Hezbollah, Lebanon, March 14

Alley Politics: Saad al-Hariri vs. Za’im al-Zaroubeh

Lina Khatib has an article in the Guardian today about the response of Lebanon’s Sunnis to the bloodshed in Syria, the violence in Tripoli, etc. It’s worth reading along with Mustapha Hamoui’s report for the Heinrich Böll Stiftung and his previous writings on the topic at his blog (here and here).

Lina remarked on an interesting difference between Sunni and Shi`i responses to the latest violence:

“Last month, Sunnis reacted by blocking roads with burnt tyres. Mirroring this, Lebanese Shia pilgrims returning from Iraq were kidnapped in Syria on 22 May, causing Shias to also block roads with burnt tyres in protest.The main beneficiary in this situation has been Hezbollah. Saad Hariri, seen as leading the Sunni community via Twitter, sent messages from Paris demanding the halt of public protests. Sunni protesters were slow to heed his call. In contrast, “Shia” public action in May was halted right after Hassan Nasrallah demanded it in a live phone call to a Lebanese television station. Cynics say that the “Shia” incident was pre-planned, with Hezbollah ordering the start and end of the protests to present itself positively. Regardless, the incidents demonstrated that Nasrallah has clout over his followers, whereas Hariri’s aura as a Sunni leader is declining.”

I would go a little further than Lina and suggest that Hariri’s aura is not just declining; it may be extinguished completely among large swathes of younger, poorer, urban Sunnis. I have no hard evidence for this besides the Facebook page of a young Sunni political activist named Saleh El Machnouk, who is emerging as one of the most popular pundits and media stars among Sunnis in Lebanon (and beyond).

Saleh is the son of Nouhad El Machnouk, an MP in Saad al-Hariri’s Future Bloc. He served at one stage as a leader of Future Youth and has been involved in local Lebanese political activism for a few years. Since the revolution erupted in Syria, however, Saleh has become something of a regional celebrity. When I met him last November in Beirut, he had 20,000 followers on his Facebook page. Today, he has over 72,000, which is 25,000 more than Saad Hariri does. Not bad for a twenty-something guy who has never held political office, does not own a TV station, and can’t bankroll any patronage networks.

Most of Saleh’s Facebook updates have to do with the situation in Syria, and they routinely get over 1000 “Like’s” and hundreds of comments by his admirers. He regularly attacks March 14th for not standing up to Hizbullah, and on occasion he has even taken swipes at Hariri himself. For example, after Hariri’s Twitter call asking Sunni protesters to stop blocking roads, Saleh had this to say on this Facebook page:

Translation: “I just read the statement by Prime Minister Hariri on the events in Tripoli, where he forcefully denounced “the blocking of roads” and accused the protesters of committing an error greater than the error of [Shadi] al-Mawlawi’s detainment. I feel very embarrassed, to be honest, but not because of the protesters. How disgraceful!”

Pretty ballsy if you ask me. Can you think of a single Shi`i public figure in Lebanon affiliated with Hezbollah who would dare write something like this about Nasrallah on their Facebook page? I can’t. Hariri has never been able to command the reverence among his followers that accrues to Sayyed Hassan, but this kind of dissent is something new.

Someone recently told me that getting involved in Sunni politics in Lebanon means keeping constant tabs on the neighborhood kingpins and small-time block bosses who are emerging in the poorer neighborhoods of cities like Beirut, Tripoli, and Saida. “You’ve got to make sure that the za’im al-zaroubeh (alley boss) is satisfied,” he said wryly.

I have the feeling that al-Dahiyeh doesn’t have many zu’ama zawareeb. Lebanon’s Sunnis, on the other hand, are beginning to gravitate to different power centers.

Furthermore, it’s a mistake to assume that Hariri’s critics are all radical Salafists. In many ways, Saleh El Machnouk fits the bill as your typical Future Movement cadre member. And yet, he has more Facebook followers than Saad al-Hariri. Why? Because he is more in touch with the sentiments of the za’im al-zaroubeh, or at least is more able to give voice to those sentiments using the discourse of victimization and pulpit-pounding triumphalism that Hariri just can’t muster. (Plus it helps to be a magnetic and entertaining talk show guest who can go toe-to-toe with his fellow pundits. This, in my view, counts a great deal. Have a look here and here at some of Saleh’s recent performances.)

This doesn’t mean that the Future Movement has to worry deeply about any major Sunni competitors in the 2013 elections. But I wonder: could we be seeing the very early stages of the “Amal-ification” of the Future Movement, if that makes sense? Will more and more Sunnis turn to Future mainly for patronage purposes rather than ideological or identity-politics commitments?


73 thoughts on “Alley Politics: Saad al-Hariri vs. Za’im al-Zaroubeh

  1. At the risk of playing the same old nay tune again. I don’t think the distinction is all that earth shattering. The “Sunnis” if we can lump them as such have a very decentralized structure in their “religious” leanings. The Shia- like the Catholics- have a much more centralized structure.

    Saad Hariri never had the “strong” unwavering support of the Sunni community- even when it was strong- it was Issues based. But there was never a cult of personality around him. As such, he was always hostage to the pulse of the street. I think if he doesn’t continue to feel the pulse of the street and find mechanisms and ways of redirecting them- we will see the outcome that is being unfolding before us.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 9, 2012, 12:41 pm
  2. Never a cult of personality around him? 🙂

    March 14, from the outset, was built as a cult of personality, or personalities, ya Gabriel.

