Arz el Jabal

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

To Lebanon or Bust?

Money is tight, politics are always on my mind and the minds of Lebanon's masses, but I miss having mezze. I really want to head over to Lebanon this summer, but I feel that between work, finishing school assignments, and writing quasi academic pieces for X journals might be a tough feat to pull off. Should I go? It would mean escaping for a week sometime (when airfare is expensive), then I would have to hit up one of my Lebanese friends for a place to stay...Might get complicated. Then add the "mother factor" into the equation. The, "Phillip, it's not safe over there" clause to my proverbial son contract always stares at me in the face, no matter how factually lacking that statement is. Top that off with the fact that I am but a lowly poor student surviving on scraps.

Woe is me...

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

An Infected Band Aid Over A Festering Wound

"Thank God for this agreement" was an oft repeated phrase I heard out of many Lebanese I know. Thank God for what? Was a war REALLY averted, or is it as many suspect, just a temporary fix for a wide ranging problem? The common Lebanese citizen doesn't want war, they want the tourism that summer often brings them, peace and some stability. However, Lebanon's rejoicing civilians are only looking through a small peep hole and missing the much larger picture.

For starters the (unconstitutionally elected) president of Lebanon will now be General Sleiman. This was the same man appointed by the Syrian regime and intelligence apparatus to be, first the commander of the Lebanese Mukhabarat and then leader of the Lebanese Army. This is the same guy who used to drag anyone protesting the Syrian occupation into a nice dank cell and introduce them to one of his agent's fists. I'm sure many grassroots FPM'ers or LF'ers could attest to that in the mid 90's.

I have heard the argument made that this is the return to Chehabian style rule in Lebanon. I feel that nothing could be further from that. While Chehab may have been the compromise candidate following the '58 War and Camille Chamoun's exercise in trying to take more power, he still was no Sleiman. Chehab's rule was characterized by his use of the secret services to essentially safeguard the Lebanese nation from external (often those "external parties" were living inside Lebanon) threats. For starters, Chehab increased the Lebanese Army(LA)/mukhabarat apparatus to control the Palestinian fedayeen. He did quite a good job with that. Nevertheless, his intelligence apparatus still couldn't stop fighting between the LA and PLO in the 1960's completely.

This brings me to Gen. Sleiman (who may I add was appointed by SYRIA to do his job, NOT Lebanon), the armed presence that is a threat to the country is no longer the Palestinains, now it is the Islamist Hizbollah, and instead of having the government watch over this group, the group now is not only part of the government but has many of its supporters in the LA (quite a role reversal if I do say so). Hizbollah will keep its arms and essentially have free range to do whatever it pleases. Sleiman has essentially de-facto agreed to this arrangement, and did little during the Hizbollah 2008 Coup to do anything to avert the fighting.

While the Doha agreement was worked out by Lebanese parties under the auspices of Qatari guidance, it is pretty obvious the Saudis, Syrians, Iranians, and other Gulf states were pushing the March 14th alliance into a humiliating retreat. On the moralistic side it was great that March 14th didn't establish (strong) militias to counter Hizbollah, but, on the realist side it would have been the only way to avert the coup, or at least resist Nasrallah's onslaught. Of course, many will say, "This proved Hizbollah would use their weapons on fellow Lebanese" ...But when was this really in doubt? Hizbollah, the great "resistance force" used its arms on fellow Shia in al Dahiya in the mid-late 1980s, against Christian parties (in 1992 Nasrallah accused Kataeb of being Israeli proxy), and even had some battles with the Druze. Maybe they have been discredited, but where does that get the pro-democracy/Western groups? The quick answer is: Nowhere.

