August 10, 2007
Influence, the Market for: MENA & Delusions - Lebanese Examples
The recent elections in Lebanon (or Leb Land as I like to style it) produced an interesting result although not one of such great surprise, except to perhaps the Tottens and Friedmans of the world, that is, the blow-back of incompetence and utterly delusional policy based on wishful thinking and unresolved contradiction on the part of the Great Power.
The NY Times article is a solid enough and illustrative of some issues long discussed here at Aqoul, notably the severe contradiction between American (but not only American, Western in general) "promotion" of democracy, and inattention to tied-in policies; never mind inability to take an appropriately rational "who's the best long-term bet for our fundamental interests" analytical view of potential allies in region - including the Islamists.
[It has been pointed out in comments that my comments on the article are undermined by the dodginess of the article premise - in particular the reality of the American connexion impact. As I am not watching Leb Land politics with great caution or interest, I'll simply issue this mea culpa for being suckered into ranting on too little basis. This being noted there is much other commentary remaining]
I can not say that I was following Leb politics closely enough to have really had an opinion on whether Amin Gemayel would win or not, so I make no claim to prior analysis, nor of deepest insight into the elections itself.
However, I think this line is 100% spot on (that is not only the obs is correct, but that it is in fact true):
There is one explanation [for Gemayel's loss/poor showing], however, that has become common wisdom in the region: Mr. Gemayel’s doom seems to have been sealed by his support from the Bush administration and the implied agendas behind its backing.
“It’s the kiss of death,” said Turki al-Rasheed, a Saudi reformer who watched last Sunday’s elections closely. “The minute you are counted on or backed by the Americans, kiss it goodbye, you will never win.”
There is quite a lot of truth in that, especially now. And in Leb Land, after the American's utterly moronic positioning on the Israeli Summer War, above all. But elsewhere as well.
The problem is indeed the emphasised part - although not alone. There seems to be a magical, utterly unexamined belief in "secularism" and in addition that "secular allies" will bend to the slightest inane whims of the US administration.
Lebanon’s voters in the Metn district, in other words, appeared to have joined the Palestinians, who voted for Hamas; the Iraqis, who voted for a government sympathetic to Iran; and the Egyptians, who have voted in growing numbers in recent elections for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. “No politician can afford to identify with the West because poll after poll shows people don’t believe in the U.S. agenda,” said Mustafa Hamarneh, until recently the director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan. Mr. Hamarneh is running for a seat in Jordan’s Parliament in November, but he says he has made a point of keeping his campaign focused locally, and on bread-and-butter issues. “If somebody goes after you as pro-American he can hurt you,” he said.
Harmaneh's a good fellow I may add. I know his family. I'd characterise him as pro West (he's also a Xian by the way).
Sheer incompetence is doing really truly impressive damage to American long-term interests, and worse yet, long-term collateral damage to wider Western interests.
Soaring rhetoric followed by blundering and then utter hyprocrisy (as in, for example the Palestinian issue and Hamas - rather than taking a divide and conquer approach to Hamas, the Americans followed the bidding of the more cretinous and frankly racist wings of the Israeli establishment, and have blundered into supporting the grossly corrupt and incompetent Fatah... because it's "secular.")
In part, regional analysts say, candidates are tainted by the baggage of American foreign policy — from its backing of Israel to the violence in Iraq. But more important, they say, American support is often applied to one faction instead of to institutions, causing further division rather than bringing stability.
Well, on this critique I'd say that's more an Israeli and Leb Land issue than elsewhere; excepting the issue of Islamist styled parties.
Arab liberals who have embraced America continue to see their influence fade in the region, as more conservative and Islamist forces continue to rise, Mr. Rasheed said. Voters invariably frown on strength coming from abroad, he said; the only legitimate sources of strength any Arab politician can turn to is based on either tribal power or religious ties.
“Last Sunday we saw that even if you are a former president running for a seat in Parliament, in a small area where everybody knows you, you can’t make it either with American support,” Mr. Rasheed said.
