of the deal is a peaceful negotiation and a de facto shutting down of the front, which effectively means a return to the 1949 armistice, which has been Jumblat's and the opposition's stance (along with the ending of Hizbullah's regional role).

That's why the useless Helena Cobban totally misunderstood Jumblat's statements about the disarmament of Hizbullah and the Shebaa Farms:

In other words, he's backing Hizbullah on the rationale it gives for keeping its militia in operation.

First, she apparently "forgot" everything Jumblat has said so far. Secondly, this is not Hizbullah's rationale. This is only part of it. She completely erased the nuance, which is the substance! All this to argue that everyone has to bow to Hizbullah's righteous cause! But if you read Helena's comments about Hizbullah (in that same post and elsewhere) you'd understand why she jumped to that conclusion. It's because she highly sympathetic to Hizbullah, or I should say, to the image she holds of Hizbullah. Hizbullah for her, and her likes in the Third-Worldist circles, represents the "authentic voice" of the "wretched of the earth," the righteous proletariat (see her comments about Nasrallah being a poor village boy visited by the aristocratic Jumblat), the oppressed majority, etc. Witness this stupid statement:

But in terms of that decidedly modern phenomenon, political parties, Nasrallah's wins hands down over Jumblatt's rather sad "Progressive Socialist Party". In fact, Hizbullah is described by many Lebanese analysts as the only-- as well as by far the largest-- truly "political" and clearly ideological (rather than quasi-feudal) party on the scene in Lebanon today.

That's quite the pile of manure, if you'd excuse my French. Hizbullah is the party of the Khomeinist Islamic revolution. As such, it's not interested in local politics. It never thought of itself as a local political party (the logo on its flag which now reads "the Islamic resistance" used to be "the Islamic revolution"). It turned to local politics only recently (1992) and begrudgedly, maintaining an official rhetorical contempt for the entire idea of playing Lebanese politics (it was split on the issue). And here's the important point. When they did decide to do that, they played those "quasi-feudal," sectarian, client-patronage games to perfection! Only Leftist, Third-Worldist journalists, who swallow their rhetoric whole, think that they remained above the fray. That's why you hear unqualified statements from parody hipster prof. Mark LeVine about how Hizbullah is "the only true democratic force" in Lebanon. (Or take the shitz that Adam Shatz wrote today.) The premise is the same. It's this outdated Third-Worldism/Leftism "that holds on to Hizbullah as the proxy for the international workers' movement," as a friend put it to me.

So anyway, Helena's (et al.) nonsense aside, this might signal some sort of readiness for a compromise by Hizbullah. We'll see if that's the case.

Cash Cow

In case you weren't sure why the Syrians are holding on tooth and nail to Lebanon. Here's one clue:

Koleilat also seemed to have friends in high places. She "claimed she was backed by high-ranking government officials and Army intelligence officials," Fortress Global reported. Indeed, the investigators say, they uncovered evidence that during a one-month period ending in January 2003, Koleilat used Al-Madina funds to pay $941,000 to the brothers of Gen. Rustum Ghazali, then the powerful chief of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon. Citing a confidential source, Fortress Global says that the following March, Koleilat arranged a $300,000 "donation" for General Ghazali from bank funds. She also moved $100,000, in November 2002, through an account at a sister bank of Al-Madina's to a Lebanon bank account of Mustapha Tlass, then the minister of defense and the deputy prime minister of Syria, according to Fortress Global.

Its report cites other "questionable" deals. In 2002, the report says, Koleilat transferred, at no cost, a lavish Beirut apartment to a close friend of Khaled Kaddour, identified as the office manager for Syrian Lt. Col. Maher Assad. Assad is the brother of Syrian President Assad. Koleilat also used bank funds, the report said, to buy a villa from Elias Murr, then Lebanon's interior minister and the son-in-law of Lebanese President Lahoud. Koleilat paid $10 million for the property, and placed it in the name of her boyfriend, Fortress Global says. When the villa was later taken over by Lebanese authorities, the investigators say, it was valued at $2.5 million.

This report has more, with interesting remarks on Lebanon's debt:

Economist Joe Faddoul, head of the consultant group Istisharat, said: "The direct and indirect takings [by Syria] each come to $1 billion, or $2 billion a year."

He pointed out that since factional violence here came to an end 12 years ago, Syria has taken home $24 billion from its ties to Lebanon, which Faddoul said helps explain the Lebanese public debt of $35 billion.

"The official line is that the debt is the result of waste and corruption," he said, although in fact it is a result of "a coherent and organized system of direct and indirect payments."

He cited the example of telephone "piracy" thanks to two pro-Syrian entitites operating in Lebanon.

A well-placed source here has said that "tens of millions of dollars in telephone receipts go directly into Syrian pockets each month."

It's not news, just another piece of the puzzle. That's why Bashar (and his Lebanese cronies) will fight to the bitter end. But it's all crumbling before their eyes, with international investigation looming on the horizon.

More than He Could Chew

Michael Young analyzes the Fitzgerald report and its potential aftermath:

An international inquiry into Hariri's murder, if it is approved, is a dangerous virus for the Syrian regime, both with respect to its authority in Lebanon and at home. While an investigation may take time, it will very soon start eating away at Assad's credibility and that of his Lebanese friends. Its progress might also be used by the United Nations as leverage to secure Syrian concessions in the short term, particularly on the timing of a military pullout from Lebanon. There is a good chance that legal action will be forthcoming, and that it will target those at the very top in Beirut and Damascus.

The UN team wrote that Hariri's assassination had "an earthquake-like impact on Lebanon." Indeed it did, but the Fitzgerald report has all the makings of the tsunami that follows the earthquake. The Syrians will try to brace themselves for the impact, but that may well prove to be in vain. Rafik Hariri's death was just too big a bite for Bashar Assad.

The UN Security Council will likely adopt the report's recommendation of an international investigation with wide executive authority. Perhaps, as Michael notes, "among the first people to be interrogated, one presumes, would be Assad himself and Lahoud."

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Apparition in the Levant

Fouad Ajami shares his thoughts on Lebanon.

I once remarked about how Ajami, who is a staunch secularist, was recognizing the virtue of consociationalism in that it acknowledges realities on the ground. I pointed that out when I wrote about his appearence on Al-Jazeera (with luminary Juan [a.k.a. "John"] Cole, who displayed his "command" of Arabic, by speaking English!).

Another interesting thing Ajami did in his latest piece is that he adopted the Lebanonist narrative. You've heard me talk about that (see my "Wrong Nationalism" and "Irrelevance of Political Arabism" posts below), and how Jumblat and Bahia Hariri have essentially echoed that narrative in talking about the post-Syrian Lebanon. It can be argued that Rafiq Hariri himself was de facto an adherent of that narrative, because it's pragmatic, and Ajami talked about that in his WSJ piece "Death of a Businessman" (see also Asher Kaufman's comments about Hariri and his coopting of elements of Phoenicianism in his promotion of tourism in Lebanon).

Ajami uses key terms that point in that direction:

Lebanon had been, in the past, a land of relative freedom--a freedom born of the multiplicity of its religious communities, of the anarchic nature of its people and their exposure to commerce and the sea.
A noble and solitary opposition held on to a memory of a country that had once been a refuge for minorities and dissidents and a break from the autocracies of the other Arab states. (Emphasis mine.)

All these terms are technical. They are the foundation of the Lebanonist narrative, especially the vision of the underestimated Michel Chiha (you can see Ajami's homage to Chiha in his Dream Palace book). The geographical symbolism (very reminiscent of Fernand Braudel) and the primacy of commerce, the "refuge of minorities," the "break from autocracies," are all established vocabulary.

You can see them being rehashed today when Bahia invokes her brother's legacy of reconstruction and investment (regardless of whether she emphasizes the "Arabness" of Lebanon). When Jumblat and Hamade talk about the end of the police state and autocratic heavy-handedness, and about the difference of the Lebanese experience within the Arab context (see Jonathan's reference to the QS manifesto), and when all of them talk about a free, sovereign, independent and democratic Lebanon, it's all based on an established and separate Lebanese identity.

But perhaps the most significant thing Ajami said was at the end:

It is Damascus and its tyranny on one side and the cedar revolution of the vast majority of Lebanon's people on the other. For once, there is an easy and good choice in an Arab land.

Indeed, the choice ought to be very easy. But not if you are an "expert" like the Coles, Cobbans, AbuKhalils and Seales of the world. All of them showed nothing but contempt, malice, "doubts, qualifications, and sophistries" (as a friend put it) all masked as "expertise" and "insight." Ajami touched on that when he said that Lebanon was viewed with contempt as an "easy, frivolous land." See for instance, the clown Angry Hair's remarks about Lebanon's movement being a "Hummus revolution," and how it was too "Gucci." Or how the opposition was "right wing" (whatever the hell that stupid meaningless label means in the Lebanese context). Perhaps Cobban's characterization "snafu" is better! As my friend remarked, all these "doubts, qualifications, and sophistries speak volumes about their fundamental character," and absolutely nothing about Lebanon. Meanwhile, as Ajami said, the Lebanese continue "treating the other Arabs to a spectacle of peaceful revolt."

Update: Stacey Yadav has a passage that's relevant to Ajami's point about the "multiplicity of religious communities" and how that relates to the "relative freedom" of Lebanon. She writes:

I would say that religion and role of religion in the public sphere will be the determining factor [in democratization], much as it was for Europe (though, of course, local histories mattered, too). Religion - and its local interpretations, its claims to absolute truth - has a palpable effect on structuring discourse and the boundaries of acceptable speech. As such, it has an unquestionable impact on the concept of political pluralism. If you take as an assumption that political pluralism - tolerance of the existence of difference - is necessary for democracy to take root, then I think that the interpretation of religion and shared understandings of its role in society are two of the most important features for successful democratization. An environment in which people are afraid to speak - not necessarily because of laws limiting free expression so much as social codes delimited authorized speech - is not one in which people will be able to exercise votes freely or debate openly.

Religious heterogeneity has had an effect on the existence of ideological pluralism, and in this way I see Lebanon (and even Syria, down the road) having some truly democratic promise. Takfir has little or no place in religiously heterogeneous environments, though it may still function within the boundaries of specific communities, in their own internal discourse.

