Across the Bay

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Hariri vs. Hizbullah

There have been some interesting developments in Lebanon the last few weeks. Readers are probably aware of the first Hariri vs. Hizbullah verbal clash during Seniora's trip to the UN over the international aid packages to Lebanon, and whether they would have political strings attached to them. At the time, HA, Berri and their current cheerleader, the ever-destructive Walid Jumblat, lashed out at Seniora, accusing him essentially of potential treason, and of selling out the "constants" and all that garbage rhetoric that was commonplace under the Syrians. I was very pleased to hear both Seniora and Hariri lashing back at their critics, especially Jumblat, who is supposedly an "ally" of Hariri's.

The tension only escalated after Seniora requested American help in investigating the attempt on journalist May Chidiac's life, and even went a step further (also rhetorically), when Seniora declared a "war on terror" of sorts: "Lebanon like many other countries is at war with terrorism and we shall win the war irrespective of the costs and risks."

Needless to say, this has made HA quite nervous, and they plan to launch an attack on Seniora in the cabinet session scheduled for tonight through Energy Minister Fneish. Hizbullah's people have already made their position clear: they reject the help of the Americans, and view it not just as an intervention of a hostile party, but as a pretext for Israeli infiltration. In other words, the usual crap. Seniora was not pleased, and defended his decision, rejecting any implication that he is substituting Syrian tutelage with an American one, a charge that HA has been intensely diffusing through its propaganda outlet, Al-Manar TV.

HA is now trying to broaden its base of support by courting MP Michel Aoun. They even got Jumblat to issue, despite himself, a statement of quasi-rapprochement with Aoun. But it was so condescending that Aoun shot it down immediately. But Aoun did meet with a HA delegation, and there is talk of him meeting with Hasan Nasrallah.

Before meeting with the HA people however, Aoun's delegate met in Paris with Saad Hariri for 2 1/2 hours. This attention to Aoun must drive Jumblat crazy, and that's always a good thing. But that's a side note.

Sunnis vs. Shiites

Michael Young wrote an op-ed a while ago (with which I don't fully agree, I should add) noting that "broadly speaking, there are two forces at the national level today competing with one another, albeit peacefully, to fill the vacuum left behind by the Syrians: the Sunni community around Saad Hariri, and the Shiite community around Hizbullah's secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah." The Christians of Lebanon are therefore secondary, if important, actors. He added this important point: "There is also the fact that, while Christians may play less of a pivotal function than they used to, the other communities, particularly Sunnis and Shiites, have yet to truly negotiate power relationships with each other - something the Maronites and the Sunnis spent many decades doing. That past experience is why it's necessary to engage the Christians, but also why their balancing role can be advantageous to all."

Indeed, we are seeing this Sunni-Shiite power-struggle unfold. It's not without a sense of irony too. Note for instance, how in his statement to the press today, Berri stopped and thanked the Iranians and their role several times. Similarly, an envoy from the Iranian Shura Council came to Lebanon -- don't laugh -- to stress the rejection of any foreign interference!

Aoun's Role

Aoun's importance becomes clearer, as he commands a significant bloc in Parliament. He must be very careful in how he approaches Hizbullah, and he should fight his "temptation," as William Harris called it, of a FPM-Hizbullah connection at the expense of the center. I still maintain that with the current Shi'a leadership, the moderate center in Lebanon lies in a Christian-Sunni alliance, awaiting change on the Shiite scene. Aoun should not undercut that, neither should Hariri. I'll come back to this further below.

Aoun still disagrees with HA over their weapons, and has not backed down on the issue (be it via 1559 or Taef). His proposal is to integrate them into the armed forces. I think it's a horrible idea. Besides, we've seen the fight between Hariri and HA over the position of director of the General Security office, which HA wants. Their people still pack the military intelligence apparatus as well. I don't think anyone would be pleased with them having their own special brigade in the Army, act as a "consultant" to the army command! Besides, HA still refuses to disarm,a nd their notion of "dialogue" has not changed: we will dialogue about the possibility of dialogue, not about actual sensitive issues, such as disarmament.

France and the US

A report (PDF) in As-Siyassah the other day echoed these sentiments. Quoting an unnamed US Congressman (Engel?), it claimed that the French and the Americans have relayed their views to Seniora and Hariri about how to deal with HA, and the mechanisms that the Seniora cabinet has in mind. According to the report, the US and France put forth the following positions: 1- the dialogue should be between the government and HA, not between HA and the various Lebanese parties (which is what HA has been doing, in order to undermine any consensus on its weapons). 2- The US and France, according to the report, consider the integration of HA into the Army or any security agency as a Red Line that should not be crossed, and that these institutions should adopt a "Lebanese doctrine" as the basis of its direction, and not an "Iranian doctrine" or an "Arab" (read Syrian) one, such as the one being trumpeted by Walid Jumblat and his cronies in recent weeks. The latter was the one that dominated the security and military apparatuses under the Syrians and led to the present disasters. This Syrian doctrine must cease with the end of the Syrian occupation.

Given the fight over the remnants of the Syrian-Lebanese order, especially over the office of director of General Security as noted above, I don't think the Hariris have a problem with that. But you can bet HA does, for, as I noted earlier, their people were part and parcel of that Syrian-imposed order, especially in the military intelligence, and were especially close to Lahoud and the notorious Jamil es-Sayyed, currently in custody for his hand in the Hariri assassination.

Jumblat's Role

One of the questions reportedly asked to Seniora according to that As-Siyassah report was "what will your position be in response to your allies who oppose the disarmament of HA, like Walid Jumblat and Nabih Berri"? Well, perhaps the united unapologetic stance of Hariri and Seniora is the answer.

But whereas HA and Berri's reaction was understandble, as they were never really allies of Hariri, Jumblat's role proved most damaging, as it came from within Hariri's alliance.

Jumblat has tried to architect a return to the Syrian order (without the Syrians) since March. He torpedoed the Christian-Sunni alliance, and tried to lure the Sunnis into an alliance with HA and Berri. That has not proved quite successful. The only thing Jumblat managed to do was attack and alienate the Christians. Jumblat's main complex in all of this was the potential strength of Aoun in a post-Syrian Lebanon. A Hariri-Aoun alliance would marginalize him, and if both agree on an agenda of reforms, Jumblat stands to lose much.

Therefore, it is sweet irony that he simply cannot get rid or get around Aoun, no matter which camp he chooses! Of course not! That's how Lebanon works, which explains Jumblat's recent remarks attacking the notion of consensus as the rule in Lebanon.

