Hezbollah, Lebanon, March 14, Syria

Mohamad Chatah (1951-2013)

chatah1I met Mohamad Chatah in late 2011. I was in Beirut for a couple of weeks, interviewing politicians and civil society members for a research project on bicameralism and consociationalism, and a mutual friend put us in touch. He had been interested in the idea of a Lebanese senate for many years, and so he invited me to meet him at Center House, not far from where he was killed this morning.

Mr. Chatah was a Lebanese economist, minister, ambassador, and senior adviser to the Hariri family. In the course of our discussion, he struck me as curious and flexible in his thinking, a realist uninterested in pie-in-the-sky ideologies. We chatted about the political situation, about bloggingand about my doctoral research, and then moved to a discussion about his ideas on the role a senate might play in Lebanese political life. Some of those ideas informed my working paper on bicameralism for Stanford’s Program in Arab Reform and Democracy (see link above).

Like many other countries, Chatah suggested, Lebanon was caught between an ethic of individualism and communalism. “We don’t have a geography that allows for a federal system. And we also like to think of ourselves as equal individuals in a nation. That is a principle or a value that is well entrenched. At the same time, we are communities… And we’re old enough and wise enough to know that history does not dissolve the lines between communities.”

There was no unitary structure of government, to Chatah’s mind, that could respect individual equality, communal equality, and the importance of communal borders. Political confessionalism, he argued, was an inevitability in Lebanon for the time being, but it could be tamed to make the system function more efficiently and equitably:

I don’t want to get rid of confessionalism; I want to put it in its proper place… There’s no way to remove confessional quotas from the system unless you force it through with some kind of authority. Once you think of political sectarianism as an evil that we should do everything possible to get rid of… I think that’s the wrong way to think about this country. I want to base any system that comes out of this structural reform on certain realities that we are confident of, and I’m confident that these demarcation lines between Sunnis and Shia and Christians and Muslims will be with us for a long time. I don’t want to base the system on an unrealistic world. As desirable as it may be, that’s not something that serves as a model.

If communalism is inevitable, I asked Chatah, why bother with a senate? Why add another layer of bureaucracy to a system that is already choked with inefficiency and sectarian-flavored gridlock? As he himself admitted, Lebanon “is not easy to keep together; the fault lines are an extension of most of the religious and cultural fault lines in the world today.” 

Chatah’s interest in a senate, and in structural reform more broadly, was because “the basic tools of democracy are not working now. All of the links between the people, the MPs, the ministers, and their decisions are broken in Lebanon. Cabinets are formed in a way that is not related to the outcome of the elections, and cabinets can’t take decisions even when they’re formed.” A senate, he argued, would provide the necessary communitarian assurances, while giving space to the Parliament to get things done.

The next several days will be full of speculation about who wanted Mohamad Chatah dead. There will be a great deal of tail-chasing commentary about motives and mysteries, “which side benefited most from the assassination” and which side was weakened by it. Was his death a message to President Sleiman and March 14 to drop their campaign for a neutral cabinet? Was it a message from Syria to the international community that it still has the ability to create havoc in Lebanon, in the build-up to the Geneva conference? (The most laughable theory is already in circulation in the press, insinuating that his death was related to something he tweeted about Hizbullah on the morning of his assassination. Why not scan the rest of his Twitter feed for other culprits, from Christmas-hating jihadists to Ziad Rahbani…)

Another very sad day in Beirut. I’d like to express my condolences to Mr. Chatah’s family and friends. May he rest in peace, and may his killers be brought to justice.


30 thoughts on “Mohamad Chatah (1951-2013)

  1. Reblogged this on Eliane Fersan.

    Posted by ellefersan | December 27, 2013, 5:32 pm
  2. Apparently, Mr. Chatah was a moderate and a liberal.

    So, when will the millions of Arab liberals go to Beirut and demonstrate in support of this man just like they did for Rafik Hariri?

    Posted by Akbar Palace | December 27, 2013, 7:03 pm
  3. Qifa nabki….. Indeed

    Posted by Anthony adamany | December 27, 2013, 7:51 pm
  4. Quick thoughts:

    -Very sad day of course, with the 14th such attempt/assassination since 2004. March 14 and the State are still like deer-in-the-headlights, babbling words that have lost all meaning. They need something new and radical, right now.

