Adonis Diaries

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Syrian Democracy

Robin Yassin-Kassab. Qunfuz

(I can’t blame you or the western states if you think Syrians are condemned to an unpleasant binary choice, between Assad and the jihadists: Media don’t care about social developing details on the ground)

Interviewing activists, fighters and refugees for our book “Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War”, we discovered the democratic option is very real, if terribly beleaguered.

To the extent that life continues in the ‘liberated’ but brutally bombed areas – areas independent of both Assad and ISIS – it continues because self-organised local councils are supplying services and aid.

For example, Daraya, a suburb west of Damascus now suffering its fourth year under starvation siege, is run by a council. Its 120 members select executives by vote every six months. The council head is chosen by public election. The council runs primary schools, a field hospital, a public kitchen, and manages urban agricultural production. Its military office supervises the Free Syrian Army militias defending the town.

Amid constant bombardment, Daraya’s citizen journalists produce a newspaper, Enab Baladi, which promotes non-violent resistance. In a country once known as a ‘kingdom of silence’, today there are more than 60 independent newspapers and tens of free radio stations.

And as soon as the bombing eases, people return to the streets with their banners. Recent demonstrations against Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaida’s Syrian franchise) across Idlib province indicate that the Syrian desire for democracy burns as fiercely as ever.

After five years of horror, protestors repeat the original revolutionary slogans of freedom and unity. Assad, having no answer to this, bombs the province’s marketplaces in reply.

Where possible (in about 45% of cases), the local councils are democratically elected – the first free elections in half a century. For the poor, these are the first meaningful elections in Syrian history.

A Syrian economist and anarchist called Omar Aziz provided the germ. In the revolution’s eighth month he published a paper advocating the formation of councils in which citizens could arrange their affairs free of the tyrannical state. Aziz helped set up the first bodies, in Zabadani, Daraya, Douma and Barzeh, all suburbs of Damascus.

He died in regime detention in 2013, a month before his 64th birthday. But by then, as the Assadist state and its services collapsed, councils had sprouted all over the country.

Some council members were previously involved in the ‘tanseeqiyat’ committees, the revolution’s original grassroots formations. They were activists, responsible first for coordinating protests and media work, then for delivering aid and medicine. Other members represented prominent families or tribes or, more often, were professionals selected for specific practical skills.

In regime-controlled areas, councils operate in secret. In Selemmiyeh, activist Aziz al-Asaad told us, security constraints meant that the council practised “the democracy of the revolutionary elite” – only activists voted.

But in liberated territory people can organise publically. Anand Gopal reported in August 2012 that the citizens of Taftanaz had elected professional councils – of farmers, merchants, teachers, students, judges, engineers, the unemployed – which “in turn chose delegates to sit on a citywide council …  the only form of government the citizenry recognized.”

These are tenacious but fragile experiments. Some are hampered by factionalism. Some are bullied out of existence by jihadists.

Menbij, a northern city, once boasted its own 600-member legislature and 20-member executive, a police force, and Syria’s first independent trade union. Then ISIS seized the grain silos and the democrats were driven out. Today Menbij is called ‘Little London’ for its preponderance of English-accented jihadists.

In some areas the councils appear to signal Syria’s atomisation rather than a new beginning, the utter impossibility of reconstitution.

Christophe Reuter calls it a “revolution of localists” when he describes ‘village republics’ such as Korin, in Idlib province, with its own court and a 10-person council, “WiFi on the main square and hushed fear of everything beyond the nearby hills.”

But Omar Aziz envisaged councils connecting the people regionally and nationally, and democratic provincial councils now operate in the liberated swathes of Aleppo, Idlib and Deraa. In the Ghouta region near Damascus, militia commanders were not permitted to stand as candidates. Fighters were, but only civilians won seats.

In Syria’s three Kurdish-majority areas, collectively known as Rojava, a similar system prevails, though the councils there are known as communes. In one respect they are more progressive than their counterparts elsewhere  – 40% of seats are reserved for women.

In another, they are more constrained – they work within the larger framework of the PYD, or Democratic Union Party, which monopolises control of finances, arms and media.

The elected council members are the only representative Syrians we have. They, and strengthened local democracy, should be key components in any serious settlement.

In a post-Assad future, local democracy could allow ideologically polarised communities to coexist under the Syrian umbrella. Towns could legislate locally according to their demographic and cultural composition and mood. The alternative to enhanced local control is new borders, new ethnic cleansing, new wars.

At very least, the councils deserve political recognition by the United States and others. Council members should be a key presence on the opposition’s negotiating team at any international talks.

