Sunday, December 31, 2006

Friday, December 29, 2006

Parallel fates?

Since the late 60’s it seems that the fates of the Lebanese and Palestinian people have been intertwined, for good or for ill. Recently political developments between the two states have been strikingly similar…

Currently, in Palestine there are two main political factions, Fateh and Hamas. Fateh is a moderate, secular party that is calling for a peace settlement of the Palestinian problem and western like democratic development. On the other hand, Hamas is a religious, extremist faction that preaches a never-ending war with Israel. The West supports the first, while Iran and Syria are backing the second.

In Lebanon there is a similar division, between March 14, a moderate, democratic and peaceful coalition supported by most Arab states and the west; and Hezbollah, an extremist, religious and militant party supported by Iran and Syria, with a declared aim to continue its armed struggle against Israel.

Additionally, during this last summer, Hamas kidnapped an Israeli soldiers and Israel retaliated, destroying bridges, homes and roads, blockading the whole Gaza strip. A few weeks later Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and Israel predictably retaliated, also destroying bridges, homes and roads, and blockading Lebanon.

Recently Hamas have been also clamoring for a national unity government, and refused to accept any early parliamentary and presidential elections. The situation in Lebanon is the similar, but with the single difference, that 14 March coalition controls the government, while Hezbollah hold the presidency, in Palestine it is the opposite.

At the moment, Hezbollah and 14 March are calling for early election, but they differ on the order. Hezbollah wants to hold parliamentary elections first them presidential, while 14 march want the opposite.

What makes this comparison daunting is the eruption of a small-scale civil war in Gaza, between Hamas and Fateh. If the current parallelism continues -I fervently hope not- then we should witness similar events in Lebanon in the next few weeks…

Finally, It seems that lately I have not been able to find any cheerful news to write about, but in an effort to end this article on a bright note, I can claim that throughout history no two cases are exactly similar. So hopefully, Lebanon will not be subject to any internal strife...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

No way out!

Hezbollah and its allies are in a quandary. There is no way out of the dead-end, they lead Lebanon into. Nassrallah made the same mistake Israel did during the last war. He embarked on a war, promising unachievable goals and undermining his opposition!

I say war, because Nassrallah himself promised his supporters a victory, similar to the summer’s (sic) in their struggle with the government.

Nassrallah embarked on his power-grabbing crusade, after the UNIFIL and the Lebanese army pushed Hezbollah out of the south. The party of God turned on its fellow Lebanese and invested Down Town Beirut with its fighters.

Today, the same men who fought Israel during the summer are now deployed in the squares of Down Town Beirut, organizing, leading and policing the sit-ins (check out my previous blog on how Hezbollah impose its own order in Down Town)

However, they are stuck, rendered immobile and impotent, because invading the Saray (the government’s palace) proved to be impossible, and massive demonstration and constant rallies proved to be futile. With Nassrallah promise hanging over all his decision, there is no way out for Hezbollah, but to further escalate the situation.

Many commentators are alluding to Hezbollah’s next actions, like closing roads, blocking the airport and embarking on a campaign of civil disobedience. All dangerous and futile alternatives, which will only complicated the situation rather than solve it.

But amidst all this, a single fact may still play in Nassrallah’s favor, but not for long. He still has the total and undoubting obedience of his followers. So, in theory, he can convince his followers that any compromise he reaches is a victory. Just like what he did in the summer war against Israel.

However, this window is rapidly closing. His followers are becoming more and more disenchanted by half measures and compromises. I have heard several die-hard followers of Hezbollah confessing their intense disagreement with his temporizing and compromising stance, calling for more aggressive actions, like invading the Saray and to hell with consequences.

As I said earlier, everyday that passes makes it harder to reach a compromise. And everyday that passes without a solution bring us closer to the never-ending slide that awaits our small country…

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Another botched job!

The General Secretary of the Arab League's initiative is as good as dead. From the start it looked barren, and knowing the past records of Amro Moussa that perspective was reinforced. Meanwhile, a large stash of weapons was found in the premises of one of the opposition's parties.

I will start with the weapon stash. The Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) a pro-Syrian group, that does not believe in the finality of Lebanon as a free country, was caught red handed stashing a large cash of arms, explosive material and detonators. They claimed that these weapons were remnants from the civil war, but the latest reports indiquated that the explosives are relatively new.

I wonder what they have been doing with these explosives. Maybe killing March 14 leaders? I will let justice decide, but what I do not understand is how people are still defending this party, which all along Lebanon's history, has been involved in many assassinations (President Bahsir Gemayel for example)

Concerning the failure of Amrou Moussa's initiative, I can easily say that I was not surprised. The Arab League and its chief officer have been notoriously ineffective in most of its mediation throughout the Arab world, from the first Iraq war, to the second, to Sudan's Darfour genocide and finally Lebanon.

What's next? The opposition is promising further escalations after the holidays, speaking of closing roads, public institutions and service (they have a fetish about shutting down the airport and the port) Meanwhile 14 March are steadfast and adamant on passing the International Tribunal before making any concessions.

