30 Nov 2011

The STL and the 32 million dollar question: The Winners and the Losers

To fund or not to fund, that is the question. The uncertainty over paying Lebanon’s contributions to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon has occupied politicians for the past few months and cast a shadow over Najib Mikati’s cabinet since its inception. After hinting at resignation last week, today Mikati announced that he had used funds from the Disaster Relief Commission, which is under the PM’s direct control, to pay Lebanon’s contributions to the STL. The announcement followed intense last minute efforts by the Speaker Nabih Berri to avert Mikati’s resignation and the collapse of the government.

25 Nov 2011

18 Nov 2011

Lebanon’s Multicultural System: No Vacancy!

National myths can often mean little in practice. However, they represent a good way to interrogate the ideals that a nation holds and how consistently they inform its politics and policy. How can we for example reconcile Lebanon’s self-image as a shelter for persecuted minorities with the antagonism towards newcomers? How could we tolerate the rhetorical celebration of Lebanon’s diversity while the army and security forces wage a brutal campaign against migrant workers in Beirut?

14 Nov 2011

Migrants' Rights in Lebanon


In response to the recent wave of arbitrary detentions and forced evictions of migrant workers in the Bourj Hammoud, Nabaa and Dawra areas in Beirut, representatives of the migrant communities in Lebanon today held a press conference and issued a robust statement against the  campaign of harassment launched by the Lebanese security forces and army. This campaign followed a nasty report by MurrTV that blamed migrant workers for crimes and ‘moral degeneration’ in these areas and that may have provided the incentive for the security forces to compensate for their incompetence and failure to police these areas by unleashing this brutal and unjustified crackdown on immigrant workers.

10 Nov 2011

The Arab uprisings and the free market

One interesting aspect of the Arab uprisings is how widely they have been used by people of various ideological hues and flavours to promote their own political platforms. This is understandable, the uprisings have been ideology-free, unless you buy into the theory of a secret American-Islamist conspiracy. The uprisings served as vehicles for the production of narratives that fit with their authors’ political inclinations rather than a meaningful interpretation of their internal dynamics. So depending on whom you ask, the uprisings represent the birth of a global anti-capitalist movement, the triumph of secular-liberalism or the emergence of a non-violent moderate form of Islamism.

Video: Panel Debate Middle East ‘revolutions’: Hopes and Fears


 

Video of the panel debate I participated in with Dr Maha Azzam, Ghazi Gheblawi  and Dr George Lawson and chaired by Alex Hochuli at the Battle of Ideas 2011: 'Middle East 'revolutions': hopes and fears?'

The Independent has also published my accompanying article 'The paradox of the fragile revolutions'

7 Nov 2011

How 'The Simpsons' inspired the 'Arab Spring'

Following Julian Assange's claim last week that Wikileaks 'inspired people in the Arab world to think that they could stand up to their dictators', Amnesty International's annual report now also 'hails WikiLeaks and Guardian as Arab spring 'catalysts''. According to, er, The Guardian:

4 Nov 2011

Assange takes credit for the Arab Spring, again.

Julian Assange speaking two days ago at a debate at the Frontline Club:

'‘There is, perhaps something that is interesting that is said in relation to us [Wikileaks] and the Arab Spring. And it’s that courage is contagious. And that when we stood up to the Pentagon... and we said ‘go to hell’ that that inspired people in the Arab world to think that they could stand up to their dictators. Because when they had stood up to their dictators previously, the United States had intervened in one way or another. And it was certainly a weakness. And if we could stand up to that threat, then maybe they could as well...
Perhaps there are more interesting connections, perhaps when we release so much important information about global political elites, global financial leaks all at once that that was a shock and a destabilising shock to the system. We predicted it would destabilise the middle east. I don’t know precisely whether it does, but there
must be ripple effects."

 Someone should tell Assange how patronising and downright insulting that suggestion is.

2 Nov 2011

Online Regulation? No, Thanks, I like my freedom.

Following last week's news that the National Audiovisual Council in Lebanon is planning to ‘organise online media’ and speculation that this might include a requirement for blogs to be registered with the council, NOW Lebanon interviewed Abdel-Hadi Mahfouz the head of the council in an article published today. Mahfouz confirmed the council's proposals, including the requirement for registration: 

'Mahfouz told NOW Lebanon that both news websites and blogs should register, after which details would be hammered out on how the two should be regulated in the future (i.e., whether there should be a legal distinction between them). After registering, Mahfouz said online news sites should write a code of ethics to follow and contribute to drafting a new media law that would include them.'

