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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

This blog is moving! Update your bookmarks!

From Beirut to the Beltway is moving.

From now on, you can access the blog at the following address:


It's a brand new site,with added features, such as the newswire, which has live news feeds.

Please update your bookmarks and newsreaders.

To subscribe to the new site's feed, use this (Atom). There is also an RSS feed.

I hope you enjoy the new site. I welcome your comments and suggestions.

As for this blog, I was able to transfer all my posts, but not the comments. I will not delete this blog, so you will be still able to access the posts and their comments. But there will be no posting activity here as of today.

Thank you. Don't forget to bookmark the new site.


Sunday, February 19, 2006

Aoun the national painkiller

One of the immediate effects of the February 14 rally was the reinvigoration of the campaign to oust Lahoud. Another effect was felt today, when Michel Aoun and the Lebanese Forces agreed on a "consensus candidate" for the vacant Baabda-Aley seat.

In his press conference today, Aoun was less belligerent than ever. His apparent victory in imposing his "consensus candidate" could be seen as the first of many deals to come with the March 14 grouping, who need Aoun's support on the presidency issue.

March 14 will find Aoun's offer hard to refuse. Here's what he is proposing: Elect me. I have an understanding with Hizbullah, others such as Boutros Harb don't. And if you don't agree with me, there is always parliament and the cabinet to resolve conflicts.

Since his return from exile, Aoun has been trying to repackage himself as the only available candidate. With FPM politicians still describing 1559 as a resolution serving "Lebanon's interests and independence", it is hard to believe that the FPM would risk alienating its base by giving it all to the pro-Syrian factions.

The jury is still out on how much Tuesday's rally, the understanding with Hizbullah, and other pandering to pro-Syrian parties, have cost Aoun on the Christian street. But one thing is certain. Aoun has successfully positioned himself as the only viable presidential candidate. Despite the momentum gained from Tuesday's rally, March 14 will not be able to sell any other candidate to Hizbullah and Amal, unless their plan is that of an all-out collision with the Shia parties and Aoun's FPM, which I find unlikely, despite Jumblatt's fiery speeches.

The March 14 grouping is also desperately trying to take care of last year's unfinished business, beginning with Lahoud's removal. And if one of their mistakes last year was in alienating Aoun, I think they will go out of their way to win him back. That is not to say Aoun does not need March 14. The Tuesday protests sent him a strong message that he cannot pursue his presidential project by ignoring the March 14 crowd.

Now that both Aoun and March 14 need each other more than ever, my guess is that a deal on the presidency will soon be reached between the two camps. The agreement on Dakkash was a sign that such a deal is possible. And with Hizbullah and Amal already denouncing the plan to remove Lahoud, calling it a "threat to the Shia community", a compromise Aoun presidency seems like the only option available to March 14.

In less than a year, Aoun transformed himself from an aggressive anti-Syrian antibiotic of sorts into a national painkiller. He is not always effective, but the country needs temporary relief from the pain that's tearing it apart. Those banking on deals between the current leaders to heal the country will be disappointed. There is a lot to be done, including corrective legislative action, a new electoral law, and a comprehensive development plan for those parts of the country where government is both absent and being absented.

Friday, February 17, 2006

British Islamist goes to Lebanon to fight holy war

To Whom It May Concern in the Lebanese government:

Read this:

Quoted from The Sun (do take it with a grain of salt):

THE organiser of London’s Muslim cartoon protests has gone abroad to fight holy
war — leaving taxpayers to foot the bill to keep his family.

Anjem Choudary, 38, walked out on Rubana Akhgar to launch a new Islamic fundamentalist group in Lebanon.

But his wife will not have to worry about money when he’s gone — she gets £1,700-a-month in state handouts.

And Choudary himself raked in thousands in benefits for years while plotting to destroy British society.

Rubana, 34, was heartbroken after he followed his evil hero Omar Bakri to Lebanon.
Choudary returned to organise the Danish Embassy outrage, where protesters carried banners proclaiming: “Behead Those Who Insult Islam.”

He found time to visit Rubana, sons Luqman, six, and Hediyah, one, and daughter Bintanjan, eight, amid fury over the protests.

But he left his Muslim wife in tears by vowing to go back to Lebanon soon to accelerate his campaign of “Jihad”.

She told a friend: “We wanted him to stay but there’s nothing I can do to stop him. He’s thrown himself into leading this new Muslim group and doesn’t live here any more. We will miss him but we’ll be OK on housing benefit and income support.”

Rubana gets around £1,000-a-month housing benefit, £360 income support, £160 child benefit and £192-a-week child tax credits.

Her husband claimed £202-a-month income support until last September.

Choudary — son of a Kent market trader — has plunged himself into leading Al-Ghurabaa, a group which preaches to young Muslims and verbally attacks Western democracy.

He used to help poisonous preacher Bakri run the now defunct extremist group Al Muhajiroun, which wants to turn Britain into an Islamic state.

Lawyer Choudary quit his job at a London solicitor’s firm after being seduced by Bakri’s twisted creed. He claimed thousands in income support, job seeker allowance and housing benefit.

The bearded fanatic first achieved notoriety in 2001 by describing the September 11 bombers as “heroes”.

He hit the headlines again in 2003 after calling the Colombia Space Shuttle disaster “an act of God” and saying Muslims would not be shedding any tears.

Choudary sparked fury by defending the embassy protests over the Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed earlier this month. He crowed to Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman that Britain belongs to Allah.

Choudary has been staying with his British-born wife and their children for several days at their rented ground-floor flat in East London.

Most of his trips out have been with his family to the local mosque. He now wears an unkempt beard and traditional Shalwar Kameez robes.

Quizzed outside the home yesterday, Choudary warned sternly: “You’ve made a big mistake coming here.”

IN BEIRUT, Bakri has warned Britain could be the target of another terror attack as a result of the cartoon row.

Bakri fled Britain last summer amid calls for him to face treason charges.
It is bad enough Bakri is allowed to roam freely in Lebanon, but now that we suspect that his companion plans to join him to "accelerate Jihad", can you dispatch someone to investigate?


Concerned Lebanese blogger.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Nasrallah and national consensus

The year is 2006. It has been six years since Israeli soldiers completed their humiliating withdrawal. In those six years, the situation in Lebanon went to worse. The Syrian regime tried to consolidate its grip over the country, killing everyone who stood in its way, including Rafik Hariri and a slew of journalists and political figures. In 2005, more Lebanese than ever before realized that the Syrian regime is an equal if not bigger threat to their stability than Israel. Those Lebanese live in the present. They are aware of past Israeli crimes, but they are not so stupid as to ignore current Syrian atrocities.

Enter Lebanon’s living fossil:

Hassan Nasrallah, who has just received a fresh shipment of weapons via Syria, said that “the resistance does not need a national consensus to exist,” and that ”the party weapons are purchased to confront the Zionists who want to harm our nation."

He will continue to override Lebanese institutions until a “clear defense strategy” is formulated.

“Our resistance will go on until a clear strategy to defend Lebanon is formulated," he said.

And Aoun agrees with him.

Nasrallah added that the memorandum of understanding with Gen. Aoun demands that a defense strategy to protect Lebanon should be set forward by the Lebanese.
Nasrallah of course is bluffing the Lebanese people. Such a strategy, to be viable and sane, would have to involve the Lebanese army, not a militia. It would require centralized government control over war and defense matters. It would require a clear set of national security objectives, which would negate the existence of a “party” such as Hizbullah. Lebanon is not Iran, and defense matters cannot be delegated to a militia. We don’t need a Basij. Not even Syria does it this way.

Nasrallah’s defense strategy “does not need national consensus”, he insolently added (even though it has to be "set by the Lebanese"). But all other matters, such as an international tribunal to bring criminals to justice, the widening of a criminal investigation into ACTUAL terrorist attacks on the country—these matters REQUIRE national consensus, according to the Party of God. I mean Hizbullah suspended its participation in the government because of alleged “lack of national consensus”. And now Nasrallah wants to exclude from that his weapons. Correction. He never really cared about consensus. What with his constant derision of the “imaginary majority”, and calling popular speeches embraced by hundreds of thousands recipes for civil war.
Nasrallah warned that some of the speeches made at Tuesday's rally to mark to the first anniversary of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination could lead to a civil war. He said that the language used by some speakers aimed at escalating the situation, in reference to Druze leader Walid Jumblat's comments at the Feb. 14 rally held at Martyrs' Square. Nasrallah called for dialogue among the Lebanese and considered Hizbullah's offer for unconditional dialogue a concession by the Shiite group.
This is Hizbullah for you. A civil war, in its dictionary, takes place when there is no dictator running the country and using it in a proxy fight against humanity’s alleged perpetual enemy, Israel. Dialogue with other Lebanese is a “concession.”