    This doesn’t mean there weren’t people attracted to M14 on the basis of issues (the way there are plenty of Hizb supporters who are not motivated by sectarian reasons). But saying that it wasn’t a cult of personality is a stretch, IMHO.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 9, 2012, 12:49 pm
  3. Elias.. seriously? Saad Hariri? You’re comparing (Saad) Hariri to a Aoun or a Nasrallah? Come on.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 9, 2012, 12:55 pm
  4. That’s the point, Gaby. He doesn’t have the personality for the job. But in the early days, when people were still reeling from the Hariri killing, there was absolutely a personality cult surrounding Saad. That was before many grew disenchanted with him.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 9, 2012, 1:02 pm
  5. QN,

    I think this can be seen in many Arab societies. They are hard to govern from the center. It is difficult to be more radical than Nasrallah. It is is simple to be more radical than Hariri. Extremist rhetoric always wins over moderation.

    Look at what happened in Egypt as an example.

    Salem (sandmonkey.org) called it correctly. The only options are “Islam is the solution” and a mini-Mubarak regime.

    For some reason, the moderate message in the Arab world is quickly overtaken by opponents who are willing to be more extreme from either side. Perhaps this is because of the younger age of Arab populations. Perhaps it is because a moderate message is always muddled with compromises and is never crisp as that of extremists. It is hard to say, but so far it has always been a good bet that moderates are vulnerable.

    Posted by AIG | June 9, 2012, 2:59 pm
  6. I fail to see the significance that is being attached to this issue. I know of no one, both in Lebanon and overseas, in March 14 or March 8 who has ever taken Sa’ad Hariri seriously. He has been the butt of jokes ever since he came back to Lebanon after the assassination of his father.
    The man is neither well read, nor charismatic, he has no leadership abilities and cannot find his way out of a brown paper bag even if his life depended on it. His tenure as a PM was a disater, he spent more time outside the country paying state visits, at times , to places that are not very well connected to the Lebanese society or economy and his strategy as a leader and a politician was not successful. His only attraction is the fact that he is a Hariri and an heir apparent i, in a classical Lebanese sense, to a political fiefdom. The king is dead long live the king although he has no clothes.
    For whatever its worth, I have written many posts on my limited circulation blog , on other blogs such as QN and on very wide circulation blogs such as Yalibnan asking the Future movement to get rid of Sa’ad as a leader and asked him to resign his premiership for the sake of the country . Sa’ad Hariri is a total failure as a politician and the fact that many others , such as Mashnook, are questioning that is a positive, it is a sign that no one , not even the inheritor of the dynasty is above criticism.
    It would be interesting to revisit the archives of QN and find out if there ever were any comments or posts that thoght favourably of Sa’ad Hariri as a political leader. I bet there won’t be any.

    Posted by ghassan karam | June 9, 2012, 3:05 pm
  7. The comparison is not fair; it’s like comparing the popularity and authority of Hafez Al Assad regime to that of the regime emerging in Egypt which is deriving its popularity from the masses desire for change, and policy issues leading to that desired change.

    Saad Hariri and the March 14 leadership at one time represented the dream of freedom, democracy and a takeoff from what Lebanon was under the Syrian occupation. If the street is now able to express discontent with this leadership for moving away from that dream, that is a healthy sign, it should not be viewed as losing the popularity contest.

    Posted by Vulcan | June 9, 2012, 3:06 pm
  8. Ghassan said:

    “I know of no one, both in Lebanon and overseas, in March 14 or March 8 who has ever taken Sa’ad Hariri seriously.”

    Certainly not in M8, but if you think that no one in M14 took him seriously once upon a time, I’d say you were mistaken. Many Sunnis had high hopes for him, and so did his patrons. Even today, he continues to have a following. Have a look at the conversations with his supporters on Twitter. Some people write just to say they love him. Maybe this is sustaining him…

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 9, 2012, 3:27 pm
  9. AIG

    I think what’s interesting is that someone like Saleh El Machnouk isn’t what most people imagine when they hear “Sunni radical”. He’s tapping into a core of Sunni revanchism, but he’s not a Salafist. He wouldn’t even fit into the Muslim Brotherhood. This is what makes Lebanon a little different.


    In generally, I agree with the assessment that division of opinion in a community is more often than not a healthy sign. What I worry about is the mainstream party (in this case Future) being dragged in a more radical direction, the way the Republican party has been drifting steadily right-wards for the past couple decades.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 9, 2012, 3:34 pm
  10. QN,
    I beg to differ. These twiter followers are NOT enamoured by Sa’ad Hariri as a political leader. They are lending support to the person who is looked upon, for no reasons besides his being the son of Rafic Hariri, as being the spokesperson for their tribe and especially due to the fact that the king os Saudi Arabia recognizes him as the representative of Sunnis. Sa’ad Hariri has inherited a position that he is not qualified to hold by any stretch of the imagination He gets respect because of his family, dare I say one more time that this is a political allegiance in Lebanese politics that is often called political feudalism?lol

    Posted by ghassan karam | June 9, 2012, 4:40 pm
  11. Elias,

    I suppose we are saying the same thing using different language. My point is with Saad it was never him personally that made him important- but what he represented and what people expected from him. Strange as it was, it was the idea behind him that was his selling point.

