16 June 2009

15 June 2009

I usually try to find fault with Thomas Friedman op-eds, more than often not skipping over them entirely in favor of the New York Time Style section. The Middle East has been a life-long interest, and while it’s commendable for someone to try and translate what’s going on here for the masses who otherwise don’t care or have the time to learn, I often find his analyses too simplistic and too rosy-eyed (not that there’s anything wrong with being an optimist in the MidEast – hell, how else can one get through the day here?). This past weekend, his column on the recent elections in Lebanon and Iran made me for once resist moving the cursor away and read it. He wrote about the elections that took place in Lebanon and Iran in the past week, highlighting the transparency civilians brought to the whole process – from YouTube clips of political ads to Twitter alerts on alleged voter fraud – as well as the sprit of change that President Obama has brought to the region.

For the past two weeks I’ve been glued to every Lebanese news outlet and blog following the elections, not just because the country is the subject of my thesis. It’s a country that has fascinated me for several years, many have tried to argue that an Israel-Lebanon alliance would have the most logical regional partnership, and its multilayer trifle political system makes the sectarian politics of Israel look like store bought pound cake (I’ve been watching a lot of cooking shows on YouTube).

In short: there are 128 members of parliament, divided evenly between “Muslims” and “Christians” (before 1990, there were 99 members in a 5:6 ratio). The Muslim camp includes Sunni, Shiite, Druze, and Alawite. The Christian includes Maronite, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, Protestant, and “Other Christians.” Each sect gets a set amount of seats in the Parliament and a set number of members from Lebanon’s electoral districts. However, just because one a member of a certain sect does not mean one will always have the same political ideology as another member, leading to various political parties on top of the sectarian demands (not to mention family and clan obligations, regional affiliations, and the hovering presence of Iran, Syria and the West).

In this election, the parties and sects were split between two camps called “March 8” and “March 14” (one of whose clever ads, above, was featured in bilboards across the country and on various internet sites). After PM Hariri was assassinated in 2005, the country was divided over Syria’s role in the attack: Those who participated in the March 8 rally were (roughly speaking) pro-Syria while those in the March 14 rally were anti-Syria and pro-West. The latter rally, with over a million participants, largely led to Syria’s military withdrawal from Lebanon.
March 14 won the Lebanese elections, attributable to at least five different reasons all of which would take several more posts to explain; but saying “they won” is like saying Kadima won the 2009 Israeli Knesset elections. Technically they did, but what matters more is the coalition building that needs to take place to form a stable government. Just as Kadima was unable to form one, March 14 might have to implode in order to form a stable coalition, will most likely have to form a coalition with Hizbullah and possibly continue the policies backed by the other Arab nations that have ironically given more power to Hizbullah. Not much has changed, despite Friedman’s optimism.

Yes, I did follow the Twitter updates on the elections and they allowed someone like me, only several hours’ away, to feel in the midst of it all. But the underlying question, like with all uses of Web 2.0 technology, is “What’s next?” Does the constantly updated-nature of this technology lead to action (including, but not limited to voting in elections) or is it providing a sought-after online soapbox for those more comfortable ranting from their homes? Here’s to embracing subtlety when ruminating over trends in the Middle East.

I watched PM Netanyahu’s speech on Sunday night via Channel 10’s website, which was also running a Facebook groupchat alongside the video box. There were few noteworthy comments, but I also kept asking “What’s next?” to those users who took the time to watch and respond simultaneously –assuming they were all in their 20’s and 30’s, are they going to relegate politics as their usual pastime or take an active stand in our government?

03 June 2009

03 June 2009

So much happens on a day-by-day basis, not just because news from two hours ago is already history in this part of the world, rather because my mind constantly makes multi-chapter stories out of the seemingly smallest of occurrences. Not even obsessive status updates on websites like Twitter and Facebook can seem to keep up, giving more credence to the fact that time seems to be accelerating.

A month ago, I was on my way back from the latest trip to the States. Since then I’ve been sick with what most likely was the H1NI/swine/Mexico flu (obtained after a day-long layover in Madrid), received money back from the National Insurance Institute, written sizeable chunks for my thesis, and laid the foundations for a much-needed tan.

That all being said, and for holding down two jobs and in school, my life feels anything but busy; almost like it’s been in hiatus for the past few years. Not that I haven’t been living, but it’s not quite the same when disposable income and time are personally lacking in the land of one’s dreams. Even my once-hyperactive imagination has been slowing down, satiated by an endless YouTube stream of cooking shows and African-American sitcoms from the 1990’s.

I’m back, more focused than ever on being done with school and finding a job, which will hopefully mean more regular updates on this blog (even if they sometimes lack the pithiness I’d like to bring).