The Perils and Folly of the Populist Demonstration (Guest Post)

Guest author Johnny Kairouz writes about his concerns regarding the #YouStink movement

karim-mostafa-crying-soldier
Nobody Wins, Photo by Karim Mostafa

What started out as a peaceful demonstration demanding a solution to the trash crisis has now turned into a myriad of demands that one cannot keep count of: demands for something as vague as “our rights”, the government’s resignation, a revolution, a coup d’état (to be carried out by the same armed group that shot at the crowd during Saturday’s protest…), etc. This demonstration is starting to sound more like a collective rant rather than a collective call for specific action.

Genuine Concerns

Most of the demands are legitimate and most of the demonstrators are decent citizens with genuine concern for their country. Not only do I consider myself an activist and proud member of the Lebanese civil society but I also believe that it is and will be the driving force behind a better Lebanon. We have a long way to go and proper action is needed to get there.

The government has dealt with the trash issue in a very reckless way. Instead of calling for an emergency meeting to find an urgent solution, they took their sweet time while the garbage was piling up shamelessly and dangerously. This demonstration needs to remind the government of their duties and responsibilities and invite them to act promptly.

Losing Focus

However, the current movement is starting to lose focus. If the prime minister gives in to the demands and resigns, his government will automatically turn into a caretaker government – which has already been the case since the end of President Michel Suleiman’s mandate – and since we do not have any president to consult the MPs and form a new cabinet, we will go back to square one of the issue: a president needs to be elected.

Ironically, some ministers who are both part of the government they are criticizing and also part of political groups preventing the election of a president are supporting the demonstrators. The movement has been hijacked by the cause of the problem and by troublemakers. The civil society’s response has so far been a good one by asking them not to interfere since they are part of the problem.

However, by attacking the whole political class, the image is actually being blurred and helping the real culprits get away with it. What needs to be done instead is to single out the real responsible for the current paralysis situation that the state is going through and take appropriate action. An imminent danger would be if those groups will eventually reap the fruits of this movement.

From Chaos to Anarchy

Our initial problem is that we live in a failed state. Instead of attacking what is left of it, we need to improve it and make sure that our state becomes efficient and functional. One of the main causes of the failure is the presence of armed groups who have repeatedly intervened in the democratic course of our country. The only way to tackle our issues without beating a dead horse is to call things by their name and face them.

We need a lot of work, we need radical change but it must be done democratically. Change should be done at the top in order to achieve what we want. But by sending out a simplified call of revolution without any viable alternative plan, demonstrators are just attempting to take us out of the organized chaos that we live in to throw us into a total state of anarchy. Ironically, the sectarian system in Lebanon will prevent this anarchy from happening.

In the meantime, one can only hope that demonstrators are enjoying this general state of euphoria – out of their collective rant – and that it will push the politicians to take immediate action concerning all of the pending issues: from collecting trash to electing a president.

Needless to say, the security forces should protect them and their right to express themselves while avoiding the same disproportionate reactions of Saturday the 22nd of August, because of few troublemakers. The case for the state’s full sovereignty without any paramilitary partner will be part of a subsequent round.

You can contact Johnny on twitter here

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5 reasons why the Lebanese are Not Joining the #YouStink Protests

Understanding the puzzling low turnout for a righteous cause

protests

Supporters and activists in the #YouStink movement are genuinely baffled by the low turnout in their protests, despite the fact that their main grievance (the trash catastrophe) has not been resolved yet. It is telling that there are more cars in one ABC mall parking lot than people in the demos. The Lebanese people are voting with their feet: They’d rather go shopping (and clubbing) than protest. But why?

People sympathetic to the movement have two explanations for the meagre turnout: One is preachy (The Lebanese by not going down to demonstrate deserve everything bad that is happening to them) and the other is condescending (poor Lebanese, they are so used to a bad life that they became desensitised). The subtext of both explanations is this: Anyone in their right mind should join the demo.

If you run a poll today, I’m sure that a large percentage of the Lebanese population would agree with the demands of the movement. But there’s a large difference between being sympathetic to a cause and bestirring yourself and taking to the street for it. Here are five reasons why many people are opting to stay home:

1) The trash crisis is a local issue, not a national one

Yes, the images on TV and in the international media are harming Lebanon’s reputation as a whole, but the trash situation with its raw gut-wrenching smells and sights is only local to greater Beirut and the areas around it. This already eliminates the entire north, south and the Bekaa (most of the population) as potential sources of protesters.