I have to give Aoun one thing. If it weren’t for his cozying up to it, Hizbullah would probably be in dangerously desperate isolation. I don’t envy him though. It must not feel nice to be Hizbullah’s buffer against the rest of Lebanon.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

One million and an alliance

Future TV and Naharnet estimated around a million Lebanese filled Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut today to commemorate the killing of Rafik Hariri. One year ago exactly I woke up at the same time I did today and read the news of an explosion in downtown Beirut. Less than an hour of anguish later, I and millions of others learned the news of his death by a powerful bomb in the very quarter of the city he rebuilt.

Today is a day of remembrance that comes after much disillusionment. As I watch hundreds of thousands waving Lebanese flags, albeit with less purpose than a year ago, I can’t help but wonder: now what?

When Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblatt and Samir Geagea held hands and addressed the crowds directly, it became clear they were seeking a mandate for a stronger and more potent alliance. A response of sorts to Hizbullah and Aoun that drew sharp political boundaries. In his speech, Jumblatt accused Bashar of being a terrorist, and demanded the Lebanese army be sent to the border region and the southern suburb. Saad said there will be no compromises.

The hope is that this renewed alliance, which should no longer go by "March 14", will stand up for Lebanon through action and not just words.

Update: Naharnet has summaries of the key speeches in English. (Saad's, Jumblatt's, Geagea's)

Update 2: An-Nahar has an excellent set of pictures here. (pdf)

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Daily Star does Syrian propaganda

To commemorate the first anniversary of the Hariri assassination, the Daily Star, Lebanon' s "top English-language paper", published a "first person" opinion article by none other than Bouthaina Shaaban, Syrian propagandist and co-conspirator against Lebanon and its people.

With Lebanon still reeling from Syrian terrorism and destabilization tactics, the latest of which was a Syrian sponsored Islamist attack on Christians, the Daily Star goes to Syria for some propaganda under the title "Islamophobia: A second Holocaust in the making."

Shaaban basically emulated an Iranian revolutionary guard "commander" who said last week that democratically elected German chancellor Angela Merkel "thinks she's Hitler."

Germany, once again, apologizes for the Holocaust and is willing to do what it takes to redeem itself - even if it was financing a second Holocaust against the Palestinian people...

It seems like a new crusade has started against Arabs and Muslims in the wake of September 11, 2001, led by neo-European Nazism. The victims are no longer the Jews, but Muslims spread over Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan, and anywhere around the globe.

The wars, bombings and secret prisons where suspect Muslims are tortured and killed are but few aspects of the "crusade" U.S. President George W. Bush launched. Was it not for so much contradictory evidences, we could have passed it for another of his many misfortunate slips of the tongue.

It gets better. Here it comes:
Along a number of unjustified wars, sanctions and pressure policies against Arab and Muslim countries, intensive media campaigns rally to deform the face of Muslims and Islam. Even as citizens of Western democracies, Muslims find themselves subject to legal and political acts of hatred and harassment.
Yes, Shaaban's Syria is part of the crusade against Islam. This makes us, Lebanese people who want justice, crusaders bent on destroying Muslims everywhere. Never mind that Shaaban's master and his father before him killed and jailed more "Muslims" than an actual crusade.

Shaaban then launches a tirade against Denmark, "the country heading the spear of hatred against Islam and Muslims." WHERE IS JUAN COLE? One of his idiotic posts claimed there is no evidence that Syria and Iran were inciting riots. To prove that, he said he looked in FBIS (the CIA's media monitoring database) and Lexis Nexis and found no articles in the Syrian press containing "Syria and Denmark". I posted a comment correcting him, but he doesn't publish comments that prove him wrong by pointing out the levels of access in FBIS, and the fact that it is stupid to look for evidence of such incitement in the Syrian media. Or that he misspelled Condoleezza Rice's name when he said: "Condaleeza Rice is a Liar. " (Who gave him a PhD?)

More from Shaaban:
Within this context, the cartoon contest organized by Yandposten came as a natural result. Facts show that Europe is launching a new Holocaust against Muslims around the world. What is happening to Muslims in Europe today is almost identical with what the Jews suffered at the beginning of the century.
Yes, millions of Muslims in Europe are being put on trains and sent to gas chambers. Good work, Daily Star editors! Why bother intervene on the side of good journalism?

And then this jewel:

"Freedom of the press" and "freedom of expression" do not permit violating or ridiculing other people's sanctities.
Ignoring the Syrian regime crimes against the Lebanese press for a second, I will let this February 8 story from AFP answer her:
DAMASCUS, Feb 8, 2006 (AFP) - Syrian security services pressed a clampdown on dissidents this month despite their inaction in the face of violent protests outside European diplomatic missions in Damascus, a leading rights lawyer said.

On Tuesday evening, agents arrested writer Adel Fayad in the Mediterranean port of Tartus for publishing articles opposing the regime on the Internet, said lawyer Anwar Bunni, who heads the Syrian Centre for Legal Studies.

Interpreter Abdul Mughith Habab was meanwhile due in court on charges of insulting President Bashar al-Assad after being first detained a month ago for mentioning the existence of courts of exception under Syria's 43-year-old state of emergency to journalists he was working for.

Students, Ali Ali and Hussam Melhem, were also detained in Damascus 10 days ago for setting up a discussion group, Bunni added.

"The Syrian authorities are tolerating acts of violence perpetrated by demonstrators against European embassies but are severely repressing peaceful activities," he complained. He was referring to a large demonstration Saturday against the publication in Europe of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed which saw the Danish mission stormed, with serious damage done to the Chilean embassy, and the Norwegian mission also attacked.
Finally, this:

Nazis accused Jews of violence and terrorism. They launched media wars of hatred against their faith and sanctities. The result was the Holocaust; one of the ugliest crimes against humanity.
How about Syria's crimes against humanity? How about the Syrian media's war of hatred against Lebanon? What about the murder of journalists and men who dared say no to the Syrian dictator? Who are the Nazis here?

How about the Daily Star publishing this rubbish today of all days?

Freedom of speech? Not for those who kill free people. And not when the Daily Star collects donations in the name of supporting "free press in Lebanon."

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A state of citizens

…Fellow comrades in the opposition, whether you are new or veterans, take to the streets and you will hear it. You will hear with it a call for you to take the initiative for an uprising of a different kind, an uprising against the self that would - in the aftermath of the end of the Baath regime's mandate - pave the way to the building of a modern state, a state of citizens and not a state of subjects. (Samir Kassir, April 1, 2005. )
These words deserve a permanent post, and I am tempted to leave them at the top of every piece I write, for they express exactly what our country needs. Samir Kassir died a true martyr for his country. Is it strange for me to be thinking of him on the eve of the first anniversary of Hariri's assassination? No.

Rafik Hariri became a national symbol only after the Syrian regime took him out. His death fueled one of the strongest opposition forces in modern Arab history. On February 14, Lebanon lost a great yet fallible leader whose vision, though not perfect, lives on in the city that embraced him in death, as it did in life.

The continuous arrogance of the Syrian regime and its Lebanese cohorts drove Lebanese into two different camps. There were the ones who saw no hypocrisy in supporting a murderous regime that kills their fellow compatriots in the name of protecting them from a great conspiracy. Hizbullah.

And then there was the March 14 variety: the darlings of the western media, which saw in them the germs of democracy and the unprecedented will to swim against the current. These, for a short while, put their ideological differences aside to unite in calling for an end to the Baath era. The young and patriotic of them camped near where their fallible leader had fallen, and peacefully demanded change.

Freedom square. I've seen it in pictures. I was there in spirit and in unshed tears. They waved my flag and told the butchers to go home. And I watched from the comfort of my beltway home.

But my distant friends had no leaders. The speeches delivered to them by the "opposition" betrayed the spirit that carried these unpopular figures to the freedom podium. On March 14, when the line was drawn in red, white and green, Nayla Mouawad, Gebran Tueni, and Bahia Hariri could not fit the new mold. Michel Aoun called in, but the air around his words felt contrived and opportunistic.

My young revolutionaries had no real representatives. The spirit of the revolution had nobody to articulate it and translate it into a project for a new Lebanon. The Future Movement wanted to continue a project, though visionary, was ill-defined and faulty on many levels. Walid Jumblatt could not stick to one position long enough for it to gel into a project. Qornet Shahwan was ineffective and unpopular. Michel Aoun came home and pulled the plug. The reality of what was needed was overrun by posthumous myths and politics as usual.

Nobody stood there, except maybe Samir Kassir, to tell us that the agent of change had to come from us, not from them. None of the ones who borrowed our revolution taught us how to build a state of citizens, not subjects. Samir Kassir tried, but darkness soon swallowed his light. And then many of us were lost. We forgot that patriotism is hollow without a sense of civic duty towards our country and our fellow citizens. You can wave two million flags, but if you still cannot stand in line or be courteous to others and give them the same rights that you give yourself, you cannot call yourself an agent of change.

