Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sectarian Venom & Cynical Christmas Greetings

The hapless Amr Moussa is back to save the Lebanese zuama from eachother. Nobody knows what's going to happen from one day to the next. Adapting to this atmosphere of uncertainty, many Lebanese are doing a phenomenal job of buckling down, shopping, partying and forgetting about politics.

Denial is not a river in Egypt; it's a shopping mall in Achrafiye. ABC is reporting record sales as are all the off-downtown businesses and restaurants. Future Movement has put up christmas trees along the periphery of downtown decorated with "I love life" ribbons. We wouldn't want the "culture of death" to ruin our Christmas cheer.

A friend who teaches at a snazzy private school outside Beirut reports that when a Shia student misbehaves, the other teachers attribute it to typical "Shia behavior". He says this attitude predates the summer war; the only difference is that his Shia students are no longer shamed by the prejudice against them, but rather proud and defiant.

In Germany we have something called the "Weinachtsmarkt", which runs from December 1st until the new year. White tents are pitched to serve as booths, food and drinks are available, and entertainment is provided, all in a central area. In Beirut, we have the opposition sit-in in the center of the city, which has become a venue for affordable entertainment. My friend, the teacher, reports that his Shia students tease the others by boasting of the cheap narghileh they enjoyed at the "new downtown". Apparently the Shia boys go to to meet Aounist girls, but all the students have to leave the encampment by a certain hour on week nights.

His Sunni students have adopted the following slogan for their MSN messenger profiles: "If we ruled by majority, we would be ruled by cockroaches." Cockroaches = baby-making Shia.

And there you have it. This is an adaptation of Henry Kissinger's infamous comment, after the Chileans voted for Allende in the 1970s: "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people." Walid Jumblatt couldn't have said it better himself.

Supplement "Communist" with "Hamas" or "anti-western", and you have American and March 14th policy in a nutshell. The US support Abu Mazen's opportunistic call for new elections in the Palestinian territories, less than a year after free and fair elections (freer and fairer than the Lebanese buy-yourself-a-Tripolian-vote tactics embraced by Hariri's Future Movement.) But does the same go for the opposition in Lebanon? Nah. Fouad Siniorita will reign until kingdom come. If he's going to stick around for much longer, I recommend he start speaking out of the other corner of his mouth.

Have you noticed how Hezbollah's Al Manar now runs happy-go-lucky music throughout the day to accompany the endless flag-waving clips? It must be a real provocation for March 14th, who first coopted the (Maronite) flag as a symbol of unity last year, to see Hezbollah crowds waving it deliriously to upbeat tunes. Not to suggest that ALL sects haven't come to love the cedar symbolism over the years, even if the Christian rightwing Phalangists slaughtered other Lebanese under a variation on the same theme.

There is discussion of "expanding the cabinet" to reach a compromise between the ruling coalition and the opposition. Does that mean they will simply create MORE ministries to faciliate powersharing? As if to say, it's easier to divide the cake into 30 rather than 24 pieces? If so, I would like to suggest some ministries:

- The Ministry of Honoring Phoenicia
- The Ministry of Elite Martyrdom
- The Ministry of Flags
-The Ministry of Loving Life
- The Ministry of Choreographing Demonstrations
- The "We-want-the-Truth" and Reconciliation Commission

And here's a few serious ones:
- Ministry of Stringent Media Reform
-Ministry of Marginalizing Clerics & Patriarchs
- Ministry of Eradicating Sectarianism. Add to that, for good measure, a competing "Agency for Phasing Out Confessionalism". That way they can shuffle the blame (and paperwork) around.

Feel free to suggest additional new ministries. Trust me, new ministries will create jobs, help ease unemployment and Paris 3 will finance the expanding bureaucratic nightmare.

I just heard this from a "second hand" source, which makes me the "third" hand to relay this: Hezbollah has PROOF that a Portugese military plane from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, landed in Beirut and left again, the very day of Gemayel's assassination. That's breaking news on Al Manar TV. That's terrific, guys. Good work. I look forward to the "proof". Would they be stupid enough to fly in straight from Tel Aviv to knock off Gemayel? Did the plane have a distinguishing scar on its face?

Keep stretching the epistomological boundaries. I find it ever so haughty to present half-ass evidence or no evidence but rather constantly refer to it. Citizens should trust no politician blindly because he or she claims something is true. Your own solid reasoning and penchant for conspiratorial reverie will suffice.

I know who I blame for the current mess, but people deserve a break. Virgin Megastore deserves a break. Couldn't they have saved it for the "lull" between Christmas and New Year's, where everyone just sits around getting fat on leftovers?

Thank you to the bloggers who did not post this video, the one that poses the daunting question, "When will we be Lebanese?" The whole "anti-sectarian" campaign is missing a crucial element: systemic criticism. I mean, Lebanese sentimentalism has never helped people to overcome their differences. It's not just a deeply engrained prejudice that keeps this country trapped in the throes of infighting; it's the system-- the way you are born, vote, marry, die-- that crushes in its infancy any serious attempt at de-confessionalization. Which is one of many reasons why the whole March 14th "100% Lebanese" fest was a bunch of bollox. I've heard from someone who worked at the PR company that created this particular slogan that the guy who dreamed it up was a real "kill all the Shia" type.