An internationally-sponsored order (pushing for reforms) is anathema for Jumblat, so he has started singing the tune of Arabism once again. "Lebanon's Arabism is exposed," he said. In a sense, he's right. There is no credible regional Arabist force anymore. Nasser is dead, the PLO is localized, and Syria has managed to alienate Lebanon's Sunnis, the traditional bearers of the Arabist identity. Who does Jumblat have left? Hizbullah.

I've mentioned before how Jumblat is following in the destructive footsteps of his father, Kamal. Back in the late 60s-early 70s, Kamal Jumblat decided to use the Palestinians as his muscle in his effort to overthrow the Lebanese system. At the time, the revolutionary rhetoric had a good receptive audience among the strongly Nasserist (and mobilized) Sunni street. But the message of revolution was not one the Sunni notables wanted anything to do with. That has never changed (which is why, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb -- another self-styled HA expert -- in her incredibly bad piece in the DS, is way off the mark to insinuate that the Christians are the only ones to protest the abolition of the current system). What has changed are the dynamics between the current Sunni leadership and its constituents. While the Sunnis have not abandoned their Arabist sympathies, they are not the ones singing to the broken tune of Arab nationalist revolution. That has been taken over by the Shiite leadership.

This changes a lot of things for Jumblat. The sectarian dynamics have been drastically altered from the time of his father. Back then, the Sunni notables could not be "out-Arabized" by a Druze chieftain, whose discourse was widely accepted among their constituents. The current Sunni-Shia dynamics have messed that up, and this was clear on March 14th, when the Sunnis took to the streets after the pro-Syrian Hizbullah rally on March 8th.

For that reason, Saad and Seniora had no problem telling Jumblat to shut up, without any fear of looking weak on Arabism in the eyes of their community. In fact, they would've looked weak had they not asserted themselves. They also got the support of the Christians, who have had it with Jumblat.

Moreover, Walid, unlike his father, has no interest whatsoever in overthrowing the system. On the contrary, he wants to reestablish the Syrian order, without the Syrians. An internationally backed Hariri is a threat. Adding Aoun to that is way too much.

Courting Aoun

But, despite his hatred of Aoun, Jumblat is now forced to go along with HA in trying to court him to join an alliance against the Seniora government. Although maintaining an open line with everyone is a good thing, ganging up against Seniora a dangerous trap that Aoun should avoid, regardless of his criticisms of the failures of the cabinet.

Aoun's role as the critical opposition can be quite useful, but it has to be managed carefully. Aoun also has aspirations for the presidency, and is now in a good position to negotiate, to the certain ire of Jumblat. That's a very good place to be for Aoun, who has wisely refused to be the one facing the barrel of the gun. But Aoun should not abandon the center just to reach the presidency. If he plays along with HA, he would be playing with fire, especially when it comes to Intl' aid. In a sense, he would put himself in the hot seat for no good reason.

Upcoming Challenges

The immediate future still holds a lot of dangerous pitfalls for Lebanon. The Mehlis report and its effects is one. What will happen in Syria? Will Bashar stay in power? If so, how will that reflect on the Lebanese scene and Syro-Lebanese relations? Furthermore, how will it reflect internally, in the cabinet and in Parliament, where HA and Berri have not backed away from supporting Syria?

Another challenge is the remainder of the UNR 1559, and Lebanon's overall relationship with the Intl' Com. Again, HA is trying to sabotage and dictate Foreign Policy.

Related to this is the issue of the Palestinian weapons. In the last couple of days, this matter took front stage as Syrian-backed Palestinian elements (Ahmad Jibril's PFLP-GC) were smuggling weapons to the Palestinian camps, and have placed them on alert. The Army then surrounded main camps, especially in the Bekaa, and tried to cut off the smuggling routes.

I've said before that the Palestinian issue will be another Sunni-Shiite hot topic of contention.

All these challenges require a strong moderate center, away from the hollow but incendiary ideological rhetoric, of the kind propagated by Jumblat and HA. That center needs to be strongly supported by the Intl' Com.

HA will certainly use this to up the rhetoric and mobilize the Shi'a around them, under the pretext of the Shi'a being left out and isolated. It's the same old trick.

The Christians need to walk a very fine line in such a situation. On the one hand, it's clear that only the Sunni Hariri and Seniora could've said what they said to HA and Berri. Had it been a Christian getting American and French support, you could forget it. But like I said, the dynamics have changed, and it's not a Christian who's taking the lead in this, and I'd add thankfully so! In that sense, Michael was right. Michael's other proposal on the Christians as middle-men may be also true, but it's a tricky one. That's why Aoun's and the Christians' current situation is so delicate. And it's especially crucial for Aoun to navigate with extreme caution. It will be something new.

Like I said earlier, Aoun needs to back the moderate center (along with Hariri), not undermine it. It's unfortunate that HA can and will manipulate that in a sectarian way. But it's simply unacceptable to keep playing HA's game. For the millionth time, as Hazem Saghieh recently put it, Lebanon does not work that way, and is inherently not compatible with radical trans-national ideologies. If Hizbullah is serious about dialogue, and nothing has shown that to be the case, it should put its money (and its weapons) where its mouth is, and not simply maneuvre to undermine consensus, hamstring the cabinet, and (with the help of its cheerleaders) sabotage international aid and economic reforms, as if the Syrians never left.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Syria: Après Assad Le Deluge?

Josh Landis has replied to his critics with a lengthy post (actually, the only serious and systematic critic was Young. The other two merely engaged in "barking," as Josh put it, and hollow smart-alecky outrage.) explaining his remarks on authoritarianism in Syrian culture (as I noted, it's largely based on the education system, a point of agreement between me and Josh).

I've been meaning to post at length about these issues, but I'm still not finished preparing the post. However, the time is now, and since I will only be getting busier as the semester progresses, I might as well post it now. I apologize if it's not as complete or properly structured as I had hoped it would be.


As David Hirst recently noted, Syria is currently ruled by a single family, through a mixture of brute force and deals with rival "fiefdoms":

Assad is the weak head of a regime built around clan solidarity and the consensus of rival fiefdoms. If he attempts to save himself through the sacrifice of others, Syrians say, he could set off an internal explosion that, in the absence of an effective opposition, has long been seen as the likeliest manner of the Baathists' eventual undoing.

In a sense, it's a mutation of the "control" model, explained by Ian Lustick in a famous 1979 article (for a brief quote and definition, see here). In the aftermath of the latest Baath Party Conference, the Assad family consolidated its grip on power by narrowing the base to its inner-most circles.

