political discourse


After the initial head start in the government formation process, the word now is that there will be no new government in Lebanon before the end of Ramadan (late September). Here are a few theories — each colored by a certain position in the political spectrum — being floated around by the Lebanese press on why Saad al-Hariri has so far failed to put together a government:

1. Michel Aoun is making impossible demands, such as demanding to have the Ministry of Interior and insisting that his nephew, Jubran Basil, continue in his current position as Minister of Telecommunications despite the fact that Basil was not elected into parliament. These impossible demands relate directly to Syria’s most recent attempt at gaining a foothold in the Lebanese arena. This attempt is also manifest in the Syrian insinuation that Saad al-Hariri should visit Syria before — as opposed to after — the formation of a Lebanese government. Hizballah’s silence can only be interpreted as tacit complicity. Moving forward is dependent on a new round of Saudi-Syrian negotiations.

2. It is less about Syrian hegemony in Lebanon and more about the regional order. Saudi Arabia and Syria are finding some trouble in their negotiation process. Those who ascribe to this theory can be split into two camps: (1) those who believe that Saudi Arabia is reacting to an all-too-rapid US-Syrian rapprochement and (2) those who believe that the US is pulling the reigns on the rapprochement between Syria and Saudi Arabia in order to get something out of it. Either way — Lebanon being a chip in the regional negotiations and all — this has come in the way of the formation of a new government. Moving forward is dependent on Saudi-Syrian-US negotiations.

3. Saudi Arabia and Syria have handed Lebanon the 15-10-5 government formula (these seats going to March 14, the opposition, and the president respectively), but Lebanese politicians are simply squabbling amongst themselves over the particular allocation of the various ministerial posts.

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The not-so-surprising reelection of Nabih Berri as head of parliament yesterday reconfirmed the laws of gravity: whatever goes up, comes down. This law, it seems, keeps coming as a surprise to those firing bullets of celebration into the air. More surprising than the reelection of Berri, at least. Five Sixteen people were reported injured by the descent of bullets that had ascended into the air in joy — one of those, ironically, the technical director of NBN (Nabih Berri Network) who was in the vicinity of Berri’s residence in Ayn al-Tinah.

What I was not aware of, however, was another aspect of the law of gravity: it applies only to the inhabitants of Jemmayzah and Ashrafiyah. This according to one of our young and promising lawmakers, Nadim Gemayyel:

… some have insisted on expressing their joy with celebratory bullets, which filled with despair the hearts of citizens in Ashrafiyah and Jemmayzah, wounded during their movements on the streets and between schools.

… we show deep solidarity with the injured in Ashrafiyah and environs, hoping that the parties concerned would put under control these practices which are inherited from the days of the war and are not suitable for our present and our society’s outlook towards a better Lebanon.

My heart is already swelling with pride at this new generation leading our Lebanon towards a better future, with an outlook that goes beyond “the citizens of Ashrafiyah and Gemmayzah.” And in the spirit of stretching Lebanon’s history back to where we dare not look, here is a little reminder about revolverism from the archives.

Today, al-Akhbar released a transcript (with some omissions) of the closed meeting between Walid Junblat and the Druze sheikhs which had been previously leaked on youtube in April. The original leak offered a rare glimpse of the everyday politics of sectarianism in Lebanon. And while the leak might have been more sensational, today’s transcript contextualizes better Junblat’s aim in the meeting: convincing those present to work the Druze rank and file into accepting coexsitence with the Shi`a (read Hizballah).

Steps towards reconciliation between Junblat and Hizballah have been in the making since the Doha meeting this past summer. Junblat immediately issued several overtures which culminated in Na`im Qasim revealing Hizballah’s decision to open up to Walid Junblat and suggesting that a meeting between Junblat and Nasrallah is possible after — and probably also in light of — the elections. Junblat’s attempt at smoothing the Druze wrinkles of last May might very well be a preparation for such an eventuality.