Back to the main piece, this agreement is as the title states, "an infected band aid over a festering wound". The Lebanese system is moribund, the West did nothing (merely proving to the already doubtful Lebanese that Western help is a joke), and again the Syrians, in their own way, regained control of Beirut. Of course just sticking some "compromise" candidate sounds great, hurray for peace and stability, but that very stability wrests not on bedrock but on quicksand. This Pax Temporarius, is just that. Hizbollah has its head in the sky, and as with all Lebanese groups it will only demand more power. They may even go into war against Israel (again), when will it stop? Who will stop them? The Lebanese citizenry WILL get sick of seeing their country get destroyed by Hizbollah, the question is when, and how will they and the world react?

For right now, the Lebanese only care enough about normal life. Tourists need to come for the summer, Casino Liban needs to be open for blackjack and if sacrificing life and liberty is the cost...So be it. After X amount of wars, the Lebanese need a respite, but the long term costs WILL be staggering. Maybe Robert Kaplan was right in his book,
Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus, that the Lebanese wouldn't care about whether they lived under the Syrian yoke as long as they could have the newest cellphones or Mercedes Benz. Lebanon has proven again the effectiveness of using terrorism, the Syrian campaign of assassinating anti-Syrian leaders whittled away at journalists and politicians. Then the terror cum militia cum political group finished the job. The world stood by, said nothing, and the Lebanese ship took on more water then it could hold. No tribunals, no justice, just the same lack of rule of law.

This way of living is truly unsustainable. Lebanon has brief periods of "stability " with mini-crises in them, then there is a melt down when all hell breaks lose, and once and for all the winner controls the country. We all thought that all hell broke lose during the coup, but that was merely another crisis. The hell that will encompass Lebanon is coming, and it will be decided by Nasrallah and his circle of those who believe in the Wilayat Faqih (term describing the Islamic state run by jurists). Sleiman will be a Lahoud-light, a strongman who does Hizbollah's bidding, and when the next war breaks out (whether between Lebanese or with Israel) he will sit in Baabda pondering which award bestowed upon him by the rulers of Damascus best matches his suit.

Mabrook Lebanon! Hurray for Stability! Hurray for Pulling Off the Same Garbage For 50 years!

In memory of Gibran Tueni, Rafiq Hariri, Pierre Amine Gemayel, George Hawi, Samir Kassir etc. because your murderers will NEVER be brought to justice.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Playlist: Ode to the Political Leaders

In one of my usual semi-humorous rants with a friend I realized that every leader in Lebanon essentially has an 80's song dedicated to them in regards to this conflict. As a result I have compiled a playlist for everyone's favorite Lebanese politicians!

The whole conflict can be summed up by "red skies at night" by the fixx

The Government, summed up by "She's A Man Eater" by Hall & Oats:

Al Mustaqbal's Faoud Sanoria and Saad Hariri: "Relax" by Frankie Goes to Hollywood
The PSP's Walid Jumblatt is: "You spin me right round baby right round" by Dead or Alive
The Lebanese Force's Samir Geagea is "Let it Whip" by the Dazz Band
Kataeb's Amine Gemayel is "One Thing Leads to Another" by the Fixx

Reason's behind selection:
Government: Describes how Hizbollah is trying to "chew them up"

Mustaqbal: first line of the song, "relax don't do it...when you wanna come." Describes the militia, and the lack of prowess Saad and Sanoria have so-far shown.

Jumblatt: Come on! that should be self explanatory, even the name of the band describes the

Druze position in the Chouf.

LF: Hizbollah is scared out of it's mind of the LF and the Christian fighters, while Geagea isn't advocating that his groups go out and attack the enemy, he's waiting for them to try something.

Amine: He's waiting on the lines with many of the Kataeb supporters, still trying to push the Gvt. Line..."you'll run for cover...Why don't they say what they are...Do what they mean...One thing leads to another."

