I’ve written a piece about the electoral campaign for The National. To regular readers of this blog, there won’t be anything new, except maybe the by-line. I suppose that all of those aggrieved taxi drivers will finally have a way to track me down.
As Lebanon’s closely contested elections approach, it is clear that the era of high-stakes, zero-sum politics is over, Elias Muhanna writes.
In five weeks, Lebanon will hold its much-anticipated parliamentary elections. Squaring off are two political coalitions that have spent the better part of four years at each others’ throats. In one corner stands March 14, a pro-American group of Sunni, Christian and Druze parties that emerged from the crucible of the “Cedar Revolution” following the assassination of the billionaire prime minister Rafik Hariri in early 2005. Opposing it is a curious yet durable alliance known informally as March 8, which unites Lebanon’s two main Shiite parties (Hizbollah and Amal) with the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a predominantly Christian but officially secularist party led by General Michel Aoun.
The country’s highways have been festooned with campaign advertisements for months. On a recent drive from Byblos to Beirut, I counted 89 billboards for the FPM alone, an average of one every quarter mile. The parties have gone all out – taking the campaign beyond print and TV to Facebook and Twitter – to energise their constituents by casting these elections as “fateful” and “epoch-making”. Lebanon’s very identity is at stake, they argue: its orientation and strategic alignment in a polarised region.Despite the hype, however, signs increasingly suggest that the actual outcome of the elections will be far less significant than the manoeuvring of the post-election period – when the cabinet will be assembled, a prime minister chosen and the veto powers of the opposition decided. The months after the election seem likely to bring the break-up of existing alliances, the creation of new ones and a redrawing of the Lebanese political map. This is a product both of changing regional dynamics as well as growing fractiousness among Lebanon’s political elite, who have begun to sacrifice coalition unity in favour of safeguarding their own parties’ parliamentary representation.
The campaign thus far has seen intense competition over seats between coalition allies, defections from one coalition to another, electoral horse-trading between political opponents, resignations, public spats, and an overall muddying of the once-pristine image of two monolithic parliamentary blocs that defined themselves as diametrically opposed in orientation and outlook. What seems certain is that the era of high-stakes, zero-sum politics in Lebanon is over – at least for the time being – having been replaced by the mundane triangulations of consociational compromise. Even as party leaders speak gravely of fateful elections and historic decisions facing the Lebanese electorate, the political furniture is being shuffled discreetly behind the scenes.
Fluid and balanced. Mabrouk. Just some quick comments,:
-Hariri was not prime minister when killed (I think).
-Doesn’t the use of ‘pro-American’ formula for M14 camp call for the use of ‘pro-Syrian/Iranian’ for M8 in turn?
-Looking at last days’ developments, -the freeing of the detained generals, the belligerent political tone adopted ever since by General J. Sayyed, Hzb’s very public demonstration of support, WJ’s reaction (‘no pasaran’?)…-could it be the reactor needed by the majority for coming out of coma? Or give the opposition the reason to increase the voltage in its rhetoric in turn? How far will all be allowed to go?
– ‘89 billboards for the FPM alone, an average of one every quarter mile’…, the sources of M14 campaign are being discussed openly and broadly –in Lebanon and abroad-. Any clues where the money for “the cheeky campaign” is coming from?
Excellent piece and non-sensational summary (what, no Iran?) that makes for interesting reading even for those who know the stakes.
I also wondered why you didn’t mention the generals’ release until I remembered the “in five weeks” line. I don’t agree with all the assessments, but there is no dispute whatsoever with the expertise or the insight with which you covered the subject (in fact, the best I’ve read in that particular paper so far). I look forward to reading more pieces from you on Lebanon.
However, there is one major problem with your reasoning: you’re assuming your taxi drivers are reading The National. 🙂
You’re right about Hariri; I tend to refer to him as PM, in the same way people do for ex-presidents, ministers, etc.
Pro-American formula is bad, that’s correct, but in the words of H. Munro, “A little inaccuracy sometimes saves tons of explanation.”
