A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

loving thy neighbor

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 29, 2009

Today’s post was intended to be a tour of Doha’s nightlife. But my eye was caught yesterday by two news stories – or rather, by the popular responses to each.

When it comes to Lebanon, I sometimes find it hard to follow Christ’s second commandment. And as a Christian, the neighbors I find harder to love are more often than not Lebanon’s Christians.

I don’t mean this post to be one of casting the first stone – after all, the United States has had its share of intra-Christian sectarian woes. I recall one of our childhood neighbors telling me that as a child his schoolmates demanded to see his horns, because as Protestants they had been told in church that Catholics have horns on their head like the Devil. But that was 50 years ago, and I am shocked by what I have read this week.

My first shock came from an article in Monday’s Daily Star about the current mayor of Broumanna, Waleed Rizk. Rizk, the town’s long-time vice-mayor, whatever that means, became mayor after the previous mayor, Pierre Achkar, stepped down in order to be eligible to run for Parliament in the recent elections.

That isn’t the shocking part – I think that requiring candidates for one post to give up their current post is not a bad idea, and one that the United States  might consider. What shocked me is the reaction of some Broumannis to the fact that their new mayor is Greek Orthodox and not Maronite:

Traditionally the mayor of Brummana is Maronite, usually running along family lines with Pierre’s own ancestors Georges, Chachine and Georges standing before him.

But, for the first time in Brummana’s history the position has been given not only to a vice mayor but to a Greek Orthodox candidate.

“Usually they say in Brummana the mayor has to be a Maronite, and the vice is Orthodox but now what has happened is I am the mayor and I am Orthodox,” says the newly-appointed Rizk. “When people come into the office surprised that I am Orthodox, I say ‘no, I am not Orthodox, I am simply Brummanese.’”

Rizk says this couldn’t have happened unless the last mayor was forced to step down to run in the parliamentary elections and forfeit his job, leaving little time for a new election.

But now Rizk is having to battle people’s perceptions. “Some people say I shouldn’t be mayor because of my religion, but because I am working hard I am making them start to forget this issue,” Rizk says. “And I do believe the Brummanese will soon forget about it.”

This was shock number one: that the sense of sectarian entitlement extends to the municipal level, and is so deeply felt. For an American equivalent, try substituting race:

“When people come into the office surprised that I am African-American, I say ‘no, I am not African-American, I am simply a New Yorker’.”

“Some people say I shouldn’t be mayor because of my race, but because I am working hard I am making them start to forget the issue.”

Lovely. But there was a second shock – Rizk the sectarian under-dog is also Rizk the very self-entitled member of a big family:

He says that there have always been two families in Brummana who had the ambition to be mayor – the Achkar family and the Rizk family, which caused many years of rivalry. “Our ancestors always used to fight, but now we need to put the past behind us – we are doing what is best for the municipality.”

Right. What if ‘what is best for the municipality’ were the creation of a mayoral position open not only to residents with varied religious backgrounds, but varied family backgrounds as well?

The third shock, as some of you may already suspect given the theme of this post, has been the reaction on assorted blogs and other websites to the wedding of Nayla Tueini and Malek Maktabi, such as these. (I don’t mean to pick on the Ouwet Front exclusively, but the Orange Room’s website is currently down and I’m searching primarily for comments in English.) There are a few voices of reason, but what I notice most is the vitriol of those unhappy with her marrying a Shia – some because she is a Christian MP, and some just because she is Christian.

I personally am not a great fan of Ms. Tueini (or of Mr. Maktabi’s talk show), but the explosive hostility of some of the commentators leaves me with a deep cold pit in my stomach. This type of irrational anger can be  deeply corrosive. On the other hand, both their Facebook pages are filled with congratulations, and at least those posting their anger online are still in conversation with others more sanguine about the ‘mariage’.

I don’t have a good conclusion to this post. I hope for better things in the future, am glad to see  any movement in the political system, and think that mixed marriages could be a major source of strength for the Lebanon of tomorrow.

And I’m looking very much forward to writing a nice quiet post about Doha nightlife tomorrow.

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Posted in Americans, Arab world, Beirut, citizenship, Lebanon, politics, religion, vanity, women, words | Leave a Comment »

life as a Middle Eastern dictator

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 19, 2009

This morning I found during my breakfast-time Internet check that Qifa Nabki had taken a Facebook quiz called “Which Middle Eastern dictator are you?” I won’t spoil his fun by telling you what the result was, but I couldn’t wait to take the quiz for myself. After all, why spend my time online checking the day’s weather forecast when I could be doing something truly useful?

I should have known that I was getting into something serious when I read the quiz’s tag line:

Holding together a post-colonial society bound by artificial political boundaries is a difficult endeavor. How would you do it?