That's why Islamism never had a chance in Lebanon, and why Hizbullah and Fadlallah had to radically restate their position over the last 20 years.

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Head Heeb Nails It

I've already mentioned Jonathan Edelstein's series on Lebanese politics. At the time, he had only done two parts, and he and I and a couple of other readers had a discussion about the Lebanese system in the comments section of those posts. I learned a lot from him about various models and constitutions in other consociational or quasi-consociational systems. He has incorporated all that into the fifth part of his series. The result is I think the best thing that's been written about Lebanon's system since it became a hot topic after Hariri's assassination.

It's a great antidote to the kind of garbage penned by Helena Cobban and that clown As'ad AbuKhalil (and even some stuff by Juan Cole on Lebanon) which passes as "veteran" analysis or as "expertise." The reason why is that Edelstein starts with the right premise, whereas the others don't. Cobban and AbuKhalil are working with Third Worldist and Arabist models and are stuck in the '70s (viewed through that lens of course). You can get a sense of that from Helena's comment to Jonathan's post. As for Angry Hair, he has recently said that he doesn't believe that "Lebanon is viable as a nation," and that "once Palestine and Syria are free, all these entities should integrate." I'm not kidding! And to add insult to injury, this idiot is said to be writing a book on Lebanese identities!

Jonathan is in a different league than these poseurs. His post includes four "predictions" for the future of Lebanon:

1- [T]he status quo will not endure for long. Even if the government succeeds in turning back the opposition's challenge or the opposition becomes a victim of its own disunity, the artificial stasis of the Pax Syriana is on its way out. Syria will continue to have influence in Lebanon, through political and financial alliances if nothing else, but that influence will no longer be backed by armed force or have the capacity to override indigenous political currents.

For the past fifteen years, Lebanon has been a state where political competition was possible (evidenced not least by Rafik Hariri's successful electoral comeback in 2000) but ideological competition was muted. Now, real ideological competition has reopened, and the debate over the country's future will increasingly move from the media and political salons into the electoral arena. Once that happens, stasis becomes difficult if not impossible to maintain.

This is very sober. Syria will always have some allies with seats in parliament, but what I called the "coercive influence" will diminish greatly, if not cease altogether (given how the entire world is watching). Therefore, Syria won't be able to impose its will and override the Lebanese political system nearly as much as it used to. Furthermore, once Lahoud and the security chiefs are booted out (and the UN report, and the possible new UN resolution calling for an international investigation is sure to assist in that regard) Syria's foothold will be that much smaller.

Jonathan's point about the Syrian imposed stasis is also refreshing, and contrasts with the heavily apologetic nonsense that we hear left and right, especially from Syria's embassadors in the West. Samir Qassir and Ghassan Tueni have recently both written about how the myth of Syria being a force of peace and stability was not only false, but insulting, as Syria actively took part in the "civil" war, and randomly bombarded Christian and Muslim areas alike. Also, Farid el-Khazen has written on the Syrian interference in the parliamentary elections in the post-Taef era, and how Syria basically stifled political life in the country. This is not to mention how they slowly but surely were turning the country into a police state in their image.

2- [A] doomsday scenario involving a renewed civil war or the breakup of the country is unlikely. There will be political violence - indeed, there already has been - but political violence occurs even in democracies and must reach a certain critical mass in order to destabilize a country. Lebanon is in a much better position to resist destabilization now than in 1975; there is a broad consensus on the framework of the political system, all the major factions are committed to nonviolent resolution of their differences, the national army is stronger and relatively non-sectarian, and the organized militias (with the single exception of Hizbullah) have disappeared. The political violence that occurs in Lebanon during the short to medium term will likely involve covert agencies, ideologically motivated freelancers or settling of local feuds, all of which are relatively controllable and limited in scale. The center will, in all likelihood, hold.

That's in fact what Marwan Hamade and Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah have both said. What they said was that there were no "ingredients" for a civil war, either locally, regionally, or internationally.

Jonathan did well to differentiate actual civil strife from terrorist intimidation (unlike Angry Hair, or even Cobban, who spuriously jumped at any sign of violence as "proof" of 1975-like tensions.) The point about the center holding is especially apt, and is in direct contrast to 1975.

3- it appears that Lebanon is in the process of developing a national consciousness that will roughly approximate the Qornet Shehwan manifesto: i.e., a sense of Lebanon and the Lebanese as a distinct nation within the Arab cultural sphere. One of the side effects of the Pax Syriana has been the coalescing of a Lebanese national identity among the Sunnis, who were historically resistant to it, and even to some extent among the Shi'ites. Such an identity will reject both ideologies that include only part of the population, like Maronite nationalism and Islamism, and those like pan-Syrian and pan-Arab nationalism that subsume Lebanon into a larger entity. At the same time, however, this emerging identity will be an Arab identity, grounded in Arabic cultural heritage, language and history. The "Phoenician" particularity that existed among elements of the pre-Taif right wing, or other ideologies that reject Arabic heritage, aren't likely to play a part in the emerging Lebanese consensus.

I've made similar comments on this blog, especially with regard to the Sunnis, but also with regard to the "Lebanonist" nature of the phenomenon, despite the Arabist rhetoric (see my post on the "Irrelevance of Political Arabism" below). So in that sense I differ slightly from Jonathan. Arabism, I think, is now little more than a loose regional identity, where Lebanon fits in (i.e., again similar to the QS manifesto that Jonathan quotes). However, I'll add that even this regional identity is likely to be diluted and changed even further in the mid-term future. Turkey and Israel will soon be integrated into this regional order, and the Euro-Med treaties will help in that regard, further redefining, and "globalizing" the regional identity. Perhaps we might see a resurgence of the old "Mediterraneanism" as a result. But the regional identity matters little, as it mattered little in the past (that's why Lebanon, and the Maronites, had no problem being part of the Arab League) as long as the uniqueness of Lebanon is acknowledged and preserved, which is common wisdom today even among Arab states.

Furthermore, considering how Iraq has moved away from the Arab order (and also adopted consociationalism), how Jordan needs a specific Jordanian identity (to counter Palestinian nationalism), etc., Arabism will be a very loosely defined cultural Oberbegriff, and one among several at that. (Again, don't read this with old eyes).

4- Finally, and perhaps most controversially, I believe that the Lebanese political system will continue to be consociational for as long as the development of a national consciousness is incomplete, and probably for some time after. Consociationalism is the default in countries, like Lebanon, where the primary focuses of identity and loyalty are subgroups within the nation-state rather than the nation itself. Such focuses, moreover, can exist even alongside an emerging national overlay, in much the same way as European nationalisms continue to exist despite the growing role of the EU as a focus of identity. (Emphasis mine.)

This is the most important thing that Jonathan said, and the reason why his analysis is sober. He doesn't attack the consociational system like Seale, Cobban and AbuKhalil, and even Cole, who all said that the Lebanese system wasn't a "real" democracy, because it wasn't a Westminster majoritarian model. Following Lijphart, Jonathan goes on to explain why in a plural society, majoritarianism can be "undemocratic":

Consociationalism is often regarded as flawed because it runs counter to the Enlightenment ideals of rule by the majority and the individual as the fundamental bearer of rights within the nation, but in countries with strong group identities, simple majority rule can be an oppressive rather than a democratic concept. Where majorities are formed around ethnic, religious or other social groups rather than cross-sectorial ideological factions, majority rule without constraints translates to rule for the benefit of the dominant group. One has only to look to the theoretically unitary states of post-colonial Africa and Asia, many of which are effectively controlled by the majority ethnic group or a politically dominant minority, to see how the Enlightenment ideal can break down in practice.

Jonathan has a very realistic view of consociationalism which is very refreshing indeed (I would say a bit more on the concrete and separate sense of Lebanonness that definitely counts as a national identity, even as it coexists with the sub-national identities). He also holds a non-static view of Lebanon, as I do. He goes on to offer various options and scenarios that might be adopted in Lebanon in the future, as part of the new Third Republic. I won't comment in detail on each of the options as that would take forever. But I find many of them very intriguing (which why I restate how much I've learned from my discussion with Jonathan). I should add that some of them have already been floated around in Lebanon (bicameralism, proportional representation, rotation of the top three offices, federalism, etc.)

Jonathan's comment (in the comments section) about Hizbullah being possibly interested in federalism as a trade-off for disarming is an interesting point. However, so far Hizbullah's rhetoric has been against this as a thinly masked "partition." Fadlallah's comment (linked above) might also be interpreted as emphasizing the Taef promise of the abolition of the sectarian system. Fadlallah and several Shiite figures have long wanted that option of a single district, one-man-one-vote system (and some believe, this harkens back to Hizbullah's and Fadlallah's dreams of an Islamic state). That is unlikely to happen anytime in the forseeable future.

The point about "gatherings"/alliances is very interesting and I think, as I told Jonathan in my comments to his earlier posts, it will play a positive role in the future, as he himself lays out. Whether this will lead to holding open parliamentary seats for "independent" non-sectarian voters, I can't say. But like I said, so many of the alternatives are interesting, but that's because all work within or from the consociational system, so they don't raise red flags for the communities.

Jonathan's conclusion is equally sober:

But all that will be decided in the future. In the coming months, Lebanon will begin to make the transition to its third republic. It will have to find a method of mediating inter-confessional relations that avoids the rigidity of the first republic and doesn't depend on the artificial stasis of the second. The method it will choose is beyond prediction, and will be the product not only of the current crisis and the past five years' political evolution but other factors that will emerge only as the post-Syrian order takes shape. This time, it seems that the Lebanese factions have both the experience and the will to find such a method. The path will be long and difficult, and there will be setbacks, but I'm optimistic about Lebanon's new dawn.

Very well said. Finally, a level-headed article about Lebanon without the ideological bias, the venom, the contempt, the apologetics for Syria, and the thinly-veiled defense of authoritarianism. An excellent post all around.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Sham Government

Michael Young discusses the latest government maneuverings and options in Lebanon, including the Maronite Patriarch's Sfeir recent blunder:

Karami must either set up a government now, even if it is not one of national unity, or, preferably, step down and make room for the establishment of a neutral government acceptable to all sides.

