Nothing but the truth. Even if against me.

Nothing but the truth. Even if against me.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

لم يعد يكفي التظاهر - Protests Won't Do Anymore

There was one glimmer of hope left in this tormented country, rife with corruption, bad governance, feudalism, and barbaric political traditions, and that was Michel Aoun.

For decades, Aoun attacked the establishment and called for self-emancipation in addition to the liberation from the Syrian and Israeli occupations. The latter have gone, for the most part since the Syrians retain tentacles inside the Lebanese body politic in the form of Hezbollah and the Amal movement. The political establishment during the final years of the Lebanese War (1988 - 1990) and beyond through the 1990s and was Aoun's enemy, and Aoun was their enemy. As it struck deal after deal with the Syrian occupation, the establishment brandished Aoun as the party spoiler and the rejectionist of the post-war reconstruction. And so, anyone who wanted to see beyond the end of the Syrian occupation, felt that Aoun will in due time, past the end of the Syrian occupation, reform the rotten Republic of Lebanon. When the Syrian occupation ended in 200, the establishment resurrected itself, mutated from a collaborationist with the occupant to a liberator thirsty for sovereignty and freedom.

Fine, we said, this was an improvement. But what about the reforms? From 2005 to date, the establishment obviously did not want to reform because it had everything to lose. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, it firmly monopolized the state, decimated the middle class, divvied up the state institutions into sectors of influence, pilfered the treasury, raked up bribes and kickbacks for so called programs of reconstruction, aid to the displaced, rebuilding the infrastructure, etc... For 27 years (1990 - 2017), the country kept sinking int debt, no infrastructure was repaired, corruption became so endemic throughout the system that, for example, electricity is still rationed and the Mafias of the establishment filling the gap with private generators at exorbitant fees levied on the Lebanese. There is no running drinking water (in a mountainous country whose rainfall and wealth in water can make the entire Middle East drink), and the Mafias of the establishment run hundreds of tap water filtration companies that they sell in plastic bottles to the Lebanese people. The Internet, phone service, garbage collection, roads, public transportation,.... anything you can think of is deficient when it comes to the State to provide it, but some auxiliary arrangement with privateers beholden to the poles of political power providing it instead.

On his return from exile in 2005, Aoun was the last hope the Lebanese had for some reform, some opposition to his erstwhile enemy, the establishment. Many Lebanese even conceded that his sudden about-face and alliance with the Syrians and their Hezbollah proxies was a temporary tactical move that will ensure his accession to power, which will then give him the platform from which he will begin attacking and dismantling the corruption empire. And so, they bid their time. They put up with Aoun's paralysis of the institutions. They still held out hopes of a man whose energy at fighting the militias and the foreign occupations would one day be channeled to attacking the corrupt establishment and giving the Lebanese people a semblance that things are at least on the right track.

In Early November 2016, Aoun finally became president, and we all wondered how, not whether,he will begin his crusade against corruption. We knew that this was a monumental task that will take years and a lot of grief because the disease is so pervasive both in the institutions and in the minds, and the enemy is so entrenched. But we waited for the first sign of a move by Aoun in the right direction.

By now - March 2017 - the Lebanese people are utterly disappointed. Not only does Aoun sit happily in the big chair in the "Presidential Palace" (here the dinosaurs of politics all live in "palaces", not "houses" ), but he has transformed his movement into a political family farm, just like all his enemies in the establishment whom he fought for decades. He is one of them now. He is just like them. His his sons-in-law - he has no sons, which makes him rely on genetic outsiders who sleep with his daughters in this patriarchal backward male-chauvinistic society -  are all into politics. His nephews and assorted members of the tribe are also members of parliament and ministers.

And he has done nothing to combat corruption. Instead, in its first major action, Aoun's government is proposing to raise taxes on everything in the country (gasoline, alcohol, fees for Ottoman-vintage bureaucratic hair-raising paper procedures like obtaining a birth certificate or a passport or any of the Kafkaesque streams of corruption, real estate transfers etc.) without having done a single thing - not one thing - about corruption.

Just to give you an example: Go to any State or government - local or central - agency to process a request for a simple certification of any kind. First, you enter a decrepit building where filth and odors abound. There are no signs to tell you the who, what and where. Everyone smokes, yet they have large posters declaring the place smoke-free because "we care for your health" (often in English, and not in the local Arabic). Second, assuming you know someone who knows someone there, and you have a name, you have to ask a million assholes before you find the person, who then takes you to the employee who should process your request. He might even offer you coffee, along with the second hand smoking and the filth, because you come recommended by someone who knows someone important. Finally, with all the mercantile black-market smiles and welcome formulas, the man will stare at you, open a drawer in his desk and promise nothing until you drop money in the drawer. Or he will tell you the amount to pay, which you do, and then give you a receipt for less than what you paid.

Another very common example, is the advice that lawyers, notaries public, or anyone in the law will matter-of-factually proffer to you if you happen to be inheriting, buying or selling property: When the time comes for the assessor to come with you to the property to assess its value, on the basis of which your tax due will be demanded, "just slip him a couple of thousand dollars, and he'll lower the assessed value, which will save you tens of thousands of dollars in taxes." Yeah, here in the third world lemon republic of Lebanon, taxes and property values are in the hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars. Why? Because the demand by filthy Gulf Arab sheikhs is high. The Lebanese are selling their country, or perhaps over-building it so they sell it, to Gulf Arabs and stupid descendants of long ago dead expats who want a piece of the filthy water, air and soil. The other things that filthy Arab sheikhs want in Lebanon are whores and alcohol. Yes, the Lebanese are also selling sex and alcohol to sex-starved and alcohol-starved Muslim Arabs fro the Gulf. The Lebanese suddenly forget their devotions to God, saints, messiahs, mullahs, imams, priests, nuns, and prophets to make a quick buck in the sex an alcohol trade.

I digress. Aoun was the last hope for real change in Lebanon. He is now proving he is part and parcel of the corrupt establishment. At least, he is happy that he has "arrived" and joined the establishment, and so is reluctant to fight it. His henchmen, like his son-in-law minister Gebran Bassil, are now defending the establishment - "just give Aoun time", he says, "pay taxes to feed the corruption, and then we will fix the corruption.

Everything in Aoun's performance so far indicates that, just as he has switched political camps to make it to power, he has now switched from his reform-minded campaign of decades to an entrenched political family farm just like his former enemies. For the Lebanese people, Aoun is, like all the rest of them, an enemy.

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