When I finally visited in October, I stood by Hariri's grave and tried to take in the leftovers of the fabled March 14 spirit. For it was there, in the pictures and the writings on the walls that guarded the undying spirits of the murdered. I felt the spirit but saw it disappear at borders set up by the guardians of the grave, who looked like they belonged to a clique and not a nation. It hit me then that part of my sadness came from my realization that the revolution had shrunk and was confined to a small area. Outside that area Lebanon seemed like a weary version of its old incomplete self. People were living in fear, bomb detectors were everywhere, and the news screamed division. Instead of the people of the revolution, I saw puppets of interests, opportunistic politicians and shadowy figures on revenge missions invading public squares and television screens. Was the revolution a myth, I asked myself? The answer came from the faces of the men and women on the wall. The spirit was there, but the message was not carried far enough. It died as soon as it reached the hands of those we let climb the podium.

It is also not normal to let this day's popular movement disperse even if it's hard to keep it at its current climax. It becomes as if it [the opposition] is telling citizens: Well done. Go home now. We will call if we need you!
That's essentially what many, especially Aoun, did. He called it off as soon as he returned to the country. For him, the popular movement expired upon his holy return, which he saw as the objective, a prelude to making himself president. The others did not behave better. Listen to Samir. He said this before the parliamentary elections but no one heard.

Meanwhile, it is unacceptable for the opposition to give itself the image of the club of candidates to parliamentary elections. Even if Lebanon's parliament needs new blood, this does not mean that under the banner of renewing political life, the opposition makes citizens feel that all opposition figures are position seekers.
They all ran, didn't they? Even though many of them weren't our choice. They clawed one another and finished off a spirit they failed to faithfully embody. We got electoral lists of old faces on newly assigned missions bigger than they can handle. They didn't trust the people to bring in new faces. They didn't trust our judgment, so they didn't bother with programs to deliver us to the shore. They wasted our time on meaningless alliances that led the country to ruin. Rafik Hariri died many times this past year. He died with every bomb from Syria, obstruction from Nasrallah and Aoun, reversal from Jumblatt, and hesitation from his own son, Saad.

But if they all, intentionally or unintentionally, forgot the revolution, why did we? Why did so many of us return to our sectarian barracks? That's because we were not true citizens of this nation. We led an uprising exclusively against the other but not against the self. And I had to stand by the grave of my fallen fallible leader to recapture an essence lost to political manipulation and national immaturity.

On February 14, we should all go back to the grave to remember the spirit we lost. Do it for nobody's sake but your own. Let it be a silent protest of one amid millions. Carry your flag near your heart and let no one but yourself speak for you. Let the silence of your protest drown their failure to represent your dreams. Lift the banner calling for change, end to terror, and birth of a new state. Let it be Samir's "uprising against the self." Find the citizen in you, not the subject. And then find the way to the "state of citizens."

Only a state of citizens can fight the enemy and win. March on, fellow citizens.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Hizbullah and the missing revolution

And you thought Sunday’s riots were scary. Hundreds of thousands of professional weepers gathered on Thursday to be manipulated by the man who thinks of himself as God’s deputy. Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the "oppressed" and official defender of Lebanon, gave himself the right to spill blood in the name of defending the prophet, but still found the act of burning a building "uncivilized".
"Defending the prophet should continue all over the world. Let Condoleezza Rice and Bush and all the tyrants shut up. We are an Islamic nation that cannot tolerate, be silent or be lax when they insult our prophet and sanctities."

"We will uphold the messenger of God not only by our voices but also by our blood," he told the crowds, estimated by organizers at about 700,000. Police had no final estimates but said the figure was likely to be even higher.
Nasrallah told Bush and Rice to “shut up” for daring to accuse Syria and Iran of inciting riots over the Mohammad cartoons, but gave himself the freedom to utter another shameless defense of the regime that killed some of Lebanon's best leaders and thinkers. I won't bother pasting what he said regarding "dragging" the country into a war with Syria.

I will say this though. The sight of hundreds of thousands of men and women rallying around this man and his party is disheartening. It tells me that many people in my home country prefer the darkness of one ideologue over the light of luminaries. Luminaries like Samir Kassir whom we lost forever. National Leaders like Rafik Hariri, Bassel Fleihan, Gebran Tueni-- who with all their faults and biases, we lost before they were allowed to act in the freedom they sought.

It is very difficult for me to watch hundreds of thousands of “Lebanese” worship Hizbullah as a national/religious entity. They are turning the Shia community into a time bomb. Nasrallah can act patriotic all he wants, but he is laying the ground for the disintegration of Lebanon into sectarian cantons. That silly agreement with Aoun will be relegated to oblivion once the masses Nasrallah is breeding find themselves forced to choose the Islamic nation over a pluralistic Lebanon.

Forgive my bleak view on the eve of February 14. But, as I have said before, Lebanon is being told to choose Hizbullah’s way, or the Beirut Damascus highway. Both lead to a country enslaved by failed causes and oppressive dictatorships. There is no future for Lebanon with Hizbullah in the game. They are simply too powerful for the country to handle. Unfortunately, the men who can make a difference are either dead or weakened by the same sectarian formula that, ironically, guarantees Lebanon’s unity.

Maybe one day all Lebanese will realize that our salvation lies not in Hizbullah, Aoun, Berri, Jumblatt, Saad Hariri or any of the "March 14" figures. It lies in the men and women of the revolution that never took place in Lebanon.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The battle for Lebanon

The Sunday riots in Lebanon became another Syrian attempt to overthrow the Siniora government and weaken the March 14 alliance. Aoun wasted no time. He seized on Christian anger over the destruction of their property and attack on their churches, and formed a counter alliance with Hizbullah that is aimed at isolating the anti-Syrian camp.

What Hariri and the main Sunni establishment naively thought would be a peaceful protest went horribly wrong. The Future Movement and Dar al-Fatwa made a fatal mistake that will probably cost them dearly in Christian circles. You just do not send hordes of angry Muslims into a Christian neighborhood to "defend" Islam and the prophet. The riots that ensued should have been foreseen. Syrian agents, Palestinians from the pro-Syrian PFLP-GC, and a number of Islamists elements from Tripoli and the Ein El Helweh refugee camps took advantage of the apparent laxity of the security forces and torched the building housing the Danish embassy, before spreading their unjustified anger to Christian churches.

Lebanese Christians were told to fear the extremist Lebanese Sunnis, who come courtesy of Saad Hariri. The Syrian smear machine has always accused Saad of supporting fundamentalists, and now the proof was presented in Ashrafieh. It is hoped that Lebanese Christians will see through these pathetic attempts to terrorize them and prostitute them to serve Syrian interests.

The strongly worded March 14 alliance statement today reflected the gravity of the situation. It came as Michel Aoun and Hassan Nasrallah were meeting in a church, where the former general continued to use his constituents as a jumping board to the presidency. The message was clear to Christians: Aoun is the only protector, and better Hizbullah than the fundamentalist Sunnis. Aoun has made his strategic choice: An alliance with pro-Syrian, Iranian-funded Hizbullah to support his presidential bid. There was no mention of the Hariri investigation or Syria's terror campaign.

The statement released by the March 14 alliance described the Sunday riots as a Syrian-engineered coup attempt to "turn Lebanon into a second Iraq." And I don’t think they were only referring to the violence and the spread of al-Qaeda types. The alliance read the Sunday events as an attempt to marginalize the Sunnis in Lebanon and put their fate in the hands of a few pro-Syrian extremist organizations such as the Syrian intelligence run al-Ahbash and the Jamaa Islamiya, as well as “al-Qaeda.”

According to the statement, Lebanon is now playing host to a group of Jordanian Islamists who have entered Lebanon and settled in the northern Akkar region. A large number of "Syrian special units" have also entered the country, accompanied by “non-Lebanese” elements from the PFLP-GC two days before the protests. Large sums of money were transferred by a “regional non-Arab state” (meaning Iran) to a number of pro-Syrian organizations and figures. And Syrian Intelligence has increased its activity and widened its presence in the north, where a large recruiting campaign is underway to build “special forces.”

For that, the March 14 alliance statement asked the cabinet to submit a complaint against Syria to the Security Council, and demand the Arab League hold an emergency session to look into this matter.

The list of demands is actually long. It includes: Lahoud’s removal; disarming all militant organizations that receive orders from the Syrian regime and intelligence, and investigate their sources of funding; sacking all security officials involved in the smuggling of arms through the borders and who have shown laxity in preventing riots.

The March 14 alliance meeting took a swipe at the Justice Minister and gave him one week to answer a list of questions regarding the fate of the investigations into the different bombings since October 2004, as well as the Madina Bank scandal and the oil for food scandal.

The most important demand, however, was asking the Lebanese government to spread its authority over all of Lebanon, send the army to the south, demarcate the border, especially in Shebaa, and “remove Palestinian weapons outside the camps, organize it inside the camps, and reject the existence of off-limit security zones on Lebanese territory.”

The March 14 alliance here is going all-out against Syria and its allies. Hopefully it is not too late. Months of wasted time spent coaxing Hizbullah and sometimes Aoun has cost them and Lebanon dearly. After the Sunday riots, Aoun and Nasrallah appeared to be pulling the rug from under their feet by announcing an alliance that reeks of hypocrisy and treason.

