Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Haitham Moussawi

Set of Settlements that are worse than the initial demand

The biggest public mobilization in the history of Lebanon related to salary scale movement of public teachers and many other sections in society was abruptly ratified in the Parliament after 2 years of the political system in Lebanon refused to pass this totally rightful issue.

Former Minister Charbel Nahas is saddened by the results, “An illegitimate authority is liquidating the biggest public mobilization in the history of Lebanon,” he explains. (The Parliament voted for itself to extend its tenure 2 years ago and is getting ready to repeat this infamous practice.

Nahhas questions the timing of the scale’s discussion and the deal behind it.

The recent period had been the calmest in the fight for the wage scale and pressure [on the government] was at its lowest levels. He believes that the political forces want to deal a fatal blow to the Union Coordination Committee after using school diplomas to strike at the union.

Political forces feared popular sentiment, especially within the administration, that gave them the sense of being capable of attaining their rights by pressuring the authorities.

So they decided to go ahead with the scale after completing negotiations on how to make the poor pay for the scale.

Eva Shoufi Published Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Lebanon: MPs to strike another blow at the rights of citizens

The Union Coordination Committee holds a protest in from of the VAT building in Beirut. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

Out of the blue, the issue of the salary scale was solved. was solved. Nobody knew what happened, but it later turned out to be one of the darkest deals in the history of Lebanon.

Members of parliament will legislate the encroachment on beach property under the guise of a “settlement,” hence legalizing the occupation of public property.

In addition, the final accounts of the state will be settled for the previous years without any accountability.

The page on “suspicious accounts” will be turned over and a new page will be open without any questioning about public money and public property.

People residing in Lebanon will also have to pay an additional tax on their consumption and numerous fees for services, in addition to dealing with artificial price increases. At the same time, state employees, teachers, contract workers, and pensioners will be denied their rights.

The recent period had been the calmest in the fight for the wage scale and pressure [on the government] was at its lowest levels.

He believes that the political forces want to deal a fatal blow to the Union Coordination Committee after using school diplomas to strike at the union. Political forces feared popular sentiment, especially within the administration, that gave them the sense of being capable of attaining their rights by pressuring the authorities. So they decided to go ahead with the scale after completing negotiations on how to make the poor pay for the scale.

Strangely enough “legislation by necessity” succeeded on two issues. (Mind you that this Parliament failed to elect a President to the Republic that was due 6 months ago)

The first was the consensus between two opposing sides, economic authorities and the unions, that was meant to strike a blow at the rights of employees and “the economy.”

The second issue was the economic authorities admitting that the employees’ demands in the past years were “entitlements” that could not be ensured by the scale.

The question raised by such positions is if the economic bodies and the UCC did not agree on the scale, then what is the use of its announcement with the amendments?

Both sides of the conflict believe they did not achieve any of their goals.

“The deal, magically reached by political forces does not aim to provide the UCC, the workers, or the soldiers their rights. Quite the contrary, the amendments in the new scale bill will strike a blow at the rights of employees, on one hand, and sacrifice the Lebanese economy, on the other,” the economic bodies announced.

They also reiterated their rejection of “tax increases proposed in the scale draft bill” and stressed that “such tax increases will not contribute to solving the crisis but will create a bigger crisis.”

The head of the Lebanese Economic Association, Jad Chaaban, maintains that “raising VAT by 1 percent will impact several basic goods such as petrol and cellular communications, which will be included in the raise, unlike the claims that it will only affect luxury goods.”

Chaaban believes the way the scale will be funded consecrates the principle of funding from people’s pockets. He pointed to “the governments’ dependence on raising indirect taxes instead of direct taxes, which consecrated the principle of funding from poor people’s pockets, since the increase of direct taxes impact those with higher capital.”

The price to be paid by Lebanese will not be limited to the VAT. They will also give up their public beach property through the legalization of violations in one of the biggest scandals that could happen in any country.

According to former head of the Order of Engineers Elie Bsaibes, the first proposal was related to normalizing the encroachment on public beachfront property through paying for previous works. This would have entailed a good yearly income for the treasury.

However, in the current version, they want to take possession of public property and legalize the violations that occurred before 1994, which means most of the violations, a large percentage of which was committed by politicians.

Violations related to the scale go beyond financial issues and deals to strike at the basis of legislation in the Lebanese state.

