Across the Bay

Monday, May 30, 2005

Lebanon's System and the Elections

The WaPo published Michael Young's response to Annia Ciezadlo's horrible article on Lebanon (see below). I thought that this bit was particularly important:

The logic was that all religious groups would have a role in a system of set-asides and that they would be reassured enough to remain a part of Lebanon. When the formula was agreed upon at independence in 1943, it was enlightened: By positing a weak central authority and strong sects, it allowed Lebanon to avoid the authoritarianism prevalent in the Arab world.

And he ended with this statement, which, as you know, I've been repeating on this blog: "Despite its flaws, the Lebanese system merits more sympathy than many in the West accord it."

That is very true, and has a long pedigree in academic and Arabist circles in the West. You could see it in the writings of Michael Hudson (who wrote two essays, one in '76 and another '88 on why Lebanon's consociationalism "failed") and in a lot of the writings on Lebanon. A brief overview can be found in Farid el-Khazen's Breakdown of the State. As Farid points out, these criticisms usually are based on a "modernist" premise, whereby the Lebanese system is seen as in need of "evolution" towards an essentially Westminster European model. Of course there were others who didn't share this view, and most of them, though by no means all, were theorists of consociation.

The reasons for this are diverse. One is the modernist approach. But there are also other reasons, as pointed out by Michael in that review of Douglas Little's book (see quote below). And of course there were the bizarre fusions of Third Worldism, Arab nationalism, Marxism, etc. I think the finest synthesis of these "-isms" is the following quote by Michael Hudson:

"There was the Lebanon of the poor, the Lebanon of Islam, the Lebanon of true nationalism," he said, referring to the largely Shiite rallies often organized by Hizbullah.
...
Hudson described the other Lebanon as "people who are cosmopolitan, well off, who really like America, who really don't like Syria, who would like to be done with the whole Israeli business."

Notice the parallelism between "poor," "Islam," and "true nationalism." In opposition stand the "cosmopolitan" (which assumes a "rural" opposite), "well off," and those who like America and don't mind Israel (i.e., those who don't define themselves in opposition to the West, and who are not true [Arab] nationalists because they may want peace with Israel.)

I don't think there's a clearer fusion of Third Worldism, Arab nationalism, and proletarianism than that statement. But if you've read my previous posts on Hudson ("Michael Hudson Aflaq" and "Michael Hudson Joins the Baath"), you'd know that he's been channeling Nasser, talking about Syria as the last Arab nationalist fortress against Israel and the US, and predicting the rebirth of Arab nationalism.

As such, it's quite funny to see him pour all that on Hizbullah, a Khomeinist Islamist group! But this is another indication how fluid the lines are between Islamism and Arab nationalism, especially when it comes to the issues that "count most," the "anti" part, i.e., anti-Americanism and anti-Israelism. Of course, these are also the elements that fuse best with anti-colonialist Third Worldism (and besides, they are the "poor" "authentic Islamic" voices of "true nationalism"). But there's also a history involved here. Hudson never got over his first love: Nasser. Take a look at this quote, found in Kramer's Ivory Towers on Sand:

Anyone introduced to Arab politics at that particular moment [the late 50's], as I was, carries a lasting image of nationalist enthusiasm that seemed destined to erase "artificial" borders and unify a national community too long and wrongly divided.

But there's another piece of recycled history at work as well. You've read here how people like Helena Cobban and Mark LeVine have spoken about Hizbullah as Lebanon's "only true democratic force." Well, the same honor was first bestowed on the PLO back in the day! The PLO was seen as the vanguard of revolutionary Arab nationalism, which was destined to shake the old order (which had become "puppets of the West" of course), and to revive all the dead promises of Arab nationalism ("unity, socialism, and freedom [from the West]"). So, Edward Said, among others, dubbed the PLO a democratic organization. Now the same is being said of Hizbullah.

The common denominator of course is that attachement to Arab nationalism (fused with the residues of Third Worldism and other more recent ideologies, like anti-globalization, etc.). In that sense, it matters little if the agent is an Islamist group. Arab nationalism was always subordinate to Islam anyway, and Hudson's juxtaposition of "Islam" and "true nationalism" mirrors Hizbullah's own "Islamic Pan-Arabism" which it recently cultivated to maintain its waning prestige and to garner legitimacy in the Sunni Arab world (its favorite line was that they were the only movement that defeated Israel. Read: we, the Shi'a Islamist group, defeated Israel while you, Sunni states, did nothing.) Witness this poster, which has been popping around Beirut lately. It reads "May 25, the gift of the Lebanese to the free sons of the Umma." (Notice also how it portrays Nasrallah carrying a rifle. This is new, and it's a response to the demands for disarmament.)

Needless to say, Hudson is so taken by the fantasy of Arab nationalism and its rhetoric that he (along with Cobban et al.) is unable to realize, as a friend put it to me, that "Syria's and Hizbullah's Israel policies are actually Lebanon policies -- policies designed, that is, to secure power and influence in Lebanon. For Hudson and his ilk it is always the other way around. They accept the confrontation rhetoric at face value. I doubt that there is any other political rhetoric in the world that Hudson would take at face value. But with Hizballah, what you see is what you get: true nationalism and opposition to Zionism."

But the characterization of Hizbullah and Lebanon's system aren't totally monolithic, even if there are a few clichés that you simply cannot escape. For instance, take this piece by Anthony Shadid in the Post. It's good for the most part, but with its share of clichés (and incomplete pictures, like Shadid talking about religious fault lines, and ignoring alliances and counter alliances -- sometimes contradictory in certain areas-- that cross religious fault lines). Although, Shadid, to his credit, did mention towards the end the "consociationalism vs. control" dichotomy (in Lustick's terms. "Control," the domination of one group, being the alternative to Lebanon's consociationalism, as seen all around in the ME), where the Lebanese system ensures representation and helps prevent autocracy.

Also, I think his characterization of Hizbullah as a neo-za'imism is correct, and it's something I've tried to explain as well (see Michael Young's note in the addendum to my "Hizbullah and Hariri" post below). Lee Smith also said something similar once about how everyone provides services in Lebanon, with a small caveat: they're not armed to their teeth and unwilling to relinquish their weapons!

This piece by Manuela Paraipan is also decent, the clichés notwithstanding. The final bit about Hizbullah is worth looking at:

Their political platform is non-existent, except the resistance and liberation part and their goal to see Lebanon transformed into a Muslim country. In this context, they can remain viable only if they are in a state of continuous vigilance and if they play the card of liberation and resistance. Nonetheless, what may really scare them is not pressure from the United States or Israel, but rather the fact that once the Shebaa Farms problem is resolved there is no other reason for them to exist as an armed force. The fact that Hezbollah receives huge financial funds and weapons from Iran, via Syria, is another matter of concern. Who are they loyal to? To the ones who are paying them, or to the Lebanese people who are their fellow citizens?

She then somewhat contradicts her own assessment with the following conclusion:

If they liberate themselves from regional interference, then their political profile will be further raised. Having a pragmatic leader such as Sheikh Nasrallah, eventually Hezbollah will disarm for the right price, but Lebanese society as a whole should be the one to find a solution to this problem.

For one, if their prestige, size, and standing is contingent on their arms, then what would be the right price!?

And although you'll hear denials that their agenda is an Islamic state, they routinely use that as a threat. This good briefing from the Economist Intelligence Unit provides an example:

Hizbullah is standing firm against any moves to force it to give up its weapons or integrate its guerrilla forces into the regular army. The Jumblatt/Hariri alliance has agreed to go along with this so as to prevent Hizbullah from throwing in its lot with Mr Aoun, who might be open to backing political reforms that would increase Shia political quotas at the expense of Mr Hariri’s Sunni Muslim sect and Mr Jumblatt’s Druze. However, Hizbullah’s chief political asset—its role in forcing an Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon in 2000 (the fifth anniversary of which was marked in a May 26th rally)—is not as powerful as it once was, and the extent of the group’s control over Lebanon’s Shias is open to question.

Hizbullah has made clear its disdain for the political system, because no Islamic Republic is feasible in Lebanon as long as the current system is in place. People talk about how eliminating the sectarian system and adopting a Westminster model is the solution to Lebanon's ills, but I've yet to be convinced (see also Farid el-Khazen) that this will somehow erase sectarian identifications or interests (the modernist premise). But more importantly, most people who talk about such an overhaul usually advocate a particular group, which they see as representative. Which brings us back to our first point about groups seen as the vanguards of a "progressive revolution." That's why Cobban sees Hizbullah as not only representative of the Shia (which is not true), but as representative of modernization and, as Hudson put it, "true nationalism." Of course Aoun sees himself in the same light, and his followers agree. But what this advocacy boils down to is the promotion of one particular group to take control of the entire country, and viewing the rest as some sort of annoying opposition of sorts. It's best exemplified in this quote from a Hizbullah spokesperson that Cobban interviewed for her piece of garbage essay on the Party:

We feel that a party that's in the government should influence its whole program… But in Lebanon, you can't pursue your own party's program in government because governments are always formed through coalitions. Elsewhere, you can have one party in government, with one program. And then, it's easier to hold the party accountable. Then, there are the expectations of the people. We represent a great proportion of the people. Well, if you are in such an impotent government, then you sully your reputation with the people. In Lebanon, corruption is everywhere. The institutions need to be completely renewed. This is very difficult, and will take time.
Also, the political structure here is still sectarian. In this system people are led not by reason but by emotions and tribalism. We feel that most of the other politicians are leading people as tribe-members, by appealing to their sectional interests, rather than as citizens.
So altogether, it seems hard for us to go into government at the present time and just reap all the disadvantages from the way things are done there.

