Monday, September 27, 2010

Sects and the City

By Karl Sharro
Republished with permission from Karlremarks

In my post ‘Hariri / Hezbollah: in search of a new division of labour’ I argued that the climate of fear being created in Lebanon today is a noisy background for the upcoming deal that will seal a power-sharing arrangement between the main political camps under a renewed Syrian patronage. I closed that post by saying ‘we, as always, remain as spectators in all of this.’ This isn’t a call for disengagement and cynicism about politics; on the contrary it’s a call for the Lebanese people to reject all the secret deals being made without our participation. But how can we express our political will in this crucial period as we watch the blatant abdication of responsibility by Lebanese leaders?

Firstly, we need to recognise that our current predicament is a product of our inability to banish sectarianism from our political interactions. Sectarianism is not a secondary feature of the Lebanese political system; it’s the main constituent that manifests itself in confessional arrangements. And five years on from the ‘Cedar Revolution’ we need to recognise that the events that followed it have contributed to the strengthening of sectarian leaderships.

It might have seemed at the time that seeing Samir Geagea and Walid Jumblatt together meant that we’ve opened a new chapter in our history. Far from it, the alliances that were created after the assassination of Hariri were explicitly set up as coalitions between sectarian groups. This is as true of the Geagea – Hariri alliance as it is of the Aoun – Hezbollah front. The cumulative effect of all those sectarian arranged marriages was a further erosion of any potential for secular politics. It’s not by coincidence that the assassinations that followed targeted some of the leaders that did not have sectarian affiliations.

Given the centrality and importance of Beirut to national politics, it has increasingly become the main battleground for sectarian confrontations. I don’t mean by that only the skirmishes in ‘mixed’ areas such as the Burj Abi Haidar incident, but the whole range of political manifestations starting with the March 8th and 14th demonstrations to the Riad El-Solh camp to May 7 events. It’s time that we see all those events for what they were: displays of the sectarian power struggles that further eroded any possibility of national unity.

Today we are astoundingly still being asked to choose between the two camps that have contrived to create and sustain a poisonous atmosphere of mistrust and animosity over the past five years. In other words, we are being asked to contribute to our own self-destruction and supply the fuel for the battles that precede settlements between sectarian leaders. Isn’t it time that we reject those offers for assisted suicide?

As a reader observed on my previous post, we should learn the lessons of our history of power-sharing arrangements which had devastating consequences at every juncture. She reminds us that the nation came into being in 1943 on the back of such an arrangement and set a precedent that still prevails until today. She however chose to close with a pessimistic message: “In the midst of this turmoil I prefer to stick to this anecdotal rule -- better bear the repercussions of a divorce rather than live in a household of quarrelling parents.”

But I would rather be optimistic, there’s no point to politics otherwise. Had I been a fan of political theatre, I would have called for us to marsh on Beirut and protest against the cynical attempts at creating an atmosphere of fear and against the deal that will be agreed without our approval. This would be one way to reclaim Beirut and challenge the sectarian hold over our national politics. But I fear that the sectarian machines are much more adept and prepared for those mass displays than the rest of us.

The end of this era of Lebanon’s history is an opportunity to develop alternative forms of politics that are grounded in secularism and aspirations not sectarianism and fear. But while we organise and prepare for that, we should realise that any choices we make between the two camps are inevitably choices between sectarian coalitions. Let’s start by rejecting the calls to choose the least disagreeable option. And, for God’s sake, let’s stop believing the fear scenarios that come straight out of 50s B-movies. You have my personal guarantee; there aren’t 3000 members of Hezbollah with ‘long beards and long nails’ hiding in chalets in Christian areas.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

رجل الأمن

خالد برّاج
في روايته بعنوان "سيرة رجل حقير" يستعرض الكاتب الفرنسي ديديه داينيكس حياة رجل أمن فرنسي عاصر مراحل و محطات أساسية من تاريخ فرنسا الحديث.