Yet, much like Iraq and Lebanon, Syria is a plural society with a large set of minorities. While this regime claims that it has kept stability by preventing inter-communal strife, the reality is that this regime has done much to destroy inter-communal ties and trust in Syria. Furthermore, the regime has used Arabism as the cover ideology, given the fact that the ruling family is from the Alawite minority. Arabism (thus, Sunnism) was also enshrined in the education system. Both elements have played a crucially detrimental role in preventing the proper acknowledgment of the internal reality, and the formulation of an identity and social order based on that honest acknowledgment.

This false appeal of Arabism is what's behind the Syrian people's sticking with the illusion that the regime is the glue that keeps Syrian society from disintegrating, and explains the bizarre, even pathological, blurring of a confused sense of patriotism, nationalism and "faith" in what's little more than a third-rate klepotcrat thug. (See Elie Kedourie, Democracy and Arab Political Culture [Washington, D.C.: WINEP, 1992], 88-90.)

Arabism, as evident from the propaganda of the regime's mouthpiece, Buthaina Shaaban, is presented to the Syrians as the only guarantor of social cohesion. Therefore, it was not only natural, but predictable, that Bashar would not abandon this ideology at the Baath Conference. Meanwhile, he narrows his powerbase even more tightly within his immediate family, while banning the establishment of sectarian or ethnic-based parties.

The other related reason why Bashar will always hold on to this ideology, because it's his way to placate the Sunni Arab majority. Josh actually pointed this out in his excellent paper on the education system (link in his post), where he noted that this supposedly "secular" regime is the prime backer of rigid Sunnism in Syrian schools and in Syrian society in general. In fact, Hafez Assad began the process of "Sunnifying" the Alawites, as Josh explains in the paper.

But here's where Josh's paradoxes start to emerge. Because of his minoritarian status, Bashar will never be able to change this arrangement (see Hirst's quote above) without jeopardizing the foundations of his rule. That's why Josh completely misunderstands Bashar's use of the insurgents in Iraq. That is also why his suggestion was so impossible: the US should help Bashar forcibly subdue the Sunnis! In other words, Bashar, a minoritarian, should use a foreign power, which is perceived to have weakened the Sunnis in Iraq, in order to break whatever semblance of inter-communal stability there is in Syria, and further enrage neighboring Sunni states like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt! That is supposed to ensure Syrian stability?

Josh's proposal is to tighten the "control" model through the use of more force, and then he tells us that this regime has done much to repair inter-communal relations since his father annihilated Sunnis in Hama 20 some years ago! And all this for what? Because Josh thinks this dim-wit is the best thing for Syria! Based on what? Absolutely nothing.

Furthermore, as Michael Young notes, no one has any confidence in this guy anymore. Not to mention that he may soon be implicated in the assassination of Rafik Hariri in Lebanon. Josh would like to blame this on the US and the Lebanese. What he misses is that this is all his boy's doing. This is Syria's guarantor of stability? This is the best Syria has to offer? This is the "least bad" option? The guy who's brought economic ruin, antagonized the entire world, played with fire in Iraq and now risks the fire consuming him and Syria, has blown any Arab cover and brought upon himself the ire of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, both of which want nothing more than to replace him with a Sunni leader? Do we really need to go through the Syrian version of Arafat?

What are the options? Well, none are easy, pre-packaged, or guaranteed. But at the end of the day, the Syrians need to stop playing ostrich and face their problems and work to solve them (some would add, "peacefully or not!"). In that, the Lebanese and the Iraqis are not better.

Josh says that there are no options other than Bashar. Yet, I found interesting the jump Josh made in his proposal: "I believe Bashar could have been part of the solution. The West should have allied itself with those regime members - such as Dardari and many others, who are struggling for reform within the present system. It must also support the democratic opposition, which it has not done."

What struck me in this proposal is the total irrelevance of Bashar, as evident by Josh's immediate jump to reformers in the regime, that are not of the Assad family, and who are in fact hamstrung by the Assad-Makhlouf-Shawkat kleptocracy. I've noted how Bashar, based on Josh's studies and his latest op-ed, could never have been part of the solution. Josh only deludes himself with the ridiculous and totally unconvincing "Bashar's small doses" excuse. What he willingly blinds himself to is the fact, pointed out by him in his paper and elsewhere, that Bashar is not just unwilling, but incapable of doing anything substantial. As such, his presence will always be a hurdle to any serious change (besides, as I noted, no one is interested in working with him).

So how is this change to come about? Here Josh plays a narrow zero-sum game. The model he conjures up (as does the regime) is Iraq and American-imposed democracy. I.e., he falls back on fears of strife like in Iraq. He also points out that the likeliest outcome would be a government dominated by Sunni fundamentalists.

Yet the latter assumes a purely majoritarian model (and uses that to explain why people might prefer to stick with Bashar, regardless of the various presumptions on the nature and state of the Sunni community). That ought not be the working model. Here's where consensual government comes into play. This rather widespread problematic assumption, and the damage it has done in the political culture of the ME was noted by Elie Kedourie in his excellent essay, "Ethnicity, Majority and Minority in the Middle East" (in Esman and Rabinovich [eds.], Ethnicity, Pluralism, and the State in the Middle East, pp. 25-31. For a relevant quote, see here. See also Amy Chua, World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability [New York: Anchor Books, 2004], esp. pp. 273-275, who proposes moving beyond simple "majority rule." Her book isn't necessarily directly applicable to Syria, but it offers helpful insights.).

If one were a believer that Bashar is capable of initiating reform and long-term change, then we should've seen him broadening the base by, e.g., including the various minorities (who might share a fear of a Sunni fundamentalist alternative) around him, as well as the moderate Sunnis and their business elite, and engaging the opposition that was willing to work with him, and presenting himself as a true reformer by initiating a much needed process of inter-communal dialogue. But we've seen what Bashar has done in this regard: the Kurds are still without citizenship, and instead of broadening the base after the Baath Conference, he narrowed it! In other words, if it wasn't before, it's now clear that he cannot and will not deliver on this point. Instead, he has decided to play on fears, ethnic hatred (internally, and externally against the Lebanese), and the empty rhetoric of Arabism. This only shows you how problematic it is to keep this regime/family in power and then talk about solving inter-communal problems.

The solution, therefore, is to adopt that proposal outlined above (the only really workable option) without the ruling family. I think Josh gave us a hint, when he spoke of those associated with reform, who have nothing to do with the Assad family. They should definitely be worked with. And so should the opposition, fragmented as it is (which should also move beyond old Leftist clichés). The rest has to come from credible communal leaders, notables, etc. All these elements, both elites and grass-roots movements, should be brought together under an international and Arab umbrella. Unlike with Iraq, this time Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt (the Sunni power-players) will have an incentive to work with the International Community to secure a peaceful transition, as the majority in Syria is Sunni Arab, not Shi'a. The Kurds of Iraq could also be included to help, in order to reassure the rest of the Syrians (and the Turks), provided that real rights, and perhaps a measure of autonomy through decentralization, are given to them.

