Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lebanon's problems begin at home with a dysfunctional political class

By The Daily Star Thursday, September 13, 2007

The political equation at play in Beirut these days is a quintessentially Lebanese one: Where else could 4 million people twist in the proverbial wind while the leader of the parliamentary majority jockeys for position to renegotiate a compromise proposal from the speaker whose details have yet to be announced?

Lebanon and the Lebanese may yet manage to sidestep the catastrophe that has stalked this long-suffering country for the past year, but no gratitude will be due the country's dysfunctional political class. Real leaders would have been coaxing their respective constituencies toward coexistence and moderation, dealing openly and honestly with the issues at stake, and putting Lebanon's interests above personal and/or party ones - not to mention foreign ones. Instead, Lebanon's politicians have been roundly outperformed by, of all people, the country's seniormost preachers.

Outside interference is certainly part of the problem, and it comes from many sources, but it would be grossly unfair to lay all of the blame for Lebanon's predicament at the feet of Damascus, Riyadh, Tehran or Washington. None of these players would be in the game were it not for the fact that each has so many Lebanese errand boys (and girls) whose greatest - and therefore least attainable - ambition is to be taken seriously by one foreign power or another.

A politician who pursues such dubious favors deserves to be abused by the object of his or her worship, but the same cannot be said of a general population whose priorities are much less grandiose but immeasurably more valuable. The people of this country want only a stable environment in which to pursue worthwhile careers and raise happy families. That should not be too much to ask, but the pollution of Lebanon's political arena figures to keep such simple goals out of reach for some time to come.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

UN report says Israel should compensate Lebanon for war

The Human Rights Council considered this morning the Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Lebanon pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution S-2/1(A/HRC/3/2), which was mandated: "(a) to investigate the systematic targeting and killings of civilians by Israel in Lebanon; (b) to examine the types of weapons used by Israel and their conformity with international law; and (c) to assess the extent and deadly impact of Israeli attacks on human life, property, critical infrastructure and the environment."

The report describes the terms of reference, methodology, approaches and activities of the Commission. It provides an overview of the 33-day long conflict with an historical background and addresses the qualification of and the law applicable to the conflict. The report then concentrates on the various substantive issues the Commission considered it should address in detail in accordance with its mandate. The report further provides an analysis on the various aspects of the impact of the conflict on life in Lebanon.

The report submits a number of recommendations to the Human Rights Council, including that the Council should promote initiatives and call for the mobilization of the international community to assist Lebanon and its people; the Council should encourage the United Nations system (UNESCO, UNEP, UNHCR, UNICEF, WHO), and the Bretton Woods institutions in their multi-sectoral programmes and projects to promote and undertake precise and concrete actions, including with professional and technical expertise in the necessary reconstruction efforts (buildings, bridges, cleaning of areas affected by clusters, environment, archaeological sites (Byblos); and the Council should give careful attention to the fate of child victims of the armed conflict. National institutions and specialized international agencies should work together to effectively assist the Government of Lebanon in the implementation of health programmes, rehabilitation projects and mental health care initiatives for children; the Council should promote and monitor the obligation to "respect and ensure respect" of international humanitarian law by all parties in a conflict, including non-State actors; and the Council should take the initiative to promote urgent action to include cluster munitions to the list of weapons banned under international law.

UN Press Release

You can find the full report of the UN commission of inquiry on Lebanon by right-clicking and opening or saving the document here:

A large number of indexed pictures have been referenced here:

Kindly disseminate in support of Lebanon


Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Historic and Frightening Moment in Beirut

A massive, peaceful, pro-Hizbullah and anti-government protest in Beirut this day, December 1, marks a unique occurrence in Arab politic, says, Rami Khouri.

BEIRUT - There is something at once both historic and frightening about the open-ended mass street protest that was launched in Beirut Friday by Hizbullah and its allies, aiming to topple the government headed by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

The historic element is that this is a rare instance of mass political action that is declared to be peaceful and designed to change a government. We simply do not have this tradition in the Arab World, which has been characterized more commonly by violent coups and long-running police states. It is also relatively positive that Hizbullah is focused on domestic political engagement, rather than fighting regional or internal wars. Its substantial clout and legitimacy, not to mention its armed capability, cannot long remain outside the structures of political governance or on their periphery.

