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A Lebanese Abroad

Opinions from an opinionated Lebanese abroad about Lebanon's politics, business and the future of a United Lebanon.

Updated: 2016-04-26T11:51:11.805-07:00


The divergence in Aoun and Hezbollah


The irony of the present “opposition” demonstrations is that the two so-called allied camps have divergent motives. The only thing they have in common is to overthrow Seniora’s government, but their motives for doing so are very different.

Hezbollah wants to control the direction of Lebanon and take us backward towards the dark ages with an agenda or war, belligerence, ideology and Iranian-like politics.

Aoun wants to become President, and he sees the overthrowing of Seniora’s government as a blow to anti-Syrian political forces with whom he couldn’t see eye to eye. He thinks that by weakening March 14th, he will emerge as a compromise candidate having the endorsement of his fellow Christians on one side and of Hezbollah on the other.

Regardless, they are both showing no respect for democracy. This isn’t unexpected from Hezbollah, a party who has a dictatorial management style. But for Aoun to show a dis-respect for democracy is shameful.

If they are the “opposition”, why couldn’t they do their jobs by arguing and debating issues in the Parliament in a civilized manner, just like any democracy does? And why couldn’t they just wait until the next elections to take their turn at governing if indeed they gain a majority.

Here’s a thought- if Lahoud is saying that the present government isn’t constitutional because it is currently excluding the Shites, why can’t Seniora appoint 5 other Shia ministers that aren’t pro-Hezbollah? Technically, it would solve the dilemma of the government’s diversification of religions requirement, and administer a blow to Hezbollah’s increasing madness.

Finally, let it be clear to Hezbollah that we reject their vision of Lebanon. Who are these people? Let them go home to the South and stop tainting the rest of Lebanon with their venoms. Let them stay there and form their own government if they want to, and let them attack Israel on their own such that Israel finally decides to destroy them like they should have in July.

Enough of this madness! We shall not let Lebanon fall victim to mad leaders (Nasrallah + Aoun). It’s enough already that we have been led by corrupt politicians, tribal mentalities, and archaic institutions.

It’s time to take Lebanon back!

Hezbollah Is The New Syria


Hezbollah is the new Syria.

It’s obvious, especially after Nasrallah’s latest speech today.

Look at the similarities:

- no Lebanese politician in office is daring to criticize Hezbollah in public
- they have to be consulted before anything major is decided
- they are arrogant but can be charming when they want to (via Nasrallah, e.g. tonight’s speech)
- there isn’t a political conversation you can have about Lebanon without mentioning them
- they confuse the situation by playing both sides
- Lebanon’s future depends on their behavior
- they polarize the political scene: either you are with them, or against them
- they threaten, blackmail Lebanese politicians (and even perhaps killed some of them)
- they lie and can't be trusted
- etc…

You can name other similarities that come to your mind.

The next question is: 15 more years of this?

Can Hezbollah Fix Its Image Abroad?


The Hezbollah reality is now every Lebanese’s problem. After the July war, Hezbollah succeeded in spreading the South Lebanon/Israel conflict into the rest of Lebanon, by making each one of us (via Israel’s attacks) feel it. They succeeded in influencing a larger segment of the population who was previously indifferent to them to take notice and to start feeling for them.

Assuming that the Hezbollah reality is with Lebanon to stay, there still remains a major issue facing Hezbollah: its “bad” image with the Western world (and to some degree- with Arab moderate governments). Here’s how Hezbollah is painted or seen by the West:
- a “terrorist” organization
- a powerful “state-within-a-state” that dwarfs the Lebanese government’s power
- an “Iranian-influenced” group, Iran’s proxy
- a “radical Islam/Islamic fundamentalist” party
- a group of “Shiite trouble-makers”
- a source of instability to the region
- a group that inspires trouble in the Palestinian Territories and doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist

Contrast the above list with the following messages that the late Hariri was promoting about Lebanon, and which the Seniora’s Lebanese government wishes they could just focus on:
- safe for investments
- booming economy
- construction renaissance
- excellent for tourism, world-class services and hospitality
- economic renewal
- banking and financial center for the middle-east
- a model democracy, multi-cultural, multi-confessional, open society

Let’s face it: Hezbollah’s image with the West is an anchor to Lebanon’s economic future because the above messages, when put together contradict themselves.

We should ask: What will Hezbollah do about it? Will they change their name or re-brand themselves? How will they shake-out their “bad boy” image”?

If Lebanon were to be at peace with Israel, (as it “almost” did from 2000 to 2006), would Hezbollah’s bad image just “go away”? Can they eventually become a normal political party that doesn’t endanger Lebanon’s future anymore? Can their military apparatus effectively integrate itself inside the Lebanese Army and become a deterrent force that’s controlled by the Lebanese State, and not by Iran or Syria?

If we, Lebanese are to “accept” and integrate Hezbollah into the Lebanese political system, we have to deal with Hezbollah’s external image issue. We have to ask them the tough questions:

What is Hezbollah’s vision for Lebanon? What is the “end-game”? What happens when Israel agrees to return the Shebaa farms and Lebanese prisoners? Will Hezbollah accept peace thereafter? Once more, how will Hezbollah get rid of its bad image with the West?

Hezbollah succeeded in making their agenda Lebanon’s agenda for 32 days. During the July war, “we were all Hezbollah” meant that we were all united in the fight for Lebanon’s survival, since we suddenly all became victims of the Israeli aggression. Going forward, can Lebanon find its own voice in the aftermath of this war, amidst the brouhaha of Hezbollah’s high octane agenda?

In today’s globalized world, interdependencies matter. We can’t just ignore what the Western world thinks about Lebanon and only focus on the fact that Iran and Syria love us for our resistance to Israel. Why does Lebanon have to be “more Catholic than the Pope” in the fight against Israel? If anything, the July war served a backlash to the Palestinians, since Israel slowed down their disengagement and withdrawal plans from the West Bank and Gaza.

Let’s get real. How will Hezbollah get rid of its bad image with the West?

(Note: Comments are moderated. This means that you will experience a delay between posting and publishing. Please do not post multiple times.)

Nasrallah and Assad Made Of The Same Fabric


Do these two clowns know that we are living in the 21st century, or do they think that we are still in the Middle Ages?

I, like many other bloggers was shocked and dismayed at Nasrallah’s speech yesterday. His lecturing style was very condescending and insulting to the intelligence of anyone with an average IQ. Who was he talking to: morons? The Shia’s of Lebanon deserve a better leader that can lead them out of this quagmire.

Then, on top of that, Assad has the guts to make statements of interference in Lebanese politics as he criticized the March 14th movement calling them traitors. Who was he trying to impress: more morons? The Syrians too deserve a better leader than that.

