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Rallying Around the Renegade in Lebanon

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  • World View
    Hizbollah did not use civilians as cover By Mark Lavie in Jerusalem 07 September 2007 http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article2938967.ece In
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 6 3:07 PM
      Hizbollah 'did not use civilians as cover'
      By Mark Lavie in Jerusalem
      07 September 2007

      In its strongest condemnation of Israel since last summer's war,
      Human Rights Watch said yesterday that most Lebanese civilian
      casualties were caused by "indiscriminate Israeli air strikes".

      The international human rights organisation said there was no basis
      to the Israeli claim that civilian casualties resulted from Hizbollah
      guerrillas using civilians for cover. Israel has said that it
      attacked civilian areas because Hizbollah set up rocket launchers in
      villages and towns. More than 1,000 Lebanese were killed in the 34-
      day conflict, which began after Hizbollah staged a cross-border raid,
      killing three Israeli soldiers and capturing two others.

      Israeli aircraft targeted Lebanese infrastructure, including bridges
      and Beirut airport, and heavily damaged a district of Beirut known as
      a Hizbollah stronghold, as well as attacking Hizbollah centres in
      villages near the border. Hizbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets at
      northern Israel, killing 119 soldiers. In the fighting, 40 Israeli
      civilians were killed.

      Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch executive director, said there were
      only "rare" cases of Hizbollah operating in civilian villages.

      "To the contrary, once the war started, most Hizbollah military
      officials and even many political officials left the villages," he
      said. "Most Hizbollah military activity was conducted from prepared
      positions outside Lebanese villages in the hills and valleys around."

      The Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, rejected the
      findings. "Hizbollah adopted a deliberate strategy of shielding
      itself behind the civilian population and turning the civilians in
      Lebanon into a human shield," he said.


      Rallying Around the Renegade
      Heiko Wimmen
      Middle East Report Online

      Back in the fall of 2006, student elections at the American University
      of Beirut produced an unexpected aesthetic: female campaigners for the
      predominantly Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) of the
      ex-general Michel Aoun sporting button-sized portraits of bearded
      Hizballah leader Hasan Nasrallah on their stylish attire. "Hizballah
      stands for the unity and independence of Lebanon, just as we do," went
      the party line, as reiterated by Laure, an activist business student
      clad in the movement's trademark orange. "And imagine, the Shi`a and
      us," she mused, off-script and with a glance at her co-campaigners,
      covered head to toe in the black gowns of the staunchly Islamist
      party, but spiced up with bright orange ribbons for the occasion. "How
      many we will be."

      Just how many became clear soon enough, when Aoun joined Hizballah's
      attempt to bring down the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora
      through public pressure later that year. While actual numbers are
      notoriously hard to come by,[1] the two main rallies held on December
      1 and 10 clearly rivaled the demonstration that brought about the
      Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon 18 months before. Followers of Aoun,
      who stand out in their blazing orange gear, accounted for an apparent
      third of the masses. Once again, predictions that Aoun's alliance with
      the "Party of God" would dispel his support in the Christian community
      were proven wrong.

      Throughout his political career, Michel Aoun's bold maneuvering,
      boisterous, often ranting discourse and utter disregard for the
      complex rules and false niceties of the Lebanese political scene have
      made him one of the most divisive figures therein. To his admirers, he
      is the strong leader who can rise above the fray of perennial
      internecine conflict, clear out a divided and despised political class
      bent on the pursuit of factional and personal interest, and achieve
      longed-for, but ever elusive national unity. Likewise, Aoun has earned
      himself the intense loathing (even by Lebanese standards) of the
      members of exactly this political class (and their followers). Rather
      than a champion of secularist nationalism, they consider Aoun to be an
      irresponsible rabble rouser who threatens to upset the delicate
      balance of sectarian power sharing, and his calls for reform and a
      shakeup of public institutions to be thinly veiled Bonapartism. Aoun's
      loud populism is seen as not only gauche but also a challenge to the
      country's Byzantine political game, whereby decisions and
      distributions of spoils are supposed to be worked out behind
      impenetrable smokescreens of lofty principles and diplomatic cant. For
      the Christian part of this political class, he is also an upstart
      trespassing on territory that is rightfully theirs. "To his
      supporters," as one journalist sums it up, "he is a Lebanese Charles
      de Gaulle seeking to unite this fractious country and rebuild trust in
      its institutions. To his critics he is a divisive megalomaniac willing
      to stop at nothing to become president of Lebanon."[2]

      Another constant feature of Aoun's volatile career is the persistence
      with which his popular support has bounced back every time his
      opponents have declared it spent. In 2005, after 15 years in exile,
      most observers and competitors considered the retired general, then
      70, a figure of the past.[3] His announced intention to descend upon
      Lebanese politics like a "tsunami" was widely derided as being not
      only in bad taste (coming, as it did, only a few months after the
      disastrous tsunami in the Indian Ocean), but the delusion of an empire
      builder who had missed his moment. Already in the 1980s, Aoun's
      assertive posture, in contrast to his physical stature, had led wags
      to give him the nickname "NapolAoun."

      The returned exile was taken lightly in the lead-up to the May-June
      2005 parliamentary elections that followed the collapse of the
      pro-Syrian government and the departure of Syrian troops. In the
      absence of real political parties -- most parties restrict their
      activities to organizing support for their powerful, sect-based leader
      and the field of candidates riding on his ticket -- Lebanese election
      campaigns are typically dominated by complex bargaining over joined
      lists and alliances between these confessional chieftains. Expediency
      is often the only glue keeping such alliances stuck together, though
      often not far beyond election day. Within the bargaining, the number
      of "safe" slots offered to a potential ally on a joined list usually
      reflects his expected electoral strength, or the number of votes that
      he would be able to mobilize in support of the joined list. During the
      traditional bazaar in 2005, Aoun was offered a meager seven to eight
      seats at best in return for joining the unified opposition list. He
      refused, causing the first major rift in the broad "Syria out!" alliance.