Remember when Tebbane and Qobbé were shooting missiles at each other in the outskirts of Tripoli? Like the trash situation it was a scandalous relinquishing of responsibility by the government. Like the trash situation, the images of urban warfare tarnished the country’s reputation as a whole. But most importantly, like the trash situation, people in Beirut lived their lives as if nothing was happening on the other side of the country.

2) This is a middle class protest

Many people in Lebanon are angry and hungry, but the main lightening rod for this particular protest is the trash situation. True, protesters are using the trash as a metaphor for incompetent government, but people don’t go to protests because of metaphors. The main engine of this movement is disgust over smells and sights on the road.

Poor people are not part of this movement for two reasons: One, most of Lebanon’s poor live outside of Beirut (see above: local issue) and two, poor people are used to living in squalor and are not as shocked by the sight of trash on the road as the middle class. In other words, this is a middle class protest: protesting against bad smells and metaphors is more like protesting against slow internet than it is like protesting against corruption and poverty. It’s a completely worthwhile cause (for people like me), but it’s not “revolution” material.

Middle class protests are famous for taking place on social media more than on the streets.

3) Lack of clear objectives

If you asked the people in the demonstration what their objective is, you are likely to get several answers: From the ambitious (complete revolution against the sectarian system), to the reasonable (resignation of Interior minister). But mostly, people are going there to sound off their frustration and displeasure with the situation. But you don’t need the street for that. You can do it in the media and on Facebook.

4) Revolution is not de rigueur nowadays

At the beginning of the Arab spring when revolutions were so innocent, revolution was a much more positive word for people. Today, in post-Sisi Egypt and post-ISIS Syria and Iraq, “revolution” is more associated with chaos, death and destruction than it is with progress.
Public opinion in the Arab world has shifted decidedly towards embracing any form of order and government even if corrupt.

5)The Lebanese are tired of going to the streets

10 years of inconsequential popular mass movements have driven many Lebanese to fatigue and to say “never again”. Even the Aounists, who were famous for going to the streets no longer have the stomach for it.

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Piling On

Some of the criticism of the garbage crisis smells worse than the garbage itself

Sometimes I wonder if some of the vehement critics of the garbage crisis in Lebanon realize how little change their endless complaining is bringing.

To be sure, the symbolism of the situation is uncanny. Can there be a more powerful metaphor for corrupt politicians than actual piles of garbage laying about the streets of our capital uncollected? This is comedy gold. Even the most jaded of observers will be tempted to make a joke or two about our “stinky” politicians. It is also fodder for a most deep and visceral revulsion: How shameless and unaccountable should our politicians be to take us for granted like this?

But then you realize a week later that people are still making the same jokes and displaying the same tantrums of indignation. And you start wondering why the initial, natural disgust with “corrupt politicians” did not progress into a more sophisticated search for solutions, a process that consists of weighing bad options against each other and finding the least bad and most sensible one. You’d think people get tired eventually of wagging their fingers and start rolling their sleeves. Surely everyone must realize how low this fruit is hanging; we really get it: Our politicians are corrupt.

United by outrage and nothing else

In the past, I used to be harsh on Lebanon’s serial outrage manufacturers and revolution peddlers. It didn’t make sense to me that a bunch of otherwise intelligent people actually believed that a ragtag group of outraged youngsters and hippies can really effectuate change in a system so deeply intrenched such as ours, no matter how colorful their facebook language is or how numerous their “likes” are…

But then I realized that the Lebanese are wary of conflict. That a situation that is so obviously black and white like the garbage crisis can be an opportunity to unify the divided Lebanese in outrage against a caricature James Bond villain of “Corrupt politicians”, a conveniently amorphous and unspecific target. The problem is that as soon as we start getting into the details, the Lebanese will snap back into their divided selves.

This dynamic creates an incentive to treat outrage as an end in itself and to extend the froth as much as possible. Remember, more outrage equals more semblance of unity: We the good people of Lebanon are united against the bad corrupt politicians. For that to last, it is crucial to avoid getting into the inconvenient nitty gritty of trying to find solutions. One tactic to extend the life of outrage is to find martyrs (preferably a protester that was hurt by a politician’s entourage) and heroes (some army general that supposedly saluted the protesters who peddled him with garbage).

