December 07, 2006

Hizbullah holding Lebanese economy hostage

By Abu Kais

Some people justify Hizbullah's actions by claiming they represent an impoverished community long neglected by the state. In other words, because the Shias of Lebanon were poor and neglected, somehow Hizbullah earned the right to be the bully it is, since it provides for them. This is a false argument, mainly because Hizbullah was never about social justice, but about farming humans to carry out an essentially Jihadist agenda. The people who benefit from their Iranian-funded projects are essentially tools for social change that is incompatible with Lebanese democracy. And if the state has failed Hizbullah's people, so has Hizbullah, which is now holding their country's economy hostage.

Michael Karam, managing  editor of Executive Magazine, says Hibzullah's protests are killing the Lebanese economy.

Crunch the numbers and it becomes obvious that this is neither the time nor the place for such a jamboree. Lebanon's total debt stands at $39.4 billion, a year-on-year increase of 6.9 percent. The debt-to-GDP ratio is a staggering 190 percent. PM Fouad Siniora, a banker by training, is aware of the urgency of reform… …Even on a "good day" it is estimated that Lebanon looses $1 million for every day it stalls in carrying out economic reform. Does the opposition care about such figures? One wonders.

Yes, one wonders whether the "opposition" cares.

According to the March 14 media, Hizbullah has been working on a new government for months now, and the lineup is ready, consisting mostly of pro-Syrian ministers, with former PM Salim Hoss likely at the helm. Aoun's rejection of joining the current cabinet seems to corroborate these reports, which claim that the new government was to be announced as soon as the Grand Serail fell last Friday.

But if they had a lineup ready, this doesn't mean they have a economic plan—unless they want to play it Syrian style: assign finances to a semi-independent figure (Aoun?) with some credibility, in return for control of foreign policy and security matters.

Michael Young spells out Hizbullah's strategy:

Hizbullah's strategy is now clear, its repercussions dangerous. The party is pushing Lebanon into a protracted vacuum, in which low-level violence and economic debilitation become the norm. Hizbullah is calculating that its adversaries will crack first, because they have more at stake than do poor Shiites when it comes to the country's financial and commercial health. Its leaders know the powerful symbolism associated with dispatching thousands of destitute people into the plush downtown area, which best symbolizes that financial and commercial health - the jewel in late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's reconstruction crown.

According to Karam, the country's economy is "hurtling to hell in the proverbial hand basket". The Paris III economic conference might be postponed again, which might force rating agencies to downgrade the country one step away from a default. Tourism and industry are in shambles. Pierre Ashkar, the head of the Federation of Tourism Syndicates, told al-Mustaqbal that hotel reservations went "from 90% [full], to 50% when Hizbullah threatened to take to the streets, and now 0%."  The protests and the sit-in in downtown Beirut has cost the country $400m so far, with businesses to lay off workers in the near future. Some 20,000 workers were laid off in July during the Hizbullah-initiated war.

Furthermore, Hizbullah and FPM tents occupy private property owned by Gulf investors and slated for development. Economist Marwan Iskandar accused the "protestors" of seeking to scare away major investors, especially if Beirut is transformed from a civilized place into a gangland where "groups of kids" fight and hurl obscenities.

Karam describes it well:

Lebanon's image as the region's party town is evaporating faster than you can say Bacardi Breezer, while brand Lebanon, which nearly two years ago oozed with equity, is looking very brittle. A widely televised war, a gangster-style assassination in broad daylight, and the sight of soldiers behind razor wire defending a holed-up Cabinet are not good for business, and whether we like it or not business is what makes Lebanon.

I would add to the above that 1980s Beirut is being resurrected. Armed thugs are back on the streets, and the only things missing are a wider scale conflict and the Syrian army for the picture to be complete.