فمن زمن الإحتلال النازي خلال الحرب العالمية الثانية مروراً بقيام الجمهورية الخامسة و ثورة الطلاب عام 1968 وصولاً إلى إنتخاب الإشتراكي فرنسوا ميتران رئيساً للجمهورية عام 1981 يظهر كلمان دوبريه (بطل الرواية) كموظّف عادي, لا تعنيه السياسة لا من قريب و لا من بعيد يضع في خدمة مرؤوسيه في مختلف الإدارات و الحقبات ذكاءه و دهاءه الخارقين للحفاظ على النظام السياسي القائم, فهو رجل بوليس في الوحدات الخاصة خلال الإحتلال النازي لفرنسا مهمِته الأساسية إلقاء القبض على اليهود و أعضاء المقاومة الفرنسية و تسليمهم إلى السلطات الألمانية و هو أيضاً المحافظ على أسس و إستمرارية الجمهورية الخامسة خلال سنوات حكم الرئيس شارل دوغول من خلال ملاحقته الشيوعيين و أعضاء جبهة التحرير الوطني خلال الثورة الجزائرية و صولاً إلى قمع ثورة الطلاب عام 1968 و التضييق على الشيوعيين و الإشتراكيين خلال السبعينات بعد توقيع إتفاقية البرنامج المشترك بين الحزبين الشيوعي و الإشتراكي عام 1972.

يستخدِم بطل الرواية (كلمان دوبريه) جميع الأساليب المعروفة (تعذيب – ترغيب – رشوة – إغتيال إلخ...) لإتمام مهامه كرجل مخابرات يحاول الدفاع عن النظام السياسي في شتّى المراحل و هو لا يشكِك بالنظام القائم لأنّ فلسفته نابعة من أنّ رجل الأمن يُنجِز مهامه بمعزل عن السياسة فالأمن في خدمة النظام السياسي القائم, فإن كان نظام الماريشال بيتان يوصي بإلقاء القبض على اليهود فيجب تنفيذ ذلك و إن كان النظام الجديد فيما بعد يضمن الحرِية الدينية للأفراد و المجموعات فيجب العمل على المحافظة على هذه الحرِية.

لكنّ كلمان دوبريه رجل مخابرات فريد من نوعه إذا ما قارنه مع رجال مخابرات آخرين لا سيّما في دول العالم الثالث و بالأخص في العالم العربي, فهو بالرغم من سطوته, إجرامه و سيطرته الأمنية لم يلجأ إلى الإنتفاع المادي من خلال وظيفته, ظلّ مردوده المادي الوحيد خلال عمله في مجال المخابرات راتبه الشهري و هو يفتخِر بأنّه خلال 40 عام من العمل البوليسي/ الإستخبراتي لم يستغِل منصبه لتحسين وضعه المادي أو الإجتماعي و هي صورة مغايرة لرجال المخابرات في عالمنا العربي إذا ما أردنا المقارنة مع بطل الرواية, فالبرغم من وجه الشبّه الخاص بأساليب المخابرات القمعية و الوحشية و التي هي مشتركة بطبيعة الحال بين بطل الرواية و معظم رجال المخابرات فإنّ الفرق الأول أنّ كلمان دوبريه " رجل الأمن" كان في خدمة النظام القائم و السياسة العامة المتبّعة بينما في معظم دول العالم الثالث و العالم العربي النظام السياسي هو في خدمة الأمن و تُبنى الأنظمة (و قد بُنِيت) بالشكل المعكوس: الأمن أولاً – الدستور ثانياً – السلطات الدستورية في خدمة الأمن ثالثاً – المجتمع المدني رابعاً ممّا يعطي مجالاً واسعاً للأمنيين (العسكر و المخابرات إلخ...) للتدخُل في الحياة السياسية و فرض رؤيتهم على المجتمع و على المُنتخبين وصولاً إلى السيطرة الكلِية على الحياة السياسية من خلال الأمن.

أمّا الفرق الثاني فهو الإنتفاع المادي من المنصب الأمني, كلمان دوبريه لم يستغِل منصبه الرفيع ليزيد من حجم مدخوله الشهري و هو لم يبتزّ أو يهدِد رجال الأعمال و التجّار و الإقتصاديين ليشارك في صفقة هنا أو هناك أو التطفُل على مشروع تجاري مُربِح, ظلّ كما هو خلال فترة عمله يحافظ على النظام القائم بإستخدام الأساليب المخابراتية القذرة و الحقيرة (و لذلك هو رجل حقير) لمنفعة إستمرارية النظّام السياسي القائم دون التفتيش عن منفعة شخصية سوى ترقيته الطبيعية في السُلَم الوظيفي خلال فترة عمله.