What I find most interesting, however, is the argumentation method Junblat used to convince those present of helping him with his goal: reconciliation or bloodshed. Pursuant to his summary of “we have the sea, we have Israel, and we have Syria,” he said:

ولما كانت الحرب، كنت أطلب الذخيرة، كان حافظ الأسد يلبّي طلبي سريعاً (الواحد بدو يذكر المساوئ والمحاسن) كانت قوافل الذخيرة تأتي من جديدة يابوس حتى حمّانا… صحيح خضنا الحرب، لكن اليوم ماذا أفعل؟ من أين أحصل على الذخيرة؟ من البحر؟ أو من إسرائيل؟ لا، من إسرائيل لا…

When there was [civil] war, I used to ask for munitions and Hafiz al-Asad would swiftly fulfill my request (one has to remember both the good and the bad characteristics). Caravans of munitions used to come from Jdaydit Yabus to Hammana. It is true we went to war, but what do I do today? Where do I get munitions from? From the sea? Or from Israel? No, not form Israel…

A structurally similar line of “alliance with Hizballah or bust” was forwarded during the “debate” between Ibrahim Kanaan and Sami Gemayel on Kalam al-Nas last Sunday (if you can stand 2+ hours of shouting, you can watch it here). Responding to Gemayel’s (read, Kataeb’s) one trick pony of “the state über alles” and to the accusation that the Free Patriotic Movement is providing cover for Hizballah’s project for Islamicizing Lebanon, Kanaan responded that the alternative to coming to an understanding with Hizballah would be “committing suicide” (towards the end the episode).

Earlier in the Kalam al-Nas debate (a cross between a cockfight and a bad domestic argument), Kanaan accused Gemayel’s party of waging “a campaign of fear” when it comes to Hizballah (عم بتخوفوا الناس). That much is obvious. From billboards, to slogans, to speeches… capitalizing on the events of May 7th has pretty much been March 14th ticket this electoral campaign. But one has to ask oneself, are not alliances and rapprochements with Hizballah, when framed as Junblat and Kanaan frame them, also campaigns of fear? Hizballah, it seems to me, can be a very useful and flexible tool.

A couple of days ago, Khaled Saghiyah’s article in al-Akhbar questioned — very politely and very tactfully — Hassan Nasrallah’s description of the 7th of May (2008)  as a “glorious day for the resistance.” Saghiyah does not split hairs on the by now well-rehearsed argument that Hizballah and its allies’ swooping down on Beirut was a necessary evil. Instead, he appeals to the politician in Nasrallah — rather than the military strategist — asking whether calling May 7th a glorious day might be a tad insensitive in a country such as Lebanon:

Not everything can be measured in terms of military cost. May 7th may have cut short a road to a longer civil war and even more victims, but the politician who wants to affirm his ability to rule the country cannot justify civic violence (even if he regards it as necessary) by gloating and glorifying. He does it, rather, with sadness and pain.

Saghiyah has hit the nail on the head with this one. He pin-points the indefensible in Nasrallah’s logic — i.e. indefensible in the terms and rhetoric that Nasrallah has set for himself. At a time of extreme polarization, he also manages to frame what amounts to a “criticism from within,” a very rare creature these days.

Saghiyah points explicitly to the polarization generated by the discourse on both sides and suggests that it might have been a factor in the increased spying activity for Israel. A friend of mine recently remarked on the effect this polarization has had over the past few years on the attitude of some Amal members/friends. It used to be, according to this friend, that these individuals took great care to differentiate themselves from what they viewed as Hizballah’s silly Islamism. Their worn-out mantel of “secularism” has been cast. Identifying today proudly as “matawilah” and drunk on the spoils of that glorious day, they proclaim their readiness to “take over” Beirut once and for all.