Hizbullah, in fact, is filling in for the Syrian army, as far as destabilizing the country is concerned. On Wednesday, the Syrian vice president and the regime's official liar (by UN findings), Farouk al-Sharaa, said Syria "didn't need" troops on the ground to have "stronger" relations with the country than in the past (stronger relations = hegemony). Sharaa promised us that the conflict will continue as long as the Lebanese "political will" is imported (meaning no resolution as long as Syria's will is resisted). He also bragged that if the Syrians were to get involved (he says they're not), the situation would have been resolved quickly. He lashed out at France and the United States, said Syria's relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia were at an all time low, but praised Michel Aoun's "reasonable and logical" discourse.

And then this gem:

Can you imagine a Lebanese soldier would fire at a Syrian soldier or vice versa? Whoever doesn't understand this issue has no future.

In Sharaa's mind, Hizbullah is their army, and the Lebanese army is in their pocket, and would not oppose their efforts to topple the government when push comes to shove. The army has proved them wrong so far, although many still question the loyalty of its leadership, and its long-term ability to withstand communal divisions and infiltrations by Hizbullah and the Syrian regime. 

Which brings us back to the main point. Hizbullah thinks that economic peril and Syrian-style destablization can deliver the government and please their Syrian allies. This is proving to be yet another costly "miscalculation", for the political opposition to their tactics has been formidable. The Sunni street has united around the cabinet, and the Maronite Church has regained its political role following attempts by Syrian regime thugs like Suleiman Franjieh to discredit the Patriarch. The Church is now asking Nabih Berri to convene parliament to settle the conflict within the state's institutions. The church's initiative, in fact, calls for endorsement of the Hariri tribunal, early presidential elections, a new electoral law, one of two kinds of government: consensual or independents if the first is not possible.

The Syrian regime was quick to reject the Church's recommendations through its mouthpiece, "president" Emile Lahoud, who ruled out early presidential elections because it's "unconstitutional" and "the parliament does not represent the orientations of Lebanese people". (LBC)

Hizbullah responded by calling for another massive protest on Sunday afternoon. It is not clear what will be different this time.

But what is becoming evident is that some of Hizbullah's allies in the country, namely Aoun and Berri, cannot afford to attach themselves to Hizbullah's economic and political suicide project for ever. The country is not a fighter that can be sacrificed. With Aoun lacking any sensitivity, Nabih Berri probably feels it the most. He reportedly sent an emissary to Damascus for consultations. Lahoud is free to reject the Church's demands, but can Berri, as parliament speaker, ignore Sunnis, Maronites and Druze, not to mention a Saudi ambassador giving him an earful every day? At some point, he must realize that the Syrian regime's fear of the tribunal and Hizbullah's "conceit" are pushing the country into the abyss. 

Young gets the final word.

Another flaw in Syrian and Iranian reasoning is hubris. Despite the tactical parallels in the staging of a coup, Lebanon is no Czechoslovakia. Tehran, Damascus, and Hizbullah imagine the country can be conquered, with Hizbullah somehow emerging on top. Only the fundamentally intolerant can fall for such a tidy, straightforward conceit. But that's not really how things work in Lebanon's confessional disorder. We may be in the throes of a faltering coup, but the ultimate challenge is to avoid being inadvertently manhandled by Hizbullah into a war nobody wants.

Posted by Abu Kais at December 7, 2006 06:50 AM
Comments

Everything in Lebanon is going to be overwhelmed when Hezbollah attacks Israel again, probably in concert with Hamas in Gaza and on the West Bank. This three-pronged attack will cause Israel not to waste any time issuing warnings or avoiding "civilian" areas. It will retailiate with overwhelming force in Gaza, the West Bank, and Lebanon. It will probably initiate attacks on Syria as well. Egypt will of course be in a frenzy but it cannot do anything (breaks the treaty); Jordan is very weak.

For Lebanon, the words of Sinoura showing solidarity with Hezbollah will come back to haunt it. Unless the Sunni, Druze and Christian sectors of the population join with Israel explicitly to fight Hezbollah (a very unlikely scenario), they will suffer massive destruction.

Israel learned one lesson from the last war: playing by the rules got it nowhere. The UN, Amnesty, HWR, etc., were still lined up against it. There probably will not be another ceasefire; just a surrender (that is, if the Israeli government actually finds its spine).