Finally, Amro Moussa warned all parties of any further escalation, but I do not think that any one will heed his call. The future look bleaker still, but at least we have these last couple of days to have fun and to bid this awful year a final goodbye, hoping that the next one will be better…

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Next year in taboo!

In the midst of this political deadlock, some Lebanese are feeling the brunt of these demonstrations/sit-ins more than others. And I am talking about the owners of businesses close the Riad el Solh and Al Azarieh squares, in Down Town Beirut.

Hezbollah’s sit-in made it impossible for many businesses to operate. Most of the night clubs in that area closed (Buddah Bar, Asia, Starlette and Taboo), and the parking lots that is currently housing the protestors’ tents are obviously out of business.

Of course, the welfare of hundreds of employee is not important to Hezbollah and its allies. As they are waging a crusade to rid Lebanon of this corrupt government and replace it with a clean one, which will eventually provide work for every men, women and child, solve all economic problems and enter Lebanon in a beneficial alliance with Iran and Syria!.

Meanwhile, many young Lebanese are emigrating by the hundreds if not thousands; because Hezbollah’s action has just cost them their jobs, or pushed to stop believing that their country will ever enjoy peace and stability!

However, throughout the ages the Lebanese people, have been known to continue on living and working even under the direst of circumstances. And last Saturday, the owner of Taboo, in Down Town Beirut, refused to accept the closer of his pub and decided to reopen it. His usual patrons heeded his call and choose to spend their Saturday night in Taboo.

Many versions describe what happened next; suffice to say that according to the most moderate one, the versions of the sole Lebanese English newspaper the DailyStar, which contacted the owner, reported that a scuffle happened early in the night between a client and some demonstrators. Then demonstrators started to protest angrily outside the pub, Hezbollah’s security intervened and placed a human shield to “protect” the pub.

At two o’clock in the morning, Hezbollah’s security decided that the situation was getting too dangerous and with the consent of the pub’s owner, they escorted all the client and staff to safety. On their way out Hezbollah’s security responsible asked the owner if he wanted to open the pub the next night, the owner sadly answered no.

Meanwhile the other versions spoke about a forceful closer of the pub by Hezbollah’s security, because drinking alcohol and women/men dancing together was against Islam, and the fact that Hezbollah staged the demonstration outside the pub to scare the night goers. Regardless which version we choose to believe the bottom line is that that area of Downtown Beirut is commercially dead, and all the employee that work there are without a job.

Second, it is not the Army or the ISF that are handling the security of that area; it is Hezbollah’s security apparatus. The same apparatus that fought Isreal two months ago, and controlled the southern Suburb of Beirut and many parts of the South, before the war. What are they doing in Downtown Beirut, and whom are they fighting I have no clue…

Finally, many will claim that 14th demonstration in 2005 had the same effect. Well I disagree. I was there in those glorious days and the demonstrations/sit- in took place around Martyr’s Square, which was not a private property, did not affect any business, lead to their forceful, or voluntarily closure.

I clearly remember that Virgin Megastore, which was five meters distant from the place where the 14th of March supporters placed their tents, was constantly open and life in DownTown Beirut’s many restaurant and pub was buzzing.

My answer to all this is that next year, Hezbollah or no Hezbollah I will party in Taboo!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Content and package

I think there is a fundamental PR concept that Aoun and Nassrallah failed to grasp in their latest speeches: packaging is very important, and some even say that it is as important as the content. In this case, packaging is tone of voice, makeup, setting, lighting and the clothes! And the content is the message and the intended effect.

Nassrallah in his last speech was visibly angry, tensed and at some points even screaming. Meanwhile, the content of his speech was mellow and he tried to make several overtures, stressing his forgiveness of all past offenses and betrayals. Even professing his willingness to share power with those he called traitors. However, all of these overtures were overshadowed by his visible anger, quivering tone and screaming bouts.

On the other hand, Aoun came out on TV with a serious steady tone and even tried to threaten Siniora and warned of a possible invasion of the Saray. However, Aoun was wearing a puffy orange sweater over an orange shirt, with an orange baseball cap. I could not help it; I exploded in laughs and could not stop my self, and did not take anything he said seriously.

In the end, the content of a speech is very important but if it is presented in the wrong package then it will fail to deliver the intended effect and the message will be lost.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

If you had to choose…

If you had to choose between that angry, spluttering, warring and threatening Nassrallah and the calm, smiling, peaceful and reconciliatory Siniora, which one would you choose?

Which one would you choose, the one accusing his opponents of collaboration and treachery, or the one saying that we are all Lebanese and we should find a compromise?

Between anger that verges on hate, accusations that approach death sentences, threats and promises of nasty surprises, rhetoric that are similar to the one used against mortal enemy, AND a calm, smiling and reconciliatory tone that exudes confidence, moderation and peace!!!

Which one would you choose? Hanoi or Honk Kong!!!! Forever war, death and destruction OR peace, prosperity and a decent life…

The choice is entirely in your hands, for I already made mine…


Thursday, December 07, 2006

The crux of the matter

Amid all this talk of civil war, I think a small historical comparison is needed. Since Lebanon’s independence in 1943, the country undergoes civil strife every 15 years on average. (1958 then the 1975-90 war and now 2006)

According to most political scholars two factors are detrimental in the start of civil war: A local one and an international one; a sharp internal division and a similar international rift, which supports the internal one. This was true in 58, in 78 and to a certain degree true today.

