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  • prequel

    "Top blog/Renato Obeid's World/Today's pick: This rambling weblog is worth reading not so much for its satirical posts but more for its insight into the minutiae of life in Lebanon, including the etiquette of road accidents and how to hire a taxi.” -Jane Perrone, The Guardian

    Monday, February 28, 2005  
    As if by cruel yet ingenious design, a majority of Lebanese people are right where the Establishment want them to be – at the exact level of subsistence.
    “They” couldn’t have calibrated it any better if they had of set out to do so (which they have indirectly done).
    The people aren’t starving thus are somewhat productive* and aren’t at that rock bottom level where desperate people who have nothing to lose rebel yet they cant’ afford to rock the boat and lose the little they do have.
    Lebanon ought be making timepieces – the famed Swiss horologic precision is nothing compared to this marvelous mechanism.

    *Not exemplars of productivity but “productive” enough to sit in shops all day and glare at customers (who put up with it because they don’t know any better - the crux of the problem in Lebanon regarding high prices and bad customer service etc), to drive buses and beep and swear at other motorists etc – which is all that “They” require from them (the majority of jobs don’t require loads of enthusiasm, just attendance and a willingness to bear the drudgery).

    Funerals are seldom-happy occasions but one swallow doesn’t make a summer, let alone a “Beirut Spring”.
    Had Rafic Hariri, God rest his soul, died of a heart attack, the numbers at his funeral probably wouldn’t have been any less – only the tone would have been different.
    Let’s not forget that an estimated five million Egyptians attended Gamel Abdul Nasser’s funeral when he died of a heart attack in 1970.
    As I watched the funeral on television and heard talk of this being the start of some sort of people power revolution, I had my doubts – whether it actually is or isn’t will not be apparent now but later.
    I thought to myself that the worst thing these two hundred and fifty thousand* odd people could do is go home.
    And go home they did and the “revolution” went home with them
    The protests since then have been likened to the Ukrainian revolution and whilst the symbols have imitated the events in Kiev and the events in the rest of the former Soviet Bloc (wearing a particular scarf a la the Ukraine, toppling a statue of Hafez el Assad in Cana etc), the numbers quite simply do not bear this out.
    You can’t have a people power revolution without the people.
    Whilst Mr. Hariri was very popular and greatly mourned and the Lebanese are fed up with the whole situation, the majority of people (twenty five thousand today and ten thousand last Monday) at the two protests that have been the people who usually attend protests – political activists, partisans and students etc.
    The majority of people at last Monday’s protest, judging by their party banners and pictures etc, were Christians and Druze – the old established opposition.
    I noticed this as I watched the protests on television and the Western press has since confirmed this but the Lebanese press has chosen not to.
    Since then, the leaders of the opposition have called on the protestors to not carry party flags and partisan pictures but to carry only the Lebanese flag.
    This is admirable but only the most naïve person would not be able to see the practical reasons for this (alongside the patriotic one).
    The Muslims buried Hariri, the Christians and the Druze avenged him.
    That is not say that Lebanese of all creeds are not now united, which they are, but that the Establishment (be they opposition or loyalist) have more or less always been united** (or at least the divisions amongst them were not so much sectarian but more to do with dividing the spoils) and that this unity appears to be slow in trickling down to the roots of the cedar tree.
    Although all Lebanese are united in grief, Rafic Hariri has only become a national leader since his death.
    This is quite simply because there are no national leaders in Lebanon but leaders of the various sects.
    It is ironic that whilst Mr. Hariri was a regional and even international figure, he only became a national one in death.
    I heard a young Lebanese woman telling BBC World Service Radio “for once the opposition are taking to the streets – the revolution will not be televised”.
    This “revolution” is nothing but televised.
    The revolution will not be brought to you by Gucci – this is being called the “Gucci Revolution” as most of the protestors are from the middle and upper classes.
    I am not a counterrevolutionary but for the time being, until further notice, there is no revolution - quite simply because there are no people power revolutions in Lebanon or the Arab world.That’s not to say that I don’t applaud these professional revolutionaries but I just don’t think that it has really caught on yet and I don’t know if it ever will.
    Lebanon, like any country, needs and deserves to be free and sovereign but that should be only the beginning of the revolution.
    Lebanon needs a complete revolution – political, social, economic, you name it.
    Above all, all Lebanese need their own personal private revolution – the revolution has to come from within each and every one of us.
    And for that you don’t need to stand outside the house of parliament and protest against its inhabitants, you need to stand inside your own house and protest against its inhabitants.
    You need to get your own house in order before you start gunning for the big house.
    If you must protest to parliament, here’s a time saving hint for you – you don’t have to go all the way to parliament, just stand in front of a mirror because your elected representatives merely reflect you and your society (warts and all).
    This is great people and a great country but for it to be truly great, the revolution must indeed not be televised (as this one is) but internalized.
    Whilst I don’t believe for a moment believe the treasonous propaganda that some elements have been spouting that unless we’re occupied we’ll all kill each other, I don’t think that the country is going to be much different nor any better post-liberation unless we make it so.
    Until then, we should all begin with liberating ourselves from within so that we can be ready for the liberation.
    Whilst what’s occurring now is a good start, there’s a danger that all the marching, waving of flags and mouthing of slogans etc (which the Lebanese are very good at) becomes an end in itself and a substitute for actual real substantial reform in the country and becomes the main event.
    As to what is going to happen next, if indeed anything does “happen next”, I don’t know.If you want to know what happens next, don’t ask me, or anyone else for that matter, because it’s all speculation and it’s mainly all wrong – just wait for it to happen.

