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The UK recognise Hezbollah 10, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Lebanon, Western-Muslim Relations.
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The British have broken with their somewhat illogical policies of the past and are now recognising Hezbollah. A Foreign Office spokesperson is quoted on Al Jazeera as saying, “Hezbollah is a political phenomenon and part and parcel of the national fabric in Lebanon. We have to admit this.” When it is put like this, one wonders how they managed not to recognise them in the past. Moreover, it puts the US’ lack of recognition in a critical light. See Roger Cohen in the NYT for a thorough examination of this issue.

The boom in Beirut’s banks 5, December 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Lebanon.
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The property market in Beirut does not change that much. Despite the civil wars, fractious politics, occasional bombs or Israeli invasions, property prices look on these events with a weary disdain and don’t really budge. Beirut will always be sought-after and whatever crisis is affecting it will pass. True, there will be another around the corner, but c’est la vie. Beirut will, nevertheless, still be Beirut.
This resilience has, according to the BBC, passed on to Lebanon’s banks too. Business, the BBC correspondent assures us, is booming. Beirut’s vaults are full to bursting and banks are reporting record deposits. This is, however, not only due to a robust attitude but more specifically thanks to the Governor of Lebanon’s Central Bank, Riad Salameg. He foresaw the coming crisis to some degree and urged Lebanon’s commercial banks to reign in their exposure to international markets. Furthermore, Lebanon as a country has something of a conservative banking frame of mind so that banks are not allowed to incur that much debt, must have 30% of their assets in cash and risky speculation is not allowed.
There are, however, a few darker clouds on the Lebanese horizon. Remittances from abroad make up almost one third of the whole Lebanese economy and these will no doubt be hit by the crisis. Furthermore, whilst there has been conservative and sober banking practiced in Lebanon for some time now, this has not been the case at the governmental level. Lebanon is, therefore, per capita, the most indebted country in the world. Though, it must be said, that it has had a lot to recover from in recent decades.

The Arab ideological straightjacket 1, March 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Lebanon, Middle East.
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Professor Barry Rubin at the Global Research Center for International Affairs (GLORIA), the people who manage, edit and produce the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA), wrote an interesting and insightful argument about the blanket ideological straightjacket that pervades the Middle East. He, somewhat unfortunately, dubs this the Arab Ideological Doctrine Syndrome: AIDS. This is used to describe a general state of mind and policy whereby fighting Israel or America is the ultimate way to gain acceptance and righteousness. It doesn’t matter how you pursue this; if you are successful, what the repercussions of this are, or how badly this affects your country, people or friends – to fight Israel and America is to be immune to criticism and to be a saint. As Rubin eloquently puts it:

 You can lose the war (like Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser), wreck your own country (like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein), be a dictator (like Syria’s Hafiz and Bashar al-Asad), lead your people into catastrophe (like Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat), and be extraordinarily corrupt (like…everybody) but it doesn’t matter as long as you fight Israel and the West.

Obviously, there are people who do not abide by such an ideology, who do not fight Israel or America. They are, therefore, by default and definition, pejoratively described as pro-US, appeasers, spies for the West, or moderates – and in this case, to be called a moderate is certainly a bad thing. Rubin uses the example of Lebanese cabinet minister Marwan Hamada. He was interviewed by Press TV, the Iranian news channel, where he defended himself from being accused of being a Western spy, the default position for anyone in the Lebanese government who is not out rightly supporting Hezbollah and castigating America or Israel as the devil incumbent.

He refuted the claim that he was a Western spy and simply maintained that he was a Lebanese patriot. Usually, as Rubin points out, such a line would be a sure-fire popular vote winner of a line. To be a patriot, to put your country’s interests first and foremost, to do all you can to ensure its viability, strength and security against all enemies is ordinarily the simple way to acquire legitimacy and respect. But not in the Middle East. Because Hamada puts his country first and above all else (unlike many of the actors in Lebanon) this means that he does not want to pitch Lebanon into the control of either Iran or Syria, allow Lebanon to be changed into an authoritarian Islamist state, or be “dragged into an unnecessary, damaging, unwinnable war with Israel.” All of which helps to explain why he was nearly assassinated a couple of years ago – he has no shortage of enemies.

Whilst Hamada may well be no saint himself, it is surely clear that he is one of many actors around the Middle East who try to eschew the typically damaging, retrograde but populist policies of attacking the common enemy. Rubin concludes by saying that this broad ideological outlook which makes enemies of moderates is the very reason why “peace, moderation, and pragmatism still cannot win there.” This is an unfortunately plausible and seemingly just conclusion. Perhaps the only hope is that the average ‘Arab on the street’ is able to distinguish between the seductive and the pragmatic policies as offered by politicians and people with power.