The Fitzgerald report should only reinforce this necessity. Anything negative about the behavior of the government and the security services it oversees will all but disqualify Karami's return to office. Of course, the pro-Syrians in the regime, particularly President Emile Lahoud, may ignore this, as they did the estimated one million protestors two Mondays ago, but the tide will slowly turn against them. If a negative UN report fuses with the 40-day anniversary of Hariri's murder and more bombs around Lebanon, one might gradually see the formation of a perfect storm of recrimination.

Lahoud and Syria's supporters have failed to explain why a neutral government is unacceptable. Karami insists on a national unity government, and it's unfortunate that Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir was willing to consider the idea. He backtracked somewhat by setting as a condition that half the Cabinet seats must go to the opposition. But any participation is a mistake: bargaining over portfolios may divide opposition politicians and will turn Lahoud into a godfather of the transitional order. This would only legitimize him and allow him more leeway to negotiate a flexible timetable for a Syrian departure.

Sfeir should, instead, put his weight exclusively behind the neutral government proposal, something he's repeatedly called for. The UN report, assuming it is critical, will allow him to re-emphasize that necessity and permanently eliminate the national unity alternative, which is a sham.

You could tell that the Patriarch erred when the insufferable Farouq al-Sharaa praised his initial stance. Never a good sign, especially when the rest of Sharaa's statements (about ceasing the accusations about Hariri's murder) were nothing short of a threat.

The reason is simple: Lahoud and his secret service goons are really Syria's main foothold in the country. An international investigation that will point the finger at them cannot be good (especially now that a Lebanese judge assigned with the investigation has resigned. It was said that evidence was withheld from him, and that he was pressured to prosecute Jumblat)! That's why the Syrians have been fighting it tooth and nail (also, remember Hizbullah's Arab committee initiative). The Arab League reacted predictably, and it was left to Kofi Annan to address the league telling them that further international investigation will be needed. In fact, the most relevant speeches at the summit were made by Annan and Chirac, who relayed a message from the EU and repeated the basic demands of full Syrian withdrawal before the elections, which the EU stressed should take place on time, and the full independence and sovereignty of Lebanon. He also added that EU election monitors will be sent to help. Chirac also said that "those who would say that anarchy and killings will return to Lebanon without a Syrian presence should be quickly unmasked and condemned." David Satterfield echoed that message: "The international community will hold responsible all those involved -- individuals, organizations and governments."

The Syrians, as Michael pointed out, are trying to stall their final withdrawal until after the elections. Annan rejected a set of conditions in relation to the full implementation of 1559, brought to him by Bashar at the Arab summit. Mubarak, who met with Chirac, also told Assad that a firm timetable should be put out in a week, and that the withdrawal should be done before the elections. The delay, and the securing of Lahoud and the security chiefs, are the main immediate concerns for the Syrians. They're trying to muscle the opposition with violence (two bombings so far in Christian areas) in order to force it to join the "national unity" government.

The opposition has not adopted Sfeir's earlier stance, and it seems from this story that Sfeir has dumped his former initiative and is back on the same page with Jumblat (and the proposal of a small cabinet of elder statesmen echoes Michael's proposal). After a couple of intermediaries met with Sfeir and Jumblat, it was said that both Sfeir and Jumblat had similar responses holding on to the option of a neutral government, and not a national unity one. The an-Nahar story shares Michael's concerns that the ultimate goal of this stalling is to cancel the May elections, and this one from Naharnet talks about a plot to extend the life of the current Parliament for another three years. That's Syria's aim, it seems, in order to maintain its goons in place, as a new, freely elected parliament, will do away with Lahoud and the security chiefs (thereby further isolating Hizbullah) and costing Syria its main foothold in the country.

Joshua Landis recently wrote to me that Bashar has painted himself as the Geronimo of Arabism, and is into this with both arms. How can he let go? He has no option but to fight (dirty) to the end. Let's see what that means. Dick Cheney said"it's not clear yet they will do what they need to do." "Syria is pretty isolated at this point," he added. Considering what Annan, Chirac, and Mubarak said, (not to mention King Abdullah's bombshell about Syria encouraging "Palestinian activists to carry out terror attacks against Israel, trying to divert attention from the situation in Lebanon and Syria,") I'd say that Cheney's assessment is rather correct (see also this LA Times article)! That Geronimo analogy is sounding more and more apt, and that may mean that an inevitable showdown lies ahead.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Charles Paul Freund, one of the most insightful writers on ME pop culture, put up a post on the Lebanese contestant who was forced to pull out from the Eurovision music contest because of the participation of an Israeli singer in the contest. Chuck had this excellent analysis:

The chances are that with nationalist feelings running very high, the majority of Lebanese would have welcomed such a showcasing of their country, especially in a European event. As for Israel, the opposition (the majority of the country is the opposition) appears to favor a truce on the Lebanese-Israeli border anyway.

Maybe this is a case where responsible people don't want to risk the slightest provocation; feelings are running high, there are disturbing reports of bombings, and rumors of more bombs, kidnappings, and other threats. Who knows what might lead to what? Besides, the sound of the Israeli contestant in song could have driven Hizbollah's Hassan Nasrallah mad. (Nasrallah's own Lebanese TV station, Al Manar, features no Israeli music, but makes up for that with reports that Jews are actively spreadings AIDS, etc.)

On the other hand, Tele-Liban is a state agency, the Lebanese state remains in the hands of Syrian lackeys, and this may be too dangerous a moment for such a state to do anything that might be mistaken for good sense, reasonableness, or tolerance.

Tolerance!? Apparently Chuck hasn't been reading the Angry Hair. They stole our bread, Chuck! Did you hear what I said! Our bread, damn it! Now you want us to hear them sing? So that they can steal our songs too? And you want us to be reasonable!? What's wrong with you?!

Seriously though, Chuck's framing of the issue in terms of the old Arab nationalist clichés still used by the power-players in choking Lebanonist self-expression is right on the money. That, after all, is part of the current situation in Lebanon. The opposition has to play according to those rules. As it is, the opposition and the protesters are being labeled Israeli agents (cf. Jumblat being portrayed as a Jewish Rabbi in the Hizbullah rally, which Jumblat took as a death threat). In fact, Hariri was accused of this in the immediate run up to his death (which is why Jumblat understood the Rabbi picture as a threat). Nasrallah's recent attacks on the oppostion (in his interview on al-Manar), as well as Bashar's attack in his speech, were all in terms of cooperation with Israel. Hariri's TV station was recently targeted as a "Zionist outlet" in flyers distributed around Beirut.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that the opposition has to toe the Arabist anti-Israel line (and some may believe it to an extent, I'm sure), there are growing voices of dissent. See for instance this parody by a Lebanese blogger, in response to the accusations against Hariri's Future TV.

Michael Young's recent profile of Walid Jumblat mentioned him reading about the Holocaust (not its denial!), and made a reference to his view on Israelis and the diversity of opinion and political views among them.

Furthermore, Ghassan Tueni's op-ed today was also telling. It was bizarre to read as I had raised some of its points with my friends yesterday. I told my friends how Nasrallah's focus on Israel and his attacking the opposition as Israel's lackeys was dangerous because it somehow made the suffering of the Shiites under Israel's occupation of south Lebanon the most central, or even the only valid, collective memory. All this of course is politicized, part of his bid to keep his party at the center of Lebanese consciousness. For him to do so, he needs to focus on Israel to the exclusion of everything else. This line is swallowed by many, as evident in the latter half of this WaPo piece:

At the Hezbollah-sponsored counter-demonstration earlier this month, a protester confided to me that his friends call the crowd who've been occupying Martyrs' Square "the resistance of Monot Street" -- referring to Beirut's upscale nightclub district. He had a point. The square has been full of idealists rather than realists. These bright-eyed protesters, with their guitars and flags, had never suffered Israeli occupation on their family property. The young student who told me he had no fear speaking out because the "world is watching" might not have felt that way if for years he'd been subjected to Israeli bombing in southern Lebanon -- with the most vocal American objections reserved for Hezbollah's retaliations.

Hook, line and sinker, as the saying goes!

Kanan Makiya, whose insights continue to impress me, not long ago warned against the abuse of victimhood by Iraq's Shiites, asking them to stay away from the "politics of victimhood."

Tueni's editorial came almost as a direct response to this. Tueni, attacking those who talked about "Syrian stability" in Lebanon, reminded his readers of Syria's random bombings of residential neighborhoods during the war, as well as its bombings of Palestinian camps. He also talked about how the walls of some rooms in the recently evacuated headquarters of the Syrian mukhabarat are still stained with blood. He related that a whip was left behind, with blood stains still on it. These were the torture rooms that intimidated the Lebanese.

It's important to keep this in mind, as the official Lebanese narrative, nurtured under Syria's occupation, has erased anything unrelated to Israel and threw the spotlight exclusively on Israel's role in the war, and the role of those who were allied with it, like the Phalangists (which by extension becomes the Maronites, and by extension, the Lebanese Christians). So the official Lebanese memory of the war (as well as that of the Third Worldist and Arabist journalists and writers in the West) highlights Sabra and Shatila, and Qana, but deletes Damour, Zahle, and Ashrafieh. And so on. The effect of this has been incredible imposed guilt on the Maronite community, and a self-righteous glorification of Hizbullah. Many Shiites today see Lebanon's history, and much more importantly, and tragically, see their Maronite compatriots through that distorted, propagandist lens. This was exemplified in a mock letter by the Lebanese blogger Mustapha.

This irresponsible politicized victimhood has delayed reconciliation between these two segments of Lebanese society. In contrast, the Druze and the Maronites were able to move closer toward reconciliation, while not forgetting what they had done to each other during the war. Similarly, Hariri's assassination has prompted a similar reconciliation through mourning between the Sunnis and the Maronites. It was perhaps most clear in Bahia's visit to the Christian neighborhood where the most recent car bomb exploded, where grief and the feeling of being fed-up prompted a very interesting and meaningul exchange between Bahia and some Christian women. Naharnet relayed Bahia's words:

"Let's all band together against whoever is trying to return us to civil warfare by such acts of violence," the Muslim Bahia Hariri told the predominantly Christian crowds at the scene of devastation in added evidence that Rafik Hariri's assassination has given birth to a genuine national unity. "We're not ever going to fight each other again."