    *The Arab media says that there were at least a million there but my general rule of thumb is to divide any “Arabic numeral” by four.
    My formula has proven pretty accurate – an opposition MP said in parliament that a hundred thousand protestors had gathered today, whereas the Daily Star put the number at around twenty five thousand.
    **Years ago, a cousin of mine visiting Lebanon for the first time remarked that he was amazed that there were politicians from all across the sectarian spectrum at a social function we were attending.
    I told him that they were all in it together.
    Utility unifies.
    The people at the top of the cedar are, like people at the top anywhere, more or less united - divided only when they disagree on how to divide the spoils.

    Although Lebanese are essentially ethnically homogenous, Lebanon is one of the most multicultural countries on earth.
    On top of its cosmopolitan aspect (you can buy national newspapers in three languages at a village newsstand), you have compartmentalized confessional communities living in semi-autonomy (one’s religion is one’s nationality here).
    The Maronite lives as a Maronite, the Druze lives as a Druze, the Sunni lives as a Sunni, the Shiite lives as a Shiite etc - all with their own separate personal status laws (regarding marriage, divorce, inheritance etc).
    And this is all within the same ethnic group!
    This might sound strange coming from an Australian – Australia being one of the most multicultural countries in the world – but the difference is that Australia is a melting pot that groups all nationalities under an overall Australian umbrella whereas Lebanon is a furnace the fires all its communities into permanent cantons.

    What might sound even stranger than that is that Lebanon is a very democratic country - in the sense that there is far greater interaction and personal contact on a grassroots level between the governors and the governed here than probably any country in the world.
    And that’s all that matters here – your local member of parliament may have done absolutely nothing for you but may have personally presented his condolences to you at a time of bereavement (or sent a representative) thus you will vote for him.
    I’ve tagged along on campaign visits to villages where people didn’t even broach the subject of a candidate’s politics but remonstrated with him for not paying his condolences to them when so and so died.
    It also works the other way around – the lowest person in the country can go and pay his respects to the highest person in the country.
    Quite literally the lowest person in the country – I saw a midget amongst the tens of thousands of people who filed past to pay their condolences to the Hariri family (a lot of it was broadcast live on television).
    Although people were repeatedly urged to walk past and just do the shorthand greeting (touching your right hand to your forehead and then tapping it on your chest) for the sake of processing the huge numbers, said midget insisted on shaking hands with and kissing the family members.
    And he didn’t bring a ladder with him – they had to stoop down to shake his hand and kiss him.
    A great example of grassroots democracy in Lebanon and a great example of the modesty and outreach of the martyr Rafic Hariri and his family.

    Protocol and form are very important in this society – I remember watching the news with some people who commented that a particular politician shown receiving people “doesn’t know how to shake hands”.