Reading a prepared statement, Abu Danab and Bassil stressed the importance of a national dialogue as the only way to resolve pending issues. They called for a consensus democracy to uphold the spirit of the constitution and a new modern
electoral law.

Hizbullah and FPM linked the disarmament of the Party of God to the liberation of the Shabaa Farms in response to UN Security Council Resolution 1559.

Nasrallah and Aoun, also appearing in public to cement their understanding, jointly pledged that Lebanese who had fled to Israel in the aftermath of the May 2000 liberation of the South would be treated 'fairly' by the Lebanese justice system if they chose to return home.

Aoun, for his part, renewed his demand for an audit of money spent by successive governments since the end of the war that allowed the public debt to spiral to US $38 Billion, one of the highest in the world.

In response to a question, Nasrallah said Aoun was a genuine candidate for Presidency, insinuating that the erstwhile rivals have discussed the potential successor to President Lahoud.
The above is nothing short of an attempt to rewrite the constitution to fit Hizbullah’s war goals and Aoun’s presidential aspirations. A “consensus democracy”, with undemocratic Hizbullah and opportunistic Aoun at the helm, appears like a strange hybrid of an Islamic state and a presidential democracy. One should not be fooled here. Regardless of the viability of this alliance, Aoun has just sold the country to Syria and Iran to become President. This alliance appears to be more than just between Hizbullah and Aoun. It is, for all practical purposes, with the Syrian regime. As I said above, security in Lebanon, Syria's terror campaign and the Hariri investigation were not even mentioned. Did Aoun receive guarantees from the Syrians through Hizbullah? Time will tell.

Nearly one year after the assassination of Hariri, attempts to reverse the positive changes in Lebanon are underway. Hizbullah and Aoun are now leading those efforts. With the battle against Siniora’s government now aiming to create a rift between Sunnis and Christians, the March 14 alliance and the Future Movement has to fight back not with complaints, but with action. At stake is the country’s independence and democratic future.

Addendum: My bad, the "understanding" does mention the Hariri investigation, however it does not mention it in the context of Syrian guilt. The "understanding" rejects the politicization of the investigation by Lebese elements, yet it ignores Syria's role in delaying and obstructing it, not to mention Hizbullah's shameful defense of the Syrian regime.

How does one build a modern nation on denial and "understandings" designed to keep one party's arms, and give the other party a presidency? Speaking of "consensus", where is it when a large number of MPs and Lebanese want to see Syria held accountable? Are they not part of that "consensus"? And who has been outside the consensus for the past year?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The rule of ignorance

Ignorance and his disciples invade Beirut:

With lawless breeding grounds like this, how can ignorance not spread?

These images speak for themselves. What a shame. The entire Lebanese cabinet, especially the ministers whose party sanctioned this, should resign. Condemnations are NOT enough.

UPDATE. Interior minister Hassan al-Sabaa has resigned. He reportedly submitted his resignation during an emergency cabinet meeting after coming under fire for failing to control the riots, shown above. Sabaa said that the protesters included dozens of Palestinians and Syrians, who, in addition to torching the Danish embassy, attacked the adjacent St Maroun Church.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Israeli terror in a divided nation

Ibrahim Youssef Rhayyel was found dead inside the Lebanese border on Wednesday, reportedly killed by 3 Israeli bullets, UNIFIL confirmed on Thursday. He was a 17-year-old shepherd. A shotgun was found near his body. Around the same time of the murder, an Israeli reconnaissance plane violated Lebanese airspace, flying over Tyre, Sidon, and Naameh.

The Israeli army claimed they fired at a "an armed man with binoculars [who] was seen crossing the U.N.-demarcated border. When he opened fire, Israeli soldiers responded and apparently hit him." The location of the body seems to refute that claim, even though the results of the autopsy said the boy was shot from a distance of 50 meters. There were reports in the National News Agency and in as-Safir that claimed an Israeli commando unit had infiltrated the border.

By Friday, UN secretary general still had not received UNIFIL's report confirming this was an Israeli operation.

The UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's spokesperson Stephane Dujjaric said: "The UN cannot comment on the incident until they have received a formal copy of the investigations. As far as we are concerned, the investigations are ongoing."
This cold and insensitive statement was used by Hizbullah as proof that "most of the Lebanese people, did not trust the international body to take action against Israel."

"We don't even expect them to denounce the incident," Nayef Mousawi, Hizbullah's "foreign affairs official" said, referring to the statement above. "We know how to take our rights with our own hands."

Hizbullah will probably retaliate soon. Now that Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has re-conferred the "national resistance" title upon them, paving the way for the militant organization to end its 6-week boycott of the cabinet, they will continue to act as Lebanon's only defense force against Israeli aggression.

This begs the following question. The Lebanese flag wrapped around Ibrahim’s coffin notwithstanding, must we keep the issue of retaliation to Israeli terrorism the sole property of Hizbullah? Jumblatt has reiterated his call for sending the Lebanese army to the south and reviving the armistice treaty with Israel. And yeah, settling the ridiculous Shebaa farm dispute, where the shepherd was killed. Had the issue been resolved, had there been an army in the south, then the Lebanese government’s condemnation of Israel would have found more ears in the world. And maybe Rhayyel's father would have asked the government, not Hizbullah, to avenge his son's death.

Blame Israel, blame American bias towards Israel, blame Hizbullah, blame Syria, and even blame the shameful international and UN silence, but also blame a cabinet weakened by indecisiveness. We have been demanding that Syria respect our sovereignty. We have rightly rejected Syrian plans to hijack that sovereignty. We ask the same of Israel, yet our efforts to deal with that struggle are hampered by this unwillingness to take on the issue directly. How will Israel be stopped if we don’t seem to care about establishing an official presence on the southern border? Let them try violating our airspace and killing our people with our army on the border. Then watch Lebanese rally around their national army and state, as opposed to an unrepresentative religious militia. Give Lebanese the opportunity to own and direct that struggle.

The resistance against Israel should not be run the way it is run today. It needs to involve all of Lebanon. All Lebanese should have cried at the picture of the relatives weeping over the dead boy's body. It should have had the same domestic and international impact Syrian terrorism has. However, the south continues being the property of a militia and not the Lebanese government. And Lebanon remains divided. The return of the five ministers and Siniora’s word game will do little to reunite the country, let alone stop Israel.

UPDATE. As expected, Hizbullah has retaliated. Their guerillas fired rockets at an Israeli army post in the Shebaa farms on Friday.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Aniconism and fundamentalism: the case of the Danish cartoons

Beloved "resistance" leader, fundamentalist "Khomeini Shia" cleric, the one who sanctions the butchery of Lebanese citizens because the killers support his militant honor, the esteemed by many but this blogger, the one and only wannabe deputy of the occulted Imam, Hassan Nasrallah, the head of God’s alleged party in Lebanon, has upped the ante against cartoons published in a country, which, had he not espoused an all-out Jihad, would have topped his immigration list.

Denmark, with all the cows and the milk and the sacred freedom to utter nonsense and print garbage, is now a threat to Muslims everywhere. A few badly drawn cartoons, offensive yes, but harmful no, sparked a flurry of condemnation unrivalled in the Islamic world. And Hizbullah’s contribution to this debate: murder them all.

If there had been a Muslim to carry out Imam Khomeini's fatwa against the renegade Salman Rushdie, this rabble who insult our Prophet Mohammed in Denmark, Norway and France would not have dared to do so... I am sure there are millions of Muslims who are ready to give their lives to defend our prophet's honour and we have to be ready to do anything for that.
So counter the stereotype of a murderous and jihad-obessessed prophet with a call for Jihad and murder. And top it off by attacking freedom of expression in a foreign country.
We do not understand the rationale of the Danish authorities who refuse to apologize under the pretext of freedom of expression.
And who needs freedom of expression when you can have freedom of murder?

Who tells them that this freedom is absolute? OK, if someone decided to blow himself up himself somewhere in Norway or Denmark, then he is also free to do so.
Yes, of course Nasrallah does not understand freedom of expression and confuses it with the freedom to kill, for he inhabits a totally different intellectual universe. Did the Danish paper intend this for readers in countries where Islam is a dominant faith? I think not. Did the cartoonist intend to offend Islam? Of course he did. Could he have gotten away with a cartoon doubting the Holocaust or attacking the Jewish faith? Probably not. But Orientalism and prejudice aside, who is Nasrallah to sanction the murder of Danish, French and Norwegian citizens, who live under different laws? And where is it but in the laws of religious dictatorships that governments feel responsible for the artistic actions of its citizens? For only in oppressive countries such as Nasrallah's beloved Iran and Saudi Arabia, can governments can try people for drawing lines and contours.