31 Oct 2011

عن سلطة الطوائف و طرد الأخر من برج حمود



بعد تقرير المر تي في البائس و العنصري عن الشارع الممتد من برج حمود إلى الدورة و الذي حمل عنوان <أحياء في خطر>  أكد عضو تكتل "التغيير والإصلاح" النائب هاغوب بقرادونيان بداية حملة منظمة لطردالعمال الجانب من المنطقة، مدافعا عن هذا الإجراء التعسفي و مدعيا إن سكن هؤلاء العمال هناك < أوجد مشاكل منذ مدة غير قصيرة وممارسات غير لائقة ولاأخلاقية وبعيدة عن الآداب العامة>. ردد بقرادونيان بعض ما جاء في تقرير المر تي في من تعميمات لا منطقية و خطاب إكزينوفوبي ربط المشاكل الأمنية حصرا بتواجد العمال الأجانب في المنطقة. و الأسوأ من ذلك ان بقرادونيان كان يرد على اتهام بان بلدية برج حمود استهدفت السكان الاكراد السوريين تحديدا لتظاهرهم ضد النظام السوري، موضحا بان الطرد شمل جنسيات مختلفة. لا شك أن هناك صلة وثيقة بين تقرير المحطة التي، للمفارقة، طالما اعتبرت نفسها في صفوف المدافعين عن الحريات و إجراءات الطرد التي تتم بشكل غير قانوني نظرا لأنها تمت عبر ضغوط على المالكين لعدم تجديد عقود الإيجار، لا عبر تطبيق قوانين محددة.


30 Oct 2011

The Paradox of the Fragile Revolutions

It is perhaps a sign of these uncertain times that our perception of the Arab uprisings has been accompanied by a deep sense of anxiety. While the uprisings provided the most inspiring examples of political change we have witnessed for a long time, they have also been perceived from the beginning as fragile revolutions. This apparent contradiction fits with the wider political context that the uprisings were born into and that impacts on how outside observers and the Arab people demanding change perceive them. This is the paradox of the Arab uprisings: the apparent resurgence of political agency in an era in which the nature of that agency is understood primarily through its limitations.

27 Oct 2011

The Arab Dictator Halloween Style Guide


Why not celebrate Halloween in thematic style this year and commemorate the Arab Spring? We’ve put together a list of suggested dictator outfits that could be easily assembled with tips on making the right choice for you. We also provided a handy rating system for glamour and difficulty levels.

Ali Abdullah Saleh
Yemen’s president is one of the least glamorous Arab dictators and is a bad choice. He used to wear dark suits before the explosion that claimed half of his ear and left him badly burnt, but started dressing in more traditional attire since. This phase of his career is more suitable for Halloween but might be a bit in bad taste.
Difficulty: 3/5 Glamour 2:/5

26 Oct 2011

The Looming Threat of Online Censorship in Lebanon

I read this Daily Star story about Lebanon’s plan to ‘organise online media’ with a combination of alarm and amusement. I am alarmed by the censorship role that the National Audiovisual Council has been playing increasingly in recent years, but I am also amused by the incompetent authoritarianism of the Lebanese political class and its fumbling efforts to control the dynamic online scene. I should stress that this is not a characteristic that is unique to this government but is something that it shares with the previous March 14 cabinets.

It’s likely that most online users, bloggers and activists will ignore this latest initiative by the archaic NAC and treat it as the irrelevance that it is perceived to be. However, this creeping censorship role should be taken more seriously and opposed widely. While such battles with authority may not sound as glamorous as the Arab uprisings, it is important to defend the relative freedom of expression and speech that exist in Lebanon. It is also important to oppose such measures as that proposed by the NAC, requiring all Lebanese websites to register with the council for example at the risk of facing a ban, on principled grounds and not on fickle and instrumental grounds.

25 Oct 2011

21 Oct 2011

A diagram of Lebanon's War and Peace




The diagram maps the conflicts and shifting alliances of Lebanon's civil war and the post-war period, up to the present day. The way the diagram works is it traces which side each party was on and when it shifted direction along a line from 1975 to the present.It also maps the alliances and conflicts along the way, often between parties on the same side. The dividing line represents the major political camps over the past three and a half decades, although that is not necessarily how everyone understands them.