What is still troubling is that no significant Lebanese political leader has rebutted Nasrallah’s comments in a way that starts to tip to the balance towards what UN Resolution 1701 is supposed to be achieving. Where is Seniora when we need him? And what sorts of machinations is Berry up to? The Lebanese are anxious to find out their fate, and it’s such a pity to find out that Hezbollah is calling the shots now.

This is very clear now to anyone who is not a moron: The Iranian-Hezbollah-Syria agenda has been totally exposed. It’s them against the West, being played in Lebanon. A scenario that has been weaved in Iran and baked in Syria.

This article, from Walid Phares explains exactly what could happen as a result of today’s situation in Lebanon. It’s a must read: Iran Poised to Be 'Mother of All World Threats'.

We must act now to save our country. At this point, it’s all in our hands. The international community’s last card was Resolution 1701, which if implemented, can save Lebanon. If it doesn’t get implemented properly,- the US, France and the UN will just be watching, as Israel delivers the coup de gras on Hezbollah, at which point, either it’s done by destroying more of Lebanon, or it’s done by dragging Syria and Iran into it. Either way, the outcome is not good.

Hezbollah’s perception of a military victory must not be translated into their further political advancement at the expense of Lebanon’s democracy. Amidst all the destruction which no one in their right mind likes to see, I really wish that Hezbollah would have been defeated more decisively. Is it too late?

Hezbollah Owes It To the Lebanese People To Disarm Now


Hezbollah owes it to the Lebanese to start on the path of disarming its arsenal. Contrary to other beliefs that Hezbollah’s leader voiced regarding a ‘settlement of accounts’ with those that didn’t support them during the war, the entire Lebanese population has supported them and bore the brunt of destruction and deaths, just so that Hezbollah could continue to prove its military capabilities.

Had the Lebanese people and political factions revolted against Hezbollah earlier in this conflict, Hezbollah would have been weaker, Israel might have stopped their attacks earlier, and a lot less damage might have been inflicted on the country.

Now, the fighting is hopefully finished, and we could declare Hezbollah victorious. They won the war, but it’s Lebanon who must now win the peace. If Hezbollah is truly a Lebanese party, they should follow the wishes of the Lebanese people and its government whose majority did not want to be dragged into this war.

What is the worst thing that could happen if Hezbollah gave-up its arms, and became a civilian party that worked relentlessly at re-building South Lebanon? I can’t think of anything worse than what has already happened in the past 32 days. But I could think of several good things that will happen if Hezbollah finally disarms:

- the international community will applaud the move
- the entire Lebanese population will open their arms to the Lebanese Shiites
- more international aid and investments will flow towards Lebanon, especially to South Lebanon
- negotiations will start with Israel on the Shebaa Farms
- prisoners on both sides will be released
- Lebanon and the Lebanese will become more respected worldwide
- Arabs will continue to believe in Lebanon and contribute to its economic growth
- tourism and services will flourish again in Lebanon
- Iran and Syria will automatically be weakened
- Israel will accelerate a peaceful resolution with the Palestinians

One could give Hezbollah credit for their fighting bravery. But let’s not forget that the entire Lebanese population has also sacrificed a lot during the past 32 days so that Hezbollah could flex their muscles to the fullest.

Just like champions and sports heroes decide to retire at the height of their careers following a victory, this is a perfect time for Hezbollah to lay down their arms, while they are at the height of their popularity. Let them stop dreaming of that next fight because its outcome will be disastrous for all.

The only reason to keep Hezbollah’s arms is if one believes that these arms are a deterrent factor to imminent threats from Israel. But as Beirut Spring put it so succinctly, “a prosperous, multicultural Lebanon is a stronger foe than a militant Lebanon”. If one believes in eternal militancy, then it’s ok to keep these arms, but if one thinks that we could live in peace with our neighbors and grow the economy instead, then why keep these arms? The rewards of peace are much greater than the price of war.

Now is the time for Hezbollah to turn the page and begin its metamorphosis into a more commonly acceptable phase of its existence. If they could apply the strengths they have in discipline, organization, planning and strategic thinking towards civilian and economic goals solely, then- Lebanon will be a better country. If they dig their heels and don’t seem to care for the lessons of the July war of 2006, may God only help Lebanon.

What Israelis Don't Understand About Lebanon


What Israel and the Israelis have grossly miscalculated is how Lebanon and the Lebanese would react to the aggression on Hezbollah and Lebanon. Israel thought that Lebanon would revolt against Hezbollah at the same time as Hezbollah would be pounded militarily by Israel.Reading several blogs and online comments from the Israeli press point one to believe that Israel was really counting on the fact that the majority of the Lebanese population would align against Hezbollah in a way that would help precipitate their fall, after adding to the military pressure that Israel would inflict them. Paraphrasing these comments sounds like this:- while you were partying, Hezbollah was arming itself and infesting the South; it’s time that you pay for it, you deserve it- why don’t you wake-up and get rid of this terrorist organization who is dragging you down? - why don’t you get a better, stronger government, why are you so passive about it, we thought you were a democracy?- Tel-Aviv is like Beirut, we have more in common than you think The dilemma is that the above questions are correct in framing the issues, and they are the right ones to ask. But what differs between Israelis and Lebanese is the approach taken to solve them. Whereas Israel believes that military brute force action can shake things overnight, the Lebanese people are more in favor of a diplomatic, slow-paced, consensus driven solution. And the Lebanese people are a lot more tolerant than Israelis about co-existence even if one doesn’t approve of another party who is living next to you. For many Lebanese, both Christians and Muslims, Hezbollah’s military and political rise was a big issue that they were trying to deal with. They knew that this hot potato had to be dealt with eventually, and they were buying time to try to resolve it while containing it, as much as possible. Take the analogy of the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel doesn’t like them, so it starts to attack them. The Lebanese didn’t like Hezbollah, but they weren’t attacking them, rather they were trying to work with them towards a longer term solution, starting by strengthening the Lebanese government itself to assert its authority over the entire territory. For many Lebanese, the Hezbollah issue was as grave as the Palestinian issue is for Israelis: people whose behavior you don’t like are living in your backyard.Now, Israel has a bigger problem on their hand. Before the war, at least 40% of the Lebanese population was openly against Hezbollah. Now, polls show the majority of Lebanese (~80%) have sided with Hezbollah, not because they love Hezbollah,-- but because, of the 2 evils, Hezbollah is suddenly the lesser one. Many Lebanese Christians had warm feelings for Israel, but not warm enough to form bonds with Israel, especially after Israel started bombing Lebanese infrastructure and turning everyone’s life into chaos. In a nutshell, this war has affected every Lebanese person this time: by uprooting them, disrupting their businesses, personal lives, dreams, aspirations and plans one way or the other. Israel has in fact united the Lebanese far more than the Lebanese have ever been united in the recent past. Going forward, we still have a “Hezbollah problem”, and we still have an “Israeli attitude problem”. Compound to this, we have a “Lebanese passivity problem”, a sort of laissez-faire attitude that allowed the country to thrive, despite of Hezbollah’s thorn in its side, but has prevented the country from being perfect at the same time. What Israel did not understand is that the Lebanese people were more tolerant of the shortcomings of others, and that they worked around it, instead of facing it, i.e. if you ignore a problem long enough, it often goes away or becomes irrelevant. If Hezbollah was the fly in the ointment, the Israelis approach has been to bring a magnifying glass into that small fly to make it l[...]