Perhaps also the move to get LF leader Samir Geagea out of jail, signed by some Muslim MPs, falls in this category of reconciliation. It's definitely a political move, as Geagea commands the loyalty of a huge Maronite following, but the fact that he's reached out to, despite his history, is telling. Naharnet at least understood the move in terms of reconciliation, and indeed it's been proclaimed as such by those involved:

Geagea's release has long been an opposition precondition for finalizing a national reconciliation to remove the lingering aftermath of the 1975-1990 civil war.

There are other signs of course. The fact that the Lebanese Maronites have followed the Druze Walid Jumblat as a de facto national opposition leader, and proclaimed the Sunni Rafiq Hariri as a symbol of a post-war unity are all significant signs. This will also be the spark for a Sunni Lebanese narrative, the first of its kind. The fact that the Sunnis are choosing their compatriots over the Syrians signals a historic break and a new chapter in the Lebanese Sunni community. The fact that they still ask for good relations with Syria is irrelevant. So do the Maronites! The shift is undeniable.

This has left many Shiites feeling isolated. The voices of dissent in the Shiite community are present, as evident by letters to an-Nahar urging Nasrallah to join the Lebanese opposition, and to "place our Shiism under the Lebanese banner." Waddah Shrara has discussed it, and Jihad Zein has talked about it as well in terms of the "new majority," in reference to the emerging Sunni-Druze-Christian alliance, and where the Shiites stand in this new reality.

That the Shiites are nervous is normal. That they're looking toward Nasrallah to safeguard their rights is understandable. That explains their voicing mistrust at the opposition. That mistrust is of course expressed in terms of "Israel." That's the rhetoric they were fed for the last 30 years by their leadership. That's their latest memory, with the focus being on Hizbullah and the south in the era of Pax Syriana. But that's also what's personal to them, what they relate to. In a sense, part of the lack of communication between the Shiites and the rest of Lebanon is that the Shiites are focused on Israel, whereas the opposition is more concerned with Syria (another reason is that Hizbullah has maintained a closed canton, and maintained a self-righteous rhetoric that treats the local Lebanese scene with contempt). Syria and the Syrian era in Lebanon has focused on the Shiites through its focus on Hizbullah. It has also rewarded its loyal Shiite ally Nabih Berri by awarding his clients a vast number of administrative posts. It interfered in Hizbullah's favor when Hariri tried to defeat it in parliamentary elections in 96, and when Hariri tried to shut down the southern front after 2000. Syria also allowed Hizbullah to undermine Hariri's attempts at attracting investment and development, by keeping the destabilizing factor in the south. Ironically, however, because of that, the common Shiites didn't see a dime, or a hint of reconstruction and development in their areas, especially in the south, which needed to stay mobilized, and thus economically dead, for the sake of "the resistance." So it was rather necessary for Hizbullah to formally honor Hariri, to dispell any tensions (although the move, is also clearly political, coopting terminology --"liberation and reconstruction"-- from Bahia's speech, which Nasrallah, albeit nitpickingly, said he agreed with.)

Regardless, that's partially why most Shiites have rejected 1559, and insisted on the Taef accord. This led a Sunni MP to come out and stress that whatever change might happen, it will not affect the "constants" of the Taef. Which in turn led Nasrallah to stress that both "the letter and the spirit" of the Taef be respected. This was right after he visited the Sunni Mufti Qabbani, where he felt the need to assert that there is no division between Sunnis and Shiites in Lebanon! That's why Nasrallah and the Shiite leadership has been heavily cranking the Arabist discourse! (Remember what I said about the various uses of that discourse for local politics).

So all this long tangent was aimed at elaborating on Chuck's post, and at providing some local context for it!! Instead it may have confused you beyond words! So let me try to tie it in by saying that eventually, not now, the centrality of Israel in the narrative will continue to be weakened. It will be concomitant with the weakening of the centrality of Arab nationalism as a tool, and that is already taking place. In turn, that will lead to the strengthening of a more balanced Lebanese narrative, free of "the politics of victimhood."

Syria Exposed, and It's a Funny Sight!

The other day, reader Nabeel turned my attention to a wonderfully funny, insightful, and brutally honest new Syrian blog called "Syria Exposed". Nabeel had said that its author, Karfan (Arabic for "disgusted"), was well ahead of me in the funny department. He's absolutely right, hands down! It's not because of the surgical use of curse words, it's the entire attitude. It's terrific. Here's a sample from his latest post which made me tear up with laughter:

The other day, Karfan was asked by the establishment he works for to “voluntarily” join a support demonstration outside the Syrian Parliament while "King Lion the 2nd" was supposed to give a very important speech. Only Karfan signed in voluntarily; the rest were taken there anyway. Karfan wanted to go so that he would avoid listening to the speech, because all people and employees were supposed to be mesmerized behind their TVs or radios and listen to it. Karfan prides himself that he never listened to, or read, a single word of any of the speeches that our lord "King Lion the 2nd" blessed us with. At the gathering outside the parliament, Karfan spaced out as he usually does in such important occasions trying to recite the full long series of Aassi Al-Hellani's Aala Daloona in his head. This way, he does not have to pay attention to anything said there or to speeches, he only would raise his hand when others raise it and move his mouth in what resembles: Bil Rooh Bil Damm Nafdeek Ya... while actually he is still reciting Daloona in his head. The shouting of the others always covers his muteness.

Read also his very important posts on Arabism and Syrian identity. Incidentally, Robert Kaplan succinctly echoed Karfan's view in his WSJ op-ed yesterday (subs. req.): "Syria's pan-Arabism was a substitute for its weak identity as a state."

I'm sure it's often been said elsewhere, and I think Bernard Lewis also predicted the important role communication technology will play in the movement toward freedom and democracy in the ME, but history will dedicate a place for blogs and bloggers and their role in that regard. Witness the flurry of Lebanese blogs, many of which emerged in the aftermath of Hariri's murder, when many, who had had enough, broke their silence and plunged into the blogosphere. I've mentioned Lebanese Abroad, but see also The Lebanese Bloggers, Beirut Spring, True Lebanese, Thermo Police (for more, see here, as well as the links to other Lebanese blogs in the above-mentioned blogs). Some are expats, others are local.

It gives people a medium to express themselves as individuals, which in places like Syria, is a very important thing. This individuality has been systematically crushed by totalitarian regimes, ideologies like Arab nationalism and Islamism, but also by the intellectual mold found in Third-Worldist Western journalism, targeted by Karfan, and in ME studies in the West. One will remember, for instance, how Kommissar Juan Cole cheaply and venomously cast suspicions on the authors of Iraq The Model as "CIA agents" or "Neoconservative" moles.

These expressions will continue to peck away at the carcass of Arab nationalism, paving the way for more liberal alternatives to emerge and take hold in the local discourse. That's what the future has in store, dictators, clerics and Western "experts" notwithstanding.

Update: Chuck Freund has a brilliant post on Karfan's blog:

The blog has the quality of late Soviet Empire samizdata, especially in its complete rejection of the region's political-rhetorical framework. Not only is the Arabism of "Nasser Don Kichote" a skein of pro-forma lies, according to Karfan, but just about everybody knows it is a skein of lies, especially those who repeat those lies most often. The most effective anti-totalitarian works of the last century were about exactly this issue. The achievement of Vladimir Nabokov's 1959 novel, Invitation to a Beheading, for example, was to portray life under totalist regimes not only as brutal, but also as suffused with falseness. (Nabokov's is also a "funny" work.) Many Arabs long ago recognized the Arabist rhetorical framework as primarily a trap; that ever more Arabs are saying so -- in whatever language -- is a notable milestone.

Josh Landis also raved about Karfan, and elaborated on his dissection of Syrian society:

The part about university life made me laugh as it so true. I lived in the dormitories of the University of Damascus in 1981-1982. They were a microcosm of rural Syria. Damascenes live at home and don’t take rooms at the University City. Every room was a village, where sects and students from different regions rarely intersected. Druze gathered in the Druze rooms, Hamawis in the Hama rooms, Dairis in the Dair az-Zor rooms, and so on throughout the dormitory. When the odd “other” did drop in, the conversation was transformed. It became stiff, polite and filled with banalities. Only when the foreigners left would it return to the ribald and free discourse of companions. Somehow, as a total alien from another galaxy, I didn’t impinge on the planetary action of my floor and hallway. After a time, I was accepted in the various rooms, each its own little planet.

In reaction to Karfan's post on Arabism, Josh writes: "What can one say to this, but “Arabism is D[y]ing!!!”

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Wolfowitz, Jumblat and Lebanon

The most revealing thing about all the anti-Bush, anti-war demonstrations the other day was how in the Arabic-speaking ME, they were negligeably small -- almost token -- and passed really unnoticed, overshadowed by much more important local issues. To me, that's the first sign that the broader aim of the American enterprise in the ME is working: It has shifted focus and attention inwards. That's the beginning of the solution.

On a similar note, in recent days, Paul Wolfowitz has gotten a lot of bad press in light of his nomination for the World Bank job. For instance, read that nitwit Juan Cole's vitriolic post the other day when he accused Wolfowitz of seeking to "reduce the Arabs to poverty." But yet again, the exception happened in the ME. Wolfowitz was present at meetings and a dinner when the Maronite Patriarch visited Washington. He was interviewed for An-Nahar by Hisham Melhem who gave him a rather favorable review highlighting his dedication to democracy in the ME. Wolfowitz, by the way, said that the US "is not seeking to cause trouble in Syria. However, Syria's policy must not lead to chaos and trouble for its neighbors." But Wolfowitz didn't conceal his support for emerging Syrian opposition groups: "in all honesty, if the Syrians (in the opposition) are in need for political support and encouragement, I personally don't object to that... However, the most important thing right now is to get the Syrians out of the Lebanon -- military and secret services -- at soon as possible, and in a decisive and sure way. And we must pressure them to stop encouraging killers in Iraq and supporting them, and to stop aiding those who are trying to hamper the peace process" between Israel and the Palestinians.

Wolfowitz said that previous US policy in the ME was erroneous because "it didn't focus on the centrality of freedom and democracy in the Arab world and the broader ME, as it was interested in stability and security." Now, "American influence is moving in a different direction, and this is a factor that has contributed to what the region is witnessing today. It's a contributing factor to the efforts of the peoples of the region and what they're doing for its own interests. The US cannot create these movements. All it can do is support its goals for empowerment and democracy."