In 75, the war ended 15 years later with 150000 dead, 300000 injured and one million displaced (numbers that every Lebanese should learn by heart, especially these days) while in 58 it only took a few months to restore calm.

Several factors caused this difference, among them: Palestinian militancy was much greater in 75 than in 58 and international interventions (US in 58 and Syrian in 76). However, one of the most important factors was the role played by the army.

In the first days of the 58’s conflict the army intervened forcefully and strived to stop the small skirmishes that were blossoming everywhere. But when the President asked the army to side with one of the two parties involved in the conflict the army general refused and confined his brigades to their barracks, waiting until the two warring camps battled it out. A few weeks later the shooting subsided, as the two parties understood that there can be no winners, they backed down and a political solution was reached.

In 75 the same small skirmishes started and the army intervened, but slowly the level of violence increased and the army sided with one of the two parties. This immediately resulted in a split in the army along sectarian lines, which lead to an even higher level of violence, as each side were supported by several well trained and armed army brigades.

Finally if worse come to worse in the upcoming days, the army should not and I stress should NOT side with any faction, it must remain neutral. The army should keep subduing fights, maintaining the peace and protecting governmental buildings (the Presidential Palace, Saray and Parliament). Once the situation escalates beyond the army’s capabilities to handle, it should be confined in the barracks to wait it out.

The crux of the matter is the army, once it crumbles and split than all hope of a fast return to stability will evaporate. And Lebanon will once again face a long plunge into a never ending civil war…

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The 100th post!

On my blog's one hundred post I would like to thank all my readers, hoping that my first 100 posts were interesting, informative and enjoyable.

Thank you all for reading my blog and for you support, silent or otherwise. It was a pleasure to interact with you and exchange points of views, and I sincerely appreciate all your comments and emails, both positive and negative.

Keep on reading and let us hope that by the 200th posts Lebanon will be enjoying peace and prosperity…


Monday, December 04, 2006

Fed up!

I became so fed up! So against all caution and reason I went out for a drink in Gemayzeh, just a few hundred meters away from the place where all the protests were going on.

The streets were empty; the distant sounds of the protest filled the background. People walked briskly. And most restaurants were empty, the waiters idle.

We choose “Le rouge” a cozy restaurant, with excellent food at affordable prices. Even on weekdays the place used to be packed, tonight there was only one table beside ours.

I choose a “steak in a bagette” a very tasty dish, but all what we could talk about was what is going to happen in the next few days! It kinda ruined our evening. But I came to prove to myself that no matter what these people will do, I staying here in my country and I will always love live! No matter how much they try to frighten us, we will stay here, peacefully and endure…

Going out we bumped into two aounist, going home form the protests. I almost screamed at them, asking them “Are you happy? Are you happy with what you are doing to our country? How you are slowly killing it! How did you feel yesterday, in your demonstration, when Talal Arslan and Wiam Whab declared their ending alliance with Syria and Iran! Did you cheer! Did you cheer for those who oppressed you, oppressed us for 15 years!!! DID YOU CHEEER!!!!!”

I closed my mouth, grind my teeth and walked away, with some tears glistering in my eyes as my country was slowly being killed…

Saturday, December 02, 2006


In the last two days big demonstrations have been going on in Down Town Beirut. They started on Friday, with a slightly bigger demonstration than the 8th of March 2005, when Hezbollah went down to the street to thank Syria, but smaller than March the 14th, when the current majority (Hariri, Joumblatt, and Geagea; in addition to Aoun who is now allied with Hezbollah) marched to the streets and were able to kick the Syrians out of Lebanon.

This time numbers are meaningless, the country is split down the middle (give or take 5%). The two parties must understand that no one can win, and the only solution is a compromise.

Unfortunately, Hezbollah and their allies are playing a very dangerous game. They are making the same mistake Israel made in its last war against Lebanon, they went into a battle with unachievable goals, assuming that they will topple the government. And the longer Siniora’s government hold on to power, the more pressure they will have to apply, and the harder it will be for the army and the Internal Security Forces to keep control of the two very very angry streets.

The first day was peaceful, until Hezbollah tried to encircle the Government headquarter (the Saray), then the 14th of March supporters started to stir and Siniora called the army and informed them that he will not be able to hold them from breaking the siege themselves. The army intervened, they contacted Hezbollah and the siege was lifted.

Just imagine what could have happened if the 14th of March protesters went down and lifted the siege themselves…

Today, a big scuffle happened in an adjacent area to where the demonstrations are taking place. Several people were injured and the army had to fire in the air to stop the small riot (It is interesting to note that three Syrians were caught hurling stones from the roof top of one of a building)

This madness must stop! Sooner rather than later, because the next scuffle might be that small sparks that leads to the big explosion. The two sides are raising the stakes, raising their rhetoric, and everyday they become less capable to back down and a compromise becomes harder to reach…

We urgently need a return to sanity! Now, before it is too late!