The government seems to be beleaguered but the political sides are expert at undermining the state and diverting discussion from institutional circles to give it a clientelist character.

Former [Interior] Minister Ziad Baroud is surprised at what happened,

We do not know what happened. Many things changed the day before yesterday, including the exemption of private school teachers from the six grades without knowing why. At the last minute and under the guise of maintaining the consensus, they agreed on the exception.”

The MPs emptied the state from its institutions. The economic and social council, which represents the main space for discussion in the question of the grades and salaries scale, was kept out of the way.

Baroud indicates that this absence was intended to keep the decision in the hands of the political sides so they would agree among each other and safeguard the quota system.

The parliament dealt with the subject in an improvised manner, whether on the level of imports – which are not clear – or on the level of donations to certain segments while excluding other categories.

The contempt of the legislature continues.

The MPs received the draft law on Tuesday afternoon and have less than 24 hours to study a complete bill.

MP Ghassan Moukheiber criticized the short time given to MPs to study the amendments and make their decision. He indicated the issue will be discussed in the session. Moukheiber has reservations on increasing indirect taxes, since it was possible to secure other funding sources. He also stressed his reservations on the question of beach property violations.

Moukheiber may be more familiar with the law than most. However, all indicators are pointing to a farce being prepared in the parliament today, with MPs legislating a crucial law without even spending a day to read it.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Lebanese kidnapped in Syria: What kinds of retaliations?

Many Syrian workers are virtually trapped in Lebanon because their Syrian home cities are war zones. Syrian workers are the backbone of Lebanon Real Estates development: When they have to flee back to Syria or go on vacation for the Eid of Adha or Ramadan or…, construction simply stops, and the Lebanese engaged in civil works also take the opportunity to take a vacation…

For example, Egyptian workers mane the gas stations and the health care in hospital and private homes for the elderly

On May 22, news broke of the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese men in Aleppo , of the Moslem Shia sect returning from pilgrimage in Iraq, by a Syrian opposition group. Scores of angry Lebanese men took to the streets, intent on revenge, and they were looking for handy simple Syrian workers in the vicinity.

Fortunately, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah intervened with a speech saying, “The Syrian nationals in Lebanon are our people and attacking them is an offense.” Nasrallah’s words hold much sway among followers and fans, and he saved many from being beaten, or worse.

Moe Ali Nayel published on July 29, 2012 under “Syrian Workers in Lebanon: No Time is Safe...”


One of the Syrian workers (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

That incident of mutual kidnapping activities and retaliations is not unique in Lebanon’s history with its Syrian labor force. Whenever Syria-related political unrest threatens Lebanon, the Syrian workers are the first to suffer. As if they were official representatives of the Syrian regime, the workers are an easy first target.

“It’s becoming dangerous for Syrians working in Lebanon,” Jihad, a 29 year-old Syrian worker from Daraa told me.

“My friends were stopped in Ouzai [Beirut suburbs] by thugs who erected a checkpoint in the middle of the street.” Jihad expressed relief at Nasrallah’s appeal: “I was relieved when Nasrallah came out and asked the masses to leave us alone. His call saved us.”

Jihad, who has worked in Beirut for many years, does menial jobs that many Lebanese consider beneath them. This attitude holds true for the vast number of foreign workers in Lebanon — many of them Syrians, Egyptians, Ethiopians,… — who come to work as cleaners, domestic help, construction and agricultural workers.

Lebanon’s labor laws provide a further incentive for Syrians to emigrate here. The interpretation of these laws make it easy for businesses to import foreign labor, thereby avoiding minimum wage regulations and calls by local workers to improve working conditions.

Itani says he would rather have ten Syrian workers than five Lebanese. 

Jihad the foreign workers like him have a continuing sense of instability. For example:

Following the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — in which Syria was accused of involvement — there were violent attacks on Syrians throughout Lebanon and many were forced to flee. Today, Jihad explains, “It’s ironic, I’ve been working here in Ras Beirut for 20 years. When Hariri was killed we were attacked by the residents… We had to flee back to Syria. We returned after the hate against us lessened and the Lebanese realized that they need us to get things done.”

Many Syrian workers are virtually trapped in Lebanon because their Syrian home cities are war zones. There has been much focus on the safety of Syrian activists taking refuge in Lebanon, while the safety of Syrian workers has been overlooked. Activists have made their stories heard while a multitude of workers’ stories have gone unnoticed.