Michael Young, in a piece in the NYT that profiles Druze leader Walid Jumblat, made reference to Wolfowitz as well. By now, Jumblat's statements (both negative and positive) about Wolfowitz have been well publicized:

A case in which Jumblatt admitted to me that he was wrong involved Paul Wolfowitz, the United States deputy secretary of defense. In October 2003, he publicly regretted that Wolfowitz had not been killed in a rocket attack while in Baghdad, referring to him as a ''virus.'' This led to a revocation of Jumblatt's U.S. visa. Recently, however, Jumblatt told the Washington Post columnist David Ignatius that the success of the Iraqi elections represented ''the start of a new Arab world.'' When I asked whether he was ready to apologize to Wolfowitz, Jumblatt answered, laughing, ''Yes; I already have.'' American officials, well aware of the Druse leader's mercurial nature, never severed contacts with him, and Wolfowitz himself recently saluted Jumblatt's ''courage'' on Lebanese television. For Jumblatt, extremism in the service of self-interest is no vice.

Michael has more:

Asked whether it is true that he once with wicked humor offered the conservative Maronite Christian patriarch a copy of Eduardo Galeano's leftist critique of the industrialized world, ''Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World,'' Jumblatt answered yes and brought out two books he was currently reading. Both were utterly unexpected in that barren intellectual vale populated by most Lebanese politicians: ''At the Mind's Limits: Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and Its Realities,'' by Jean Amery, and ''The New Meaning of Treason,'' by Rebecca West. He added that he is a great admirer of Robert D. Kaplan, whose hardheaded pessimism has so often been anathema to Jumblatt's left-wing soul mates in the West. Jumblatt is forever complicating his secular, leftist image.

Michael's brief comment at the end about Lebanon and Jumblat is worth pondering:

Jumblatt's pragmatic ecumenism is common among Lebanese, which helps to explain why followers of Lebanon's once-hostile militias have been demonstrating together against Syria since Hariri's murder. Perhaps it is one reason that Christians have forgiven Jumblatt for what he did to them, even if they do not forget; another is that the Lebanese system of communal compromise is propped up by amnesia, necessary since few emerged from the civil war looking good. A third is that Walid Jumblatt, given his experience, versatility and influence, is perhaps the only national leader the opposition still has.

Jumblat's change of heart has been doubted and dismissed by many. The similar dismissal of the sudden sense of unity among previously warring groups in Lebanon is related in that both fail to understand the complicated dynamics of Lebanon. Michael summarized in that short passage above. The last line about Jumblat as national leader is very important. For one, it shows how a leader of a small minority in Lebanon (the Druze are anywhere between 5-7% of the population) can be a national leader. That shows how even proportional representation sometimes masks the actual value of a group, but that's also why I am a strong opponent of majoritarianism in Lebanon.

But this national stature also makes Jumblat a ripe target for assassination by the Syrians, which is what he himself has said repeatedly. Terje Roed-Larsen has recently expressed fears of more assassinations in Lebanon. The last time people expressed fears of assassinations, and warned Syria of avoiding that route, Hariri was blown up.

Jumblat's stature as a national leader is something Hasan Nasrallah can only dream and fantasize about. He's trying to prop himself as the new national leader (the rational voice of dialogue and the guardian of the "national resistance") in the post-withdrawal era (and trying to recapture the brief mythical moment in 2000), but the only image he's succeeding in painting is that of a (pro-Syrian) Shiite za'im: the very object of his contempt, and, if he continues on this road, the contempt of the rest of the Lebanese.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Investigation of Hariri's Murder and its Ramifications

Michael Young discusses the latest on the Hariri murder case and its potential political ramifications:

If Fisk is right that the UN fact-finding mission will recommend an international inquiry, this could be the rare murder of a Lebanese politician that is professionally investigated, and solved. A million people might count for little with the regime, but being held responsible for covering up a crime that has united the Lebanese in opposition to Syria is an altogether different proposition. What remains of the Syrian order in Lebanon would swiftly disintegrate, and Hizbullah, which has also called for an explanation of Hariri's death, would be unable to prop it up.

In fact, nothing will prop up the present Lebanese regime once the Syrians depart. If an uneventful transition takes place, one anticipates that the next Lebanese Parliament will represent the majority of Lebanese identifying with the goals of the opposition. Such a body might be able to amend the Constitution and terminate Lahoud's mandate. However, some of the president's foes suggest this process is complicated, so that it would be better to oust him sooner, politically.

What is increasingly clear, however, is that the greatest threat to this presidency, and to the Syria-inspired edifice it represents, is an answer to the one question on everybody's lips last Monday: Who killed Rafik Hariri?

(See also his post on H&R the other day.)

This Times article, contributed to by Nick Blanford, is also following suit pointing at a cover up by the Lebanese authorities and basically fingering them and Syria as the likely culprits. What the fallout of that will be, remains to be seen.

Many have joined Walid Jumblat in turning the heat on Lahoud, calling for his resignation. Samir Franjieh, member of the Qornet Shehwan gathering, which works closely with the Maronite Patriarch, said that he would rather wait till a new parliament is elected as to ensure the election of a more acceptable president. The argument is that absent of a new parliament, the result could be the imposition of yet another pro-Syrian lackey (do I hear Sleimen Franjieh?), which will not get us anywhere. The Patriarch himself made a similar statement to LBC. Most recently, Qornet Shehwan's Butros Harb also preferred postponing electing a new president until a new parliament is elected freely with the help of international monitors.

There have been some interesting convergences in the last couple of days, signaling heavy maneuverings on the part of the loyalists with Syrian blessing.

In an interview to his party's TV station, Al-Manar, Nasrallah presented new options for the opposition, which might echo Bashar's will and his message to the upcoming Arab League summit:

1- Rejection of an international investigation. Instead, calling for a pan-Arab committee that comes out of the Arab summit in Algeria.

2- Instead of the resignation of the heads of the security agencies, as demanded by the opposition, they should be brought to trial, and if found guilty of negligence, then they would be fired.

As if on cue, the most notorious security official, Jamil es-Sayyed, stepped up and offered to submit himself and all his colelagues, accused by the opposition, to trial. Of course, the presiding judge would be Rabia Kaddoura who is essentially "one of them" so, as my friend put it, "it's tantamount to being judged by an ally."

All this is related to the UN report as discussed by Michael. It seems that it will be very harsh, and that it will point the finger at the Lebanese and Syrian agencies. I wonder if Nasrallah's proposal signals another attempt at "Arabizing" the problem in order to fend off international pressure. Bashar tried it once already and failed. I don't think it will work this time either. And if you don't yet fully appreciate the absolute impotence of that charade called the Arab League, the Lebanese crisis is not on the agenda! It will be discussed in side talks. Lahoud won't attend, and some speculate neither will Bashar!

The opposition had a very strong reaction to Sayyed's proposal, and dismissed it outright. Bahia Hariri called it a "gimmick." Walid Choucair discussed Sayyed's move:

[S]ome opposition figures believe Sayyed would not have held his news conference Thursday if he hadn't been preparing for a next step, which those opposition figures see as follows:

Security forces are in the process of taking measures to end demonstrations and sit-ins staged by the opposition in Martyrs' Square. According to some opposition MPs, Sayyed, other security chiefs, Lahoud's circles and even Prime Minister-designate Omar Karami "believe that the March 14 demonstration should be the last, especially since the Ain al-Tineh Gathering and loyalists have suspended street protests, as a prelude to ending the opposition's activities. Therefore, Sayyed's statement was paving the way for upcoming measures."

I wonder if the car bomb in a residential Christian neighborhood this morning is part of this message of intimidation. Lahoud followed the bomb explosion with a call for the opposition and loyalists to start "immediate dialogue" to form a "national unity" government. There might be a message that the jig is up. If you continue yours demands of resignation things will get ugly.

That's why so-called "third party" people like former PM Salim Hoss accused the opposition of driving the country to chaos and a political vacuum. He evoked the bankrupt formula of "no victor, no vanquished," which essentially means don't push your luck trying to embarrass people.

Hoss is trying to broker a deal that would gain Syrian blessing. But he's brushing over the details, and essentially restating what Nasrallah said only in a less inflammatory manner. Hoss' claim is that the loyalists, the opposition, and his "third way" party agree on all the essentials: the withdrawal of the Syrians according to the Taef agreement which is what the loyalist camp and his party had asked for, while the opposition had asked for it according to 1559. Hoss said that this has taken place and Terje Roed-Larsen was satisfied so that's the end of that. Of course this is incomplete, as the Syrians are still in the Bekaa, and haven't fully withdrawn yet.

Hoss' second supposed point of consensus is the investigation of Hariri's murder, which he says everyone agrees on. Yes, but Hizbullah and the loyalists don't want an international committee, while Bahia Hariri and the opposition insist on that. Hoss says that that will be settled when there's a new government in place. That's nonsense as the opposition refuses to join the government until that demand is met. So Hoss' position is Syria's position and it's a trap.

The third point is the disarmament of Hizbullah, which according to Hoss everyone opposes as long as there's war with Israel. Well yes, but not quite! The opposition is willing to let Hizbullah keep its weapons, but it has made its position clear on the armistice, on the closure of the Lebanese front, and on its opposition to any plans to "liberate Jerusalem" Hizbullah might have, as long as Lebanon is the only front in that war, and as Jumblat said, the Syrians need to provide documents proving that Shebaa Farms are Lebanese. There are other unclear points with regard to this issue, so it's hardly a point of consensus. And since Hoss is fond of quoting Larsen, it was Larsen who said that 1559 will not be fully implemented until Hizbullah disarms, no matter when that takes place. So at best, Hizbullah is buying some time, and the opposition is willing to give it that time, but with the clear understanding that the front with Israel is closed. I.e., the regional role is over, and only the local option is available.