The "stop sectarianism before it stops us" campaign, the most recent brainchild of international PR mogul Leo Burnett, fails for the same reason. It's cheesy, it's simplistic, it's ultimately meaningless, and if it really sought to be provocative it would mock the real issues-- marriage and electoral laws, the sore absence of civic institutions. Instead of this "c'est pas cooooool to be sectarian, dude" approach. It's like those abstinence-only ad campaigns in the US. Stop premaritual sex before it stops you.

The success of such a campaign is of course hindered by the feudal elite's interest in maintaining the system, but also because too many people aren't really willing to part with the tribal guarantees, grand and petty wasta'ism, what they perceive to be the preservation of culture and tradition, etc.

A friend recently pointed out that many Sunnis now miss the pre-1975 balance of power, when Maronites and Sunnis ruled together sans Shia, so to speak. Because now the Shia have overtaken them in size and demands and the sectarian power-sharing formula can work without the Sunnis. But instead of pushing for de-confessionalization, the Sunnis (and Druze) desperately cling to it and labor under the illusion that a regional and international campaign to wish the Shia away will serve them better. (Not to say that the other sects are less sectarian.)

Think back to before the war when Saudi Arabia & co were still somewhat closeted about their anti-Shia sentiments. OK, one of the King Abdullahs said something about the threat of a "Shia crescent". But that did at least cause a minor outrage at the time.

Since the summer war, when the "moderate" Arab regimes came out of the closet to say the Persians pose a greater threat than the Zionists, Iran has become the culprit in Iraq, in Palestine, in Lebanon, and so on and so forth. And the Saudis are openly talking about backing the Sunnis in Iraq if the US withdraws. No wonder Nancy Pelosi's new candidate for the Senate Intelligence Committee doesn't know the difference between Sunnis and Shia. They are supposedly there to fight (Sunni Salafist) Al Qaeda, but (Shia) Iran is the motherf****ing problem, right? It's very confusing. I love the way the Sunni-Shia rift is ascribed to a petty doctrinary schism 1400 years ago that defies comprehension. As if to say, they disagreed on what color to paint the livingroom and have henceforth been estranged.

Merry Christmas. I mean that in the purest secular sense of eat, drink and be merry. Let's hope the next year brings prosperity to Virgin Megastore at Martyrs' Square, and all will be well.

Thank you for having me in 2oo6. It goes without saying that I prefer living in your country to mine, despite all the cruel things I say about your flags and leadership. Anyone prefer Angela Merkel over Walid Jumblatt? What a scary couple they would make. A hairdresser's nightmare, to say the least.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Mehlis, New Years Party Plans & the Campaign to save our beloved Virgin

My last post aroused some heated responses and brought to the surface ugly divisions, even violent impulses. This was not my intention. Perhaps the rule-of-thumb that the victims of violence are somehow sacrosanct and immune to criticism inhibits the honest expression of grotesque sentiments, such as "I wish the Israelis had finished off all the Shia" and "we had a party for every dead inhabitant of the Dahiye". In which case, let's keep it at that-- simmering beneath the surface. I prefer not to take the spate of opinions expressed here as indicative of Lebanese public opinion. And if that comment about "finish off all the Shia" was meant to be funny, then perhaps humor-- subtle or not-- isn't quite your forté.

Furthermore I reiterate what I have said on prior occasion: I don't seek to please everyone. If you are a self-declared Phoenician, a war-on-Christmas paranoiac, a Lebanese (white) supremecist or a March 14th enthusiast, please don't whine if you don't like what I write. You have ninety percent of the Lebanese blogosphere at your disposal.

On to more important business. It hasn't rained for a month now. It should be pouring rain for days on end in late November/early December. Did God abandon his reknowned impartiality and side with the opposition? Did Ayatollah Khameini issue a fatwa against the rain? Is global warming a Persian/Alawite conspiracy?

Every cab driver now defers to God when I ask him about the situation, and points to the sky. The protest in downtown continues unabated. It seems they are planning to hold out at least until New Years Eve for a monumental bash. If you've ever had the misfortune of consuming non-alcoholic champagne at an office party, you know what to expect at that particular venue.

I received a charitable plea from Virgin Megastore via e-mail yesterday. If you read this on time, please drop what you're doing and go spend money at "our beloved Virgin" (I kid you not, that's what it said) on Martyrs' Square, or else Richard Bronson will die of untreated cancer.

I don't understand why the business community wasn't defiant from the very beginning. They should have mobilized their supporters from Day 1 to shop until they drop at the overpriced boutiques and restaurants downtown. The only businesses obstructed by the presence of porta-potties and tents are Buddha-bar, that cigarstore on the corner of Riad el-Solh, and some of the worst elitist silicone-babe nightclubs you can find in this city. Like Taboo. I am however concerned that the barb- and razewire will become a permanent manifestation if this doesn't end soon.

By the way, what did Dr. Fatfat prescribe his favorite patient?

Prime Minister Siniora, who apparently suffers from severe mood swings, is off to Moscow today. I hope they don't slip him some sushi laced with Plutonium-210. We don't need any more martyrs.