But all this is trickery and gaming the system eventually ends as it always does. That house of cards can’t get too high. It invariably crashes and takes the form of a collective sulking on facebook, about how the Lebanese deserve their politicians, about how we are “sheep” who always vote for the same people, about how we are happy that we have left lebanon for good, about how we will never learn from our history, about how sectarian we are, about how things never change.

But then the next crisis comes along and the outrage machine starts humming again…

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Only Lebanon

In Defense of Lebanese Exceptionalism

Many Lebanese are raised on the idea that Lebanon is special; Lebanon is different. This belief is often comically expressed as an obsession with Lebanese success abroad. Enthusiastic sharers of Lebanese guinness record breakers do so not only because they are proud, but also because it reaffirms this commonly held belief in their hearts of hearts that Lebanon is special.

Racism

But the road from feeling special to feeling superior is a slippery one. There is a fuzzy line between “Lebanon is unique” and “Syrians/dark-skinned-people/ are inferior”, and it is this fuzziness that often results in articles like this that carry a blunt -if often unconscious- racist subtext. The article was rightly criticized and widely mocked, causing the newspaper’s editor to wash its hand of it.

Racism is wrong. Kicking out the hungry and the weak who are fleeing their country is wrong, but that should not lead to conclusions about the insignificance of Lebanon or its lack of cultural character and uniqueness. There is a strain of criticism, especially from Syrian nationalists (and the pan-Syrian variety), that barely disguises its contempt of Lebanon as a polity or a cultural unity.

My last name is Hamoui,ie my ancestors came from Hama in Syria, but my mind resists whenever someone suggests that the Lebanese are effectively Syrians in denial (the one-people-two-countries theory). That is not because –heaven-forbid– the Lebanese are “better” than Syrians, but because our different recent histories, our different educational systems and political systems have lead us to grow in different directions and value different things.

Self Loathing

Some of us may be so embarrassed by the racism that we retreat into self loathing, into mentally convincing ourselves that there is really nothing special about Lebanon. But that would be going too far in the other direction.

Here’s how an Egyptian friend living in Lebanon described the country to me:

There is nothing quite like [Lebanon] in the region. there isn’t really the variety of people you have here in any other country, nor the fact that it’s normal to have such diversity, and it’s rich culturally because of it. it’s a big deal to me to see a mosque right next to a church on the way to work

Just because it’s a cliche doesn’t make it wrong. We are the only Arab country with an effective Christian cultural presence and (until recently) a Christian president. Lebanon is indeed a message of coexistence as Pope John Paul put it, and it is very understandable when people are afraid of losing something precious because of unnatural and exceptional (in scale and circumstances) demographic shifts.

Two Extremes

The purpose of this post is not self-congratulation. Heaven knows how many problems we have in this country. But in the racism debate I’ve noticed two extremes: One side is saying that there is nothing special about Lebanon and we should stop complaining about the swelling ranks of refugees. The other side believes so much in the specialness of Lebanon that they wrongly feel that any foreign presence will “dilute” whatever je-ne-sais-quoi makes Lebanon unique.

I feel that both side have it wrong. I go back to what my Egyptian friend said makes lebanon special: The diversity of cultures and common existence, enriched by outside arrivals (whether from the diaspora, refugees or traders). Only Lebanon has a chance of making that model work, and despite all the chaos in the process, it is a thing of beauty to behold…

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The Tyranny of Wael Abu Faour

wael-abu-faour

“I ask everyone to stop their political and economic prostitution and debauchery, and to instead trust the government and its workers”

Thus spoke our fearless Minister of health from his high horse, feigning surprise and playing at righteousness in the face of a business community that was blindsided by his brazen overreach.

Minister Abu Faour is shocked, (shocked! I tell you) that people may doubt the findings of underpaid government workers working behind closed doors and unaccountably producing extra judicial sentences on restaurants and retailers that have long had good standing with their customers and communities.

Trust Me

Whatever Mr. Abu Faour is doing, it is good politics. It makes for an entertaining spectacle (in the same way that public executions do); it gives the masses the illusion that the government is working on their behalf, and it portrays the up-and-coming young minister as a no nonsense kinda guy who doesn’t care what corporations say; a man who rolls his sleeves and get things done regardless of of the objections of the connected and powerful. Well played PSP, your transition plan is on track..