So what in Hoss' view is the sticking point? The security officials, and he's calling for them to resign, or, echoing Nasrallah and Sayyed, for them to be brought before a government committee, by the future government, that will investigate them and dismiss them if it detects any deriliction of duty. I.e., it will be an inside the family thing. It means that the opposition will have to join the government first, before anything is done regarding the security chiefs, and they will be dealt with internally. This will of course preempt the potentially disastrous results of the UN investigation. The opposition won't agree to that. Besides, Hizbullah would face a dilemma if it agrees to one international role and not another (1559).

The Shiite power centers have also toed that line. The Vice President of the Higher Shiite Council Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan gave an over-the-top Arabist speech that chastized the opposition. He also refused calls for the resignation of the president. The ultra-Arabist line basically echoed Nasrallah's interview. I'll have more to say about that interview in an upcoming post, but the use of maximalist Arabist rhetoric is always the sign of a party in trouble trying to sound the alarm and mobilize support (that's exactly why Bashar used it in his speech). I'll elaborate later.

Nasrallah tried to reach a compromise with Bahia because she used some Arabist rhetoric in her speech, but she rejected his "Arab investigative committee" proposal, and insisted on an international investigation. Again, different uses and definitions of Arabist rhetoric, like I mentioned in my post on Arabism the other day. Both Bahia and Butros Harb (and of course Jumblat, so Druze, Maronites and Sunnis) are still insisting on the international investigation and the resignation of the security chiefs.

This is why all these maneuverings are taking place (at Syria's behest) trying to get them to reach a compromise, "no victor no vanquished," and to solve the murder case "internally" and buy the Syrians and the Lebanese cronies time, and possibly get them off the hook through some bogus Arab initiative.

The Shiites are siding with the status quo, where they benefitted the most, and are afraid that what comes next will exclude them or isolate them, so they're adopting a defensive line. I'll have more about that in my upcoming post.

Update: Raja of The Lebanese Bloggers comments on today's bombing and Jamil es-Sayyed.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Juan Man, Juan Vote

Longtime reader Matt Frost brought this diarrhetic BBC News article to my attention. It attacks the Iraqi political system and transitional law, and quotes --who else?-- Iraq luminary Juan Cole, and that beacon of Leftist integrity, Naomi "Muqtada is my hero" Klein. This nauseating piece reflects the biases I touched on in my post "The Semantics of Numbers."

So what's Khwan pissed about now? He's pissed at the "neo-colonial" imposition of requiring a 2/3 majority when it comes to major political decisions. Khwan thinks that a 51% secured by the Shi'a should be enough for them to take over. And to show just how enraged he is, he passed one of his infamous JuanCologies:

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the two-thirds super-majority is characteristic of only one nation on earth, i.e. American Iraq. I fear it is functioning in an anti-democratic manner to thwart the will of the majority of Iraqis, who braved great danger to come out and vote.

Before I actually rebuff this nonsense, I must pause at Khwan's remarkable sleaziness. Remember folks, this is the same Juan Cole who called the elections a "joke" (his comrade Helena Cobban just called them a "mockery").

But back to his fantastic assertion about (the ultra-condescending) "American" Iraq. He "wouldn't be surprised" if 2/3 majority was applicable only in "American Iraq." Well, that's because Khwan knows jack about the various democratic models in the world, especially in what's known as deeply divided (or segmented, or plural) societies. That's because he's ignorant of the workings of consensus models and minority representation. Let's take a look at some examples provided in Arend Lijphart's Democracies:

Written constitution and minority veto:
The Belgian constitution can only be changed by two-thirds majorities in both chambers of the legislatures. This rule also entails a minority veto, if the minority, or a combination of minorities, control at least a third of the votes in one chamber. Moreover, the 1970 constitutional reforms introduced a minority veto on nonconstitutional matters for the purpose of protecting the French-speaking minority against the Dutch-speaking majority. Any bill affecting the cultural autonomy of the linguistic groups requires not only the approval of two-thirds majorities in both chambers but also majorities of each linguistic group -- a good example of John C. Calhoun's "concurrent majority" principle. On all other nonfinancial bills, the French-speaking minority in each chamber may appeal to the cabinet, composed of equal numbers of the two language groups, if it feels that its vital interests are threatened.

All of the eight elements of consensus democracy aim at restraining majority rule by requiring or encouraging: the sharing of power between the majority and the minority (grand coalitions), the dispersal of power (among executive and legislature, two legislative chambers, and several minority parties), a fair distribution of power (proportional representation), the delegation of power (to territorially or nonterritorially organized groups), and a formal limit on power (by means of the minority veto). (pp. 29-30)

I guess that makes it "American" Belgium! This is what I touched on in my "Semantics" post about how these people come up with their own theories of numbers and majoritarian models and just throw them around carelessly (see Cobban's recent piece where she comes up with a fantastic concoction of numbers and statistics making the Lebanese Shiites "just under half the national population" and decided that "other Muslim sects account for a further 10-12 percent of the population." You'll remember Angry Hair's fantastic "at least 55%" etc.)

As Matt points out in his own critique of this piece of crap, the author and all the "experts" ignore "any concerns that Iraqis themselves might have, either for or against the 2/3 clause." Matt notes that the piece doesn't quote a single Iraqi, for or against, on the issue. Their "cause" is entrusted to their representative (who knows them more than they know themselves), Juan Cole.

And just to add insult to injury, let's call upon Naomi Klein, who about a year ago was supporting Muqtada's thugs as the true voice of Iraqi nationalism. Klein serenades us with her pearls of wisdom:

Naomi Klein criticises all these measures for giving Iraq’s minorities power beyond their numbers, and she blames Washington.

A US “terrified at the prospect of an Iraq ruled by the majority of Iraqis”, she wrote in the UK’s Guardian newspaper, was tilting the scales of power to allow the US-friendly Kurdish parties the power to shoot down parliamentary decisions they did not like.

Matt, commenting on this incredibly insulting depiction of the Kurds, correctly notes "[t]he notion that the Kurds are US agents is not an entirely new idea." That's right, and that's the same kind of vitriol thrown at the Lebanese Christians (cf. Bashar's speech and Nasrallah's recent interview on al-Manar which I will comment on in a post shortly). Matt attacks the incredible dishonesty of Klein and the author of the article for not mentioning how the Sunnis benefit from this arrangement, "since to do so would recognize that the minority protections in the TAL are intended to secure the rights and participation of the pan-Arabist, anti-American Sunni minority just as much as of the putatively pro-US Kurds."

But like I said time and time again, this is not about Iraq. All this venom is local partisan politics. All this is meant to attack Bush. If we need to bash the Iraqis to do so, then so be it. This fact did not escape Matt:

In their hysteria to condemn any Iraqi government as illegitimate, Cole and Klein (and their transcriptionist at the BBC, Becky Branford) adopt a reverence for pure majority rule that has little to do with actual concern for Iraq’s security, its Shiite majority, or its democratic future.

That's why Khwan's been busy recently popping up posts, op-eds and articles to "prove" how Bush is wrong about democracy in the ME. In the process of this pathological Bush-bashing, he ends up sounding like a clone of the worst totalitarian Arab dictator (like I showed a few days ago), and ends up dogmatically adopting a rigid majoritarian model, irrespective of what Iraqis agreed to!

I won't waste time on that useless Klein. Matt has a post on The Nation and Arab democracy that shows how they're a bunch of useless zealots, which is exactly what Cole is.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Irrelevance of Political Arabism

Before I go ahead with this post, I would like to apologize for the absence and spotty posting. I was, and still am, swamped with work. So I must ask for your patience and understanding.

Due to the demands of my work, I will have to cut down on round-ups, and stick more to analysis and commentary. For round-ups on Lebanon, the place to go to is Publius Pundit. Robert Mayer is regularly checking the Lebanese English-language papers, as well as the reactions of many Lebanese bloggers. One such blogger is Lebanese Abroad, who has been posting some analysis on Hizbullah and the opposition. Also, always check out Rich Anderson, although he too is on short hiatus due to travel. I will continue to supplement that with stories from Arabic-language papers, as well as other commentary and analysis from elsewhere.

While my previous post dealt with Hizbullah and how some commentators interpreted the dynamics of numbers and democracy, this post will deal with the role of Arabism in the current crisis in Lebanon and Syria. This also was part of how many commentators (e.g., Seale, Cobban, inter al.) presented the situation: Arabism vs. Israel and the US. Of course --and I showed how these commentators end up parroting the lines of the regional despots-- this was the discourse in Bashar's speech, replaying the old Baathist clichés on how this was the old struggle between Western and Zionist imperialism and the nationalist forces of Arabism. You'll also remember that I said that Arabism as an ideology is called upon when a regime is in danger. This is precisely what happened in 1948 when the Syrians used the ideology of Arabism to drag reluctant Arab states to war with embryonic Israel. The whole point behind the war, as Joshua Landis convincingly argued, was to keep Abdullah of Jordan, with his Greter Syria plans, at bay. I.e., it was a distraction, a smoke screen; ideology in a Marxist sense.

As such, it was natural for Bashar to invoke it in his speech. As Josh again argued, "that's exactly why Assad tried to paint this as the Arabs against the West and Israel, because he's trying to win Arab support for his position. And he's trying to paint the Lebanese opposition as agents of the West and, in particular, of Israel." Needless to say, he failed. None of the Arab states were impressed. In fact, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan all pressured Syria to withdraw swiftly. So, what does this say about Arabism? Josh himself (before wobbling that is, as we'll discuss below) wondered whether it spelled the end of Arabism:

Syria is the last leg holding up the increasingly wobbly edifice of Arab nationalism.
Every Arab country has adopted a policy of me first. King Abdullah has been the loudest and most open in proclaiming a policy of Jordan first. But as one Arab country after another has fallen in step with America’s diplomacy, they too have adopted the me first strategy. Saddat, of course, did it first, leading to Egypt’s isolation and his assassination, decades before Hariri’s. But all the other Arab leaders have followed suit, some quietly and others with more fanfare, such as Muammar Qadhafi.

If Syria pulls out of Lebanon swiftly and completely, as it should, it will have given up on Arab nationalism – at least, in everything but name. The constitution will still trumpet that Syria is only “a region of the Arab nation,” and the Baath Party will still claim it stands for “Arab Unity,” but they will be nothing but folkloric relics of a rapidly disappearing creed. Syria claims that it will “protect the Arabism of Lebanon.” But without a military presence in Lebanon, only the Lebanese will be able to decide their identity.

