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New basket of taxes imposed on Lebanese, crumbling under this anomy system

ما يجب أن تعرفه عن هذه الضرائب الطائشة

علي نور|الخميس20/07/2017 (Ali Nour)

ما يجب أن تعرفه عن هذه الضرائب الطائشةالدولة لا تملك أي وجهة لسياساتها الإقتصاديّة (المدن)

هل يمكن لنا أن نحدّد الوجهة الإقتصاديّة التي تقودنا إليها الدولة بعد المصادقة على البنود الضريبيّة؟ لا بدّ أنّ نسأل، فأضعف الإيمان أن نبحث عن سياسة إقتصاديّة ما خلف أي اجراء مالي أو نقدي، خصوصاً في بلد حذّرته المؤسّسات الدوليّة من تركّز الثروة والودائع فيه في يد أقليّة صغيرة، ومن تهاوي المؤّشرات الإقتصاديّة التي تحدّد قابليّة النموذج الإقتصادي على الإستمرار.

وإذا كانت النظرة الأولى توحي أن السلطة تتجه إلى سياسات إقتصاديّة غير عادلة، فالأسوأ أنّ النظرة الأعمق تُظهر أنّها دولة لا تملك أي وجهة لسياساتها الإقتصاديّة.

ضرب الطبقة الوسطى
من يقرأ لائحة الضرائب يلفته أوّلاً أنّها في أغلبيّتها الساحقة من الضرائب غير المباشرة، أي تلك التي تطال الجميع بنفس النسبة بمعزل عن مستوى الدخل. ومن المعروف إقتصاديّاً أن هذا النوع من الضرائب يضرب كنتيجة طبيعيّة الطبقة الوسطى.

يقول الخبير الإقتصادي جان طويلة، لـ”المدن”، إنّ الحكومات التي تحترم نفسها وشعبها تقوم قبل كل شيء بدراسة للأثر الإقتصادي والاجتماعي لكل ضريبة تقوم بزايدتها أو استحداثها. وهذا الأمر يحصل في كل بلدان العالم. وثمّة دراسات تحدّد التأثير الذي سيطال المستهلكين لكل منتج في حال فُرضت ضريبة ما عليه.

لكنّ ما جرى في الحالة اللبنانيّة كان مختلفاً. فمثلاً عند فرض الزيادة على الضريبة المضافة لم تجر أي دراسة إقتصاديّة، وفق طويلة، وكنّا أمام إقتراحين فحسب: إمّا زيادتها على كل المنتجات الخاضعة لها لغاية 11%، أو إبقاءها على مستواها عند 10% وزيادتها لغاية 15% على السلع الكماليّة فحسب.

وفي النهاية تم رفع هذه الضريبة لغاية 11% على كل المنتجات الخاضعة للضريبة من دون تمييز. ويتحدّث طويلة عن دراسات إقتصاديّة تم إعدادها تُظهر أنّ رفع نسبة هذه الضريبة يؤثّر بشكل مباشر على حجم الطبقة الوسطى وقدرتها الشرائيّة، كما ترفع نسبة اللبنانيين الذين يعيشون تحت خط الفقر.

يضيف طويلة: “الضريبة على المستوعبات المستوردة ستحدث الأثر نفسه. فالتجّار يقومون بتسعير البضائع بحسب الكلفة. وإذا تمت زيادة هذا الرسم على المستوعبات المستوردة، فالذي سيتحمّل هذه الكلفة في النهاية هو المستهلك النهائي”.

وعلى هذا المنوال يعدّد طويلة لائحة الضرائب التي تنتمي في أغلبيّتها الساحقة إلى فئة الضرائب غير المباشرة، التي تؤدّي في النهاية إلى النتيجة نفسها. وحتّى ضريبة الدخل على الشركات، تم رفعها على جميع الشركات بالنسبة نفسها، أي 17%، من دون أي تمييز بين الشركات الناشئة أو المتوسّطة والصغيرة، والشركات التي تحقّق أرباحاً أكبر.

سياسات متضاربة
وإذا كانت الضرائب غير المباشرة تصب في مصلحة تعميق التفاوت الاجتماعي، تبرز مشكلة تضارب البعض الآخر من الاجراءات الضريبيّة مع الاجراءات النقديّة التي كلّفت لبنان وخزينته كثيراً حتّى اليوم. حتّى أنّ المشهد هنا يصبح أقرب إلى عربة يدفعها شخصان في اتجاهات معاكسة.

فكيف تنسجم السياسة النقديّة لمصرف لبنان التي تقوم منذ العام 2016 على الإنفاق بسخاء في الهندسات الماليّة لإستقطاب الودائع بالعملات الصعبة مع سياسة ضريبيّة تقوم على رفع الضريبة على الودائع؟ وهنا يصبح من المشروع السؤال عن فائدة سياسات نقديّة وماليّة متناقضة الأهداف، خصوصاً إذا كان بعضها مكلفاً جدّاً.

ومن ناحية أخرى كيف تستقيم سياسة مصرف لبنان القائمة على الإنفاق في سبيل إنعاش السوق العقاري وتحمّل كلفة خفض فوائد القروض السكنيّة من جهة، والسياسة الضريبيّة التي تسير في إتجاه معاكس عبر تحميل السوق نفسه ضرائب جديدة؟ وهنا يصبح علينا أن نسأل عن وجهة سياسة الدولة في المجال نفسه.

تشجيع التهرّب الضريبي
يذكّر طويلة بحديث رئيس الجمهوريّة ميشال عون عن زيادة مداخيل الجمارك بنسبة 6.4% في 80 يوماً، رغم إنخفاض الإستيراد بنسبة 15%، في إِشارة إلى نتائج مكافحة التجاوزات في هذا المجال. كما يذكّر بتقرير لبنك عودة يشير إلى بلوغ قيمة التهرّب الضريبي 4.2 مليار دولار من خلال ضرائب مختلفة. ليصل إلى نتيجة مفادها أنّ مكافحة 20% من التهرّب الضريبي كانت كافية لتمويل السلسلة.