One should thank the Danish artists for unwittingly thwarting the attempts by Islamic religious zealots to render Islam aniconic, where all representations of living beings are prohibited, albeit the ones that glorify the leader. But perhaps their greater contribution was in not understanding that Islam prohibits the depiction of prophets and other religious figures. Correction: Sunni Arab Islam, for Persian art has plenty of miniatures depicting the prophet and his cousin, Ali. Islam might not have religious icons, but with so many leaders, Imams and religious figures immortalized in pictures and drawings, I no longer understand why it is a sin to give religious figures a human face. If that is not the idol worship that allegedly is the basis for banning pictures, I don't know what is. I bet you Muslim artists will do a better job at depicting the prophet. But that is not the problem today.

The problem lies with the people who preach and pretend to defend Islam. It’s people like Nasrallah, and ideologies like Wahabism, that have made Islam the easy victim of bad foreign art. Some in our region think that the problems in Islam started when “Muslims” could not agree on who should succeed the prophet. Yet very few, except a few luminaries in the west who enjoy the freedom to critically study the origin and development of religions, know that Islam is as much man-made as Christianity and Judaism. The religion developed in the Middle East, not Saudi Arabia as tradition claims. It was influenced and shaped by non-Muslims and Muslims alike. Hundreds of years of intellectual oppression hid the important fact that many of the traditions, including the ones cited in banning figural representation, were written to construct a religion that suited the temporal authorities. What we have today is no different. There is no attempt whatsoever to encourage Ijtihad or scholarship in the religion. We have a few old traditions rehashed and sometimes redacted to suit extremist and reactionary forces within the countries that sponsor them. And the poor people take it and don’t question any of it. Orientalism and ignorance are fought with more ignorance, fundamentalism and orientalism-in-reverse.

And the result?

Yesterday it was a call to massacre innocents, Muslims and Christians, to "defend" Islam. Today, it’s the same call albeit to terrorize the citizens of other nations, who have arguably supported the “Arab cause” more than most so-called Muslims. And it’s all done in the name of a construct that is being marketed as more than a religion, but that is being denied the opportunity to adapt and evolve. Result: more oppression and a death force that touches us all.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The French connection and how Bashar created 1559

David Ignatius in the Washington Post confirms what many of us have known before but that some out there continue to ignore: that the Hariri assassination was part of Bashar's political consolidation efforts, and that the Syrian regime is directly responsible for the rut their country is in. It wasn't an American-Zionist conspiracy, and it certainly wasn't motivated by UNSC resolution 1559, allegedly engineered by Rafik Hariri (as Joshua Landis said recently).

Let's start with a secret trip to Damascus by Gourdault-Montagne in November 2003 to see Syrian President Bashar Assad. At the time, French-American relations were still in the deep freeze because of Chirac's refusal to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq, but the French were doing some early damage control.

Gourdault-Montagne brought the Syrian leader a message from Chirac and two other critics of the Iraq war, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian
President Vladimir Putin. The message to Assad was: The war has changed things in the Middle East, and you have to show you have changed, too -- by visiting Jerusalem or taking some other bold step for peace with Israel. The French were probably hoping to gain diplomatic leverage with Washington by acting as a peace broker, but that's not how Assad took it. "Are you the spokesman of the Americans?" he asked Gourdault-Montagne. Worried that France, Germany and Russia were joining a U.S. pressure campaign, a nervous Assad soon began trying to consolidate his control over Lebanon. He forced the reelection of Lebanon's pliant pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud, and began squeezing Syria's nemesis, Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. That process culminated in Hariri's murder in February 2005.

Gourdault-Montagne began making his quiet trips to Washington in August 2004 to coordinate French-American efforts on U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, calling for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. It was in the midst of a presidential campaign, and the French were obviously hedging their bets. After Hariri's murder, Washington and Paris collaborated in forcing a Syrian withdrawal under Resolution 1559. To discourage mischief by the Shiite militia Hezbollah, Gourdault-Montagne told the Iranians during a secret visit to Tehran in February 2005 to advise Hezbollah to play it cool.
You will remember how Abdel Halim Khaddam (now silenced by the Saudis) held Bashar responsible for UNSC 1559, revealing in his Arabiya interview that Bashar had plenty of opportunities to stop the resolution but went with his plans to consolidate his power in Lebanon by extending Lahoud's term and then blaming the repercussions on Hariri, who was made to look like a traitor, when he was merely Lahoud and Bashar's perceived enemy in Lebanon.

Another important part in the article should silence all those who still think the Syrian regime is scoring victories against the US in the Security Council, or other nonsense about alleged deals.

In framing policy on Syria and Iran, the French and Americans have consciously played a good cop-bad cop routine. The Americans demand tough U.N. language; the French bring the Russians and Chinese on board for a slightly watered-down version. It's a classic diplomatic minuet, but it has probably produced tougher and better resolutions than would have emerged if either side went alone. An illustration is the compromise that came this week -- to refer Iran to the Security Council for its violations of nuclear agreements, but give Iran another month to comply before any formal recommendation. The French argue that it's crucial now to maintain international solidarity on Iran, even at the price of a brief delay. What's interesting is that the Bush administration seems to agree.

…Paris and Washington still disagree sharply on the substance of many issues, but they seem to have concluded that they'll get more of what they want if they collaborate rather than bicker. Indeed, the quiet partnership has probably benefited from the fact that the world still thinks France and America are enemies.
Bonjour to all from inside the beltway.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Landis: let them have "50 per cent justice"

In his response to my post, Joshua Landis said Saad Hariri should meet Syrian demands and accept “50 per cent justice” in order to escape being assassinated by Syria. If he accepts, Syria will allow him to return to Lebanon, where he can allegedly “continue his father’s legacy and vindicate his death by fixing an independent Lebanon.”
What is more, only Saad’s return and an end to the cabinet crisis will mean progress and prosperity for Lebanon, two things that Rafiq held higher than even his own welfare and safety. Those are the goals that Saad should be willing to sacrifice a hundred percent justice for. In the end, they are achievable and they are the ultimate recompense for his father’s death. The welfare of Lebanon is justice. That was Rafiq Bey’s goal and wish.
In other words, Saad’s unrealistic stubbornness and reliance on the US is hampering progress in Lebanon. He should instead submit to the demands of the terrorists and exchange his country’s sovereignty for his own personal safety. And as long as he behaves, Bashar Assad will not take him out.

Landis argued that this "compromise", supposedly facilitated by the Saudis, is the only realistic option available to Saad, who is being the "odd man out" in a region that is leaning towards saving the Syrian regime from collapse and economic sanctions.

The problems with Joshua’s post are many, one being a misrepresentation of the Saudi offer, which he says goes as follows:
The UN investigation will go forward and continue to isolate, embarrass, and discomfort Syria, but President Asad will not be asked to testify and presumably he and his family members will avoid conviction, and Syria will avoid UN sanctions. This is what most Middle East states seem to be pushing for and what is most likely to be the outcome of the investigation. Let us suppose that Syrian security chieftains, such as Ghazale and Juma Juma, will be convicted. Hizbullah will also be allowed to keep its arms into the immediate future, and Hariri will have to write off the remaining articles of Resolution 1559. He will also have to soften his demand for an international court even though Western leaders believe, Mehlis has stated, and most Lebanese aver that Asad ordered his father’s death.
Of course the above does not accurately reflect what is being offered to Lebanon, which was rejected by most Lebanese parties expect Hizbullah.

The proposal called for halting the Syrian attacks on Lebanon in exchange for demarcation of the border except the Shebaa farms, exchanging embassies, forming a joint Lebanese-Syrian security committee and coordinating foreign policies. The Saudis (at least the camp in Saudi Arabia favoring this so called compromise) and the Egyptians are adding to what is essentially a Syrian proposal the condition that Assad be spared the humiliation of being interrogated by the UNIIIC.

Joshua argues that by accepting what he termed as “50 per cent justice”, Syria will spare Saad’s life and Lebanon will prosper. Never mind that the country Saad would return to will be back in Syria’s orbit, and the Syrian regime will return to calling the shots and setting Lebanese policies.

Joshua also does not explain how the UNIIIC can simply skip the part about Assad’s involvement in the Hariri assassination.

I suppose what is offensive about Joshua’s post is the way he victimizes the Syrian regime and holds Lebanon responsible for Syria’s woes. For instance, it’s “Saad war with Assad.” And Saad started it: “he boxed Syria out of world affairs” so in return Syrian “boxed him out of Lebanon.” And Rafik Hariri was killed "because he supported resolution 1559, which called for the complete withdrawal of Syrian troops and the disarming of Hizbullah and an end to resistance against Israel.” So Lebanon started it, and should satisfy itself with has been achieved so far, mainly that” Syrian troops are out of Lebanon and the country is no longer occupied, which is a lot.”

So accoding to Landis' analysys, the least Lebanon can do now, which is apparently being held hostage by Saad Hariri, is to “repair its relations with Syria,” which it had screwed up in the first place. After all, Josh writes, “Syria paid a large price for Hariri’s death; it was not in vain.”

