(My Middle East)

77 days with a journalist, Lebanon, and a list of non sequiturs

Posts Tagged ‘iran

Summer reading Vol. 2 | In the Path of Hizbullah

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What happened to Vol. 1.0 you ask , well that was Killing Mr Lebanon, which I already wrote about in past posts, and received a stellar rating of 4.5 out of 5.

The second item on my reading list is In the Path of Hizbullah by Ahmad Nizar Hamzeh. For those who want an understanding of what Hizbollah is, how it works, and what it’s about, that isn’t tainted by Western preconceptions, this is a good place to start. Hamzeh goes through detailed numbers graphs and research to give you an idea of every working part of the Hizbollah apparatus (if you do get your hands on a copy of the book, check out the graph on page 46 that shows all 19 sections of Hezbollahs operation.) That being said, its not a completely ideal work on Hezbollah. The writing tries a little too hard to be academic with convoluted sentence structure and questionable word choice making the book not easily approachable for an average reader (but at only 150 pages it’s not so bad). Also occasionally the Hamzeh can be a little overly glowing about Hezbollah, which is understandable given the sensitive nature of his subject, but is also something to look out for.

Some of the key points I pulled out of the book:

  • Hezbollah is a committed and principled organization, it has a complex structure of which the resistance arm is only part. Hamzeh steers clear of an in depth analysis of Hezbollah’s weapons, and instead focuses on their political and social network.
  • Hezbollah’s social services are far more advanced and help far more people than does the government of Lebanon, not to mention most other small states.
  • Hezbollah’s tie to Iran is difficult to understate, millions of dollars for its political and military aims are channeled through the supreme leader. That being said, Hezbollah is not tied to the government of Iran, but rather the supreme leader, Khamenei, who is essentialy at the head of Hezbollah’s religious government based on Velayat-e Faqih. Khameni and can provide final arbitration and guidance for Hezbollahs leaders.
  • Hamzeh thinks Hezbollah uses politics and democracy to achieve its aims, not because it is a democratic institution. In fact the system of Velayat-e Faqih is not very democratic at all.
  • Islamic order is it’s the final goal. Currently resistance is the key to achieving that. Hezbollah will continue to resist: until Jerusalem.

Final Rating (out of 5): 3.7

Summer Reading Ratings

Killing Mr Lebanon by Nicholas Blanford: 4.5

In the Path of Hizbullah by Ahmad Nizar Hamzeh: 3.7

From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman

Engaging the Muslim World by Juan Cole

The Inheritance by David E. Sanger

The Great War for Civilization by Robert Fisk


Written by stephenddockery

June 22, 2009 at 3:09 pm

Obama mania, one step too far

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Let me preempt a days work, five years from now. Five years from now when the this Obama honeymoon is over and instability breaks out again in this region when radicals or resistance organizations come to power. People like Thomas Friedman will be scratching their head, saying ‘What happened, everything was going so well‘.

Well I hate to be the first one to break the news to Friedman and everyone who thinks the same of the Obama effect, but little has changed and projecting your own western morality and oversimplifications on this region isn’t going to do anything except delude yourself to thinking the world cares just as much about your liberal idealisms as you do.

Whats changed? you have a stalled peace process with a right-wing Israel that is reticent as ever to even start moving forward. You have popularly elected Hamas thats shunned by the rest of the world and locked up in Gaza facing off against a propped up West Bank government just waiting to fight it out. You have a fundamentally unstable confessional system in Lebanon and increasingly divisive voting blocks pulling the country in opposite directions. Not to mention the elections being partially bought by Saudi money.

So while current stability has a positive outlook, and the Lebanese elections went off with close to zero violence. The initial benefits of a new U.S policy shouldn’t be confused for long term success.

The new Obama policy of engagement is opening up new ground on several issues, but it has yet to address any of the core issues that destabalize this region. These gains are important, but should not be overstated.

The problem is the same one that mars Western idealists calling fraud in the Iranian election. Analyzing any situation by what you would like to see happen, rather than by any standard of fairness is dangerous. You can’t just project other nations local politics into your livingroom.

Written by stephenddockery

June 14, 2009 at 5:19 pm

Contrary to popular belief, things are looking up

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Theres a lot of baseless information getting tossed around right not about the elections and its potential aftermath. The Western media really tries to simplify everything to its lowest common denominator. I’m sure there were section editors everywhere begging to write “Hezbollah loses election” headlines. These kind of things are understandable, theres only so much complexity an audience wants until it loses interest. But a lot is getting lost when things get boiled down that much. Dean Sharp and The Angry Arab do a great job of pointing out the misconceptions that are making rounds in the press right now.

Too add some of my own to the mix:

There is this conclusion that has been added on to numerous analysis pieces that says the next phase of politics of prime minister and cabinet making will plunge Lebanon into instability. Its the violence refrain, we heard it before the elections and now we hear it again Its the “hey this is Lebanon, people are bound to start shooting” line. Well frankly I don’t see it.

The players in Lebanon have made a conscious effort to keep violence out of the equation. Theres anything from the normal platitudes during press conferences, to Slieman Frangieh calling his supporters donkeys for thinking about arming themselves. It’s obviously a PR stunt, but thats the thing, its popular to be seen as non-violent right now. Adding to that, the people who are armed, Hezbollah, has expressed no interest in mixing their arms with their  local politics. Even the sorting out of the blocking third and Hezbollah’s weapons seem to be going forward without much friction.

That brings us to the next level of stability in Lebanon. The regional players. Even a basic analysis of your regional players shows you that by and large the cards aren’t there for destabilizing Lebanon. At least for the time being.

First you have Syria. By acceptance  of engaging with the U.S. via Mitchel’s visit to Damascus, and calling for Turkey to restart talks with Israel. Bashar is clearly showing that he wants to be on the Obama Middle East peace train and start  improving relations. Realizing that, and then recognizing that creating instability in Lebanon or not recognizing their sovereignty  would be a non-starter with the U.S. you can rule out Syria as a destabalizer.

Next you have Iran. Iran is in the middle of its elections, violence would be a wild card for either candidate, and at the moment it looks like the Grand Ayatollah wants eyes firmly on Tehran. Petty political squables between Michel Aoun and Michel Murr are no interest to Iran who has bigger issues on its hands.

Israel is the last one, and I think they most unpredictable for a lot of things right now in Middle East politics. Netanyahu seems very attached to his right-wing base, and that doesn’t seem like its going to change. He could be a stumbling block for the peace process and he could be a stumbling block for general stability. But seeing as Iran’s line right now is playing it cool, so is Hezbollah’s and so the trigger to set off the Israel right-wing doesn’t look like its there at the moment.

But I did leave one person out.  “The General” Of all the people on the local level ,  Aoun seems like the biggest wild card.  He seems the most upset with the way things are progressing. He didn’t get close to the 70% of the Christian vote in 2005, and with his registering of complaints and demands of proportional representation he seems the least satisfied with the election in general. Not to mention his 20 years of desire to become president. But honestly the likelyhood of the FPM taking to the streets still seems low to me.

Written by stephenddockery

June 12, 2009 at 9:02 pm