It is historically useful, if slightly unsettling on the nerves, to find out exactly how the government and the opposition line up in terms of popular and political strength. The so-called March 14 forces of the government coalition and the March 8 forces of Hizbullah and its allies have now squared off in, hopefully, a peaceful, democratic, political contest of wills. The important new element here is not just Hizbullah’s aggressive domestic challenge to the government; it is also the government’s resolute resistance to Hizbullah’s challenge.

Never before has a Lebanese government stood its ground before a challenge from Hizbullah and its allies, as the Siniora government is doing now. This is a moment of historical reckoning for Hizbullah, its allies, and its supporters in Syria and Iran, as it is for the Siniora government and its backers in Lebanon, the Arab world, the United States and the West. We are in uncharted territory now.

Lebanon must renegotiate a new political compact based on a realistic rather than an imagined balance of power and demography that safeguards the interests and integrity of all Lebanese. If the current events represent phase two of such a renegotiated power balance -- phase one being the adjustments in the Taif accord that ended the civil war in 1989 -- then something positive might emerge from these street demonstrations and their associated political confrontations, assuming they lead peacefully to a new government or fresh elections.

The bad news is that this protest and what it may portend in the near future reflect several worrying realities. The Lebanese domestic political system of consensus-building in a multi-confessional society seems to have broken down. The executive cabinet, the parliament, and the special national dialogue of top factional leaders all simultaneously failed to address the political disputes that have plagued Lebanon recently. This is the common predicament of much of the modern Arab world, whose dysfunctional and often dishonest structures of governance do not accurately reflect popular sentiments.

For Hizbullah and its allies to drop the existing political structures and opt for mass street demonstrations, after participating in the government and parliament for years, seems perplexing to many, myself included. If this government is illegitimate, as Hizbullah charges, why did Hizbullah join the government in the first place? If the government’s illegitimacy is mainly a function of its determination to proceed with the mixed Lebanese-international tribunal that will try those accused of killing the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others since February last year, then we have the bigger and more vexing problem of Lebanese-Syrian tensions. If so, this should be acknowledged and resolved as an act of honest and courageous leadership, rather than camouflaged as a perpetual charade that demeans the self-respect of Lebanese and Syrians alike.

It has always been both a weakness and a strength of Lebanese and Arab politics that honesty and clarity are sacrificed for the sake of an ambiguity that allows all sides to make compromises and achieve a usually unstable consensus. In Lebanon, this has always been referred to as the political system of “no victor, no vanquished.” Unfortunately, it also usually means no resolution of fundamental political disagreements.

This tradition cannot prevail if the real issue at hand is a Syrian-American confrontation in Lebanon through the proxy of Hizbullah and the Siniora government, which seems to be the case (just as this summer’s war was a proxy military battle between Iran and the United States). If Hizbullah wants to bring down the Siniora government mainly to stop or dilute the Lebanese-international Hariri murder tribunal on behalf of Syria, while a majority of Lebanese clearly wants the Hariri killers held accountable, there are no easy or quick solutions.

One option is to perpetuate the political clashes, and probably the assassinations and bombings, in Lebanon until the Hariri murder investigation is finished, the accused are named and tried, and, consequently, the fate of the Syrian regime and Syrian-Lebanese relations both become more clear. The other option is to force Hizbullah and its allies -- usually described as “pro-Syrian” -- to reveal if their main aim is to serve Syria or serve Lebanon, perhaps by giving them the one-third of the cabinet they want in return for their approval of the tribunal.

Rami G. Khouri is an internationally syndicated columnist, the director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star, and co-laureate of the 2006 Pax Christi International Peace Award.

Copyright ©2006 Rami G. Khouri / Agence Global

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Making Sense of this Craziness

Making Sense of Lebanon - yesterday, today and tomorrow

This country that was created on the eve of 1920 looks ahead at potential for nation-state.