After the next attack, Israel's only choice will be to retailiate until Hezbollah is destroyed, regardless of the cost to Lebanon's people and infrastructure.

Posted by: Seymour Paine at December 7, 2006 07:48 AM

Some people justify Hizbullah's actions by claiming they represent an impoverished community long neglected by the state. In other words, because the Shias of Lebanon were poor and neglected, somehow Hizbullah earned the right to be the bully it is, since it provides for them. [...]

They have it backwards.

Being poor and neglected does not give you the right to be a bully.

Being a bully makes you poor. Nobody wants to do business with a bully, they are unreliable business partners.

The poorer the shias become, the more dependent they are on the services Hizbullah provides. When someone is dependent on you, you have power over them. Therefore Hizbullah benefits from the Shia being poor... and has no reason to want the Shia to prosper.

So they will do what they can to keep the Shia poor.

[...] The protests and the sit-in in downtown Beirut has cost the country $400m so far, with businesses to lay off workers in the near future. Some 20,000 workers were laid off in July during the Hizbullah-initiated war.

Furthermore, Hizbullah and FPM tents occupy private property owned by Gulf investors and slated for development. Economist Marwan Iskandar accused the "protestors" of seeking to scare away major investors, especially if Beirut is transformed from a civilized place into a gangland where "groups of kids" fight and hurl obscenities.

Posted by: rosignol at December 7, 2006 08:30 AM

So far, I think Lebanon is doing VERY WELL in this crisis. As of today, no civil war yet. Nasrallah seems to have hidden his weapons, expecting to provoke the Sunni to violence, after which Hiz weapons could "appear" for self-defense. The pro-democrats are HOLDING THE LINE very well. If he can't incite violence, Nasrallah's goose is cooked. His "protesters" are given free food and shelter, but eventually they will drift away. Sometimes the best way to deal with a mess is to go right through it. If Lebanon democracy can stay in control, it will be richer and stronger for it.

Posted by: DemocracyRules at December 7, 2006 08:40 AM

Hezbollahs demand for 1/3 of the cabinet seats seems reasonable to me.

The pro-Western factions in government do not have a level of popular support that would merit them keeping more than twice as much political power as the anti-Western factions.

Now what exact evidence is there that Hezbollah is acting in Syria or Iran's interests rather than its own interests as a Lebanese political group?

Posted by: Arnold Evans at December 7, 2006 08:40 AM

There is a risk that as an act of last resort HA will try to provoke Israel and unite the Lebanese in this way but I don't think it will work this time. First, the provocative act may not succeed as Israel has beefed up security on its northern border. Firing a rocket into Israel would be provocative but something that Israel can decide not to retaliate against and instead use as a lever on UNIFIL to actually start doing something.

How do you fight ruthless fanatics who are not afraid of brinkmanship? No one has a good answer to this question. It has become clear to me that HA is not even worried about the well being of the Shia, the people that they represent. In this case there is nothing to limit their actions and the results can be unpredictable. It seems that Beri does care so maybe there is a ray of hope there.

e

Posted by: e at December 7, 2006 08:55 AM

Hezbollahs demand for 1/3 of the cabinet seats seems reasonable to me.

Why?

In the country I live in, the Democrats got just under half of the total number of votes cast.

They got 0 cabinet seats.

What in the Lebanese Constitution gives you a reason to think that Hizbullah has a legitimate claim to 1/3 of the cabinet seats?

The pro-Western factions in government do not have a level of popular support that would merit them keeping more than twice as much political power as the anti-Western factions.

They did as of the last election.

Now what exact evidence is there that Hezbollah is acting in Syria or Iran's interests rather than its own interests as a Lebanese political group?

Syria does not consider an independent Lebanon to be in it's national interest. However, it is allowing weapons for Hizbullah to freely cross it's border with Lebanon. This is the clearest proof you can get that Hizbullah is acting as a Syrian proxy, or that Hizbullah has decided that it is in Hizbullah's best interest for Lebanon to become a part of Syria (which amounts to the same thing).