Ali Atiyeh a 34-year-old Syrian who has worked in Lebanon for 15 years as an electrician, has experienced daily racism. “Any interaction with the Lebanese people always brings the possibility of a racist encounter. It’s all good until they ask me where I’m from, and when I say I’m from Syria their faces change.”

Atiyeh who speaks the Lebanese dialect adds that he feels slightly different from most Syrian workers. “I have been integrated into the Lebanese way of life. I spend money, go out, and always buy new clothes”. But even with his integration he never feels totally safe. “For example if I’m coming back home from work late at night and there is a police checkpoint and I get stopped, I’m automatically a suspect because I’m Syrian.”

“The latest trend is men driving around at night stopping Syrian workers. The men claim that they are security forces. They mug the worker and drive away,” Atiyeh says.

Racism doesn’t stop there either. According to Atiyeh, “Now that the Syrian revolution is fashionable it has become cool for some Lebanese girls to go out with Syrian activists, while two years ago this was out of the question. I once loved a Lebanese girl and we went out in secret. I knew her family and they treated me as one of them. I decided to propose and asked her father if he agreed to us getting married. After that I was outcast from the family — the mother told me that she would never let her daughter marry a Syrian.”

Many Syrian workers live in extreme poverty; several may share small apartments while others live in tents, shacks, or outdoors on the construction sites where they work. They are therefore visible and an easy target for attacks by Lebanese.

Raed, 17, a Syrian shoe shiner and freelance worker in Beirut — his many other jobs include washing stairs in apartment buildings and delivering food and gas — is scared of being attacked. “Now, since the news about the kidnapped Lebanese, people have warned me not leave this neighborhood because they fear for my safety.”

He speaks about an incident in a stronghold of the Amal Movement. “The other day I was in Hay al-Lija and felt that I was not welcome…A man marched up to me and asked me where I’m from in Syria. I told him Aleppo. I did not dare say I’m from Daraa. Then men gathered and showered me with insults about my sister and mother. I was getting scared and a slap to my face came from nowhere. I pushed them and ran away.”

Raed’s story is not unusual, he says: “Workers can never feel secure in Lebanon. Here, where I live now, our burden is a bit easier than before the Syrian revolution. Now people in this area are seeing us as the sons of one sect. They see us now as Sunnis more than Syrians.” The area that Raed is talking about is traditionally a Sunni neighborhood.

Attacks against Syrians have always crossed sectarian lines. All Lebanese sects have at times been hostile towards Syrians. However, the recent uprising has made old enemies into new comrades.

Supporters of Saad Hariri, the son of Rafik, support the Syrian opposition. “Now,” Jihad says, “these same Lebanese greet us, smile and seem to be fond of us. It makes one wonder what this sudden love for the Syrians is — from the same Lebanese who just a few years ago insulted and looked down on us, as if we were not human.”

Secularism Without Politics? On Civic (Laic) Pride

There is a need to evaluate the “Laic Pride” or civic movement in Lebanon.  There is a need to discuss and offer some constructive criticism to this third attempt at advancing a secular agenda in the sectarian Lebanese system. How to move forward from a yearly march to a political movement?

An example of a positive criticism was posted by Walid el Houri on May 3, 2012 (with slight editing):

“The Laic Pride march was held on the May 6, and the marchers gathered at the Sanaye3 Park (where the ministry of the interior is located) to a rather peripheral space (Ain el Mreisseh) deprived of any political symbolism, at 4 pm. The group is composed of “Lebanese citizens who wish to live in dignity and equality with other co-citizens.” It aims to mobilize “for a secular civil State founded on citizenship, that guarantees the expression of the country’s diversity, and secures social justice – one of the main foundations of civil peace.”