Yesterday, the French left, the secterian system was enforced, Arabism and Western thought fought, the Palestinian cause lost its way in the land of cedars, Lebanese killed each others, Israel machiavellically sought its way, Syria worked for and got its Pax Syriana, Rafik Hariri was killed, Hezbollah fought a war of attrition with Israel and, and, and...

Where are the Lebanese of all this

Where is the independent voice of the citizen that speaks regardless of tribes, sects or leaders*

There is much to be done and less to be said

As the saying goes: Actions speak louder than words

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Getting back to the source: Violence... avoidable

The recent events of rioting in the Southern suburbs and other neighborhoods in Beirut needs a review beyond the typical labeling of rioters as good/bad, justifiable or not.

IMO, those who jumped to the streets yesterday belong to a certain social class that has been affected by the following:

1. Severe socio-economic conditions that have conditioned those people to rash and emotional behavior instead of poised and intellectual reflection on the Televised event.

That burst of violence is not only a reaction to the caricaturization of Hassan Nasrallah's character, it is also a "fashet khel2" by men and women who are feeling victimized on severl fronts: political, social and economical.

The political segment has been discussed quite often, however socio-economic conditions (or perceptions) have been much less debated.

Provide those citizens with proper education, gratifying jobs and bright prospects and the reaction that we've seen yesterday would be greatly reduced, that is my opinion.

I realize that many Lebanese from all communities are struggling to provide their sons with the right education, all young men and women are fighting to earn a good living and most of us are not happy with current political conditions, however with that particular community, things have been historically compouding and they have developed (a tort ou a raison) a mentality of being unjustly treated, either by the state or by their fellow citizens from other communities.

I repeat my acknowledgment of Lebanese from all spectrums being subjected to harsh conditions, like in Akkar or other regions, however reality might be a bit harsher on that community in particular and I am sure that its perception is definitely that of being wronged.

2. The culture of political violence by Hassan Nasrallah and his party also greatly affect how their followers reacted.

Now, the creation of Hezb also was the product of several factors like the marginalization of its community, the ravages inflicted by Israel and the direct involvement of Iranian forces in their ideological struggle againt Israel and the US, in addition to religious factors.

However, Hezbollah cannot justify the continued culture of violence preached by its leaders in 2006, at a time when the civil war ended 16 years ago, after the 6th year of Israeli withdrawal and one year on that of the Syrians.

Hezbollah's leaders have a large responsibility in shaping their followers' reactions. Hezb does a good job at controlling its members' actions and reactions, however it cannot possibly claim that it has no effect on its followers.

Nasrallah cannot possibly say that yesterday's riots were "spontaneous" in the sense that his political speech and those of others in the Hezb have already prepated and conditioned large segments of the community to respond in such a manner; they cannot retreat from such moral responsibility.

This is what I had to say on the topic, I will be very interested to know your points of view on that issue, the why's, how's and what's that lead to such violence, a violence that can spread like fire and engulf the country, as we very well know.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Fight Hunger - Participate

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Don't reduce Hizbullah to one dimension

By Rami G. Khouri
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Ever since some enterprising scribes, a few thousand years ago in the city-state of Byblos, now in Lebanon, identified a global market for a better way of keeping records and invented the modern alphabet, Lebanon and its people have always been a peculiar mix of the local and the global. The country today seems like the stage on which ever-changing constellations of local, regional and international actors meet and play out their dramas. If so, the central character in this season's political production has changed - only momentarily - from Syria to Hizbullah.

The significance of Hizbullah's role in Lebanon and the region is precisely that it is not static. As such it provides a timely, real-life example of the sorts of challenges that are simultaneously faced by the people of the Middle East and interested international powers, especially the United States and the European Union. Correctly analyzing and addressing the issues that revolve around Hizbullah these days will be a valuable key to unlocking some of the other big challenges and opportunities around the region, especially in relation to other mainstream Islamist movements like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The immediate issue in Lebanon is the tension within the government, where a handful of ministers representing the two main Shiite groups, Hizbullah and Amal, have suspended their attendance at Cabinet meetings. They have done so ostensibly because they thought the ruling majority, headed by Saad Hariri's Future movement, took political initiatives in the government related to the recent string of bombings and assassinations in the country, without first defining a national consensus on these sensitive matters.