      Riding on the wave of mass gatherings peaking with the demonstration
      of March 14, 2005 -- the date which would provide the name for
      Lebanon's current governing coalition -- the alliance forged between
      Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, the son of the slain former prime
      minister Rafiq al-Hariri, Saad, and an array of anti-Syrian Christian
      politicians was confident of winning a parliamentary majority, or even
      the two thirds of parliamentary seats necessary to impeach President
      Emile Lahoud,[4] the most stubborn pupil of Syrian tutelage in the
      country. The March 14 forces even struck a deal with the Shi`i parties
      Hizballah and Amal, who had just expressed their gratitude to Syria
      with a huge demonstration of their own, hoping that Shi`i votes would
      tip the balance in enough districts to achieve the coveted two-thirds

      Reality intruded during the elections in Mount Lebanon on June 12,
      when Aoun's slate of no-names trounced the united opposition list in
      the Christian heartlands, winning 21 seats and leaving the opposition
      with only a modest majority (72 out of 128) in the new parliament. To
      the surprise of everyone, it emerged that a significant majority of
      the Lebanon's Christians, and a good percentage of those who had taken
      to the streets to fight for independence and a Syrian withdrawal only
      two months before, were actually supporters of Michel Aoun.[5]
      "Countrywide, Michel Aoun garnered around 42 percent of the Christian
      vote in 2005," says Lebanese pollster Abdo Saad. "In some parts of the
      Christian mountains, that percentage would reach above 70." Counting
      political allies in the north and the Bekaa Valley, some two thirds of
      Lebanon's Christians were rallying under the orange banners of the
      renegade general.

      One major reason for Aoun's recurrent mass appeal doubtless lies in
      his long-standing anti-Syrian credentials. The military resistance he
      mounted in 1989-1990 to the Saudi-sponsored and US-approved Pax
      Syriana intended to tamp down the Lebanese civil war turned out to be
      a costly failure. Yet his warnings against welcoming Syrian
      involvement in the country were soon enough proven correct. Among
      Christians, in particular, resentment festered throughout the 1990s
      over the arbitrary and parasitic reign of the Syrian secret services
      and their Lebanese stooges. But after the disbanding of the Lebanese
      Forces, the strongest Christian militia-cum-party during the late
      1980s, there were no political structures to organize and feed on this
      resentment. Aoun did not leave behind a party either when he fled the
      country, but he did inspire an amorphous movement of mainly young
      followers. Galvanized by his hyperbolic Lebanese nationalism and his
      bold confrontation with the feared Syrian regime and the loathed
      militias, these supporters (with many Muslims among them) eventually
      imagined the general as a national redeemer, and flocked to the
      presidential palace by the thousands in late 1989, in order to form a
      "human shield" against an expected Syrian attack.

      After Aoun's defeat, his backers returned to their universities, from
      whence they continued political action against the Syrian presence in
      impromptu networks. While sometimes quixotic or even chauvinist in
      character -- as with their harassment of migrant Syrian workers and
      greengrocers -- the Aounists won a reputation of standing tall in the
      face of the relentless repression of Syrian-controlled government
      forces and thugs. When the Pax Syriana started to crumble after Hafiz
      al-Asad's death in 2000, their university-based networks already
      stretched into the fourth post-civil war cohort, while many of the
      activists who had congregated around the presidential palace in 1989
      were now urban professionals, often working in communications and the
      media. Thus, when the time came for action in early 2005, the Aounists
      were able to field a uniquely effective crowd: experienced in
      spontaneous, decentralized political action under adverse conditions,
      media-savvy and endowed with a Westernized veneer that would capture
      the sympathy of an international audience. Says Khalil, an information
      technology engineer in his late twenties: "I got involved through
      friends from the university, who were on these electronic networks.

      Yes, we wanted to get rid of the Syrians -- that was our goal, and
      back then, [the Internet] was the only place where you could say that.
      So that's where I felt I belonged, and when word was spread that
      action was supposed to take place here or there, I would go. But I'd
      never think of becoming a member of a political party."
      While this anti-political, or rather, anti-Establishment, posture
      found among many Lebanese who grew up during the last years of the
      civil war resonates with Aoun's hostile relationship with many
      Lebanese politicians, some 40,000 Lebanese -- nearly 70 percent of
      them below the age of 30 -- have decided otherwise, and become
      card-carrying FPM members through a registration process initiated in
      late 2006, after the movement officially converted itself into a
      political party. "All these young people who took to the streets back
      in 2005 learned one very important thing," says Sami Ofeish, a
      political scientist at the University of Balamand in the north of
      Lebanon. "Politics to them is no longer something that happens on a
      different planet. They had the experience that if they take action,
      they can actually make things happen. So one would expect that this
      generation would develop an attitude very different from that of the
      preceding years."

      "It was one of the most moving days of my life," recalls Alain Aoun,
      the general's nephew and one of the major party activists, over a cup
      of coffee in the trendy Christian neighborhood of Gemayzeh. "It showed
      that Lebanese can come together over an issue, and forget about
      religion and sects for the sake of the country. That was a very
      emotional experience." Switching to the more recent demonstrations
      mobilized in alliance with Hizballah, his assessment turns
      significantly more sober: "These rallies prove that if you have
      leaders who make a conscious effort to find common ground, their
      followers will be able to meet, even if they have never talked before.
      Yes, we are very different, culturally, socially -- but those are also
      people who live in this country. They are one third of the population,
      and we have to live with them. As long as difference causes offense,
      this country won't get anywhere. So this also was a step ahead."

      Beyond such heady arguments in favor of a more inclusive society, one
      central motive for Aoun's move toward Hizballah in early 2006
      undoubtedly lay in the consistent attempts of the March 14 coalition
      to freeze the FPM out of the political process even after it emerged
      as the strongest player in the Christian camp. Just why an alliance
      that ostensibly saw Syrian influence as the paramount threat to
      Lebanese sovereignty made no serious effort to coopt such a staunchly
      anti-Syrian, Lebanese-nationalist partner, and instead formed a
      government including Hizballah and Amal, who made no secret of their
      continuing strategic partnership with Damascus, remains something of a
      mystery. While some may have entertained the optimistic (and, in
      hindsight, delusional) idea that involving Hizballah in government
      offered a chance of containing or even redirecting its resistance
      activity,[6] the difficulty of removing the remaining vestiges of
      Syrian influence while coopting Syrian allies soon became clear
      enough. No two-thirds majority materialized to impeach President
      Lahoud (despite the fact that the parties now making up the government
      controlled more than four fifths of Parliament), and when the majority
      pushed for the establishment of an international tribunal to try the
      assassins of Rafiq al-Hariri (presumably including people high up in
      the Syrian regime) in late 2005, the Shi`i ministers responded with a
      six-week walkout prefiguring the current government crisis.