And Rafik Hariri would have approved, Joshua argues. “Hariri was never opposed to Syrian influence, as such; rather, he was opposed to Syria hindering Lebanon’s development and prosperity.” Assuming this is true, what has changed since Hariri’s assassination to convince Saad that Syria will now be working towards Lebanon’s development and prosperity? And why is it anathema to the Syrian regime for Lebanon to want to pursue those goals independently?

It is incredible how nearly identical Landis’ thinking is to the Syrian official propaganda. The Syrian press and Bashar have been telling us for almost a year now that Saad is the one sleeping with the devil, betraying his own father, and pursing anti-Syrian policies that will harm his own country’s interests. And like the Syrian press, Landis finds Michel Aoun the least objectionable, because he “distinguishes between independence and accommodating Syrian interests.”

So Joshua Landis wants Saad Hariri (note, it’s not Lebanon, it’s Saad) to forgive Bashar his crimes or risk being assassinated like his father. For no Western state now wants the regime to fall. I don’t recall Saad ever demanding regime change in Syria. In fact, this is really about Lebanese national interests, not the well being of the Syrian regime, which deserves all that is allegedly suffering. The Lebanese, Joshua thinks, risk being manipulated by the US in their conflict with Syria.

By not compromising, we Lebanese, Joshua claims, are being “unrealistic.”

My dear Josh, compromise is a two-way street. The Syrian regime has made none, while the Lebanese continue being assassinated. You said Syria paid a high price already, I say the Syrian regime (and I make this distinction) has not paid anything. Lebanon has paid in blood, Bashar had a few nightmares.

You said that the perfectionist policy of no-compromise will provoke even greater extremism in the region, and you cite elections in Iraq, Egypt and Palestine as examples. How about you apply this to the Syrian regime? Why can’t the Syrian regime compromise with the Syrian opposition? Why can’t they reduce the powers of those extremists by actually withdrawing support for radical organizations, and end the persecution and imprisonment of secular (and non secular) opposition leaders? If Syria has free elections tomorrow and the Muslim Brothers win, whose fault would that be? Whose fault was it in Egypt? If they had stronger secular and moderate parties then the outcome would have been different. Like the Egyptian regime, the Syrian regime views the natural enemies of those extremists as a threat.

And you know what? If Lebanon settles for that “50 per cent justice” you prescribe, Syria, meaning the Syrian people, will get zero justice. The only winner here is Bashar Assad, and the losers are the Lebanese and Syrian people. Is it realism to sanction the continued theft of people’s most basic rights? I think not.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Joshua Landis' commentary on Lebanon

I found Joshua Landis's commentary on Saad Hariri's visit to the US rather insulting. Joshua continues to interpret events through the Syrian regime's prism, which is unfortunate. This particular piece contained many presumptions and factual errors.

According to Landis, "Hariri wants to go back to Beirut. He will need Bush's help to do it, unless he is to accept the Jeddah formula and make peace with Bashar al-Asad and Hizbullah, which seems to be off the table for now. Junblat undercut that move quickly, but it looked as if Saad Hariri was ready to sign onto the Saudi deal and bow to Hizbullah."

Of course Joshua is conflating two separate things: the Saudi proposal to end the "crisis" between Lebanon and Syria and the Jeddah agreement to settle the cabinet crisis, which has to do with Hizbullah's status in the country. Saad may have backed out on the second after giving what could best be described as a conditional approval, but he never agreed to the Saudi proposal, which would have given Syria control of Lebanon all over again.

Of course, if you subscribe the Syrian agenda, you will be prone to mix things up like Joshua did. And I don't know where Joshua got that Saad was ready to sign Lebanon away and "bow to Hizbullah" if Jumblatt hadn't intervened. Oh wait, I think we know where that came from.
So Hariri came to Washington after Junblat and Dick Cheney scuttled the Saudi attempt to broker a truce between Shiites and Sunnis in Lebanon.
Again, the Saudi proposal is what the US shot down. It was also rejected by Siniora and the March 14 alliance, or do they not count? And when did war break out between Sunnis and Shias in Lebanon?

This is an unfortunate attempt to skirt the real issues and portray the Syrian offensive on Lebanon as a domestic Lebanese struggle between Sunnis and Shias!

And then this:

Maybe Washington will give Hariri more arms so he can fight Hizbullah?

Only in Joshua's mind is there a war between Hariri and Hizbullah that justifies this alleged need for arms! Saad might have gone to seek technical and military assistance for the Lebanese army, a national institution, but fighting Hizbullah??

If I didn't know better, I would say this commentary was an attempt to incite sectarian strife in Lebanon.

Josh continues:

The fact that regional sentiment is blowing in Asad's direction was made clear by the Saudi attempt to broker a sulha between Syria and Lebanon. It was confirmed by General Aoun's recent statement that "his Free Patriotic Movement's closest ally in Lebanon was Hizbullah, as the two held similar views with regards to reform and other internal issues.
Wait. Aoun said he had similar views with Hizbullah on INTERNAL issues, not on issues regarding a truce between Lebanon and Syria. And speaking of that, truce?? Syria needs to halt its uniltareral war, Lebanon is not conducting any war to need to negotiate a truce!

And Josh continues misrepresenting Aoun on this issue, making the General's alliance with Hizbullah and opposition to the government look like it's motivated by a rejection of Lebanese government policy on Syria! Aoun's politics may be disappointing and obstructionist, but a supporter of the Syrian regime he isn't!

And then this conclusion:

So what did Saad Hariri get from Washington that may permit him to return to Beirut? It doesn't seem like much besides words - and perhaps some arms. My guess is that Washington will have to start sending arms to show that it is willing to support Hariri with more than words. He has to be able to deliver something to his supporters to prove that Washington hasn't abandoned him. What will Washington do about Hizbullah if it won't let Hariri compromise with the militia backed party? Building up the Lebanese army is a risky strategy, but one that will have to be undertaken if Washington is going to fight "terror."
Why is building the Lebanese army "risky strategy?" And why is helping the Lebanese army part of a US policy against Hizbullah? Only in the Syrian imagination is such an attempt be interpreted as an attempt to destabilize the country and start a civil war, which is what Joshua is basically saying. Saad Hariri here appears like a traitor who is engaged in a war with the Shia in his country, and who is trying to procure US arms to fight them.

Absent from this analysis is Saad's father, Rafik Hariri, who was killed by Syria in the Syrian terrorist war that Landis keeps forgetting. Actually, Rafik was mentioned… by mistake in the first paragraph.

…Rafiq Hariri has been in Washington to meet President Bush.

Here's one of Josh's readers commenting on this Freudian slip:

Dear Josh,

Although Rafiq Hariri is dead and the person who was in Washington and at the Woodrow Wilson Institute was his son Saad, your Freudian slip makes perfect sense.Maybe the Syrian regime should adopt your line and not only deny that they killed Hariri but also deny that he is dead. The Syrian mukhabarat should start spreading rumours that Rafic Hariri was seen eating falafels at Sahyoun in downtown Beirut. And he was even seen in Israel at Lahd's restaurant.Josh you are a genius.

Bashar Assad should have invited you to attend the Arab Lawyer's conference. You could have clapped for him in Damascus instead of Washington DC and shouted at the top of your voice "I saw Rafic Hariri in Washington...He ain't...Assad you're a saint...you can bring back people from the dead".

Take Care


AUB unblocks "From Beirut to the Beltway"

AUB has finally unblocked "From Beirut to the Beltway" after I submitted a request to their computing department yesterday. An anonymous reader informed me on Wednesday that my site and a number of other Lebanese political blogs were “blacklisted” and could not be accessed via the AUB network.

AUBnet users got this message when they typed my URL:

403 AUBnet Blacklisted Site

The site you are trying to access via AUBnet was blocked by an automatic content matching process.

AUBnet relies on URLBlacklist.com, a commercially-managed URL blacklist service that provides human verified and maintained URL categorization.

Access to this site is blocked...

Target group = porn
As you can see, Beirutbeltway.blogspot.com was categorized as “porn” and was automatically blocked.

The AUB person who restored access to my blog told me that “in general, blogspot.com subdomains are all listed under http://urlblacklist.com/. However we can exempt some sites upon users' request.”

According to the company's website, URLblacklist.com allows anybody to submit requests to categorize URLs as anything from “kids time wasting” to “pornography.” Someone obviously hated my blog and tried to manipulate the system by classifying it as porn.

Urlblacklist.com claims their black list is human verified. Removing sites from that list is not easy. First you need to use their search feature to locate the site. My site could not even be found, even though, at least according to AUB, it was blacklisted!

The fact that this site was accessible before makes me believe that this was done recently. To AUB’s credit, their computing services department acted on this immediately when I notified them. I do think, however, that they should not rely on this service, which as you can see, can be easily manipulated by people with political agendas.

In any case, welcome back AUB students and faculty!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

May Chidiac to take on Aoun?