But this quickly gets more complicated. Many people in Lebanon and abroad see Hizbullah mainly as a political or even military extension of Iranian and Syrian interests. They suspect that Hizbullah's move was dictated by Syria and-or Iran, both of which are locked in slow-motion confrontations with the U.S. over a range of issues, including nuclear industry plans, the Rafik Hariri assassination investigation, and Iraq. Hizbullah's motives and goals have been analyzed from a thousand perspectives in the past year, without a consensus on the key issues of what they want, what motivates them, who drives or influences them, and how to deal with them.

These important questions, to be fair, are also universal. They could be asked about, say, the American leadership in the White House, whose foreign-policy goals in the Middle East are equally inconsistent and imprecise in their motives, drivers and goals. The U.S. is struggling with itself and its place in the world due to a series of powerful transformations that it has not yet digested and absorbed. These include the triumphalism of its post-Cold War victory, the vulnerabilities of its post-globalization economic dependence on foreign money, markets and natural resources, and the trauma, fear and confusion of its post-September 11, 2001 quest for an effective foreign policy that combines brute lethal revenge with sensible policy-making.

The Hizbullah situation is intriguing, and reflective of realities throughout the middle east, because it is so much more complex and multi-faceted. It is too simplistic to accuse Hizbullah of being an arm of Iran, an agent that Syria can manipulate, or any of the other attributes it has been given. Hizbullah in fact has played half a dozen important roles in its history, and these roles keep evolving, while some disappear to be replaced by others. It is one of several Islamist political groups throughout the Middle East that have played a significant role in resisting foreign occupation or domestic autocrats, but now see their future mainly as representatives of national constituencies in governance systems based on democratic elections.

Throughout its quarter-century life, Hizbullah's credibility and power have rested on five broad pillars: delivering basic social-welfare needs mainly to Shiite communities in different parts of Lebanon; resisting and ending the Israeli occupation of Southern Lebanon; being part of the Iranian-inspired pan-Islamic movement that also challenges American hegemonic aims; providing efficient, noncorrupt governance at the local level; and, more recently, emerging as the main representative and protector of Shiite communal interests within Lebanon's explicitly sectarian and confessional political system. In recent decades, it has also benefited from close ties to the Syrians, who had dominated Lebanon for 29 years, until last spring.

In recent months, however, the five legs on which Hizbullah stands have changed, or in some cases disappeared. The Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, Iran's increasing diplomatic angst vis-a-vis the West, the Israeli departure from South Lebanon in 2000, and recent international pressures through United Nations Security Council resolutions have forced Hizbullah to review and redefine its national role in Lebanon. This partly reflects the increased local and global talk, after Israel's retreat from the South, about the need to end Hizbullah's status as an armed resistance group that operates beyond the control of the Lebanese national armed forces. This is required both by UN resolutions and the intra-Lebanese Taif Accord that ended the Lebanese Civil War 15 years ago.

Hizbullah seems to recognize that it must continue the transition it has been making in recent years - from primarily an armed resistance to Israeli occupation and a service-delivery body operating in the South, to a national political organization, sitting in Parliament and the Cabinet and operating on a national political stage. It is unrealistic to deal with Hizbullah as a one-dimensional group that is only an armed resistance force, a political adjunct of Iran, a friend of Syria, the main Shiite interlocutor in Lebanese politics and power-sharing, a growing force in Parliament, or an Islamist voice of global, anti-imperialist resistance.

It is all these things, and always has been. Local or global parties that want to nudge it toward more involvement in national democratic politics, and away from political and armed militancy, should resist the simplistic tendency to paint it in one-dimensional terms that are politically convenient, but factually and historically wrong.