A few nuances: of course in the Middle East the tribal issue is important, where in the Maghreb or Egypt it is not (or not in the population centres in the latter case) - but the have community street cred is of course universal and what country in the world has a populace the directly appreciates foreign influencing of its elections? Bloody hell, the Americans are positively paranoid freaks in this area even when they have far less to worry about (as anyone who's ever had to listen to American nutters going on and on about the UN can tell you).
Now, when one has good grass-roots connexions and intelligence (as, ahem, certain countries do, but not the US which normally has fuck-all sense of the real interplay), one can perhaps play the pick-the-winners game without oneself getting severely played. Perhaps. But the Americans playing that game? Good bloody fucking luck. They got played in Iraq under their fucking noses, and still are.... Better strategy would be to cut deals with the winners, and aim to only keep out the truly unacceptable (a la Iranian Revolution: but there's a nice hint, always have friends among all the parties, as one never has permanent friends, but one does have permanent interests).
Of course Arab Liberals have had and will for the foreseeable future no fucking base at all, so they're a losing bet to start with.
For much of the past year, Lebanon has been caught in a major confrontation between the American-backed March 14th movement, which helped force Syria out of Lebanon in 2005 and won a parliamentary majority that year, and the Iranian- and Syrian-backed opposition movement led by Hezbollah and Gen. Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement.
Sunday’s vote was widely seen as a bellwether for the country’s political leanings in that confrontation.
Lebanon’s Christians are generally more sympathetic to the United States than are other Arabs. But the tension between Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s American-backed faction against an Iranian-backed one was palpable in last Sunday’s election.
Pity here the article misses that Xians are not just Xians, but come in different flavours (although in this instance that's not so relevant since they're all Maronis) - the Orthodox in my experience are for more favourable to Hezbullah and far less to the Americans due to their experiences under Israeli occupation (well and rivalry with the arrogant Maronis, and a host of other influences, and of course a truckload of other nuances that make this nothing more than a weak tendency....)
Leaving that aside, again here with the US having zero street cred (and having been perceived as encouraging Israeli bombing, and indiscriminate action), while also piling onto the Sinioura faction not only a fictional "Berlin Wall coming down" image (*ahem* as one might say, looking at Hariri's past) but also utterly delusional expectations as a point of power and leverage against Syria...
And despite an expected sympathy vote — Mr. Gemayel was running to fill the seat vacated by the assassination of his son Pierre — and the former president’s name recognition, Lebanese Christians in the mountainous Metn region, along with a smattering of Shiites and others who live there, voted for the more unlikely team: one allied to Hezbollah, seemingly sympathetic to Iran and Syria, and most of all, in opposition to America.
“Our problem with March 14th is not that they are aligned with the U.S., but it is their policies,” says Alain Aoun, a nephew of General Aoun, who says American support has magnified tensions while emboldening the ruling majority to resist compromises. “We call on the U.S. to learn from this experience; they should not take part in any internal conflict or take sides. They should support all Lebanese.”
The problem is not necessarily the support itself, Mr. Nassif said, but that it invariably skews conflicts, worsening rather than easing sectarian and ethnic tensions.
“When the U.S. interferes in favor of one party, their interference leads to an explosion,” he said. “The U.S. openly says it supports the Siniora government, but it should say we support the Lebanese government.”
Embolding to resist compromise is of course the fatal mistake - hubris on the part of Siniora - although perhaps American pressure with its weak understanding of real dynamics and magical conception of its own influence in region at present.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
American support is often applied to one faction instead of to institutions
Bingo. Addressing this would take the US light years forward in MENA.
Too hungover to write a long response (but it's on the way), so for now only this:
The vote had nothing to do with US support. It was an internal powerplay. And Gemayyel, while not getting the seat, isn't the big loser - Aoun is. The bloc voters followed their leaders, but the swing voters left Aoun and voted for Gemayyel.
Turki al-Rasheed is a good writer, but he's got it wrong - as exemplified by the 80+% victory of the "US-allied" Hariri-ist candidate in the other by-election last Sunday ...