أمّا مع هذه الزيادات، فإن المواطن اللبناني الذي لا يملك الغطاء السياسي ولا يملك القدرة على التهّرب الضريبي، وفق طويلة، سيتحمّل وحده الكلفة. بالتالي، ستؤدّي الزيادات الضريبيّة هذه بشكل مباشر إلى زيادة التهرّب الضريبي.

في الخلاصة، لا يبدو أنّ القرارات الضريبيّة الأخيرة تتسق مع الحاجة إلى اجابات على المشاكل الإقتصاديّة والاجتماعيّة المطروحة، لا بل تعمّقها. كما أنّها لا تتسق مع سياسات الدولة نفسها في أكثر من قطاع. فتظهر الدولة حاملةً لسياسات إقتصاديّة متناقضة.

هكذا، تكون سياسات الدولة الإقتصاديّة بلا وجهة.

على جدول أعمال جلستي مجلس النوّاب، الثلاثاء والأربعاء في 18 و19 تموز، بند تعديل واستحداث بعض المواد الضريبيّة، وفق مشروع القانون الوارد بالمرسوم رقم 10415.

وبمراجعة نص المرسوم المذكور يتبيّن أنّ مواده تنقسم إلى مواد سبق أن ناقشتها وعدّلتها الهيئة العامّة لمجلس النوّاب في 16 آذار 2017 (9 مواد، بينها واحدة قامت الهيئة العامّة بالغائها)، و11 مادة أخرى تنتظر المناقشة والتعديل قبل اقرار القانون بصيغته النهائيّة.

فما هي هذه المواد الـ11؟

– فرض رسم على المغادرين للأراضي اللبنانيّة عن طريق البر بقيمة 5 آلاف ليرة لبنانيّة (المادة 10).

– فرض رسوم سفر على المغادرين للأراضي اللبنانيّة عن طريق الجو بقيمة 75 ألف ليرة على المسافرين من الدرجة السياحيّة، و110 ألف ليرة على المسافرين من درجة رجال الأعمال، و150 ألف ليرة على المسافرين من الدرجة الأولى، و400 ألف ليرة على المسافرين على الطيارات الخاصّة (المادة 11).

– فرض رسم بقيمة 80 ألف ليرة على المستوعبات المستوردة من الخارج بقياس 20 قدماً، 120 ألف ليرة على المستوعبات بقياس 40 قدماً (المادة 12).

– غرامات بنسب مختلفة على التعديات على الأملاك العامّة البحريّة (المادة 13).

– رسم نسبي بقيمة 20% على جوائز اليانصيب الوطني واليانصيب الأجنبي المجاز الذي تفوق قيمته الـ10 آلاف ليرة (المادة 14).

– تعديل قانون ضريبة الدخل لرفع الضريبة النسبيّة على أرباح الشركات لغاية 17%، من دون الأخذ بالاعتبار حجم الشركة وحجم دخلها (المادة 17).

– تحديد رسم على عقود البيع العقاريّة الممسوحة بنسبة 2%، يحتسب بناءً على ثمن البيع المبيّن (المادة 16).

– رفع الضريبة على فوائد وعائدات الحسابات المصرفيّة لغاية 7% من دون الأخذ في الإعتبار حجم الحساب أو الوديعة أو مردودها (المادة 19).

تُضاف هذه البنود إلى البنود التي سبق وناقشتها الهيئة العامّة وعدّلتها، مثل رفع الضريبة على القيمة المضافة لغاية 11% (المادة 1)، ورفع الرسم النسبي لغاية 4 بالألف (المادة 2)، ورفع رسوم الإيصالات وخلاصات السجل العدلي والفواتير، ومن ضمنها الفواتير الهاتفيّة والبطاقات مسبقة الدفع (المادة 3)، بالإضافة إلى الرسوم على رخص البناء (المادة 4) وانتاج الإسمنت (المادة 5) واستهلاك المشروبات الروحيّة (المادة 6) والتبغ (المادة 7) والأسناد المصادق عليها لدى كتّاب العدل (المادة 8).

أما المادة 9 المتعلقة بالتعديلات على نظام ورسوم كتّاب العدل فتم شطبها خلال جلسة آذار 2017.

Setting the Agenda: Sectarianism and Consociational Democracy

June 12, 2017. Lebanese Center for Ploicy Studies (LCPS)

An Interview with Dr. Bassel Salloukh 

As part of our series on sectarianism in Lebanon, LCPS sat down with Dr. Bassel Salloukh, associate professor of political science at the Lebanese American University, to discuss the historical roots of sectarianism, modern manifestations of sectarianism, and the nature of governance under a consociational system in Lebanon.

Below is a transcript of our conversation with Dr. Salloukh, which has been edited for length and clarity.

What is your understanding of sectarianism in Lebanon today?
The way literature on ethnic conflict on Lebanon deals with sectarianism is too narrow. The debate is usually framed between primordialists, instrumentalists, and constructivists.

I have always positioned myself against the primordial approach because it does not explain the timing of sectarian conflict. Instrumentalists emphasize strategies deployed by ethnic and sectarian entrepreneurs, but do not tell us why people follow them.

The constructivist approach unpacks the historical and material origins of these identities, but does very little to explain why they persist and harden over time. (Why explain if the facts and details are extended?)

I argue that the best way to understand the durability and hardening of sectarian identities in postwar Lebanon is to unpack the ensemble of institutional, clientelistic, and discursive practices that structure sectarian incentives.

A big part of this ensemble has to do with institutions, whether they are state institutions, family law, electoral institutions, or clientelistic institutions, but is not limited only to institutions.

So, instead of looking at sectarianism as an aberration, you study how this ensemble—these “practices of governance” to borrow from Michel Foucault, at different levels, from the individual to the geopolitical—creates a veritable political economy that undergirds the ideological hegemony of sectarianism.

It is this dynamic ensemble that best explains why sectarianism persists and why it is so difficult to undo. (Where is the explanation?)

How has the sectarian power-sharing system evolved in Lebanon since the prewar period?
I think there have been a number of structural transformations.

The first has to do with the architecture of the postwar power-sharing arrangement itself, the Taif Accord, and how it redistributed the sectarian balance of power and the sectarian quota. But there is another transformation that is no less important.