Rich Anderson, who took the time to demolish Cobban's crappy essay, had this to say about the quote:

Let me see if I get this right. Hizbullah faults the Lebanese system not just for being "corrupt" (not just some people within it), but for the necessity within that system of the building of coalitions and pandering to the requirements of a multifarious political system. Within the confines of such a system, Hizbullah is not able to advance its single-prong agenda, to "influence [the government's] whole program." Z.H. claims that "elsewhere, you can have one party in government, with one program." Which democratic countries are these? we ask. Perhaps these kinds of democracies are the "People's Democratic" varieties that have always been so successful in the past. The very mention of this kind of challenge to the Lebanese polity is a direct challenge to democracy itself. It seems to me that Hizbullah is upset not at the "corruption" found within some sectors of the system, but with the party's inability so far to hijack the whole process altogether and turn the Lebanese government into its own sock puppet.
...
A rationally-functioning Lebanese government can afford to exclude a major clan, tribe, religious group, or political bloc about as much as the U.S. government can afford to exclude any of its states. And here is the point - democracy is about participation, not agendas. The fact that Hizbullah appears so hesitant to join coalitions says something about the acceptability of its political program in the eyes of the Lebanese people, and Hizbullah itself appears fully cognizant of this reality. Hence, we see Hizbullah nearly unable to hide the fact that unless they control the entire political process in Lebanon, its agenda is going nowhere. The fact that some American academics have bought Hizbullah's democracy gimmick hook-line-and-sinker only exacerbates the concern of this critical observer.

Which brings us to this piece by Bret Stephens in the WSJ. Stephens quotes Nizar Hamzeh, an expert on the Lebanese Shi'a, who gave his assessment of Hizbullah's nationalism and their agenda: "Nationalism for them is some sort of transitional moment. They continue to believe in an Islamic state." Hamzeh continues to say that he "is persuaded that, sooner or later, Hezbollah will become the country's dominant faction, entirely through democratic means. "They're in no rush," he says.

But what democratic means? He never says. "Democratic" here means some sort of majoritarianism. The second assumption of course (which I alluded to above) is that Hizbullah is not only numerically superior (and representative of all the Shi'a), but that it's also the most attractive. Both those assumptions are false, as noted above. Hamzeh's talk about "democracy" fits into what I said earlier about always having in mind a certain group that would dominate a "democratic" non-sectarian Lebanon.

None of Hamzeh's predictions are likely to materialize any time soon, and Stephens' conclusion is sound in that regard: "Wherever I go here, the impression is of a people intent on making up for lost time, and determined never again to be dragged down by extremism. It is these Lebanese, one senses, and not Hezbollah, who are making the country anew, and who are doing so, at long last, in the absence of fear."

This is why I think the consociational system will last in Lebanon, albeit with key modifications and reforms. (One such modification is the creation of a second house of representatives. The whole point is to create space alongside the political elite, in order to create more dynamism. The elitism has been a primary criticism of the system.) And as I said before, the end goal ought not be an elimination of the consociational system, but an enhancement thereof, through key modifications, that might lead to a mixed system of sorts, similar to the one in the US. But the key underlining principle of consociation in Lebanon needs to be preserved, and it is that principle, as Michael has pointed out, is what has kept authoritarianism at bay.

Addendum: I forgot to include this useful overview by Stacey Yadav (hat tip, Praktike). Also, take a look at this interesting discussion over at the Lebanese Bloggers.

Update: Josh Landis has a new post on the subject. I will try to come back to it later when I have time.

Update 2: I remembered this quote from Theodor Hanf's excellent Coexistence in Wartime Lebanon. It's a great response to Hudson's garbage, even though it was written 12 years ago:

"The lack of census figures stimulated not only political, but also social fantasies. And the products usually correlated with the analyst's political convictions. From the mid-1970s onwards, a number of authors more or less equated social class and community in Lebanon, and interpreted conflicts between these communities as class struggles. Of course, this thesis was an effective mobilizer. It also satisfied the desire of some media for simple explanations of complex situations. The cliché of 'rich Christians' and 'poor Muslims', has had a brilliant journalistic career -- and it may not be over yet." [p. 97]

Friday, May 27, 2005

Ignatius Gets it Wrong

David Ignatius has a piece on Syria in today's WaPo. Half of it is good and the other half is not so good (even if it's meant to be a look into Bashar's head). Here's a paragraph that exemplifies the not so good part:

What has brought Assad to this crossroads, of course, is the debacle of the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. Assad insists to intimates that he wasn't responsible for the murder of Lebanese opposition leader Rafiq Hariri. But he realizes that he blundered by accepting the advice of Syria's old guard (bolstered by its Lebanese clients) to impose an additional term for pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud last year. When Lebanese rose up by the hundreds of thousands to protest Syria's continuing occupation after Hariri's murder, Assad concluded that keeping his army in Lebanon was a loser and decided to withdraw the troops. Some Syrians believe Assad is quietly purging the senior intelligence and foreign policy officials who managed the old Lebanon policy; others aren't sure he has the political clout.

I've noted before how people have totally bought into Bashar's Old Guard myth. It's total garbage. I don't know if Ignatius does buy it, but that paragraph comes close.

Reality is the exact opposite. Fact of the matter is that the Old Guard were all sidelined from way back, especially on the Lebanon file. Khaddam was removed, Ghazi Kanaan was called back, and the intelligence services were effectively being run by Bashar's in-law even before he was officially named as their head.

So when Marwan Hamade was almost blown up to pieces, the first person to fly in to Beirut was Khaddam. Why? To make sure his "clients" knew that he had nothing to do with it! Recently, Hariri's top aide in an interview in Al-Hayat pointed the finger directly at Bashar (so did Johnny Abdo, who was also close to Hariri), not the Old Guard, and gave reasons as to why. It turns out Hariri's personal relationship with Bashar was horrible from the start. He relates a very telling story way before the latest stormy meeting with Bashar. He said that Kanaan and other security chiefs were present at the meeting and so was Bashar. The one who was barking and insulting Hariri was Bashar, accusing him of all kinds of "treasonous" activities (the same paranoia led Bashar to believe that Hariri was behind 1559, which led him to liquidate him). After the meeting was over he said that Kanaan and Hariri met together in the former's house in order to have a "calm conversation." I also have written here, based on excellent sources in Lebanon that the Hariri hit, just like Hamade's, goes straight up to Bashar himself, and his crew (Shawkat, his brother, and his cousin).

But beside those views, he actually made a factual error by suggesting that the Old Guard had business interests in keeping Lahoud on. Actually, it was Bashar and his crew (named above) who had interests with Lahoud. It's the Assad family, period.

The fact is that the errors in Lebanon were made because Bashar removed the Old Guard and didn't take their advice which was against extending Lahoud's mandate. Hariri's top aide claimed in that interview that Ayad Allawi told him that Allawi told Bashar that the extension was suicide. Bashar reportedly told Allawi that "suicide with extension is better than suicide without extension."

Bashar is running the show with the "New Guard." The Old Guard myth is made for PR purposes to be spread around, to show that Bashar is this besieged reformer in a hostile milieu. Rubbish. This is the kind of nonsense that Flynt Leverett likes to propagate, but it bares no relation to reality.

Finally, on a related note, I'm surprised that when he talked about the wealthy urban Sunnis he didn't make the connection to Hariri! I would keep my eye on those Syrian Sunnis... and the Saudis, who are now backing the Sunnis in Lebanon, and their new leader, Hariri's son.

But Ignatius's final statement is very true: "The danger for Assad is that if he takes only half-measures on political reform, he will lose what support he has left on the Syrian street. This may be one of those situations where being too cautious is the riskiest course of all."

That's why having a mythical "Old Guard" scapegoat is very useful, and has proven very effective.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Onward Third-Worldist Soldiers!

The Lebanese Political Journal has a nice fisking of a truly poor article on Lebanon. How poor? The Angry Hair (As'ad "weird Al" AbuKhalil) thought it was good. So there you go!

I salute "lebanon.profile" for taking the time, and having the patience, to point out the innumerable errors and biases in that pathetic piece. I thought about tearing into it myself but was too furious (and too busy) to actually sit down and rip it to shreds. These people take on mantels and missions and they understand aboslutely nothing about their subject matter. Not only that, they get their facts wrong too. Pathetic.

For one, the author claims that the DoS estimates Lebanon's population at about 70% Muslim and 23% Christian. As "lebanon.profile" points out, the fact book actually has a breakdown of 60% to 40%. If only she took the time to actually do some research. But at least she didn't follow that moron Angry Hair and claim that the Shiites alone were "at least 55%" (or Cobban's "just below 50%"). She also confused the numer of Christians with the number of Maronites.

As for the electoral law, it's a law that was pushed for by Hizbullah in order to marginalize other Christian and Shiite opponents in the south (see also my previous post)! And, as "lebanon.profile" said, it discriminates against Christians!

Which leads to another faulty impulse, shared by people like Cobban et al. All these people end up assuming that Shiites=Hizbullah. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just ask the "Lebanese Shiite Gathering" and the Asaad family among others (not to mention Amal).

