Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Zeid Hamdan and General Suleiman: The Authoritarianism of Fragile Egos (or vice versa)

Karl Sharro

Republished with permission from Karlremarks. Follow him also on twitter @Karlremarks.

Message from Zeid Hamdan in prison: 'Dear friends, I am now in the prison of the police station of the palace of justice in Beirut because of my song "General Soleiman". They are prosecuting me for defammation of President Soleiman. I dont know, until when I am staying in prison. Please mobilize!'

The Lebanese musician Zeid Hamdan, recently back from participating in the Shubbak Festival in London, sent this message from his detention cell in Beirut earlier today. Shubbak was intended as a 'window on contemporary Arab culture', the bitter irony is that this incident has now given an all too realistic view of the contemporary culture of repression and arbitrary use of power in Lebanon. The song in question, General Suleiman, is a light-hearted reggae number that has has provoked the humourless authorities to go after Zeid Hamdan, in all likelihood for the 'offence' of demeaning the position of the President of the Republic. This archaic residue of the French mandate period has often been used by the authorities to clamp down on the freedom of expression.

Last year I reviewed General Suleiman, and I may have been too harsh on the borrowed imagery in the video clip and the soft satire it employed. Zeid explained at the time that the idea for the song came out of the political frustrations of the power vacuum that the country experienced, and how he saw the election of General Suleiman as a positive step. The song is in fact is a plea for change, for stability, for normalcy. As a result of the authorities' incompetence, lack of humour and heavy-handedness, perhaps it will now spark a genuine drive for change. The reaction to the detention has been swift, the news travelled very quickly and protest will hopefully follow very soon.

While it's tempting to defend Zeid on the basis that the song isn't actually offensive, I think this is the wrong approach. What we need to defend here is the freedom of expression, without qualifications, and push for abolishing the archaic laws that provide the legal basis for such arrests. No politician or public figure should be beyond critique, and they shouldn't be allowed to use those laws in a desperate bid to gain the respect that their political record hasn't gained them. The role of art and music isn't to flatter the fragile egos of insecure public figures. Let's say a resolute no to these forms of intellectual intimidation and fight for our freedom to offend the clique of fools that is ruling us.

Join the Free Zeid page on facebook.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Premier League Guide to Lebanese Politics.

Karl Sharro

Republished with permission from Karlremarks. Follow him  also on twitter @Karlremarks.

Lebanese politics can appear confusing to the outside observer. Indeed, most of the time, it appears confusing to the inside observer. However, Lebanese politics has inherent logic and rules and, once those are grasped, following it can offer hours of entertainment for the whole family. In an effort to demystify some of the conceptual and technical aspects of Lebanese politics, I offer you the Premier League Guide to Lebanese Politics. It’s a handy metaphorical guide that will help you tell the difference between a Jumblatt and a Aoun, and answer questions like why they can never be on the same side.

But what do Lebanese politics and the English Premier League have in common, I hear you ask? Simple, it’s all about the relaxed rules about foreign ownership and player transfers. Like the Premier League, most parties in Lebanon are financed by foreign owners who are mostly connoisseurs that invest heavily in their hobby. Lebanese politicians are very pragmatic about their affiliations, and can often be convinced to switch sides. Lebanese politics is also divided into competition seasons and periods of rest during players assess their performance and the tourists are allowed to come for the summer.

So let’s find who’s who in Lebanese politics:

Hezbollah: Hezbollah are the Manchester United of Lebanese politics. They were around for a while, but didn’t become really successful until they found the right manager, their own Alex Ferguson. Under his leadership, they acquired a winning touch and they’ve done very well since he took the helm. Many others are jealous of their successes and want to end their dominance. Like Man U, their fans don’t like Americans.

The Future Movement: Future are the ‘blues’ of Lebanese politics. They also are bankrolled by a tycoon and have had some success in recent years, but not enough to meet their expectations. They’ve managed to lure players from other teams often, but they haven’t all been good signings. They also experimented with young and inexperienced managers.

The Lebanese Forces: The Lebanese Forces are the Liverpool of Lebanese politics. They were successful in the 80s, but then they spent years in the shadows. Like Liverpool, they brought back their manager from the 80s in hope of finding the winning formula. He spent years away from the game for personal reasons.

The Free Patriotic Movement: Had Blackpool not been relegated, it would have been the perfect equivalent of the FPM. Both like the colour orange and both are led by loud-mouthed, hot-headed individuals who seem to speak their own language. Both Blackpool and the FPM have bigger ambitions than their resources and skills merit. However, since Blackpool were relegated last season, this analogy doesn’t actually work.

Walid Jumblatt: Walid Jumblatt is the ‘libero’ of Lebanese politics. He has a classic sweeper’s ability to ‘read the game’ and anticipate the opponent’s movements. His own movements are impossible to predict. Like Ashly Cole, he has switched sides between red and blue teams, but he doesn’t have Cole’s commitment and sense of loyalty.

The National Bloc: Arsenal. Both are led by men who are more comfortable when speaking French and nobody takes either seriously.

A Second part will follow soon. Help complete the guide and send your own suggestions.