In the pre-war period, the sectarian elite was not the economic elite of the country. There were interrelations particularly at the Maronite level, such as with Beshara al-Khoury or Michel Chiha. But Saeb Salaam, Kamel Asaad, and Sabri Hamadeh were not economic elites. Their power was based on traditional clientelist networks, access to state resources, and the provision of services.

If you read memoirs of people from the pre-war era, you notice that they were not talking about sectarianism. The main dividing line was confessional. I

n the pre-war period, those who happened to be making certain political demands to change the system came from disadvantaged socio-economic classes and they happened to be Muslim. Those who were defending the status quo came from privileged economic backgrounds and they happened to be Christian.

Today, the sectarian and political elite is itself the economic elite in the county. (The anomy system where all permanent politicans managed to own all businesses and infrastructure) 

What is interesting in the post-war period is the emergence of an overlapping sectarian political and economic elite. And it is not in this overlapping elite’s interest to have a civil war because it would jeopardize their political economic interests.

But it is the emergence of this postwar overlapping sectarian and economic elite that makes political reforms all the more difficult.

Why has sectarian identity trumped socioeconomic identity in the postwar period?
Sectarian identity obviates socio-economic identity in postwar Lebanon because of what I have called a sectarian political economy and its concomitant ideological hegemony that incentivizes people to embrace and favor their sectarian identity over other identities that are available.

I always ask my students why poor Shia, poor Sunnis, poor Maronites, poor Greek Orthodox, poor Catholics, poor Druze, poor Armenians, etc., have not formed their own party.

Why don’t they think in class terms?

How come the Lebanese Communist Party in the last parliamentary elections received 8,000 votes in a country that is devastated economically?

The primordialists have an easy answer: Lebanese are sectarian because they are born sectarian and possess a sectarian political culture, which is nonsense really.

Instrumentalists explain this in terms of elite instrumentalization of sectarian identity.

These are not good enough explanations.

Once you have a whole political economy with its consequent ideological hegemony, a holistic ensemble operating at different levels, to reproduce sectarian identities, then we should not be surprised that people behave as nothing but docile sectarian subjects.

But if the incentive structure were changed, people may then stop adopting sectarianism as their primary mode of identification and mobilization.

Do you see examples of institutions and civil society groups prioritizing sectarian identity and perpetuating sectarianism?
Lebanese are immersed in an infrastructure of sectarianism from the cradle to the grave.

The whole institutional and ideational makeup of their everyday practices are demarcated by sectarian limits. Just look at the battle for civil marriage, and the resistance it has elicited from almost all confessional and sectarian officials, and you get a sense of the sectarian system’s subtle but real disciplinary violence. Of course, there are other examples.

Take elections as a case in point.

Is it surprising that most people vote along sectarian lines? (If the election laws pressure the citizens to vote in a biased fashion?) We must begin from the assumption that we should expect people to vote along sectarian lines when they are incentivized to think that it is the clientelist political economy of sectarianism that best serves their interests.

Look also at the practices of everyday life.

How come people are allowed to park their cars on sidewalks and engage in all kinds of illicit acts? Part of this has to do with the weak Lebanese state and the dislocations that come with stark income disparities in developing countries.

But I think there is also something intentional operating here. There is a will to defeat any effort that leads to transparency and accountability because if you have the latter people start asking the big questions. The logic of sectarianism is the rejection of anything called accountability and transparency.

Of course, all this does not mean that there are no “practices of freedom”, to borrow from Foucault again, where people resist the political economy and ideological hegemony of sectarianism. Whether it is women fighting against domestic violence or for more inclusive citizenship laws, teachers struggling for fairer wages, or Beirut Madinati and its different permutations in the recent municipal elections, these are all different forms of resistance against the political economy and ideological hegemony of the sectarian system.

But the problem is that genuine anti-sectarian and cross-sectarian civil society organizations are either ignored or fought by the sectarian elite. Those who want to resist are either coopted, fought, come to play a small role, or ultimately exit. It’s not as if there is no resistance, but the sectarian political economic elite is always ahead of them. The result is the perpetuation of the ideological hegemony of sectarianism, and mobilization continues in the name of the sect.

Could one make the argument that sectarianism is preventing Lebanon from descending into a serious conflict?
Not so much sectarianism but the postwar corporate power-sharing arrangement, and the overlap between the sectarian and economic elite, does go a long way in explaining why post-Syria Lebanon has not descended into all-out civil war despite the spike in sectarian agitation and violence since 2005 and the spillover effects of the war in Syria.

Let me unpack why this is so. Consociationalists have always been very cognizant of the fact that consociational democracy is a special kind of democracy. It’s not your regular liberal democracy, it’s not your majoritarian democracy, and they accept that it hardens ethnic, tribal, and sectarian identity over time. Basically, it’s a trade-off between civil war and political instability. Lebanon is a perfect example.

Many ask the question: “Do we want civil war or are we happy with the instability we have now?” Consociationalists, to their credit, are realists, and are conscious of the fact that consociational power-sharing agreements might become immobilized and lead to protracted political crisis, but their argument is that this is always far better than civil war. I am afraid that the kind of corporate power-sharing arrangement we have in the form of the Taif Accord, and the postwar political economic structures it has given rise to, does indeed protect against a slide to civil war, but makes the quest for political economic reforms all the more difficult.

Are there ways to move away from a conscociational democracy?
The main debate in the literature on how postwar, deeply divided societies can rebuild themselves is no longer about consociational democracy per se. It is rather within consociationalism, namely, between corporate consociationalism and liberal consociationalism. This is the debate that [Brendan] O’Leary and [John] McGarry address in their work on Iraq, which stems from a critique on how consociational democracy actually contributes to the hardening of sectarian or ethnic identities.

The argument is that instead of building a corporate consociational power-sharing arrangement, postwar states would be better served by a liberal consociation power-sharing arrangement, one that does not predetermine the identities peoples would choose to mobilize around.