But such is the Third-Worldist premise. Christians (who reflect on "us" Westerners) are somehow screwing the "native" Arab Muslims (a process that reflects on "our" screwing with the Orient). You see this in the writings of Robert Fisk, William Dalrymple, Cobban, etc. (see the first part of my incomplete post, "The Truth about Dalrymple" for quotes). People with similar leanings in the State Department are called Arabists, and they're masterfully profiled in Robert Kaplan's excellent book The Arabists. Here's a quote from that book that says it perfectly:

"Arabists have not liked Middle Eastern minorities. Arabists have been guilty in the past of loving the majority and the idea of Uruba, which roughly translates as 'Arabism.' I remember once going to a Foreign Service party and hearing people refer to the Maronite Christians in Lebanon as 'fascists'." (p. 306).

Bingo. Same applies to the author, Annia Ciezadlo. She understands nothing about the Lebanese political system, consociationalism, compromise and coexistence, history of the region, and the fact that the system prevented the rise of authoritarian rule found all around in Lebanon's neighboring (and far away) Arab states where non-Muslim, and indeed non-Arab minorites have been repressed and treated like second class citizens (before the new Iraq that is), the fact that the Sunni PM has more powers than the Maronite President (as "lebanon.profile" notes), and that the Shiite PM is the longest serving official in Lebanon today, etc.

Who has time for these details?! She just took on a Third-Worldist mission and decided to share it with the world, errors, bias and ignorance notwithstanding.

Addendum: Add the following excellent review essay by Michael Young of a book by Douglas Little to the quote from Kaplan's The Arabists:

For instance, most Arabists’ deep revulsion for Arab Christians, particularly Lebanon’s Maronites, was legendary. One explanation is that the mainly Protestant Americans couldn’t abide the Eastern Christians’ attachment to Catholic France, or their devotion to the outward trappings of religion at the expense of spirituality. That may be true, but it misses the point: What pro-Arab Americans couldn’t stomach was that the Christians were often estranged from their Muslim brethren and from the Arab nationalism the region engendered (though minorities were among the first theorists of the ideology). The Arabists believed, particularly during the heady days of "national liberation" in the 1950s and ’60s, that archaic Christians were stubbornly resisting the Middle East’s future. There was something very American in their reaction: a righteous indignation that the Arab consensus was being bucked, but also a romantic identification with a dogma regarded as modern and progressive. Ironically, a similar motivation shaped the Arabists’ outlook on Israel -- always perceived as a foreign body interrupting potential regional harmony.

Addendum 2: I've written this before, but let me say it again here. The categories of "Muslim" and "Christian" are all but meaningless politically in Lebanon. The system is not based on the representation of "Muslims" and "Christians." This is legally wrong, and assumes that "Muslims" are a monolithic, coherent political cluster, and the same goes for Christians. In reality, each one is divided into several sects, which are in turn divided into subcategories (families, regions, political inclination, etc.). Those are the divisions that count and are reflected in parliament and in the elections. The corollary to that are the alliances in the election and in parliament, which create what's known as "real representation." In part, this was the complaint of some in the Christian circles, that some "Christian" candidates on certain lists were really the choice of the dominant political figure or alliance in that particular district, as opposed to being the choice of the Christian voters (or certain Christian parties). In that sense, that particular Christian candidate will for the most part be allied in parliament with the non-Christian figure/list on which he ran. Of course this fluctuates, as evident for instance with the MPs Bassem Yamout and Nasser Qandil who ran on the late Hariri's list only to stab him in the back (and those are both "Muslim" MPs). Meanwhile, the "Christian" MPs on Hariri's list (like the late MP Fleihan for instance) were loyal to his line, thus giving him, a Sunni Muslim, a larger "real representation" in parliament, even if they were Christians. The other corollary of course (a positive one) is that this way you get Christians voting for Muslim MPs and vice versa, thus rendering the entire notion of "sectarian bigotry" meaningless (cf. this article by Archbishop George Khodr, which touches on this issue, and this related article by Hazem Saghieh). It also makes Ciezadlo's claim that "Muslim votes count less" even dumber than it already sounds. Is that clear? Apparently it wasn't for Ms. Ciezadlo, and those who think like her.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Hizbullah and Hariri

Michael Young noted a bombshell article in the Kuwaiti As-Siyasah suggesting the involvement of a "significant Lebanese party" in the assasssination of Hariri. Michael points out that this "significant Lebanese party" is none other than Hizbullah:

While the newspaper did not come out and say it, what it clearly was referring to as "the grouping" was Hezbollah. It went on to suggest that the group played a role in Hariri's assassination at the operational level, presumably in preparing and triggering the bomb, on behalf of the Syrians.

Al-Siyassa is notoriously hostile to the Syrian regime, so that any such accusation must be treated with caution. However, I know for a fact that the paper was on the money in a number of reports following the Hariri assassination (while others were unverifiable). I also know that suspicion of Hezbollah involvement has been circulating in the political class here in Beirut since the killing. One very senior politician told me a few weeks after Hariri's death that "I do not discount Hezbollah involvement", and pointed to the fact that Hariri's regular meetings with the party's secretary-general, Hassan Nasrallah, may have been used to lull him into a false sense of security. I also know that other politicians have privately mentioned their concern about Hezbollah's involvement.

What would the party's rationale be? Much the same as the Syrian one--to get rid of a man who threatened to undermine the Syrian order in Lebanon because he was on the verge of winning a major election victory. As a "strong Sunni", Hariri certainly disturbed Damascus, but he was also seen by the Syrians and probably Hezbollah as a supporter, if not more than that, of Resolution 1559.

Needless to say, if this is true, the consequences will be quite dramatic. Michael writes:

If the news is true, and for the moment nothing confirms it, it would be the accusation most people dare not mention. As Al-Siyassa makes clear, this could embarrass a lot of people, but more significantly it could lead to significant tension between Lebanese Sunnis and Shiites. Indeed, as elections approach, Hezbollah candidates are on slates either directly sponsored by or allied with the Hariris. The news item may never be confirmed simply because no one wants it to be.

A note should be made about Hizbullah's posture lately. Contrary to all the predictions of the cheerleading groupies (first among which is the useless Helena Cobban), Hizbullah is nowhere near "running away with the elections." In fact, Hizbullah didn't do what many said it would, take a bite of Amal's piece of the Shiite pie. In the past, Syria pressured the two to run together, thereby, the argument went, limiting Hizbullah's representation, as it was clearly more popular than Amal. But what these people failed to understand is that after the Syrian withdrawal and with UNSCR 1559 hanging over its head, Hizbullah became one of the most vulnerable groups in Lebanon. Isolated after the Christian-Druze-Sunni alliance in March, and alienating many through its overtly pro-Syrian posturing, including mug shots with the notorious Rustum Ghazaleh, and facing the rise of a rival Shiite group, Hizbullah couldn't run away with anything. Not only didn't it break away from Nabih Berri, it needed him to maintain some sort of a Lebanese safety net. While some of the internal pressure has eased due to electoral politics, the issue of the arms is still the elephant in the room, no matter what Hizbullah says to awe-struck journalists and interviewers.

Here's an example. Prof. Amal Saad-Ghroayeb wrote a commentary on Hizbullah in yesterday's DS. The article is off on so many points. For one, it overestimates Hizbullah's ties with Jumblat and Hariri. While they will cooperate in the elections, mutual distrust reigns between them (i.e. Hizbullah vs. Jumblat/Hariri). For one, Jumblat very recently floated the proposition of integrating Hizbullah's militia into the army, a position that Hizbullah has outright rejected. Second, Saad-Ghorayeb does not ponder the Sunni-Shiite divide, and how that played out especially after Hizbullah's pro-Syrian march. Saad-Ghorayeb then puts forth a bizarre and incomplete theory about a possible Saudi sponsorship of Hizbullah. The theory has more holes in it than a showerhead. For one, the Saudi role has been enhanced in Lebanon via Hariri. It was a move at the expense of Syria, but it was also a move that threatens Syria through the possible empowerment of Syrian Sunnis (Syrian-Saudi ties are quite cold at the moment, with the Saudis convinced of Syrian culpability in the death of "their" guy in Lebanon). The Saudi role came with international support as well. Domestically, Hariri has become the voice of the Sunnis especially after the withdrawal of Omar Karami from the upcoming elections (and the withdrawal also of fundamentalist Sunni Islamists) which also strikes a blow to Syrian influence in Lebanon. But what that means is that the Sunni voice is one of moderation and consensus (keeping in mind the alliance with the Druze and the Christian opposition). This center would obviously get the backing of the US and the EU. They can't appear to be backing "Christians," (can you imagine the kind of Cobban and Seale articles that we would have to suffer?) nor can they back a minoritarian Druze. They clearly won't back the Shiites either. They back consensus.

But regionally, this is also significant. The US has effectively backed the Shiites in Iraq which has led to anxious remarks by the Sunni regional players (namely Jordan, but also Egypt, and Saudi Arabia). So backing the consensus in Lebanon (where Hizbullah has an uneasy place) with a Sunni leading figure (Hariri) works on several fronts: it fosters consensus in Lebanon, while not showing the US as backing Christians. It placates the Sunni regional players. It punishes and threatens the Syrians domestically, and it cuts the way on the hypothetical Iran-friendly "Shiite crescent."

So the notion of either Saudi Arabia backing Hizbullah in Lebanon, or Hizbullah itself putting its future in the hands of the Saudis sounds far fetched to me. Saad-Ghorayeb places it in the context of Saudi Arabian influence on the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians. But the notion that Saudi Arabia wants to hold a military card over Israel just doesn't sound convincing. I think she totally misses the broader Shiite-Sunni tension that's blowing in the region. So the Hizbullah certainty of a Sunni backing that she's reporting sounds much more like Hizbullah "interview talk" (i.e. propaganda) than anything else. But that's the problem with all these guys ('n' gals) who do interviews with party officials. They end up buying into their logic and getting all mystified by their cool demeanure and cocky attitude that they let go of basic skepticism and broader realities.