      So what stood in the way of including Aoun instead, a move that would
      have provided the new government with the support of 93 MPs with no
      pro-Syrian leanings, well in excess of the desired two-thirds
      majority? For one thing, it was clear that the FPM would only support
      an impeachment motion against Lahoud if the name of the one and only
      candidate to replace the sitting president would be Michel Aoun --
      meaning that, rather than filling the position with a compliant
      nominee of their own, the majority would have had to deal with an
      independent player with significant popular support. "For all of their
      anti-Syrian rhetoric, Hariri and Jumblatt preferred to leave Asad's
      man in the presidency rather than bow to the wishes of nearly three
      quarters of the Christian electorate and accept Aoun's ascension,"
      concludes Gary Gambill, a seasoned Lebanon analyst with obvious
      sympathy for the general.[7]

      But even without ascension to the presidency, assuming a key
      government portfolio would have finally allowed Aoun to rid himself of
      his greatest handicap: the image of erratic brinkmanship he acquired
      during the war and, in the minds of his opponents, retains (witness
      his alliance with Hizballah and formerly pro-Syrian politicians).
      Newly endowed with "stateman-ish" respectability and official leverage
      and commanding the majority of the Christian popular vote, Aoun would
      almost certainly have been able to erode the position of his opponents
      in the Christian camp even further.

      The long-standing mutual antipathy between Michel Aoun and the
      traditional Christian leadership may have been a key reason why the
      ruling coalition shunned the FPM. Many observers attribute this
      animosity to unsettled accounts, in particular between Aoun and the
      leader of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, the two of whom fought a
      devastating war in 1989. Both men and their followers, so the argument
      goes, are still fighting the battles of the past. Considering that in
      Lebanon not only political office but also political and party
      allegiance are often hereditary (even in supposedly ideological
      currents like the Communist Party), such hypotheses seem to make sense
      at first glance. But they still fail to explain how Aoun's party was
      able to wrest such a significant amount of support away from the
      traditional Christian leadership, represented first and foremost by
      the Gemayel family, whose scions Bashir and Amin were both presidents
      of Lebanon. In the 2005 elections, Pierre Gemayel (assassinated in
      November 2006) scored only 29,412 votes on his family's home turf,
      compared to 48,872 for the least successful Aounist candidate, and was
      only elected to Parliament because the FPM list left one Maronite slot

      One reason may be the continuous decline of the traditional Christian
      leadership in the second half of the 1980s, after the assassination of
      Bashir Gemayel removed the one figure capable of maintaining the
      precarious alliance between Lebanon's powerful Christian bourgeoisie
      (of all denominations) and the increasingly militant Christian lower
      middle class (mainly Maronite) by means of personal charisma. With his
      brother Amin increasingly sidelined by the ruthless militia-based
      leadership of Samir Geagea, and the political project of a
      Christian-dominated Lebanon under US and Israeli auspices falling
      apart, more and more Christians despaired of their future in the
      country. Large-scale displacement of Christians in the mid-1980s
      (wrought to a great extent by Geagea's ill-conceived military
      adventures in the southern parts of Mount Lebanon) also meant that
      parochial means of mobilizing support would reach fewer and fewer
      people. The displaced, on the other hand, would either be hell-bent on
      revenge and join or support the militia, or would turn their
      resentment against a leadership that had failed them, and become
      susceptible to the discourses of national redemption that Aoun
      successfully projected.

      "The FPM fared best where there was no locally based Christian
      leadership," observes pollster Abdo Saad of the 2005 elections.
      "Political families like the Gemayels in Matn or the Franjiyyas in the
      northern province can still hold some ground since they traditionally
      represent the area. But where people vote for a political program
      rather than for a political tradition, the FPM swept the Christian
      constituencies with next to no resistance."

      Preliminary research into the social composition of the FPM and the
      Lebanese Forces also suggests that class is a defining difference
      between the groupings in the Christian camp, adding a dynamic to their
      frequent clashes. The French geographer and anthropologist Beltram
      Dumontier, who has conducted fieldwork in the Beirut suburb of `Ayn
      al-Rummana, describes the two groups this way: "Youths who do not
      pursue a university education will often be either unemployed or doing
      menial jobs. So their social networks, as well as their financial
      situation, are conducive to making hanging out in the streets of their
      quarters their main pastime and mode of socializing. And so they get
      involved in a very male subculture of street life, prone to violence,
      centered on the idea of `defending the quarter,' and this is how the
      foot soldiers of the Lebanese Forces are recruited. On the contrary,
      those who do advance in the educational system spend most of their
      time away from the neighborhood. Their environment of political
      socialization is the university, where they meet people from other
      areas or communities on an equal footing, and where political action
      will tend to be around more complex issues. I have encountered more
      than one family where one brother was with the Aounists and the other
      with the Lebanese Forces, and always the political preference
      corresponded to education."

      The profile of a comparatively well-educated and upwardly mobile
      following, which hence shows a strong preference for meritocracy, sits
      well with the perennial spiel of the FPM: attacking corruption, and
      arguing for a strong and efficient state. In contrast to the
      authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Syria, the corruption and
      clientelism in Lebanon are actually results of a weak state. Power
      traditionally resides with an alliance of ruling families who divvy up
      the state and its prerogatives among one another according to the
      relative balance of power, and obtain loyalty by redistributing parts
      of the proceeds among their constituencies. Conventionally, this
      arrangement is of course described as a "national pact" between
      religious communities designed to enable coexistence and protect
      minorities from marginalization. But while Lebanese politicians are
      always concerned to be seen as vigilant guardians of communal
      interests, they typically have no problem joining ranks with
      representatives of other confessions to marginalize their
      co-religionists. Even long-time foes will suspend their differences as
      soon as any serious attempt is made to shore up the independence of
      the state, and join ranks to ward off any such challenge to the order
      of things. The system is also open to newcomers empowered by political
      and/or macro-economic change, for instance, Amal leader Nabih Berri,
      propelled into prominence by Syrian backing in the 1980s or Rafiq
      al-Hariri, elevated by petrodollars and Saudi patronage in the 1990s.
      Such newcomers may push out some of the traditional players, but are
      usually careful to preserve the rules of the game.