Lebanon: The Tipping Point


Lebanon: The Tipping Point

30 days of a devastating war later, and we are now entering a critical phase where Lebanon is once again at the fork on the road. Two choices: 1) a once-in-a-lifetime chance to re-dress and get back in shape on the path to peace and progress, or 2) fall back into the abyss of a downward spiral, basically heralding the end of Lebanon, as we know it.

Let’s go back to pre-July 12th. Lebanon wasn’t perfect, but at least it was peaceful. However, deep inside, a number of factors were brewing, which reached what is commonly called the “tipping point”, and in this case, contributed to the “perfect storm”, a situation where all forces heighten their contribution towards a disaster.

Only a few weeks ago, I was thinking that wars were irrelevant in Western societies because they don’t accomplish anything. Much more is at stake from an economic point of view than anyone would be willing to give-up. But in Lebanon, this logic doesn’t seem to apply because we are being led to believe lies, such as,-- that war will achieve “liberation” objectives, or that the burden of the entire Middle-Eastern conflict in all its ramifications rests on the shoulders of Lebanon, or that Hezbollah is the ticket to defeating Israel, etc...

There is reason for worrying. I’m afraid that so far, it appears that Hezbollah has won the outcome of this war. Just by standing still and keeping their arms, they have been truly emboldened. Not a single Lebanese politician in the government has dared to challenge them, or even declare that Lebanon must turn the page now, and look forward to the future, instead of being dragged into the past. Only Jumblatt, Gemayel and Geagea are sounding the alarm bells on the dangers of letting Hezbollah dictate Lebanon’s future. Lebanon's Druze leader says Hezbollah agenda will lead to disaster, Gemayel here, and Geagea here.

The Hezbollah agenda is sending the country on the path of destruction and irrelevance. Israel is on a course to “teach Lebanon a lesson”, and they will not be deterred by the destruction that precedes reaching that objective. On the other hand, the more destruction Lebanon faces, the more Hezbollah will thrive, because it vindicates their raison d’etre.

The root of this whole problem, and its solution rest in having a STRONG LEBANESE GOVERNMENT that not only asserts its authority across the entire Lebanese territory, but also in being a truly functioning, highly effective, sharply coherent, and corruption-free government that leads Lebanon with the right vision while commanding the respect of the international community.

It’s very simple. Lebanon fell into the 1975 civil war when the Lebanese government was so weak, it allowed the Palestinian state-within-the-state phenomenon to become bigger that all of us and it created the tipping point for that perfect storm. Today, the same symptoms of Lebanese government bickering and inaptitude of the past few years have brought us to yet another tipping point: the Hezbollah state-within-the-state phenomenon, where the tail is wagging the dog and pushing the country to a disaster that is brewing.

We have a choice. We can learn from the lessons of history, or we can watch passively the country sink.

Is this too much to ask for? Wake-up Lebanese people! Let’s take our country back!

Or, they will take it from us.

(Note: I’m back to blogging. One year after I stopped. One year after I had given-up hope that independent voices like mine don’t matter in influencing the future of a better Lebanon for all Lebanese.)

3 Significant Events, 3 Bravos for Seniora


Amidst the usually negative, absurd and typically depressing Lebanese political circus, 3 recent events took place which show some progress towards the future.

1- The cancellation of a 1993 law that imposed limits on political parties
2- Lebanon’s declining to attend the Syria-Iran “summit” (Lebanon would have been there in spades if Syria was still in control)
3- The formation of a new electoral law committee headed by the very respectable Fouad Boutros (putting this fragile law in the hands of (more honest) legislators and not politicians is a good thing)

These 3 events were seemingly minor in headline grabbing, but much more significant in setting precedents in confirming that Lebanon is taking control of its destiny, finally.

I do give full credit to Seniora’s government for pushing them forward. I am beginning to sense that Seniora is the anti-hype person, i.e. someone who under-promises and over-delivers. I think he knows that his Ministers aren’t all “A-rated", but he will get things done, despite of that. I am not putting words in his mouth, but my interpretation of his style would be close to the military cliché: “The difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a while longer”.

These are the 3 significant events that point that Lebanon is headed in the right direction, slowly (but I wouldn’t say surely, yet).

While there is much work ahead, we must celebrate the small stuff as well!

Can Lebanese politicians learn how to 'really' work together?


On the heels of Michael Young’s article with a shocking headline “Lebanon’s Christians must manage their decline”, Nayla Moawad made a precedent by attacking General Aoun on the ownership of March 14th. This marked the first serious bickering amongst Christians. She even indirectly took a shot at Geagea by saying that it was the March 14th gathering and the alliance with Hariri and Jumblatt that contributed to his release. I hope this is the last time Christian politicians attack each other in such a way.

While Moawad got her “15 minutes” of headlines, I am very disappointed by this cheap shot, designed to bring more attention to the Qornet Shahwan gathering rather than serve the national interest.

I am also disappointed by Aoun’s persistence in taking too much single handed credit for the Syrian’s departure and the March 14th demonstrations.

Why can’t we all acknowledge that this was a collective effort that all Lebanese people and parties proudly take ownership in, without lessening the role of the others?

An objective analysis will surely reveal that Syria’s departure and the re-birth of freedom in Lebanon was the result of several factors and circumstances that all coincided around the same time, the same place and were accelerated by the assassination of Hariri on February 14th.

We have to learn to work together and stop stabbing each other in the back with the mentality of always trying to make the other person look bad. Political differences aside, the Lebanese still have a lot to learn regarding how to ally themselves around issues that are of benefit to the whole country in an even, and unselfish way.

This is an important part of the secret sauce of nation-building.

Note: Re: Michael Young's article, I don't agree with the last paragraph "Michel Aoun made a mistake in segregating himself at a moment when Christians need to be more involved in policy matters. However, his decision to remain outside the governmental game, and the fact that the system is functioning normally despite this, demonstrates that Christians, or at least the more influential leaders of the community, are not as essential as they used to be."

Believing that the "system is functioning normally" takes a stretch of the imagination. The fact is, the system isn't functioning normally, and not because Aoun isn't part of it. However, Aoun seems to be the only one who is objectively critiquing the flaws in the system.

South Lebanon vs. South Africa


In regards to the Lebanese SLA members still in exile in Israel, it’s interesting to note that when the Apartheid ended in South Africa, they set-up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a court-like process which basically decided whether to grant amnesty to those that committed crimes and tortures during that period on condition that they tell the whole truth, i.e. by fully disclosing what they knew and what they did in front of witnesses and families of the victims. Some were granted amnesty and some were not.