    I agree with your comments on Saleh el Machnouk…(How did his family end up with such a family name, lol).

    Posted by Gabriel | June 9, 2012, 4:49 pm
  12. QN
    BTW, one major reason that Mohamad Safadi and Njib Mikati withheld their support for a cabinet headed by Sa’ad Hariri is because of their past experience in dealing with him both as a presumptive political leader of the Future movement, an MP and as a PM. The amateurishness and total incompetence demonstrated by Sa’ad made it difficult for them to lend their support for the formation of another cabinet headed by him. March 14 has a token head in Mr. Hariri because sourtce of funds has its privileges. His only contribution was and remains the consistent appearance with all sorts of dignitaries at a meeting with pictures of his father in the background. It is as if the man always wanted to justify himself by reminding everyone of his dad. I am willing to bet that the PM Hariri never wrote a speech or came up with a suggestion for a policy regarding anything in any field. The few press conferences that he appeared at were disasterous. The guy could not come up with an answer to anything even if his life depended on it. Yet he is not an uncommon product of Lebanese politics. Do you think that Tamam Salam or Nadim Gemayel are that much better? And what about Taymor? Do you think that it will matter much whether he is srticulate or creative? Just look at Talal Arslan and Suleiman Franjieh. Would these guys ever be elected to anything had it not been for their families?

    Posted by ghassan karam | June 9, 2012, 4:57 pm
  13. Ghassan

    I’d say that Saad Hariri occupies a position not unlike that of George W. Bush, who became more and more of an embarrassment to Republicans as his tenure wore on, and is often ridiculed by conservative pundits today.

    Unlike Hariri, however, we didn’t see conservatives begin to break publicly with Bush until after he left office.

    True, Hariri is no longer PM, but his position as one of the leaders of the Sunni community can be held as long as he wants it. What is striking is that we’re seeing members of his own party like Saleh El Machnouk hold Hariri’s feet to the fire. I don’t think this would have happened a few years ago, when the community was feeling more unified in its support of Future and M14 and the STL, etc.

    You may think this is no big deal, but that’s clearly because you have never been a Hariri lover. I think it is a big deal for those who are implicated in the game of Sunni politics.

    Or, at least, it’s worth a blog post.


    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 9, 2012, 5:35 pm
  14. Finally, what we learn with this article, is that in lebanon, a sect is not prisoner of his leader? Is it a so bad news? Sunni communty in lebanon was never behind one person. We should not forget that criticism is the core of democracy. Wait for 2013 elections, maybe Future movement will drop but not finished.

    Posted by karoum | June 10, 2012, 8:25 am
  15. QN’s Self-Fulfilling Embarrassment

    I’d say that Saad Hariri occupies a position not unlike that of George W. Bush, who became more and more of an embarrassment to Republicans as his tenure wore on, and is often ridiculed by conservative pundits today.


    Can you provide this long list of Republicans and conservatives who are “embarrassed” by or who have “ridiculed” GWB?

    I liked GWB, despite the typically biased US news media.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | June 10, 2012, 11:56 am
  16. GWB will one day be a Lebanese hero. The Lebanese will eventually understand that without him and his policies, Syria would still be in Lebanon. Without a US army in Iraq, there is no way Assad leaves Lebanon.

    Posted by AIG | June 10, 2012, 12:51 pm
  17. Dear AIG, never forget that lebanon was sold to Assad by the US during the first gulf war;

    Posted by karoum | June 10, 2012, 2:06 pm
  18. Bush’s two terms were a catastrophe for America abroad. Real fiscal conservatives and foreign policy realists understand that, and are increasingly unfazed by saying it publicly.

    Akbar Palace: Eric Cantor, Alan Greenspan, Paul Ryan, Ross Douthat, Reihan Salam, Bruce Bartlett, Dick Clarke, Andrew Sullivan, Dana Rohrabacher…. One could go on.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 10, 2012, 2:09 pm
  19. Karoum,

    You are right that the US gave Lebanon to Syria on a platter but after 15 years of civil war, they were not giving much. The US could not stop the civil war, the Syrians did.

    Posted by AIG | June 10, 2012, 3:19 pm
  20. QN,
    I am no Bush fan.I would still like to see him defend himself in a court of law . But that is a different topic. The parallel between GW and Sa’ad Hariri is not as strong as you make it sound. Sa’ad Haririr never had to wage a campaign and earn his leadership in a public race. He was coronated. His case of nepotism is much stronger than that of GW.
    Anyway, I still maintain that very few if any ever took him seriously. He is unprepared, naive, incompetentlacks charisma, has never been in politics, does not understand the culture of the country and should have orchestrated a defense of his father without taking over publicly because that was a disaster. He should never be involved in politics because he is the wrong man at the wrong place for the wrong job.
    This however does not mean that many of the ideas that March 14 believes in are not worthwhile. On the contrary, their belief in Mowatiniah, and allegiance to an idea sets them apart from other political groups. But their blind adherence to everything Saudi Arabian is a joke. How can they reject allegiance to Qom and demand allegiance to Riad? But even this is a different topic.