Wake up and smell the coffee.

Posted by: rosignol at December 7, 2006 09:23 AM

Hezbollahs demand for 1/3 of the cabinet seats seems reasonable to me.

Why?

In the country I live in, the Democrats got just under half of the total number of votes cast.

Yeah. George Bush's popularity is at an all time low of 29%. I guess Hillary Clinton should import a few thousand rockets and heavy artillery from North Korea and march on Washington.

Seriously, I don't have a problem with Hezbollah gaining more democratic power. The thing is, first they need to prove their commitment to democracy and to Lebanon rather than Iran or Syria or fascism. To do that they need to disarm and hand over their weapons to the Lebanese National army.

A pretty fundamental rule of any democracy is that political groups don't arm themselves to the teeth, they don't assasinate their opponents, and they don't launch wars without at least a polite conversation with the elected government.

As far as I can see Hezbollah's only commitment to democracy is to use it, along with every other means that is available to them, to gain power, serve Iran, and wage Jihad against Christians, Jews and all the other infidels.

Posted by: Mertel at December 7, 2006 10:05 AM

Do you really think that Hizbollah, with Syrian help, could not take over Lebanon and dominate the other groups?

I don't see why that's unthinkable. I don't say desirable...but I don't see why it's unimaginable. It sounds like it could be doable.

That would be smarts, not hubris.

Posted by: Jeff at December 7, 2006 10:32 AM

Hizbullah earned the right to be the bully it is, since it provides for them. [...]

It's not that they earned the right in any moral sense. It's more like, the 20-50% of the Lebanese population that supports Hizb. doesn't care if Hizb is a bully or not, since Hizb is not bullying against them, but for them, and they - this is a mood that people here can relate to - are sick of waiting for a system they perceive as broken to fix itself.

Part of the problem is that, unlike many other countries, it seems that the Lebanese government is either unwilling or unable to, frankly, start a large slate of programs to economically integrate the Shiites into the country. Folks, that's how you break Hizb, in the long run. Latin America provides a very good example, particularly in Venezuela and Ecaudor at the moment - if you don't help your ethnically/religiously unique, immobile underclass, cure it, repair it, fix it, it will basically fix you, in the end.

I know it hasn't been a long time since the Cedar Revolution, but if March 16 had been smart, they would have gotten started on that right away.

Posted by: glasnost at December 7, 2006 11:05 AM

Arnold, do you work for Hezbollah?

Posted by: mikek at December 7, 2006 11:05 AM

In the country I live in, the Democrats got just under half of the total number of votes cast.

Bingo!

rosignol, and others arguing the same line of logic, don't expect this kind of logic to make sense in Lebanon. The people there simply do not really understand what Democracy means (and I speak from experience).
Their idea of democracy over there is actually based around "Entitlement" and the formula of "Rule by consensus", which, I have argued, are actually diametrically opposed to true Democracy.

Posted by: BadVilbel at December 7, 2006 11:06 AM

mikek --

i too wonder about "arnold evans" --- where he or she comes from and what is his or her real name (and affiliation).

Posted by: Todd Grimson at December 7, 2006 11:13 AM

"Do you really think that Hizbollah, with Syrian help, could not take over Lebanon and dominate the other groups?"

That would remove their plausible deniability. If HA is the goverment of Lebanon, then when the next round of fighting starts the Israelis can just declare war on Lebanon and level the place. That is why, incidentally, the Syria-Golan border is so quiet. Anything coming across the border has a clear return address, so Damascus uses proxies.

Posted by: Bruno Mota at December 7, 2006 11:16 AM

Michael Young is a smart guy. He has the right tone. This isn't Checkosolvakia, even if Syria wants it to be. The balance of force is not the same. The smart move is to treat the protests as simply that, protests. Governments get protested all the time. So what? Barring an ace in the hole that isn't there, people just get tired and go home. That is by far the best outcome for Lebanon, as M. Young notes. Good to see Abu Kais picking up on it.

What isn't over yet is the elite-level machination. That's where Hizb. could still pick up veto power. Again, my recommendation is that starting a war in the streets about it right now would be counterproductive.