The Disciples of the Third Republic
A few days ago, the Free Patriotic Movement released its electoral program: Towards the Third Republic (http://forum.tayyar.org/program/electoral.pdf). The concept is not new, Aoun discussed it at least as far back as 2001 (http://www.aawsat.com/details.asp?section=4&article=22281&issueno=8088). But the FPM has brilliantly capitalized on it for this electoral campaign. The idea was elaborated on by Kanaan in an interview with al-Akhbar a while back (http://www.al-akhbar.com/ar/node/60100). Briefly put:
1st: the weak, post-independence republic. According to Kanaan characterized by the political classes  inability “to protect Lebanon from regional push and pull. For the traditional political Lebanese school is built on internal power-sharing without a view of a regional, strategic role for Lebanon. So, this feeds the internal contradictions turning Lebanon into a battle ground for settling the scores.”
2nd: the corrupt, post-taef republic. The Taef, again according to Kanaan, solved the first republic problem by inserting the need for an external valve, Syria, “whose role was to reign the rhythm of the political system, the adversary, and governance.”
3rd: the suggested, FPM third republic. In contrast to the first it is a strong state that shields Lebanon from the regional game and internal division and, in contrast to the second, it is a transparent and accountable system of governance.
There is much, much to say about this – both its ingeniousness and its contradictions – but I will just mention a few things I thought were interesting.
First, any periodization serves a purposes and is not self-given. For a different kind of periodization see for example Fawaz Traboulsi’s (leftist) periodization History of Lebanon with (1) mercantile period, (2) pro-western authoritarianism, (3) Shiabism and (4) crisis. In this instance, FPM’s periodization serves to orchestrate history as a series of movements culminating in an interpretation of the present as a moment of crisis due to weakness and corruption. Even more so, with its emphasis on a stable, almost final epoch, the third republic, it is almost messianic. This element of messianism is buttressed by a major backbone of the campaign advertisement deriving from a new testament verse (“But let your words be yes, yes, and no, no; for anything which adds to these is deception.” Matthew 5:34-37) So does Kannan’s use of the expression “rusul al-jumhiriyah al-thalithat” (disciples of the third republic)
This periodization is also informed by a derivative kind of history, one that references the history of France, the longest and first stable republic after a century of upheavals. Rajeh al-Khouri is right to ask why the third republic is stable (link). The answer is simple: because the third republic is stable. Of course, together with the “Sois belle et tais tois” (link) campaign advertisement and the new testament reference, it pins down the audience it is trying to appellate.
There is one last point to the periodization in question, and that is the less obvious de facto acceptance of a specific version of Lebanon’s post-independence history. The problem with this Lebanon, according to the third republic vision, is not its corruption, not its social and economic inequalities, not its marginalization of a large segment of its population. Although the electoral program diagnoses some problems that can be traced to the “first republic” (most prominent, the rural neglect), discursively – as far as I know – problems of corruption and bad management are only stressed in relation to the post-Taef (read, Hariri) period. The main problem with the “golden period” of Lebanon’s history is its weakness. As such, the FPM vision of history diverges from the “Maronite” history of Lebanon shared by its adversaries only in the

Last week, the Free Patriotic Movement unveiled its electoral program: Towards the Third Republic… (pdf). Aoun has discussed this concept at least as far back as 2001. But the Free Patriotic Movement has brilliantly capitalized on it for this electoral campaign. A while back, Ibrahim Kanaan elaborated in an interview with al-Akhbar on the three republics:

1st: the weak, post-independence republic. Characterized by the political classes’ divisions and thus inability “to protect Lebanon from regional forces.”

2nd: the corrupt, post-Taef republic. The Taef, again according to Kanaan, solved the first republic problem by inserting the need for an external valve, Syria. More importantly, this republic was corrupt and the cause behind the national debt.

3rd: the projected, FPM third republic. Characterized by a strong state, in contrast to the 1st, and a transparent and accountable system of governance, in contrast to the 2nd. Their impressive electoral program elaborates on how the party aims to achieve this vision.

tayyar_stable_3rd

There is much, much to say about the concept of the third republic – both its obvious ingeniousness and its less obvious assumptions – but I wanted to share a few things that struck me regarding its overall periodization.

First, any periodization is, of course, neither self-obvious nor given and, more often than not, serves a specific version of history. In this instance, FPM’s periodization builds on an existing one. It orchestrates history as a series of movements culminating in an interpretation of the present as a moment of crisis resulting from weakness and corruption. Even more so, with its emphasis on a stable, almost final epoch — “the third republic is stable” (see image) — this version of history borders on the messianic. The element of messianism is further buttressed by a major backbone of the electoral campaign deriving from the new testament verse “Fal yakun kalamukum na`am, na`am, la, la” (“But let your words be yes, yes, and no, no; for anything which adds to these is deception.” Matthew 5:34-37). As if to further stress this point, in the al-Akhbar interview Kannan uses the expression “rusul al-jumhuriyah al-thalithah” (apostles of the third republic) to describe the party.