And the councils deserve protection from Assad and Russia’s scorched earth – the first cause of the refugee crisis. Assad’s bombs hit the schools, hospitals, bakeries, and residential blocks that the councils are trying desperately to service.

If the bombardment were stopped the councils would no longer be limited to the business of survival. They could focus instead on rebuilding Syrian nationhood and further developing popular institutions.

In the previous decade, ‘democracy promotion’ was sometimes used as rhetorical justification for the Anglo-American invasion and occupation of Iraq. Of course that didn’t work out very well – ‘demos’ means ‘people’.

Only the people themselves can build their democratic structures. And today Syrians are practising democracy, building their own institutions, in the most difficult of circumstances. Their efforts don’t fit in with the easy Assad-or-ISIS narrative, however, and so we rarely deign to notice.

Note: Before the Baath party started their successive revolutions in the 60’s, Syria had a parliamentary system where women and the military could vote. Evidences are coming out that Saudi Kingdom, with USA and British green lights, has dispatched plenty of money for Syrian military officers to attempt successive military coups to destabilize the democratic process in Syria.

’État irakien va-t-il dissoudre les forces de Mobilisation populaire, ce Corps militaire composé de volontaires qui a réussi à vaincre Daech à Mossoul ?

Certaines voix dont celle du dirigeant du courant sadriste, avaient réclamé la dissolution de cette Force (apres sa visite a Saudi Kingdom).

Ce Corps a réussi à contrer les terroristes de Daech en 2014 alors que ces derniers, s’étant emparé de Mossoul, faisaient marche en direction de Bagdad.

Sans ces forces Iraq serait toujours entre les main de ISIS parceque USA ne voulait pas d’ une arme’ Iraqienne forte et unit.

Sat Aug 5, 2017

Cité par al-Sumaria tv, le Premier ministre irakien Haidar al-Abadi a énergiquement rejeté cette idée, en soulignant que les « Hachd al-Chaabi sont placées sous l’autorité religieuse et étatique » et qu’à ce titre, « cette force ne sera pas dissoute ».

Pour le Premier ministre irakien, « la victoire (contre le terrorisme) appartient à tous les Irakiens et aucun parti ou fraction ne peut se l’approprier. C’est la contribution de tous les Irakiens qui a permis la défaite de Daech,

« La libération de la totalité du territoire irakien est un devoir pour le peuple irakien, selon le Premier ministre Abadi qui est revenu ensuite sur la bataille de Tal Afar, cette région de l’ouest de Mossoul qu’encerclent depuis des mois les Hachd al-Chaabi : les préparatifs sont mis en place pour donner l’assaut contre les terroristes de Daech à Tal Afar, mais l’étape la plus importante consiste à préserver notre unité pour nettoyer le reste de l’Irak de la présence des terroristes ».

Les forces des Hachd al-Chaabi qui réunissent à la fois les chiites, les sunnites et les chrétiens d’Irak, se sont montrées d’une efficacité redoutable dans toutes les batailles où elles ont été employées.

Créées au lendemain de l’invasion de Mossoul par Daech, sur l’ordre de l’Autorité religieuse de l’Irak, les Hachd agissent désormais sur les frontières irakiennes avec la Syrie où elles veillent à ce qu’il n’y ait aucune infiltration terroriste en provenance de l’Irak.

Or pour les puissances qui ont créé Daech dans l’objectif de provoquer le démembrement de la Syrie et de l’Irak, toute force militaire populaire à vocation « nationale » est intolérable.

À l’issue d’une visite à Riyad où il a rencontré le prince héritier Ben Salman, le religieux irakien Muqtada Sadr (chef du courant sadriste) a proposé la dissolution des Hachd et leur fusion avec l’armée nationale.

Note 1: Muqtada Sadr takes orders from Iran, while the Hachd is purely Iraqi nationalists. Surely, Iran would be reluctant to see the Iraqi spiritual leader takes precedent after the victory over ISIS.

Note 2: US has shelled Hasd Sha3bi yesterday killing scores of fighters and civilians on borders of Iraq/Syria by Taanaf. The reaction is assured.

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.


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 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.

Why is Turkey standing up for Qatar?

“Thank you Turkey for the milk!” posted one Twitter user from Qatar, along with a picture taken in a supermarket whose shelves were full of Turkish-brand bottles. (Why? Is Qatar in such a dire need with all its billions invested overseas?)