The "Opposition" (citrus colors included); If they were Riverdance we would call them "Lords of the Coup"

Amal's Nabbieh Berri: Love Is A Battlefield by Pat Benatar
The SSNP's 3ali 2anso: "Turn Me Loose" by Loverboy
Hizbollah's Hasan Nasrallah: "Burning Down the House" by Talking Heads
the FPM's Michel Aoun: "Out of Touch" by Hall & Oats
al Marada's Suleiman Franjieh Jr.: "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles

Reasons Surrounding Selection:

Mr. Berri: Has always demonstrated his loyalty to his Damascene masters! Love like that usually results in fighting with your sugar daddy's enemies!

The SSNP: I hate to bestow a good song on such a group of fools. 1. come on their whole ideology is a Levantine version of the Nazi Party, but better yet, the song represents their main goal as a "party" to just be turned loose on democratic organizations or ...Hm...NEW STATIONS AND NEWSPAPERS!

Good ole' Hasan: Song is self explanitory, need I remind anyone of the Sayyed's pledge to, "not use his arms on Lebanese"?

General Aoun: Mr. Nationalist is still siding with the coup currently in place and he actually believes that he is the only one keeping the peace in the Christian areas. Quick summation: Psycho!

Mr. Franjieh: My favorite song to select, because he likes to say he is a new face of Lebanese leadership, meanwhile he is just the same version of a morribund system involving zuama with their village based patronage system. Reasons I selected the song: It's an 80s classic about how VHS and technology were taking over from the "old school" radio stars. Nonetheless in retrospect (from 2008) people still giggle because VHS tapes have been obscelete since the mid 1990s...Essentially it's the not so modern replacing the already ancient, but casting itself as something BRAND NEW!

The "Neutral Army"

"Big Time" by Peter Gabriel describes the Army

Gen Suleiman: "So Caught Up In You" by .38 special

Army Selection:

The Army can now finally find it's place in the neutral sun, disarming and disobeying the govt. while forming a closer connection with their buddies in Hizbollah---They are BIG TIME now!

The OTHER (other then Aoun) General is so caught up in Hizbollah and letting them keep their arms (hence the .38 special band name---didn't that fit perfectly?!) that he will probably be their post-military coup selection.

Other Notable Personalities:

Wafiq Shaqir: "Somebody's Watching Me" by Rockwell

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Hizbollah: You Won the Battle but Lost the War

It is easy for the losing side to often mutter the line, "you [the victor] won the battle, but lost the war", however after the 3 day bloodletting which resulted in 18 killed, al Mustaqbal TV/Newspaper offices being burnt to the ground, and most of West Beirut coming under the control of Amal and Hizbollah forces this adage is becoming increasingly true.

Finally, following their coup attempt, Hizbollah can be declared a full fledged militia. All of the commentators who would always try to insert a, "of all things Hizbollah wants to prevent a Sunni-Shia war" have now been proven wrong, and then some. Hizbollah has backed itself into a wall, either a real shooting war will start or one side will have to back down. The Sunnis under Hariri and Druze under Walid Jumblatt played an interesting yet realistic card. Their small less developed militias engaged in what could be termed a moribund defense of West Beirut, they knew they would lose. Hizbollah used its special units and masses of supporters to open it's way to occupy the Western part of the city, this in turn will help the March 14th coalition maintain a position in the moral high ground.

Politically this move can have many upsides. For starters, March 14th was by all accounts on the defense vs. stronger more well equipped forces: In essence the legitimately elected government fighting pro-Syrian militias who refused to negotiate an end to the political deadlock. Of course, West Beirut still smolders and has now entered into a new era (who knows how long this will last?) of Hizbollah occupation. Nonetheless in the PR battle, March 14th won out, they stood by their democratic credentials and instead of relying on party militias they looked to the army to be their defenders. Of course the army didn't step in (they fear a sectarian split up like what happened in '76, '84, and again in '89), I will fault the army for this, they are a govt. institution and essentially sat around as West Beirut 2008 turned into West Beirut 1985. As my friend has as his MSN nickname, "Neutrality is not watching a crime silently."