Um – not a quiz designed by just anyone, clearly. And the questions were stumpers. For example:

2. Of the following cars, which suits you best?
The Peugot knock-off your countrymen built for you
car? more like TANK!
a 1980’s mercedes
71′ VW van with huge moon roof

What happened to Option 5, the Ghost?

Or,

4.You have to spend $2,000 in one day, what do you buy?
leather unitard
a new AR-15 with sweet optics
A functional, all purpose, tailored suit
give half to my religious institution and buy a decent PA system

Isn’t Option “1” a given, regardless of whether one chooses 1, 3, or 4?

And seriously, what was the purpose of Question 7, which asked for my game plan when attacked by zombies? Is this really a pressing issue for today’s dicator-class?

What I learned from this quiz is that I’m not a very good Middle Eastern dictator. But I’m hoping that a new quiz will come my way soon – one like “Which khaliji amir are you?” I’m going to stack my answers in favor of rich food, progressive schooling, and sword dances: I’d like to be the Emir of Qatar.

Posted in Arab world, politics | 1 Comment »

nothing but blah blah blue skies

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on May 12, 2009

I love posters, I love graphic design, and I love election campaigns. So its been killing me to miss out on all the fun that +961, Beirut/NTSC, QN, and others have been having with their photos of the various and varied electoral posters that currently pepper Lebanon’s highways and byways.

Of course, I have been enjoying all the digital riffs I’ve received via email (not to mention those on which friends have been “tagged” on Facebook); my favorite, of course, is the Jumblatt’ed “Sois Beik et Pivote”. And last week I began to have the glimmer of a hope that I might have stumbled upon a new source for electoral ads: the Daily Star.

But I’m not sure in the end that this is worth getting at all excited about. Here is last week’s political ad, courtesy of Mustaqbal:

08_05_2009_003_003

Ho-hum.

Am I missing something here? Is there some deeper meaning to “blue sky”? I get that Mustaqbal’s color is blue, and that blue skies are tranquil. But in my memory, blue sky days are good not only for beachs and skiing, but also for a whole lot of less-than-tranquil ishtibakat’ing. If I were a voter, I’d like to see a detailed platform explaining how a Mustaqbal vote would encourage some blue-sky activities and discourage others.

Sometimes simplicity is artistic. And sometimes its just unhelpfully vague. Blue sky. Yawn.

Posted in advertising, Arabic, Beirut, Lebanon, media, politics | 2 Comments »

a second look at hope

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 24, 2009

A few weeks ago H and I got into a super-charged lunchtime discussion about the relationship between Amal and Hizbullah – a no-doubt thrilling experience for those at adjacent tables. (As those of you who have spent time in New York know, an “adjacent table” is usually three-to-six inches away. So they definitely got to listen in, interested or no.)

H has been doing some background research on the way that Hizbullah began positioning itself from the mid-1980s, if I remember correctly, by using Amal as a foil. So H decided to use me as a test case: what does the average self-appointed foreign expert think of Amal?

What do you think of when you think of Amal? H asked as I doused my lunch in carrot tahini.

I think of Amal as being more secular and also more corrupt, I said, playing right into H’s hands.

Ah, H said, nodding sagely. That’s exactly what you are supposed to think. From what H has read, these stereotypes about Amal were cultivated partly by Hizbullah as a way of distinguishing the two groups from one another. If Amal was secular and corrupt, Hizbullah could be religious and honest. And when Amal’s members do exhibit their religious faith – as on Ashoura – Hizbullah’s followers distinguish themselves further by commemorating the event without (or at least with less visible) bloodshed.

I’ve had an unpleasant run-in with one of Nabih Berri’s children, not to mention the goobers who “guarded” my neighborhood last May, so I suspect that my antipathy towards Amal is largely the product of an extended fit of pique. But still: H’s research made me feel like a dupe.

(I should note here that both parties have evolved considerably over the past twenty years, which seems to be when this “if you’re defined as this, we’ll be defined as that” approach seems to have been employed. But I do think that these stereotypes continue to frame how outside observers, at least, understand the relationship between Amal and Hizbullah.)

It also made me rethink a photograph I snapped last June, of recent graffiti on the back wall of a particularly decrepit parking lot in Hamra:

amal-ya-ali

I took this photo without much of a purpose: I noticed the new graffiti, thought “hunh – Amal graffiti that mentions Ali, how interesting”, took the photo, and left it to languish on my computer for the next ten months.

Now I look at it and wonder: what else have I missed :)?

Posted in advertising, Arabic, Beirut, photography, politics | 2 Comments »

the two-week vacation

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on April 23, 2009

Here in the United States, a lot of media talk recently has focused on how inexpensive air travel has become, thanks to the tanking economy. Summer flights around the country have dropped to mid-2000s levels, and flights to Europe, the Caribbean, and even Asia are much cheaper than even 2007 prices.