Another interesting point of Young's article is that Syria is holding out for the end of the tribunal. As I've said before, cooperation with the tribunal could ultimately put a target on Assad's back. The problem is that to target someone with an unloaded gun is a bad idea in the short term. It's predictable that Syria will do as much as it can get away with to stop its own perceived demise. Thus, the tribunal is a major contribution to the threat of Lebanon falling apart this week... in which case the tribunal doesn't happen anyway.
It's a high risk to push with a weak hand.

Posted by: glasnost at December 7, 2006 11:29 AM

Bad Vilbel,

Can you clarify what you mean here? I understand the US electoral system to be a winner take all system where you don't have need for coalitions to form a cabinet. It seems less democratic, but it supposedly suppresses 'noise' and makes the administrative section of the government more efficient than, say, Italy. I am definitely not talking about the House or the Senate, where consensus building is more important (and sadly lacking since the 80's).

Posted by: jdwill at December 7, 2006 12:30 PM

jdwill,

Without getting bogged down in the semantics of "republic" vs. "democracy" (noting here that the US is a representative republic, not a democracy), i'll try to explain what my point was.

When we talk about "demoractic countries", in this context, we don't really mean democracy in the narrow sense of the word (ie republic, parlamentarian, etc.) What we're talking about is countries that are governed by a system that's somewhat free and reflective of the will of the people, which itself is reflected through elections (as opposed to, say, totalitarian regimes). These systems generally operate within the norms of "majority rules" while maintaining certain basic constitutional protections for minorities. Another key foundation of such systems is that, in theory, they allow for accountability through said elections: If you don't do a good job, the people vote you out.

Now, let's look at Lebanon.
Lebanon's system so far, has always been based on the formula that there is no "majority" and there is no "winner or loser". The sectarian system makes it so the country has to traditionally be governed by CONSENSUS (meaning, everyone has to agree on what to do next).

This doesn't work. And I will explain why.

1) When a country is governed by consensus, everyone has to agree to policy, for it to be implemented (when i say everyone, i mean the various communities that make up the sectarian system). Now, in real life, that results in absolute paralysis. In 99% of cases, when you try to decide how to go about, say, reforming education, there's gonna be at least one side, or more, who will disagree with what to do next. So what happens is, nothing is done. Imagine, for example, if the Republican administration of the US had to get the ok of Democrat side (and the Green party too) before making ANY decisions. You think ANYTHING would ever be done? Nope.

2) Accountability: The other fundemental of a democracy. In Lebanon, all sects are guaranteed participation in government, based on their "quotas". So there really are no winners or losers in an election. Even if you lose, you're guaranteed a spot in government (this Hezbollah's current demand, btw). Now you tell me, if there is no fear of "losing" in the election. Where's the accountability of the leaders? They don't have to produce any results. They're guaranteed to be included in government next term around anyway. Why bother doing any actual work? Again, imagine if the Democrats were guaranteed the post of Secretary of Defense, and State Secretary. Why would they bother doing any actual work to earn such posts at reelection? Why would the president bother doing well by his constituents, if he was guranteed his party would get the presidency every time?

To me, the basic fundementals of democracy are missing in the Lebanese system. It's that simple.

In the end, to properly govern, you have to have a WINNER (in elections) who is given a mandate (over say 4 years) to produce results for the people. That's what i meant in my previous post. You have to let the winner try out their policies, and then if it doesn't work, the people will kick them out of office come next election.

Posted by: BadVilbel at December 7, 2006 01:28 PM

Now you tell me, if there is no fear of "losing" in the election. Where's the accountability of the leaders?

Bad Vilbel,

Can't argue with this point. Thanks for the clarification, I perceive that you are a conservative/classic liberal in your concept of democracy.

We see a lesser, but similar effect in the US when both Democrats and Republicans use gerrymandering (strange geography) to set up districts as safe for their incumbents.

Reduce competition to near zero and the product suffers. However, balance is everything, make competition too cutthroat and the workforce suffers, often producing undesirable side effects.