Finally, on a related note, the UN might be preparing another suprise for Hizbullah (and Syria). This story in Naharnet reports that the UN won't authenticate Syria's withdrawal until the Lebanese-Syrian border is properly demarcated. This means that the status of the Shebaa Farms will once and for all be settled, cornering Hizbullah that much more. Add to that that according to a report in Al-Hayat a couple of days ago, a Palestinian delegation was to arrive in Lebanon to discuss the arms of the Palestinians. It's in the interest of both the Lebanese and the Abbas government to shut these guys down (and take yet another card away from Syria, which was used to interfere in both governments' affairs). When that demarcation happens, statements like the one quoted by Saad-Ghorayeb about Hizbulah keeping their weapons for "a million years," i.e., basically for as long as Israel exists will not fly with anyone in Lebanon outside some in the Shiite community. Readers are reminded that aside from the Christian opposition to Hizbullah's weapons, the late Hariri himself had tremendous problems with the ongoing militarization of the south: it was bad for business and investment. He had several clashes with Hizbullah on that point (including one time where he made a statement on the need for keeping the south calm which earned him two rockets fired at his TV station). In the current internationally and regionally (by Sunni states) fostered Lebanon, that stuff won't fly at all, domestically, regionally and internationally.

So if the As-Siyassa report is made known in Lebanon, I wonder what kind of reactions it may draw. It might be dismissed or played down officially, especially, as Michael noted, because of the elections. But the question is what happens after the elections? If such information indeed exists, then the Hariris will know about it. Then I'd like to see that fabled "consensus" around Hizbullah's arms.

Addendum: Upon reading this post, Michael Young wrote me the following comment "to buttress my argument," and as a further reminder of the limitations of Hizbullah and the fallacy of the views of cheerleading groupies like Cobban et al. It relates to the stuff I said above about the rise of other Shiite groups, etc.:

They [Hizbullah] specifically imposed the 2000 law, with Birri, to marginalize southern voters, particularly Shiite voters, who were not expected to vote for them. They had no confidence they would be able to win all Shiite seats, let alone non-Shiite seats, alongside Birri at the qada level, so they essentially imposed their electoral hegemony in the south, and found willing listeners in Jumblatt, Hariri and even Qornet Shehwan, themselves calculating what would be advantageous to them. Willing listeners, too, in people like Cobban, who never seem to look at how undemocratically Hizbullah behave in many southern villages, where in many cases they have even prevented people from listening to music. And that comes from the nephew of someone who was on the Hizbullah-Amal list in 2000.

What are the figures? Cobban would do well to recall that in 2000, when the south voted as one united district (another bit of Syrian-imposed, Hizbullah-Amal approved gerrymandering, to ensure the parties' electoral hegemony), in Marjayoun-Hasbayya Habib Sadeq won 44,000 votes and Kamel Asaad (the old feudal leader) 37,534, Elias Abu Rizq 42,000 votes and Nadim Salem 36,000 for the Greek Catholic seat. The top vote getters in the districts got 165,000-187,000, largely because they were on the officially sponsored Amal-Hizbullah list, and benefited from both parties' machinery. That may seem like a big difference, but it shows that candidates who ran as virtual independents, and many of whom were not allied with each other, could score relatively high scores in districts. I imagine that at the qada level, and without the Syrians there to enforce lists, Hizbullah would have had much more trouble imposing itself so widely.

These numbers fit well with Samir Qassir's recent reminder that the combined Amal-Hizbullah list only managed to get a little over 50% of the Shiite vote.

See also this post at the Lebanese Political Journal.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

After smacking Aoun around, Michael Young turns his sights to Walid Jumblat, and warns that the wobbliness of the Moody Druze might end up costing him heavily.

Michael offered the following assessment of Jumblat:

Maybe that's why Jumblatt won't move beyond the Druze: he couldn't stomach the high expectations, and it would undermine his taste for estranging those closest to him. Jumblatt has enough trouble with his own bantam community not to have to worry about the unruly Maronites, the spoken-for Sunnis and the too cumbersome Shiites. Yet were he to realize his power, the product of charisma born of cynicism, and use this to enforce a semblance of personal consistency, Jumblatt could shape Lebanon's future as easily as did Hariri. He could speak to minority anxieties, profitably use his considerable political capital overseas, and go further in helping dissolve what remains of the war in the minds of his countrymen. Lying at the heart of a network of national relationships - sectarian, political, economic - Jumblatt is nonetheless a reservoir of wasted potential, those watching him realizing they're in the presence of a dazzling but unreliable seducer.

Also, I found this final paragraph rather interesting:

Jumblatt has a clearer sense of what makes Lebanon what it is than most of his peers: he knows it's more than a Christian refuge, as Geagea might argue; a mere services hub, as the Hariris like to imagine; a fount of anti-Israeli resistance, as Hizbullah fantasizes about; or a system capable of secular overhaul, as Aoun believes. At the midpoint of all these perspectives and somehow alienated from each, Jumblatt embodies the contradiction that is Lebanon, a contradiction born of crashing, clashing impulses. He can't be Lebanon's grand unifier because much as he often speaks to the country's highest qualities, he is also a condensation of its worst defects.

I once wrote that Lebanon's sectarian system did not hamper Jumblat from reaching the status of national leader, and that this shows how a minoritarian leader can have disproportionate influence, an influence that Nasrallah wishes he had across sectarian lines. And like Michael said, the Christians were willing to follow Jumblat, and the Sunnis were referring to him with the highest regard. He simply failed to seize it.

However, following Michael's piece, despite the deal with Hizbullah and Amal, Jumblat is not on good terms with the Shi'a and his lot lies with his "co-mountaineers" the Maronites on one hand, and the cosmpolitan Beiruti Sunnis on the other. That was the natural alliance that emerged after Hariri's assassination, and at the end of the day, the politicking, and that survivor instinct that Michael noted, will lead Walid back in that direction, accompanied with all the fanfare and moodiness that we've come to expect of him.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Michael Hudson Aflaq

After reciting the Party credo to a small crowd of journalists in Damascus (an event that was disproportionately covered by Syrian media) and meeting at length with Bashar Asad, Michael Hudson traveled to Beirut where he gave a talk organized by the Center for Arab Unity Studies.

At the talk Hudson came out and proudly affirmed his steadfast adherence to Arab nationalism despite all the persecution (!): "to be an Arabist in the US these days, especially if you hold that to be more than just a research specialty, is a very difficult thing, one that's met with hostility." (Emphasis mine.)

He then went on to talk about "Political Reform in the Arab World: What Role for the US?" He started by saying that he's no spokesman for the US government, nor does he work for it (um, thanks, Mike, we already knew that part). Then he offered the following disclaimer: " what I'm about to say about the US and political reform in the ME is not a justification of US policies in the region." Then, reciting the basic dogmas, and proving he's a bona fide halal comrade, he added that he has long been a supporter of the Palestinian cause and that he had opposed the occupation of Iraq. And finally, the last line of the credo, he stressed that while the call for reform is good, reform should come from within and not from the outside.

After that, he dove straight into the usual anti-colonial talk. An-Nahar's Lynn Rahme summarized his main points regarding changes in the region. "The US hegemony over the world and the region after the decline of European and Soviet influence after WWII: He then began to talk about the 'New American Empire,' and the future of nationalist ambitions animated by the anti-colonialist and anti-occupation movement with the aim of asserting national identities." Then came "The transformation of identities which were constructed then deconstructed then reconstructed due to the fact that the distribution of power after WWII led to the birth of new states whose boundaries were drawn arbitrarily, so nationalist movements grew and local societies went into constant flux." He gave an example of the latter point: "what Lebanon has witnessed lately in terms of the rise of the Lebanese identity after years of absence, could be a good example of that idea." He added that sectarianism wasn't a well-known concept in Syria as it was in Lebanon, but now it has started to dominate political talk. He concluded: "identities collapse and are born again."

Then, channeling the ghost of his namesake (Aflaq) he predicted the rebirth -- a ba'th, if you will! -- of Arab nationalism: "Ideologies like identities are constructed then they collapse. After Arabism which in the past was the dominant concept, Political Islam appeared and caused Arabism to lose its place and importance. However, I believe that we will witness a return to Arabism for two reasons: the first is the role of the information revolution and globalization in transmitting Arab thought and culture. The second is the role of the growing US presence all over the world in fortifying the nationalist sentiment and the need to fight occupation."

Finally, Hudson recited yet another fixed doctrine regarding the US role, incoherently mixing together all the following cliches: The US should beware what it wishes for in spreading democracy in the ME. The US involvement in this process is a "kiss of death." And, of course, casting doubt on the sincerity of the US and its intentions in the regions, and validating "the Arabs' suspicions."

And there you have it. There's nothing more pathetic than an "anachronistic" Third-Worldist romantic nationalist holding onto deadly failed ideologies of the past. Welcome to ME studies, where Nasser and Aflaq live on.

Update: The Lebanese blogger who authors the "Lebanese Political Journal" attended Hudson's talk at AUB and wrote about it here.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Frontline on Lebanon and Syria

Frontline is airing a story on recent events in Lebanon in tomorrow's broadcast at 9 PM. Kate Seelye, who covered the story, has also been posting dispatches on Lebanon and Syria that you might want to check out.