      Politicians speaking about the national interest, the constitutional
      process or the integrity of institutions are rarely doing more than
      paying lip service, and are typically using these concepts as weapons
      in the eternal struggle for more influence and positions, which can
      then be used to twist the rules of the game even more in one's favor,
      so as to dole out even more government favors to one's followers. A
      classic example is the paving of roads in rural areas in election
      years, expected to translate into votes for the candidate whose
      "influence" in the capital supposedly enabled him to "secure" such
      services, and to discourage votes for less well-connected challengers.
      Politicians of this type are referred to as "asphalt MPs" in local
      vernacular, a play on the double meaning of the Arabic word for
      asphalt (zift), which also means "dirt" or "crap."

      "When my son left high school, there was an opening for some 200
      recruits in General Security," recalls a Sunni from Beirut. "We found
      out that some 70 would go to Sunnis. And to get one of those, you
      needed to go to Rafiq al-Hariri. It was as simple as that: Sunni jobs
      are distributed by the strongest Sunni leader. So we used a contact to
      a person very close to Hariri, and things worked out. After that, we
      all became his followers. Because if he doesn't care for us, then
      nobody else will." In Lebanon, everybody knows at least ten stories of
      this category, and while contempt for the politicians involved is
      universal, so is the urge not to be left behind in the scramble for
      the spoils. Yet Alain Aoun is determined that the rules of the games
      must be changed: "Until now, the logic is: I take office, so now it is
      my turn to steal and patronize my people. We need to break this cycle.
      A few honest guys on the top level can make a hell of a difference,
      and send a message down through the ranks."

      The most capable and honest guy to initiate this process, one infers,
      will be nobody but the general himself. Drawing on his personal
      history as a career officer who rose up from poverty due to diligence
      and integrity (Aoun famously had to skip a year of high school due to
      lack of funds and made up for it by squeezing the curriculum of two
      years into one), Michel Aoun is presented as an unlikely Hercules
      uniquely qualified to clean out the Augean stable of Lebanese politics.

      That might be easier said than done, agrees his nephew, after
      weathering several cell phone calls from party affiliates trying to
      arrange for jobs at Orange TV, a new Arabic-language TV station set up
      by the FPM. "See, this guy who just called wants me to hire a girl who
      has a degree in theater and no experience in TV. I have no problem to
      arrange an interview for her, but that's not what he expects from me.
      He doesn't want me to give her a fair chance. He wants me to give her
      a job without any competition or check of her qualifications. To
      eradicate such a mentality will take a long time, but you have to
      start somewhere, and that somewhere is at the top of the pyramid. If
      the rulers are corrupt, and not even ashamed, then what do you expect
      from society?"

      Often dismissed as sheer populism, the FPM's call for imposing
      transparency and stamping out corruption and clientelism -- however
      realistic an objective it may or may not be -- thus threatens to
      disrupt the very system on which the power structure is built. With
      trademark exaggeration, Michel Aoun vowed to "confront political
      feudalism" upon his return from France in May 2005. While clearly a
      swipe at the likes of Walid Jumblatt (who happens to be the heir of a
      "real" feudal line), Saad al-Hariri and Amin Gemayel, such
      pronouncements cannot have been pleasing to any of the politicians who
      prefer the rules of the games as they are. As Gambill puts it: "FPM
      control of a major ministry is a red line for the [March 14] coalition
      mainly because Aoun would have absolutely nothing to lose by acting on
      his pledges to clean up government, even if his motives are completely

      While potentially endangering vested interests, a program emphasizing
      transparency and meritocracy is likely to appeal to the educated
      middle classes forming the backbone of the FPM, whose life chances are
      hampered by systemic clientelism and sectarian red tape that often
      extends into the private sector. Barred from many attractive jobs for
      lack of connections, unable to initiate meaningful economic activity
      of their own for lack of capital and, again, lack of opportunities in
      an environment where many market segments are controlled by fat cats
      who easily squeeze out new competitors, they stand to gain from any
      change. Accordingly, the economic outlook of the FPM shows
      conservative or even neo-liberal leanings, with a high premium on
      encouraging free competition, world market integration and downsizing
      a state bureaucracy bloated by clientelism. "Aoun's followers are
      those who lose out in the Lebanese clientelist system," concludes
      Dumontier, "not those who are near the bottom of the social ladder.
      The latter need protection to get their very modest jobs and benefits,
      and wasta (connections) for them is a matter of survival. And not
      those on the top level, either -- they are the ones who hold the keys,
      and more transparency would take away from their power. It is those
      who could do better for themselves if the system were to become more
      open and meritocratic."

      Still, and despite the secularist rhetoric wielded by Aoun and his
      lieutenants, one of the most important cards for the FPM among its
      predominantly Christian following appears to be the sense of being
      once again excluded in the post-civil war political order -- only this
      time, and worse, not by the Syrians, who were, after all, outsiders
      and occupiers. This time the Aounists feel marginalized by other
      Lebanese and, still worse, by nobody less than their age-old nemesis,
      the Sunnis, manifest in the overbearing presence of the Hariri family
      and its political machinery, the Future Movement. Secularism as
      professed by the Aounists thus shows a tendency to turn into a
      sectarian discourse[8] directed mainly against a perceived Sunni
      takeover of state institutions, and prone to resurrect the eternal
      Christian fear of being "drowned" in a sea of more than 250 million
      Muslim Arabs surrounding Lebanon, the only country in the region to
      guarantee them full legal equality.

      The "mother of all injustices" against Christians quoted by supporters
      of the FPM is the election law, drawn up in the year 2000 by the chief
      of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon, the late Ghazi Kanaan, and applied
      again in 2005. Designed with the clear intention of minimizing the
      impact of the notoriously anti-Syrian Christian electorate, the Kanaan
      law "diluted" the Christian vote in many districts by combining
      Christian with significantly more populous Muslim areas.[9] As a
      result, only 18 out of 64 Christian MPs were elected in
      majority-Christian districts, while the remaining Christian MPs were
      practically elected by Muslims -- Sunnis and hence Hariri in the north
      and Beirut, Shi`a and hence Hizballah and Amal in the south, Druze and
      Shi`a in the southern part of Mount Lebanon. There is irony in the
      fact that what was meant to further Syrian interest back in 2000 --
      largely by favoring Hariri, who was then still a loyal supporter of
      the Pax Syriana -- vastly skewed the results in favor of the
      anti-Syrian coalition in 2005.