I couldn’t address the last days’ developments because the piece had to be in on Tuesday.
As for the 89 billboards… I too would love to know where the money is coming from. Obviously that’s only a small percentage of the billboards; there are also what look like hundreds on the way to the airport too.
Maybe Iran? Would be a smart investment on their part.
Thanks so much for your comment; I’m honored, of course.
You’re right about the Lebanese taxi drivers and The National. I think they prefer Foreign Affairs.
Very well done, QN, but Duke and Harvard? That’s two strikes in my book, so you will have to protect the plate from now on …
More seriously, I actually kind of disagree about the ‘end of high-stakes, zero-sum’ politics in the LB.’ Mostly, something cant end if it never began in the first place.
To believe as much requires confusing and/or conflating political rhetoric with political economy. I’ll respond more fully in a post, but again, well done.
Yes, that line does sound a bit overblown; in my own defense I did not have any control over which one was selected out as the “defining message” of the piece. *sigh*
I guess I’d say that, to the extent that 90% of Lebanese politics is rhetoric and not economy, a substantial shift in the former remains significant, no?
Looking forward to your skewer, though.
Mabrook khayei Eliass! very informative article as usual.
Very impressive blog you have here. I’m wondering: does anybody read anything into Amal’s relative absence from the 4 Officers celebration scene? Almost as if wily Berri is trying to meet Jumblatt in the middle…
Also, I wonder what exactly Hizbullah stands to gain from such a full and public embrace of these symbols of the Wasaya. Doesn’t seem the wisest way for the opposition to court Christian swing voters.
Is Elias the Greek version of Elijah or of Elisha, the understudy of Elijah? Or is the name not of biblical origin?
The zero sum essence of the current political struggle in Lebanon is still there. There cannot be a modern Lebanese state if Hizballah can attack Israel when it pleases or even at all. On the other hand, how long will Hizballah be able to tout itself as a resistance movement if it does not attack Israel at all? 1 year? 5 years? 10 years? Something’s has got to give.
The offshoot of this is the question whether Hizballah has the right to attack Israel from Lebanon when (and not if) Israel attacks Iran? This is a crucial question which the Lebanese postpone discussion of at their own peril.
Elias, the honor is mine to read your work and discuss it with you.
With the comment above mine, I see the usual hasbara and maskhara is alive and arrogant as usual, but getting more pathetic. The question which Israelis themselves postpone or ignore at their own peril, of course, is whether they have the right to think about attacking, let alone attacking, Iran. Last time we checked, the latter was not occupying an inch in the territories formerly known as Palestine.
What is pathetic is so called Arab intellectuals failing to discuss the salient questions facing the Arabs. For some reason instead of dealing with questions over which they have control, they tend to pontificate to others on issues which they have zero control.
It is a fact that Lebanon suffered in 2006 because the issues I outlined in my post where not publicly and openly discussed. If the Lebanese do not want to confront the issue head on, they will again be victims of circumstances instead of in control of their own destiny.
The question Israel will ask itself and answer in the positive is whether is should attack Iran. This is not a question of rights but of national interests. Of course, when Israel attacks Iran it expects there to be a war with Lebanon as a consequence. There is no free lunch. But at least, Israelis understand that they have to sacrifice in order to live in a free and secure country. And we do not fail to discuss the consequences of some policies just because the conversation may be uncomfortable.
What is it about so called Arab intellectuals that they are a total failure in making their own countries better but feel the need also to lend their “expertise” in “successful” nation building to Israelis? I don’t know, but I should be thankful to you and your ilk for maintaining the Arabs so weak relative to Israel. Israel could not have done it without the so called intellectuals and their debilitating influence on Arab society.
I believe it is derived from Elijah; some also posit an alternative pagan etymology (namely “Helios”, for the Greek sun god).
In Islam, Ilyas is often conflated with al-Khidr, the prophet deemed to be wiser yet than Moses.