The owner of a restaurant I frequent in Gemmayze told me that Detlef Mehlis, the earstwhile UN investigator, will return to finish the job. "It will be our Christmas present," he said crossing himself. In case you haven't been following this, Mehlis has been leaking very serious allegations against Brammertz to the German press. According to an exclusive report in Der Stern, Brammertz has intentionally de-railed the investigation over the past year, instead of following up on Mehlis' claims that al-Assad, Ghazali & co. ordered Hariri's assassination. Now if I was going to choose between believing Mehlis or Brammertz I would bear in mind the following points:

1) Mehlis was on the job for six months, during which he waltzed around in a trench coat, kicking in doors, gave press conferences and made bold accusations, which --admittedly--was fun to watch on TV. I remember my Sunni Beiruti landlord, in a fit of infatuation, saying, "You look like Mehlis when you smile." A misguided compliment, to say the least. Brammertz has been in charge of the investigation for twice that time-- twelve months. During his tenure, he has discreetly pursued various leads, re-examined all the forensic evidence, and for some reason, the Syrians seemed happy to cooperate with him.

2) Mehlis is a well-known friend of American intelligence services. Ask any German. He has botched judicial precedings in the past-- incidentally-- by jumping to hasty conclusions which were later discredited. In the late 1980s he was the presiding prosecutor on the La Belle case-- the bombing of a West Berlin nightclub in which dozens of disco-dancing American GIs perished.

Mehlis, at the time, hastily blamed Libya for the bombing and Reagan went ahead and bombed Gaddafi's presidential palace in Tripoli. A few years later, an investigative report on ZDF Frontal alleged that the actual suspect was a deranged CIA/Mossad agent who had been hiding in Malta, and that Mehlis had in fact questioned him but chose not to indict him, despite the fact that all the evidence pointed towards his involvement. Oops!

3) If Mehlis claims any impartiality and respect for the due process of law, how does he know that Syria assassinated Pierre Gemayel? He is sitting in his office in Berlin, twiddling his thumbs, having returned to his rather unglamorous job as prosecutor of petty thieves and drug dealers. If he merely suspects Syrian involvment, why did he jump the gun and publicize his opinion?

Furthermore, why were Mehlis' investigators flying around in Hariri's private jets? Why has Mehlis' second-in-command, a German intelligence agent who is simultaneously embroiled in the CIA kidnapping and "extraordinary rendition" of one German-Lebanese Khalid Masri, been spotted in Beirut and rumored to be working as an adviser for the Hariri dynasty? Slightly unprofessional, no?

The problem with March 14th is that they are evidently as foolish as the White House, hiring disreputable Ahmed Chalabi-types to make their case. Mehlis has no credibility. None whatsoever. And why not get someone honest and well-respected to do the job? And finally, Mehlis is not cute. As a personal aquaintance of his can testify, Mehlis looks like a little binturong raccoon straight out of the Brazilian rainforest. Add those stylish frameless glasses that most humorless and vain Germans like to wear. (I added that last part for critics who complain that my writing resembles a gossip column.)

The funny thing is that March 14th's media will hype any of the UN investigation's conclusions. If Brammertz reports that Bashar al-Assad was taking a crap when Hariri was killed, well then that's evidence of foul play. If Brammertz suggests that an aerial attack might have caused the former Prime Minister's demise, well then what?

We don't know and I dare say we will never know who killed Rafiq Hariri. It's shameful, I know.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

666 days of martyrdom, the perpetual mistress & another counter rally

Yesterday marked the 666 day anniversary since Rafiq al-Hariri's assassination. I wish I had photographed the billboard at the entrance to Hamra; a pensive Hariri underneath the numbers '666'.

I am sick to the death of flags. I don't care who is waving which flag, it gives me a bloody headache. There's nothing "civilized" about waving a flag, a term I've noticed many Lebanese use as a synonym for "the rule of law".

Late one night Maya and I visited our local cornerstore, which is run by two very old Armenian ladies. The younger of the two, struck up a conversation and asked us where we were from. Maya responded, "Palestine". The little old lady gasped in terror; perhaps she hasn't seen a Palestinian in her neck of the woods since the Qarantina massacre of 1976. Her eyes widened and she looked like she was going to hit the burglar alarm. "But... but, you must have another passport, too, no?" To which Maya, the master of short and sweet answers, responded flatly, "No." The old lady was at a loss for words, until Maya reassured her that she had lived abroad, in Spain. The lady breathed a sigh of relief. "How is it there? Aren't they much more civilized and educated than us?" Maya responded, "No" again and then took a deep breath. Counting on her fingers, she relayed that the Spaniards were "more violent, more dirty, more disrespectful, more uneducated" than Arabs. The old lady stared in amazement. "Really? But I thought all Europeans were... you know..." "No," Maya responded again. End of conversation. As we left the store, I asked Maya if this was true about the Spaniards. "Of course not," she said matter-of-factly.

An-Nahar and the pro-government have borrowed "the war on Christmas"-theme from American rightwing hysterics. Every day a different neighbor in Achrafiye complains that we won't have Christmas if Hezbollah continues to camp out in downtown Beirut. What the "divine victory" isn't to Santa's liking? One minute the opposition's bid to overthrow the government is too festive; the next minute, it's not festive enough for Jesus' birthday. I noticed today that businesses are opening again in the lower half of downtown Beirut.