Over the weekend, fresh stocks of milk, yogurt, poultry and juice from Turkey were flown to Doha as the country faced a shortage of fresh produce due to the recent crisis in the Gulf – the worst in the past decade. (Iran is better positioned and closer to Qatar by sea and air to provide all that Qatar need)

On Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the isolation of Qatar as inhumane and against Islamic values, comparing it to a “death sentence”. (Why? Turkey and Qatar actions in Syria for the last 6 years were that humanitarian)

His foreign minister is due to visit the country on Wednesday for talks about the crisis

As Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt decided to sever all ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism, Turkey’s initial reaction was to try to refrain from taking sides and to call for dialogue.

But just two days later Ankara made a dramatic pro-Qatari turn.

The passing of a bill to authorise the deployment of Turkish troops to Qatar was presented to the international community as a clear message: Doha is not alone.

In fact, the bill had been waiting for parliamentary approval for almost two years – long before the Qatar crisis erupted.

The two countries had already signed a military protocol back in 2015, and Turkey had opened a military base in Qatar – its first in the region, currently hosting about 100 Turkish soldiers, but with a capacity of up to 5,000 troops.

On Monday, the Turkish army sent a further three officers to co-ordinate the future deployment. Some reports suggest that Ankara will initially deploy infantry, then a naval force, followed by F16 fighter jets.

Ankara perceives Doha as one of its key allies, especially after Turkey’s increasing isolation internationally.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani was the first leader to make a solidarity call to President Erdogan after the Turkish coup attempt last year.

Turkey-Qatar trade ties $424m (Not much)

Turkish exports to Qatar in 2015: main items sea vessels, electrical goods, furniture $361m

Qatari exports to Turkey in 2015: main items petrol and derivatives, aluminium, plastic products

  • 126% Growth of Turkish exports to Qatar since 2011
  • 25% Decrease of Qatari exports to Turkey since 2011

There are even reports alleging that a 150-strong elite unit of Qatari special forces was sent to Turkey for close protection of Mr Erdogan after the coup plot. (Yeah. Turkey’s President badly need all kinds protection, even with the lousy Qatari special forces,  after dismantling his armed forces and detaining thousands of judges, teachers and university students…)

The governments of the two countries also share similar ideological stances.

Neither classifies the Muslim Brotherhood or Hamas as “terrorist organisations”; both have condemned the military coup in Egypt that toppled Mohammed Morsi in 2013; and both have supported Islamist groups in their attempt to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

They also have the same attitude towards Iran. Both acknowledge that it is one of the key players in the region and try to maintain good ties – contrary to the Saudi demonisation of Tehran.

Qatar has also been investing heavily in Turkey – it ranks seventh in terms of Doha’s foreign investments.

Turkish exports to Qatar are valued at more than $420m (£330m), and the emirate is seeking several arms deals with Turkish defence firms. (Not that of any quality since Turkey relies on Israel to do the maintenance of its heavy tanks and air-fighters)

The value of projects undertaken in Qatar by more than 30 Turkish companies, mainly in the construction sector, has reached approximately $8.5bn to date, according to official numbers.

And with the 2022 World Cup’s preparations under way, Turkish contractors are eyeing the country for further investments.

Mr Erdogan has demanded an immediate end to the Qatar crisis, calling on the Saudi king to take the lead to resolve it.

Although taking a pro-Qatari position, Turkey does not want to be perceived as anti-Saudi.

What it wants first and foremost is a diplomatic settlement to restore the relations between the parties.

But if the tension escalates further leading to a military confrontation, or a coup, will Turkey still be prepared to stand by its recently adopted “brother”?

Note 1: Trump and Saudi monarch deal was to subsidize most of the promised $350 billion from Qatar sovereign fund. Saudi kingdom taking full control of Qatar as it did with Bahrain. The US military got hysteric and pressured Trump to cool down his antics. Two US navy ships arrived to Qatar, supposedly to train Qatari marine

Note 2: Qatar is no Bahrain. Not that it is that bigger in population and land, but richer and many countries rely on Qatar’s generosity and investment. Not even the US airbase in Qatar will intervene in any military confrontation: Iran will Not allow this move, this time around, on its backyard

Note 3: Qatar Emir didn’t learn the lesson from his father who was pressured by Saudi Kingdom to step aside: He had ignored Big Brother privilege to initiate political positions and Not take front seat in the political scenes such as with Syria, Libya and Egypt

Note 4: Qatar former foreign minister Hamad confessed yesterday that they committed serious errors in funding terrorist factions in Syria, Iraq and libya. He admitted that, headed with the USA, they shared with Saudi Kingdom the same headquarters in Jordan and Turkey to destabilize Syria since the inception of the civil war in 2011

Exclusive: US deploys long-range artillery system to southern Syria for first time




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