 The diagram is still work in progress and is missing many details so comments are welcome, both on form and content. Parties like Al-Morabitoun, Islalmic Amal, and Elie hobeika's Al Wa'ad, among several others, are not yet represented. I have taken some license in representing the FPM, associating it with its leader even though that's not exactly accurate. I have left out the Palestinian organisations, Syria and Israel for now as I try to work out how to place them without biasing the diagram. Again suggestions welcome. Click on the image for a larger version.

Thanks to Lina Abou Rislan for designing the diagram.  

7 Oct 2011

The Wall Street image the media doesn't want you to see? Fake!

The image above has been doing the rounds on social media, with many claiming that there is a conspiracy to keep the world from seeing it. It allegedly shows a huge Occupy Wall Street demonstration near the Woolworth Building in New York. Some have even talked of the 'photographer' being harassed. Now this would be very entertaining if it's wasn't so sad that many intelligent people are falling for an obviously doctored photograph. Not only it's doctored, there's no photographer because it's taken from Google Maps. Here's the link for the image as it appears now on Google, and you can see that the same picture (above) has been doctored to show thousands of people on the street. 

22 Sep 2011

الانتفاضات العربية: بين سجن الهوية و استجداء الرعاية



شاءت الأقدار أن تندلع الانتفاضات العربية خلال فترة من الضياع الفكري و زمن اندحار الأفكار السياسية و الفلسفية الكبرى التي شكلت إطار النقاش العام خلال القرن الماضي. غير أن احتفاء الكثيرين بعفوية الانتفاضات العربية و عدم تبنيها لأطر عقائدية و تنظيمية محددة ما لبث أن اصطدم بعدم قدرة هذه الانتفاضات على حزم الأمور لصالحها رغم الوهن الذي أصاب معظم الأنظمة و فقدانها الشرعية و الهيبة. أكثر ما يعبر عن حالة الضياع  الفكري و السياسي تلك هو عدم تبلور موقف منسجم و واضح من موضوع التدخل الغربي. من جهة هناك مريدي الحداثة و الاتصال بالغرب الذين يبدون الحماسة للتدخل بل و يعتبرون أن التدخل الغربي هو مسؤولية أخلاقية. و في الجهة الأخرى هناك أسرى منطق الهوية الذين يعتبرون إن كل ما يأتي من الغرب هو ملوث و مشبوه فيأخذ رفضهم للتدخل الغربي شكل الدفاع عن خصوصيات ثقافية عوض أن يكون موقفا مبدئيا.

22 Aug 2011

Gaddafi’s (near) Downfall: An unfortunate boost for liberal interventionism

As the news of the Libyan rebels’ takeover of Tripoli started to spread last night, it quickly became apparent that this development was being interpreted primarily as a vindication of the interventionist camp. As the situation in Libya appeared to be heading towards a stalemate over the past few months, several voices had started to question the wisdom of NATO's military intervention there. The fickle and unprincipled nature of this circumstantial anti-interventionism was no match for the triumphalism of the other side, even before the situation on the ground was properly understood. Worryingly, this ‘success’ seems to have already energised advocates of intervention, as speculation started about where the West could intervene next.

12 Aug 2011

On the consumption of atrocity media

When it comes to the Arab uprisings, there's a school of thought that equates atrocities with lack of legitimacy. A regime is repressive even if not outwardly violent. Hence I don't see the need for consumption of atrocity media. You're either for or against on principle, not in proportion to the violence.

27 Jul 2011

Zeid Hamdan and General Suleiman: The Authoritarianism of Fragile Egos

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

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

What's Happening to Beirut's Grand Theatre?

There's been a lot of speculation recently about the fate of one of downtown Beirut's historic buildings, the Grand Theatre, a 1930s cultural icon that has been abandoned since the end of the civil war in 1990. The recent demolition of a section of the Grand Theatre complex was perceived by many as a prelude to the demolition of the entire building, and rumours about this spread online very quickly. This came as a surprise to me as Solidere, the private development company in charge of the reconstruction of Beirut's city centre, had confirmed in 2009 that the theatre building was going to be restored and converted into a boutique hotel. The British architectural  firm Rogers Stirk Harbour had won the commission to design the hotel following an international design competition.

8 Jul 2011

A Premier League Guide to Lebanese Politics.


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

5 Jul 2011

The Folly of March 14’s STL Gamble.