If you look at the Taif Accord, it contains the kind of short-term consociational modalities that were needed to end the war; middle-term cenentripitalist institutions, such as the stipulations about the need for a new electoral law, decentralization, and a unified history textbook; and in the long-run, Taif does speak about integrationist deconfessionalism. But this is just on paper. Due to the long pax Syriana and the interests of the sectarian elite, in practice what we ended up with in Lebanon is an extremely tight and immutable corporate consociational power-sharing arrangement.

The question now becomes the following: If the postwar power-sharing arrangement is in crisis, then what should be done? Given Lebanon’s confessional demographics and given the sensitivity of the issue, nobody is going to open up the Pandora’s Box of renegotiating sectarian quotas. By contrast, implementing the changes Taif hints at what could help the country move from corporate consociation to what I call hybrid consociation; not corporate but also not liberal because the latter entails the abandonment of the postwar confessional and sectarian quotas, a nonstarter under present domestic and regional conditions.

Instead, some variation on PR voting, combined with a measure of real decentralization, could unleash hitherto repressed counterfactual anti-sectarian, trans-sectarian, and inter-sectarian identities. This may also begin to change the incentive structures under which people operate.

To be sure, the sectarian political elite will only implement PR in the context of a mixed electoral law, one that predetermines the results of the elections in their favor. My argument is that some variation of PR is needed to open up the political system to new voices and new forces.  Similarly, some kind of decentralization would go a long way toward containing sectarian demonizing by creating new forms of intra-sectarian competition.

However, because of the history of the civil war, people in Lebanon think decentralization is tantamount to taqsim [division of regional governance by sect]. LCPS has done a lot of work on this theme and has shown that if you actually take substantial powers from the central administration, decentralization increases accountability at the local level and helps unleash new socioeconomic or regional alliances and identities beyond sectarianism.

At the end of the day, there is a nineteenth sect of polyglot inter-sectarian and trans-sectarian citizens in this country battling to make their voices heard. If moving beyond consociational democracy is a recipe for disaster at the present time, why not engage in some institutional creativity and allow these citizens to express their own “vision of Lebanon”, to borrow from Albert Hourani, but from within state institutions? This stabilizes the political system and makes it a bit more inclusive.

Lebanon’s dumping of toxic garbage into the Mediterranean stinks of EU corruption

June 17, 2017

The EU’s farcical ‘foreign policy’ in the Middle East is failing in Lebanon, where dumping toxic garbage into the Mediterranean Sea is creating a massive threat to the entire planet. But what’s the link with Syria’s refugees?

Recently, a government minister here admitted that Lebanon’s policy towards its garbage crisis was to simply dump 2 million tons of toxic garbage into the Mediterranean Sea.

My own investigation revealed, however, a side to this shocking story which few editors of giant media titles around the world could believe. Until now.

The Costa Brava ‘landfill site right next to Beirut airport holds a filthy secret that a large number of environmentalists, leading academics and corruption experts all know and have revealed to me in a series of recorded interviews.

Not only did the EU know about the massive sea-dumping operation, which was built at the end of the summer of last year, but the EU’s own ‘embassy’ here in Beirut deliberately kept quiet about it. Why?

Because it did not want to annoy the Lebanese government, which is hosting almost 2 million Syrian refugees.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The European Commission is keeping tight-lipped about what might be the largest environmental calamity in the Eastern Mediterranean – which not only threatens marine life, but also the health of Europeans holidaying in Greece – because it is too afraid of the political fall-out in Europe [Read: Germany] if Syrian refugees start to leave Lebanon and head for Europe.

Of course, no one is suggesting that the glamorous French EU delegation here in Beirut kept quiet and played dumb, because they have their careers to consider too.

But Christina Lassen, head of the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon, has some explaining to do.

Hundreds of millions of euros are spent each year on policing EU member states and their environmental misdemeanors; hundreds more on jobs for eurocrats in EU institutions; and hundreds more on EU-sponsored films, brochures and paid TV spots.

And then there’s the EU External Action Service which has had its own number of scandals as it soaks up a cool 700 million euros a year, much of which goes to support lavish embassies around the world and ‘diplomats’ who appear to live the high life.

But what is really the job of this super diplomacy outfit?

In Lebanon, it was clearly to keep this tiny country’s government happy at any cost – even the health of Europeans who cough up a 150bn euros a year to keep the EU project running – as corruption comes in many forms.

Lebanon is ranked by Transparency International as one of the most corrupt countries in the world.

And yet it receives well over 200 million euros a year in cash from Brussels just to contain at least 1.8 million Syrian refugees. (More than 50% of Lebanon total population)

It’s actually not even a lot of money. For this pathetic amount, Europe has to console itself that it won’t have a refugee problem from Lebanon in exchange for possibly some of its 400 million citizens getting cancer from swimming in contaminated waters or eating contaminated fish.

Add to that the gradual extinction of indigenous turtles who lay their eggs on Lebanese beaches, and the stink just fills your lungs.

Fishy business snares EU holiday makers

Think this is far fetched? Not according to one of Lebanon’s leading expert academics at the American university who confirms the pollution is heading towards Europe.

“The pollution never stops at one point,” Professor Najat A. Saliba of the AUB tells me. “The ocean is a living beast and currents are always in motion. Trash and leachates will move mainly from the south to the north as this is the prevalent wind in Lebanon.”

Her further explanation sounds almost apocalyptic as the entire region could be affected by dire health implications.

The environmental impact on the water, animal life, ocean biodiversity and the whole marine ecosystem is horrific… Leachate full of toxins will be seeping through the piles to contaminate the marine life. In addition to the toxins, organic matters will use up the oxygen in the sea and as such deprive the marine life from its oxygen,” she warns.

“Health damages also come from eating fish, increase in bacteria in the air, and infiltration of sea water into the coastal wells,” Professor Saliba concludes.

This point has been seized upon by one British MEP, who slammed it as an “hypocritical and a shameful indictment on the incompetence of the EU.”

“What is going on here is an environmental disaster with this toxic waste spreading to other countries from the sea’s currents and polluting anything it gets in the way of,” says UKIP’s MEP Mike Hookem, its party’s Fisheries spokesman.