There is a complete downside to this: All out war. What then? I have spoken to my Lebanese friends almost constantly since the events started to get out of hand. The Christians think they need to re-arm. Personally, I can't blame them, but even they don't have the training, battle readiness or a good supply of ammunition as Hizbollah does. As I stated above, March 14th won the major PR and fact based victory, aka Hizbollah is a militia, it has no respect for the authority of Lebanese government, and pro-Syrian factions will do anything (save actually working with the government) to regain power. This was a coup! However, a realist could look at this and say, "Hizbollah has the boots on the ground, they have all the power." If they drive into E. Beirut and take out what could shape up to be a Christian/March 14th Muslim resistance, Syria will return to the country in full force---Goodbye Cedar Revolution!

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Muqawma, A Synonym for Coup De'ta?

I needed to let out some emotion; Most of my pieces are cut and dry travel logs/analysis/political articles, but I needed to release.

Another protest, because of what? Oh, they just sacked the Beirut Airport security head because he was spying for Hizbollah? ...
There is something new, oh, and they are shutting down Hizbollah's communications systems, ok. It all looked like normal posturing and an interesting move by the government to undertake, Nasrallah will probably just launch into a tirade and set a few tires on fire.
Only this time he did, but went further, much further.

The "conflict" between March 14th and the "Opposition" (aka the Christian FPM, Shia Muslim Amal and Hizbollah, with help from the SSNP and Marada) had been brewing for the past few months considering no president has been elected. March 14th has tried time and time again to push a "compromise candidate" such as General Suleiman, but to no avail. Hizbollah and her allies keep pushing for the power of veto (that sounds like something you would hear on the show Survivor; Hm...Survivor Beirut? Irony), however this would kill any president the majority would want to elect, not to mention essentially be a defacto veto coup for Hizbollah. So the elections never happened, March 14th couldn't muster the courage to elect a good person for the presidency, and Hizbollah kept up its militant attitude, launching a protest every now and then.

Fast forward to three days ago. Everything in my first paragraph happened. Hizbollah and Amal rioted, Shia speaker of parliament and head of the Amal party called for "talks" (that's opposition slang for we are going to burn things unless you do as we demand) and the road to Beirut International Airport was closed...It had happened before, no one in the foreign media really paid attention, I did, but I monitored events sporadically.

Then the fun started today. Nasrallah addressed his adoring masses and accused the government of "declaring war against the Lebanese resistance (aka Hizbollah)" through the government closure of the communications lines. In "celebration" Amal and Hizbollah broke out the RPGs, Kalashnikovs and M16s to "celebrate", only this time instead of firing into the air, they fired into Sunni neighborhoods in Beirut. They clashed with Saad Hariri's al Mustaqbal (the Furture Movement) militia. They fired their RPG's into buildings. Special Hizbollah forces made it as far as Rue Hamra, seizing a number of buildings. Amal is storming up the coastal axis towards the Rouche. The airport remains closed, and the Sunni-Shia version of April 13, 1976 is now upon Beirut.

Beirut is being seized, taken by Nasrallah, a prize for his friends who sit upon their Persian throwns. I think back to my time in Beirut, if I was there now, with what is going on, I would literally be in the heart of the battle. Tonight I had lunch with a Lebanese friend, I figured the Lebanese disturbances may have just been a larger version of what happened in Dec, 2006, those had fizzled out. I took the train home, happy and content to have had a great conversation with my new friend. I came home to look at the news: Hizbollah is running rampant in Beirut. The battle is where I was. I went to school for the summer at LAU, its environs are now filled with Mustaqbal, Amal and Hizbollah combatants.