I am trying to sort out how Lebanon, and by extension, other polities that have a quilt of very discrete groups that don't trust each other (the UN, for example), can achieve this balance and avoid deadlock. I think the irony here is that refusal to allow a winner to take charge guarantees that a 'loser' will hijack the agenda.

Posted by: jdwill at December 7, 2006 02:17 PM

jdwill,

I think the irony here is that refusal to allow a winner to take charge guarantees that a 'loser' will hijack the agenda.

You said it, brother :)

Make no mistake, I don't think the US system is better. In fact, I don't think it's that great at all (I live in the US too, I see the same lack of accountability). I was merely trying to illustrate my point about "government by consensus" being impractical and a complete failure in Lebanon.
Time to stop trying to please everyone. March 14 is currently in government. They don't have to please everyone. They don't have to include everyone in their government.
If they do such a horrible job, let HA and the FPM win the next elections and put in their own government. Until then, shut the **** up and stop hijacking the country.

Posted by: BadVilbel at December 7, 2006 02:52 PM

I think most of people are getting out of touch with reality...
Mr Abu Kais, If you understand arabic, I urge to listen to your ennemy once
http://www.wa3ad.org/index.php?show=sounds&action=play&id=240

It might help you understand it better ...

Posted by: ross at December 7, 2006 07:14 PM

And where do you think I get all my information from, Ross, The New York Times Hizbullah corner? I do my own translation whenever I can, in case you haven't noticed the many Arabic language links I include in my posts. As for the link you pasted, yes, I shall convert to Shia Islamism now that I've read what Hussein from Bahrain thinks of holy Nasrallah.

Posted by: Abu Kais at December 7, 2006 08:00 PM

In the country I live in, the Democrats got just under half of the total number of votes cast.

Bingo!

rosignol, and others arguing the same line of logic, don't expect this kind of logic to make sense in Lebanon. The people there simply do not really understand what Democracy means (and I speak from experience).

I dunno if that's the real problem.

The essence of democracy is that the opinion of a country's citizens has significant influence over who runs the country and how it is run. There is quite a lot of room for local variations in the specifics of how it gets done.

It's not a difficult concept to understand, and it certainly doesn't mean that a country's government has to resemble the government in the USA or a European country to be considered a 'democracy'.

Their idea of democracy over there is actually based around "Entitlement" and the formula of "Rule by consensus", which, I have argued, are actually diametrically opposed to true Democracy.
-BadVilbel

Kind of.

Rationally, if there will be no election (or the election is meaningless), the smart thing to do is join the clique in power and use the influence you gain by doing so to secure patronage you can use to pay off your supporters. The more influence you have, the more patronage you can dole out, the more supporters you will have, the more influence you will have... it's a self-reinforcing system.

The big problem with such systems is that it rewards skill at doling out patronage, not the skills you need to be competent at governing. Places with patronage systems tend to become corrupt, and they will stagnate until their neighbors surpass them. Then they become cesspits because everyone who can go somewhere better does. This, too, is a self-reinforcing effect.

What this means is that Nasrallah, Assad, etc are doing is perfectly rational at the macro level. They're trying to preserve the existing system in Lebanon and Syria (or increase their control within that system). This is unfortunate because crazy and stupid adversaries are a lot easier to defeat than rational ones.

What is the goal of the March-xx factions?

Posted by: rosignol at December 8, 2006 02:38 AM

Why don't you give power over to ross and Arnold Evans now, and quit pretending you can stop them? (You can't, you know. At least I don't see how.)

Then leave the country. After Israel kills every last one of them, all the sane Lebanese can come back, and rebuild with UN funds.

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Christopher Hitchens, The Nation

The Wall
Yossi Klein Halevi, The New Republic

Jihad Versus McWorld
Benjamin Barber, The Atlantic Monthly

The Sunshine Warrior
Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine

Power and Weakness
Robert Kagan, Policy Review

The Coming Anarchy
Robert D. Kaplan, The Atlantic Monthly

England Your England
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn