22 Nov 2010

Consensus: the authoritarian alternative

If you believe the hype, Lebanon is heading fast towards another crisis. A round of civil violence is lurking around the corner, or perhaps a renewed confrontation with Israel. For the seasoned conspiracy theorists, even a double whammy is in the cards: an Israeli attack in parallel with civil strife according to some plan being hatched by the tireless forces of imperialism. We’ve been there before of course, at countless times. Typically, the Lebanese instinct manifests itself in two ways under those circumstances: firstly emphasise the need for consensus to ward off the external danger, and secondly seek the intervention of external agents to help us avoid an explosion.

In defence of elitism: the American University of Beirut

I was amused to read this philistine attack on the American University of Beirut by Jana Nakhal in Al-Akhbar newspaper, The AUB and Beirut: One Side Love. Nakhal, 'an urban-planning engineer' (sic), subjects the AUB to a shrill anti-colonial examination, uncovering it in the process as an 'accelerating factor in the popular acceptance of colonial ideas, tastes and concepts'. (Presumably things like engineering, medicine and architecture which colonialism forced us to accept).

8 Nov 2010

Suspended democracy and Lebanon’s paralysis

During Saad Hariri’s recent visit to London, he was questioned by a journalist about the failure to ratify the national budget for the past five years. The ‘opposition’ press has dedicated significant coverage to the subject of the budget during the past few months, especially that its ratification is linked to the funding of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. In any other country, not ratifying the budget for 5 years would be a serious problem. In Lebanon, it’s a minor transgression, as Hariri’s matter-of-fact response indicated. The budget issue is one expression of the perpetual crisis that the Lebanese political system has been going through for years, but it’s only a symptom of the willingness of the political elites to suspend democratic mechanisms whenever convenient.

4 Nov 2010

Saad Hariri: The limits of politics

I met the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri for the first time this week, when I went to a talk he gave at the London School of Economics. The talk itself was very general. Hariri discussed the Arab Peace Initiative which was first proposed at the Beirut Summit for Arab leaders in 2002, and explained the need for peace in the Middle East which he asserted that Lebanon’s internal stability depends on. He touched on the economic achievements of his and the preceding government and outlined how building on those achievements is vital to fulfilling the aspirations of the Lebanese people.

3 Nov 2010

Hariri Pop Idol

By Joseph El-Khoury, re-published with permission from Arabdemocracy

Yesterday night I came face to face with Saad Hariri for the first time. I had shaken hands in a past life with his late father more than 12 years ago and was looking forward to draw a comparison between father and son. The Lebanese Embassy in London provided the backdrop to an evening reception where the banking industry was overrepresented. Having sampled the canapés and exchanged opinions on the resilience of the Lebanese economy, they laid down their glasses to clap in their hero as he appeared past a group of heavily botoxed ladies. A friend pointed out that Saad Hariri looked a defeated man. Perhaps I thought! I rather found that his tone, posture and demeanour still revealed a degree of discomfort in his role, despite the 5 years of experience as heir to his father’s political legacy.