I spent three hours in a cab sunday trying to cross town from Achrafiye to Hamra during the opposition rally. That's three hours of driving further and further south, in order to go ever so slightly west and then being forced to head back east to Achrafiye to try the same route again. The road leading downtown was packed with protesters all the way to Tayoune. The cab driver, a Hariri supporter from Tripoli, honked enthusiastically for the throngs of protesters surrounding our car. The other passenger, a Shia from a prominent family with plucked eyebrows and bleached white teeth, an aspiring popstar, kept us entertained by crooning Celine Dion songs. He cursed the protesters for being "uncivilized" and "dirty". I insisted we get out and walk, but Maya maintained that our "fate" was sealed with the driver and additional passenger, and so instead she shouted out of the window at the soldiers blocking the road that this was unacceptable, much to everyone's amusement. "I've never seen so many happy Shia," Maya remarked. We spoke at length about the Shia tradition of martyrdom and suffering, unjustice and persecution, and how the Shia are having a good time for the first time in 1400 years.

Saniora, Jumblatt & co. have warned that the opposition is staging a "coup" to overthrow the government. In my estimation the real coup is an aesthetic one. They have hi-jacked the March 14th look with all those Lebanese flags, the carnival-like atmosphere, their declarations of "unity" and "one Lebanon". Al Manar now runs a clip depicting workers sporting Rafiq Hariri's favorite headwear, the yellow construction helmet. It only seems more bizarre when you see a "counter rally" in support of the government staged in Tripoli with participants waving the same flag. The average age of the Tripoli rally participants was nine; Future TV zoomed in close to conceal the actual size of the gathering. They have all kinds of visual manipulation techniques, where they shoot the same crowd of 20 people from different angles.

Today is the first anniversary of Gebran Tueni's assassination. David Ignatius, a columnist with the Washington Post, attended an event in Beirut in Tueni's honor and Thomas Friedman put in his two cents via a pre-recorded televised address.

"Ignatius said 'Tueni and An-Nahar remind us that journalism is about telling the truth, even when others want you to be silent,' said American syndicated columnist David Ignatius.

'Courageous words' from prominent figures such as Tueni, 'are not bought cheap,' Ignatius added."

I wish those old farts would just go away. An-Nahar has not been the voice of "truth", or balance for that matter, in many years. Like Friedman, Ignatius lived in Beirut in the early 1980s, when he still considered himself a "progressive" or whatever. He has since gone over to the dark side. And if you consider Friedman a good columnist, then you are illiterate. A critic once wrote, "Reading Friedman is fascinating–the same way that it’s fascinating to watch a zoo gorilla make mounds out of its own feces." Read the entire hilarious review.

We now refer to the frequent gatherings of the black-clad Christian widows of deceased leaders as "the wives' club". May Chidiac always looks a bit awkward at these events, a party crasher of sorts; the perpetual mistress with her bloated silicone lips and trashy attire.

May Chidiac with the deceased Gebran Tueni

I wonder if the wives gather in the bathroom to re-apply lipstick and gossip about her. Word has it she was Samir Geagea's mistress throughout the civil war and that he dumped her to marry a pretty village girl, Sti rida. How interconnected and incestuous. I had no idea.

A demonstration under the banner, "Ana misch ma hadda" (I'm not with anyone) is scheduled for Thursday at 4.30pm in Hamra. It is in opposition to both March 14th and March 8th/December 1st, because the former sucks and the latter does not tackle the issues of confessionalism, and social and economic justice. Rather the opposition furthers sectarian politics, despite its parading of Sunni supporters. Yes, the opposition is a rather promiscuous assortment of parties who are vying for a bigger piece of the pie, and are wasting our time if this is all for a "national unity government." Are they all going to sit back down at the table and continue like before until the next crisis arises?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

And on the 7th day, Nasrallah spoke

The protest downtown is in its seventh day. They have errected a huge screen which broadcasts Hezbollah's Al Manar TV. This evening, hundreds of thousands gathered for the transmission of a live address by Hassan Nasrallah.

The protesters have been beaming floodlights towards the Grand Serail, illuminating the entire second floor and perhaps blinding the inhabitants --the entire kabal of Muftis and half the Lebanese cabinet. Like it or not, witnessing the brazen harassment of the powers-that-be is somehow deeply satisfying. Its right out of the annals of Guantanamo: sleep deprivation, loud noise and bright lights. If Dick Cheney led the Lebanese opposition, he would dunk Saniora's head under water.

Can you imagine that late night phonecall to Saudi King Abdullah?

"Hello, oh Guardian of the two holy Sites, peace be upon you. I'm sorry to bother you at this hour. I know how very busy you are hunting near-extinct animals, snorting cocaine and threatening to break off diplomatic relations with the UK. But these little Shia buggers are shining bright lights in through my window. It's starting to give me a headache. Your intervention is required. Might you please call Speaker Berri and insist that he put an end to this? Perhaps they could also just lower the voltage of the lights, or go with a warmer hue of lighting. Yes precisely, they're using that unflattering white light. Thanks so much, oh Abdullah."

The tents downtown are now propped up on crates and sealed to protect them in case of rain. They are still dancing debka and eating kaak in the thousands. The soldiers have their own emcampment on the other side of the Grand Serail. The noise from the demonstration echoes westward across Bab Idriss and down towards the port. Chants of "Fatfat, you tough guy, one coffee and two teas", a reference to orders the earstwhile Interior Minister gave a Lebanese general who served tea to the Israeli army occupying a Lebanese barracks, keep spirits high. A man with a microphone on the eastern end of the tent city-- near the Marada encampment-- yells into a microphone: "Nayla Mouawad". The crowd responds, "Booooh". "Samir Geagea". "Booooh." "Sti rida Geagea." "Boooooooooooooh." "Fuad Saniora". "Boooooooooooooooh".

My friend A., the owner of a cafe, reports that a Lebanese soldier-- the ones who wear navy blue uniforms-- entered his cafe during peak hour the other morning. He walked up to the counter and requested a coffee. "But give me a good one. A really good one. I just ordered coffee in another cafe and I didn't like it, so I threw it in the man's face," he said. A. responded, "Well perhaps we should go outside then. If the coffee is not to your liking, you can throw it in my face without creating a mess on the floor." The soldier drank his coffee. He liked it and apologized. "I'm sorry, I'm just so stressed out. You see, I go down to the protest every day, and the demonstrators shout and curse me. They hate me. But there's nothing I can do. It's my job," he complained. As he finished his sentence, a woman in the cafe started yelling at him for serving in the army in the first place. A. felt sorry for the soldier.

I took a cab from downtown to Hamra last night through Basta and Bourj Abi Haidar (the site of recent street brawls between Hariri and Hezbollah/Amal supporters). The cab driver drove at a million miles an hour, refusing to stop for other passengers. It reminded me of cross-town cab rides during the war. While the Israelis were bombing the Dahiye late one night, I clocked a ride from Hamra to Achrafiye in 3 minutes.

A joke in circulation forebodes that Amal will refuse to leave the encampment downtown without receiving bribe money in exchange. After the civil war, the government had to pay off members of the Amal movement to vacate buildings they had squatted during the war.

Future (Al Mustaqbal), the newspaper of the Hariri family, reports that the sit-in has cost the economy $400 million. That includes "$100 million in potential investments." All this according to Hariri family friend and economist Marwan Iskandar, whose recent biography of Hariri included such pearls of wisdom as, "Hariri was not only a wise and a good man, but also a strong man. He valued physical exercise and ate egg-white omelettes for breakfast...".

Iskandar told Al Mustaqbal that the Lebanese economy was now operating at 30% of its capacity, which raised the total of its losses since the beginning of the sit-in to over $300 million, in addition to around $100 million in investment losses. He pointed out that the investments that Lebanon had attracted during the first half of 2006, exceeded $3 billion. Iskandar said that: ‘There is a massive danger surrounding the state of investments in Lebanon if the daily carnivals and the evening insults continue, for that will change the image of Beirut from a shining civilized image…, to one of political disputes and the insults of a group of children’. (translation courtesy of Mideastwire)

Shining civilized image? Quick! Hide all the Shia! Madame Royal, the champagne socialist, is coming to town...

In his speech this evening, which broadcast live on all the major networks except Future TV, Nasrallah commanded his followers not to shoot in the air after he speaks and to stop hurling insults at those hunkered down in Saniora's bunker. He spoke of unity and forgiveness, and swore that Hezbollah would never ever respond to any provocation by turnings its weapons against the Lebanese. He also unleashed hefty accusations, claiming that Saniora ordered the army to cut off Hezbollah's supply lines, while they were under Israeli attack. Without naming them, he alluded to specific individuals from the ruling coalition, who encouraged the Israelis to finish Hezbollah off, because they (March 14th) are unable to disarm them. Instead of aiding the resistance by routing out infiltrators, they searched high and low for Nasrallah, and even informed the Israelis of his previous whereabouts so that they could eliminate him.

The protests will continue until March 14th agree to a national unity government (sans Saniora). The ruling coalition is finished. I wonder how long it will take the "moderate" Arab regimes and international cheerleaders of the "Cedar Revoution" to accept that fact, and let poor old Saniora off the hook.

In other news, former KGB-spy Litvinienko, who was poisoned in a Sushi restaurant in London, converted to Islam shortly before his death. And Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter is having a baby from her partner Heather Poe.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Fatfatism (in Arabic, الفتفتية) refers to the parodic ideology tied to the person of the Minister of the Interior in Lebanon, Ahmad Fatfat. This ideology, which has come to refer to a certain "Moderate" breed of political behavior in the Middle East, can be explained, according to Dr. As'ad Abu Khalil, the intellectual who coined the term, as such:

" requires no commitment to principles; it merely adjusts to the interests of the political status of Ahmad Fatfat. The ideology contains contradictions: it speaks of democracy and 'liberalism' and yet cultivates support among Bin Laden supporters in North Lebanon and serves as a client for Saudi Wahhabism; it speaks in favor of 'sovereignty' and 'independence' while it faithfully represented the interests of the tyrannical Syrian regime, and now represents the external patrons of Sanyurah. The ideology of Fatfatism believes that the most effective way for fighting foreign occupation is serving tea to the occupation soldiers. While it is widely believed that Fatfatism is a Lebanese phenomenon, it is now noticed that Fatfatism is spreading in countries in the Middle East and well beyond the Middle East."

The December protests in Beirut, Lebanon in 2006 included chants which echoed a wide-spread understanding of Fatfatism. The chant went, according to primary sources: "احمد فتفت يا قابدي واحد قهوة واثنان شاي" (Ahmad Fatfat, you tough guy; one coffee and two tea). This reaction to Fatfatism can be understood in the wider framework of discontent in the Middle East with politicians like Hosni Mubarak, Abu Mazen, Iyad Allawi, and Fouad Sanyurah who are perceived by the general Arab public to be no more than tools of Western imperial powers.

Miltias, "Kidnapping Activities" & the Armed Kaak Salesman

John Bolton (or Michael Bolton, as I've mistakenly called him for the past year) has resigned. I am very pleased. For some reason he irked me more than almost anyone else working for the Bush administration. I usually don't pay attention to the personal shortcomings of repulsive ideologues (aside from my fascination with those meth-sniffing callboy-banging evangelicals). But the image of Bolton chasing a female employee down a hotel corridor haunts me, as much as the rumors that he coerced his ex-wife to partake in orgies. That moustache. Yuck.

That's all for the good news.

Street fights between Sunni Hariri supporters and the Shia opposition have errupted in various neighborhoods around town for the past few nights, and between Druze and Shia at the Lebanese University. The army is not able to control the sporadic and widespread incidents of violence. Future reports that the Shia "invaded" their neighborhoods "in vehicles". I guess invaded on motorscooters doesn't sound quite as threatening. The (Sunni) Mufti of Aktar compares the demonstrators to pagans who protested against the Prophet Mohammad in Mecca. Ali Hamade-- brother of Marwan Hamade-- writes in An-Nahar that Hezbollah (i.e. the Shia) are impossible to "Arabize" and "Lebanonize."

Hezbollah's al-Manar TV screened footage from the shooting of 20-year old Ahmed Mahmoud on Sunday, which supposedly incriminates Hariri followers.Al Manar refered to Hariri's armed supporters as the "Future militia" and named the suspected killer. A billboard at Riad al Solh Square, the site of the opposition's sit-in, depicts Mr. Mahmoud who was "martyred by the ruler's militia". He was buried this afternoon.

The Future Movement, in turn, accused Hezbollah of staging "kidnapping activities" in Bshamoun. What in God's name is a "kidnapping activity"? I do not believe anything Future TV reports unless it is confirmed by additional sources. And I am writing all this while seated next to the slimy first cousin of the equally slimy heir to the Future throne...

A European woman who lives in Basta says that everyone has grown accustomed to staying indoors between 9.30 and 10.30pm because young men routinely attack eachother with rocks and knives. I asked her, "what happens at 10.30 to make them stop? Does the army intervene?" "The army or someone else. Another party," she responded. She looked tired. I asked her if she was planning to stay in Beirut. She said she would not stay if things get much worse and more "unpredictable".

Yesterday at a cafe in Hamra, a middle-aged foreign man in casual dress sat down next to me at the bar counter. He was at least twenty years older than the average clientele and looked rather out of place sitting at the bar, a book in hand. He ordered a diet Pepsi and remained engrossed by the same page of a Henry Thoreaux novel for the better part of two hours. Not once did he turn the page. Which reminds me of stories about the Syrian mukhabarat (secret police) standing in the midst of a crowd of protesters, holding a newspaper to their face while peering over it to scrutinize the crowd. My spy radar went on high alert and I stared intently to see if his eyes were actually moving across the page. They were not.

Then my friend arrived and we began to converse about politics. He conspiciously eavesdropped, to the best of his ability, holding the book close to his face. I lowered my voice occasionally and he would strain to catch what I was saying. At one point in the evening, he leaned over and asked me where I was from. I responded and inquired the same of him. He was American. What was he doing in Beirut? Cycling from Jordan through Syria and Lebanon. Why? Well, because he's never been to those countries. I smiled and turned away.

At the sit-in downtown, I bumped into an elderly American woman sporting a plethora of Hezbollah scarves around her neck, a Hezbollah baseball cap on her head and other Hezbollah paraphenelia attached to the travelpouch around her waist. The travelpouch and white sneakers were a dead giveaway. She was eating something that resembled greasy chunks of pork and wiping the fat on her pants. A friend of mine had described an American woman who attended the "International conference in support of the resistance" a few weeks ago at the UNESCO Palace. She fit the description. He had left the conference after she railed on and on about how much she loves Hezbollah and how Americans love Nasrallah. I stopped to talk to her. She was accompanied by an elderly gent from the International Action Committee, a misguided, reactionary "leftist" organization headed by Ramsey Clarke. They were on a solidarity visit. They expressed concern about transporting all their Hezbollah souvenirs and "gifts" back to the US. I wished them good luck and split.

Most of the protesters I encountered, who have been camping out in downtown for the fifth day in a row, were not from Beirut. I bumped into an acquaintance from Bint Jbeil and another from Tripoli. At least half the people staying overnight were from the Christian Marada and Free Patriotic Movement parties. The weather has been kind to them; it hasn't rained yet. A Marada supporter who lived in Germany for eleven years described how fearful and alienated he has become from his neighbors. "I lock my door since Hariri died," he said. "I don't know what to do. They are afraid of me, and I am afraid of them." He complained of endless harrassment by the Internal Security Forces. "If you have a picture of Hariri in your car, they let you pass. If not, they search you from top to bottom." He said that militiamen roam the streets of Tripoli and that they are affiliated with Hariri. "Officially they don't exist," he said. "But we see them."

He spoke at length about the government's inadequate concern for the poor, about unemployment and healthcare. I asked him if he thought that would change if Hezbollah and Aoun gain additional seats in the cabinet. "No, we need a new government entirely. They will not change anything." He worries that infiltrators will attack the tents at night, and reported that a kaak salesman had pulled a knife on the demonstrators yesterday. He said Hezbollah's security handed him over to the army.

I can hardly keep track of all the incidents of violence and intimadation, but I wonder how both sides intend to get out of this mess. Before long, the media incitement will lead us to the point of no return.

It is late and I don't know how I'm going to get home. Cabdrivers scoff when I request to cross town from Hamra to Achrafiye, because the army checkpoints slow traffic down to a crawl even after midnight. Plenty more to report and photos to follow. Here's something that might amuse you:

Ahmadinijad welcoming a delegation of Orthodox Jews in Tehran. (hat tip)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Debka dancing, riots & the "dirty" demonstrators

Day 4 of the opposition’s sit-in in downtown Beirut; Day 14 of the ruling coalition’s slumber party at the Grand Serail. What are the sleeping arrangements? Perhaps the Mufti advised that prayer is better than sleep...

On sunday morning, helicopters hovered above my neighborhood for hours on end. After this summer war, my ears are tuned to the sky. A bird pooping on the roof is enough to wake me up. Then the marathon began and the relentless sectarian car anthems ensued. Boys on motorbikes waving the Hezbollah and Aounist flags zip through Achrafiye; late saturday night the army set up roadblocks to stop provacateurs from entering the Christian areas. My Aounist neighbor blasts Nasrallah's speeches, while the elderly shuffle to Sunday mass.

A friend's younger sister, a studious and polite student at LAU, is enraged by her fellow students' attitude towards the demonstrators. "I never cared about politics. Never. But I get so angry when I hear the way they talk about the demonstrators, as if they have no right to protest because they are Shia." She says her ex-boyfriend phoned her and complained about the "fucking Shia". Her sister adds, "And why does Hezbollah have to claim they speak for all the Shia? Both sides, push us into a position we are unwilling to take. I mean, this government can push you to prefer General Michel Aoun over them."

Indeed it's high time for a third front. Many people oppose this government, but refuse to align themselves with the opposition bloc, whose demands are not far-reaching enough. What if Siniora's government agrees to allow Aoun and Hezbollah due representation? What then? And if not? March 14th youth are itching to take to the streets. Over the weekend, they gathered in the hundreds in Tripoli to show support for the government.

The Shia presence in downtown is raising territorial fears amongst the city's more glamorous inhabitants. Didn't you know that downtown used to be bustling full with people from all sects and now the Shia have taken it for themselves? That's what I've been hearing from March 14th bloggers.

While the government warned of riots and a coup, the demonstration proceeds peacefully, albeit too peacefully for some people's taste. My landlord complains of the carnival-like atmosphere. "Why do they have to smoke narghileh and dance debka? Its not all fun and games." I don't see it ending anytime soon, with all the fun they're having. Jamal reports the rampant consumption of cotton candy and corn-on-the-cob; icecream trucks and fortune tellers line the streets, concerts and fiery speeches every evening. It's like a permanent fairground. They should re-name the area, Hezbollah Fun Park or Four-Flags Adventure Park.

Mr. Saniora yesterday concludes that, "protest is no solution." What he meant to say is, "protest is no solution... for them," least we forget that their coalition is named after the date of a choreographed demonstration. Can we all agree to abandon our infatuation with million-man marches?

Yesterday evening in Qasqas, supporters of Hariri's Future party tried to stop a bus full of protesters from the Dahiye who were returning from the demonstration. Fights ensued for three quarters of an hour; hundreds of young men joined in, wielding sticks, bottles and stones.

The army tried to intervene. A photographer for An-Nahar newspaper sustained broken facial bones. Ali Ahmad Mahmud, a 20-year old supporter of the Amal movement, was shot dead by supporters of Hariri's party.

Hariri supporters also set Syrian-owned shops on fire near Sabra. In Bourj Abi Haidar, a member of the Internal Security Forces was shot in the neck by men presumed to be Amal supporters. In Barboor, the head of Future party, Imad Fatha, for that area was arrested for a shooting incident. In total, at least fourteen were reported wounded in street clashes in Qasqas, Barboor, Sabra, Shatila, near the airport road, Corniche Mazraa, Salim Salam Bridge area and Basta. Rightwing Lebanese bloggers blame Syrian intelligence operatives -- not savage Haririites-- for the killing in Qasqas.

The international tribunal must investigate and prosecute the coldblooded cowardly murder of Ali Ahmad Mahmud. The local authorities cannot be trusted to carry out an investigation, as witnessed by their inability to solve not a single murder or assassination since they took power. I suspect Hariri's Future TV and a few other sectarian media outlets could be prosecuted for incitement to sectarian violence.

Hariri’s Future TV runs an ad mocking the opposition’s demands for a “clean government”. They show garbage from the protest accumulating in downtown Beirut under the headline, “They say they want a clean government. But are they clean enough?” While the pro-government media increasingly employs classist arguments against the (Shia) demonstrators, the protesters chant, "We are fed up with lies; fed up with tears; we want a government that ends hunger."

Naharnet now refers to Hezbollah as "the Iranian- and Syrian-backed Shiite" group. No mention of Lebanese there.

Meanwhile the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Aharan Zeevi Farkash, warned that a summer war with Hezbollah would be increasingly likely if Siniora resigns. He however discourages Israeli intervention, because Israeli support for the Lebanese Prime Minister would encourage Syria and Iran to assassinate Siniora.

Fijian soldiers stationed in southern Lebanon are missing out on their very own army coup back home in the south pacific.

Lebanese billionaire and Minister of Public Works and Transport, Mohamed Safadi, is under investigation by the British Serious Fraud Office for involvement in the Saudi arms deal inquiry. That's "serious" fraud, folks. Thank God they can still get away with it in Lebanon. Perhaps the reconstruction funds to rebuild southern Lebanon will cover his legal expenses.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Camping in Solidere

While I was in Athens, a million-or-so people took to the streets to bring down the government of Fuad Saniora. I watched it unfold on CNN, at the mercy of that red-faced Briton, Brent Sadler, for whom it all boils down to a existential conflict between "The pro-Syrian militan group Hayz-bow-laaa" and "The anti-Syrian pro-independence movement."

Mr. Sadler always shouts for dramatic emphasis; I suspect he has a drinking problem.

Incidentally, CNN never panned across the full span of the demonstration, but showed either Riad el Solh Square or that dirt patch south of Martyrs Square. And that miserable dreary-voiced Hala Gorani was flown in just for the occasion.

Upon my return to Beirut this afternoon, I walked from my home in Achrafiye to downtown. The streets in Rmeil were completely abandoned. Did the Christians all leave for the mountain again, or are they perhaps attending the sit-in under the FPM banner? I noticed that the Michel Aoun banner near Cinema Sofil has been torched anew. Many of the cars in Gemmayze discreetly performed the Lebanese Forces anthem with their car horns, while teenagers waving orange and Lebanese flags tore past on their motor scooters. The Internal Security Forces were busy lining the side streets with pink tape for tomorrow’s marathon, which will run right through the protest. Unless the Syrian-Iranian axis conspires to sabotage Beirut’s main athletic attraction again…

The army has cordoned off Martyrs’ Square, which is apparently reserved exclusively for protesters with stocks in Solidere. The area south and west of the Al-Amin mosque—from the Fouad Chehab highway to the Grand Serail-- is occupied by the protesters. On Day 2 of the open-ended sit-in, they are still present in the tens of thousands. [Apparently this evening, the streets are again swollen with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators.] The opposition pitched white and black tents in the valet parking lots, which are ordinarily full of fancy cars.

Protestors camping out last night in Solidere (hat tip)

A carnival-like atmosphere prevails. The average age of the mostly male crowd is fifteen or sixteen. The adults look tired, as do most of the Hezbollah and FPM security staff. They sit around on plastic chairs smoking narghileh, drinking coffee and eating kaak and fried chicken, while the kids – seemingly infatigable—tear up and down the street, waving flags, jumping up and down, and cheering. The FPM supporters get a real kick out of joining in cheers of “Ali, Ali, Ali”. It smells of fried chicken and stale sweat. A man sat down on the pavement to change his socks; another brushed his teeth from a water fountain that has been set up to accommodate those who camped out overnight.

In a desperate attempt to taint the protestors as hordes of brainwashed Shia, the pro—government media claimed that Christian participation was scant, because the all-powerful (and not so horny) Patriarch Sfeir commanded Christians to stay home. But I saw thousands of men and women sporting orange shawls and waving the flags of the Free Patriotic Movement. Were they Hezbollah followers in disguise? Very unlikely. I also saw dozens of people wearing orange scarves with Nasrallah’s silhouette printed above the Aounist (Nike) symbol. Beat that, Saatchi & Saatchi.

The road leading up to the besieged Grand Serail is surrounded by razor wire, jeeps, tanks and a massive military presence. I could see security staff on the roof of the Prime Minister’s residence. Saniora must not be getting much sleep. Perhaps Doctor Fatfat prescribed him some tranquilizers.

A few US newspapers reported that protesters shouted, “God, Nasrallah and the suburbs”. Now “the Dahiyeh” does indeed translate as “the suburbs”, but that must conjure up something quite hilarious in the American mind. It’s akin to New Yorkers shouting, “God, Rabbi Shlomo and Westchester”. I also noticed that the western media were pleasantly surprised by how “peaceful” the rally was. Here’s some advice to foreign reporters covering the events in Lebanon: Stop listening to the hysterical propaganda emanating from the prime ministerial mansion. And perhaps it is worth noting that yesterday’s demonstration was more peaceful than last week’s flag fest. Nobody tore up posters and trampled on portraits.

And Saniora, Hariri and Jumblatt are just further discrediting their claim to legitimate rule by invoking the support they enjoy from the corrupt Arab dictators and that clown John Bolton. Their refusal to acknowledge this popular display of discontent ought to put the final nail in the coffin of the sanctimonious “Cedar Revolution”.

Having said all this, the protests can’t last forever. Saniora’s complexion will resemble that of Michael Jackson if he stays holed up in his compound any longer, even if he is under a lot of pressure from the White House to stand firm. Perhaps Jeff Feltman can donate some of those lights that emulate artificial sunlight. We wouldn’t want him to get depressed or sick of the constant company of his loyal cabinet members. Perhaps they are playing poker, as I write, and taking swigs from a flask of whisky, in between rounds of prayer administered by the Sunni Mufti.

Something will have to give rather soon. It doesn’t take the sight of more than a few dozen Shia protesters to keep the glamour class away from downtown Beirut. And since when is downtown the heart and soul of the Lebanese economy? Aren’t the super nightclubs and nail salons still open? If they are really concerned about the economy, then the ruling coalition will have to give in to the opposition’s demands and hold new elections. I wonder how much cash Hariri will dole out to the electorate this time around. Enough to purchase a Play Station 3?

In the meantime, the Internal Security Forces are being beefed up, their ranks filled with loyal Sunnis and Christians willing and capable of taking on Hezbollah.