The result would be a kind of Syrian "Taef." A renegotiation of inter-communal ties, in a way that would ensure a variety of the "no victor, no vanquished" formula, i.e., one that would ensure the Alawites play along and not end up like the Sunnis in Iraq. The Alawites awareness of their minoritarian status might be an advantage, in contrast to the Iraqi Sunnis who actually believe they are larger than they really are in Iraq (and have the regional depth to support that mentality). If therefore the Alawites (who control the army and much of the security apparatuses) are not attacked and given proper (even over-) representation, they may very well dump the Assads and their posse and play along.

Obviously this is a crude set of bullet points, but it's the general sketch of a regionally and internationally sponsored consensual agreement that would at once appease and limit the Sunni Arab majority. Additional safeguards for minorities could be the creation of a bicameral structure where they could be over-represented in the upper house, but this is getting ahead of oneself. The basic idea is a form of government that would be acceptable to the Sunnis, and inspiring enough confidence in the minorities not to fear a tyranny of the majority or a religious fundamentalist government. This political renegotiation is the first step towards a social reconciliation. Both are necessary in order to prevent ethnic strife, and both are impossible with the current structure in place, as explained above. The regional backing of Sunni powers could be an additional source of stability in its potential curbing of overzealous Sunnis.

But this requires a fundamental admission on the part of the Syrians of something they've been forced (and grown accustomed) to ignore, even fight, for decades: their identities and their differences. You can see this reluctance in the quotes provided by Josh. The Syrians need to also get over their misplaced condescension towards the Lebanese and the Iraqis, and avoid dismissing this option as "another Lebanon." The reality is, as Michael Young put it:

[F]ear of volatility should not be turned into a prescription for stalemate, or into support for a regime that has in fact become a catalyst for Syrian instability. Such rigidity might well bring about a situation it is intended to avoid.

It's time the Syrians faced their problems and stopped burying their heads in the sand behind an incompetent leader and his posse who will do all they can to perpetuate inter-communal mistrust. The Syrians are only deluding themselves, as everyone knows that these identities are alive (if they weren't then the threat of ethnic strife would be a non-starter!) and predominant, given that this regime and its ideology have not worked on a viable national Syrian identity, and have opted for the pipe dream of Arabism. And Syrians should not delude themselves with the opiate of condescension towards Lebanon. As noted in the post below on Theo Hanf, despite the primacy of communal identities in Lebanon, a Lebanese identity has indeed emerged, and it's one based on the pluralism of the various sects, not based on denying them or fighting them. In other words, the two are not mutually exclusive. That is the lie of Arabism and romantic nationalism. A state is a contract, not an organic Volk. Syria needs a new contract.

Here is where Josh would object. He wrote the following in a private message:

I have not spoken to one Syrian - not one who wants what Lebanon has in Taef. That dog just doesn't walk here. That I why I don't propose it for an immediate solution. Maybe Syrians will stumble into it in 20 years. But they are no where near accepting it today - it isn't even part of their discourse.

But this double talk. When Josh talks about Bashar subduing the Sunnis with American help, or talks about top-down "reforms" led by Bashar and the Baath structure, he is not for one second taking into consideration what "average Syrians" think. When he tells us that their system teaches authoritarianism, he can't turn around and give us samples of public opinion on an inter-communal agreement like the Taef! His assumption is a top-down system. I am pragmatic enough to agree with him! The only difference is that I am broadening the base. He wants it all in the hands of an already discredited Bashar. I'm saying, let's go with a broader, more representative elite (regionally, ethnically, communally, etc.) and let them reach a workable agreement. Even if it's to be a transitional, mid-term agreement, that will be renegotiated once the population is more politically educated and emboldened (and included on a local-government basis, a step that we've heard Bashar promise, and that has not materialized), and the institutions overhauled and reformed, etc.

But, what this arrangement would hopefully plant is the seed of coexistence and tolerance based on power-sharing, compromise, and above all acknowledgment of difference. All these would serve to limit a tyranny of the majority or the possibility of a fundamentalist government. It's not a coincidence that Lebanon has not experienced an Islamist government, despite the presence of Hizbullah. It's due to the mechanisms of the consensual system, and the traditions it can enshrine.

This is not an easy or automatic option, and a lot remains unanswered. Foremost, it will require the Syrians to start to think differently about their options. But the old "head in the sand" passive stalemate under the pretext of fear of "the alternative is worse" needs to be challenged. If that final card is taken away from the Assad posse, then the only thing that the deluge (which may be closer than we think, as Michael noted) would wash away would be the current ruling mafia.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Bash-a-Josh Fest

Josh Landis' poor op-ed is generating a lot of reactions from enraged and outraged commentators. But unlike Michael Young's (see below) dissection of Josh's piece, the other commentators are simply shocked by Josh's generalization in his note on authoritarianism in Syrian culture. I think Josh's view on this is based on his study of the education system in Syria, and in that (i.e., his study of the education system) he may have a point, although I don't share his conclusion and the end to which he takes this point, which results in keeping Bashar in power at all cost.

One such commentator is Syrian analyst Rime Allaf (scroll down to "Syria: with friends like this..."). Again, Rime's outrage is at Josh's generalizations about Syrians. She does score some points (after all, it's quite easy in this case, because the piece was rather poor) but fails to actually make a convincing counter-argument because, at the end of the day, she actually agrees with Josh (and Flynt's) basic premise: the US should talk "with" (not talk "to," as Rime cutely put it) Syria. The question however is in the event that the US were to do this "talking with," whom exactly will it be talking "with"? Will it not be Bashar and his kleptocratic posse? Will it not have the exact same effect as Josh's proposal: extending the lease on Bashar's and the Baath's pathetic rule!? So when she asks: "Is he [Josh] actually openly calling for American support so that the majority of Syrians can be even more repressed?" she does have a point. But it's a point that's contradicted by her premise that the US should work with Assad! This is the dilemma of the Arab liberals by the way (see Michael Young's recent Reason piece on this issue). Talking "with" Bashar inevitably means empowering him. It hasn't hit Allaf that the entire world has dumped Bashar because it figured out that there is no use in talking "with" him or "to" him, as he never delivers.

