Monday, April 3, 2006

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So how's it going in Lebanon?

Christine Spolar takes a look in the Chicago Tribune at what's happened in Lebanon since Syrian troops left the country. Spolar takes a pesimistic view of politicians dithering while the people suffer -- but after reading the article, I didn't see a lot of heft to that claim.

The interesting part of the story was about how Hezbollah is coping with normal politics:

The pressure is on the Lebanese political class to recapture the promise of a lost spring. Leaders from all parties in parliament are in round-table talks, the first national dialogue in decades, in hopes of translating last year's street protests for "freedom, sovereignty, independence" into some kind of progress.

After bitter delays, they are debating whether President Emile Lahoud, a former commander of the Lebanese armed forces allied with Syria, should be forced from office. They are also questioning for the first time whether the militant group Hezbollah needs its decades-old armed wing.

The discussions are difficult but necessary, according to those involved in the talks and observers keen to see results.

"We never even sat with some of these people before," said Galeb Abou Zeinab, a Hezbollah strategist. "Just sitting and talking is positive . . . and opens people up to a natural give-and-take."....

The United States and France are sponsors of a UN Security Council resolution that calls for the disarming of Lebanese militia, including Hezbollah. But Hezbollah says it needs to maintain its fighters to guard against possible Israeli incursions.

When others argue that weapons are unnecessary since Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah leaders point to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as evidence of Israeli ambition, and they see no reason that Israel would not return to the south if Hezbollah forces disappeared.

Such words appeal to many Arabs in Lebanon, who view Israel as an enemy, and the estimated 350,000 Palestinians who live in refugee camps in Lebanon.

Like other Islamist parties in the Middle East, Hezbollah made inroads in recent elections, claiming 14 seats in the 128-member parliament. Party members are heading ministries for the first time.

But Hezbollah's strength in these internal talks also is due to its history. It has been one of the few political forces in Lebanon to connect with people over the issue of land and sovereignty. When Israeli troops left, Hezbollah leaders were quick to claim credit.

"Everyone will be looking to maneuver," political scientist Makdisi said about the historic dialogue. "Hezbollah may know that at some point they will give up the arms--but the question is: How do you use them as a bargaining chip?"

I'm not holding my breath waiting for Hezbollah to disarm -- but then again, I never thought I would have ever heard a Hezbollah strategist praising the "natural give-and-take" of politics.

posted by Dan on 04.03.06 at 09:11 AM


just so you know, there is noone in lebanon that is actually calling on Hizbullah to disarm. The nature of that aspect of those talks are on how to legitimize their military wing. the trouble is that those who are against syria and want Hizbullah "give up their arms" are asking that the Hizbullah military wing become a regular part of the army under the traditional military leadership, while Hizbullah officials want to be considered a completely independent wing of the lebanese military. No one in Lebanon is seriously calling for them to give up their weapons, and no one will do so until Israel gives back the Golan Hights and gives some justice to the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Anyway, not that you are interested in internal Lebanese political issues, but Hizbullah is really a nationalist and stabilizing force in Lebanon. All other parties were involved in killing each other during the civil war, while Hizbullah fought a legitimate resistance. Also, because of the nature of its social services and the resistance, the article is right when it said, "It has been one of the few political forces in Lebanon to connect with people..." anyway, moral of the story is that Hizbullah represents a large portion of the Lebanese population, and only got 14 in the parliament because they are restricted to that many based on a power sharing argeement. in reality they probably represent 40-50% of the population.

lastly and directly related, dan, i wonder whether you would be willing to blog about the latest article by the Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. You are extremely willing to criticize the Arabs and Palestinians and everything and blame them for everything, but i wonder whether you have even considered their opinions. so, yeah, i wonder about your opinions on his latest article, you can find it here:

posted by: joe m. on 04.03.06 at 09:11 AM [permalink]

Joe M. has no clue what he is talking about, and clearly doesn't live in the same Lebanon you are talking about, Dan.

The majority of the Lebanese want Hezbollah to disarm. Perhaps Joe should diversify his news coverage beyond Al Manar (the Hezbollah news network), and check out some real, independent coverage from

posted by: Ahmad Farhat on 04.03.06 at 09:11 AM [permalink]

Pairs of comments like this give me the impression that lebanon doesn't have an established mainstream media. When a country has an MSM like we do, everybody knows what the MSM says, and if you say something that sounds radically different people will say you're crazy or a conspiracy theorist or something.

But here we have two different people with wildly different views of lebanon, and chances are they're both right. Without a MSM to tell people what the consensus of opinion is, there is no consensus of opinion. There are people who think the discussion is about how to disarm Hizbollah, and there are people who say there's no possibility of disarming Hizbollah and the discussion is about how to rebrand it. Both are true among different groups, and they have to figure out what consensus they can get later, when they try to make a deal. And afterward they can disagree about what the deal means.

No MSM to set them straight and tell them what it really means.

posted by: J Thomas on 04.03.06 at 09:11 AM [permalink]

My guess is that most other groups would like to disarm Hezbollah, but the Shiite groups would not.

posted by: erg on 04.03.06 at 09:11 AM [permalink]

Lebanon needs more independent news outlets. We have enough "mainstream media" outlets, the problem is they are practically all politician owned and controlled.

Most recently Michel Aoun is trying to get a TV station for his political party, citing the need since his competitors all have TV stations.

The emergence of smaller, independent news outlets like Ya Libnan has been the one sign of progression. For one, their perspectives are not aligned to any particular political group.

erg is right... most groups would like to disarm Hezbollah, but many shiites side with them. I, for one, am a shiite that wants them disarmed and dismantled. They have hijacked my religion to benefit their political agenda.

posted by: Ahmad Farhat on 04.03.06 at 09:11 AM [permalink]

My impression is the Daily Star is pretty independent. However, I am not really well-informed on Lebanon, so maybe I'm wrong about that.

posted by: Les Brunswick on 04.03.06 at 09:11 AM [permalink]

A former high ranking staffer of the Daily Star informed the blogger of about how he was threatened by Syrian intelligence to publish articles written by a sympathetic/biased reporter.

Several Daily Star staff memebers are known to be in cahoots with some of the worst politicans, and it shows in the paper... it's weak and not very credible on the street in Lebanon.

posted by: Tony Joe on 04.03.06 at 09:11 AM [permalink]

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