    -RIP Shatah, I agree with the views expounded here, they are the closest thing to a reasonable solution to Lebanese politics down the road. That is not the question yet, however. The QUESTION is why can’t we even START that damn conversation? Assassinations and security. No one addresses that seriously, or as always they do so only many years and many deaths too late.

    -We have lost faith and interest as a people. No one is shocked anymore which is a prerequisite for any action/solution. The nation is DEAD. Three frigging 2-line comments on this subject on this blog????

    – An old rant of mine, but the Lebanese blogs (serious and news driven) are dying or dead for the most part, and the comments are tending to zero (not just here). A reflection on the state of the country.

    Posted by OldHand | December 28, 2013, 4:38 am
  5. There is a notable difference in the habitual sequence of March 14 assassinations. No obscure terrorist group claimed responsibility so far for Chatah’s.

    Posted by Lily | December 28, 2013, 9:03 am
  6. Chattah seems o have been assassinated by HA to send a message to Hariri. No othe reasonto tke out a guy with no popular base. He was a senior advisor of Hariri. Recently HA/Nassrallah have been spewing venom against anything KSA.

    Chattah unfortunately seems to be the message they dropped in Hariri’s and STL’s (as well as the total population of UNIVERSE) mailbox; that they are infallible and HA mafia will endure and control, maim and kill with impunity (like Assad); and still be recognized as the lease of all evils among terrorist mafias.

    Posted by danny | December 28, 2013, 10:03 am
  7. ooops…It seems sticky keyboard. My appologies. 😦

    Chattah seems to have been assassinated by HA to send a message to Hariri. No one has the reason to take out a guy with no popular base or special value. Except he was a senior advisor of Hariri. Recently HA/Nassrallah have been spewing venom against anything KSA.

    Chattah unfortunately seems to be the message they dropped in Hariri’s and STL’s (as well as the total population of UNIVERSE) mailbox; that they are infallible and HA mafia will endure and control, maim and kill with impunity (like Assad); and still be recognized as the lease of all evils among terrorist mafias.

    Posted by danny | December 28, 2013, 10:06 am
  8. Old Hand,

    I share your sadness about the state of the blogosphere, but I think that most of the activity and outrage has shifted over to Facebook. That’s where a lot of the discussions are taking place these days.

    Still, we can muster up a good debate here occasionally. See the last post.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 28, 2013, 10:42 am
  9. in israel there is talk off a new taif accord
    to make lebnon a confessional federetion
    france is pushing this on israel jordan and egypt
    in an atempt to save lebnon from radicals
    r.i.p Mohamad Chatah

    Posted by lone wolf | December 28, 2013, 12:23 pm
  10. In London, talking to several Lebanese.

    1. Wife’s cousin 1, who was planning a visit, is canceling.

    2. Wife’s cousin 2 (brother of 1), who was planning a visit with his wife and 3 kids, ages 9-16: “Why would we cancel? It has always been like this.” (They grew up during the war.)

    3. My wife’s family, in Ashrafieh, by Skype; older generations: “Don’t come!” Especially me. (They grew up before the war.)

    4. Housemaid of the friend we are staying with, an older woman. We ask, “Will you go back to Lebanon?” A pause, then “Never.”

    Posted by sam adams the dog (@samadamsthedog) | December 28, 2013, 8:40 pm
  11. 1. A friend (14 March) states that Syria and HA are behind the assassination just to settle some old debts ( lakkis incident)
    2. Another friend ( 8march) states that Mr.Chatah works for the Americans and is well connected to the zionists via world bank
    Although the opinions above are utter nonsense ,they reflect the shape of the real rhetoric that is going on.
    Lebanon is facing-again- the negative charge of sectarian divisions. This time it is real this time it is ultimate.
    Condolences to Mr.chatah’s family and my he rest in peace.

    Posted by Ali Ibrahim (@aibrahimrn) | December 28, 2013, 11:35 pm
  12. Salafists routinely murder their less extreme allies in Syria to gain power, why wouldn’t they do the same in Lebanon?