On a somewhat funny note, the website has a link to blogs by "ME experts reflect[ing] on the state of politics in Lebanon and Syria and in neighboring countries." The list includes Josh, Martin Kramer, and yours truly. There's also one more dude on there. I give you one guess as to who it is!

Ajami in Bush Country

Fouad Ajami has a nice op-ed in the WSJ today. Since subscription is required, I'm reproducing it here for your convenience.
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Bush Country
By Fouad Ajami
Wall Street Journal
May 16, 2005


"George W. Bush has unleashed a tsunami on this region," a shrewd Kuwaiti merchant who knows the way of his world said to me. The man had no patience with the standard refrain that Arab reform had to come from within, that a foreign power cannot alter the age-old ways of the Arabs. "Everything here -- the borders of these states, the oil explorations that remade the life of this world, the political outcomes that favored the elites now in the saddle -- came from the outside. This moment of possibility for the Arabs is no exception." A Jordanian of deep political experience at the highest reaches of Arab political life had no doubt as to why history suddenly broke in Lebanon, and could conceivably change in Syria itself before long. "The people in the streets of Beirut knew that no second Hama is possible; they knew that the rulers were under the gaze of American power, and knew that Bush would not permit a massive crackdown by the men in Damascus."

My informant's reference to Hama was telling: It had been there in 1982, in that city of the Syrian interior, that the Baathist-Alawite regime had broken and overwhelmed Syrian society. Hama had been a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood, a fortress of the Sunni middle class. It had rebelled, and the regime unleashed on it a merciless terror. There were estimates that 25,000 of its people perished in that fight. Henceforth, the memory of Hama hung over the life of Syria -- and Lebanon. But the people in the plazas of Beirut, and the Syrian intellectuals who have stepped forth to challenge the Baathist regime, have behind them the warrant, and the green light, of American power and protection.

To venture into the Arab world, as I did recently over four weeks in Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan and Iraq, is to travel into Bush Country. I was to encounter people from practically all Arab lands, to listen in on a great debate about the possibility of freedom and liberty. I met Lebanese giddy with the Cedar Revolution that liberated their country from the Syrian prison that had seemed an unalterable curse. They were under no illusions about the change that had come their way. They knew that this new history was the gift of an American president who had put the Syrian rulers on notice. The speed with which Syria quit Lebanon was astonishing, a race to the border to forestall an American strike that the regime could not discount. I met Syrians in the know who admitted that the fear of American power, and the example of American forces flushing Saddam Hussein out of his spiderhole, now drive Syrian policy. They hang on George Bush's words in Damascus, I was told: the rulers wondering if Iraq was a crystal ball in which they could glimpse their future.

The weight of American power, historically on the side of the dominant order, now drives this new quest among the Arabs. For decades, the intellectual classes in the Arab world bemoaned the indifference of American power to the cause of their liberty. Now a conservative American president had come bearing the gift of Wilsonian redemption. For a quarter-century the Pax Americana had sustained the autocracy of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak: He had posed as America's man on the Nile, a bulwark against the Islamists. He was sly and cunning, running afoul of our purposes in Iraq and over Israeli-Palestinian matters. He had nurtured a culture of antimodernism and anti-Americanism, and had gotten away with it. Now the wind from Washington brought tidings: America had wearied of Mr. Mubarak, and was willing to bet on an open political process, with all its attendant risks and possibilities. The brave oppositional movement in Cairo that stepped forth under the banner of Kifaya (Enough!) wanted the end of his reign: It had had enough of his mediocrity, enough of the despotism of an aging officer who had risen out of the military bureaucracy to entertain dynastic dreams of succession for his son. Egyptians challenging the quiescence of an old land may have had no kind words to say about America in the past. But they were sure that the play between them and the regime was unfolding under Mr. Bush's eyes.

Unmistakably, there is in the air of the Arab world a new contest about the possibility and the meaning of freedom. This world had been given over to a dark nationalism, and to the atavisms of a terrible history. For decades, it was divided between rulers who monopolized political power and intellectual classes shut out of genuine power, forever prey to the temptations of radicalism. Americans may not have cared for those rulers, but we judged them as better than the alternative. We feared the "Shia bogeyman" in Iraq and the Islamists in Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia; we bought the legend that Syria's dominion in Lebanon kept the lid on anarchy. We feared tinkering with the Saudi realm; it was terra incognita to us, and the House of Saud seemed a surer bet than the "wrath and virtue" of the zealots. Even Yasser Arafat, a retailer of terror, made it into our good graces as a man who would tame the furies of the masked men of Hamas. That bargain with authoritarianism did not work, and begot us the terrors of 9/11.

The children of Islam, and of the Arabs in particular, had taken to the road, and to terror. There were many liberal, secular Arabs now clamoring for American intervention. The claims of sovereignty were no longer adequate; a malignant political culture had to be "rehabilitated and placed in receivership," a wise Jordanian observer conceded. Mr. Bush may not be given to excessive philosophical sophistication, but his break with "the soft bigotry of low expectations" in the Arab-Islamic world has found eager converts among Muslims and Arabs keen to repair their world, to wean it from a culture of scapegoating and self-pity. Pick up the Arabic papers today: They are curiously, and suddenly, readable. They describe the objective world; they give voice to recognition that the world has bypassed the Arabs. The doors have been thrown wide open, and the truth of that world laid bare. Grant Mr. Bush his due: The revolutionary message he brought forth was the simple belief that there was no Arab and Muslim "exceptionalism" to the appeal of liberty. For a people mired in historical pessimism, the message of this outsider was a powerful antidote to the culture of tyranny. Hitherto, no one had bothered to tell the Palestinians that they can't have terror and statehood at the same time, that the patronage of the world is contingent on a renunciation of old ways. This was the condition Mr. Bush attached to his support for the Palestinians. It is too early to tell whether the new restraint in the Palestinian world will hold. But it was proper that Mr. Bush put Arafat beyond the pale.

It was Iraq of course that gave impetus to this new Arab history. And it is in Iraq that the nobility of this American quest comes into focus. This was my fourth trip to Iraq since the fall of the despotism, and my most hopeful yet. I traveled to Baghdad, Kirkuk, Erbil and Suleimaniyah. A close colleague -- Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations -- and I were there to lecture and to "show the flag." We met with parliamentarians and journalists, provincial legislators, clerics and secularists alike, Sunni and Shia Arabs and Kurds. One memory I shall treasure: a visit to the National Assembly. From afar, there are reports of the "acrimony" of Iraq, of the long interlude between Iraq's elections, on Jan. 30, and the formation of a cabinet. But that day, in the assembly, these concerns seemed like a quibble with history. There was the spectacle of democracy: men and women doing democracy's work, women cloaked in Islamic attire right alongside more emancipated women, the technocrats and the tribal sheikhs, and the infectious awareness among these people of the precious tradition bequeathed them after a terrible history. One of the principal leaders of the Supreme Islamic Council for Revolution in Iraq, Sheikh Hamam Hammoudi, an elegant, thoughtful cleric in his early 50s, brushed aside the talk of a Shia theocracy. This Shia man, who knew a smattering of English, offered his own assurance that the example and the power of Iran shall be kept at bay: "My English is better than my Farsi, even though I spent 20 years in Iran." He was proud of his Iraqi identity, proud of being "an Arab." He was sure that the Najaf school of Shia jurisprudence would offer its own alternative to the world view of Qom, across the border. He wanted no theocratic state in Iraq: Islam, he said, would be "a source" of legislation, but the content of politics would be largely secular. The model, he added, with a touch of irony, would be closer to the American mix of religion and politics than to the uncompromising secularism of France.

The insurgents were busy with their bombs and their plots of mayhem: Georgian troops guarded the National Assembly and controlled access to it. But a people were taking to a new political way. A woman garbed in black, a daughter of a distinguished clerical Shia family, made the rounds among her fellow legislators. Religious scruples decreed that she could not shake the hand of a male stranger. But she was proud and wily, a free woman in a newly emancipated polity. She let me know how much she knew about the ways and the literature of the West. American power may have turned on its erstwhile ally, Ahmed Chalabi. But his appearance in the assembly's gallery drew to him parliamentarians of every stripe. He, too, had about him the excitement of this new politics.

A lively press has sprouted in Iraq: There is an astonishing number of newspapers and weeklies, more than 250 in all. There are dozens of private TV channels and radio stations. Journalists and editors speak of a press free of censorship. Admittedly, the work is hard and dangerous, the logistics a veritable nightmare. But no single truth claimed this country, no "big man" sucked the air out of its public life. The insurgents will do what they are good at. But no one really believes that those dispensers of death can turn back the clock. Among the Sunni Arabs, there is growing recognition that the past cannot be retrieved, that it had been a big error to choose truculence and political maximalism. By a twist of fate, the one Arab country that had seemed ever marked for brutality and sorrow now stands poised on the frontier of a new political world. No Iraqis I met look to neighboring Arab lands for political inspiration: They are scorched by the terror and the insurgency, but a better political culture is tantalizingly close.

Women want the vote in Kuwait, the Lebanese clamor for the truth about the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, and about the dark Syrian interlude in their history. Egyptians don't seem frightened of the scarecrows with which the Mubarak regime secured their submission. Everywhere, the order is under attack, and men and women are willing to question the prevailing truths. There is to this moment of Arab history the feel of a re-enactment of Europe's Revolution of 1848 -- the springtime of peoples: That revolution broke out in France, then spread to the Italian states, to the German principalities, to the remotest corners of the Austrian empire. There must have been 50 of these revolts -- rebellions of despair and of contempt. History was swift: The revolutions spread with velocity and were turned back with equal speed. The fear of chaos dampened these rebellions.