It's amazing though how even a (supposed) liberal like Allaf ends up sounding like the regime, as in her "taking Syria's national interests seriously" line. Here I think Feris Khishen's piece in Al-Mustaqbal today makes a good point. Bashar has been screwing up since the beginning. Khishen points out how he alienated, actually embarrassed, Chirac and damaged his credibility with the Paris II fiasco. He did it again with the extension of Lahoud's term. The result was alienating everyone. You want to talk about Syria's national interests?! Kishen's point is actually to discredit the silly logic used by the regime in its attempt to exonerate itself of the Hariri murder. The logic goes as follows: Syria is the biggest loser as a result of Hariri's murder, therefore, it couldn't have been Syria who did it. Nice try, says Khishen, but Bashar's moves have been consistently harming Syria's interests and inflicting more losses on the country. Does that mean that he didn't do any of them?!

Still, Allaf wants the US to talk "with" Bashar, without telling us how exactly this will be good for US or Syrian interests. In other words, she's got no answers. Her basic premise therefore hardly differs from Josh's or Flynt's.

Secondly, Allaf pooh-poohs the possibility of ethnic strife, which is unwise. Instead of the post-colonial outrage, she should be aware of that possibility and offer an option or solution. It's easy to bash Josh's obsession with fundamentalism and ethnic strife, but what is Rime's position based on? (I will be dealing with this exact question in my upcoming post on Syria).

So despite the good criticisms, Rime actually has very little to offer. In fact, she is closer to Josh's basic thesis than she would like to think, and as such shares its inherent contradictions and its lack of credible answers.

(PS: the other commentator is the clown As'ad AbuKhalil, who had the audacity to criticize Josh's generalizations, calling them "racist" and an "old colonial trick." Now that's rich! At the same time, the Angry Hair sustains his blog by making worse and more dishonest generalizations about Lebanon, and passes them for actual insight! For instance, after informing us -- at least once a week -- how the Lebanese are racists, and that Lebanese pop-culture pollutes the Arab aesthetic and is a cause of misogyny and sexism in the Arab world, today we learn that "there is a national narcissism that afflicts the Lebanese political and popular cultures." Oh, and he wants to write a book about it!)

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Theo Hanf on Lebanon

Theodor Hanf, the author of the excellent Co-existence in Wartime Lebanon: Death of a State and Birth of a Nation, is featured in this piece by Jim Quilty in the DS.

One of Hanf's strengths is his view on the various layers of identity and their intersection in Lebanon, something that's not really properly understood by people writing on Lebanon. This was never as evident as during the Spring, when Lebanon was in the limelight and people were writing all kinds of garbage. Let me reproduce that quote from his book here (it's actually quite relevant to what I've noted in my previous post right below):

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.

Some of Hanf's statements to Quilty are worth reproducing here:

Hanf discovered patterns of public opinion while researching his own book. "People live within a complex system of loyalties, but these are less opposed than you'd imagine. Everyone's linked to society in various ways - gender, marital status, political parties, region, clan, religion and so on and so forth.

"We asked people "prioritize your identities." For most "Lebanese" came first. Only 5 -7 percent of respondents defined themselves in religious terms, but even those who identified themselves as primarily Lebanese had very strong feelings toward their community, as you might find in Germany or the United States.

For once, a serious statement on the complexity of Lebanese identity. This statement also fits nicely with that of another fine Lebanon scholar (a rarity!), William Harris, who also has a much better view of the complexity of Lebanese identity/-ies (that AbuKhalil is working on a book dealing with this issue makes me want to laugh, considering how poorly he understands it, and how his ideological bias and personal issues make him the least suitable person to explain it. See here how he dishonestly misrepresented Harris' book.). This is from Harris' book Faces of Lebanon: Sects, Wars, and Global Extensions:

The Lebanese people exhibit a commonality and identity like that of such cohesive "nationalities" as the English or French, and a fragmentation into mutually distrustful groups similar to such multicommunal conglomerates as the former Yugoslavia, Malaysia, or Sri Lanka. Arab countries can be placed at different points on a spectrum between the Egyptians, a people with a distinctive collective consciousness, and historically new creations of Western colonial intervention like Iraq or Syria. Even now, after 75 years of Iraqi and Syrian geographical existence, it is questionable whether one may refer to "Iraqi" and "Syrian" peoples, rather than simply to state apparatuses occupying certain Arab territories. Modern Lebanon, uniquely, can be located at both ends of the spectrum -- it is at once Egypt, Iraq, and neither. It is also at once firmly Arab and assertively separate in ways that transcend even the Egyptian case.

On the issue of Lebanon's identity in the post-Syrian era, Naseer As'ad wrote the following interesting, yet somewhat flawed, piece in al-Mustaqbal yesterday. I'm hoping to return to it soon when I have the time. There is something that Naseer notes but doesn't take to its end, and that is that for the first time, Arabism is talked about as being part of the national Lebanese identity, and not the other way around. Now the starting point is Lebanon, where Arabism is an essential constituent, and not a super-national Arabism into which Lebanon ought to melt, and where no Lebanese identity should ever exist (remember AbuKhalil's remarks on how he thinks Lebanon is "not viable as a nation" and that it should be abolished in favor of a Jordanian-Syrian-Palestinian-Lebanon union!! That's right, he's still living in that era!). Anyway, I'll see when I can come back to this piece. But I think that a crucial turning point in this regard is the attitude of the Sunnis this past Spring.

That Good Ol' Expertise

Johnny Cole and the Angry Hair, the shiny face of ME studies in America, boulevardier and revolucionario extraordinaire, respectively, are tearing into Christopher Hitchens for daring to take a swipe at Cole during his debate with swamp-thing George Galloway the other day. Hitchens called Cole "egregious" and, while he should've said that Cole has never set foot in Iraq, he said that he hasn't set foot "in the region."

Cue Johnny Cole! In all his silly intellectual insecurity, Cole actually wrote a lengthy post reassuring his readers that he spoke Urdu at home, and that he's been rather close to Iraq, especially 25-30 years ago, although never actually set foot in the place. And while never actually writing anything on modern Iraq per se, the fact that he studied Shiism and hung out with "mainly Muslim" Indians (sic) and Iraqi expats in Dearborn, and had two chapters in his dissertation that touched on Iraq's history, and that he's been to Jordan, Egypt, and fishing for souls to convert to Bahaism in Lebanon 30 years ago (which is why when he wrote about Lebanon he sounded like an anachronistic buffoon with the most superficial knowledge and understanding of the place), made him more qualified to talk about present day Iraq (and Lebanon, and Israel, and Eminem, and the World Bank...).

Of course, Cole didn't realize that all he did was highlight not just his insecurity, and the fact that he is self-conscious about this, but also by listing how he's been everywhere but Iraq, he only accentuated the fact!