    I have often argued that the so called Cedar Revolution “won” only because of the miscalculations of Bashar Assad. He did wink and he did believe that the US was ready to move from Iraq to Lebanon. YetSyria withdrew as a result of the massive outpouring of the Lebanese who said that enough is enough. So yes, GW, indirectly did play a role in this but any American president has either a direct or an indirect role in most major global events. Contrary to the ideas of some I do not subscribe yet to the demise of Pax Americana. Thepower in no longer as hegemonic, which is good for the world and for democracy and diversity, but the US is still the guy that needs to be dealt with if anytghing is going to happen on the block/world.

    Posted by ghassan karam | June 10, 2012, 3:35 pm
  21. Dear Ghassan Karam,
    ON the allegiance to KSA
    The problem for M14 was/is that part ofM8 have a military wing, withtout a strong ally like KSA or Egypt at a certain time M14 would be out of the map. Remember what happened to Raymond Edde during the war.

    Posted by karoum | June 10, 2012, 4:34 pm
  22. GK,

    Of course the massive demonstrations in Lebanon were the catalyst. But I think it is very clear by now that Assad is only impressed by the threat of violence, and that is what Bush delivered. I believe that if Al Gore would have won in 2000, there would be no Americans in Iraq and Assad would have ignored the Lebanese protests. GW played a direct role in my opinion because his rhetoric about “bringing democracy” was backed by actual action in Iraq. Assad didn’t blink, he played the odds. With US forces in Iraq Assad new that that extra cost of taking him out would be negligible and that made the Bush threat so much more credible. We can never know, but I think that it was quite likely that Bush would have taken out Assad if he did not leave Lebanon, and I’m sure Assad figured this out also. Even if the chance of this occurring was as low as 10%, why would Assad take a 1 in 10 chance of ending up like Saddam? Especially as he was leaving behind both Hezbollah and Wiam Wahab 🙂

    Every good action on a large scale has bad consequences but also the bad actions have good consequences. This time the Lebanese got lucky. Just imagine the situation in Lebanon if Syria were still there. Assad would have used Lebanon to squeeze as many Saudi balls as possible. It would not be pretty to say the least.

    Posted by AIG | June 10, 2012, 5:03 pm
  23. QN, not that this directly matters, but Saleh spent today’s Sunday afternoon with friends at a famous private beach in Beirut, kissing kids, receiving encouragements from Beirut’s finest madames for “standing up”, and talk of sipping Lebanese rose wine … all witnessed by me.

    Posted by rm | June 10, 2012, 5:25 pm
  24. Hariri has always had that problem. His Sunni critics say he is not Sunni enough and does not act as a sectarian leader. They complain that his institutions are staffed by Christians, Druze and even many Shiis and not exclusively by Sunnis. They also complain that there is a vacuum in Sunni sectarian leadership and he is not filling it. All this is true, his entourage is varied, probably people chosen for other reasons than their sectarian affiliations. There are many articles in the press criticising him for this. He is also probably the only Arab leader who is not a demagogue, it is just not his style. You can see it when he reads speeches that are written in that vein. He is much better and more genuine when he speaks off the cuff. All this is to his credit in a way.

    It is possible that the ‘street’ in Lebanon needs a sectarian demagogue or that some people are trying to fill this perceived vacuum. But also coming to think of it, neither is Mikati a sectarian demagogue, he only appeared as one in that Marcel Ghanem interview QN put up recently bug that could be because he was cornered. Saleh Mashnouk is quite a populist and has a large following. He sometimes plays the sectarian card in an emotional manner and this seems to be fulfilling a certain demand. He is also omnipresent in the media as well as active in the social media. I think he strikes a chord that works.

    I am not sure that Mikati and Safadi broke away for the reasons stated above. There was a certain amount of bullying and miscalculation and the goevernment of one ‘colour’ has also not been able to perform.

    The bottom line is that nobody really controls the Sunni street, nor the Christian street in Lebanon. I am not so sure about the appearance of control that Hizballah has on the Shia street. It may be the equivalent of the 97.6% that Bashar el Assad had a couple of years ago. There is much more dissent there than is obvious. I am sure QN can, off the top of his head, list 20 leading Shia intellectuals and public figures that are critical of Hizballah.

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 10, 2012, 5:43 pm
  25. Is it crass to suggest that Saleh’s good looks contribute to his popularity?

    …..especially among “Beirut’s finest madames”.

    Posted by lally | June 10, 2012, 6:52 pm
  26. RM,


    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 10, 2012, 7:22 pm
  27. Nadim

    Sure, I can list a bunch of Shia public figures critical of Hizbullah, but none of them are affiliated with or allies of the party, let alone members of the party. Saleh is a Hariri guy. His father is a Hariri guy.

    I agree with the point people are making about this being a perfectly healthy phenomenon, and I wish we saw more dissent in party structures.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 10, 2012, 7:26 pm
  28. … it is a perfectly healthy phenomenon… and it would be ideal to see more dissent in party structures.

    However, I do think there is a lot of populism in play here, and some of this population is heavily sectarian. And I think people ought to be careful how they approach that topic.

    RM.. loved the little aside!


    Good Looks?!? Good Looks!?! :S

    Maybe I should get into politics. They’d make me El Presidente!