As I made my way on this Arab journey, I picked up a meditation that Massimo d'Azeglio, a Piedmontese aristocrat who embraced that "springtime" in Europe, offered about his time, which speaks so directly to this Arab time: "The gift of liberty is like that of a horse, handsome, strong, and high-spirited. In some it arouses a wish to ride; in many others, on the contrary, it increases the desire to walk." It would be fair to say that there are many Arabs today keen to walk -- frightened as they are by the prospect of the Islamists coming to power and curtailing personal liberties, snuffing out freedoms gained at such great effort and pain. But more Arabs, I hazard to guess, now have the wish to ride. It is a powerful temptation that George W. Bush has brought to their doorstep.

Mr. Ajami teaches at Johns Hopkins. This is adapted from a recent lecture at the Hoover Institution.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Just for Laughs

I thought this Al-Hayat report on Mike Doran's rumored move to the NSC was priceless, and that you might get a giggle out of it.

The author, Joyce Karam, throws all the usual charges at Doran: Neocon, anti-Arab, yada yada yada... But she also throws in an inspired quote from Edward Said's nephew Ussama Maqdisi. Maqdisi, who was beaten by Doran to the job at Princeton, and had taken cheap shots at its NES department along with Rashid Khalidi, accused him of "politicizing the academic arena." Now that is rich (if you need me to explain why, then never mind)!

And apparently it runs in the family. Ussama's brother Saree had recently written a pathetic piece in the LAT about Neocons (who else?) laying siege to academia! I guess he was prescient!

These guys slay me...

Hariri's History with Bashar

Readers who know Arabic are encouraged to readthis two-part interview (part two here) with former Hariri top aide Nouhad Mashnouq.

Readers who can't read Arabic, do not despair, I will post a translation of the crucial parts very soon (right after I'm done grading my students' finals!). But to give you a taste, Mashnouq was a long-time close confidant of the slain Hariri. He discusses Hariri's rocky relationship with the Syrians, especially with Bashar Asad. He pretty much confirms what I've written here, and what Michael Young has stated over at Reason's Hit&Run, and what former Ambassador Johnny Abdo (who's quoted in there) has said on TV (he accused Bashar of being directly behind the murder), and what MP Marwan Hamade (and even Jumblat) has essentially said, and what a very well-informed source told me in Beirut.

Also coming up are some thoughts on the latest developments on the election law, and reactions to Michael Young's deflation of Michel Aoun.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Michael Hudson Joins the Baath

My jaw dropped upon reading this précis of a talk given by Georgetown Arabist Michael Hudson to Syrian reporters and journalists in Damascus.

The author of the article, Bahiyya Mardini, reported that Hudson told his audience that "Syria's' problem with the US is not about democracy or reform. Rather, the problem is that the US does not want a nationalist regime in Syria because it's in conflict with US strategic interests and Israeli interests. Therefore, it prefers that this regime be removed."

Hudson then went on to explain that "the US has not made up its mind about Damascus just yet. There are those who say that a withdrawal from Lebanon, along with political and economic reforms, and cooperation on Iraq, terrorism, the Palestinian factions and Hizbullah may restore cooperation between the two. On the other hand, there are those who do not object to regime change in Syria."

Mardini then writes that Hudson said that "Neocons have started to lose their positions, and some have been relieved from their duties," pointing out that "the theory of constructive instability which was popular among Neocons has started to lose support after what happened in Iraq."

Hudson then reportedly questioned American intentions in occupying Iraq, and went through the "excuses" that were used to occupy it, last among which, according to Hudson, was that the spread of democracy was the reason behind the war. The truth, Hudson reportedly said, is that "the US did not achieve democracy, and what's going on today in Iraq is a deepening of sectarianism among Sunnis and Shiites."

Hudson added that there are those in the administration who are sincere about reform, but others believe that fighting terrorism and US national interests should take precedence over democracy and freedom especially when the democratization of Arab states might not serve US interests.

Mardini goes on to say that Hudson remarked that "Bush and his administration do not mean what they say about not targeting Islam and Arabs, when their acts contradict that and no one believes what they say. This leads to the spread of violence and hatred towards America which should change its arrogant policies so that its maligned image could be cleared around the world."

After supporting the UN Human development report, Hudson noted that "change should come from within and not from the outside, because Arabs love freedom and democracy but they hate America, and therein lies the contradiction."

The unfiltered Arab nationalism that permeates these reported quotes is startling to say the least. I'm not sure what's worse: that these people pose as interpreters of the ME to American audiences, or that they pose to Arab audiences as interpreters of the US, unlocking the secrets of Washington for them. They have failed miserably in the first case, and, judging from the garbage reported here, they're failing miserably in the second. In the end, they end up merely regurgitating the official line of the ruling regimes (take for instance the case of Flynt Leverett, who's propping himself up to be the new Patrick Seale: Assad biographer and confidant).

Simply pathetic.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Consociational America!

Reason's Jacob Sullum discusses the filibuster. In my "Cole Buster" post below, I noted in passing the consociational aspects of American democracy (which, unfortunately, Jacob dubs "undemocratic"), and counted the filibuster among them as a form of minority veto.

Here's a slice from Jacob's piece:

Our system of government is undemocratic and obstructive in many ways, including the Constitution's enumeration of congressional powers, the rights it explicitly protects, the types of laws it explicitly prohibits, and the bicameral legislature it created, with one house based on proportional representation and the other giving equal voices to California and Wyoming. The two houses must agree on legislation, which has to be authorized by the Constitution and approved by the president, unless Congress can muster a two-thirds majority to overcome his veto.

The Constitution is undemocratic and obstructive for a good reason: to prevent tyranny by the majority. The Framers recognized that democracy is not the ultimate value but a means to preserve liberty by making government accountable. Pure democracy can be as great a threat to liberty as pure autocracy.

Moving over from Reason to pure insane bizarro world, the Angry Hair wrote something very telling yesterday in reference to Michel Aoun:

I realize that the deep sectarian divisions of Lebanon will impede his fascistic ambitions.

Nevermind the all-too-loose use of the word "fascistic," what the Angry One does here is acknowledge (despite himself!) the same basic virtue noted by Jacob Sullum, only in his usual incoherent and resentful negative tone: consociationalism is a system aimed at preventing the tyranny of the majority, which is crucial in plural societies with a history of ethnic conflict.

So you can add this to the list of Lebanonist points that AAK ends up adopting all while complaining about them being "right-wing" and "ultra-nationalist."

Even Greek Orthodox Archbishop George Khodr, a chronic Arabist, is apprehensive about a premature abandonment of political sectarianism in Lebanon.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Young interviews Al-Haj Saleh

Michael Young interviews Syrian dissident Yasin al-Haj Saleh, who thinks the Syrian regime will not survive the current crisis. Recommended reading.

Update: Josh Landis suggests we compare al-Haj Saleh's interview with the one Josh conducted with Riad al-Turk.

Hairmanos de Sangre

Last month I briefly discussed some misconceptions about ethnicity displayed by Juan Cole and Joseph Massad. At the time I wondered how widespread such misconceptions are in the field. Well, the other day in one of his typical incoherent angry ramblings, Angry Hair (aka. As'ad AbuKhalil) attacked Lee Smith and his latest NYT piece (see below). The Hair wrote:

Notice that Smith (who--in case you forgot--is writing a book on Arab culture) refers to Shi`ites in Lebanon as a special "ethnic" group perhaps not knowing that all Lebanese, regardless of sectarian affiliation, are all part of the same ethnic group.

The last part was rather amusing. First of all, even if the assumption is (which is what I suspect to be the case) that all the Lebanese are of the same Arab ethnicity, it's still a false statement, as it leaves out Armenians, Kurds, and Syriacs (including Assyrians and Chaldeans).

At any rate, the statement was clearly problematic, and hinted at yet another ill-defined concept. So I did a rather painful thing, and took another look at the introduction to the Hair's Historical Dictionary of Lebanon, which I'd mentioned before. AAK has a single paragraph (or, I should say, Hairagraph) on "Ethnicity" that's even more confused than that one line I quoted from his blog. I'll quote it here even if it's completely worthless:

Ethnically speaking, the Lebanese are indistinguishable from the peoples of the eastern Mediterranean. They are undoubtedly a mixed population, reflecting centuries of population movement and foreign occupation. It is not uncommon to see in Lebanon people with blonde hair and light-colored eyes, reflecting perhaps the legacy of the Crusades. While Arabness is not an ethnicity but a cultural identity, some ardent Arab nationalists, in Lebanon and elsewhere, talk about Arabness in racial and ethnic terms to elevate the descendants of Muhammad. Paradoxically, Lebanese nationalists also speak about the Lebanese people in racial terms, claiming that the Lebanese are "pure" descendants of the Phoenician peoples, whom they view as separate from the ancient residents of the region, including -- ironically -- the Canaanites. For the statistical purposes of the American Census Bureau, Arab people (of Asia and North Africa) are listed as Caucasian.

If you're already scratching your head in desperate bewilderment, believe me, you are not alone. Apparently, the Hair's incoherent ramblings are not limited to his blog. Let's try to break this down without passing out.

"Ethnically speaking, the Lebanese are indistinguishable from the peoples of the eastern Mediterranean."