According to as-Safir today, the March 14 alliance will nominate LBC journalist May Chidiac to fill MP Edmond Naim's seat in the Baabda-Aley district. The idea was reportedly proposed by Saad Hariri and it seems to have gained the support of both both Jumblatt and Geagea. Chidiac survived an assassination attempt in September 2005. She lost an arm and leg, but apparently not her fighting spirit.

If Chidiac agrees, it will deal a blow to Aoun, who, less than a hour after Naim's death, announced that he "will fight the electoral battle along with Hizbullah". Until now, Aoun and Hizbullah's chances for winning the election were very good, given Hizbullah's electoral weight in that district. But May will probably attract most of the Christian vote, putting Aoun and his supporters in a rather embarrassing situation: Will the Aounists really ally themselves with a pro-Syrian party against a victim of Syrian brutality?

May won't fill the void left by Gebran Tueni, but the symbolism of her running in the election will give the March 14 movement a much needed momentum. In addition to putting Aoun in an unenviable position to field a candidate against a popular anti-Syrian journalist, it should serve a reminder to Hizbullah that they are not the only party in Lebanon that suffered at the hands of an oppressor.

UPDATE: Never mind, Saad Hariri has denied the as-Safir report, describing it as a "fabrication".

UPDATE 2. And May announced Friday that she will run!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Bashar and the axe of Arab nationalism

In his speech on Saturday, Syrian president Bashar Assad said “national sovereignty is the most significant thing and not UN resolutions," and lashed out at a "global plot" that is targeting "Syria and Lebanon," Iraq and Palestine, as well as “the Arab peoples” and the “Islamic nation.”

Assad spoke to an audience of Arab “lawyers” at an Arab legal conference in Damascus, in front of a backdrop which read "Defending Syria is National Right and Duty" in English. In Arabic, it read “Defending Syria is an (Arab) Nationalist right and duty.”

Assad’s speech contained your usual combative and nationalist statements that earned him standing ovations and ecstatic cheers and applause from the audience. He held the Lebanese responsible for the deteriorating Lebanese-Syrian relations, alleging that certain Lebanese want to see their country destroyed. He said his cooperation with the UNIIIC “must be made by respecting principles of national sovereignty, the neutrality of the inquiry and on a legal basis." He dismissed the UN probe as a “condemnation commission” that relies on “made-up testimonies by certain traitors”, in reference to his VP Abdel Halim Khaddam, who accused him of ordering the Hariri assassination. He wondered why the world was focusing on the Hariri assassination and not the “Arafat assassination.”

Domestic reform again took a back seat to the global plot and need to preserve “stability.” "The road is long, and perhaps reforms are being done slowly, but we want to accelerate them as fast as possible, without harming (the nation's) stability," he said, limiting future reforms to those “consistent with domestic requirements, and we refuse to accept them being imposed from abroad."

Bashar’s speech reeked of ignorance. It was a hodgepodge of nationalist statements that made no sense combined.

The Syrian president claims to know and understand Lebanese and Palestinian affairs better than Lebanese and Palestinians. After all, he is the supreme Arab leader, protector of Arab causes and identity, the one who must not fall, because if he did, the Arab regimes’ house of cards will collapse. Or that’s what he says.

Just like Bin Laden and his dispersed cohorts appointed themselves the rulers of a fictitious Islamic land, the novice Syrian dictator has made himself the commander in chief of an imagined Arab nationalist empire.

Bashar’s attitude towards Lebanon resembles Jamal Abdel Nasser’s attitude towards Syria as the northern province of the failed United Arab Republic in the late 1950s. Nasser didn’t know much about Syria and he treated Syrians like lower class Egyptians. All that Nasser knew was the necessity of a centralized authoritarian system with him in absolute control. It is ironic that Bashar would act like the guardian of an extreme brand of Arab nationalism that his own father helped destroy. Compare Lebanon’s situation to Syria’s in the late 1950s when the Nasserites “relegated the majority of Syrians to the rank of traitors, governing by terror and trampling on the honor and dignity of citizens.” These were the words of ex-Syrian President Shukri al-Quwatly.

Of course Bashar is no real Arab nationalist, or at least his Arab nationalism is just a cover for his dictatorship, a formula that most Arab leaders employ successfully. For as soon as the logical requirements of such an imagined union with Lebanon and the rest of Arab world present themselves, Syria’s “sovereignty” pops its head right on time to spare the regime any duties towards that imagined union, including cooperating for the sake of strengthening the union, as opposed to strengthening the authoritarian regime.The regime’s convenient dual use of both Arab nationalism and “nationalism based on sovereignty (qawmiyya and wataniya) is pathetic, and unfortunately, it eludes most of Syria’s ignorant clappers. Bsshar wants to force a Nasserist Arab nationalist union on Lebanon while subscribing to a reduced version based on Syrian sovereignty. All the regime had to do to make this paradox appear logical was to accuse Syria’s enemies and Lebanon of doing Israel’s bidding. And then the conspiracy theory is complete and logic dies at the altar of honor and ignorance.

With plenty of illiterate citizens in Bashar's empire putting off free thinking till Judgment Day, Bashar finds plenty of cheerleaders to enslave and parade to the world as proof of his popularity. It also helps him when men and women with law degrees choose the rule of ignorance over the rule of law, making it easier to turn poor people into cattle, and to present slaughter houses as places of worship and sacrifice.

In this regional order of hypocrisy and delusion, seeking truth and sovereignty for the purpose of independence becomes a great sin. Bashar can shamelessly use his country’s "sovereignty" to protect himself from retribution, and then somehow portray repercussions from Syria’s mistakes as foreign plots to redraw the Arab nation. When Lebanon seeks sovereignty, it is viewed as an attack on the Arab nation. Very few see Syria's attempt to impose on Lebanon what most Arab countries have rejected and destroyed: Nasserist Arab nationalism. The situation is now such that the road to Lebanese sovereignty (and Syrian freedom) will have to pass through the rejection of all political pan-Arab ideologies, especially when they are made as basis for a solution to the country's problems. This sounds logical, yet difficult to perceive by many in this region, who unfairly expect Lebanon to guard what their leaders only use to keep them in check. For as long as the dictators are allowed to hold the ideological axe of Arab nationalism over our heads, there will be no progress in Lebanon, Syria or any other part of the region.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Breaking Hizbullah's monopoly

One of the aspects of Hizbullah’s monopoly over the Shia opinion in Lebanon revealed itself on Thursday when Hizbullah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah lent his support to Sheikh Afif Naboulsi, a pro-Hizbullah scholar who issued a fatwa prohibiting any Shia from outside the party of God or Amal from joining the Lebanese cabinet.

While this problem is endemic in Lebanon, where sect leaders can approve or reject political appointees based on their loyalties, Hizbullah takes it further by using religion to safeguard and extend its monopoly.

Lebanese Shias, if they don’t subscribe to Khomeini’s version of Shia Islam and Hizbullah’s extremist doctrine, find themselves ostracized from Lebanese politics. This is a travesty, for none of the other parties in Lebanon require their members to be fundamentalist Muslims or Christians in order to engage in politics. I shouldn’t have to be a supporter of Hizbullah or even Amal before I can dream of a post in government. There should be no religious edicts limiting my political aspirations.

A lawsuit has been filed by a group of Lebanese, some of whom are Shia, against Naboulsi for “identity theft, threatening and terrorizing in an attempt to obstruct the practice of civil rights, instigating sectarian differences and portraying political disputes as disputes between religions and sects."

According to the Daily Star, the complaint was submitted to Beirut's first investigating judge, Magistrate Abdel-Rahim Hammoud. The 8 plaintiffs who signed the complaint said Naboulsi was not entitled to “issue a fatwa and prevent the Shiite citizens from practicing their constitutional rights.”

On 21 December 2005, and following the cabinet crisis that resulted from Hizbullah and Amal suspending their participation in the cabinet, Naboulsi made the following statement:
There are foreign attempts, which some local forces comply with, to put Amal and Hizbullah away and to bring new Shia representatives [into the Cabinet]. Consequently, we forbid any Shia political party to replace Amal and Hizbullah representatives.

We stress that the entrance of any Shia political party is illegal, because it does not represent the people… We address a precautionary fatwa to every Shiite politician, who tries to take advantage of the ministerial crisis.
The lawsuit againt Naboulsi was filed by Talal Husseini, Youssef Zein, Fares Sassin, Fahmiya Sharafeddine, Nada Sehnaoui, Mona Fayyad, MP Ghassan Mokheiber and Mohammad Farid Matar.

Nasrallah denounced it, claiming it was an "attack against Muslim Ulama, who freely voice their views and positions."

What Hizbullah and its secretary general are saying is that "freedom" is only for pro-Hizbullah religious scholars to issue fatwas legitimizing the party's monopoly. It is not for the community, which is being denied the basic right of free political expression. Since the Party of God does not believe in democracy, this is to be expected. However, this does not mean that Lebanese Shias should forfeit their rights and let fundamentalists speak for them.