“Not only will sea life be at risk but people could be too, through contaminated food and through polluted water particularly as it spreads up through Mediterranean countries where people go on holiday,” he warns.

One explanation why the Lebanese government has allowed the EU projects to fall apart is that its leaders in Beirut have a vested interest in other, bigger garbage contracts, if the Costa Brava plan is finally scrapped.

Lebanon also has a legacy of its corrupt leaders taking areas of the coast, filling it with garbage (and ultimately concrete) and them making hundreds of millions of dollars in developing the plots as luxury apartments.

Presumably, the EU’s highly informed diplomats know about that as well though.

Garbage and destroyed hill in Kalimantan, Indonesia © Andre Vltchek 

‘Pay off for Syrian crisis’

Laury Haytayan is an anti-corruption campaigner in Lebanon who believes that the “EU surely knows about the sea dumping of the garbage” but argues that “the garbage crisis is keeping politicians in power as it brings in money” even including contracts around the sea dump so “it’s hardly surprising that the EU projects don’t work.”

What she is referring to is 13 EU-funded sorting and composting centres which are a shambles and, in reality, have only served as cash cows for corrupt politicians, which a number of experts also blame as contributing to the government’s “sea dump.”

But no one is holding their breath for the top brass in Brussels to even acknowledge what is going on with their own diplomats.

Mike Hookem scolds the EU for the massive error but takes it further. “To make matters worse the EU diplomatic corps has one of their erzatz ’embassies’ in Lebanon so Brussels can’t claim to know what’s going on – although incompetence has admittedly never been a firing offence in the EU”, adds the UKIP MEP.

“This is all just a pay off for the Syrian refugee crisis which the EU can’t get a handle on because it is more obsessed with attacking Russia and Assad than it is dealing with ISIS,” claims Hookem.

In reality, the EU is probably not guilty of incompetence.

In my view, the role of its diplomatic service is to engage with corrupt, backward countries – often with appalling human rights records – to ensure that they comply with a contingent requirement of Brussels: to assist the EU in its PR campaign to make it look much more relevant and important than what it really is.

Give our EU chief the over-the-top VIP treatment when she visits, get your journalists to write up our press releases verbatim and do the ‘grip-n-grin’ photos. And never criticize our policies. That’s the deal.

The Lebanon story is about refugees.

The millions of refugees poised on the EU’s perimeter – in Lebanon or in Turkey – are there because of failed states which are supported by the EU through slush funds, or payouts to corrupt governments – dressed up as state-building tools – but in reality are simply bribes, pay offs.

No one is kidding themselves that the Barcelona Process is really anything other than a broken URL link on the European Commission’s own website (which it really is).

In Lebanon, the EU keeps quiet not only about the garbage scandal but much more besides.

Many Syrian refugees have resorted to either slavery (often child) or prostitution for young girls. This tiny country is also falling into a chasm of authoritarian rule which is usually associated with African states. (An anomy State where the politicians own all the businesses)

Just recently a video went viral of peaceful protesters being brutally beaten, while new measures are being adopted all the time here to crackdown on anyone who criticizes the state (similar to Gulf Arab countries). I can’t be the only one who notices the tight-lipped EU diplomats who assist in this process by tacit approval.

Remarkably, the EU’s own diplomatic service doesn’t even generate good PR though for Brussels, such is its colossal failure as a fake news conduit. But the stench of graft which reminds me of 1999 has returned to my nostrils in Beirut.

The EU today has no whistleblowers or investigative journalists holding it to account, due to its own crackdown so that a 1999 scandal would never repeat itself. It is a power-crazed unhinged beast which seeks survival at any cost, even of its own people.

The EU’s relationship with Lebanon, like scores of other poor countries it uses as a means to promote itself, just stinks.

In 1999, in Brussels, I witnessed and reported on the collapse of the European Commission whose executive resigned en masse under a cloud of shocking corruption allegations involving EU commissioners themselves manipulating the system by employing friends who, in turn, scooped million dollar contracts.

The scandal not only threw a spotlight on the guilty, but also on the system itself which spectacularly failed to root out corruption and embezzlement from within the EU institutions.

The Barcelona Process, a bold and ambitious plan for the EU to harness Mediterranean countries closer to the Brussels sphere kicked off four years earlier. It also aimed to guide these countries on Europe’s periphery to modernize and improve their human rights aligning themselves with the moral tutelage which European Commission Presidents used to dish out in those days, while at the same time destroying at least four whistle blowers (in 2002) and arresting and charging journalists on trumped up charges.

The case of Hans-Martin Tillack in 2004 is well documented and will be remembered for the police banging on his door at 5am in the morning and taking him and his computers away, with a Belgian cop telling him ‘it’s not as bad as Burmah, eh?’

So, fast forward to The Lisbon Treaty in 2010 which gave the EU its own foreign policy along with up to 1 billion euro a year budget to create its own ‘External Action Service’. But since the EEAS started, its own venal working methods just seem to exacerbate how corrupt Brussels is and will probably always be.

It’s not just that the Barcelona Process was such an outstanding failure – Libya, Syria, Lebanon (2006) – and not to mention the Arab Spring. Today, the EU’s farcical foreign policy is actually doing more harm than good as it’s not even serving its own corrupt masters in Brussels.

More recently you might be astounded to see how far and how desperate the EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is prepared to go, just to give her own department credibility and serve the EU machine with PR capital. From offering jihadists in Syria hundreds of millions of dollars in cash to stop fighting, right through to planning to secure a UN mandate so EU battleships could bomb refugee boats coming from Libya, there’s plenty to read for a good laugh.

But the darker side to the EU’s diplomatic service is no joke.

Indeed, there could never have been a more febrile example of how corrupt, ill-conceived and hypocritical the EU’s foreign policy is, than in Lebanon today.

Martin Jay is based in Beirut and can be followed on @MartinRJay. 

Martin Jay is an award winning British journalist now based in Beirut who works on a freelance basis for a number of respected British newspapers as well as previously Al Jazeera and Deutsche Welle TV. Before Lebanon, he has worked in Africa and Europe for CNN, Euronews, CNBC, BBC, Sunday Times and Reuters. Follow him on Twitter @MartinRJay

Discrimination documentary in Lebanon: So many. Where to start attacking the problems?