Anyway, I don't really care about Johnny and his insecurities (but again, without the languages, what else has he got!? I mean don't steal that away from him, he'll fall apart! He's got nothin' else!). But he made a reference today to the Angry Hair, "a real Middle East expert," because the Hair went to bat for him against Hitchens. Of course, as is common practice with these types, Hitchens is attacked for "posing" as a Middle East expert (something that must've escaped me! In fact, I'd say, based on the above, Cole is the one doing the posing as an Iraq expert, and is at pains to explain how and why!), and to prove it, the Hair points out that Hitchens said that the father of the head of the Lebanese Communist party was murdered by Syria (the reference I think was to George Hawi). Yes, I guess that's just as bad as saying that 9/11 was caused by the IDF's operation in Jenin! But note that the Hair never actually says what he thinks the mistake was: that Hawi's son is not the head of the party, or that Hawi wasn't killed by Syria! The other grave mistake is calling Saadeddine Ibrahim a "leader of the democracy movement in Egypt." Woooo, good one! That definitely beats Cole's brilliant etymology of the word "Levant": "The abrupt rise of the land from the sea to the mountains is what led the French to refer to it as the Levant (i.e., "the rising (land)." Well, I mean let's not go crazy, he only speaks Urdu at home, not French. He never claimed that his French "ma fi kasr."

But these two pillars of expertise never mentioned any mistake by Galloway! Of course not! I mean with Galloway calling Cole "more cerebral" than Hitchens and all! But I think it's rather telling that neither Cole nor (especially) the Hair noted Galloway's theory of why Lebanon is not really democratic, and why only a Maronite can be President (he never says anything about how only a Sunni can be Prime Minister, and how that is the most powerful office in the land, not the presidency). According to Galloway, it's because the Marines landed in 1958 and imposed that constitution on the Lebanese! That's right! I guess during the 15 years before that (and the earlier versions of that system), since Lebanon's independence, Muslims ran for President and Maronites ran for Prime Minister, until those damned Marines imposed that awful constitution on us! (Helena Cobban's version was that the French imposed it on us! Pick your colonial power of choice!)

The thing is, they probably agree with him! Not in that the Marines imposed it, but that the system is a colonial invention and imposition. So, he's in the ball park! I mean, As'ad most certainly agrees with the other stupidity uttered by Galloway on Lebanon, that the Christians are only 20% of the population. I mean, if you use Angry Hair numbers, the Shi'a are "at least 55%" of the population! Hell, the Christians would be lucky to make up 15%! That's real expertise! In fact, you can witness As'ad's expertise in his review of a book that refutes such figures as pure fancy. As'ad displayed his expertise and integrity by basically making up stuff and attributing them to the author in order for him to be able to bash him! Upon not a necessarily close or careful reading of the book in question, one clearly sees that the Hair makes up stuff as he goes along. Unlike Cole however, he doesn't go back and quietly delete them the next day so as to avoid embarrassment (like he did with the definition of "Levant" above). Now that's expertise!

That's why it was rather rich to see Cole calling Hitchens "nasty and dishonest!" Yes, it's horrible of Hitchens to attempt to discredit and smear Iraqi bloggers as "CIA agents," and calling for oppo-research on people, then deleting the post the next day. How about calling the war in Iraq a "noble enterprise" that's "worth all the sacrifices about to be made on all sides" then denying that you ever supported the war? Perhaps we should go with his justification of Steven Vincent's brutal murder by thugs in Iraq? Yes, those are quite nasty and dishonest things, Hitch! Oh wait... that wasn't Hitchens! That was none other than Juanito! OK, let's go with his claim about Sistani and his book Sacred Space and Holy War. Hold on... where exactly is Sistani mentioned in that book!? As for As'ad, dishonesty is his middle name, as you can see from that review in the link above, and countless other incidents on his silly blog.

Yep... nothing better than dishonest polemics masquerading as expertise in order to silence ideological opponents. MESA at its best, as represented by its President and its jester.

Update: Martin Kramer sets the record straight on Cole and Sistani.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Hugging Bashar... What For!?

My buddy Josh Landis wrote a horrid op-ed in the NYT, essentially reiterating the useless drivel of Bashar confidant-wannabe Flynt Leverett. Thankfully, Michael Young undertook the task of demolishing it before I did (I was going to!). Despite being commonly referred to as "the butcher," it would've been rather painful for me to rip a piece written by a close friend (although, I wouldn't have hesitated! All's fair in blogs and war.) So, take a look.

Also, don't miss another piece by David Hirst that essentially endorses Josh's logic. Although, to his credit (and not Josh's), he did present a much more serious position on the Mehlis investigation and on the nature of rule in Syria:

Assad is the weak head of a regime built around clan solidarity and the consensus of rival fiefdoms. If he attempts to save himself through the sacrifice of others, Syrians say, he could set off an internal explosion that, in the absence of an effective opposition, has long been seen as the likeliest manner of the Baathists' eventual undoing.

This supports Michael's view, and presents yet another point against Josh's position, and highlights yet another paradox in his argument, as pointed out by Michael. Also, in case you missed it, Michael's last op-ed in the DS explored the issue of Syria and the Mehlis report, and criticized Josh and the useless Leverett for their credulity (he put it rather mildly).

I have been preparing a comprehensive post on Syria that touches on Hirst's point quoted above, and that deals with the system as a whole. It's been slow coming because I have a zillion other things to do, especially now that I'm back teaching. But it will come soon, and hopefully, it'll spark a debate with Josh.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Tarek Mitri, Phoenicianist?

In his excellent book, Reviving Phoenicia, Asher Kaufman notes how pervasive the Phoenicianist narrative is in Lebanon today, even among people who are not traditionally associated with it, and even among people hostile to it.