So, in defense of the ex-SLA members and in the spirit of complete and full reconciliation, I don’t see why Lebanon wouldn’t be able to adopt a conciliatory process to repatriate these Lebanese people to their homeland.

During the war, each group was acting according to their best convictions, namely that what they fought and believed in was the right thing. So, any and all groups are as guilty or innocent as the other, as long as the same rules apply to all.

Hezbullah’s arguments against the ex-SLA members do not hold water. These arguments may have some credence only under the assumption that peace with Israel will never be realized (something that Hezbullah would dearly like us all to believe).

But the reality is that peace will have to be negotiated and signed with Israel, sooner, as opposed to later. Therefore, why not apply the amnesty now, without prejudice?

Hezbullah wants their cake and they want to eat it too. They want Lebanon to be in a permanent state of war, therefore in a permanent state of risk, and hence be a less desirable place to attract foreign investment which is necessary for the economic prosperity of the country.

If there is any group that is currently holding Lebanon from real progress, it’s Hezbollah, their arms, their policy and their blackmailing the system. They are holding the (weak) Lebanese government hostage and playing Syria’s card which is- no peace with Israel til infinity. Syria’s recent statement about reviving the Beirut Saudi plan for peace is a pretty uninspiring starting point. Even the Saudis didn’t follow-up on it. It's a typical Syrian way of throwing mediocre arguments just to see if they'll stick.

Lebanon is Still the Same...


...and so are MOST of its political leaders, even some of the newly elected ones.

Prior to February 14th, I used to occasionally read l'Orient or The Daily Star to check-up on the evolving state of the homeland, only to be often disappointed, disgusted and stunned in disbelief as to some of the absurdities uttered by the local politicians and the on-going vicious circles they live in. With the advent of the post-Hariri assassination Spring 2005/Cedar Revolution era, we were given hope and a sense of renewal, given the possibility that new elections and non-Syrian intervention would bring about change and usher Lebanon into a new era of prosperity, normalcy and long overdue evolution towards a modern, vibrant and economically strong country.

The formation of the current government and the events of the last few weeks and days have shown that Lebanon is still very much the same. Although some fresh figures are giving us hope and straight-talking to us (Aoun, Tueni primarily...but pls give me more names and examples), the scene is dominated by opposing forces, each pulling Lebanon in a different direction.

- Hezbollah. We know what they don't want: they don't want to end the resistance, they don't want to surrender their arms, they will not accept any withdrawal from any occupied land in return for any deal, they will not accept U.S. aid to Lebanon and they don't acknowledge UN Resolution 1559. But what do they want? Hezbollah has their own agenda. In essence, they have indefinitely hijacked the country's political system and forcing it to remain into a dangerous stagnation.

- Lahoud and his cronies are still thorns in the system; they often praise the "resistance", sometimes seemingly side with Aoun, sometimes push their own agenda, but despite of their pro-Syrian past were totally powerless in dealing with Syria on key issues that surfaced recently.

- Jumblatt is the ultimate rotating device that swings with the wind, but often is more confusing than enlightening- therefore a big negative.

- Hariri has proven his inexperience and immaturity, judging by how he got manipulated by Jumblatt or blackmailed by Hezbollah, and how he is back-peddling now on the Hezbullah issue; in reference to his CNN interview where he adopted the typical Lebanese low standards "we need to deal with each issue one a time". He is really a figure head, represented by Seniora who had to compromise to the hill to give birth to a mediocre cabinet.

- Amal and the Lebanese Forces are practically insignificant players on their own. Amal is really about the Berri persona, and the LF's role will depend on Geagea's demeanor.

- Aoun and the Future Movement are still the most honest political players. Aoun will not bought, sold or blackmailed. Unfortunately, he is the victim of a smear campaign by his opponents. He is still widely misunderstood by them, but slowly will gain new supporters. His place in the opposition is perfect, as he will call every bluff and every absurdity by its very name.

So this is how I see "poor Lebanon". It's a tragedy and a comedy at the same time. To those that think that the current situation is better than before, I would say: You probably have pretty low standards.

If Syria Really Wanted Lebanon's Interests...


If Syria was really sincere about "brotherly" relations with Lebanon that respect Lebanon's interests, then:

- Why does the Syrian Prime Minister openly say that "disarming Hezbollah will threaten the national security of Syria"?

- Why did Syria block the border without initiating negotiations or attempting for pro-active talks in good faith?

- Why did they arrest Lebanese fishermen while Syrian fishermen continuously violate Lebanese waters?

- Why are they demanding compensations for alledged deaths of 35 Syrian workers, while thousands of innocent Lebanese either were killed or are rotting in Syrian jails?

Syria's double-talk is increasingly exposing their real intentions, day after day. It is clear that Syria wants to harm Lebanon, but why are our politicians still calling for best relations with Syria while Syria is litterally mocking us?

Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud yesterday underlined commitment to principles and stances Lebanese people had consensus on, on top of which is backing resistance and holding best ties with Syria.

Hammoud, during a ceremony to hand over the Foreign Ministry portfolio to new Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh, said Syria and Lebanon are determined to cooperate in the face of different threats and to achieve both states' aspirations.

I sure hope Salloukh wasn't listening to Hammoud's idiocies.

And who is going to believe this:
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa stressed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's keenness for boosting and strengthening the Syrian-Lebanese relations during a recent meeting with him.

from someone who is basically telling the Iraqi people to keep killing themselves by resisting the Americans, hence supporting the insurgents:
Moussa described the current situation in the Iraqi scene as a very chaotic and dangerous, calling upon all the Arabs to support the Iraqi people and not to leave it alone under foreign occupation.

It is obvious and clear that Lebanon will never have a real democracy as long as Syria has an autocracy. It's time to call a spade a spade. Enough double-talk and lip service designed to fool people with low IQ.

3 Types of Bombings: 3 Sources of Crime?


With the latest Monot blast, it is clear that there are 3 types of classifications for the latest terror events in Lebanon:

1) Big bang, no collateral damage spared. These are the huge blasts (over 100 kgs) that are designed to kill someone in a motorcade and around a large radius. Targets: Hariri, Hamade, Murr.
2) Precision car seat bomb. These are remotely detonated at line of sight. They wait until the occupant is in the car and detonate the bomb that was placed under the seat. Targets: Kassir, Hawi.
3) Random blasts, random damage. Designed to scare and damage infrastructure more than to kill people. These are the blasts we saw in Kaslik, Broumana, Jounieh, Jdeide, Monot. Targets: terrorize Christian neighborhoods.

Could it be that there are 3 distinct groups perpetrating these acts, or is it the same group using different means to justify each purpose?