    Posted by Gabriel | June 10, 2012, 8:22 pm
  29. On a personal level I would love to see the Lebanese political parties become democratic institutions whose leadership is not vested in one individual or one family. Yet if I am ro be realistic I would have to place my chips on the continuation of the current system of political party structure. Whether it is the Marada, FPM, Phalange, March 14, National Socialists.. each is an extention of only one individual and the leadershipo passes along to the new generation with the real estate. That is why I think that the next leader of the Future movement will be another Hariri, Ahmad. Mr. Machnouk. will play a constructive role of holding their feet to the fire but the leadership will stay with a Hariri. Sa’ad had his chance and failedmiserably and so Ahmad has been working on the plumbing of the Future, so to speak. If he reads this blog I will offer him the free advice that I believe that they should have worked on six years ago: establish the Future movement as a national inclusive well run democratic political party.

    Posted by ghassan karam | June 10, 2012, 9:47 pm
  30. Now there Gaby, Saleh is no presidential pretty boy a la John Edwards. His attractiveness is coupled with an aspect that is muy macho & forceful. In short, alpha male all the way. At least, that’s how he comes across to a person who has no idea what he’s saying……but, does know one when she sees one. :-}

    Is Saleh politically ambitous enough to take on those who would see him as a threat? The grassroots response to him is impressive and if harnessed, could become a political “base”. Who, if anyone, is Saleh beholden too?

    Saleh could be a man for the times.

    Posted by lally | June 11, 2012, 12:14 am
  31. Lol Lally, I guess a bit of charm doesn’t harm…if I were a FM follower, though, I’d wait for the one who looks like Misbah el Ahdab, talks like Okab Sakr and has Najib Miqati’s money…

    Posted by mj | June 11, 2012, 3:01 am
  32. You seem to suggest that there is dissent among Sunnis, and not among Shi’a, because the latter cannot challenge their leader. But what if the Sunni ‘leader’ is simply out of touch, while the Shi’a leader is in tune, with the alleys? Usually, people are more ready to follow a leader when she, he, is perceived as just. Clearly, the Sunni community in Lebanon is in deep leadership crisis but it won’t be the facebook ‘likes’ who will decide who will be the next leader, Gulf countries will decide.

    Posted by Sophia | June 11, 2012, 4:35 am
  33. MJ: !!!!

    Sophia: I am not making the claim you are suggesting, and I agree with you strongly. Nasrallah is not just in touch with the alleys, he is also the most powerfully charismatic and intelligent orator of his times, whereas Hariri is tone deaf to these matters. But one also has to accept that there is a level of party discipline and authoritarianism within Hizbullah that does not exist in Future. I’ve been told that Hizb ministers and MPs give their salaries to the party, which then pays them a party salary. No one ever speaks out of turn. It’s a highly centralized organization, whereas Future is very loose and getting looser.

    You’re right that money will make the ultimate difference, but trust me: the leaders of the GCC understand the importance that grass-roots support and leadership qualities represent in this brave new world of Arab revolutions… And I know for a fact that KSA has been deeply disappointed in Hariri, because of his failure to unite the Sunni community and confront Hizbullah in a smart way.

    So we’ll see.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 11, 2012, 7:12 am
  34. PS: To everyone else: a little birdie told me that Saleh may or may not be reading this comment section, and may or may not have a response later today.

    Just saying.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 11, 2012, 7:15 am
  35. could it be that this is the Future Movement’s way of appealing to a number of ideas across the Sunni political spectrum and still have them affiliated with the Future Movement, just through Saleh El Machnouk? better than have a populist politician outside of the FM’s realm! just a thought……….

    Posted by The Other Tony | June 11, 2012, 7:54 am
  36. In a vacuum every little thing “looks” promising in Lebanon…However; in a sectarian street which is Lebanon as well as simmering war and hatred next door; when time comes (elections) the new anointed “leader” of the Sunnis (could be Saleh…Who BTW could be that is being groomed by the same KSA $$$ with muted acceptance of Hariri); people will follow like sheaple to the “leader” which right now still will be from FM. As for Miqati; please be kind enough NOT be sidestep his close relationship with the Asaads; personal and business as well as that of his brother. He thought that Syria would not fall into this “spring”…Miqati is nothing but a wet rag.

    Posted by danny | June 11, 2012, 8:50 am
  37. I think you also have to bear in mind that there is a generational issue here. Mashnouk’s father is a card carrying member of the Future Movement but Saleh belongs more to the Cedar Revolution or Independence 05 generation who are disappointed with the leadership that took over March 14 and in the way they started playing politics and making electoral deals etc…. It is a different way of thinking that goes beyond the sectarian politics of the traditional political class but is also less compromising. I was told by many that the most popular Sunni leader at the moment is Samir Geagea, especially in Akkar. The vacuum needs to be filled somehow and there are many candidates. The worst case scenario is for extremists or Salafis to step into the breach.

    But here again we may be imagining an issue that does not really exist. If there are many voices emanating from a certain community it does not necessarily mean that there is a challenge to the ‘leadership’ or a coup. Especialy when its been more or less agreed here that such a phenomenon is healthy.

    Hariri is in a difficult position, he is damned if he does and damned if he does not. March 14 which he leads is a broad movement and if he acts as a purely Sunni leader he looses much of his appeal, especially with the younger generation.

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 11, 2012, 10:22 am
  38. Nadim,
    The problem with every one of the Lebanese political leaders is the fact that none has a national base. Each appeals to a narrow community/tribe. What we need is for a Lebanese leader who acts for all the Lebanese. We do not want another Sunni leader or another Maronite leader… We have had enough of these. The only leadership that can build a state is a national one. That is precisely where the Future movement went wrong. At one point they could have become an integrated national force but unfortunately they chose to play the sectarian card by becoming Saudi lackeys. You are absolutely right about Saleh being from a different generation , so to speak. He and Ahdab and Saqr seem to share that special unifying vision. If that takes off then that would be revolutionary.