But I prefer the Phoenician etymology which translates the name as “he who walks while chewing gum.”
well done. haven’t i seen you at torino, waxing anomic?
Qifa, LOL @ the Phoenician etymology. Don’t go to Singapore!
AIG, LOL period.
Elias is the saint that slayed the bad guys. Many churches are named after him. His name passed on to many generations including the current one.
In Lebanon we refer to them as Lillos, especially when they’re young.
Now, don’t go on calling QN Lillo unless you clear it with him.
Dr. Elias Muhanna (aka Qifa Nabki)
I also found your Stumbling Blocks to be balanced and congratulations. It is not the subject of my comment.
I am making a little correction about your comment number 12. Muslim scholars do not conflate Prophet Ilyas with al-Khidr as you stated. Al-Khidr is mentioned in the Qur’an in Ch. 18 verses 65-82. He is described as:” One from among Our servants whom We had taught knowledge from Ourselves.” He is an ambiguous and enigmatic figure with knowledge that is different from the knowledge taught to Messengers like Moses. Moses is considered in Islam as one the five highest ranking Messengers that were sent to mankind. In no means the story suggests that al-Khidr is wiser than Moses. This is a very important concept that should be understood because for Muslims it is not permissible to make judgment on such men who brought Divine Knowledge to humans (please see V. 285 Ch. 2 in the Qur’an). The moral of the story of al-Khidr and Moses is that Allah wanted to reveal to Moses the limit of the knowledge that he was taught. Moses was asked by his people when they were in Sinai:” who is the most knowledgeable of men.” Moses hastily answered:” It is me.” Allah then asked Moses to go to a certain place where he will find a man that was taught more knowledge but of a different kind than Moses was taught. It is widely believed that the place where Moses met this individual is in the Sinai where the two seas meet (Please see V. 60 Ch. 18 of the Qur’an)
On the other hand Prophet Ilyas is mentioned in the Qur’an in verses 123-132 Ch. 37.
He is clearly identified as a Prophet that was sent to certain people. It would be interesting to verify if the locality of this people is actually the same as the existing little town in the Bekaa valley by the name Nabi Ilyas. What support this assumption are the Qur’anic verses:” And verily Ilyas is one of the messengers. For he called on his people ‘do you not fear (Allah)? Do you call Baal as god and desert the Best Creator: Allah, your Lord and the Lord of your forefathers…? “ You may be aware that the little town of Nabi Ilyas is just about 30 Km from Baalbeck, the famous city which hosted the famous temple of the Phoenician god Baal.
I’m sorry. There was a mistake in my last comment. The little town I was referring to in the comment is actually called Bar Ilyas. There is a town in Palestine by the name of Nabi Ilyas. You must know what Bar means in Arabic. I’m not sure if there is a connection. My main objective was actually to make the distinction between al-Khidr and Ilyas, the Prophet, according to Muslims and the fact that they are not conflated.
Thanks for your comment. By “wiser yet than Moses” I was referring to the hadith that you mentioned about Moses in the Sinai. When the Children of Israel ask Moses who is the most learned of God’s servants, and he says “me”, God reveals that one “yet more learned” awaits him at the confluence of the two seas, etc.
Of course, the Sufi tradition interpreted this “more learned” idea as knowledge of a different kind, as you said (i.e. ma`rifa, rather than `ilm).
As for Nabi Ilyas… this is the first time I’d heard about the town and the connection with Baalbek; most interesting. I should make a trip out there. With regard to Khidr/Ilyas, I should not have said “conflated”, but rather “intertwined”. The tafsir tradition has identified Khidr as Ilyas’s brother, (see Ibn Kathir, for example).
Ok, thanks. Point taken.
Does that mean we are brothers?
“With regard to Khidr/Ilyas”
LOL work it out and think how I found you on facebook! LOL
As a relatively new reader of this blog, a lot of your piece was new to me so I really appreciated it. And I will make it my goal to use “consociational” in a sentence.