One of the common denominator to these targets is that they all represent Lebanese SYMBOLS. Lebanon’s enemies are after our symbols:

Hariri: Symbol of power, money, fame, international respect, new Lebanon.
Hamade: Symbol of early anti-Syrian resistance.
Murr: Pro-Syrian symbol, but was probably was on the verge of deserting them.
Kassir: Symbol of intellectual freedom, and early anti-Syrian.
Hawi: Symbol of surviving political diversity, and early anti-Syrian.
Christian neighborhoods: Symbols of Western influences and traditional Lebanese history.

These attacks are designed to destroy Lebanon at its core by getting rid of its important symbols. To counter these attacks (which will probably continue), the Lebanese must become more united at the core.

Backlash: Changing Lahoud & Lebanese Unity


Having had time to digest and reflect on the Murr assassination attempt, I am reaching the conclusion that like other explosions, the intent of the perpetrators are actually being met by a reverse backlash that is totally different from originally intended.

Intent: The Murr assassination attempt was probably a message to Lahoud not to soften his pro-Syrian stance. Recently, Lahoud had been somehow “neutralized” by the massive opposition and public opinion wins. Perhaps the Syrians thought that he had gone too far in beginning to make compromises with the opposition, and gave him a warning by targeting his family.

Backlash: Lahoud could suddenly and officially “switch sides”, do a "mea culpa", testify against Syria by releasing evidence he may have,- basically plea bargaining.

Intent: This was an attempt to further divide the Lebanese by accelerating finger pointing against each other, polarizing the political tensions and even delay the government formation. Saniora put it succinctly by saying that “blaming each other creates an opportunity for the aggressors to continue these acts”.

Backlash: The Lebanese seem to be actually uniting instead of drifting apart. Every single politician that visited Murr or said something about this event had a conciliatory tone, underlying unity and the preservation of national interests, while none of them directly accused Syria. I am not sure if they in turn are fearing for their lives now, or whether they are coming to the realization that “united, we could fight this better than divided”.

These aggressors are underestimating the counter backlash effect which is much stronger than the results they were trying to achieve. Although they killed Hariri, the country has further united and Syria is out. And although they are trying to divide us, we seem to be closing ranks.

Cross-Border Trade with Syria: The Plot Thickens


While we are being entertained by the government sausage-making like formation, cross-border trade between Lebanon and Syria is taking it on the chin. The timing of Syria’s actions were unexplainable as I posted in this previous blog. New developments today point to a news release by the Syrian Finance Minister, with shocking statements, attributing the slow down to a “normal during summer times”. Instead, the Minister extolled the fact that Lebanon’s exports to Syria ($85 million) surpassed for the first time Syrian imports to Lebanon ($60 million) during the first half of 2005. He obviously wasn’t counting the many more millions in Syrian goods that are smuggled from Syria into Lebanon and flood the market at below-market prices. And he didn't mention that between 1997-2004, Syrian exports to Lebanon dominated trade with Lebanon: 93% in 1997 to 63% in 2004. Meanwhile, Lebanese trucks are still lining-up at the border, amidst eyewitness reports reported by this Al-Jazeera/AFP story:"I have never seen anything like this in decades," said Hassun, a taxi driver who makes a living transporting passengers between the Lebanese and Syrian capitals. "Usually it is easy to cross the Syrian border post at Jdeide but the past few weeks it has been infernal," said Hassun after spending 45 minutes stuck at a Syrian military roadblock near the border. "They interrogated us, searched the car and the passengers and confiscated some consumer goods. The people are fed up," Hassun said.The same article reports of the actual state of Syrian-Lebanese trade:In May, days after Syria completed its pullout from Lebanon, Miqati travelled to Damascus to discuss future ties, including pending economic agreements, and later said a border post would also be established to ease travel and trade. But results from the visit have yet to be seen. An agreement under which Syria was expected to supply Lebanon with natural gas has also been shelved. It stipulated that Syria would sell Lebanon 1.5 million cubic metres (52.9 million cubic feet) of gas a day at three dollars per unit "or 40 percent cheaper than market prices", Lebanese Energy Minister Bassem Yammine said. "But the Syrians have told us that this offer is no longer valid," after Lebanon said it wanted to renegotiate all its agreements with Damascus, Yammine said, adding that discussions were still underway.If this isn’t a crisis, I am not sure what is. This certainly calls for the re-evaluation of Syrian economic relations. Syria’s timing is very coy and a low blow to Lebanon while the country is in the midst of the most diligent and transparent government-making in its recent history. As Michael Young succinctly puts it in his last editorial: “It is unlikely the current Syrian regime could ever address Lebanon as an equal; for the men in Damascus, there is little room for a bona fide partnership in the shadow of the demeaning Syrian practices of the past.”Hopefully, Lebanon will be able to stand on its own feet soon and deal with Syria from a position of strength. All we want is fair trade and fair trade pactices. In the past, this was difficult to even ask for, but now that Lebanon has the autonomy to ask, will we get it?[...]

Syria halting Lebanese trucks at border: Why now?


The timing of this border dispute seems quite ill, given that the Lebanese government is "in limbo", i.e. being constituted. I don't have any further information on this, except from this story which has also been reported on Lebanese television. There is nothing I could find from the Syrian side explaining why this is being done.
From the above article:

Hundreds of trucks carrying tons of perishable goods are still queuing up at the Syrian checkpoint along the border, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of Lebanese families.

Observers said that Syria apparently wants to demonstrate to the Lebanese that the anti-Syrian sentiments following the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon will not go unnoticed.

Syria is the only land outlet for Lebanese-made goods to the outside world.

"Syrian authorities are reluctant to facilitate the movement of Lebanese trucks," one trader said, adding that many of the tuck drivers are forced to throw away tons of fruits and vegetables on the road after spending days waiting near the checkpoint.

Lebanese trucks are spending between four and five days at the Syrian checkpoint while Syrian trucks crossing to Lebanon are cleared in less an hour, according to merchants.

Lebanon and Syrian signed a free-trade agreement more than five years ago but Lebanese traders and farmers complained that the Syrians never respected the agreement.

Lebanese farmers were also furious at Syrian smuggling into Lebanon, flooding the local market with cheap agricultural products.

In 1997 the volume of bilateral trade between both countries stood at $76.8 million, for which Syrian exports to Lebanon accounted for 92.7 percent.

As more agreements were signed, Lebanon gradually began tipping the trade balance in its favor. In 2000, for example, bilateral trade volume stood at $190.1 million, with Syrian exports making up 87.8 percent. By 2003, trade volume stood at $277.2 million, but Syria's share of the pie had slipped to 74 percent. In the first half of 2004, total trade volume stood at $136.95 million, of which Syrian trade accounted for only 63 percent.

Is this fair? Is this how Syria plans to deal with Lebanon, i.e. by hurting us, instead of co-operating with us?

I am curious about the opinion of others, especially if there are specific legitimate reasons for halting Lebanese trucks passing through Syria.