    Posted by habib | December 29, 2013, 1:05 am
  13. QN,

    Hezbollah does not want to fight two wars at the same time. They do not want to fight in Syria while M14 and the Saudis are waging an internal war against them. Yes, what M14 is doing is politics but Hezbollah do not see it that way, just as they did not see what Hariri Sr. was doing as politics but as an attempt to undermine and weaken them. So they have sent a clear signal to M14: Continue on this path and you will potentially pay a heavy personal price. If you look at this from Hezbollah’s perspective, they believe they have no other option. They cannot repeat the May 7, 2008 stunt as this time it will lead to civil war. So the only way they can stop the internal onslaught on them and the emergence of a unfavorable government is by intimidating the architects of such a government.

    Posted by AIG | December 29, 2013, 10:52 am
  14. AIG,

    Check on all counts. However; it may eventually push M14 to just push the envelope and get a M14 government in place instead of a neutral one. This is a big step for M14 to stop the intimidation of HA.

    Posted by danny | December 29, 2013, 2:18 pm
  15. Chatah was rumored for a ministry position in the “neutral” government. Some people are bamboozled by such terms as “liberal” “moderate” “neutral” and some people cynically use such terminology regardless of the grotesquely inappropriate application to the party under discussion.

    Mohamad Chatah was working with “the Americans” and by default, that includes Zionists. The wikileaks Beirut cables are quite revealing of his deep involvement in issues affecting Lebanon at the highest levels within the purview of the machinations of the “international community” in their endless endeavors to shape reality for dearest Lebanon. From ceasefire, Russian MIGs, UN resolutions, internationally approved lawfare…..Chatah was a primary Lebanese fixer, courier, cat herder and go-to-guy for all sorts of efforts to further the ambitions of those wishing to impose their own version of ersatz “democracy” .

    Whatever, Chatah does not appear to be in any way a lynchpin for the longed-for M14 run cabinet. His inclusion was certainly not critical for it’s formation one way or another.

    Conversely, his martyrdom is serving as a catalyst to force the issue and so coincidently, serving as cover for the Saudis to funnel $3bn for French weapons to allow the Lebanese Armed Forces to “defend” the sovereignty of Lebanon by the enforcement of UN 1701 and stuff.

    Anyone want to bet that the French will sell the LAF anti-aircraft systems capable of shooting down IAF F16s and the like? Heh, Not bloody likely.

    It will be amusing to watch the GOI and the GOA vet the weapons platforms that poor Lebanon is allowed to possess. Hey, maybe the US Congress can get involved as it is an official American obligation to insure that Israeli whimpers of fear about any damn thing under the sun are taken as mandates for Uncle Sam to assuage and apply kissies to the hurt.

    As speculations about the latest convenient assassination are rife and completely untethered to anything resembling forensic proof, I will submit that like Wissam al-Hassan, it was Mohamad Chatah’s Lebanese patriotism that did him in. True patriots are often those who have lines that are not-to-be-crossed and as such, can become liabilities. Both Chatah and Wissam were deeply and intimately involved in actions and machinations of interested parties seeking to manipulate Lebanese realities.

    They knew too much.

    Posted by lally | December 29, 2013, 5:11 pm
  16. Lally

    Give me a little heads-up next time, and I’ll put some popcorn on.


    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 29, 2013, 5:28 pm
  17. lally,

    Could you kindly text me when you wake up and your purple haze induced dream is “completed”? 😛

    Posted by danny | December 29, 2013, 5:41 pm
  18. It’s amazing, how could Abu Ali from Dahiyeh and April from Santa Clara, share the very same Middle Eastern conspiracy theories?! 😉

    Posted by Vulcan | December 29, 2013, 6:21 pm
  19. What’s more remarkable is that Victor from Boca via Beirut and Shlomo in TA and Paddy in Toronto all agree that they don’t need no stinkin’ proof of nuthin when fixing blame.

    That, my little chickadees, is the utter bottom line for conspiracists muttering their mutual fantasy scenarios in each others’ pricked-up ears.

    QN: heads up? You are so on, professor. Popcorn all around.

    For those curious about Chatah’s dealings within certain circles of power, Start here:


    Lots and lots of fun reading for the aficionado.