      Such irony, however, was completely lost on the majority of Christians
      represented by the FPM. From their perspective, the election of 2005
      and its aftermath only continued their post-war decline, a process
      marked by Muslim-dominated governments with fig leaves of Christian
      participation. This impression was reinforced by the less than
      impressive performance of the Christian representatives in the Siniora
      government. Saudi money (the younger Hariri holds Saudi citizenship,
      and his business network is entwined with Saudi interests), it was
      induced, had replaced the tutelage of the Syrian secret services, with
      the blessing of the US, who would sign Lebanon over to a regional
      power it needed for greater designs, just as it did in 1990 when Syria
      was an indispensable part of the coalition to free Kuwait from Iraqi
      occupation. So pervasive became this impression that the Conference of
      Maronite Bishops felt compelled to issue a stern warning against an
      impending "Islamization" of Lebanon in late June, and Samir Geagea was
      quoted (and promptly denied) saying, "I don't even talk to the Saudis.
      I talk to their masters, the Americans, and they talk to them on our

      From the perspective of Christians close to Aoun, however, talking to
      the Americans was pointless, for the Sunni ascendancy was seen as not
      at all accidental, but rather part of a strategic realignment that
      puts Sunni Arab regimes, and in particular Saudi Arabia, at the center
      of a pro-US alliance against purported radicals. "In the fall of 2005,
      Washington was facing a stark choice of what to support in Lebanon,"
      wrote Jean Aziz, who has since become the director of Orange TV. "It
      could choose either a pluralist, consensual system that may have set
      an example for the dialogue rather than the clash of civilizations, or
      a Sunni Muslim system with American leanings and pliant to American
      interests, a model for American presence in the region."[10]

      But then why turn to Hizballah, another party with a clearly Muslim
      character, and with a political agenda liable to embroil Lebanon
      deeper and further in regional struggles, something Lebanese
      Christians have always been loath to do? For Aoun's detractors, the
      answer is simple and straightforward: Both Shi`a and Christians are
      tiny minorities in a region dominated by Sunnis. In a system where
      sectarian considerations trump everything else, their alliance against
      a powerful Sunni-dominated regime now backed by Lebanon's Sunni
      neighbors appears almost natural. With only 30-40 percent of the
      population, and with non-Arab Iran as its main sponsor, Lebanon's
      Shi`a have no hope of ever dominating the system, unlike the Sunnis,
      who draw economic and demographic strength from neighboring countries
      such as Egypt, Syria, Jordan or Saudi Arabia, all liable to be
      controlled by Islamists in the not too distant future. Additionally,
      Hizballah, with its disciplined fighting units, appears less scary in
      comparison to Sunni extremists such as Fatah al-Islam, who have been
      battling the Lebanese army for three months in the refugee camp of
      Nahr al-Barid, after allegedly being under the protection of the
      Hariri family -- developments dwelt upon by media sympathetic to the FPM.

      Alain Aoun does not deny his misgivings about the Sunnis throwing
      their weight around, but insists that the intentions behind the
      alliance with Hizballah go beyond sectarian zero-sum games: "One, this
      country needs to be governed in a very delicate way, and putting only
      one group in the driver's seat is a sure recipe for disaster. Two, at
      the end of the day you need to sit down and talk out all these issues:
      Under which conditions would Hizballah give up these weapons? How are
      we supposed to deal with Syria and Israel? We have tried to do exactly
      that, and the memorandum of understanding that we signed with them
      contains some positive commitments from their side. Does anybody have
      a better idea? Does anybody seriously believe that by isolating and
      pressuring Hizballah, or even threatening them with force, you can
      make them give up their weapons and behave like a normal political
      party? I surely hope not."

      The narrow victory scored by Aoun's candidate in the Matn by-election
      on August 5, 2007 showed the Christian community to be deeply divided,
      with both sides claiming moral victory. Judging by the numbers,
      support for the FPM was dented (40,000 votes, about one third less
      than the 2005 result), while support for the pro-government Christian
      camp went up (also by one third). Yet the virtually unknown FPM
      candidate entered the race in a clearly uphill battle: For one thing,
      he confronted no less a personage than Amin Gemayel, a former
      president and the head of one of the most influential Christian
      families in Lebanon, and on his home turf, giving his opponent ample
      opportunity to mobilize along parochial and tribal lines. Second, he
      was running against the father of the MP whose assassination made the
      by-election necessary in the first place, lending his bid an air of
      callousness, as many voters felt that the seat rightfully belonged to
      the family of the murdered man. Finally, the assassination was widely
      ascribed to remnants of the Syrian secret service network in Lebanon,
      and Aoun's attempt to, as it were, reap political gain from the
      killing provided ample ammunition for portraying his movement as
      unwittingly or opportunistically paving the way for renewed Syrian
      influence in Lebanon.

      "This is the most damaging accusation," says pollster Abdo Saad. "The
      polls show that Aoun's supporters have no problem with Hizballah as
      such. What they mind is Hizballah's attachment to Syria. They have no
      problem with Aoun's political decisions, but they take issue with his
      alliances with formerly pro-Syrian forces. My own wife, who is
      Christian, used to be all-out for Aoun, but now, the media campaign
      portraying him as pro-Syrian has succeeded to turn her against him."

      Yet the fact that, at the end of a long election day, Amin Gemayel was
      unable to capitalize upon these considerable advantages shows that the
      core support for the FPM remains resilient, and makes it appear
      unlikely that any force in the Christian camp will be able to
      challenge Michel Aoun's position in the near future. For Lebanon, this
      appears to be a mixed blessing at best: On the one hand, a (most
      likely sizable) majority of the Christian community seems prepared to
      look for guarantees of their presence in a majority-Muslim country and
      an overwhelmingly Muslim region in the institutions of a secular
      state, rather than hanging on to the doubtful security offered by a
      ghetto of sectarian privilege. This is a momentous development, when
      one recalls the 1970s. Yet the party galvanizing such sentiment feels
      compelled to appeal, once again, to sentiments that all too obviously
      feed on longing for lost privilege and resentment of the
      arch-competitor for power in the state. Likewise, for the first time
      in their history, a (probably less sizable) majority of Christians is
      prepared to make common political cause with a mass movement following
      an explicitly Islamist political outlook. And yet it appears that
      prejudice and racism against Muslims, mixed with resentment deriving
      from class, have been transposed onto Sunnis and only muted toward
      Shi`a, for the time being. Despite the remarkable politicization of
      young Lebanese that fueled the success of the FPM, the new party also
      remains a movement centered around a single leader, who is venerated
      to the verge of personality cult, with a notable tendency to establish
      a strong family presence in the top echelons, and again, despite a
      significant number of female activists, to exclude women nearly
      totally from the upper ranks.