Polarization of Lebanese Politics


After Rafik Hariri’s assassination and the Elections, the country was supposed to come closer together. Instead, we seem to be drifting apart. Each major religious sect (Maronite, Sunni, Chia’) seems to be clinging away at their own key post, without due respect for the opinion or votes of others.

I don’t recall in recent memory that the processes for selecting or supporting the Prime Minister/Government members, Speaker of the Parliament and President were as polarized as they are today.

I have several questions, but no satisfying answers.

Under the auspices of the Hariri/Jumblatt majority alliance, the Future Movement is the new Sunni pride and is deciding Lebanon's future via its distribution of ministerial portfolios. Little is done in terms of checks and balances due to the President's passive role, a result of his recent political isolation.

Of course, Berri’s nomination was shoved down the Parliament because he was the Chia’s choice, so no one could argue it.

And a majority of Maronites have lately rallied around President Lahoud now because he too symbolizes their religion.

What were the factors that lead us to such polarization?

- Was it Patriarch Sfeir who started with his remarks that only 15% of Christians could select their leaders under the current election law?
- Was it Saad Hariri who is monopolizing his father’s assassination, i.e. assuming carte blanche because Lebanon “owes” him that much?
- Was it the Chia’ voice which is amplified by Hezbollah’s arms that see the Speaker’s position as their only protection?
I sense there is even mistrust between Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and Hariri’s Future Movement members relating to a simple event such as the Aoun-Hariri break-down. While both leaders took great pain to express their mutual respect for each other and left the door open for future co-operation, partisans of each party saw it differently. On one side you heard: “Hariri walked into Aoun’s trap”. And the other side claimed that “Aoun walked into Hariri’s trap”. The level of mistrust is indeed alarming.

Why can’t the Prime Minister, Speaker and President represent “national democratic choices” instead of being “chosen” by their own religious groups without respect for the others except for make-believe agreements?

The current political process discourages the rise of a real national political leader that is mutually respected by all sects, religions and regions, because as soon as one person starts to become popular across religions and begins to unite others, the other camps start to attack him since he is not from their own “club”. This is happening to Saad Hariri and Michel Aoun right now. They both have the greatest potential to unite the country, but they are caught inside a bad system where they spend their energies fending off attacks instead of working on uniting Lebanon. They both have baggage they can’t shake off: Aoun doesn’t have the support of all Christians and Hariri is under the threat or influence of Hezbollah and Walid Jumblatt.

I am not sure if this is just me, but I am sensing a real breakdown in the Lebanese political process. Please tell me if I am right or wrong, and if we can change it?

Is Hezbollah Dictating Lebanon's Foreign Policy? Their Arguments and Counter-proposals.


It’s alarming to witness the increasing frequency of discussions pertaining to Hezbollah and its role in Lebanon, internationally and with Israel. The issue of Hezbollah’s position is still dominating the political agenda in Lebanon. This is good or bad depending on whether Hezbollah’s heightened clatter is perceived as wanting to increase their profile, power, visibility and agenda, or whether it is a precursor for a real and lasting normalization of their status, including a non-military integrative role into Lebanon’s politics. A new report from the Berlin-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) is a must read because it presents a summary of arguments from both sides regarding the Hezbollah conundrum. And today, a Daily Star article headlines that Europeans Propose Merging Hezbullah with Lebanese Army, a suggestion that would “include international guarantees for Hezbullah's leadership that Lebanon would not sign a peace treaty with Israel before a general solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.” Further excerpts relevant to the ensuing analysis:Hizbullah politburo member Ghaleb Abu Zeinab told The Daily Star the party's main concern is to defend Lebanon against Israel. He said: "Our main worry is to provide Lebanon with security. Hizbullah arms are providing that." Asked whether integrating Hizbullah's arms into the Lebanese Army would hinder security, Zeinab said the party in its current situation is already providing security. He added the party had no objection to disarming, but the challenge lies in maintaining security and peace in Lebanon. Zeinab said any national suggestion presented for preserving Lebanon's safety would be welcomed for discussion. But Zeinab insisted any such suggestion should be discussed and agreed upon behind closed doors, given the sensitivity of the issue. He said: "We will study any suggestion carefully and see if it preserves the country's security, and if it will generate national support and approval we will be ready to discuss it and adopt it." Zeinab added Hizbullah is now the main resistance power in Lebanon, and it is supported by the Lebanese Army and the Lebanese people.It’s a de-facto observation that Hezbollah has managed to become a heavy influencing factor for Lebanon’s foreign policy almost to the point of indirectly dictating it, due to the passivity of Lebanon’s past government relating to Hezbollah. This comes on the heels of repeated statements by Western powers that Lebanon will not get economic aid without the full implementation of UN 1559. But Hezbollah’s arguments deserve counter-arguments that address them directly and with logic. Here’s a run-down of six key arguments and counter-proposals to them:Argument: Hezbollah is a Lebanese internal issue.Counter: But how come you are linking it to the full resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict?Argument: We have never turned our arms against the Lebanese people.Counter: OK, but in the meantime, foreign investment is shying away from Lebanon because you are still perceived as a negative macro-economic factor.Argument: Who will protect Hezbollah if we give our arms?Counter: Jordan and Egypt are at peace with Israel, and there has not been any violations. If peace agreements are good for Jordan and Egypt, wouldn’t they be for Lebanon?Argument: Hezbollah’s arms are needed to protect Lebanon.Counter: Why couldn’t a Lebanese army of 70,000-100,000 (well equipped and modern) do the same job as the 10,000 Hezbollah fighters? Argument: We won’t discuss disarmament until the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.Counter: The Pal[...]