لا تختلف أساليب رجال الأمن (خصوصاً المولجين الحفاظ على الأمن الداخلي للبلاد و ليس الخارجي) عن بعضها البعض في مُعظم أقطار العالم و هي أساليب رخيصة و حقيرة و وحشية مُبررها الدائم الحفاظ على الأمن و إستمرارية الدولة (أو النظام؟) لكن الفرق شاسع بين رجالنا الأمنيين (أي في العالم العربي) الذين ينتفعون مادياً (صفقات بأرقام خيالية, إبتزاز لمشاركة رجال أعمال بمشاريع تجارية إلخ...) بحكم موقعهم و معظم رجال الغرب الأمنيين الذين يخدمون النظام كموظفِين حكوميين مرادهم الوحيد الحفاظ على النظام القائم و الإنتفاع بالترقية الوظيفية و تعويضات نهاية الخدمة.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Coffee with Jameel El Sayyed

Jameel El-Sayyed may have the right to be angry if he was indeed framed for the assassination of Rafik Hariri. He has the right to express his anger in private and in public while seeking appropriate retribution through legal means; a process he had anyway initiated through Syrian courts.

What is less acceptable is for him to turn his vendetta into the main flashpoint for further conflict on the Lebanese scene. His unrelentless confrontational campaign to drag humiliating concessions out of Hariri  can only lead to one outcome: further sectarian bloodshed. General Sayyed is no Hugo Chavez and will not be spontaneously carried on the shoulders of jubilant youths whatever the efforts of Hezbollah and their compromised allies.  His adoption of of a Mother Theresa stance while he claims the status of 'special victim' to the 'special tribunal' is of bad taste at best.  He accuses his tormentors of the 'political use of the judiciary' when no individual symbolised the paranoia of the post-war years (1991-2005) better than him. His name was synonym with the style of intimidation and manipulation nurtured by the Syrian apparatus in Lebanon. 'Having Coffee with Sayyed' or one of his subordinates was understood by every Lebanese as one invitation to avoid...if at all possible.

Now on a personal level, I have reached a point where I am no longer least interested in who did kill Hariri. How could I, when his own son exonerated the same people he initially accused; when the proceedings are yet to produce any results; when the credibility of most witnesses has been questionned and when numerous gratuitous killings have marred the last 5 years without any significant manifestation of justice.  The responsibility for the confusion generated by the tribunal should be equally placed at the doors of the ineffective PR machine attached to it and the incredible stupidity of the March 14th sycophants bankrolled by Hariri who have failed miserably at projecting a consistent message to the Lebanese public. These same characters now specialise in the exchange of vile language with the likes of Kandeel, Wahhab and Michel Samaha.

The heightened anxiety is now over the future of the country amidst growing signs of an unbridgeable Sunni-Shiite rift. The Christian figures' main role is one of surrogates when things get too heated and the need to reestablish a semblance of political legitimacy for the hatred is acutely felt. Their absence from the recent efforts at calming the tension, which exclusively involved Berri and Jumblatt is the latest sign of a waning influence over the course of events. This state of affairs seems to have been best picked up on by Suleiman Frangieh who is determined to rebrand himself as a moderator with the hope of emerging as a safety raft for the Christian community in the face of looming regional monsoons.

All in all a bleak picture for the months to come. Unless for a radical regional shake-up, we might soon reminisce with affection over the days of the Pax Syriana and 'coffee with Sayyed'.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Pastor, the Book and the President

On 18th November 1978, a 'Pastor Jones', Jim Jones this time, led 909 indiviudals to their death, by self-poisoning in the jungle of Guyana. These events shook the US and raised questions over the danger of extreme religious cults and the risk of them drifting into tragedy. But America is America and religious freedoms are sacro-saints, except maybe when it involves a Muslim praying centre in the vicinity of the World Trade Centre site.

In 2010, a Pastor Terry Jones, who manages to get 50 people to attend his sermons on a good day (12 on a bad day), made the headlines around the world as he threatened to burn the Koran in public. It prompted reactions from Western leaders, calls for the Catholic pope to interfere and then negotiations involving a muslim cleric who turned up at the site of the 'Dove World Outreach Centre' and smiled uncomfortably in front of makeshift banners cursing his religion. The US President looked even more uncomfortable as he spoke sheepishly to Terry Jones through the media asking him ro refrain from carrying out his threat.

And Threat it is! While maybe not an act of violence in itself, the burning of a book deemed Holy by millions across the world at a time of conflict of tension carries in it an inherent symbolic violence and the potential for the loss of lives through international repercussions, as highlighted by Gen. David Petraeus.