As the first day of parliamentary talks kicks off in Lebanon ahead of a vote of confidence in the new cabinet, the March 14 coalition began its first real stint in opposition. There were no surprises as its MPs took to the platform, the coalition had already announced that the government’s commitment to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) was going to be at the heart of its opposition to the ministerial policy statement. Despite the significant local, regional, and international shifts, March 14 seems to be intent on pursuing the tribunal as a central political goal. To complicate matters further, the new opposition is resurrecting the debate about disarming Hezbollah in conjunction with the discussion about the STL stance. This is an unwise move, March 14 is missing a chance to reenergise itself and find a renewed sense of purpose.

2 Jul 2011

Nasrallah's Reaction to the STL Indictment



Hassan Nasrallah’s speech about the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s (STL) indictment was a spectacular display of political theatre. We have become accustomed to the Hezbollah leader’s master performances, and today he did not disappoint. The speech had all the usual ingredients: criminal evidence, intricate conspiracies, and a defiant but reasoned political message. It seems that Nasrallah is pinning his hopes on winning the public opinion battle by undermining the credibility of the STL and dissuading his opponents in March 14 from pursuing its agenda.  

1 Jul 2011

Lebanon's Ministerial Policy Statement -STL article

 The most contentious item in the new cabinet's policy statement is undoubtedly the one dealing with the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. As-Safir newspaper has published a leaked copy of the full text in Arabic. I couldn't find an English translation, below is my own attempt at translating it myself. The paragraph is intentionally vague in Arabic, I hope I managed in capturing the exact tone. As I argued yesterday, PM Mikati is trying to perform a delicate balancing act between internal and external pressure with respect to the STL, an attitude clearly reflected in the leaked statement. 

30 Jun 2011

‘The Indictment’: A Thriller lacking in action. The STL Predicament



So we finally have it. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s (STL) indictment in the Hariri murder case has been handed to the Lebanese General Prosecutor Sa’id Mirza. Although the indictment itself has not been made public yet, its contents have been widely leaked  in keeping with the STL’s shoddy record. The indictment reportedly names four suspects implicated in the assassination, all members of Hezbollah. The General Prosecutor has thirty days to arrest the suspects before the indictment is made public. The STL’s fondness for delayed gratification is exemplary, an attitude that seems to be shared by Lebanese politicians now. The responses to the indictment so far have been largely evasive, reflecting a lack of eagerness to bring things to a conclusion. Inaction will be the main headline for the foreseeable future.  

24 Jun 2011

A short handbook to revolution: Six myths about the Arab uprisings


The spectacular and expeditious ousting of Mubarak and Ben-Ali from their long-held positions of power left many scrambling for a convenient interpretation. What largely emerged however were hastily constructed narratives designed more to confirm their authors’ convictions than to reveal meaning. It didn’t take long for those accounts to be rattled when the subsequent uprisings did not adhere to the neat model observed in Egypt and Tunisia. Libya’s uprising was the first to deviate from the script, followed by Bahrain, Yemen and lastly Syria. As we encounter complex situations threatening extended periods of instability, it's time to dispel some of the lingering myths about the uprisings.

20 Jun 2011

The Syrian Uprising: the Prospect of a Protracted Stalemate and Western Intervention

Note: A German version of this article has been published at Novo Argumente

Three months on and it’s clear that the Syrian uprising is not lacking in stamina. While it may have seemed for a while back in February that Syria was immune from the uprisings that swept across the Arab world, it didn’t take long for a minor spark to set in motion a series of demonstrations across the country. The Syrian regime’s authority was quickly undermined as the Syrian people took to the streets demanding freedom and political reform. The harsh retaliation has not succeeded so far in putting down the protest movement that comes alive every Friday in Syrian cities and towns. But it is also clear that the Syrian Uprising has failed to attain the critical mass required to stage large-scale demonstrations in the capital Damascus or the largest city Aleppo. The sporadic nature of both the uprising and the government’s retaliation points to a protracted struggle that is likely to go on for some time. As the prospect of a stalemate becomes more evident, calls for external intervention are becoming more persistent. Such calls represent a real danger to the prospects for  change.

18 Jun 2011

13 Jun 2011

The Cabinet of Curiosities: Is Lebanon finally abandoning consensual politics?