    Posted by ghassan karam | June 11, 2012, 10:37 am
  39. Nadim… a little aside:

    This from the BBC.


    It’s still not clear to me how much the SNC itself is eager for foreign intervention.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 11, 2012, 10:42 am
  40. QN,

    As usual, some historical perspective helps understand current events better. Historically, there were rarely any democratic leaders that achieved the reverence, obedience and cult following that autocratic leaders achieved. Will any Italian leader receive the adulation that Mussolini did? Churchill was voted out of power after WWII. Ben-Gurion was pushed out by his own party. And I can go on. No matter what Nasrallah does, he has a job for life. Any failure will be spun as a “victory”.

    If after every speech of Nasrallah there would have been a rebuttal from internal Hezbollah opposition, perhaps you would not think he was such a great orator. If there were regular satire shows, ridiculing him, perhaps you would not think he is so much in touch with the alleys. If there was a Lebanese John Stewart giving Nasrallah the treatment he gives US politicians every night, your impression of Nasrallah would be different.

    One can easily be seduced by autocrats because when they stifle dissent they create a false sense of a united backing. In the past people were convinced that Mussolini and Hitler were really popular no matter the fate of their countries. You have a live example today. Some people ( 🙂 ) think that Assad is popular.

    I am not defending Hariri, but please compare apples to apples.

    Posted by AIG | June 11, 2012, 10:45 am
  41. AIG

    Give me the benefit of the doubt on this one. I disagree with a majority of Mr Nasrallah’s political positions, but I can recognize rhetorical brilliance when I am faced with it, and I can recognize its power over people I know.

    A million little alarm bells go off in my head when I listen to Nasrallah speak. I don’t need a John Stewart to point out the nonsense. The point is that there are gifted communicators (like Reagan and Obama) and less successful ones (like Bush, Carter, etc). Nasrallah is tremendously gifted, whether or not one agrees with him.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 11, 2012, 11:26 am
  42. Let me also say that Hizbullah would not be the party it is today if Naim Qassem was its public face.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 11, 2012, 11:28 am
  43. QN,

    I accept what you say about Nasrallah’s rhetorical brilliance. What I am pointing out is that Mussolini, Hitler and Churchill were just as brilliant. And they certainly captivated people with their speeches. But Churchill was voted out of office after the war while you know that Mussolini and Hitler had a job for life. Was Churchill less captivating? No. He had an infinitely more robust opposition with just as much access to the media and that was his “problem”.

    What kind of political message works best? By a huge margin it is negative ads. You underestimate the power of these messages to influence public opinion. Just look at campaign after campaign. The evidence is overwhelming. Negative ads are much more effective than positive ones. And when you are able to deny almost everyone from voicing negative opinions of you, your advantage in public opinion is huge.

    Most people are not self-reflective. The Germans were swept off their feet by Hitler. But you always have to ask yourself, if these autocratic leaders are so sure of themselves, why are they so afraid of open criticism and try to stifle it by force? Exactly because of the example you give of Obama. A great communicator yet he barely has support of 50% of Americans.

    On the flip side, Rabin was an awful communicator but a good leader. Rhetorical skills are important for autocrats and democrats, but much less so for democrats. Rhetorical skills can give you a few points margin, exactly what you need to win in a democracy, but they do not give you the 99% support that autocrats claim to have. The veneer of unity Nasrallah generates is a manufactured one. It is mostly due to his autocratic organization and not to his rhetorical skills. And even if you found a Sunni Demosthenes, the effect would be much smaller than you imagine.

    Posted by AIG | June 11, 2012, 12:11 pm
  44. Ghassan you are in a way making a false assumption and then proving it false. You may be wrong about Hariri, he is not a ‘sectarian’ leader in the narrow sense that you describe. He is sometimes under pressure to become that and it does not suit him. I thought his father’s concentration on Lebanon and Beirut was also too narrow and he should have framed his programme in a broader regional perspective. Compare him with someone like George Soros who invested his efforts in half a continent. If Soros had concentrated on Hungary or Budapest he would have made more enemies there than friends.

    Anyway, what I can tell you is that Saad Hariri’s staunchest supporters are at the same time his harshest critics.

    Gabriel I followed the link to the BBC item, where did you get the idea that the SNC is less clear about intervention? I agree it is not clear on anything, but I think SNC leaders have realised a bit late in the day that the street wants foreign intervention and protection and if the SNC does not deliver it then the SNC would have failed.

    Posted by Nadim Shehadi | June 11, 2012, 1:07 pm
  45. For my part , I am awaiting an article about the real weight of the Future Movement.