See-Hear-Tell” is a documentary that rotates around the subject of discrimination, treated from kids’ point of view.

The documentary puts to test 8 kids between the age of 8 and 12 (2 Christians, 2 Sunnis, 2 Shiite, 2 Druze), giving them the opportunity to talk freely about the other religions and sects without letting them know that the treated subjects are basically racism and religious discrimination.

In this documentary, my target is not to attack the kids but to blame the society.

My intention is to recognize this dilemma and prove that we are under the influence of bad media, rising by that awareness around this subject, starting with the kids, and arriving to the adults.

Motivation and Objective:

After working with children between the age of 8 and 12 as a drama instructor, I noticed that our children give us the clearest image of our society. They are exposed to the media, they imitate how their parents treat and act towards someone who is “different”, and they bring to our face a reality we often try to hide.

Following an exercise I did in class with my students, I found that this subject is becoming a serious problem that we can no more ignore.

Team

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When a Lebanese Warlord and current Druze leader joins the Tweeting community

Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt recently joined Twitter and essentially broke the Lebanese internet.

Jumblatt mainly dedicates his tweets to a medley of preaching about lost Pan-Arabism, answering questions from followers, sharing his dinner plans, and making sure he says, “goodnight,” every night.

The politician’s quirky and oddly relatable posts have gained him 28,000 followers in under a month.

(That was years before Trump unnerved everyone on Twitter with his antics)

Here are our favorite Twitter moments from Jumblatt so far:

The time he verified his account in the most casual manner:

The time he excused himself for more important things:

The time he channeled Charlie Chaplin:

The time he made googly-eyes and essentially flirted with Italy:

The time we assume he fell asleep mid-tweet:

The time he chose the wrong emoticon and made sleep depressing:

The time he teased us about his dinner plans:

….Then wanted us to guess what they were:

The time he asked our permission to sleep:

The time he said he’ll call us back later:

The time he demonstrated his love for pizza and emoticons, just like the rest of us:

The time he admitted he’s not a Twitter pro just yet:

The time he showed his dog Oscar some love:

The time he killed any rumors that he was Gerard Butler/The Phantom of the Opera:

The time he got his feelings hurt and hilarity ensued:

 

Syria – The Alternet Grayzone Of Smug Turncoats – Blumenthal, Norton, Khalek

Alternative Report. NO MSM BIAS. JUST REAL NEWS. Posted by on July 10, 2017 9:00 pm

This post was originally published on this site
Max Blumenthal is a well connected and known author who has done work on the Palestinian cause from a somewhat leftish perspective.

Blumenthal currently edits the Alternet Grayzone project.

In their recent writings he and his co-writers profess to dislike the al-Qaeda led opposition in Syria. Yet it is exactly the same opposition they earlier vehemently supported.

Yesterday the Real News Network interviewed Blumethal on his recent piece about CNN‘s al-Qaeda promotion. The headline: Max Blumenthal on How the Media Covers Syria.

During the interview Blumenthal laments the failure of progressive media on Syria:

In my opinion, they have abrogated their mission, which should be to challenge mainstream narratives and particularly imperial narratives on issues like Syria. I understand there are massive human rights abuses by the Syrian government, but that’s not reason enough to not explore what the West’s agenda, the Gulf agenda is for that country, what the consequences are, to actually get into the geopolitical issues. Instead, we’ve seen Democracy Now propagate a regime change narrative.

I don’t believe they actually have a line on Syria. It’s more a fear of actually taking on the official line. I haven’t found a single article in the Intercept challenging the regime change line on Syria.

Blumenthal is outraged that “progressive” media peddle the Syria conflict along “the official line”.

Yet in 2012 Max Blumenthal resigned as columnist from the Lebanese paper Al Akhbar English because the paper did not write along “the official line”. He publicly (also here) smeared and accused his Al Akhbar collegues for taking a cautious or even anti-opposition position on Syria.

The Al Akhbar writers challenged the mainstream narratives while Blumenthal, with his resignation and his writing about it, solidly aligned with the imperial project.

Back then he himself went along “the official line”. Then as now the Real News Network helped him along:

I noticed that it was publishing op-eds by people like Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, who were just openly apologetic of the Assad regime, if not cheerleading Assad as this kind of subaltern freedom fighter leading what she called a front-line resisting state, or Sharmine Narwani, the blogger who was nickel-and-diming civilian casualty counts, [..]

This just was really too much for me.

My problem was that the opinions at Al-Akhbar’s website in support of the Assad regime, which I’ve identified specifically by Amal Saad-Ghorayeb and Sharmine Narwani and by the editor-in-chief, Ibrahim al-Amin, were not based on any journalistic fieldwork.

They’re based on poring over YouTube clips, looking at textbooks, or really disturbing citations by Amin of anonymous regime sources, including documents that he cited which he referred to as investigations of people detained for trafficking weapons.

At that time Max Blumenthal was sitting in the U.S. stenographing Syrian opposition propaganda.

Yet he accused Sharmine Narwani and other writers living in Lebanon and Syria of lack of journalistic fieldwork and of “poring over YouTube clips”.

Narwani wasn’t amused by his ignorance:

I have made two trips to Syria in the past six months – the first to interview a wide range of domestic opposition figures, most of whom have spent years languishing in Syrian prisons; the second just a week ago, to spend time with the UN Observer team and learn about the changed military landscape throughout the country.

No journalistic fieldwork? How would Max know? He has done none on Syria, yet he presumes to condemn the dogged pursuit of truth by others.

Al Akhbar early on recognized the foreign sponsored insurgency in Syria for what it is. Max Blumenthal took the easy route of joining the anti-Syrian propaganda train. Even worse – he publicly smeared the writers at Al Akhbarwho were searching for the least harmful solution for Syria.

Now Max Blumenthal has found an outlet that pays him for writing along the very line he condemned when he resigned from Al Akhbar. Nowhere do I find an explanation by Blumenthal for his change of position. No public apology for smearing his former colleagues has been issued by him.