The long wait is over. Lebanon finally has a new cabinet following four and a half months of intense haggling, horse-trading and political paralysis that coincided with one of the most tumultuous periods in the region. Earlier today Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati announced the formation of the new cabinet that some have imaginatively labeled ‘one-sided’, in reference to the supposed predominance of March 8 figures within it. The complicated manoeuvres that paved the way for its formation should dispel any illusions that this cabinet is one-sided in any politically meaningful way. Nevertheless, because of the exclusion of March 14 figures from its ranks it leaves the country with something resembling a parliamentary opposition. Below are several preliminary observations on the significance of this situation and the character of this cabinet:

18 Mar 2011

The No-Fly Zone in Libya: Hijacking the Arab Uprisings

Last night’s UN Security Council’s decision to authorise military action in Libya was greeted with almost universal jubilation revealing how confused the anti-imperialist camp has become. The very same people who had been opposed to the US invasion and continuing presence in Iraq and Afghanistan cheered the decision that will supposedly prevent Qaddafi from massacring his people. This also revealed the left’s lack of faith in revolutionary politics: overnight the Libyans were turned from subjects attempting to take control of their destiny into victims in need of protection. The most troubling aspect of this is the willingness to recognise the West’s moral superiority, failing to acknowledge that Western intervention has been actively propping up authoritarian Arab regimes for decades. The no-fly zone is nothing to celebrate, on the contrary it signals a major turning point that will hand the West the initiative allowing it to ensure its interests are maintained in the region. It will also undermine the legitimacy of the autonomous Arab uprisings as they begin to be associated with Western sponsorship. We have entered a new phase with direct Western intervention that will pose serious threats to the pursuit of freedom in Arab countries.


4 Feb 2011

The Egyptian Uprising: on the universal aspiration for freedom

The sheer exhilaration that I felt in response to the  Egyptian uprising, admittedly as a voluntarily-implicated observer, has been somewhat dampened by the reaction of Western elites to this phenomenal display of courage and yearning for change. On the one hand, it seemed that the Egyptian people have managed, despite extremely adverse circumstances, to translate the universal ideals of liberty and autonomy into concrete political actions that have inspired millions around the world. But on the other hand it seems to have exposed how little faith in those very same ideals there is in the West today, as exemplified by the strange debates that are being conducted about the prospects of the Egyptian uprising. The most bizarre suggestion that I have heard is that this uprising somehow vindicates the neo-con position that democracy is possible in the Middle East! This confirms the impression that I had about some in the anti-Iraq War camp: their opposition to the War was not based on a principled rejection of Western intervention but on their lack of faith in democracy and liberty as universal values.


17 Jan 2011

Tunisia: Hopes, Myths and Copycat Revolutions

The success of the Tunisian uprising in forcing President Bin Ali to relinquish power last week has sparked off hopes of change across the Arab world. Considering that most Arab leaders hang on to power till the last day of their lives, this is no mean feat. Bin Ali's departure from office after 23 years of autocratic rule and as a result of a popular uprising seems to have broken the crippling barrier of fear. The question that many are asking now is who's next? Even the BBC has volunteered a few candidates and asked 'will there be a domino effect?' 


16 Jan 2011

The March 8 Paradox: Thoughts on Nasrallah's Speech

On the eve of the parliamentary consultations to determine the next Prime Minister of Lebanon and, as rumour has it, the long-awaited indictment of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), the Secretary General of Hezbollah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah delivered a speech this evening in which he declared March 8's decision not to nominate Hariri again for the post. Hezbollah's ally Michel Aoun, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, had earlier in the day made a similar declaration. Both stressed that their opposition to Hariri's return to the premiership is not solely related to the STL, but also to the shoddy performance of the government and its incompetence.


13 Jan 2011

When Karl Marx quoted Hariri

"He who never destroys what he has built, ever stands

On this terrestrial world, which itself never stands still,"

says Hariri, who is no Frenchman by birth, but an Arab."
 
(Karl Marx, On Freedom of the Press)


Lebanon's self-induced paralysis

Firstly, the significance of latest ‘crisis’ to hit the Lebanese political system following the resignation of 11 cabinet ministers yesterday, and the de facto resignation of the cabinet that ensued, should be properly understood. The Lebanese confessional system appears to be exhibiting the symptoms of the law of diminishing returns: in the past this system used to function for a couple of decades in between major crises. This cycle how now been shortened to two years. By any objective measure, this system has now completely exhausted itself. Nevertheless, a viable alternative remains conspicuously absent.