    1:15 pm

    "And in one unforgettable scene an elderly lady, her hair all done up, was demonstrating alongside her Sri Lankan domestic helper, telling her to wave the flag and teaching her the Arabic words of the slogan."
    -Kim Ghattas (BBC).

    12:00 pm

    Saturday, February 26, 2005  
    Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has asked the Egyptian parliament to amend the constitution to allow for more than one candidate to stand in presidential elections.How eccentric!

    5:00 pm

    Tuesday, February 15, 2005  
    This is the strangest occupied country I’ve ever known of.
    Syrian Vice-President, Abdel Halim Khaddam, visiting Beirut today to pay his condolences to the family of martyred former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, who was slain by a car bomb yesterday, was more or less asked “did you kill our Prime Minister?” by Lebanese journalists.
    Proof that this is a free people who shall overcome this national tragedy and that their spirit has not been and will not be broken.
    Mr. Khaddam looked very sad and or tired – they must have made him stay up all night to get that affect.

    Mr. Hariri is to be buried tomorrow in the huge Disneyland-like mosque he helped build in downtown Beirut.
    I’ve finally figured out with he was doing Downtown – he was building a pyramid.
    It all makes sense now.
    And there’s nothing wrong with building pyramids – just as the Pharaohs put Egypt on the map with their pyramids, the ambitious Hariri put post-war Beirut and Lebanon on the map.
    Everything about Rafic Hariri was big.I’m not going to be hypocritical – I was always wary of his megalomania – but with that megalomania came a big heart, big ambitions, big generosity, big patriotism and his death is a big loss to Lebanon and the Arab world.

    7:45 pm

    Monday, February 14, 2005  
    - Former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and twenty-two others killed in a massive car bomb explosion (aka Syrian Valentine) in downtown Beirut

    12:55 pm

    Sunday, February 13, 2005  
    Pretty cold and wintery here at the moment, to the extent that I’ve taken the unusual step of putting a blanket on top of my quilt but have resisted calls to reinstate the electric blanket I used to use years ago.
    What did we do before we had electric blankets?A man in my ancestral village, for one, used to have his wife lie in his bed for a while before he went to sleep to warm it up for him.

    12:15 pm

    Saturday, February 12, 2005  
    Someone I know told me an anecdote about his friendship with a late Lebanese Prime Minister.
    They had stopped at a foreign military checkpoint in a remote mountain area and the soldier manning the checkpoint did not even recognize the then Prime Minister of Lebanon, who was in the front passenger seat.
    So he asked him his name and still didn’t recognize him as the Prime Minister of the country he was occupying.
    He then asked him what he did for a living!Although still technically Prime Minister he was at that time conducting one of an occasional series of sulks he indulged in for some reason or other during his tenure and was not actually executing his duties as Prime Minister at that particular time, so he wryly replied “I’m unemployed”.

    7:40 am

    Wednesday, February 02, 2005  
    King Gyanendra of Nepal has dismissed the Nepalese government and assumed total power himself in an attempt to end the nine-year old Maoist rebellion.
    Can nine-year olds, Maoist or otherwise, be that hard to defeat?All my cousins in Australia went to Maoist schools (Marist Brothers, Maoist Brothers, whatever) and none of them were that tough when they were nine-years old!

    12:00 am

    Tuesday, February 01, 2005  
    My younger cousin told me that he and his older brother “were going to score”.
    I was pretty surprised because they’re twelve and fifteen respectively.
    He told me that his older brother was driving them up to the village on an errand and they had planned to pick up girls they came across and “score” – as if just the intention to score is all that’s needed.
    You had the intention of scoring, thus you “were going to score”.
    “Were going to score” implies that you’d procured a somewhat willing female but things didn’t come to their ultimate conclusion, not just that you had the intention of procuring a somewhat willing female.
    E.g. “we were going to score but then her friends come and took her away because she was drunk” (“I’ve been drinking” are the three little words that mean the most to men).
    If we’re going by intention, then I'm "going to score” all the time.
    Things were a lot harder in my day.

    I in no way endorse them having those kinds of relationships before their time, quite the contrary, but this piece is about the exact opposite – teenagers having normal healthy desires but not being able to fulfill them yet.And something tells me that, thankfully, I won’t have to worry about those boys “scoring” for some time to come (if their approach is anything to go by).

    6:50 pm

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