People protesting against the sectarian rule in Lebanon. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

This group’s demands are political in nature (gender equality, legal respect of human rights, civil code, the abolition of institutional sectarianism and so on), but the group has been very adamant in asserting its refusal to be associated with any political party or movement.  It is striking that no economic demands are set forth…

This year’s march has a number of specific demands consistent with its overall message:

1. A unified civil code,

2. The adoption of the “Law for the Protection of Women from Family Violence” submitted by KAFA to the Lebanese parliament,

3. Abolition of article 522 of the penal law, “which drops charges against a rapist if he marries his victim,”

4. “amending the nationality law for the full right of Lebanese women to grant their nationality to their children and spouses,”

5. “passing the Draft Law Prohibiting the Pre-Censorship on Cinema and Theatre launched by Maharat Foundation and Marsad Al-Raqaba,”

6. The withdrawal of the Lebanese Internet Regulation Act (LIRA).

While Laic Pride is neither a political organization nor pretends to strive to be one, one criticism of its activities is its failure to reach a wider audience beyond the niche of activists and NGO workers. An evaluation of the achievements of this movement offers a good starting point for re-envisioning the strategies and approaches undertaken to promote and instigate change in Lebanon.

In three years of activity, Laic Pride is still far from being the agent of mobilization in this country. In fact, one of the essential reasons for this group’s failure to achieve palpable popularity (such as attract new blood, change the perception of secularism as anti-religious among a large number of Lebanese people…), is its failure to reach out to the groups and classes most affected by the country’s corrupt sectarian system.

The group, like most of civil society movements in the country, addresses and is also composed of middle and upper middle classes (mostly university students and graduates). This fundamental shortfall can explain the group’s failure to incorporate economic demands and an alternative political and economic project that would put forth the interests and speak to the needs of the large segment of Lebanese workers, peasants and unemployed.

Mobilization requires reaching out to people whose economic situation does not allow them to see secularism as a valid demand. After all,this kind of  secularism is a vague and meaningless demand, if it is not coupled with a clear-cut position in regards to the economy and the organization of the state.

A secular State can have all the same inequalities and preserve the dominance of the same political, religious and economic elite as the present sectarian one.

I propose that secularism without a political project that advances alternative economic policies is meaningless and will remain a social demand of a privileged class in Lebanon.

While this criticism is not meant to undermine the importance and urgency of the demands to be raised in this year’s march, it does emphasize the nature and limitations of such demands and it should be carried out with the mobilization in the social groups where awareness about these issues is much-needed.

Sectarianism should be understood as both a social issue and an economic one as well.  Sectarianism is both a product and a source of the economic system and policies in the country.

Achieving a secular State is not a demand that you nicely asks for from the very people who profit from the sectarian system. It is a political project that requires more than civil marriage, inter-religious love, or a society where people do not ask each other about their religious identities.

The Laic Pride is a march and not a protest. It will take place on a Sunday and head to a place that is designed for Sunday strolls. In this sense, it is a march that presents no threat nor disruption, neither economic nor social, to the institution being asked to give up its sectarian privileges.

There is no shortage of cross-sectarian issues in Lebanon (bread, electricity, labor laws, election laws, tax regulations…), but there is a shortage of political projects that present an alternative way of managing this country and include the concerns and needs of those who are truly marginalized.

Like the Occupy movement, Laic Pride is in essence and in form a movement of the privileged. They have both failed to leave their comfort zone (whether it be the internet or their class boundaries), and learn to speak to a public that has different concerns even if it sometimes has similar interests.

The Occupy movement managed at least to disrupt the daily routine and exercise pressure by occupying physical and symbolic spaces. This year Sunday walk, even with an open microphone on the Cornish, cannot achieve more than what it already has: Institute a yearly tradition where a small group of people express their thoughts and dreams of a country better suited to their desires. This in itself is certainly a good effort, but cannot further much progress in terms of producing actual change in the system nor does it come close to realizing the stated goals of the group”. End of Walid quote

I think that Laic Pride is following a good strategy by not coming out of the closet and stating outright: “We, the initial organizers of Laic Pride, are communists and of leftist leaning, and we are proud of our great patience for not coming forth as a traditional political parties, demanding everything and meaning never to deliver…”

This civic movement has three main tasks to pursue:

1. Communicate with All the secular political parties, and engage in serious dialogue for a common secular program as secular  opposition alliance to confront the traditional sectarian parties running this  pseudo-State

2. Keep marching and sounding the civic demands, in every district in Lebanon, in order to keep the human rights of citizens alive and urgent…

3. Reminding the traditional political and militia leaders that the youth is not about to let go this time around, and reform of the system has to start now…

Note: Walid el Houri is a Lebanese journalist and filmmaker who recently earned a PhD from the University of Amsterdam.




June 2023

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