This line seems to imply a racialist understanding of ethnicity, as objectively discernible biological features. In that sense, it's similar to Cole's technique of juxtaposing two pictures of African men, challenging us to tell them apart (the underlying assumption being: if you can't tell them apart, then the Darfur conflict can no longer be labeled ethnic).

That racialist definition is supported by the following statement:

"It is not uncommon to see in Lebanon people with blonde hair and light-colored eyes, reflecting perhaps the legacy of the Crusades."

Leaving aside the incredibly problematic assumptions of this statement (cf. Columbia's George Saliba's alleged line about "green eyes" and "Semites"), the racialist/biological undertones are clear.

If this is not enough, AAK's statement quoted from his blog that the Lebanese are all of the same ethnic group (assuming the definition of ethnicity laid out in his HD) is undermined by his (equally primordialist) assertion that the Lebanese are "undoubtedly a mixed population, reflecting centuries of population movement and foreign occupation."

Another underlying premise of this statement is that ethnicity is static and an a priori category (structural-functionalism), whereby any "mixture" is due to population movement or foreign occupation (i.e. outside interference by another concrete a priori "ethnicity," understood in biological terms).

But how does AAK define the "ethnicity" of the Lebanese (even if the entire premise is wrong)? At first, attempting to avoid a racialist definition of Arab nationalism, AAK denies that it's "Arab," as he understands the latter as a "cultural identity" and not an ethnicity (as that is racially defined. Note the parallel use of "racial and ethnic.") But that is misleading, and his Arabist influences quickly surface at the end of the paragraph when he says that "Arab people" (clearly encompassing the Lebanese) are listed as Caucasian in the census (again exposing a racialist understanding of ethnicity!). I guess the "Arab people," the Lebanese among them, are defined as a people by their "cultural identity," which AAK doesn't bother to define or explore.

Incidentally, AAK's characterization of the Lebanese nationalists is simplistic, and ultimately inaccurate. Phoenicianism is far more complex than how he presents it. For the most recent comprehensive study on the subject, check out Asher Kaufman's Reviving Phoenicia. Kaufman by the way points out to another contradiction in AAK's introduction under discussion. Kaufman notes AAK's pathological animosity towards Phoenicianism and Lebanese nationalism (which is very obvious on his blog). But at the same time, Kaufman points out, AAK ends up adopting Phoenicianism's basic outline as he starts talking about Lebanon's history from the time of the Canaanites! This is one of the complexities, and variants, of the Phoenicianist narrative as analyzed by Kaufman. The Phoenician ties to the land are undeniable, and thus Phoenicianism can be understood and adopted that way.

But what about the definition of Arabness as a cultural identity? Well, let's look under the slightly longer (4 paragraphs) section on "Culture and Language." That's the section that contains the infamous line (on p. 4) that I've quoted before: "One cannot speak specifically about a Lebanese culture."

Here, the basic elements of Arab nationalism are immediately discernible, and they dominate the entire framework. AAK writes:

Lebanese culture been (sic) influenced by historical interactions with the West and the East. The Arab East has shaped Lebanese culture more, however, especially since the seventh century, when Islam conquered Syria (including present-day Lebanon). Arabic was quickly adopted by the local population, replacing Aramaic even as the language for religious ritual among Maronite sects.

I won't go into the historical errors and reductionism. But on the issue of language, especially in ritual, see paragraph [9] of this review (for more, see the works of Sidney Griffith, who's mentioned in the review).

Also, I won't dwell too long on the essentialism inherent in this passage. For instance, notice how the East is Arab. The funny part is the "especially in the seventh century." Was the East Arab before Islam as well?! This, of course, is the standard Arab nationalist revisionism. But I wanted to bring this up because AAK ever so condescendingly attacks Lee as someone working on "Arab culture" and ridicules him for quoting Patai. AAK uses that to recite the Edward Said credo on essentialism and the works. But now that you've read the above, you'd wonder how someone who has no problem talking about "Arabness" as a "cultural identity" and about the "Arab East" and so on, can have the audacity to accuse anyone of reductionism or essentialism.

Back to the segment on "Culture and Language." Like I said, the standards of Arab nationalism are all there: listing, exclusively, the Lebanese writers who sparked the 19th c. renaissance, and, the infamous quote about the non-existence of a specifically Lebanese culture, "because the culture of Lebanon has been part of the larger Arab and regional culture." But most notable is the linguistically-based approach as is clear in the quoted passage (the juxtaposition of "culture" and "language" by itself is a dead giveaway).

What I found interesting is the typically Arab nationalist jump that AAK made when he mentioned the spread of Arabic via the Islamic conquests. The emphasis was immediately laid on the (culturally) unifying role of the language (even if, as Kaufman notes, it wasn't the vernaculars that were at the heart of the rise of Arab nationalism, as is the case in Benedict Anderson's argument on nationalism). But then a jump of several centuries from the 7th c. to the other "moment": the 19th c. renaissance. This is vintage Arab nationalist historiography!

After "Ethnicity," and "Culture and Language" (all of which are static and indistinguishable from those of the Arab neighbors) comes AAK's segment on "Religion" (two paragraphs). The Hair writes:

Lebanon, it is often remarked, is more shaped by religion than by any other single factor. This observation, however, ignores the distinctive features of the Lebanese sectarian problem. In other words, sectarian membership and identification are not acts of religious worship but characteristics of narrow political identification. The Lebanese are likely to identify with, in addition to their family, their religions.

While AAK doesn't understand religion in Lebanon in a strict spiritual/liturgical sense, he does still reduce it to "narrow political identification." But this is clearly an artificial reduction, and AAK does not explain what those political identifications entail. Does this kind of religious identity intersect with cultural, linguistic, and ethnic (not in AAK's racialist sense) identities? One can bring up Christianity's relation to Armenian, or Greek ethnic identity (or other eastern European ethno-nationalisms), or Judaism and Jewish ethnic identity (this is an issue Massad wants to resemanticize, claiming that Judaism is only a religious identity, and any expansion into ethnic identity, or even ethno-nationalism, is a product of 19th c. European romantic thought and is thus "anti-Semitic"). In fact, what about Islam and Arab nationalism? I know the myth is of a "secular" Arab nationalism, but that's bogus and everyone knows it. Read what Josh Landis has written on Aflaq and the Baath, or what Elie Kedourie has written on the subject. This feature, by the way, is also in conflict with the second of Anderson's points of departure in his analysis of nationalism: the decline of religion (which, as Kaufman notes, is similar to Gellner's premise).

One can even go further, for the sake of argument, taking a line that may perhaps be described as primordialist. If religious identity can affect political affiliation, as AAK seems to be saying, can it not also have an effect on behavior, diet, dress, interaction with others, and other kinds of cultural practices? As such, can we really not speak of specifically Lebanese culture(s)? Or, to paraphrase a recent post by Stacey Yadav, is the Islam that's forced to live with and acknowledge a non-Muslim other as equal the same as the Wahhabist or Jihadist Islam? Is the interaction of Lebanese Muslims and Christians the same as the interaction of Egyptian Muslims and Copts? Is Lebanese social culture then really indistinguishable from that of its neighbors?

But since AAK had already established the Arabist-inspired cultural and linguistic homogeneity (even in ritual, noting how arabization had taken root early on), he had to narrow the discussion to the realm of politics (hence, Lebanese political sectarianism). In fact, for all his Marxist leanings and his infatuation with labels like "right wing," AAK doesn't discuss other social identities.

Basically, for AAK the Lebanese are ethnically (i.e. racially) indistinguishable from their neighbors, save for some blondies left over from the Crusaders. They are culturally indistinguishable, as there is no such thing as a specific Lebanese culture. And, needless to say, they are linguistically indistinguishable (save for some linguistic islands of Armenian and Kurdish). Is it any wonder, therefore, that he thinks that Lebanon is not viable as a nation and should melt into a unified Syria, Jordan and a "liberated Palestine"?

Nevertheless, as Kaufman noted, despite AAK's personal issues with Lebanon and Lebanonism, his intro is peppered with several Lebanonist fixtures, beside the incorporation of Phoenician history. For instance, AAK notes how "Lebanon has attracted members of all the religions of the region, if not the world. Muslims, Christians, Jews and Druzes have coexisted in Lebanon for centuries." This is but a variant of the auberge des minorités narrative, a much mocked Lebanonist hallmark. Yet, AAK can't get around it because it's historically accurate, and it's also an influential Lebanonist narrative, which is rather distinctive (as much as this frustrates the Angry Hair). That's why, as Josh Landis once noted, Hafez Assad's father wrote a letter to the French authorities requesting that the Allawite regions be joined to the emerging Lebanese state.

To conclude, AAK like his "dear friend" Joseph Massad and MESA president-elect John ("Juan") Cole, seems to have rather problematic conceptions of ethnicity, viewing it in racialist, primordialist terms. Small wonder then, that he had a seizure when Lee used the term "ethnic group" in reference to the Lebanese Shi'a.

This guy, I might add, is said to be writing a book on Lebanese identities. In light of the above, that promises to be quite the read!

Addendum: Please contrast the Hair's section on religion, sectarianism and politics with the following taken from his review of Ajami's The Vanished Imam (MERIP 144 [Jan-Feb 1987]: 46):

Ajami's study is very much in tune with what one can refer to as neo-Orientalism. According to this paradigm, Arabs are first and foremost Muslims. All ideological and political positions derive from sectarian affiliations. Socioeconomic and political differences are irrelevant. Neo-Orientalists focus on Islam as the determining factor of events related to Arabs...

