I have a drawer in my house that contains a collection of miscellaneous documents: past-due bills, soon-to-expire magazine subscription notices, important tax forms, etc. You know the drawer that I’m talking about; you probably have one yourself. It’s the “later drawer”: the drawer of important tasks postponed.
As it turns out, Lebanon has its own later drawer, also known as the national dialogue talks.
Every thorny political issue eventually seems to exhaust the deliberative avenues available for its resolution within parliament and ends up being penciled onto the agenda of the national dialogue talks, a series of private high-level round-table discussions between the leaders of Lebanon’s different confessional communities.
I’ve often wondered what happens in these dialogue sessions. Who moderates the discussions? What do they actually talk about? What is the mood like?
Well dear readers, the investigative sleuths on staff here at qifanabki.com have managed to lay their hands on a leaked tape of the most recent national dialogue session, held in a secret location immediately after the election. I’ve transcribed some of the most interesting bits below. Among those present were: Saad al-Hariri, Fouad Siniora, Nabih Berri, Walid Jumblatt, Mohammed Raad (representing Hassan Nasrallah), Michel Aoun, Amin Gemayel, Samir Geagea, Suleiman Frangieh, and Michel al-Murr.
Siniora: I’d like to call this round table to order. Gentlemen, please… If I could have your attention…
Aoun: (muttering) Let’s get this over with.
Siniora: Excuse me?
Siniora: Did you say something?
Siniora: I’m sure I heard you say something.
Geagea: Me too.
Frangieh: I didn’t hear him say anything.
Berri: Me neither.
Hariri: Well I did.
Siniora: He definitely said something.
(15 minutes later…)
Berri: He didn’t say anything! Can we please just move it along?
Siniora: Yes let’s. Turning to the first item on the agenda…
Aoun: (muttering) What an incredible waste of time…
Siniora: There he goes again! Don’t tell me you said nothing! I heard you say something!
(20 minutes later. Everyone is shouting.)
Hariri: Hello! Yo! C’mon call it off. Let’s focus people. (Everybody ignores him.)
Jumblatt: (sitting in the corner, sending SMS’s with a bored expression on his face. He pulls out a gun, shoots a single shot in the air, and everyone quiets down.) That’s better.
Siniora: Ahem… Thank you Walid Bek.
Jumblatt: (without looking up from his phone) Ahlan wa sahlan.
Siniora: Are you sending text messages?
Jumblatt: No. Surfing the internet.
Siniora: Oh. Anything good?
Jumblatt: Have you seen this blog, qifanabki? It’s highly worth reading.
Frangieh: Oh man, I hate that guy.
Aoun: You know, so did I, but after a while he kinda grows on you. But I agree, he’s annoying.
Siniora: (clears his throat) Okay, first thing on the agenda: Hizbullah’s weapons. Can we talk about them?
Aoun, Frangieh, and Berri: No.
Siniora: Alrighty then. Moving right along. The next item on the agenda is…
Raad: Ahh, actually… yes we can. In my capacity as the representative of Hizbullah, I have a proposal to make.
Raad: Yes. We have drawn up a national defense strategy. If we could just pass these papers around, you will see what it is that we’re talking about. Basically, we’re willing to dismantle the resistance entirely or incorporate it into the Lebanese Army… whatever works for everyone else.
Raad: We think that this is what makes the most sense for Lebanon, at this stage.
Hariri: Wait, really?
Raad: No! I’m just messing with you! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…!!!
Hariri: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…!!!
Geagea: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…!!!
(10 minutes later)
Everyone: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…!!!
Raad: You should… have seen… the look on … your face… Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…!!!
Hariri: (wiping tears of laughter away) Oh my God. You had me there man. Oh damn, that was funny!
Siniora: (serious) Can we turn to the next issue please?
Hariri: Ha ha ha ha… ok ok. (Takes a deep breath). Ok. What’s next?
Siniora: The new electoral law.
Everyone: (groans) Noooooo…!!!
Siniora: I know, I know… But we have to talk about it. I’m under strict orders from the President. Interior Minister Ziad Baroud says that …
(There is a collective eye roll around the room and another round of groaning.)
Hariri: Ziad Baroud says this, Ziad Baroud says that… Who does this guy think he is?
Raad: Seriously. We just passed a new electoral law. Why do we need another one?
Siniora: I don’t know, ok? Something about pre-printed ballots, preventing corruption…
Berri: (snickering) That goody-two-shoes. Someone needs to get him a bag of marbles to play with.
Aoun: Sheikh Saad, can’t you give him a job as president of one of your companies or something? Why does he need to be Interior Minister?
Hariri: I thought of that, but he’s not interested in real estate or investing or… anything, really, other than electoral reform. The guy’s got a one-track mind. Electoral laws, electoral laws, electoral laws… that’s all he thinks about.
Murr: So create a company for him that produces electoral laws. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…!!!
(Everyone cackles gleefully…)
Berri: I move to table this important discussion until the next national dialogue session.
Everyone: Hear hear!
Hariri: While we’re at it, I move to adjourn this entire session, because I’m hungry.
Everyone: Hear hear!
Aoun: I’m starving. I didn’t have dinner.
Raad: Me neither. What’s everyone in the mood for?
(The room is silent as everyone thinks this over)
Hariri: Someone call ahead. And get the police to shut down all of Hamra, Qoreitem, Sanayeh, and Zoqaq al-Blat.
(Everyone starts filing out of the room)
Frangieh: Oh man, I can’t wait for my spicy lahmbajin with extra pickles.
Siniora: (on the phone, dictating to his press secretary) “…the national dialogue talks were very productive. All parties agreed that progress had been made on a wide range of issues, and we have agreed to resume where we left off, a month from now…”
Raad: (holding open the door for Geagea) After you.
Geagea: No, after you…
Raad: No, I insist…
Geagea: No I insist…
Jumblatt: (firing another shot in the air) Just move it. I’m hungry.