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Political Negotiation: How does it functions in Lebanon?

I recall many decades ago, patiently trying to finish my graduate studies, that I volunteered to help another Lebanese to set up his data base and input his data in an environmental study.

Two months later, while also involved in setting up my experiments and collecting data, this Lebanese asked me: “I want to pay you for your trouble and time invested…” I never got into any negotiation before, but I blurted out: “I volunteered to help you, so forget about the money issue…”

This graduate student insisted that I be paid, and for the form I said: “Okay, $100”. That was a pittance, given that the student is well-off, family and teaching jobs…

I recall when I came to the university 5 years ago, another Lebanese undergraduate student called up this guy and arranged that he spare me a room in his vast apartment out of town. There were no public transportation whatsoever, and I had to go with him to the university and return in his car in the evening.  I stayed for about a week.

All these years, I biked and lived in basements, and 4 part-time jobs could barely pay for my tuition: I was frequently broke and many nights I sleep with an empty stomach.

The “negotiation” was not about to end and it took another turn. The graduate student replied: “What? You have the guts to ask for payment?”  I said: “I said that I did it for free, if you want me to ask for $1,000 or ten dollars just decide…” He got even more upset: “What? Do you think that I am cheap and could not afford $100?”

Finally, he wrote up a check for $100, and I never heard from him. I think that I forgot his name. He was telling me that he was negotiating with many geology companies in California for a package over $60,000, at a time there were no jobs and no companies were hiring even graduate students…

It’s a warm spring afternoon in Beirut, the birds are chirping and Hamra street is as busy as usual. There’s a lottery salesman staring into the distance, and occasionally he takes a puff from his cigarette then goes back to staring.

An old woman is trying to cross the street, and a nearby family is watching the scene from a balcony on the second floor. A typical calm Beirut Afternoon.

Karl reMarks posted on April 19, 2013:

A man strolls into a shop and starts inspecting the bags on display with as much disgust as he can summon.  The salesman look at him then goes back to reading his newspaper. The psychological warfare has begun and neither man wants to reveal any interest.

It’s a battle of nerves, skill and composure.

The customer decides on an opening gambit. He sighs as if the bags on display have thrown him into an existential crisis, then points half-heartedly to one of the bags and asks “how much is this one?”

The salesman looks up from the newspaper: “you are a man of good taste, that’s one of our best bags. It’s 100 dollars.”

The customer draws two incredulous arches with his brows, whistles and says: “What do you think I am, a tourist? Don’t plan your retirement on this sale. I’m Lebanese, now how much is it really?”

“God forbid. Believe me, I’m only making five dollars on this sale. Come downstairs with me and I will show you the receipt. But I don’t want to make any money on this, you look like a gentleman, I will give it to you for $95.”

“I’m trying to buy a bag from you and you are performing a comedy show. I  don’t buy bags every day, I have to go to a relative’s funeral in Jordan. Do you want me to take my clothes in a plastic bag? Because of you, I will have to do that. You have no mercy.”

(Both the salesman and the customer know this is a lie, but the rules stipulate that you’re not allowed to point that out.)

“I am saddened for your loss. My condolences, this is God’s wish. Your story has really affected me, I will take a loss on this. $90 for you.”

“This is not meant to be. I am going to your neighbour’s shop, I heard that he’s a more reasonable man.”

The client makes for the door, the salesman pauses a bit then says:

“Be a patient man. How much do you want to pay?”

“$20”.

“$20? Are you trying to start a fight? That’s it, I’m fed up with this business, I’m closing the shop.”

The salesman pretends he’s about to move, but the customer decides a quick follow-up is needed.

“Look here, all my cousins will need bags. Give me a good price and I will send them here. How does $30 sound?”

“How about I give to you for $30 then take my children out of school and have them beg on the streets? Would that satisfy you? Because that’s the only way I can give it to you for $30. My last word is $80.”

“I will tell you what I will do. We will skip dinner for a few days just because you’re an inflexible man and give you $40 for it. I can’t pay one Lira more, I swear by God.”

“I will give you this Chinese one for $40, why do you need the Italian one? It’s not for you.”

“What will the neighbours say if I they saw me with a Chinese bag? You’re trying to ruin my reputation? $40 is a good price.”

“My brother, I told it cost me $95, I am already losing money on this.” Here he takes out a calculator and starts punching numbers at random while muttering some figures. Then he looks up:” Ok, just for you, I swear, I wouldn’t do this for anyone else, take it for $70. This is my final last word, not a Lira less.”

“Here’s $50, take it and give me the bag. But you’re robbing me, I swear this is illegal.” He tries to forces the money into the salesman’s hand, but the latter withdraws his hand quickly.

“God forbid. Khallas, that’s it, take it for free. I’m not taking any money. Here.” As he says that, he starts packing the bag and tries to hand it over to the customer.

“You’re insulting me. What do you think I am, a beggar? I am going to cancel this trip.”

“You are so stubborn. You have broken me, I have never met a customer like you before. Here, have it for $60 but please don’t tell anyone. They will think I am crazy.”

“$55 it is. Yalla, shake my hand and pack it for me.”

“No way. Not going under $60. I don’t know why I’m still in this business.”

“Ok, I swear by God you have exhausted my soul. $60 and you give me three of these pens with it.”

“$60 and I will give you one pen.”

He shakes his hand and takes the bag. “Have a good evening. You are a man of impeccable taste and generosity.”

“God forbid, you are the best customer I have ever had.” The customer takes the bag and walks way.

As he leaves, both men are left celebrating their victories.

Now, are you interested in understanding how political negotiations work in Lebanon?

For example, the current debate about the parliamentary election law.  Imagine that there are 20 salesmen and 20 customers and try to picture all the possible permutations of the scenario above, and repeated among all parties.

A decision can be made only when they all agree. That will give you a rough idea of the complexity involved.

Actually, make that 19 salesmen and 19 customers (number of officially recognized religious sects), but that’s my last word.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2020
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