The positions keep changing, the Rouche, Beirut's two huge stones that rise from the Mediterranean like spines off a stegosaurus now form the backdrop to Amal's putsch up the Corniche. On my third day in Beirut, my first walk that I engaged in alone was to the Rouche, it's also the day I learned people often would end their own existence by jumping from the rocks. On the famous, swanky Rue Hamra I would swing by Nandos restaurant with my friend Mohammed and walk to the Radio Shack up from the restaurant. The only fighting was between myself and Mohammed over who would take the check (a common Lebanese past time), now Hizbollah special forces control some buildings in the area. Last summer I had a mediocre meal of what seemed to be canned corn, once packaged French fries and some form of a frozen burger at Roadsters, it baffled me how Lebanese, so obsessed with their appearance and class image could be suckered in to spend $13 (American prices +) for so-so food. Now Roadsters has become a point of semi-demarcation between Hizbollah fighters and Mustaqbal defenders.

After fighting over differences in opinion (political arguments: another Lebanese past time [sometimes executed using firearms, other times minus them]) regarding Barack Obama. My friend, a Lebanese who worked in Hamra, she, a Christian, couldn't get to work. From her comments this morning I should have known Lebanon was in store for something else, I ignored it, I ignored the warnings I knew were there, war was on Lebanon's horizon. My friend, in this calm and sweet disposition she usually presents in any conversation, set a rain check for when we could have a meal at Nandos, I hope the place is still standing if I get to go back.

I am up at this ungodly hour because I am upset, I feel like my mind went through a deep frier, and I am not even in Beirut, I can't see the black smoke rising from these places that I had so many memories in...It still hurts though.

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Thursday, April 3, 2008

First Post In Three Months!

How does one keep up with Lebanon news?! There were loads of things I could have stuck up here. I'll need to apologize yet again for my gross negligence of Arz el Jabal, but like the phoenix this page will rise again (did everyone get the allusion I made there?)! I guess I will give a quick run through of some interesting Lebanese related things that have happened to me:
  • I met Samir Geagea (in NYC) and asked him a few questions.
  • Have a few new reviews (see below) for academically based Lebanon books (many that don't receive enough attention and usually cost $50 on Amazon).
  • Learned to make labbneh in a one room studio apartment using Dannon yoghurt and some cheese cloth.
  • I am writing feverishly (when I don't have class or the subsequent papers that come along with it) on the whole fun topic of Lebanon (and its politics).
  • I plan on making another trek back to "Liban" this summer (who knows when), as they say, "n'challah" it works out!
Book Reviews:
For every book I will write a short review and give a rating with stars (5 being the highest and 1 being the lowest)

The Emergence of the South Lebanon Security Belt: Major Saad Haddad and the Ties with Israel, 1975-1978 by Beate Hamizrachi

Rating: ***** (5 Stars)

Essentially the title of Beate Hamizrachi's book says it all. The 186 page book covers Christian militia connections with Israel not just in the south of Lebanon but interestingly touches on early connections made by 'northern' groups (mostly located in the Kesrowan/Mt. Lebanon area). Hamizrachi doesn't take a particularly sympathetic look at Saad Haddad or his leadership in the south. Instead she tries to give a very unbiased play by play look at his service in the Lebanese Army, the plight southern villages were under due to the PLO/Leftist forces and eventually why Haddad decided to side with the State of Israel. Hamizrachi gives incredibly detailed accounts of battles that occurred in the south, going so far as to describe the weapons used, the number of troops deployed, and the socio-political realities surrounding it--She really doesn't mince words. Especially riveting was her use of personal interviews with Haddad. In Israel Haddad was a sort of celebrity so many Israeli interviews exist with him, however, from her writing you can tell Hamizrachi devoted much time and effort to the interviews and received great first hand accounts. Obviously if you are going to study the SLA, "Free Lebanon", or the Israeli Security Zone this book is a must have, additionally the book adds to the knowledge base on north-south (Christian) relations during the war and on the contributions by the Shia to the zone.

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Friday, January 4, 2008

Syria’s Assassination Goal: Target March 14th Christians To Divide & Conquer: Article Published

Happy New Year everyone! I had another article published, this time by the Counterterrorism Blog. It was the first one posted for 2008. Enjoy:

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