Max Blumenthal’s sidekick and often co-author at the Grayzone project is Ben Norton.

In his own latest piece Norton blames various pundits and main stream media for pushing for regime change in Syria. Conveniently he does not mention that he himself wrote along that line.

In January 2015 Norton accused the Syrian government of besieging Palestinian refugees in a suburb of Damascus: ‘No to martyrdom by hunger in Yarmouk camp’: Palestinian refugees protest Assad’s siege.

Norton had never set a step inside of Syria. His reporting was solely based on opposition talk and videos.

Others did fieldwork.

Three month before Norton published his piece Sharmine Narwani had written about her recent visit to Yarmouk:

At the entrance of the camp, I was greeted by armed Palestinians who are part of a 14-group ‘volunteer force’ formed for the purpose of protecting Yarmouk and ejecting the rebel fighters deep inside the camp.

The stories these fighters tell me is nothing I have read in English, or in any mainstream publication outside Syria. Theirs is a story that is black-and-white. Thousands of Islamist fighters invaded and occupied Yarmouk on December 17, 2012, and Palestinians and Syrians alike fled the camp, literally beginning the next day.

The Syrian government wasn’t besieging hungry Palestinian refugees in Yarmouk. Most of those had long moved away from the camp. It was isolating al-Qaeda  groups who had taken control of the camp by force. Professor As’ad AbuKhalil accused Norton of lying about the real situation:

Ben Norton on Yarmouk camp
This article seems to reproduce word-for-word the talking points of the Syrian exile opposition. In the case of the Yarmouk camp, there are two killers: the Syrian regime and the Nusrah front and other Bin Ladenites on the other side. The residents are victims of both sides. Norton does not mention the role of the rebels in using the camp for their won ends, and in shooting at aid convoys.

There was plenty of information available that the Yarmouk camp was an al-Qaeda occupied zone. Ben Norton ignored it and instead parroted opposition propaganda.

Norton is now accusing other media of doing what he himself did over several years of the Syria conflict: falsely attributing every calamity in Syria to the government while repeating the taking points of the head-chopping Takfiris and the forces behind them. Nowhere have I found an apology or explanation by Norton for his change of sides.

Another author at the Alternet Grayzone project is Rania Khalek. She lately had some trouble for taking a stand against the armed insurgency in Syria. It came after her own turn on the issue.

Last month Khalek lambasted the media for ignoring the misdeeds of the opposition: Ignored By Western Media, Syrians Describe the Nightmare the Armed Opposition Brought Them

American media outlets from right to left seem to imagine that there is a democratic mass movement living in Al Qaeda’s Idlib.

Or they insist that the uprising was always moderate and democratic until Assad’s bombs transformed protesters into armed and radical insurgents, a common talking point that permeates any discussion of Syria.

Yet in late April 2011 the same Rania Khalek wrote (also here) along the “common talking point” she now condemns. She (falsely) accused the media of missing the alleged misdeeds of the government against the “protesters”. She pushed the “common talking point”. Her witness of the media missing the news were the same media she accused of missing it:

Dear Media:

I thought I would take it upon myself to fill you in on the less newsworthy items that you missed.

Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has stepped up his deadly crackdown on protesters as well, by unleashing the army along with snipers and tanks to open fire at demonstrators.

In her rant about the media missing the news, Khalek links to an Associated Press news piece reproduced at the Guardian site. In it an anonymous witness makes the government-is-shooting claim. It seems to me that the one who missed the really newsworthy issue, the anti-Syrian propaganda campaign, was Khalek herself.

Max Blumenthal’s original screed against Al Akhbar at MaxBlumthal.com is no longer available as his site has been “suspended”. Some tweets by Blumenthal,Norton and Khalek, later deleted by their authors, have been archived here. Norton made claims along the line “Assad empowered ISIS”, Blumenthal propagandized the “barrel bomb” myth, Khaled feared being poisoned by the “regime” while invited to eat with Syrian soldiers and other journalists.

Blumenthal had also propagandized against the Libyan government under Ghaddafi. The war against Libya was waged by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Blumenthal’s father Sid works for Clinton and had hoped to profit from the war on Libya. Max Blumenthal spread the myth that an anti-Islam movie was the cause for the killing of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi. The real reason was a quarrel about CIA controlled weapon shipments from Libya to Takfiri Syrian insurgents.

Norton deleted many of his anti-Syrian blog posts and tweets when he turned from fevered insurgence supporter into a “Grayzone” critic of the U.S. war on Syria. Some of his writings smeared public supporters of the Syrian government as mostly anti-Semites and Nazis. Like here colleagues Khalek deleted older tweets when those were no longer consistent with the new editorial line she now follows.

Even in the first days of protests in Syria the Saudi financing behind the exile opposition and the “protests” was already well documented. On April 9 2011 12 soldiers were killed and 23 wounded in a confirmed ambush in Banyas, Latakia. This was freely available neutrally sourced information. The “resistance” in Syria was obviously not peaceful or spontaneous but well financed by sectarian outside forces. It was organized, violent, militarized. It flashed up at the borders in Latakia near Turkey in the north and Deraa near Jordan in the south well before it migrating further into the country. A sure sign that cross border support and supplies played a significant role.

It was also quite clear how the situation was going to develop. As I predicted on April 25 2011:

The most likely scenario is massive sectarian strife with salafi-Sunni attacks on minority Christians and Alawites.

Unlike in Egypt there is no sign that the army will abandon the ruling government. […] There is no sign that a majority or even significant minority of Syrians has any interest in violent regime change.

My current assessment is therefor that the regime will now put up a bit of a fight and, if it can stomach to do that harshly enough, it will win this fight.

The evidence that outside forces pushed an organized armed insurrection under the disguise of “peaceful protests” was there for everyone to see.

It was possible to anticipate where this would lead to. Yet Blumenthal, Norton and Khalek did not care to look for facts. They were fiercely on the side of the opposition even as the opposition killed random people and government followers left and right. Now, as the fates of the sides have turned, they sanctimoniously oppose their former favorites. Now they lambast other writers for repeating the sorry propaganda they themselves proffered for years.