Flights to Lebanon and the rest of the region, on the other hand, seem to have stayed stubbornly high. I’d like to book a ticket to visit my aunt in Kuwait and assorted friends in the Levant, but in my head I keep expecting those delightful 2002 prices to crop up whenever I hit “go” on my favorite search engine.

Instead, what crops up are 2002 prices, doubled.

Sigh.

These are the times when I wish that I were Lebanese.

For once, Robert Worth has written a story about Lebanon worth reading: a piece in today’s New York Times about vote-buying and other “typically Lebanese” (or maybe “typically Saudi”, given what his Saudi source says) electoral activities. Here’s a sample of what is a horrifying yet highly readable article:

The parliamentary elections here in June are shaping up to be among the most expensive ever held anywhere, with hundreds of millions of dollars streaming into this small country from around the globe.

Lebanon has long been seen as a battleground for regional influence, and now, with no more foreign armies on the ground, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region are arming their allies here with campaign money in place of weapons. The result is a race that is widely seen as the freest and most competitive to be held here in decades, with a record number of candidates taking part. But it may also be the most corrupt.

Votes are being bought with cash or in-kind services. Candidates pay their competitors huge sums to withdraw. The price of favorable TV news coverage is rising, and thousands of expatriate Lebanese are being flown home, free, to vote in contested districts.

They sure are. My friend S, who knows of both my desire for a “big summer” vacation and my penny-pinching habits, sms’ed me last week with the news that:

8 March will send you back for ten days. 14 March will send you for three. Get your voting card!

S didn’t mean me, of course: I’m not Lebanese. But if you are, and you seem neutral enough to be courted by both parties (and why is March 14 being so cheap, anyway? Where are all the hundreds of millions of Saudi dollars that Worth’s source mentions going?), you could start your summer with a nice two-week vacation.

Bring on the suntan oil and the sequins (and a listing of your favorite candidates, if you have them). Lebanon awaits 😀 .

Posted in advertising, Americans, Beirut, citizenship, friends, politics | 2 Comments »

… but words are good, too

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 25, 2009

This morning when I woke I found an email from Qifa Nabki waiting for me in my inbox.

Hi D., QN wrote.

I’ve got a post on those funny flag posters, and the hilarious response by some enterprising Aounist graphic designer. Thought you’d be interested.

Interested? The response to my post on the original billboard had left me more mystified than before – of course I was interested! I couldn’t wait to see them, and his take on both sets of images. The Aouni response is provocative and thoughtful – especially the last one. You can see them – and read QN’s delightful commentary – here.

By the way, QN also asked, did you ever figure out anything more from the commenter who explained the campaign?

No – I didn’t. In fact, I’ve been feeling guilty about this: the person who wrote in had a Leo Burnett address, and in my response to him/her I mentioned that I was familiar with the quality of “your work” – meaning the agency’s. The poor commentator took it personally, assuming that I knew him/her, and asked me to be in touch offline rather than via the blog.

In any case, I’m still wondering about the original billboard. I do find it typical of Leo Burnett’s work in the region: visually striking and conceptually sophisticated, but totally bereft of key elements like contact info and an explanatory tag line. Does every Leo Burnett ad produced in Lebanon need to be a mystery ad?

I have other questions as well – about the deeper logic of the ad. For example: Why highlight only the Arab contributors? Many countries – including my own – gave generous cash and in-kind contributions. What’s so special about the Arabs?

And why include Lebanon among the “donors”? Not to be too GOP about this, but shouldn’t a country be expected to help pay for its own recovery?

Finally: claiming to speak for “the Lebanese” without disclosing the paying client (whether a government agency, a NGO, or a private corporation) is, or should be, totally illegal in a paid advertisement.

Bah humbug. And yes, bring on the party politics!

Posted in advertising, Americans, Arab world, Arabic, Lebanon, politics | 2 Comments »

In the United States, Congress is the government

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 19, 2009

Sometimes I love Naharnet.

Here is its take on the Lebanese Parliament’s voting to lower the national voting age to 18 (sadly, not until 2010, for the same lame procedural reasons that are slowing down absentee voting):

Parliament threw the ball into the government’s court on Thursday after it unanimously approved a draft law to lower the voting age to 18 effective in the 2010 municipal elections. Legislators voted in favor of amending article 28 of the constitution to lower the age of voting from 21 to 18.

I know that Lebanon has two types of laws: legislated laws and decrees.

But how is the Lebanese Parliament considered separate from the Lebanese government?

Posted in Lebanon, politics | 6 Comments »

the Shia of Bcharre: fun with election stats

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 18, 2009

OMG I love Tayyar, B wrote during a Sunday morning chat. Hunh, I thought – B has never seemed particularly Aouni. But it wasn’t the party’s political views he was embracing: it was the interactive elections map available on the Tayyar website.

Its a great map: you scroll over each electoral district to see the number of electoral votes and the number of registered voters.