Syria will be left no choice but to join the “me first” generation of Arab states. Many reformists here are gambling that Bashar will do just that – quite possibly even announcing an ambitious and reinvigorated agenda of internal reforms to deflect his foreign embarrassments and turn the recent struggle inward. There is no telling if he will do this. I doubt he will. It would require a revolution.

Josh also related the reaction of many Syrians to the speech:

Most Syrians appreciated the president’s rhetoric about Arabism and how Syria is protecting its identity and that of the Arabs more generally. They see the recent events as he does – a battle between the forces of imperialism and Zionism against those of the embattled Arabs and Syrians.

Then, based on Hasan Nasrallah's speech at the Hizbullah rally, Josh claimed that "the Arabist rhetoric of the Baath Party and Bashar al-Asad still resonates in the hearts of millions." Josh further related how many Syrians appreciated that Baathist rhetoric from Nasrallah. Josh never critically assessed that speech and rather seemed to be sucked into the Syrian internalizing of this rhetoric, especially about the Syrian and Lebanese people being "one." Sure enough, this brief moment of succor provided by Nasrallah was soon drowned out by a mammoth protest that made crystal clear where the Lebanese stand on that issue.

Many are wasting time dissecting the rhetoric of Bahia Hariri, Walid Jumblat, and other opposition figures on the issue of Arabism and relations with Syria. And every time there's a nod to the rhetoric of Arabism, these commentators (cf. Angry Hair) dump their premises on it: "see, the opposition is divided, the Sunnis don't like the agenda of the right-wing Maronites and want to have good relations with Syria."

All the above confuses many things, and displays a shallow understanding of how Arabist rhetoric works in the region, especially in Lebanon. So what I will do is draw a few distinctions that one must keep in mind when approaching this thorny subject. I will divide matters under two broad categories: 1- Cultural Arabism and 2- Political Arabism. The two intersect to be sure, but it's important to draw a distinction.

Cultural Arabism

Chuck Freund has a really excellent post on the subject that's a must read (and not just because he plugs me!):

There's a long history of struggle to escape the Arabist straightjacket.

Lebanon, Fouad Ajami recently wrote in the WSJ, "was where Arab modernism made a stand." Perhaps contemporary Lebanonism can best be understood as a self-conscious embrace of that fact. While not necessarily opposed to an Arabist identity, Lebanonism provides a vital alternative that has long been an irritant to those Arab nationalists who have sought to subsume the different cultures of the Mideast into a single political/historical narrative; Arabists are inclined to disparage this rival as shallow, bourgeois, and even racist. It's a threat to them, and its political success will make it an even greater threat, because it may become a model not only for political change, but also for cultural change.

Only Syria remains as a failing bulwark of political Arabism; the issue may now be the survival of cultural Arabism as the dominant regional model. There is already evidence that many citizens of post-Baathist Iraq have rejected the old totalist Arabism, and it is very likely that in a liberalizing Egypt (where playwright Ali Salem is seeking to revive a Mediterranean-oriented outlook), Arabism will merely be one voice among many. In the meantime, Lebanonism, in all its free and libertine disorder, remains on daily display in Martyr's Square.

Of course, you could see Angry Hair cringing with disgust at this post (if you don't believe me, just read the pathetic intro to his Historical Dictionary). Chuck nailed it on the head.

But how is this related to what I've laid out so far? As Chuck points out (see also this piece by David Hirst), many people, like Samir Qassir, have tried to paint the Lebanese popular revolution as a new "Arab awakening." Qassir was strict in dismissing the "Lebanonism" of the phenomenon because in his mind Lebanonism means "isolationism." In that sense, he echoed the prejudices and biases of many of the Third-Worldist and Arabist commentators. Lebanonism = Maronite exceptionalism = Maronite dominance = anti-Arabism. Needless to say, this view is not only anachronistic, it's also selective and, frankly, outright false, distorted, and stupid. Chuck's post explains why.

But it begs a question. Why is Qassir so adamant about painting this with the Arabist brush? Well, when you read Josh's comments and hear Bashar's speech, you'll understand perfectly. This leaves you with two possibilities: 1- that Qassir has internalized this nonsense (he wouldn't be the first), or 2- this is mandatory rhetoric for Lebanon (especially Christians in Lebanon). But why is it mandatory? Here's where political Arabism steps in.

Political Arabism

After reading Josh's more recent posts, where he did little more than regurgitate the Arabist rhetoric internalized by so many Syrians, I had a back and forth with him via email. There he made a statement regarding "the Syrian worldview," which he had described in his posts as "Arabism and stability." Then based on Nasrallah's speech said that the Baathist rhetoric, with its anti-Zionist, anti-Imperialist line, resonated with many in Lebanon. But then, when I said that his turning this issue into something about Israel was uncritically buying into the Syrian line and ignoring other facts on the ground, he dropped this on me: "I didn't' say anything about Israel."

Clearly he did. But then I started wondering, what exactly is political Arabism? There are two essential elements: 1- Pan-Arab unity, and 2- the centrality of the Palestinian cause, which in other terms means "anti-Israel" ideology.

The first pillar has long proved a failure, especially after the colossal collapse of the pathetic UAR experiment. Josh himself talked about the "me first" stance of the Arab states and himself discussed the "me first" undertones of the 1948 war with Israel. So, what is political Arabism, which encapsulates the "Syrian worldview," if not the centrality of Israel and the Palestinian cause?

The reason why Josh's denial took me by surprise is evident in his statements I quoted above (and others in his recent posts). Add to that all his (and Seale's) emphasis on the Golan as the primary strategic interest driving Syrian policy.

But this ideology that identifies the Israeli-Arab conflict as the driving force behind any political consciousness in the ME, one that should take precedence over anything else, goes well beyond Josh. Princeton's Michael Doran just wrote a short piece for Foreign Affairs on the matter that explains it perfectly:

The school's adherents were so myopically focused on Israel as the "root cause" of the region's problems, I claimed, that they failed to appreciate the diversity and significance of various inter-Arab conflicts.
And they have been shocked by the recent developments in Lebanon, because the spectacle of teeming Lebanese crowds protesting Syria's occupation -- rather than Israel's -- was beyond their imaginations.

What all these "surprises" have in common is that they can be traced to local issues. They came as a shock because they put paid to the concept at the heart of the "root cause" school's thinking: a monolithic pan-Arab public opinion driven by an obsessive concern with the Palestinians and their supposed Israeli and American oppressors.

The attempt by Bashar to return this into the anti-Israel prism hit a stone wall everywhere except with Hizbullah. The reason is obvious, but it has nothing to do with the adoption of political Arabism. Fighting Israel is Hizbullah's raison d'être and source of prestige, and foremost, the reason why it gets to keep its arsenal.

Josh stayed on the level of discourse and never once attempted to critically assess Hizbullah's rhetoric. This is not to say that Hizbullah doesn't believe this rhetoric (I'm sure they do), but there's a lot going on underneath it. First of all, Hizbullah only recently shifted to the Arabist rhetoric. All along it held the Islamist line. It morphed the two into a "pan-Arabist Islamic" line when it needed to. It did so for various reasons: 1- the Islamist agenda in Lebanon had no hope. The country is too diverse and too liberal to ever accept it. 2- the corollary to that is that Hizbullah is a Shiite group, with a Khomeinist agenda. That's two strikes against you! Islamist groups are bad enough, but a Shiite Islamist group? That will never fly. Too many Sunnis around to prevent it.

That's why Hizbullah needed to modify the rhetoric in order to achieve regional (i.e. Sunni Arab) acceptance and relevance. It succeeded during the late 90's and in 2000 when the Israelis finally withdrew. That was the peak of Hizbullah's success. It has been downhill ever since. But during that time and in the immediate aftermath, Hizbullah milked the "Arab" rhetoric. One has to remember another element beside the strategic goal of maximizing regional relevance (which means involvement in the Palestinian territories, and later, much more subdued and confused, in Iraq). There's the minoritarian complex. The essence of that message is that it was us the Shi'a who scored the only victory against the Arab's mortal enemy, Israel. All you Sunnis failed. This was part of the Arabisierung of Hizbullah. For a while it worked. I recently took a look at Avi Jorisch's new monograph on al-Manar and its coverage of the recent Iraq war. The rhetoric was totally pan-Arab, mixed with anti-Israel rhetortic. But a central message was the haughtiness of Hizbullah and the shame and laziness of the Arabs. "We," Hizbullah, "showed you how to win against Israel. Why do you sit still?" Remember that by this time, Hizbullah's fight against Israel was comically confined to a stand-still at the Shebaa Farms. It needed to revive this "perpetual revolution" to recapture the brief moment in the sun. Alas, no one in the "Arab street" answered the call.

There was also a much more problematic dilemma. Hizbullah's Shiite cousins in Iraq benefitted greatly form the war (Tim Cavanaugh tried to push a Hizbullah MP to admit that in an interview), and after the elections, the entire Arab world lost any interest in the kind of incitement that was being propagated by al-Jazeera and al-Manar, and instead turned its attention inwards. Hizbullah was back to being merely a Shiite militia/party, much to the utter dismay of its ambitious megalomaniacal secretary general.

And you can tell that it wasn't going anywhere when Sunni states started talking anxiously about preventing a Iran-controlled or Tehran-friendly "Shiite crescent" from forming. If that wasn't enough, the Palestinians (and many Iraqis outside the hapless Muqtada Sadr) made it clear that they don't want Hizbullah involved at all in their affairs. Then finally the Lebanese opposition came out rather bluntly and said that Hizbullah has to abandon its regional ambitions and focus exclusively on the Lebanese interior. That means no more military confrontation with Israel. Jumblat called for a return to the armistice, saying that the Shebaa Farms were Syrian until the Syrians provide documents proving otherwise. Butros Harb said that Hizbullah has to be aware that its talk about "liberating Jerusalem" is not acceptable to the Lebanese. I.e., all politics turned explicitly local, and the anti-Israel discourse became nothing more than a tool to smear opponents, as demonstrated by Bashar's speech. But even that has lost its luster.