This lawsuit marks the beginning of a lengthy process to reclaim the Shia voice.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Nasrallah: Lebanese can't manage own affairs

A day after organizing a protest against alleged foreign meddling in Lebanese affairs, Hizbullah secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah told al-Hayat that the cabinet crisis he created "proves that it is difficult for the Lebanese to manage their own affairs."

Here is some of what he said, courtesy of AFP:

"The situation in Lebanon is bad and has dangerous repercussions," Nasrallah told the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat. "We launch our final appeal for the intervention of our Arab brothers."

The involvement of other Arabs is necessary "not only to ask them to help Lebanon and Syria to surmount the crisis, but we also need the intervention of wise Arab leaders to overcome our internal problems."

Lebanon's government has been virtually paralysed since December 12 when Hezbollah and the country's other Syrian-backed Shiite movement, Amal, ordered their cabinet members not to participate. Nasrallah said this crisis "proves that it is difficult for the Lebanese to manage their own affairs."

The Hezbollah chief added that he "rejects agitation in Lebanon for any war against Syria," referring to calls by anti-Damascus politicians for regime change in Damascus. "That is dangerous not only for Syria but also for Lebanon. We consider that any political, security or media war that certain people want to drag Lebanon into is contrary to Lebanese national interests," he said.
Nasrallah's Arab brothers have proposed to sell Lebanese sovereignty and security back to Syria. The crisis is Syrian made, and the cabinet crisis is Hizbullah's doing. If God's alleged party cares about Lebanese national interests (as opposed to Syrian), then perhaps it should not object to border demarcation, prosecuting the killers of Hariri and others, and yeah, protecting Lebanon from the fangs of its blood thirsty vampire "brothers" and "sisters".

For in Hizbullah's dictionary, true Lebanese citizens cannot have selfish interests. They are freaks of nature who put the interests of others ahead of their own. Their country has open and vulnerable borders, it orbits at least two other nations, and gives its youth death and illusion instead of life and hope. These ideas put modern science to shame.

As for this alleged war on Syria from Lebanon, I seem to recall quite the contrary taking place! Nasrallah won't allow calls for regime change in Syria, but he has no problem with Syria massacring people in Lebanon. Does Nasrallah believe Israel was justified in attacking Lebanon, and that a war should not be waged against the Zionists? What? Too much common sense? Being someone who lived under both Israeli and Syrian occupations, I fail to see why I cannot pick full independence over a stupid choice between one of the two. But then, my honor is not attached to a gun, so I can't blame Nasrallah for wanting to defend his Russian/Iranian-procured honor.

We all wondered what the Saudis were thinking when they proposed to give Lebanese security back to Syria, as a way to "defuse the tension" between Lebanon and Syria. Their proposal, as well as Nasrallah's skewed notions of national interests, were explained by Michel Kilo in a recent article. Here are some excerpts. Precious words that deserve to be reproduced in full.

In an article published in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Syrian intellectual Michel Kilo, who resides in Damascus, attacked the Syrian regime, comparing it to the Soviet regime, and hinted that it was responsible for the assassination of Lebanese public figures.

The following are excerpts:

In a Cairo [press conference], Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq Al-Shara' announced a new principle of modern Arab diplomacy, which might be called the 'Al-Shara' principle.' [This principle] limits Lebanese sovereignty, links this sovereignty to the Syrian regime, and states that a free and independent Lebanon is necessarily a center and a base for plots against Syria...

"The Al-Shara' principle is reminiscent of the principle once [established] by [Soviet leader Leonid] Brezhnev, which stated that the various socialist states had [only] limited sovereignty vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. [These states] could not act as they pleased, but had to give priority to the interests and security of the Soviet bloc in any measure they took and in any means they employed. This principle established the Soviets' right to take over the internal affairs of the socialist states, and legitimized Soviet military intervention against them...

"The Al-Shara' principle is reminiscent of the Brezhnev principle. [since the Syrian regime] - like [the Soviet regime] - thinks that Lebanon should formulate its policy according to Syrian interests. Moreover, the Syrian regime requires [Lebanon] to coordinate all matters, great or small, with Syria, since the minute Beirut becomes independent [of Damascus], the situation in Lebanon becomes an international affair. And in such a case, [Syria believes that it] has the right to intervene [in Lebanese matters] in order... to prevent Lebanon from becoming a center for conspiracies against it..."

Lebanon Must Keep in its Place... If it Forgets, There are a Thousand Ways to Remind it

"What is the meaning of the Al-Shara' principle, and where might its implementation lead the two countries?

"First of all, Syria wishes to treat Lebanon as a marginal [party] while the Syrian regime [is perceived] as central. [This means] that the center will take the decisions and the periphery will obey, or else [pay the price].

"Secondly, the Syrian regime is determined to adopt the Soviet model,... [and] has taken military and political control of Lebanon. It tried to usurp the PLO's [authority] in taking decisions regarding Palestine, and wanted to control the PLO according to [its own] political guidelines and interests.

"In addition, it has forced Jordan to respect [Syrian] hegemony and control over the Arab East, and has compelled Saudi Arabia to accept a division of labor in which Saudi Arabia's role is to provide the funds and Syria's role is to call the shots, intimidate the neighboring countries, and keep them quiet. This comes in addition to a tragic series of oppressive actions against very large sectors of Syrian society.

"Lebanon, peripheral and marginal, is required to keep in its place even after the Syrian army has withdrawn from its territory, and if it forgets, there are a thousand ways to remind it - either through dialogue or through operations in the field.

"Another implication [of the Al-Shara' principle] is that nobody may reprimand Syria for performing (what is sees as) its national duty towards Lebanon... Syria has an obligation to liberate Lebanon from subordination to foreigners, which is very dangerous [for Syria, since] it is aimed against [Syria], and against its role as the last bastion standing fast against America and Israel."

Syria Leaves Lebanon With Only Two Options: To Accept the Return of the Syrian Forces, or to Risk Constant Escalation of the Situation

"According to Syrian propaganda, Lebanon is the arena of a struggle... to save Syria's brothers [i.e. the Lebanese] and to protect the Syrian regime. If [Lebanese] are hurt in the course of [Syria's struggle for their sake], this is [only] because their country has become a base for foreign [forces] that must be eliminated. [Moreover], as everyone knows, liberty comes at a price, and the price is sometimes paid by innocent people. But even if [these innocent people] are killed by their [Syrian] brothers, they are... victims [of the foreign interference in Lebanon],... [since] Syria has the right to defend itself in any way and by any means against the Lebanese leaders, who cannot be anything other than foreign agents.

"Another implication [of the Al-Shara' principle] is that it leaves the Lebanese with only two options: either to [accept] Syria's return to their land, or to be subjected to a variety of ever-escalating [measures], in which [Syria] is entitled to use any [available] means to achieve its goal of protecting itself against Lebanon. This will be achieved either by the return of the Syrian forces into Lebanon, or by bringing Lebanon to the point where it agrees to [Syrian] limitations on its sovereignty, and accepts [Syria's] right to determine [Lebanon's] policy and interests, and even to control [Lebanon].

"This is the Al-Shara' principle. Therefore, do not expect any breakthrough or improvement in Syrian-Lebanese relations unless the Arab [states] - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, etc. - invest tremendous efforts in modifying this principle and [Al-Shara's] mentality towards Lebanon. Moreover, the Al-Shara' principle will not be the last escalation, and the painful events recently experienced by the Lebanese [people] will not be the last [either]."

So here you go, Sayid Hassan, Syria and your Arab (and Iranian) brothers want your country to continue being their ever-willing prostitute, not an independent and sovereign state with the right to choose. Lebanon's national interests you say?

Luckily for Lebanon, PM Fouad Siniora and some of the March 14 parties caught on to this paradigm that is being imposed on Lebanon by Syria and the rest of the "brothers."

Lebanon said Wednesday a Saudi plan aimed at defusing tensions between Beirut and Damascus falls short of expectations as the pro-Syrian Hezbollah movement appealed for Arab help in ending the crisis.

The plan is based on Syrian proposals and does not meet Lebanese demands for full sovereignty, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said.

"They are Syrian ideas conveyed by (Saudi Foreign Minister Prince) Saud al-Faisal ... that cannot resolve the problems with the Syrian brothers," he told reporters.

"Most Lebanese want healthy relations with Syria based on mutual respect, recognition of Lebanon's independence and sovereignty, and consequently the Syrian proposals do not respond to their ambitions. That does not mean we are hostile toward Syria, on the contrary. An independent Lebanon can cooperate better with Syria than a dependent one," the prime minister said.

"First we must insist on the question of security, and the killing machine must stop."
The confrontation between Lebanon and the Arab regimes has begun. At stake is Lebanon's independence and sovereignty. With this rejection of the Saudi plan, Siniora is emerging as one of the few leaders in Lebanon's recent history to base policy on national interests, and not the intersecting interests of alleged brothers. Let us hope he sticks to his guns.

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