Kaufman writes:

One of the official websites of Prime Minsiter Rafiq al-Hariri well reflects this conviction: "We are heirs to a history which spans thousands of years and whose beginnings are lost in the mists of time itself," Hariri writes in his address to his fellow Lebanese, "The alphabet was born in our land. It was from the shores of Sidon and Tyre that sailors ventured to establish the first Mediterranean empire." The assertion that Lebanon's history, even as an Arab country, begins with the ancient Phoenicians has almost become conventional wisdom. Even historians who oppose this narrative fall into its description. As'ad AbuKhalil, for example, in his Historical Dictionary of Lebanon, writes in the introduction: "Lebanese ultra-nationalists, who have dominated the official historiography of the country, claim that Lebanon has been in continued existence for over 5000 years and that the present-day country is no more than an extension of the ancient Phoenician kingdom(s). In reality Lebanon is a modern phenomenon;[...]." The book, however, unfolds with a chronological list, beginning with the Canaanite occupation of Sidon and Tyre in 2800 BC and continuing to the Egyptian occupation of the Phoenician coast, the Phoenician expansion towards the sea, the founding of Carthage, the most famous Phoenician colony, and so forth, demonstrating the power of the Phoenician narrative that infiltrated even studies that defy it as a figment of Lebanese ultra-nationalist imagination. (p. 1)

One can debate why Hariri chose to adopt the narrative. One could argue, as Fouad Ajami almost did, that Hariri's mercantilism and pragmatism, made him sympathetic to the Lebanonist narrative (esp. Michel Chiha's version), Mediterraneanism, and thus also open to the inherent mercantile nature of the Phoenicianist narrative. In fact, if one were to indulge analyzing Hariri's quote above, one could see Hariri's own personal experience and ambitions injected into the Phoenicianist narrative. The reference to Sidon, Hariri's birthplace, and the "Mediterranean empire," might be such indicators.

Why do I bring this up? I just spotted this statement by Lebanon's Minister of Culture, Tarek Mitri, a Greek Orthodox (thus, like Hariri, not traditionally associated with Phoenicianism), remarking on UNESCO's inclusion of Phoenician and other ancient artifacts in its collection of worldwide rare documents. Mitri said: "Now Lebanon will have a unified memory of its past ... Instead of always reflecting over a fragmented past based on the Civil War, Lebanese can now look further back and realize a far deeper and common history that unities them all."

How interesting. Although, I should perhaps note that my interest in and view on Phoenicianism isn't quite Mitri's.

---

PS: Although that twit AbuKhalil haughtily (and dishonestly) pooh-poohed scholars writing on Lebanon for their supposed "political and ideological bias" (although it was all his own fabrication), his own pathetic introduction to his Historical Dictionary is not just a poor and confused piece of writing, but also reflects how those who criticize Lebanon's Phoenicianist narrative themselves read the past with the bias of their ideological and political premises. In As'ad's case, one needs to add deep psychological issues to ideological and political bias. Witness the following statements from p. 6 of that useless intro. The section is "Ancient and Medieval Times":

While Lebanese ancient roots are subject to imaginary national speculation, it is certain that the area that is Lebanon has been settled since ancient times. The Phoenicians, however, did not create a glorious civilization and did not form one nation. They were, instead, divided, into several city-kingdoms, and their divisions allowed external powers, primarily Egypt, to control them.
...
It is probable that the Phoenicians learned from neighboring peoples.
...
The exploitation of Lebanon's forests, almost totally extinct today, was a common feature of ancient foreign rule of the country. Lebanon was subject to foreign occupation and external influences. (Emphasis added.)

It doesn't take a genius to see how all As'ad's writing and ranting amounts to is polemics. Now you understand his "Hummus" references to anything having to do with Lebanon. More than that, his harping about the lack of unity in the past is nothing more than a modern frustration with sectarianism, and his belief that Lebanon is not viable as a state. Ironically, he becomes a bad clone of the cliché "if only the Lebanese would unite, no foreigner would be able to exploit them..." Incidentally, the Italian city-states, or even the ancient Greek city-states, were also competitive and divided, and constantly at war. One would hardly apply the same judgment to them as As'ad does to the Phoenician cities.

Then the contemporary (boring) anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-globalization As'ad peaks through in his point about "foreign empires exploiting resources." Then the bizarre, completely out of place, reference to Lebanon always being subject to foreign occupation and influences, is really not a note about the past. One only needs to read As'ad's current rants about how Lebanon "never was and is still not independent," etc. (yawn...)

The line about the Phoenicians only learning from their neighbors is hilarious! As'ad is dying to strip the Phoenicians (read: the Lebanese) of any originality that he just goes hysterical! Who does not learn or get influenced by neighboring civilizations!? Such a silly statement. I repeat: yawn.

Plus ça change. But As'ad is so unoriginal it's almost sad. This is why he needs that contrarian wanna-be act (with a healthy dash of dishonesty when necessary). Otherwise, he's got nothin'.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

After Lahoud... and Jumblat

A couple of days ago I wrote on Jumblat's attempt to dictate who will succeed Lahoud as President. Michael Young explores this further, and with more clarity.

One thing Michael stresses is consensus, which in a country like Lebanon (or any consociational, or consensual democracy) is key. To understand why Jumblat's game is dangerous, one only needs to read this quote by him, which I noted in a previous post: "who said consensus was the rule?"

In the 70's, Walid's father, the late Kamal Jumblat, decided to recruit the "revolutionary" Palestinians (who were more than eager to oblige), and other "progressive" forces, to attempt a coup against the Lebanese system (rather, against the historical object of his hatred, the Maronites). That decision, as Mohsen Ibrahim, a Communist leader of the time who jumped on that bandwagon, recently admitted, proved disastrous. Walid isn't that ambitious, or daring, as his Druze community (let alone his political relevance) is dependent on the consensual system. Nevertheless, as I've been noting on this blog for months (thanks to my friend Elie), he's playing with fire. One hopes, as I and Michael do, that Jumblat's senior political partner, Saad Hariri, will remain in the center, and make sure that the Christians join him there. That center alone will guarantee a stable and consensual Lebanon.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Mustapha's Questions

Lebanese blogger Mustapha asks Ghassan Tueni to explain himself for his fawning op-ed in praise of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

I read the piece the other day and had somewhat similar reactions, especially when it came to Ghassan's cliched harping on Arabism vs. "the culture of federalism." But this is Ghassan after all. Old habits die hard. Look at it this way: he still publishes his friend Clovis Maksoud, who perhaps more than anyone symbolizes the carcass of Arabism.

I'll be posting something that touches on Arabism in reaction to this piece by Hazem Saghieh the other day (bad English translation here). It's a nice response to the recent Arabist hysterics by Walid Jumblat ("yes for the truth, but as long as it doesn't strip us of our Arabism." What the hell does that mean? this writer asks).

But Tueni is rather schizophrenic. Not too long ago he called abolishing political sectarianism in Lebanon a pipe dream. So he fluctuates between reality and the Arabist opiate. At the end of the day, he has no choice: he's Rum (Greek Orthodox). And here I don't mean that the Rum are more predisposed to Arabism than other Christians because of their urbanism (pick up any old book on Lebanon to read this line...). Whatever... I always preferred Charles Malek's (another Rum) take on Arabism.