    Posted by Karoum | June 11, 2012, 2:20 pm
  46. I thought the new leader of the SNC (according to the BBC) says that the SNC is formally opposed to foreign intervention unless it is sanctioned by the UN.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 11, 2012, 2:20 pm
  47. AIG

    Very briefly b/c I am at work:

    Nasrallah’s political environment resembles Churchill’s vastly more than Mussolini or Hitler’s. There are news organizations in Lebanon that are devoted almost entirely to bashing Nasrallah. The 2009 elections (the campaigns of which were covered extensively on this blog) featured nonstop negative ads about Hizbullah. And I would say that SHN is reviled by as many people as he is revered (give or take)…

    So I disagree with your characterization. Authoritarianism plays a role in stifling dissent in the Shiite community but I remain convinced that if Hizbullah had a leader like Naim Qassem or Nabih Birri, the party would have a different support base.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 11, 2012, 2:21 pm
  48. … More importantly:

    The Shias can easily vote for Berri and his people if they chose to do.

    No-one put a gun to their head and forced them to vote one way or another. Or have they?

    Posted by Gabriel | June 11, 2012, 3:06 pm
  49. Gabriel,

    The lists are set from the beginning with consultation between Amal and HA. How do you want to vote for Berri?

    Posted by danny | June 11, 2012, 3:12 pm
  50. Well Danny,

    I did say I know nothing about the intricacies of Lebanese politics. Are Amal and HA really only 1 party? I thought each have their own candidates and people vote for whoever they want as long as they are from the “Right” religion on paper?

    Posted by Gabriel | June 11, 2012, 3:27 pm
  51. No dude…They vote for the list. The last time Berri put up his own list in Jezzine; his candidates were beaten as HA voted in Aoun’s candidates.

    You can always cross out a name; but Berri will almost be totally marginalized if he put a list against HA…He might win a couple of seats in Tyre…even that is debatable.

    Posted by danny | June 11, 2012, 3:35 pm
  52. Gabriel,
    Danny is essentially right. Amal, the party headed by Beri, was started by Musa Al Sadr. That is why Beri had no choice but take a stand in the Libyan conflict. I will skip over the history to the current situation. Beri is the epitome of corrupt politicians, so much so he was able to create a new Mohafaza in Lebanon called Nabatiyeh in order to reinforce his influence and that of Amal. I bet that half of the Lebanese do not know that Nabatieyeh is a separate mohafaza. It is actually half of the South. Anyway,HA can exercise its influence without having its own politicians dominate and so they cooperate with Amal in many areas so that Amal affiliated MP’s number 13 while those with HA number 12. When was the last time that an Amal MP dared take a position against HA. For that matter when was the last time that FPM dared oppose HA?The current 13 MP’s from Amal are elected from these areas: 2 Jazzine, 2 Zahrani, 2 Tyre, 2 Bint Jbeil, 1 Rashaya, 1 Baalbeck, 1 Hasbaya, and 1 Nabatiyeh. Dare I suggest that Amal and FPM are essentially fully owned subsidiaries of HA? Well, if not fully owned, they are at least majority owned by HA.

    Posted by ghassan karam | June 11, 2012, 7:01 pm
  53. Gabriel,
    Danny is essentially right. Amal, the party headed by Beri, was started by Musa Al Sadr. That is why Beri had no choice but take a stand in the Libyan conflict. I will skip over the history to the current situation. Beri is the epitome of corrupt politicians, so much so he was able to create a new Mohafaza in Lebanon called Nabatiyeh in order to reinforce his influence and that of Amal. I bet that half of the Lebanese do not know that Nabatieyeh is a separate mohafaza. It is actually half of the South. Anyway,HA can exercise its influence without having its own politicians dominate and so they cooperate with Amal in many areas so that Amal affiliated MP\’s number 13 while those with HA number 12. When was the last time that an Amal MP dared take a position against HA. For that matter when was the last time that FPM dared oppose HA?The current 13 MP\’s from Amal are elected from these areas: 2 Jazzine, 2 Zahrani, 2 Tyre, 2 Bint Jbeil, 1 Rashaya, 1 Baalbeck, 1 Hasbaya, and 1 Nabatiyeh. Dare I suggest that Amal and FPM are essentially fully owned subsidiaries of HA? Well, if not fully owned, they are at least majority owned by HA.

    Posted by gkaram | June 11, 2012, 7:02 pm
  54. Ghassan, Danny:

    I still remain a little ignorant of the details. As I said, I don’t know the intricate details of how this all works. Say a Mohafaza like Nabatiyeh. (I know that QN/Ghassan explained this a little a long time ago, but my memory fails me).

    (I have to turn this into something mathematical so I understand it).

    Say you have Nabatiyeh, and say- for the sake of the argument- that this region is home to 100 people, 80 of whom are Shia. And let’s say that 20 are Maronite Christians.

    I assume that to respect the various communal “Seat” allotments, the residents of Nabatiyeh are constrained to vote for certain people- as long as they belong to a certain sect. And since Nabatiyeh is predominantly Shia, could I safely assume that the choices may be limited to Shia politicians?

    And if so, would one not assume that there are- amongst the Shia- those who may be pro-March 14. While there are others who may be pro-March 8. Still others who are neither here nor there?

    If the people of Nabatiyeh hate Hezbollah so much, would they not vote for any candidate but HA?

    If this question is far too elementary, excuse my ignorance.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 11, 2012, 7:34 pm
  55. On the point you made though. If Amal and Hizballah form some sort of “strategic” alliance. How is that different from alliances in Western democracies where several smaller parties do similar sorts of things.

    [Going back to the question: Are the people in the South or who are voting for HA, only given the choice between HA and Amal and no other choice? Does the system not allow alternative politicians to run against HA/Amal?]

