Friday 30 November 2007

Panic at the LA Times

A curious opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times gives a taste of the setback for US foreign policy in Lebanon.

They see the possible appointment of General Michel Suleiman as a betrayal of the "Cedar Revolution".

"The United States and France have supported the pro-democracy movement that drew more than a million people into the streets in the Cedar Revolution that succeeded in driving Syria from Lebanon in 2005. But the West has not done enough since then to keep Syria or Hezbollah from paralysing political progress.

"Hizbollah's punishing war with Israel, its rapid rearmament and its successful intimidation of parliament have proceeded apace, while the United Nations tribunal charged with investigating the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri has dragged. Now Beirut's beleaguered moderates fear that the West is once again willing to turn a blind eye to Syrian meddling in Lebanon if Damascus will participate in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations."

Of course they are exaggerating, Suleiman is not a "puppet of Syria", but he's not their man either. He represents that element of the Lebanese ruling class who are petrified by the prospect of civil war—and feel that the status quo (however uncomfortable for George Bush) is better than total meltdown.

The problem the US and its allies face is that there are no guarantees that the ruling M14 coalition will win the next elections. This latest debacle follows a similar miscalculation made by the US and Israel in last summer's war.

One indicator of the turning point for M14 is a change in language by Walid Jumblatt. The Druze leader had up till a few days ago been describing Hizbollah as "terrorists". Now he calls them the "resistance". Jumblatt is a great flip-flopper (he was once a dangerous "terrorist" himself), and it seems that his recent change in tone is an indication that M14 plans have come to naught.

Thursday 29 November 2007

Know your class enemy...

The November issue of al- Manshour, the magazine of the Leftist Assembly for Change, is now online.

The editorial calls for an end to wars and dictatorships in the region.

Bassem Chit's main article is on class struggle and change. He argues that both the Democratic Left (who are part of the governing coalition) and the Communist Party (who were part of the opposition) have abandoned any hope of change from below. This has led to a fatalism and a reliance on bourgeois parties.

He writes: "What seems clear is that the Left has lost hope in the Lebanese street and the working class, and have decided to achieve social justice and democracy within the system, or through direct and theoretical alliances with the ruling class.

"Both parties see change as an administrative process within the system. The Democratic Left sees the possibility of establishing an evolutionary path of democratic reform, while CP sees the Hizbollah-Aoun opposition implementing the 'democratic project and reform' once they topple the ruling M14 coalition."

The first principle, he argues, is that sectarianism and all its works cannot be reformed out of the system because it is an integral part of Lebanese capitalism—and thus any alliance with bourgeois parties will limit any movement for change.

The left should instead push for the transformation of the whole of society, and the only the working class acting in its own interest can achieve this.

He concludes, "Today we are living in the lull before the storm, but there is a rising level of struggle across the region. This gives the us time to build for the battles ahead."

In a piece on the US sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Mohammad Qariouti argues that the US is attempting to extinguish the flame of the Palestinian revolution by promising a two-state solution it cannot deliver.

He writes, "The Palestinian Authority has attempted, since Oslo, to work on the 'state-building' in the traditional format. It has become clear that this project has failed, and what is happening today is the greatest proof of that."

Farah Qoubaisi and Hiba Abbani examine the impact of rising food prices on families.

They write that a "simple comparison of the high prices of materials and goods during the past few months show clearly the suffering that has been sweeping the majority of Lebanese families." The found that the price of food has risen by over 30 percent.

In a second piece they report on the fate of transport workers who lost their bonuses after the government closed the company.

Al-Manshour closes with two confernce reports. The first outlines the discussions at a weekend political event. The second is an assessment of the group's work since March 2005.


Cyminology will perform a night of Persian mystic voice with jazz improvisation at the Goethe Institute on 5 December, 8:30pm

Wednesday 28 November 2007

Soft coup?

The M14 bloc has caved in and agreed that the Lebanese army commander General Michel Suleiman should be the consensus candidate for president. This kind of soft military take-over has a precedence in Lebanese history.

Suleiman is emerging as the third force following the deadlock between the M14 government and the opposition. He told his troops to ignore the politics "and listen to the call of duty. The nation is at stake and you are its defenders. Do not be lenient and do not be inactive."

If he were to take over he would be able to delay, but solve, the intractable problems facing the country.

Men, get sweeping

Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah latest religious edict (know as a fatwa) should please many women.

The former leader of Hizbollah (and the most revered cleric among the Shia Muslims in Lebanon) declared, "The husband should never think of his wife as one of his personal belongings; something that he owns and cannot be distinguished from a piece of furniture. On the contrary, he should regard her as a human being who has rights on him the same way he has rights on her.

"Consequently, men can never restrain the freedom of women under the pretext that she is being inattentive to the household tasks.

"Thus, a man should treat his wife, as he would like her to treat him once having the power and the right to prevent him from achieving his political, cultural or religious duties. Then, let him ask himself this question: how would he feel if she used that right against him? Would he be comfortable?

"When the husband subjects his wife to a cruel and an unfair treatment deterring her from carrying out the missions that enrich her humanity and redounds to the benefit of the society she lives in, he would be diverging from the love and compassion path."

Furthermore, he argues, men should pick up a broom.

"There is no juristic rule that binds women to any household chore, and we have said also that breast-feeding babies can be a recompensed job.

"The belief that it is disgraceful for the man to manage household tasks is derived from the social culture and not from Islam."

Fadlallah has condemned honour killings and ruled that women can use violence against men to defend themselves. He also encourages women to use sex to get their husbands' approval:

"If the marital relationship lacks this sort of understanding upon which harmony could be established, the woman must work then on discovering the weaknesses of her husband such as needs, emotions, and conditions; and try to behave tactfully to embrace them and to consider them as advantageous chances to convince him of approving her social work.

"When the woman fulfils the needs of her husband, shows sensitivity to his feelings, and so on… usually, that would prompt him to accept to give her more freedom in her private as well as in her public life, and to offer her the opportunity to take actions outside the framework of the marital relationship."

Truth and reconciliation

Black smoke over Tripoli

Tensions in the northern city of Tripoli have erupted into a gunfight between the Islamist Tawheed and partisans of the M14 movement.

According to Reuters news agency, "One security source said the son of the leader of Islamic Tawheed had been killed in the battle near the group's headquarters in the Abu Samra suburb. Security sources said the incident escalated from a dispute between two men. A military source said the army had surrounded the area,"

This is the region earmarked for a new US base.

Tensions are so bad that the Philippine embassy has advised domestic workers to remain indoors.

Monday 26 November 2007

Negative trend

The political stand off in Lebanon is having an economic impact that threatens the economic prosperity of the country.

According to Forbes business magazine, "The establishment of parallel administrations would likely trigger a downgrade on Lebanon as would tensions that undermine depositors' confidence in the banking sector."

That the pro-western, neocon wing of the Lebanese ruling class would threaten to destroy themselves to suit US intentions shows the fragility of the ruling M14 alliance. They are playing the long-game (or the very long game that involves destroying everything).