      Finally, the inconclusive test of forces between Amin Gemayel and
      Michel Aoun bodes ill for the already intractable conflict over the
      upcoming election of a new president -- a post traditionally reserved
      for Maronite Christians -- where both men are candidates. Without a
      compromise, the presidency, which also wields the high command of the
      armed forces, may be the next victim of the chain reaction of
      stalemate, disputed legitimacy and mutual boycott that has already
      paralyzed most of the political institutions in Lebanon. A further
      disintegration of the state now looks like a real possibility.


      [1] Ever since mass demonstrations in Lebanon began, in the wake of
      ex-Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri's assassination in the spring of
      2005, all sides have engaged in inflation of numbers to absurd
      proportions, without any serious regard to material facts, such as the
      actual surface area of the spots where people congregated. Interview
      with Lebanese pollster Abdo Saad, Beirut, June 2007. Saad is the
      director of the Beirut Center for Research and Information
      (http://www.beirutcenter.info, mainly in Arabic), which conducts
      frequent opinion polls on political issues.

      [2] Hassan Fattah, "Lebanon Divided on Presidential Hopeful Michel
      Aoun," International Herald Tribune, January 19, 2007.

      [3] Such disregard finds its reflection in the lack of any serious
      research on the "Aoun phenomenon" thus far -- an omission that this
      article can only hope to start addressing. This article is based on a
      series of interviews with party officials and activists conducted in
      June 2007, in addition to party literature, encounters with activists
      since the spring of 2005, particularly during the mass demonstrations
      in December 2006, and preliminary results of a field study conducted
      in the spring of 2007 by the French geographer Beltram Dumontier in
      `Ayn al-Rummana (a predominantly Maronite Christian quarter of Beirut
      adjacent to the Hizballah strongholds of Shiyah and Harat Hurayk),
      which Dumontier generously shared with the author.

      [4] It is a point of contention whether the Lebanese constitution
      actually allows Parliament to impeach a sitting president by any kind
      of majority. Since a two-thirds majority was not available anyway,
      attempts at exploring the legal dimension were soon abandoned.

      [5] Again, there are no reliable figures as to what extent the Aounist
      movement contributed to this movement. If the huge turnout attending
      Aoun's return from exile on May 7, 2005 is anything to go by, however,
      it appears safe to assume that the demonstrations in February and
      March would have looked significantly less impressive without their
      participation. March 14 is also the anniversary of Aoun's abortive
      "war of liberation" (from Syria) launched in 1989 and annually
      celebrated by his followers.

      [6] According to Hizballah, there has been more than one US offer to
      broker a deal that would trade Hizballah's weapons for a significant
      improvement of Shi`i representation in the political system. Interview
      with Hizballah expert Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, October 2006. Such ideas
      resurfaced in the wake of the 2006 war in the columns of government
      loyalists. See Michael Young, "Offer Reform for Hizballah's Weapons,"
      Daily Star, September 28, 2006.

      [7] Gary Gambill, "Lemons from Lemonade: Washington and Lebanon After
      the Syrian Withdrawal," Mideast Monitor (June-July 2007).

      [8] Such was also the case in the 1970s, when Lebanese Muslims argued
      for secularism in order to do away with the constitutional privileges
      accorded to Christians.

      [9] The law provides for a first-past-the-post majority system
      differentiated by sect. For instance, one seat in the district
      Beirut-I was reserved for a Greek Orthodox Christian, so the Orthodox
      candidate with the most votes would win one seat, and all votes cast
      for other Orthodox candidates would have no impact on the composition
      of Parliament. As in most majority systems, gerrymandering has the
      potential to distort the popular vote, and has been a temptation for
      sitting presidents and governments ever since the foundation of
      Lebanon. Accordingly, each and every parliamentary election in Lebanon
      is preceded by heated debate about how electoral districts will be
      demarcated, with the decision typically taken only shortly before
      election day.

      [10] Al-Akhbar, July 28, 2007.

      (Heiko Wimmen is a program manager for the Middle East office of the
      Heinrich Böll Foundation, a German organization supporting civil
      society and social movements around the world.)


      The political war
      By Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry
      Asia Times Online

      In the wake of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, a public poll in Egypt
      asked a cross- section of that country's citizenry to name the two
      political leaders they most admired, an overwhelming number named
      Hassan Nasrallah, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad finished second.

      The poll was a clear repudiation not only of Egyptian President Hosni
      Mubarak, who had made his views against Hezbollah known at the outset
      of the conflict, but of those Sunni leaders, including Saudi King
      Abdullah and Jordan's Abdullah II, who criticized the Shiite group in
      an avowed attempt to turn the Sunni world away from support of Iran.

      By the end of the war these guys were scrambling for the exits," one
      US diplomat from the region said in late August. "You haven't heard
      much from them lately, have you?" Mubarak and the two Abdullahs are
      not the only ones scrambling for the exits - the United States'
      foreign policy in the region, even in light of its increasingly dire
      deployment in Iraq, is in shambles. "What that means is that all the
      doors are closed to us, in Cairo, in Amman, in Saudi Arabia," another
      diplomat averred. "Our access has been curtailed, no one will see us.
      When we call no one picks up the phone."

      A talisman of this collapse can be seen in the itinerary of US
      Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose inability to persuade
      President George Bush to halt the fighting and her remark about the
      conflict as marking "the birth pangs" of a new Middle East in effect
      destroyed her credibility, the US has made it clear that it will
      attempt to retrieve its position by backing a yet-to-be-announced
      Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, but America's continued strangulation
      of the democratically constituted government of the Palestinian
      Authority has transformed that pledge into a stillborn political program.

      The reason for this is now eminently clear. In the midst of the war,
      a European official in Cairo had this to say about the emotions
      roiling the Egyptian political environment: "The Egyptian leadership
      is walking down one side of the street," he said, "and the Egyptian
      people are walking down the other." The catastrophic failure of
      Israeli arms has buoyed Iran's claim to leadership of the Muslim world
      in several critical areas.

      First, the Hezbollah victory has shown that Israel and any modern and
      technologically sophisticated Western military force can be defeated
      in open battle, if the proper military tactics are employed and if
      they are sustained over a prolonged period.