The Hair, neo-Orientalist? Well he wouldn't be the first. See the following review of his "dear friend" Joseph Massad's book.

Iraqi "Consociational Patriotism"

Josh Landis turned me to this blog called "Postcolonial Iraq." Despite its name, it's actually an interesting blog. Its author, Jelloul, is very supportive of consociationalism. In his latest post Jelloul writes:

I must say that, apart from political scientists, no involved party, whether in Lebanon or Iraq, is expected to self-evidently acknowledge virtues of consociation. Naturally, every party would rather see its own values adopted by every other party. I mean, no one person is entirely happy with compromise solutions; compromise systems are only reluctantly tolerated.

As to Arab popular reserve against consociational democracy, and apart from a certain grievance against the part played by the French in the 1932 Lebanese census, it is simply unfounded. For example, according to wide spread belief among Arabs, Lebanon’s confessional system was a French colonial imposition on the Lebanese people; the truth is, the system was rather imposed upon the French by the people of Lebanon.

One need only consider the diametrically opposed constitutional archetypes; the French -- state-unitarian, majoritarian, secular, liberal -- and the Lebanese -- consociational, power-sharing, confessional, communitarian. Should we, on the other hand, attach great importance to the common republican aspect, we must then admit that a very strong alteration or hybridization of French metropolitan law had taken place on Lebanese colonised soil. (Following in emigrants’ wake, this subversive process has now reached the very French metropolitan soil, where much energy and money is spent these days in order to stop the new specter haunting la République or what the French call with strong disapproval "le communautarisme.")

Indeed, the proportionality system from 1926 ("the quota system") was not so much colonial as it was pre-colonial, Ottoman (Millet system) and more generally Islamic. The 23 May 1926 French Constitution for Lebanon, while inspired by constitutional laws of 1875 French Third Republic, made actually official the local traditional system of power-sharing between communities, with Article 95 in particular providing that communities were to be fairly and proportionately represented in public office, ministry and parliament. Mandatory power France was then pressured by then prevailing international law, in general, and precise recommendations by the League of Nations from 24 July 1922, in particular -- minority protection was of course much stronger prior to our UN. The nearly parity system of the 1943 National Pact, on the other hand, was conceived in purely anti-colonial consociational-patriotic spirit. As for the more or less integral parity system of the post-civil war Ta’if Accord (1989), this, in addition to strengthening Lebanon's confessional political system, was a definitely post-colonial legacy, as no colonial powers whatsoever were directly involved in it.

"Modern" Arabs in particular are reluctant or reticent, not only because of their after all understandable sectarian motivation and natural pan-Arabist leaning, but because they literally feel ashamed of the confessional system in Lebanon. Whether their fetishizing attitude toward secularism stems from their long standing in awe of the former French colonial power is an open question. The fact remains that general inferiority complex towards Westerners inhibits the appreciation of a local original achievement. Hence, the constitutionally inscribed character of confessionalism as an always temporary arrangement. And hence the modernizing part devolved upon (sic) the Syrians in Lebanon, and hence the motive (or alibi) provided by the Ta’if Accord for them to stay until de-confessionalization is completed.

Apparently Jelloul is not aware of my blog, which has done nothing except "acknowledge the virtues of consociation"!

Take a look.

Young Cuts Through the Wilderness

Michael Young analyzes the recent developments in Lebanon, and clarifies a few things that I've somewhat assumed in my last couple of posts:

The 2000 law, this argument continues, places Christian voters and candidates at the mercy of Muslims in virtually all electoral districts. In addition, the law perpetuates an electoral anomaly in placing Bsharri, which is a bastion of Lebanese Forces support, in the same district as Muslim-majority Dinniyeh, which is not even contiguous. This will ensure, as it will in Beirut and Jezzine, that Christians have virtually no say in the districts, since they will have little leverage to name, let alone elect, their favored candidates.

It is undoubtedly true that the 2000 law was a hybrid monster designed to marginalize the Lebanese Forces and the Aounists, to impose Hizbullah's and Amal's hegemony in the south, and to protect traditional leaders like Walid Jumblatt in the mountains and Rafik Hariri in Beirut. But it was also destined to give the Lahouds and the Murrs an advantage in the Metn. Indeed, their hypocrisy in demanding an electoral law based on the qada, or small circumscription, is flagrant, since according to the 2000 law the Metn votes as a qada anyway, thanks to a law they helped fashion (under the supervision of Syrian intelligence chief Ghazi Kanaan) to protect their interests.

But there is a difference today. This time the Lahouds and Murrs have a potentially lethal rival in Aoun, whose support is strong in the Metn. If the general allies himself with another powerhouse in the district, former President Amin Gemayel, as well as opposition figures such as Nassib Lahoud, the alliance could easily defeat a Murr-led list (which could include the president's son), along with the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Armenians. This would spell disaster for Lahoud and Murr, and facilitate the president's ouster once elections are completed. 

Michael also comments on Jumblat's recent move (see my "Druze Prince" post below):

That has led to a second narrative, supported by Jumblatt, but also by other figures in the Martyrs' Square opposition, suggesting the problem is not the 2000 law (though it is accepted by the purveyors of this version as a problem); but that Lahoud and the Murrs are manipulating sectarian Christian sensibilities, using the LBC and other media to do so, and flirting with Aoun (for example by promising him military protection upon his return), in order to break him off from Jumblatt, the Hariri camp, Qornet Shehwan, and the Lebanese Forces. More parochially, the Lahouds and Murrs seek to form an alliance with Aoun in the Metn to save their skin. 

A central tenet of this narrative is that Aoun is plotting to become president, and thinks he can play everybody for a sap. He feels confident enough to use Lahoud, and then get rid of him; and to use his opposition allies, then impose himself on them. Are the accusations correct? Perhaps not, but Jumblatt has been maneuvering to protect himself, and his visits to Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir and other Christian figures on Tuesday suggest the creation of a new broad opposition front may be in the works (though with or against Aoun remains unclear; that will depend on how the general decides to act). It was obvious that Jumblatt had to make amends for a lack of transparency that had little reassured his Christian allies in recent days.

What Jumblatt is said to fear most is an alliance between Aoun and Hizbullah in the Baabda district, but also an Aounist challenge in Aley, perhaps in alliance with Talal Arslan. According to some accounts, Jumblatt's relations with Hizbullah are not especially good, and the party has little conviction the Druze leader means what he says when defending it against disarmament under the authority of Security Council Resolution 1559. One opposition figure told me that Hizbullah was also keen to keep all its options open, and by allying itself with Aoun it could certainly buy some breathing room vis-à-vis the UN, even as it further divides the opposition.

My feelings about Aoun are similar to Michael's. And although I am not a Geagea fan, I'm just intrigued, out of sheer vain curiosity, to see how he will behave politically once he's out. Yet, perhaps that doesn't quite fall in the category of the unpredictable, as outlined by Michael!

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Cole Buster

I was listening to something on TV about the filibuster controversy, and suddenly, I remembered what Cole said about Iraq in this BBC article (see my "Juan Man, Juan Vote" post):

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.

So I thought to myself, Cole must've written something on the filibuster issue, and sure enough here it is:

The senators have to consent. In the case of the presidents' treaties (which affect their prestige and often policies much more than a mere judicial appointment) there even has to be a 2/3s majority in concurrence. Such a supermajority is not required for the appointments, but there is clearly no presumption that the president should be deferred to by the senate. The president should be consulting beforehand, which would have made consent easier to obtain. The issue isn't the filibuster. The issue is the independence of the Senate and of the judiciary. The question is whether we have 3 branches of government, or only one.

Cole then proceeds to quote Sen. Joe Biden (from an interview with Chris Matthews):

Look, this whole thing underscores they don`t understand the Senate. Up until 1947, there wasn`t -- you needed a unanimous consent. From the time of the Constitution to 1947, you needed unanimous consent in order to get a judge through. They changed the rule in 1917 to say you could have - - three-fifths of the senators could vote to cut off debate on legislation, but they said but not for nominees, because the founders never intended that.

This is all about the independence of the judiciary. When you go to the point where you can have 51 senators make a decision on every single -- imagine if that rule had been in place when Roosevelt tried to pack the court. What would have happened? [Emphasis mine.]

Of course, the filibuster is another form of minority veto, which is one of the consociational aspects of American democracy (which itself is a mixed majoritarian-consociational system.)

So, if the Iraqis adopt a consociational system with a minority veto that doesn't allow for a 51% majority to run the country unchecked, Cole spits on it as a "neo-colonial" enterprise bent on creating an "American Iraq" which, according to Cole's informed guess, would make it the only country in the world to adopt a 2/3s super-majority system!

Minority veto for me, not for thee.

Addendum: I just saw some old posts by Jelloul of "Postcolonial Iraq" that deal with Cole and his stances on Iraq's election and post-election arrangements. See here and here. Here's a relevant quote:

Cole is desperately trying a "regrettable" supplementation, a "once occurrence" as he says, into his ethno-centric constitutional system; that is, he is making a small concession to more local practices. But, how would 20% or 25%--make it 49%--of parliament members and constitution legislator prevent "a tyranny of the Shi’ite majority"? How would parliament decide on some "over-representation" of the Sunnis in some upper house if the majority of parliament members are Shi’ites? And suppose they agree to do so, how would an equal representation in [the] senat[e] alone stop Shi’ite tyranny in parliament and thereby in the whole balance between the two chambers? Well, that remains something of a mystery.