Many commentators have questionned how such an insignificant, most likely unstable character, managed to effectively hold the world at ransom. The answer is multilayered  and once scrutinised Terry Jones and his group become irrelevant. Successive US administrations have failed to engage the 'other' effectively and to inform their own public of the nuances in Islam. The media, right wing or other, have built a paranoid vision of a world populated by unruly barbarians with a completely separate set of values inconsistent with the modern world.  There has been no shift in the understanding of long-held grievances in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Israeli perspective is still accepted as fact in the circles of power and arguably beyond them. Iraq and Afghanistan figure in the American unconscious as dirty smelly deserts where 'our boys' get killed by faceless terrorists. In essence, Samuel Huntington's clash of civilisations has been manufactured where it failed to materialise spontaneously.

On the other hand, The main tool in Terry Jones's new found influence is the risk of indiscriminate violence from some Muslim fundamentalists in response to his action. These groups maintain a firm grasp over the imagery associated with Islam and that is projected to the rest of the world. Their resorting to violence at the first hint of an external insult to their belief system seems tolerable or at least excusable to many moderate Muslims (See the Cartoon affair a few years back). Many fearing the repercussions branded Jones a 'Zionist' who is  deliberately trying to create a rift between Islam and Christianity. This type of rationalisation is unhelpful as it again gives political weight to the  action of an eccentric individual and shifts the blame onto a third party. The responsibility on Muslims to also try and understand the place that such man has in the so called Christian realm is brushed aside. Some raised the question: Would the Catholics threaten mass murder in response to the burning of the Bible. A fringe element might consider and act upon justifiable anger and outrage but the wider community would reject it outright.  This discrepancy shows that Muslim societies are yet to confront their own demons but the politico-religious leadership is lacking in the context of internal divisions and the use of devoutness as an indicator of righteousness in an otherwise bleak social, economical and political horizon.

The Terry Jones affair is not yet closed. The risk of copycat behaviour is highly likely and the blackmailing of an already embattled Obama can only herald the return of an intolerant America that never really went away. Jones should be allowed to burn any books he likes in his backyard with his group of misfits and suffer whatever consequences in this life or the other. This should have never become an issue for the rest of us. Unfortunately we are now past that point.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

'Sorry' seems the easiest word

Another cycle in the betrayal of the Lebanese people is underway if we are to believe the media reports.

In undermining further the credibility of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), Hariri junior is revealing a steady learning curve on the Lebanese political gameboard. His prime mentor and advisor is no doubt the Lebanese Machiavelli himself,  Mr Walid Joumblatt. The latter had laid the foundation for this turnaround by reflecting a few weeks back on his handling of his own father's assassination back in 1977. He regretted the dozens of Christian casualties sacrified in order to appease the grief of the Druze community and indirectly praised his own wisdom in taking the conciliatory approach towards the Syrian regime. The fact that his ultra-pragmatism did little to shorten the civil war or reduce its devastating effect is brushed aside in favour of a rose-tinted assessment of the Beyk's  political performance thus far.

Apologies are warranted. (For once I agree with Michel Aoun). Some still have flashbacks of the Cedar revolution with its scarves and flags, its hugs and handshakes, its speeches and anthems. Now, the tenors of the March 14th coalition are urging their audience to relegate these images to the the status of historical archive. The sum result is another generation sinking into the mindset of cynicism and the rejection of politics.

Hariri did not have to take this course of action. He would not be blamed for having a suspicion even if he and others have failed to prove it to the Lebanese people. His father's assassination came at a time of conflict with the Baath regime. The operation was well-planned  and professionally carried out. It was not the fruit of some unstable mind and the fact that five years later no obvious leads have been identified only confirms this point. Of course Syria is not the only possible perpetrator, but would rationally be included on the list of 'usual suspects' given its past record in Lebanon. The accusation levelled at Syria was political but the first-hand rejection of it is also a political one.

What puzzles me is the insistence of some on claiming an empty victory and rejoicing that Hariri now joins the camp of  the 'we have no idea who killed a prime minister and a number of public figures since 2005'. We live in a country where politicians get assassinated for their opinions and where others spend incredible time and energy on clearing a past occupier of any responsibility.  I can only describe this state of affairs as the communal praise of ignorance. There lies the real tragedy of Lebanon!