      Hezbollah has provided the model for the defeat of a modern army. The
      tactics are simple: ride out the first wave of a Western air campaign,
      then deploy rocket forces targeting key military and economic assets
      of the enemy, then ride out a second and more critical air campaign,
      and then prolong the conflict for an extended period. At some point,
      as in the case of Israel's attack on Hezbollah, the enemy will be
      forced to commit ground troops to accomplish what its air forces could
      not. It is in this last, and critical, phase that a dedicated,
      well-trained and well-led force can exact enormous pain on a modern
      military establishment and defeat it.

      Second, the Hezbollah victory has shown the people of the Muslim world
      that the strategy employed by Western-allied Arab and Muslim
      governments policy of appeasing US interests in the hopes of gaining
      substantive political rewards (a recognition of Palestinian rights,
      fair pricing for Middle Eastern resources, non-interference in the
      region's political structures, and free, fair and open elections)
      cannot and will not work. The Hezbollah victory provides another and
      different model, of shattering US hegemony and destroying its stature
      in the region. Of the two most recent events in the Middle East, the
      invasion of Iraq and the Hezbollah victory over Israel, the latter is
      by far the most important.

      Even otherwise anti-Hezbollah groups, including those associated with
      revolutionary Sunni resistance movements who look on Shiites as
      apostates, have been humbled.

      Third, the Hezbollah victory has had a shattering impact on America's
      allies in the region. Israeli intelligence officials calculated that
      Hezbollah could carry on its war for upwards of three months after its
      end in the middle of August. Hezbollah's calculations reflected
      Israel's findings, with the caveat that neither the Hezbollah nor
      Iranian leadership could predict what course to follow after a
      Hezbollah victory. While Jordan's intelligence services locked down
      any pro-Hezbollah demonstrations, Egypt's intelligence services were
      struggling to monitor the growing public dismay over the Israeli
      bombardment of Lebanon.

      Open support for Hezbollah across the Arab world (including,
      strangely, portraits of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah carried in
      the midst of Christian celebrations) has put those Arab rulers closest
      to the United States on notice: a further erosion in their status
      could loosen their hold on their own nations. It seems likely that as
      a result, Mubarak and the two Abdullahs are very unlikely to support
      any US program calling for economic, political or military pressures
      on Iran.

      A future war - perhaps a US military campaign against Iran's nuclear
      sites might not unseat the government in Tehran, but it could well
      unseat the governments of Egypt, Jordan and perhaps Saudi Arabia.

      At a key point in the Israel-Hezbollah contest, toward the end of the
      war, Islamist party leaders in a number of countries wondered whether
      they would be able to continue their control over their movements or
      whether, as they feared, political action would be ceded to street
      captains and revolutionaries. The singular notion, now common in
      intelligence circles in the United States, is that it was Israel (and
      not Hezbollah) that, as of August 10, was looking for a way out of the

      Fourth, the Hezbollah victory has dangerously weakened the Israeli
      government. In the wake of Israel's last lost war, in 1973, Prime
      Minister Menachem Begin decided to accept a peace proposal from
      Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. The breakthrough was, in fact, rather
      modest as both parties were allies of the United States. No such
      breakthrough will take place in the wake of the Israel-Hezbollah war.

      Israel believes that it has lost its deterrent capabilities and that
      they must be retrieved. Some Israeli officials in Washington now
      confirm that it is not a matter of "if" but of "when" Israel goes to
      war again. Yet it is difficult to determine how Israel can do that. To
      fight and win against Hezbollah, Israel will need to retrain and refit
      its army. Like the United States after the Vietnam debacle, Israel
      will have to restructure its military leadership and rebuild its
      intelligence assets. That will take years, not months.

      It may be that Israel will opt, in future operations, for the
      deployment of ever bigger Weapons against ever larger targets.
      Considering its performance in Lebanon, such uses of ever larger
      weapons could spell an even more robust response. This is not out of
      the question. A US attack on Iranian nuclear installations would
      likely be answered by an Iranian missile attack on Israel's nuclear
      installations, and on Israeli population centres. No one can predict
      how Israel would react to such an attack, but it is clear that (given
      Bush's stance in the recent conflict) the United States would do
      nothing to stop it. The "glass house" of the Persian Gulf region,
      targeted by Iranian missiles, would then assuredly come crashing down.

      Fifth, the Hezbollah victory spells the end of any hope of a
      resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at least in the short
      and medium terms even normally "progressive" Israeli political figures
      undermined their political position with strident calls for more
      force, more troops and more bombs. In private meetings with his
      political allies, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas castigated those
      who cheered on Hezbollah's victory, calling them "Hamas supporters"
      and "enemies of Israel". Abbas is in a far more tenuous position than
      Mubarak or the two Abdullahs, his people's support for Hamas
      continues, as does his slavish agreement with George W Bush, who told
      him on the sidelines of the United Nations Security Council meeting
      that he was to end all attempts to form a unity government with his
      fellow citizens.

      Sixth, the Hezbollah victory has had the very unfortunate consequence
      of blinding Israel's political leadership to the realities of their
      geostrategic position. In the midst of the war with Lebanon, Israeli
      Prime Minister Ehud Olmert adopted Bush's language on the "war on
      terrorism", reminding his citizenry that Hezbollah was a part of "the
      axis of evil". His remarks have been reinforced by Bush, whose
      comments during his address before the UN General Assembly mentioned
      al-Qaeda once and Hezbollah and Hamas five times each.

      The United States and Israel have now lumped Islamist groups willing
      to participate in the political processes in their own nations with
      those takfiris and Salafists who are bent on setting the region on fire.

      Nor can Israel now count on its strongest US supporters that network
      of neo-conservatives for whom Israel is an island of stability and
      democracy in the region. These neo-conservatives' disapproval of
      Israel's performance is almost palpable. With friends like these, who
      needs enemies? That is to say, the Israeli conflict in Lebanon
      reflects accurately those experts who see the Israel-Hezbollah
      conflict as a proxy war. Our colleague Jeff Aronson noted that "if it
      were up to the US, Israel would still be fighting" and he added: "The
      United States will fight the war on terrorism to the last drop of
      Israeli blood."