In his recent RNN interview Max Blumenthal proclaims:

[The other side of the narrative] hasn’t happened in progressive media. It’s why we’re pushing, why we’re trying to fill the void at the Grayzone project at AlterNet and provide a critical perspective on what the U.S. and its allies have been doing in Syria and what the consequences could be. I think we’re probably the only progressive outlet that’s consistently doing that.

Oh – f*** you Max.

The BlackAgendaReport 21centurywireShermine Narwani and many, many other outlets, including Moon of Alabama, have consistently written on Syria since day one. They immediately recognized the sectarian insurgency for the imperial project that it was and never fell for the “peaceful demonstrator” scam Blumenthal and his fellow hacks propagandized.

Blumenthal knows this well. His piece about the “White Helmets” for Alternet Grayzone was obviously sourced (if not plagiarized) from earlier work by Vanessa Beeley and other authors at the above sites. To then market Alternet Grayzone, which only exists a year or so, as “the only progressive outlet that’s consistently” “provide[s] a critical perspective” is worse than marketing talk. It is an outrageous lie.

Any writer, me included, can err in the evaluation of the available facts. One can learn of new facts and one’s opinion can turn out to be wrong and change. But one obligation to readers is to stay honest, to admit when one went wrong and to explain why ones opinion has changed. A certain humbleness is an essential ingredient of good writing.

Yet none of that can been seen in the output of Blumenthal and his fellow writers. No apology has been issued by him to the colleagues at Al Akhbar who he publicly smeared and accused. Neither Norton nor Khalek have explained their change of position. Blumenthal now publishes pieces based on the archive material of those progressive outlets which have long had a critical view on the Syria issue. Yet he claims that no such outlets exit.

If they are helpful for the cause Max Blumenthal, Ben Norton and Rania Khalek are welcome to join those writers who all along published against the imperial designs for Syria.

It would feel much better through if their newly discovered “progressiveness” on Syria would not have the distinct stink of mere opportunism.

The Day I Immigrated: There Are Homes Better Than A Home in Lebanon

Which Is Why Lebanese Expats Are Expats

Posted June 13, 2017

On my last drive to the airport as a Lebanese citizen permanently living in his home country, I was thinking about how sad my mother was next to me, as she prayed her rosary, probably for me to have safe travels and a beaming future in the United States, the country that’s offering me a home.

I was also wondering if, in the upcoming few months, I’ll be one of those Lebanese whose entire purpose in life is to sell the country they’ve left, hiding away all of the flaws that made them leave it.

Then I realized, I’m probably already the target of those videos, such as that Byblos bank ad that went viral about two days ago, titled: There’s No Home Like a Home in Lebanon:

I will miss my grandma’s cooking, but most of all I will miss her and those sweet teary eyes that bid me farewell, in a hospital room this morning, as I said goodbye to my sick grandfather before heading to the airport.

I will miss that man2ousheh, those Sunday lunches with my family, road trips to areas I haven’t yet discovered with friends who mean the most to me.

Yes, this is the country where I was born, where my family and friends live, where I’ve had my first kiss and my first heartbreak, and in whose airport I’m currently writing this post as I look on a whole bunch of other people like me leaving, in planes carrying my national symbol.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tearful and grateful for what I’ve been offered as I write this. But on that last drive to the airport, I realized once more that emotion and reason can’t mix in determining the future that we ought to demand for ourselves, starting with myself.

There comes a time when hummus and man’oushe over sensational music isn’t enough anymore to sell a country, no matter how many times the same disc is spun. I’m sorry to say, that disc is broken – nay, it’s shattered and there’s no coming back from it.

In this past week alone, a 24 year old named Roy Hamouche was killed in cold blood because some guy was angry. Another person was also attacked by a police officer because of road rage.

In this past week, a physician coerced the judicial system into helping him commence the cover up in a possible malpractice lawsuit, and we can’t but sit by and watch.

I’m leaving a country as a 27 year old citizen who was never allowed to vote, (the deputies voted to extend their tenure twice on the lame excuse of security reason) and whose voice has to always be self-censored as to not face the wrath of the multiple sensibilities we have to consider in saying what’s on our mind.

I’m leaving this country as a doctor who has to fight a mammoth of a system entirely geared at making me feel like I’m always a bug up the echelons of my career, no matter how much I try to thrive.

I’m leaving a country whose beaches are dirty, whose sea is toxic, whose forests are being dismantled, whose elderly are being turned down at hospital doors,

Where mothers and their children are being evicted from houses and forced to live in construction sites even in the heart of Beirut, whose garbage can’t be sorted or addressed, and whose people – most of them at least – are still ready to offer their necks to the same politicians who have turned this country into what it is today, as they drool over any video or international article that says their country is a nice vacation site, and whose children are forced to beg in the streets to make ends meet.

A nice holiday destination doesn’t make a good index of quality life.

I’d love to say there’s no home like a home here. But the truth is that is far from the truth. There’s a reason why Lebanon has expats who visit every once in a while and return to countries they’ve chosen to turn into their homes.

It’s because in the republic of wasta (bribes and middlemen), you can only make it as far as your strongest connection. It’s because in the republic of waste, you breathe cancer.

It’s because their children can die for angering the wrong person on the street, because this country ranks among the highest in corruption, the weakest in passport strength, and is on the lower side when it comes to international indices of life.

Remember this when you support sensational bank ads or articles or lists of why this country is the best ever.

Remember that falling to delusions of grandeur will never advance this country, and that being content with what we have will never give us what we need.

Never forget where you’re from, but always remember why you left.

I love it here. Correction: I loved it here. But today, I pack my life in 3 suitcases, and leave all of it behind because here is not where my future lies.

Note: Before 1980, it was good to believe that the USA could be a substitute home. People in places of responsibilities had wide latitude for compassion and facilitating matters without worrying about criticisms and stringent restrictions on their conscience and duties

Joanna Choukeir Hojeily and Pamela Hakim shared a link.
Today is the day I become a Lebanese expat and my country of residence, in all those forms that we have to fill, becomes something else than the home I’ve known for all of the 27 years I&#821…
stateofmind13.com

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