The Strategic Implications of Berri's Legacy Will Haunt Lebanon for 2 Years


No matter how you slice it, dice it, explain it, justify it or make-believe it, Berri’s re-election as Speaker of the Parliament exemplifies the typical aberrations that are indigenous of the political system in Lebanon. Strategically, Berri’s legacy will continue to affect Lebanon for at least the next two years.Aside from its pre-event drama, the Berri re-election points to deep-rooted systemic problems facing the Lebanese political process. The persona he represents is exactly what we thought would be part of Lebanon’s past and not its future. His omnipresence along with Lahoud’s proves that the remnants of the pro-Syria era were harder to dissolve than originally expected. Lame excuses and low expectationsOne of the primary excuses given for his re-election was that the Shia’ had felt isolated after March 14 and therefore, not selecting Berri would have further alienated them from the Lebanese community. Ahmad Fatfat (newly elected Future Movement Dinnieh MP) confirmed this “excuse” by saying that the alliance with Berri was vital in order "to complete the national unity that took place on March 14 and include the Shia’ in the reconciliation process." I really didn’t know that the Shia’ were pretty upset about not being part of the March 14th event. Didn’t they get dragged by Hezbollah and Amal into another counter-event one week earlier than March 14th, in support of Syria’s presence in Lebanon? This rhetoric sounds more like “Hezbollah-speak”, instead of mainstream Shia’ language. Is Berri’s nomination the only way to get Lebanon closer to the Shia’? In reality, Berri is the one that has been isolating the Shia’ community from the rest of Lebanon, since he acts as their de-facto spokesperson and exclusive gatekeeper. LP describes very eloquently Berri’s practices in this blog. In addition to his role as the Shia’s bridge into Lebanon, Berri is supposedly also the “protector of Hezbollah”. But protection from whom: Israel? Hezbollah's fears about "protection" are hard to understand and so overplayed. When there is peace, it’s peace. It means no more fighting. Therefore, a deterring force isn't really needed. Look at Jordan and Egypt: Israel has not violated the peace agreement with these two countries since it was signed. If Jordan and Egypt aren't good enough examples for Hezbollah, who is? If a strong Lebanese government negotiated a peaceful settlement with Israel, wouldn’t that fulfill Hezbollah’s goal? Does Hezbollah prefer to remain a continual enigma relating to their intentions? If Hezbollah’s goal is the destruction of Israel (or even an extended state of war) as they often imply, then it’s a suicidal mission that the rest of Lebanon does not wish to partake in. Saad Hariri is on the lineVia its spokesperson, the Hariri bloc has justified the Berri’s nomination: "The extension for Berri is going to take place on the basis of his agreement to cooperate with the program of reforms: the application of the Taif agreement, a fair election law, etc." It seems that Berri made some promises to Hariri regarding dealing with these “hot issues”. Someone from the Future Movement camp told me “let’s hope Berri doesn’t let the Lebanese people down”. My response was “let’s hope Berri doesn’t let Hariri down”. That deal was between Hariri and Berri. Berri gave his “word” to Hariri that he would deal with reforms, corruption, Geagea’s release, UN 1559, etc. My question is why couldn’t ANY other Speaker hold the same promises? Aren’t these tasks expected fr[...]

It's Berries (oops Berry) Season!


In light of the continuous absurdities of the Lebanese political scene, some humor won’t hurt. It just occurred to me that June marks the beginning of the “berries” season, and this is why Berry will be our next Speaker.

Many similarities between the several berries and our unique, one-of-a-kind, organically grown Berry.

Straw-Berry: Straws needed to suck-up fortunes of others from a distance.
Cran-Berry: Cran-ky until he gets his way.
Blue-Berry: He will lie to you until you’re blue in the face.
Black-Berry: Oh, that’s a simple one. He always black-mails you.
Rasp-Berry: Definition of a “rasp”: A coarse file with raised, sharp points on its surface.
Goose-Berry: That’s an obvious one. He’s loose as a goose.
Mul-Berry: He will continue to “mull” things over until we are really confused.
Elder-Berry: Isn’t it getting elderly to have stayed so long as the Speaker?

So, here we have it. Our own Lebanese Berry patch.

The only problem is that in warm climates, apparently berries can grow all season long.

Open Letter to Saad Hariri Subject: Next Tuesday's Vote


All the Lebanese in Lebanon and abroad are in suspense, awaiting the Parliament’s first session and the ensuing election of its Speaker.

We look up to you as Lebanon’s next savior, following the footsteps of your brave father. We understand that your block holds the tipping power for the choice of the Speaker of the Parliament.

Please, remember not to bring back the same Speaker that for 12 years exemplified pro-Syrian co-operation, made your father’s life as a Prime Minister miserable several times, and contributed to the venomous environment that eventually killed him.

Please do not make the mistake to fall into the low standards of compromise which has plagued the Lebanese political scene, where politicians routinely make deals with each other, regardless of the national interest.

And if you become Prime Minister, you would represent the people’s choice, not only the Sunni’s choice. So, please make the Speaker’s choice a national choice, not just a Chi’a choice, and please help make the President’s choice a national choice, not just a Maronite choice.

Leaders have to rise to the occasion and often make the hard choices over the easy ones. We know you will make the hard choice, and we will look-up to you with even greater admiration because we know that if you make the right decision, it will be your decision, not the result of back-room deal-making.

Lebanon’s future is now in your hands, as it recently was in your Great father’s hands.

Please do not disappoint us.
[You can sign the Petition endorsing this letter here.]

Are We Expecting Too Much from the Parliament?


On the heels of Michael Young’s excellent analysis on the causes and effects of George Hawi’s assassination, I re-drew the list of challenges facing Lebanon from my previous blog Holding Their Feet to the Fire, and categorized them into a Difficult and an Easier pile. Upon reviewing that list, what struck me was that the Lebanese Parliament may be holding much of the powers necessary to enact most of these changes. And I wonder if we are not expecting too much from such Parliament given its appearance in what Michael Young describes as the "Syrian-led system minus the Syrians" and I previously called it "same old system without Syrians".

What’s difficult:
- Hezbollah’s fate, arms and position (Hot potato)
- Abolition of confessionalism (Boiling potato)
- Abolition of sectarian politics (Very Hot potato)
- Relations with Israel (Hot potato, might cool down quickly depending on Syria)
- Ending corruption (They all talk about it, wash their hands from it and treat it as if it only happens to others but not them. It’s a complex labyrinth with many hot potatoes along the way.)

What’s easier:
- Providing security (it’s a cornerstone for the economy but is gridlocked by on-the- ground reforms)
- Changing the electoral law (the debates will be heated, but it boils down to a known outcome)
- Replacing the President (Just as they voted to extend his mandate, they could shorten it)
- Not re-electing Berri (It’s all in their hands)
- Normalizing relations with Syria (Debates will start there to define them)
- Re-jolting the economy, tourism and construction (An effective Parliament sends the right messages of confidence to the world and improves the macro-economic factors which have been low)
- Lowering the debt (The Prime Minister could take the lead (as Hariri did), but it will take more than creative financing schemes which just delay the problem)
- Freeing Geagea (A very easy matter, perhaps their first vote)

So does it look like we are expecting too much from the Lebanese Parliament?

Are the MPs going to become Super Parliamentarians overnight and pass whatever is “logical” versus whatever is compromised upon (as in the past)?

Will the (next) Prime Minister be strong enough to take ownership of some of these issues and drive them, or will he/she “keep their hands off” these hot potatoes?

Are we going to be content by keeping an isolated President for 2 more years where he is certain to continue his lame duck record?

And are we going to fall into Berri’s hyper muscular machinations and keep him because he was a “great Speaker”, according to this nauseating defense of his record that appeared today in The Daily Star, penned on his behalf by Bilal Charara, General Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Lebanese National Assembly?

Doing what is easy is necessary, but not sufficient.
Doing what’s difficult will define Lebanon’s future.

Why doesn't Lebanon have a Rudy Giuliani?


When Rudy Giuliani arrived at the September 11th scene in New York City and in the days after, he really showed the world what leadership was about.