To be honest, seeing the stark reality of the Lebanese electoral system gives me a chill. Seeing voters divided into categories as:

Orthodox

Armenian Orthodox

Armenian Catholic

Minorities

Evangelists [the Arabic term for Protestant]

Druze

Sunnis

Shiites

Alaouis

Catholics

Maronites

turned my stomach. It appears uncomfortably close to what I imagine a voter registry from Nazi Germany would look like – although I was of course happy to see that the voter lists make the theologically correct distinction between Catholics and Maronites :).

The map could use a little tweaking: there’s no legend, for example, so its up to you to figure out that the dark grey numbers listed after some of the sects indicate electoral seats. And its not the only elections map around – a number of organizations have been creating them, with slightly different voter counts.

As I scrolled over the different districts, a few numbers began jumping out at me.

Does this map’s table mean that there is only one Druze voter in Akkar? I asked B.

Druze voter? B replied. I suppose. Not sure where they are getting this information, but I really want it to be legit.

I do too – and I want the study of election maps and voter registration to become a regular part of Lebanese elections.

And in the meantime, B and I would each like to get to know some of the solo sect voters.

Who is this Druze guy living in Akkar? B asked. I kind of want to meet him.

I do too, although I am guessing that “he” is really a she. My understanding is that Lebanese women are required to transfer their voter registration to their husband’s village when they get married, so I imagine that this lonely Druze is the wife of a native Akkari. (Please, please, please correct me if this is no longer the case. I would be thrilled to have one example of a way in which Lebanon does not discriminate against its female citizens.)

As for me, I’d really like to meet the one Shia of Bcharre 🙂 .

Posted in advertising, citizenship, Lebanon, politics, women | 1 Comment »

election campaigning

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 11, 2009

Something new and unexpected has joined the Lebanese MP3 player and Mother’s Day ads reaching my inbox this week: election campaign ads.

I think its a bit early for these ads, myself – but I am very happy to see any sort of election campaigning. I know, I know: American campaign excess is not a model for anyone to follow. But the idea of candidates actually trying to win voters … actually going door-to-door … actually developing concrete platforms for action … all this would be very exciting.

Here are the two ads I have seen. The first is for a Greek Orthodox candidate running in Beirut I, Nasrallah Bou Fadel:

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The second is for the Facebook group of Eddy Abillama, a Maronite candidate running in the Metn:

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I don’t understand why I received ads for both candidates, since they are ‘running’ in different districts – neither of which I lived in. But I do hope that this is a sign of a broad shift toward actual campaigning (and not simply, say, simply another iteration of the country’s poster fetish).

In any case, if you are interested in running a campaign, Doculand is here to help:

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If you aren’t interested in running a campaign but are interested in tracking various elections-related developments, you might visit Deen Sharp’s blog: www.lebelections.blogspot.com.

Posted in advertising, Arabic, Lebanon, politics | Leave a Comment »

getting readiest: more elections prep

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 7, 2009

Thanks to Blacksmith Jade and Jester for passing along the ads I’ve been finding about voter registration – and thanks to those of you who find this kind of stuff less engrossing than I do.

This morning something even more useful found its way into my inbox: the same advertisement I posted on Wednesday, framed by a note from the Ministry of the Interior and Lebanon’s baladiyas, a set of FAQs (with answers!) and a list of numbers to call for questions regarding personal status and voter eligibility:

202_03_2009_002_0084

5

This is a great, great PSA. It educates voters and it empowers them. (Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that calling any one of these numbers will put you in touch with someone helpful and/or motivated. That’s a global problem, as those of you who have dealt with such legendary U.S. institutions as the driver’s license, post, and/or Social Security Administration offices know all too well.)

The number of Lebanese friends I have who participated in some pro-Lebanon activity in 2005 is very high. But the number of Lebanese friends I have who voted in the 2005 election is very low. Some felt that their votes would not count; some faced discrimination when they tried to register at the baladiya; and some felt that regardless of who won the elections, their voices as citizens would be ignored. Their stories – and the turnout number – break my heart. I would love to see a record voter turn-out in June, on all sides, because people who vote are more likely to see themselves as stakeholders in other aspects of civic life as well.

For me each election brings the promise of a new beginning and the chance to reaffirm the meaning of democracy. As an American, I feel that I honor my ancestors and the ideals of my country when I cast my vote – even when the candidate or proposition I support doesn’t win. As a woman, I feel that I honor the men and women who struggled to make this country a real democracy, in which all citizens, regardless of race or sex, can participate.

I hope that those of you who can vote in June feel similarly (well, with obvious adjustments for my male readers), and I hope that you do vote. And if you haven’t double-checked your registration, please do so before Tuesday!

Posted in advertising, Arabic, Beirut, citizenship, education, Lebanon, politics | 2 Comments »