Friday, December 29, 2006

Ruler's Luck

What Luck for Rulers that Men do not think! - Adolf Hilter

Thursday, December 28, 2006

In praise of Lebanese Sectarianism

A bitter fact of life, a good article from Today's Daily Star.
In praise of Lebanese Sectarianism

By Michael Young

Daily Star Staff

Praising Lebanon's sectarian system may seem odd this end of year, as sectarianism seems closer than ever before to devouring the society. But that's precisely what we should do, because political developments in recent weeks have shown that sectarianism, for all its demonstrable shortcomings, is the only system reflecting the true nature of social relations, imposing humility on all the parties, and offering the Lebanese a pluralism so abysmally lacking elsewhere in the Middle East.

Over the decades, eliminating sectarianism has come to be associated with the brisk air of modernism. There is some justice in the claim. A society cannot truly flourish if every aspect of life is reduced to one's religious affiliation. Promotion by sect usually means a state bureaucracy where merit is lacking. Confined to confessional boundaries, politics or public service means that the most ambitious must either tie their fate to sectarian political leaders to get somewhere, or emigrate. And the rigidities of sectarianism are such that Lebanon seems forever stranded in a never-never land of deal-making, profit-sharing and pie-slicing.

Perhaps. But sectarianism is also the one thing that has made Lebanon more or less democratic in a region stifled by despotism. Because the religious communities are more dominant than the state, power is diffused, so that no single political actor or alliance has ever been able to impose its writ on all of society. In the absence of absolute victory, the system has, of necessity, embraced perpetual compromise - or, when one of the sides, or both, has ignored the rules, collapsed into crisis. The dissatisfied have often looked for salvation in a strong state, leading to a longstanding rivalry between supporters of muscular state institutions and supporters of traditional sectarian leaders. Not surprisingly, the latter have usually won out because they better reflect the country's social disposition, which cannot long abide exclusive central authority.

If independent Lebanon were a morgue, it would be filled with aficionados of robust statehood. President Fouad Chehab was the first to use the army and intelligence services against the traditional leaders, and he got nowhere; nor did his successor, Charles Helou. Bashir Gemayel, president-elect for three weeks, had a similar antipathy for sectarianism, and hoped to use the state to tame and transcend it. He was murdered before he could do much, but his brother Amin applied a likeminded rationale, and within two years he had crashed. Emile Lahoud was elected in 1998 to break the sectarian leaders on behalf of the Syrian regime, but in 2000 he suffered a withering defeat at their hands in parliamentary elections. Now Lebanon must deal with two more dogged "statists," Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah and Michel Aoun, and both are being reminded daily that they cannot wantonly bend Lebanon to their own advantage.

A few years ago, Nasrallah, in an Ashura speech, decried the Lebanese arrangement, saying it was characterized by "leaders of alleyways, of confessional groups, of districts." Instead of this, Hizbullah's leader declared, Lebanon needed "great men and great leaders." Unfortunately, he got it exactly wrong: The bane of Lebanon is not leaders of alleyways, but great men - or more precisely mediocre men who believe themselves to be great. Michel Aoun has, similarly, juggled contradictory sentiments: a contempt for sectarianism deployed alongside claims to be a paramount sectarian representative, all wrapped up in an audacious fancy that he is a man of destiny who, as the self-anointed embodiment of national salvation, can overcome Lebanon's untidy divisions.

In both Nasrallah's and Aoun's dislike of the system is a sometimes defensible loathing for wheeling and dealing - even though the two men are not lacking in that talent. However, they regard themselves as above the political fray, better than the riffraff maneuvering down below. Both consider an enhanced state, one they control, as the way around sectarian bargaining, even though they are fundamentally sectarian in their outlook and Nasrallah's ideal state looks very different than Aoun's. There is something deeply disturbing in their attitude: an intolerance for diversity, for making concessions to earn concessions, for the disorderliness of a system they would prefer to replace with something regimented.

Aoun and Nasrallah may be on a collision course when it comes to their totalistic visions for Lebanon, but in December it was as one that they hit a brick wall in trying to bring down the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. In the face of a unified and fuming Sunni backlash, both men were suddenly forced to acknowledge the red lines of sectarian conduct. The message they heard was a clear one: Either Hizbullah would have to limit its demands or Lebanon would enter a new civil war. When Nasrallah spoke two weeks ago to assembled opposition protestors, the virulence of his speech partly covered for the fact that he had seen the writing on the wall. He was sending word, probably to his Syrian allies, that fighting Sunnis was out of the question - before retreating under a compensatory hail of indictments directed against the majority.

Today, Hizbullah is in a quandary.

Siniora is here to stay and Nasrallah is absorbing the unforgiving dictates of sectarianism. Though the Hizbullah leader may have been dragged kicking and screaming into the alleyways of confessional politics, he now knows that he cannot ignore this. He is displaying modesty, in contrast to Aoun, who is beginning to sense that his plan to take over the state is slipping away. It is no coincidence that the Aounists have started a parliamentary petition condemning Siniora's alleged abuse of the Constitution. For weeks it has become double or nothing for the general's nervous followers, but by dismissing sectarian sensitivities they will almost certainly end up with nothing.

Every few years the Lebanese must cope with an individual, party or community that ignores, disastrously, sectarian conventions. When the Maronites, the Sunnis and the Druze couldn't get it right during the 1970s, the country descended into a 15-year war. Today, it is Hizbullah, as prime spokesman for the Shiite community, that is making a similar miscalculation. If conflict can be averted, then the party's learning a lesson will have been worthwhile: better a weak Lebanese state where communal alignments can counterbalance the hegemonic tendencies of one side to a strong, purportedly non-sectarian state that will consistently drift toward a disputed, therefore unstable, authoritarianism.

That said, permanent, rigid sectarianism is not ideal. For any truly democratic order to emerge, the Lebanese must ultimately think as citizens, not as members of religious tribes. But wishing that away will not work. The only solution is to modify sectarianism from within, to provisionally accept its institutions while making it more flexible and opening up space for non-sectarian practices. The Taif agreement outlines the means to reach this end, and just as soon as Lebanon can break free of Syrian and Iranian manipulation, just as soon as Hizbullah agrees to a process leading to its disarmament, no matter how lengthy, sectarian negotiations will become possible and the road to reform can be taken.

Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

Copyright (c) 2006 The Daily Star

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Holidays: Peace on Earth

Remember that thought? With all that's going on around the world, the wish for Peace is an old fashion term I guess!

3-Minute Management Lesson

I have read this a long time ago, but a friend of mine resent it to me. Never fails to make me laugh, so true.. I guess I have flunked that course repeatedly!

Lesson One
An eagle was sitting on a tree resting, doing nothing. A small rabbit saw the eagle and asked him, "Can I also sit like you and do nothing?"
The eagle answered: "Sure, why not " So, the rabbit sat on the ground below the eagle and rested. All of a sudden, a fox appeared, jumped on the rabbit and ate it.
Management Lesson - To be sitting and doing nothing, you must be sitting very, high up.
Lesson Two
A turkey was chatting with a bull. "I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree," sighed the turkey, "but I haven't got the energy."
"Well, why don't you nibble on some of my droppings?" replied the bull.
"They're packed with nutrients." The turkey pecked at a lump of dung, and found it actually gave him enough strength to reach the lowest branch of the tree.
The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch.
Finally after a fourth night, the turkey was proudly perched at the top of the tree. He was promptly spotted by a farmer, who shot him out of the tree.
Management Lesson -Bull shit might get you to the top, but it won't keep you there.
Lesson Three
A little bird was flying south for the winter. It was so cold, the bird froze and fell to the ground into a large field. While he was lying there, a cow came by and dropped some dung on him. As the frozen bird lay there in the pile of cow dung, he began to realize how warm he was.
The dung was actually thawing him out!
He lay there all warm and happy, and soon began to sing for joy. A passing cat heard the bird singing and came to investigate.
Following the sound, the cat discovered the bird under the pile of cow dung, and promptly dug him out and ate him.

Management Lesson -
(1) Not everyone who shits on you is your enemy.
(2) Not everyone who gets you out of shit is your friend.
(3) And when you're in deep shit, it's best to keep your mouth shut!
This officially ends your three minute management course

Monday, December 18, 2006

Holiday Recipes: Batata Harra

I'm traumatized. I use Tracksy ( to monitor traffic to the blog. Great tool. Anyway, with all the politicizing and religious-izing on this blog, the highest hit was on Mjadra Hamra A La Sud Libanaise. Continuous hits over the last few months. Turns out people care less about politics and people's rights to exist, and pay more attention to what they will have for dinner.

I have to concede, they are perfectly right.

I am in a good mood for Christmas/New Year/Adha Holiday. Although this has been a sad year for Lebanon, we still set up the Christmas Tree, and decorated it (a bit more conservatively though). And for those of you who will have people over for Christmas (or Adha, or even Hanukah for our Jewish friends in Occupied Palestine, and the rest of the world), maybe you would want to cook something exotic for them over the holidays.

This comes from Mum's Notebook. She wrote tens of recipes for me when I moved house, and moved country. Recipes are made for complete cooking idiots (I am number one), but I can assure you they work just fine.

Happy Holidays.

Batata Harra بطاطا حرّة

(Lebanese Spicy Potatoes with Coriander/Pomme Frites au Coriandre a la Libanaise)

4- medium sized potatoes

4- garlic cloves

2 – tea spoons of Dry Coriander (or green chopped coriander)

Lemon Juice – half a Lemon


Oil (and why not, an tablespoon of virgin olive oil)

Chop potatoes into small cubes (not too small – preferably 1.5 cm cubes – 1/2 inch)

Fry in very hot oil (only half time). Remove from oil, let cool down, then refry until brownish and well done (that will get the potatoes crispy – same technique can be used for the Pomme Frites – French Fries).

Crush the garlic with some salt, and stir fry with some oil, then add the coriander and stir fry for a minute or so until the green coriander shrivels a bit (use your eyes, then nose, if you smell something good, stop after you count to 15).

Add the fried potatoes, then squeeze some lemon and lift. Serve Hot.

My favourite combination is Bata Harra, with Hindiba (Chicory - a green herb thing made into a salad like format: boiled quickly, then stir fried with onions/lemon, salt.. will check the recipe.. don’t have it in the notebook!! So, don’t cook anything until I get the right things to do).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I've been a staunch supporter of GREENPEACE ever since the Rainbow Warrior docked in Beirut in 1994. The "greenpeace" warriors also have their blogs.

There is always more to be done, and those green warriors are a role-model to many of us.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Quote on Democracy!

Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule - and both commonly succeed, and are right.
HL Mencken

Friday, December 08, 2006


Awareness campaign on sectarianism


Since 1920, Lebanese society has been structured according to religious confessions or sects. Within a country of 10,000 km², we have over 17 official religious sects.

Sectarianism is intertwined in our daily life, and has been so for years, officially and in society. Most official positions are based on religious denominations.

Sectarianism was one of the main factors leading to the civil war, but even today, everybody still thinks along religious lines and divides people into sectarian groups.

The topic was always a taboo subject, until the "Spring Revolution" of 2005. With this movement, the creation of civil society groups brought together people from every religion, and made it clear to many that civil society-led initiatives could effectively make a difference.

The campaign:

The campaign focuses on the ridiculous/harmful side of sectarianism/confessionalism and its excesses in our every day life.

Generously conceived for AMAM by a multi-confessional creative team of like-minded people from the H&C Leo Burnett agency, the campaign is bound to make you both laugh and think. The tone, which is innovative, provocative, funny and straight to the point, will most certainly generate debate and provoke much-needed thinking about the reality of how far confessionalism dictates our every day social behaviour.

Like us, you think confessionalism is a plague which has been eating away at this country for as long as one can remember. Like us, you also think this country, despite all its flaws and complexities, remains a place like no other, one we should cherish, support & believe in. Like us, you have surrendered to the Lebanese spell, and have vowed to always keep trying, in your own way, to make things better. Like us, you are a believer in the unique richness and potential found in the Lebanese pluri-confessional make-up. We hope you like this campaign. If you do, and wish to support us for other citizenship-building awareness campaigns of this kind, please get in touch. Thank you.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Beirut: Open Demonstration, Open Heart

A very touching drawing my Pierre Sadek, the famous Lebanese Caricaturist – shown on Future TV (staunch government supporter) on the eve of the demonstrations!

It Reads: Open Protest on the upper right corner, Open Heart on the lower right.

Beirut the large red Arabic script, forming a heart and a bouquet of roses.

On the first day of the demonstrations, Fairuz, the Lebanese Diva, was parading on the BIEL Theatre, a few hundred meters from the demonstration site – Full house! On the third day, the Beirut Marathon was taking place (courtesty & AFP). The prime minister beseiged in the Ministerial Serail announces that he bows his head in pride for every Lebanese who expresses his right to demonstrate. In a region where dictatorship prevails, in a country where hearing Nasrallah and Aoun talk gives me allergy - I remember that Voltaire (?) said: "I disapprove of what you say (as a matter of fact, I hate what they're saying), but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Deeper under the skin of pro-Syria, anti-America, anti-government, da..da..da.. Lies freedom, and the belief that the people have the right to impose change.

Beirut, Lady of Democracy, Lady of Madness, Lady of Change, City of Change.

If she's with them.. I'm Changing Sides

The finer side of anti-government pro-Hizbullah Demonstrations!
Apologies for Photographer - I got this by email - source unknown.