My understanding is that Elijah in the Jewish Bible and in Talmudic and Jewish popular lore; St. George in Christian tradition; and Khidr (or Khadir, “the Green Man”) in medieval Islamic commentary (the name is never mentioned directly in the Qur’an) are all rooted in pre-monotheistic fertility cults common among the Levantine peasantry. All three are associated with agricultural and human fertility. For example, “George” comes from the Greek for farmer; Elijah is frequently associated with rain and weather; and from my reading of travel literature, there are maqams and mazars to the Green Man throughout rural geographic Syria. According to Josef Meri, the authority on shared Jewish and Muslim sacred spaces in medieval Syria, no other holy person in Judaism as as venerated as at as many shrines as Elijah. A name to be proud of (and my father’s too!)
Josef W. Meri, “Re-appropriating Sacred Space: Medieval Jews and Muslims Seeking Elijah and al-Khadir” *Medieval Encounters* 5.3 (1999): 237-264.
H. S. Haddad, ”Georgic” Cults and Saints of the Levant”. Numen, Vol. 16, Fasc. 1 (Apr., 1969), pp. 21-39 http://www.jstor.org/stable/3269569
Reading the above, I couldnt help but realize the ever common flow of conversation that is the prototype Lebanese discussion.
It starts with Lebanese politics, moves into regional,and offcourse that dirty ,yet most uttered word, Isreal.This is where it enters the religious phase and here it branches out to existentialism. At the end of it, after going round in circles we come back to Lebanese politics without solving anything, but showing the other how knowledgable they are.
Anyway you look at it, Micro or Macro,this is the Lebanese way…Thank God for good food and women.
food and WOMEN? In the same line?
Now now, everyone knows “Elias” is “Elias J. Corey”, one of the greatest synthetic chemists of all time. He did more than anyone else to change the way chemists plan syntheses, and also to change the way that chemistry is taught (from “memorize a list of reactions” to “learn what is happening at he level of protons and electrons”). He is definitely wiser than Moses.
Yeah, he drove three grad students to suicide, and is notorious for being psychologically abusive toward his staff, but nobody’s perfect.
If refering to what shuts up a Lebanese…yes…
I discovered your blog 2 weeks ago and since then I have probably read every post you’ve ever written since the start of this blog (I’m a ‘busy’ grad student). Qifa Nabki is a great pseudonym, by the way!
As a Lebanese who’s had enough of Lebanon and its zo’ama, I find your analysis very accurate and your take on Lebanese affairs extremely refreshing. I’m happy I have someone to explain all the insanity happening with the elections this summer!
I forwarded this post to my boyfriend and it turns out you were in one of his classes at Harvard – History of the Arabic Languages, I think it was. What a small world!
I heard about this coincidence actually, from one of our mutual friends. Small world indeed!
Thx for reading.
What is pathetic is so called Arab intellectuals failing to discuss the salient questions facing the Arabs.
It’s not their fault. If they do so, they’ll either get thrown in jail or killed by one of their own.
The question Israel will ask itself and answer in the positive is whether is should attack Iran.
What is your prediction?
Attacking Iran? has become a reality? and here I was thinking it was just showmanship.
Now I dont know about you “telmudiyi”(Mustapha Hamden), but an attack on Iran is a move to end all moves,it will obviously unleash a feirce inferno across the ME,with other states joining. Turkey has already stated it will not allow any Isreali overflights on its territory…which also raises the issue of logistics or flight paths.How credible is the talk of an Iranian attack?
I think the scenarios in which Israel does not attack Iran are very limited. Only when I see the US imposing very tough sanctions like stopping Iran from importing refined oil, will I start believing that there is another option.
Don’t people in the ME learn from history? Israel attacked the Iraqi reactor in spite of the US objections and in spite of all the predictions that “the gates to hell will open”. After Israel attacks Iran, what the Iranians can do against Israel is very limited. The only move they have against Israel is to sacrifice Lebanon by making Hizballah attack Israel. That is a realistic scenario for which the Lebanese need to prepare.