Posted by: MSK at August 11, 2007 09:14 AM
as exemplified by the 80+% victory of the "US-allied" Hariri-ist candidate in the other by-election last Sunday
Oh come on, the election was boycotted by the opposition in that district. The 14 march folks would have won that seat either way, but the 80% thing is self-congratulating propaganda.
And Gemayyel, while not getting the seat, isn't the big loser - Aoun is.
Same about Aoun being a big loser. He certainly shouldn't brag about this victory, but it's a long shot from being a "big loser". He got 48% of the Maronite vote, 97% of the Christian Armenian vote, 80% of the Greek orthodox vote, 50% of the Sunni vote (so much for Saad) and 90% of the Shia vote.
Not that I'm sure I believe him, but Michel Aoun is quoted as having the same kind of problems: "La Syrie joue contre moi. Des mouvements pro-syriens ont appelé dimanche à voter pour notre candidat, et ça lui a coûté des voix, par répulsion."("Syria maneuvers against me. Pro-Syrian movements asked voters on Sunday to vote for our candidate, and that cost him votes, out of repulsion.")
Good to see that the US and Syria have something in common, even if it is just to sicken the Lebanese. Peace agreements have been built on less!
Posted by: alle at August 11, 2007 11:02 AM
This is a good answer to Fattah's NYT article:
"The NYT's dishonest Lebanon coverage" (http://www.nowlebanon.com/NewsArticleDetails.aspx?ID=9651)
Posted by: MSK at August 11, 2007 11:17 AM
As I pointed out in my first comment, the block voters voted according to party directives - Armenians followed the Tashnag Party's decisions to vote for Aoun, ditto SSNP (many Greek-Orthodox), ditto Shi'ites (Hizbollah), ditto Sunnis (some carted in from Syria) for their constituencies (be it M14 or opposition), ditto FPM followers, ditto Kata'eb followers.
The big issue was that of the swing voters, the Maronites who voted Aoun in 2005 but are unaffiliated with FPM. They shifted to Gemayyel now.
The other by-election wasn't boycotted at all. They had a candidate, but few people voted for him. Get your info straight, ya khayya.
And look at absolute numbers, the percentages of the various groups are only useful when you know the relative size of those voter groups towards each other.
Posted by: MSK at August 11, 2007 11:57 AM
If I recall correctly, the "opposition" (a.k.a. Hezbollah). did not support the candidate running against M14. And there was only ~ 20% turnout.
And it is odd seeing you state the usual "Aoun may have won but he actually lost." If there is anything we should learn from MENA politics it is that allegiances change (relatively quickly). Ignoring that of course, I could probably make the argument that it is in fact Geagea who won, but I won't.
However L., the point Fattah makes is also mistaken. He creates this causal link between US-support and the "demise" of M14, which assumes that M14 is actually in demise, and which makes that classical mistake of substituting causality for correlation.
Posted by: M. at August 11, 2007 01:20 PM
I accept correction.
Posted by: The Lounsbury at August 11, 2007 02:48 PM
The other by-election wasn't boycotted at all. They had a candidate, but few people voted for him. Get your info straight, ya khayya.
Lek, you're the one having them wrong here habibi. Halabi, the other candidate was definitely not endorsed by the opposition. Not that he would have won, but the 80% is misleading. Besides, the 14m folks have been calling for a massive participation there. 700-something out of 4000 voters is a crushing victory? Come on... Let's not get into sovietic style rhetoric.
ditto Sunnis (some carted in from Syria)
Ah, Syria... They're responsible for the current stock market debacle too.
Point well taken. And, I agree with you on the whole "alliances shift" issue.
You know me better than make that implication ... As far as I'm concerned, a Lebanese citizen has the right to vote, regardless if s/he's carted in or not. BUT, nevertheless, some were carted in & reading about their interviews at the border (they wanted to vote for Nasrallah and then were told that he's not actually on the ballot ...) made for an amusing side note.
The less-than-20% turnout in West Beirut was, indeed, pathetic.
Posted by: MSK at August 12, 2007 12:12 PM