Second, this periodization is also informed by a derivative version of history, one that references the history of France, particularly the longest and first stable republic after a century of upheavals, la Troisième République. A Rajeh al-Khouri Op-Ed in al-Nahar asks: why is the third republic stable? The answer is simple: because la Troisième République was stable. But this is not merely a matter of translation. Together with the “Sois belle et vote” campaign advertisement and the new testament references, this leaves little doubt as to what audience will not only understand, but, more importantly, react to this as an “appellation,” to borrow from Althusser — i.e. recognizing themselves in an external projection that is in fact a barely disguised reflection of their inner conditioning. The function this performs — whether purposefully or not, whether successfully or not — is the reproduction of ideology.

There is one last point to the periodization in question, and that is the less obvious de facto acceptance of a specific version of Lebanon’s first republic. The problem with this Lebanon, according to FPM’s vision, is not its corruption, not its social and economic inequalities, not its marginalization of a large segment of its population. Although the electoral program diagnoses some problems that can be traced back to the first republic (rural neglect, for example), discursively, problems of corruption, bad management, and neglect are primarily stressed in relation to the post-Taef (read, Hariri) period. The main problem with the “golden period” of Lebanon’s pre-civil war history is, according to the third republic vision, primarily the weakness of the state. As such, whereas the FPM vision of history upon which “the third republic” builds diverges only in the more recent past from the “Maronite” history shared by its adversaries, it clashes dramatically with that of its allies.

  • In the wake of Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s attack on Iran and the Shi`i expansionist threat it poses to Sunni Islam, rhetoric against Hizballah, Iran, and the Shi`a in general found new wind. Only this time, Salafi websites are using the writings of Christian kuffar to argue their finer points.
  • Nawwaf Musawi, Hizballah international relations officer, attacked David Miliband for calling Hizballah’s militant arm terrorist, asking whether De Gaulle’s resistance from Britain was also terrorism, as Nazi propaganda called it back then. Musawi further stressed his point by likening Miliband’s characterization to Goebbel’s Nazi propaganda.
  • With its transformation from financial to economic, the crisis finally made an entry to the Lebanese market… through the jewelry sector. Demand has apparently decreased by 50% [Note: maybe this means it is approaching normal]. While a certain class of people with investments abroad is obviously suffering over jewelry, the economy as a whole is now bracing for an upcoming world-wide recession.
  • The Lebanese national debt is now at $48,414,000,000, or about 196.47% of the GDP. Have a nice day.

A musalahah (reconciliation) has been concluded in Tripoli, similar to the musalahah in Taalbaya and Saadnayil earlier this summer, only this one involved bigger fish. To those less familiar with Lebanese political jargon, musalahah is the younger sister of the “no winners, no losers” (لا غالب ولا مغلوب) formula. Both are invitations to pretending that nothing happened. It is very telling that although they were invited to the musalahah, the fighters on the Tibbaneh side were not responsive.

But something else caught my eye. Something that would have been so funny had it not been equally tragic:

وسجل على هامش توقيع الوثيقة تحفظ النائب السابق علي عيد على توقيع الوثيقة لسبيين: الأول ورود اسم النائب بدر ونوس قبله، ما عدّه عدم حفظ اللياقات والمواقع، والثاني طلبه إيراد عبارة ممثل الطائفة العلوية مقابل اسمه، ما استدعى تدخلاً من الحريري ومن النائب السابق أحمد حبوس، وتأكيد الحريري لعيد أنه مستعد لتدوين العبارة بخط يده إذا كان الأمر يحل المشكلة، وقد أدى ذلك إلى تجاوز أزمة عدّها البعض شكلية وكادت تنسف الجهود دفعة واحدة

Ex-member of Parliament Ali Eid Ali’s two reservations were noted in the margins of the document [of reconciliation]: First, that the name of parliamentarian Badr Wannus comes before his own, which he considered a breach of etiquette and ranking, and, second, his request to add “representative of the Allawi sect” before his name. This necessitated an intervention from Hariri and ex-member of parliament Ahmad Habus and Hariri stressed that he is ready to write the phrase in his own handwriting if it solves the problem. The crisis, which some considered formal, passed after it almost sabotaged the efforts [at reconciliation] altogether.

The inferiority complex of this petty za`im of a minor minority is only the mirror image of the overblown self-confidence of the other za`im of a larger minority. This specific mix of pathos, machos, and wackos is just too much.

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