“The only move they have against Israel is to sacrifice Lebanon by making Hizballah attack Israel. That is a realistic scenario for which the Lebanese need to prepare.”
Did you consider the likeliest of all scenarios? Zio-fags like you will take one way trips to Brooklyn to join the Diaspora – for ever this time.
You’re being very simplistic when you compare the successful attack on a single target in the FLAT Iraqi desert to multiple targets in Iran, and Iran is a vast and far country. From what I’ve read on the subject, Israel does not have the necessary assets to eliminate all of the targets, let alone the logistics. I think, it’s all hot air on Israel’s part, and who knows what the reason is.
Yes Israel can make few sorties and hit some exposed targets. But don’t be so naiive about Israel being able to knock off everything. The Iranians have been hearing your threats over the years, and most likely have hidden & duplicated their facilities. Most likely they are expecting an Israeli attack, and have planned for it.
Plus once you make an unsuccessful atempt, Iran can just withdraw from the NPT.
Even Bush disagreed with the idea of having Israel do the attack based on the premise that it won’t be fully successful.
You also have to include Russia in this whole thought process. Russia can be unpredictable (just look at its history). Have they delivered the S300 to Iran? Who knows. It’s not like Russia have been enamored with Israel lately, given Russia’s perceived israeli involvement in Georgia & Ukraine. Plus, how would Russia react if its technicians at the large iranian nuclear plant get harmed?
I could be wrong, but in a nut shell AIG & AP, I think you’re day dreaming. It’s wishfull thinking on your part as well as your PM.
Mark my word, militariliy speaking, only two countries have this type of capabilty. First the US, followed by Russia, period. Israel, is way way a minor leaguer in this type of operations.
In my view, you’re better off expending your energies on doing the right things to live peacefully with your neighbors.
The Iran issue is just the Arab-Israeli conflict in a nut shell. Go ahead, underestimate Israel, but realize that it is at your own expense.
It is nice seeing people who would not trust Bush to know the color of his own underpants now quoting him. It is just hilarious. The very same excuses, threats, assessments that were thrown out before the raid on the Osirak reactor are being regurgitated. Don’t you guys learn ANYTHING from history?
By the way Mike, nice going. The way you combine your hate for gays and Jews is elegant, poignant and refreshing (that is if you are a Neo-Nazi).
The bottom line is that Lebanon should plan for the possibility that Israel will attack in Iran. It will not do to dismiss that possibility just because you don’t feel like discussing the issue and preparing for this eventuality. Why won’t you be willing to plan ahead for a scenario that could put Lebanon in jeopardy??? Oh, I see. The subject is too awkward to discuss. Great excuse.
Not sure exactly how this works in to this article. But I think AIG is obviously right on this point. For the record, I don’t think an Iran-Israel war or warlet is likely. But it is certainly possible.
The question then remains, what is Hizballah’s move in this scenario. I’m sure Hizballah have thought of it. Since “Lebanon” is not really operating as a single political unit on these matters, each faction needs to work out its own course of action.
Since this is a possible, it might even be prudent to take a guess at this before voting.
Honestly, I wish people would be a bit more practical about voting. It’s like Israelis voting in the last election based on the specific flavour of Israeli-Palestinian deal they support. An Iran-Israel war is more likely then a Palestinian-Israeli deal.
Ras Beirut and I did not attack you or Isreal, we merely pointed out the dynamics of such an attack, so no need to be so defensive.
I just cant comprehend the purpose of such an attack. Iran is a nuclear power bent on the destruction of Isreal…This attack will no doubt trigger a series of conequences.
First, Iran is no close nieghbour,attacking it is limited to air strikes and missiles. How do you think the response will be?
Second, what exactly will this attack achieve? eradication of nuclear sites? teaching Iran a lesson?
I just cant see the purpose in all this and id be happy if you would shed light as to how Isreali life will be better off after this attack.