    Danny, purple haze? Are you a Hendrix fan by chance? Look who else is suspected of being compromised by recreational substances:

    “2. (C/NF) Patronage aside, Sheikh Michel and his Lebanese
    guests saw Saad Hariri as no match for Nasrallah politically.
    The Hizballah leader took advantage of the young, reluctant
    politician’s inexperience and seemingly weak personality. In
    an aside with the Ambassador, Sheikh Michel also expressed
    concern about the possibility that Hariri’s judgment might be
    impeded by some kind of narcotic addiction. He understood
    that Hariri had used drugs as an undergraduate at Georgetown
    University to the extent that it seriously impaired his
    studies. He wondered whether Hariri had ever actually quit.
    (Comment: If so, this might explain some of the personality
    traits that we have noticed in our interaction with Hariri,
    such as a very short attention span. End Comment.) ”

    Mr Jeffrey Feltman Sir is the commenter.
    Poor Lebanon is forced to put up with a bigger loser than Bush JR.

    BTW. It would make much more sense to take out Siniora if HA was inclined to change the calculus by eliminating their most dangerous domestic foe.

    Posted by lally | December 29, 2013, 9:25 pm
  20. Oh good, Saudi Arabia is giving a few billion dollars to help the castrated Lebanese army.

    Just think what could be accomplished if the Lebanese, Saudis and Israelis could work together….but alas, reality always seems to slap me out of my daydreaming…



    I ran Lilly’s post through Google translate and I got the following error message: “Unrecognized language and/or conspiracy theory”

    Posted by Akbar Palace | December 29, 2013, 10:18 pm
  21. Lally,

    Is it OK to quote Feltman as if his observations are gospel? Wow…you “gals and guys” of the “rejectionist” front never seem to amaze us!. 😀

    Here’s one for all of you who have been attacked as a Zionist…Sorry Lally one of your own pillars seems to be a bit fishy (if it is true that is. :P).

    “Angry Arab” or CIA operative?
    New evidence proves old rumors of AbuKhalil’s involvement with the CIA.


    Posted by danny | December 30, 2013, 10:52 am
  22. I think the world should all adopt a new globally accepted holiday and call it “Angry Arab Day” in support for all those arabs mistreated by Zionism and American capitalism.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | December 30, 2013, 11:45 am
  23. http://dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2013/Dec-30/242675-beirut-bomb-blast-suspect-evaded-cctv-source.ashx#axzz2oy9dH9qL

    At some point, we need to start realizing that the Sunni-Shiite narrative that describes Mid-East issues is far too simplistic, especially in Lebanon. The tensions within the Lebanese Sunni community (moderates vs. radicals) is an equally important dynamic in influencing events.

    If the blast’s suspects truly do have links to the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camps (which is known to have close ties to the Salafi community), we have to consider a scenario where radical Islamists are making a play here in order to strike a blow on the “moderate” Sunni camp. My only doubt here is that this bomb was obviously quite sophisticated and must have been carried out by professionals, and I am unsure if any of the current radical Islamist militant groups have that capability.

    Posted by Georges Beaino | December 31, 2013, 11:09 am
  24. It looks like the AbuKhalil/CIA link is fake. I don’t endorse Electronic Intifada, but this article was actually pretty convincing:


    Basically, some data-mining algorithm garbled some words from an article about him and incorrectly classified him as a CIA employee. Still, as the first commenter on that site points out, there is some karmic justice in all of this. AbuKhalil is constantly accusing journalists and politicians he doesn’t like of being on the Saudi payroll, never providing any proof. Now ZoomInfo bot gave him a dose of his own medicine.

    Posted by Rotsapsky | December 31, 2013, 9:44 pm
  25. Only two plausible theories as to who killed Mohamad Shattah? Hmmm yet you are not sectarian or biased? You have to consider the Zionists, the Wahabis, the Al Qaeda jihadis, or even that it was an inside job, who have just as much if not more to gain from his killing…in the end, no matter what qualifications or ideas he had, he was dispensable to his questionable allies ..

    Posted by Marion Mourtada | January 3, 2014, 3:14 pm


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