Just recently, Jumblat said that he's suspending any dialogue with Hizbullah until he gets an explanation as to why the Hizbullah protestors in Nabatiyeh the other day held posters depicting Jumblat as an Orthodox Rabbi. Translation: in Hizbullah's and Baathism' world, this means that you are a traitor, which in turns could mean a death sentence. It became worrisome because that's exactly how Bashar attacked Jumblat in his speech, calling him a merchant who has sold his soul to Israel. Josh commented on that as well in that interview I linked above:

When it came to Lebanon, he said that the Lebanese opposition and politicians were merchants, political merchants. He was accusing them of being manipulated by the outside. And what he was saying, in a sense, is that they are symbolically Jews, because they are being used by a conspiracy between the United States and Israel.
He compared the "assassination" of Arafat to the assassination of Hariri. The implication of that, which he didn't spell out, is that the Israelis assassinated Arafat just as they had assassinated Hariri. He suggested that this is part of a larger attack by Israel and the United States against the Arab world, not just against Syria.

So the Arabism talk is a means to threaten and smear opponents. It's hollow. It hasn't changed the focus of the Lebanese demand for a Syrian withdrawal. No one is concerned with Israel either way. No one is saying the Lebanese will run and sign a peace accord, but everyone is saying, a continued state of military confrontation located exclusively in Lebanon is not acceptable.

All the other Arabist lip-service found in Bahia' speech or others' statements is not dogmatic. That's what commentators don't understand. It's all local politics. But not only that, I argue that underneath the Arabist shell, it actually conveys a distinctly Lebanonist message. Let me explain.

Doran made an excellent point in that short piece: "The medium itself is the message." This was in reference to Shiite demonstrations in Saudi Arabia that chanted anti-Israel and anti-American slogans. But the real message had nothing to do with that. It was internal politics using the permissible discourse.

Similarly, everyone in Lebanon is going to use that Arabist line to push forward what is essentially a Lebanonist message. The fact that this comes from a Sunni politician like Hariri makes it all the more important. Who doesn't want to have excellent relations with the neighbors? But at the same time, despite the language of Arab brotherhood, what's being asked is the respect of Lebanese independence and sovereignty. Hardly a pan-Arabist message. On a side note, this political language of "brotherhood" predates Arabism. In the texts I deal with from the Late Bronze Age in the Levant, the terminology of "father," "son," and "brother" was used systematically to describe political alliances and rank. So using it today is as conventional as it was thousands of years ago.

When you hear the seemingly double talk about Israel "we won't sign peace, but we don't want war" that should unmistakably remind you of the Lebanonist neutral rhetoric of the pre-war days. That position was violated by the Palestinians in the late 60's and 70's. Today things have changed. No one is interested in that anymore. Only Syria is singing that song, but everyone is singing the "me first" tune. Witness the anti-Jordanian and anti-Syrian protests in Iraq! Everyone realizes that under the rhetoric lie the local interests of Syria, who's using the rhetoric, and local Iraqi interests, who are rejecting Syria's involvement. So, nothing has changed since 1948. It's all local politics.

Therefore despite the Arabist rhetoric, the message is "Lebanon first;" exactly what the Lebanonists said. That Jumblat and Hariri are saying it means that Lebanonism is no longer a Chrisitian credo. One can go on integrating Fouad Ajami and Albert Hourani's "Ideologies of the Mountain and the City" (see also this piece by Mamoun Fandi, courtesy of reader G.G.) but I believe I've made my point.

Is Political Arabism Relevant?

Let me go back to Cultural Arabism and the intersection with Political Arabism.

Chuck made a great point that summarizes it all: Lebanonism is not oppposed to a cultural Arab identity. The only difference is that Arabism will be subsumed within the Lebanonist framework, and can no longer override it. Many people will still uphold an Arab identity and that's their fundamental right. But like with Iraq, that can no longer be an exclusivist ideology.

That's why I found Qassir's remarks rather idiotic. He's operating within the exclusivist framework and he missed the broader picture. Chibli Mallat also bent over backwards trying to redefine Arabism in light of the Lebanese and Iraqi experiences. What he wanted to get to was in many respects laudable (though not original, as Kanan Makiya had already put it forward):

At the core of the message is the need for democratic, non-violent change at the top in the Middle East, with Arabism read as a liberal call that unifies people irrespective of their religion or sect: in Egypt Copts and Muslims; in Lebanon the various communities that form the country; in Iraq Shiites, Sunnis and non-Muslim sects.

The example of Iraq, where Arabism is not capable of giving Kurds their due of equal citizenship, is particularly telling of the more advanced thought needed to accommodate all citizens - hence the surge of the concept of federalism as a further trait of White Arabism. Only federalism can allow forms of Arab identity to be preserved while Kurds are treated as equal both on the individual level and as a collective community.

But this really ties you up in knots. It sounds paradoxical (because in the end all this is still put under the exclusivist label of "Arabism") and it treads on thin ice with its historical precedents, most notably the example of Saad Zaghlul! Moreover, what unites the Lebanese in Lebanon, the Egyptians in Egypt, and the Iraqis in Iraq is not "Arabism" it's the respective local nationalism, or the idea of Lebanon or Iraq as a plural society for all its citizens (or the idea of a consociational democracy). Chibli then falls prey to the other maxim of Arabism by bringing that paradigm back to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's a trap. As Mike Doran said, the greatest thing that ever happened to the Israelis and Palestinians was putting the issue back in its proper context, disentangling it from the broader Arab web. The Iraqis have done the same, and the Lebanese are carefully trying to do the same, with Bashar (and the crypto-Arabist journalists and "experts") trying to suck it back into that matrix, because that ideology has served the Syrians well to maintain their domination over Lebanese political (and economical) life.

But all this got me to rethink several things. Was the struggle about Arabism in the early years of Lebanon's existence an identity struggle? In other words, was it a matter of Cultural Arabism or Political Arabism? It's probably a mixture, what I called the intersection of the two (and in many ways, an illiberal cultural Arabism, like that critiqued by Makiya, works hand in hand with political Arabism). However, I think that it was really an issue of political Arabism that triggered the issue of cultural Arabism, not vice versa. I think that the pillars of political Arabism, pan-Arab unity and perpetual war with Israel, threatened Lebanon to its very core. It threatened its very existence, and also threatened its stability and economic prosperity. Now that the first pillar has been totally dismissed, what remains is the second. Rafiq Hariri, being a businessman, was an example of Ajami's "Arab modernism" or Hourani's pluralist, mercantile "ideology of the city" or Michel Chiha's Lebanonism (Asher Kaufman, author of the very good Reviving Phoenicia mentions that Hariri's touristic promotion of Lebanon assimilated the Phoenicianist narrative!). That's why Hariri was constantly at odds with Hizbullah's and Syria's perpetual war front in the south. Eventually it cost him his life. So even if his sister is now using her brother's legacy, mixed with Arabist rhetoric, and Hizbullah's liberation rhetoric, it must not be seen as anything more than local politics. It doesn't mean that she wants Syrian hegemony to continue. She is using the Arabist rhetoric to do two things: trying to invite Hizbullah to join the opposition, and trying to redefine relations with Syria on a good but healthy basis. A similar use of Arabist rhetoric can be seen in this piece by Nawaf Salam, another Sunni notable.

But what everyone is now assuming is an independent Lebanon, where all the communities share power, and where neutrality secures business. Nothing is more Lebanonist than this message. On a related note, it was interesting to read this op-ed by EU MP Daniel Cohn-Bendit in the French Libération, which echoed the old "auberge des minorités" narrative:

C'est ce Liban-là que nous devons aider à reconstruire, un pays qui a accueilli généreusement une multitude d'intellectuels et d'opposants provenant des nombreuses dictatures que compte la région, un pays où vivent beaucoup de réfugiés palestiniens expulsés de Jordanie, un pays qui est riche d'une importante communauté arménienne ayant fui le génocide ottoman.

But this pluralist Lebanon, like Chuck said, is not at odds with the existence of an Arab identity. That's why this is not even an issue with anyone in Lebanon! No one is using this to reject a cultural Arab identity. That's why no Sunnis are finding the need to be defensive on this issue. But that's why Qassir's, and Mallat's pieces, are really beside the point. No one is really concerned with this topic. No one, perhaps, except idiotic Third-Worldists. But those guys are more concerned with political Arabism and its "Palestine first" doctrine. That's the tune that Bashar tried to play, and that Josh thought resonated due to Nasrallah. The reality is, it was drowned by the calls to end the Syrian occupation. No one was concerned, either way, with Israel. That was also the reaction I got from a member of the opposition when I was in Lebanon. I brought up the issue of Israel and his reaction was as if I changed the topic or went off on a tangent.

Mamoun Fandi put it rather well:

The rally of Nasrallah was mobilizational, like the rallies of the Baath party and the rallies of the Socialist Union, aimed at shifting the topic to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the confrontation between Syria and Israel. The underlying message to Nasrallah's rally was "forget Hariri." At the surface it might seem like a succesful strategy, but it possible that Hizbullah will pay dearly for this strategic error.

As such, Josh Landis is totally off in his interpretation of Arabism and its resonance (and yes, the worldview of Arabism is, as I've shown, about the use of the conflict with Israel.) It's used yes, but it has nothing to do with the way it's being interpreted by Bashar or his effective spokesmen in Western journalism: i.e., in the sense of "the conflict with Israel and imperialism is the central pivot of our lives, and we are willing to freeze all our socio-economical and political demands and accept anything until it's solved." No, that's not the case (maybe it is in Syria, but not in Lebanon, Iraq, or Egypt). It's an issue for sure, but it's nowhere near central, as the Iraqis and the Lebanese have made abundantly clear. This is why the Iraqi elections were important. It changed the rules from looking outward and repeating the bankrupt slogans (the "rage of the Arab street"), to looking inward and demanding a better life. Josh had it right earlier: "me first" is the name of the game.

Arabist rhetoric is used for local politics, and is redefined by local politics. Bashar's and Nasrallah's attempt to use it for regional politics is hitting a wall. And their attempt to use it as a tool to smear and intimidate opponents will only weaken it further. Beyond that, it's become totally irrelevant as a political ideology. And thank God for that. Now we may have a chance to actually move forward and solve our internal problems (what Bashar is trying to delay as much as possible with none other than Arabist rhetoric), each on our own.