The aim of the attack will be to delay as much as possible Iran obtaining nuclear arms. It is exactly the same aim as in the case that Israel attacked the Iraqi reactor. Imagine that Israel would not have done that. In that case when Saddam attacked Kuwait 9 years later, he would have had at his disposal nuclear weapons! Israel did a huge favor to the world in general and the Arab world in particular.
What will the consequences of the attack be? The best for Israel would be if Iran attacks the US or the Gulf states. Then, there will be a wide coalition to take out the regime in Iran. The Iranians are not stupid and most likely all they will consider militarily is to shoot missiles at Israel. The Iranians have very few long range missiles and each one is very expensive. So unless their missiles are really accurate, which they are not, they will probably not even shoot those. Also, if they shoot missiles at Israel, Israel will take out their oil exporting capabilities, thus causing them even harsher economical difficulties. The only likely Iranian response is Hizballah attacking Israel from Lebanon. In this way, the Iranians will not be implicated directly in the fight and will be able to harass Israel at little cost to them.
Thanks for the response. I think your prediction makes sense.
You should apply to the University of Oklahoma for a professorship. That is, if you’re interested;)
netsp, haven’t you noticed previously that AIG’s posts do not bear any relation to the topic of the article? they are endless variations on the awesomeness of israel while being surrounded by terrorists. in this case, israel is simply the bestest in terms of warfare and can just easily wipe a country and regime such as the iranian off the map. and the world’s intellectuals, arab ones in particular, are just too dumb to learn from israel’s awesomeness.
only if, by mere coincidence the original article touches upon those points, AIG’s posts will be to the topic. just as israel is beyond or rather above international law, as AIG admits in post #11 without considering this in any way problematic, AIG himself is beyond the rules most people commenting on this blog stick to.
the reason of course is, AIG has no clue about internal lebanese matters. but because he’s on his israeli civilizing mission and cannot just the f shut up, we end up reading about israel once again.
AIG, please embark on your civilizing mission elsewhere. think about limiting posting to once a week maybe, if you have nothing to say except lecturing us about israeli awesomeness.
Yeah, right. Read post 9. I presented one aspect of Lebanese politics that was obviously zero sum and was met by almost pathological denial which led the discussion astray. It was NOT my post which was off topic.
And by the way, it was the rejection of the Arabs of international law as the basis to solve the Arab-Israeli problem that brought us to where we are. the Arabs did not accept the UN partition resolution of November 29, 1947 and decided first to go to the international court for an appeal, and then when that was denied, they went to war. Why? Because they thought they could win. Now when they figured out that they can’t win in war they want to base solutions on international law. You must think Israelis are idiots. International law is a joke. It is merely another political tool used by countries to further their interests. The Arabs pick and choose what is convenient for them. How about the recent example with the President of Sudan and the reluctance of the Arabs to accept his indictment? Who is REALLY above international law?
bint abeeha claims AIG said:
… israel is simply the bestest in terms of warfare and can just easily wipe a country and regime such as the iranian off the map…
… and the world’s intellectuals, arab ones in particular, are just too dumb to learn from israel’s awesomeness.
…just as israel is beyond or rather above international law…
You asked netsp if he “noticed previously that AIG’s posts” contain the statements above.
I have not noticed them. Can you provide a link showing AIG stated these points above.
I’m thinking these words you posted above are not statements made by AIG but are just your projections of what you “think” AIG has said.
…the reason of course is, AIG has no clue about internal lebanese matters.
AIG, please embark on your civilizing mission elsewhere.
I don’t think AIG is on a “civilizing mission”, I think he just wants to understand Arab views on Hezbollah
by asking rather simple questions such as “how long will Hizballah be able to tout itself as a resistance movement if it does not attack Israel at all”?
Stuff like that.
Please leave me out of this. Address your comments to someone else.
Let’s pack this one in.
To the commenter known as “V”
I’m not going to release any of your comments until you use a proper email address. And anything like your last comment will be deleted and you will be banned permanently. Consider this a first and final warning.
I want my money back!