Look, I've said this before (in my "The ME as it really is" post). The Iraq war has lifted the veil of Arabism from the region to show it as it really is. The edifice (political and intellectual) that has been established on the false ideology of Arabism is certainly threatened and disturbed by this truth. Michael Young addressed this in a recent piece in Slate, and noted why King Abdullah would feel the way Tueni said he did:

Boxed in by ideological absolutes, the Arab world has developed few practical means, other than repression, to address its divisions. As primary loyalties have gained the upper hand, Iraq's impact on the region can only grow. Even Lebanon, which alone in the Middle East adopted a weak state structure to favor the religious communities, will not be spared turbulence, as Sunnis and Shiites compete over the post-Syrian order. Nor will Syria, where a minority Alawite regime rules over a Sunni majority and over disgruntled Kurds who look longingly toward their brethren in Iraq. Nor will Saudi Arabia, where minority Shiites, concentrated in the oil-rich eastern province near the Iraqi border, remain second-class citizens; nor will Bahrain, where a Sunni regime controls a discontented Shiite majority.

So there's nothing surprising in either Tueni's or Abdullah's reaction. The only difference is that Tueni now wants to make Abdullah an Arab nationalist à la Nasser, when there is no Arab figure more antithetical to that image than Abdullah! It's the Nasser complex. It's similar to people one time hailing Saddam as the new Nasser. Or Hassan Nasrallah presenting himself as the Shiite Nasser. Or Juan Cole fantasizing that "Young Shiite Nationalist" (nobody) Muqtada al-Sadr is the Iraqi Shiite Nasser. Or Michael Hudson predicting the return of Arabism during his trip to Damascus, etc.

That's called grasping at straws.

Update: No sooner did I finish writing this post, than I saw this cretinous statement by Juan "Abdel Nasser" Cole:

I think they [Why the Neocons of course, who else?!] just want to divide the Arab world between Sunnis and Shiites so as to make trouble and weaken the Arabs, for the benefit of the Likud Party in Israel. Frum and Perle even want to encourage Shiite separatism in the oil-rich Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia so as to split up Saudia and defund the Wahhabis.

Please, someone give him his medication.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Pundit's Back

One of my favorite bloggers, IraqPundit, is back. One of the first orders of business: smack Cole (aka. Zorro) around.

Which once again proves my theory: Iraqis love Juan Cole!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The French Connection

So what is Nabih Berri doing in Paris? What was Jumblat doing in Paris? The story is ducking until the Mehlis report is out, in fear of assassinations.

Well, perhaps. But in all likelihood, what Jumblat was doing was trying to get Saad on board to "select" a new President, now that Lahoud's days are numbered, with the Maronite symbols, the Patriarch and Michel Aoun, lifting all cover from him.

Jumblat had declared triumphantly that he (oh, and Saad, Geagea, Berri, Nasrallah, and what's their name again? Yes, Qornet Shehwan) will decide who the next Lebanese president will be. This is not only Jumblat's major complex (like his father) but it's also been his goal from early on when he was cajoling Faris Boueiz. Jumblat's acolytes have been issuing almost daily statements about how the next president shouldn't come from the military establishment (wink wink: no Aoun).

I've been saying for a while that Saad needs to seriously distance himself from Jumblat's insanity. Afterall, it's Saad who's the senior partner in this alliance, not Jumblat. Leaving the choice of president to Jumblat (and Berri), would signal disaster for Lebanon, as it would seriously disenfranchise the Christians. Yet, readers shouldn't be surprised. Jumblat never had a problem with the Syrian order. Jumblat had a problem with Lahoud. And now, Aoun. Now that the Syrians are gone, all the better. Provided... that he gets to basically maintain the status quo as it was under the Syrians, but without the Syrians.

This in part means no strong Christian role in the country, only a role he gets to basically dictate. This explains all his (and the two main Shiite parties' moves since March). At the height of the fervor in March, what does Jumblat do? The minute he secures that the Syrians are leaving (after coming back from Saudi Arabia), he immediately torpedoes the March 14th alliance. He cuts a deal first (and most importantly) with Berri and then Nasrallah. Then dupes Hariri to get on board that horrible decision. But he underestimated Aoun, who almost humiliated him. He hasn't lived that down, and wants to basically eliminate Aoun from the picture by making sure no Aounist becomes president, regardless of the fact that the Aounists are clearly the most popular party among Christians. Of course, Jumblat and Berri were natural allies in that regard as both of them held two very beneficial portfolios: the fund for the south, and the fund for the displaced. Notice how they still have them. In fact, Berri's coming on board this deal to remove Lahoud probably is going to be in exchange of a free hand with the fund, and no inquiries into corruption, waste of public funds, or reforms. Jumblat obviously seeks the same, but that's a given.

This is why I keep speaking about a Sunni-Christian center that will be crucial for Lebanon in this stage, one that will force Jumblat to either join it, or make his fortunes with Hizbullah (which is not to his liking). This center most definitely needs to be appealing and open to the Shiites as well, but needs to also hold a leverage to solve the issue of Hizbullah's weapons. In fact, it's necessary to empower the other moderate forces in the Shiite community who perhaps don't want their future tied to Hizbullah's weapons and their agenda, and to continue to be isolated from the rest of the Lebanese, or even be forced into a conflict over Hizbullah's weapons, which serve only their narrow interests. Furthermore, the unnatural squashing of the other voices in the Shiite community should've already ended in this past election, had it not been for that Jumblat-Berri deal.

I will try to explore this theme (of a new social contract) in an upcoming post. For now, let's just hope that Saad doesn't fall for Jumblat's disastrous plan.

Update: This interesting bit from Al-Mustaqbal. Jumblat decides to "postpone" the matter until the Christian powers decide on a name that is acceptable to them, providing that the person "has our backing, holds on to the constants, i.e., the resistance, Taef, and excellent relations with Syria regardless who's ruling in Syria. ... Let them provide us with a name, and we'll see if we accept or not. ... Yes for the truth, but also yes for the constants." (Emphasis added.) And here's Ghazi al-Aridi, Jumblat's protégé: "the parliamentary majority cannot decide on its own the existential issues of the country. There are other powers and primary reference points. ... The decision of salvaging the country must be nationally comprehensive. ... The position of the Patriarch is essential." As for Aoun, he's quoted as saying: "we want a president of the Republic who's a real president, not a toy in the hand of those who corrupted the country."

Jumblat's statements came after meeting with Nasrallah. The ever-paranoid Hizbullah doesn't want to get rid of Lahoud. They're intimately linked to the military intelligence, and are close to Lahoud and his people. So clearly they're vetoing it for very different reasons, as they fear a purge of their people from the military intelligence and the security apparatus. That explains Jumblat's remarks as well.

An interesting set of statements. Does this mean Saad didn't bite? Let's hope so.