      The continued weakness of the Israeli political leadership and the
      fact that it is in denial about the depth of its defeat should be a
      deep concern for the United States and for every Arab nation. Israel
      has proved that in times of crisis, it can shape a creative diplomatic
      strategy and manoeuvre deftly to retrieve its position. It has also
      proved that in the wake of a military defeat, it is capable of honest
      and transparent self-examination. Israel's strength has always been
      its capacity for public debate, even if such debate questions the most
      sacrosanct institution, the Israel Defence Forces.

      At key moments in Israel's history, defeat has led to reflection and
      not, as now seems likely, an increasingly escalating military
      offensive against Hamas, the red-headed stepchild of the Middle East
      to show just how tough it is.

      "The fact that the Middle East has been radicalized by the Hezbollah
      victory presents a good case for killing more of them," one Israeli
      official recently said. That path will lead to disaster. In light of
      America's inability to pull the levers of change in the Middle East,
      there is hope among some in Washington that Olmert will show the
      political courage to begin the long process of finding peace. That
      process will be painful, it will involve long and difficult
      discussions, and it may mean a break with the US program for the
      region. But the US does not live in the region, and Israel does. While
      conducting a political dialogue with its neighbours might be painful,
      it will prove far less painful than losing a war in Lebanon.

      Seventh, Hezbollah's position in Lebanon has been immeasurably
      strengthened, as has the position of its most important ally, at the
      height of the conflict, Lebanese Christians took Hezbollah refugees
      into their homes. The Christian leader Michel Aoun openly supported
      Hezbollah's fight, one Hezbollah leader said: "We will never forget
      what that man did for us, not for an entire generation." Aoun's
      position is celebrated among the Shiites, and his own political
      position has been enhanced.

      The Sunni leadership, on the other hand, fatally undermined itself
      with its uncertain stance and its absentee landlord approach to its
      own community. In the first week of the war, Hezbollah's actions were
      greeted with widespread scepticism, at the end of the war its support
      was solid and stretched across Lebanon's political and sectarian
      divides. The Sunni leadership now has a choice: it can form a unity
      government with new leaders that will create a more representative
      government or they can stand for elections. It doesn't take a
      political genius to understand which choice Saad Hariri, the majority
      leader in the Lebanese parliament, will make.

      Eighth, Iran's position in Iraq has been significantly enhanced; in
      the midst of the Lebanon conflict, US Secretary of Defence Donald
      Rumsfeld privately worried that the Israeli offensive would have dire
      consequences for the US military in Iraq, who faced increasing
      hostility from Shiite political leaders and the Shiite population.
      Rice's statement that the pro-Hezbollah demonstrations in Baghdad were
      planned by Tehran revealed her ignorance of the most fundamental
      political facts of the region.

      The US secretaries of state and of defence were simply and
      unaccountably unaware that the Sadrs of Baghdad bore any relationship
      to the Sadrs of Lebanon. That Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki
      would not castigate Hezbollah and side with Israel during the conflict
      , and in the midst of an official visit to Washington was viewed as
      shocking by Washington's political establishment, even though
      "Hezbollah in Iraq" is one of the parties in the current Iraqi
      coalition government.

      We have been told that neither the Pentagon nor the State Department
      understood how the war in Lebanon might effect America's position in
      Iraq because neither the Pentagon nor the State Department asked for a
      briefing on the issue from the US intelligence services ,the United
      States spends billions of dollars each year on its intelligence
      collection and analysis activities. It is money wasted.

      Ninth, Syria's position has been strengthened and the US-French
      program for Lebanon has failed. There is no prospect that Lebanon will
      form a government that is avowedly pro-American or anti-Syrian, that
      Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could, in the wake of the war,
      suggest a political arrangement with Israel shows his strength, not
      his weakness. That he might draw the correct conclusions from the
      conflict and believe that he too might successfully oppose Israel is
      also possible.

      But aside from these possibilities, recent history shows that those
      thousands of students and Lebanese patriots who protested Syria's
      involvement in Lebanon after the death of Rafiq Hariri found it ironic
      that they took refuge from the Israeli bombing in tent cities
      established by the Syrian government. Rice is correct on one thing:
      Syria's willingness to provide refuge for Lebanese refugees was a pure
      act of political cynicism and one that the United States seems
      incapable of replicating. Syria now is confident of its political
      position. In a previous era, such confidence allowed Israel to shape a
      political opening with its most intransigent political enemies.

      Tenth, and perhaps most important, it now is clear that a US attack on
      Iranian nuclear installations would be met with little support in the
      Muslim world. It would also be met by a military response that would
      collapse the last vestiges of America's political power in the region.
      What was thought to be a "given" just a few short weeks ago has been
      shown to be unlikely. Iran will not be cowed. If the United States
      launches a military campaign against the Tehran government, it is
      likely that America's friends will fall by the wayside, the Gulf Arab
      states will tremble in fear, the 138,000 US soldiers in Iraq will be
      held hostage by an angered Shiite population, and Iran will respond by
      an attack on Israel. We would now dare say the obvious if and when
      such an attack comes; the United States will be defeated.

      The victory of Hezbollah in its recent conflict with Israel is far
      more significant than many analysts in the United States and Europe
      realize. The Hezbollah victory reverses the tide of 1967 a shattering
      defeat of Egypt, Syria and Jordan that shifted the region's political
      plates, putting in place regimes that were bent on recasting their own
      foreign policy to reflect Israeli and US power. That power now has
      been sullied and reversed, and a new leadership is emerging in the region.

      The singular lesson of the conflict may well be lost on the upper
      echelons of Washington's and London's pro-Israel, pro-values,
      we-are-fighting-for-civilization political elites, but it is not lost
      in the streets of Cairo, Amman, Ramallah, Baghdad, Damascus or Tehran.
      It should not be lost among the Israeli political leadership in
      Jerusalem. The Arab armies of 1967 fought for six days and were
      defeated. The Hezbollah militia in Lebanon fought for 34 days and won.
      We saw this with our own eyes when we looked into the cafes of Cairo
      and Amman, where simple shopkeepers, farmers and workers gazed at
      television reports, sipped their tea, and silently mouthed the numbers
      to themselves: "seven", "eight", "nine" ...

      Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry are the co-directors of Conflicts
      Forum, a London-based group dedicated to providing an opening to
      political Islam. Crooke is the former Middle East adviser to European
      Union High Representative Javier Solana and served as a staff member
      of the Mitchell Commission investigating the causes of the second
      Intifada. Perry is a Washington, DC-based political consultant, author
      of six books on US history, and a former personal adviser to Yasser



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