At a time when the world's greatest city reeled in shock and horror from a devastating terrorist attack, Mayor Giuliani stepped into the searing void of grief and took upon himself the weight of millions of New Yorkers' pain. He did it without regard for his own safety, and then, without regard for his own needs, sought out all who suffered in all parts of the city for 20 hours a day or more. He visited Ground Zero two to three times a day, picking his way through the rubble of both World Trade Center towers and half a dozen other collapsed buildings. He trekked to hospitals and relief centers. He consoled widows, widowers and survivors, and anyone suffering from anxiety and fear. He spent every day like a true New Yorker, jumping out of his official van to grab a slice of pizza for lunch or dinner, or a cup of coffee for breakfast, all while keeping up a whirlwind pace, all day, every day.

Giuliani stood steadfast, unequivocally in command, showing a daily mastery of the details of rescue and recovery, while keeping a worried citizenry informed about the pace of the work, and the rising toll of victims. In the days that followed, he became a ubiquitous presence at funerals, wakes and memorial services, not only in the five boroughs but in communities up and down the Hudson River and across Long Island. Some days, he attended as many as eight or nine services, trying ultimately in vain to do what he had always done, attend every funeral for a fallen New York City firefighter or policeman. He even appeared on "Saturday Night Live," the New York-based comedy television program, to issue a declaration that the city was back in operation. He also spoke to the U.N. General Assembly's meeting on terrorism, calling the attack a "direct assault on the founding principles of the United Nations itself." A New Yorker by birth and blood, he became the voice and the soul for all New Yorkers, and for all Americans, and for all those citizens of the world who love the city as he does.

What does Prime Minister Mikati do when he arrives at the scene of Samir Kassir’s killing? After he almost fainted (and reportedly put a handkerchief to his mouth), he starts “condemning” the perpetrators, then he gets haggled by the by-standers, then he leaves the scene, and nobody knows what specific action he took, except ordering an immediate investigation. Big deal, right?

What does Prime Minister Mikati do after the slaying of George Hawi? He is "stunned", "blames conspirators", “denounces the crime”, which “is aimed at destabilizing Lebanon and turning attention away from democratic achievements”. Duh?

Lack of Leadership = Lack of Confidence = Lack of Security

Why doesn’t Lebanon have a Rudy Giuliani?

Holding Their Feet to the Fire: The End of a New Beginning


I am buoyed by the optimistic comments about the elections being a turning point in Lebanon’s history. Indeed, these are historic times, and Lebanon can look forward to a better future. However, we must temper our optimism because as much as Hariri’s death was the beginning of the end for Syria, the elections were just the end of a new beginning for Lebanon. Phase I consisted of “Let’s unite to get rid of the Syrians”.Phase II was about elections maneuvering: “Let’s get elected now, no matter what”.Phase III must be about “Let’s build a New Lebanon”. Participants: Lebanese in Lebanon and Lebanese abroad, politicians and Western and Arab countries that want to help. In terms of governance, we went from an old system with Syrians to the same old system without Syrians (yes, Taef is outdated). Now the hard work begins. Can we move to a new system? Can the same old players move us to the new system, or will the people have to go back to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the status-quo? We must not assume that our politicians will solve these problems on their own. In my opinion, the real meaning of March 14 has been already taken with a grain of salt. A friend of mine put it succinctly: “The only real changes that will happen are the ones the people who took to the streets will come up with. There will be no miracle from the top down. The only improvement is that we replaced criminal/crooks by crooks. At least people will not get killed and tortured if they want to get organized, and Syrian influence will be hopefully purged. It is not a solution, but it is a start. “My dear friends…it’s a start. We have a beachhead. Let’s not confuse it with the solution. We must elevate the standards that we want for this country of ours. Lebanon’s society (most of it) is largely modern. Its banking system is modern. Its universities are modern and secular. But can our politicians rise above the third-world type of governance they have been accustomed to? Is it such a tall order to get rid of corruption and usher efficiency in services, the respect of the individual and the emancipation of a civil society? The hard work is still ahead. Lebanon has several monumental challenges if it wants to rise up to its full potential. If it doesn’t and prefers the easy route by choosing the lowest common denominators, then we will see our future in the rear view mirror. We must face the hard work now, and make the difficult, fundamental decisions that will define Lebanon’s future: Hezbollah, confessionalism, sectarian politics and Israel’s relations. These are the tough ones compared to the easier ones: changing the electoral law, replacing the president, normalizing relations with Syria, re-jolting the economy, lowering the debt and freeing Gaegea. Doing the later list will move us forward, but it will not get us over the hump, fundamentally speaking.I do hope the next government will take their tasks seriously. Actually, very seriously. Extremely seriously. No more confusing us. Just serve us, like we elected you to. Like most other politicians in developed countries do. That’s why it’s called “public service”, and it means that. It’s not a right. It’s a privilege that comes and goes, like the wind. My dear friends…as the saying goes: let’s hold their feet to the fire. This means they will be accountable with high standards. We must leapfrog into the 21st centur[...]

Paradigm Shift in the Opposition


After Aoun’s victory on Sunday, several newspaper headlines were getting it wrong in labeling the “opposition”:

  • ”Aoun success sets back main anti-Syrian opposition” (via AP)

  • “Switching General hurts Lebanon Opposition” (via AP)

  • “Lebanon Christians deal blow to anti-syrian coalition” (The Christian Science Monitor)

  • “Returning Lebanese General Stuns Anti-Syrian Alliance” (New York Times)

  • “The coming days look bleak for the opposition” ((The Daily Star)

  • Of course, these were all meant to highlight the defeat of the “former” anti-Syrian gang: the Kornet Chehwan gathering. But the reality is that the meaning of the word “opposition” is changing.

    Whereas the previous opposition was an opposition to Syria, the new opposition is an opposition to whoever is governing, in the classical sense. So, for now, Aoun appears to have become “the new opposition” to the status-quo, to corruption, to sectarian politics, etc., i.e. he is the real paradigm shift in Lebanon’s politics.

    Having a handful of previous Syrian cronies on his list doesn’t make him pro-Syrian. Aoun said last week: “I spent 15 years in exile, is it sensible that I strike a deal with a country that just left Lebanon and a regime that is falling apart. Does it make sense?” He astutely brought the last few remaining ex- pro-Syrian softies together so they don’t go stray and do more damage elsewhere; so he is controlling them now.

    It is also worthy to note that not all those that voted for Aoun and his list are FPM’ers; they were just patriotic and related to the man’s honesty and real patriotism. Let’s dispel this myth one more time: you don’t have to be a Free Patriotic Movement member to have voted for Aoun or to support him. This message also applies for the Northern voters.

    We owe Aoun a lot of respect because he is the only leader that was elected because of what he did and what he believes in, not because of who he is, where he came from or who his parents were.