    Posted by Gabriel | June 11, 2012, 7:38 pm
  56. Gabriel,
    I did not say that the constituents hate HA. My point is only that Nabatiyeh was created to give Beri clout. It creates an additional bureaucratic level that Beri gets to fill and so his political reach increases. Note that Nabatieh Mohafazah is about 6.6 % of the Lebanese population while the South Mohafaza is close to 10 % 0f the population. There was no rationale to split the soutgh intoi 2 Mohafazats except for the political power of Beri at the time.
    My more important point, and it rests on some speculation since it has not been tested in the field, is that Amal gets 13 MP’s only because HA does not challenge many of their nominees. HA can probably defeat , if it wants to , a big portion of what Amal gets but HA does not want to go to parliament with ,say, 25 of its own MP’s. It would rather go to Parliament with 12 of its own and 13 Amal MP’s that tow the line. This way the talk about hegemonic HA will not be as credible. HA can make life for its opponents veery difficult in the south, Bekaa and Dahieh. This , if I am right, is not a strategic alliance between two parties as much as it is a strategic move by one party in an effort to present a public image that is not as threatening. That would be similar to having a major company sell its merchandize under 3 different brands instead of only one.

    Posted by gkaram | June 11, 2012, 8:11 pm
  57. GKaram, June 11, 2012, 8:11 PM: Second paragraph is spot on!

    However, I would argue your earlier assessment that the FPM owes its seats to the Hizb. Most of its seats are from Jbeil, Kesrewein and Metn – not exactly HA strongholds.

    Posted by Johnny Seikaly | June 12, 2012, 4:04 am
  58. Greetings from Abu Dhabidoo! its so dam hot in here

    GK- As Dr. QN once instructed, it is Toe, not Tow the line. 🙂

    Mohafaza Shmohafaza nothing is gona change, the whole system is rotten, the details are irrelevant Gaby.

    Posted by Vulcan | June 12, 2012, 5:53 am
  59. “Was Churchill less captivating? No. He had an infinitely more robust opposition with just as much access to the media and that was his “problem”.

    During those famous war speeches, Churchill had virtually no public opposition at all, what with a national unity government and war censorship. Much of the Churchill myth is, to a large extent just that, a myth.

    Posted by Will | June 12, 2012, 6:25 am
  60. The details may be irrelevant, and the system may be rotten… but that is not to say that there is not something important behind them V.

    Does HA have a strong support base. There are mathematical truths behind the numbers.

    I certainly don’t see how this is not relevant to QN’s earlier discussion on Nasrallah’s oratory skills, etc. Because it does tie in to that point.

    Posted by Gabriel | June 12, 2012, 8:50 am
  61. Gabriel,

    Off course HA has a very strong support base! Thousands of Shias are employed by HA. It runs social agencies, hospitals, community centers etc..etc.. They run a State. Top that with the fact that it empowered the Shias who were repressed for years; why would you not want to support them? The alternative in the existing system is to slide back to being treated like crap and not have a prominent role in running the affairs of the country…

    Posted by danny | June 12, 2012, 9:41 am
  62. Danny,

    I think (?) that was my point. That the support base for HA is strong. No-one forces the people who vote for them to vote for them. If they truly didn’t like HA, they’d vote for the other guy (whoever the other guy happens to be). And for what it’s worth… whatever Hassan Nasrallah brings to the table is a factor in defining his support base. [So I agree with QN’s broader point that if it were someone like Berri leading Hizballah, we’d see quite a different “Support base” for the organization.]

    Posted by Gabriel | June 12, 2012, 10:34 am
  63. V,
    It is never too late to teach an old dog a new trick. Thanks for setting me straight about toe the line instead of tow the line. I had never suspected that the phrase did not refer to a rope. From here on I will have to imagine a race runner on the starting line; ready set go.

    Posted by gkaram | June 12, 2012, 11:16 am
  64. Yet, when the Sunni street erupts, they blame Hariri! Go figure.

    Posted by Caustic | June 12, 2012, 12:26 pm
  65. Is there any reason why we can’t see comments posted prior to 11th June at 3.35pm?

    Posted by The Other Tony | June 15, 2012, 2:39 am
  66. The Other Tony

    You have to click “Older Comments”, which is just below the last comment on this page.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 15, 2012, 6:56 am
  67. thanks QN!

    Posted by The Other Tony | June 16, 2012, 3:56 am
  68. QN,

    While several of the comments seem to have homed in on the – undeniable – differences between the personal styles of Saad and SHN or, in one instance, on the structures of religious leadership, I can’t help but think of this in a historical perspective (being a historian, after all).

    Seems to me the Sunni zu’ama of Beirut found it difficult to control the zu’ama al-zawarib and sundry qabadayat for most of the twentieth century – Sa’ib Salam in ’58 springs to mind – and it could sometimes seem that patron needed client more than client needed patron.

    By contrast, the Shi’a community was dominated politically by one or two families – the As’ad being the most prominent example – that ruthlessly snuffed out dissent well into the 1960s and ’70s – though, then as now, one could find plenty of intellectuals, many of them leftist, who denounced this dominance…

    Plus ça change?…

    Posted by Andrew Bey | June 22, 2012, 5:04 am
  69. Andrew Bey, I was not aware that such a dynamic had a longer historical trajectory. Will have to ask our friend Max for his thoughts on the matter.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 23, 2012, 7:11 am


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