But there is one big hole in this enterprise: The minister stakes this entire crusade on a very shaky foundation: Trust in government.

Trust Vs Checks and Balances

The problem is that government is not supposed to work on trust. We don’t need to keep learning that from history. Successful and efficient governments work on legal foundations of transparency and checks and balances. The notion that we should trust what government is doing behind closed doors is the vestige of old command economies and tyrannical regimes.

It shouldn’t be treasonous to doubt the incentives of underpaid government workers who are suddenly given tremendous powers to destroy businesses. What if Crepaway bribed the inspector to destroy its competitor Roadster Diner? What if Refaat el Hallab made him an offer he can’t refuse to smear its arch-enemy Abdul Rahman? What guarantees do these businesses have other than “oh, Lebanese government workers are angels, they would never do such a thing”.

As a Lebanese citizen, I want food safety, and I want checks on businesses’ overreach (again, checks and balances). But Mr. Abu Faour’s campaign could have been much more effective by being more transparent and by at least having multiple independent labs check the samples.

Instead, he decided to have a political circus.

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How to Burn Islamic Flags Without Upsetting Muslims

Many Muslims can’t stand ISIS and see in them a terrorist organization that is giving Islam a bad name. But for religious reasons those same Muslims are very bothered when the flag of ISIS is burnt in public because it contains what they consider to be sacrosanct religious text.

We can argue about whether or not they have the right to be upset or insulted, but the fact is that they are, and their anger over the burned flags can distract us from the big picture. Our Minister of Justice, Mr. Ashraf Rifi is a moderate who has spoken many times against the blind extremism of ISIS. But that didn’t prevent him from seeking to deter people from burning their flag (and angering many lebanese in the process) because he can imagine how the extremists will use the flag-burning incident to rally the masses and distract from the main fight at hand.

Is there a middle ground? Can we protest against monsters who cloak themselves in religious text without angering the devout? Here’s a compromise I’m proposing: Flags that resemble the flags of political entities without actually containing the religious text. As an example, here are three flags where the religious text is replaced by gibberish. I think even the devout should agree that burning those is halal..

flags-to-burn

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Let the Newspapers Die in Peace

Newspapers all over the world are diminishing. Don’t make it harder for them…

old-annahar

There has been an awful lot of snickering online recently, about how low the venerable Annahar has gotten in its quest for clicks. Aside from the fluff which has markedly increased, there is alarm among the intelligentsia that even their reporting quality is diminishing. One particularly jarring instance was the newspaper’s reporting that Hillary Clinton supposedly admitted that the USA created the ISIS terrorist group.

The reactions varied from concerned disappointment to gleeful schadenfreude, but everyone seems to assume that the reduction in quality is because of bad or neglectful management; that Neila Tueni is somehow a serial disappointer who decided to disappoint her readers after having disappointed her voters. But the bitter truth is that there is nothing anyone can do to save Annahar or any newspaper for that matter, and blaming it would be tantamount to blaming a terminal cancer patient for dying.

“People Don’t Read Newspapers Anymore”

The trope that people have stopped reading newspapers has been around for many years. It was repeated after every media invention that was made. “The radio will kill newspapers”, “TV will kill newspapers”, even “cinema will kill newspapers” were refrains that were heard across the ages, but the newspaper survived. So it’s tempting to believe that this is yet another manufactured crisis, and another false alarm. But this time it’s real: The Internet is killing the newspaper, at least in the form that we’re used to. It’s being replaced on the breakfast table by your facebook and twitter feeds, which is where you probably discovered the outrage about Annahar’s quality.

New York Times reporter David Carr has been writing about the demise of print for a while. He wrote (highly recommended) a few weeks ago about how difficult it is for print to compete with the internet:

Think about what happened when the Malaysian airliner was shot down in eastern Ukraine. No matter where you were, or what you were doing, an ambient feed of information pulsed and heaved all around you. Graphic images soon appeared in social media feeds and breathless news alerts arrived in the inboxes of anyone with even a casual interest.

[…] Nothing can compete with the shimmering immediacy of now, and not just when seismic events take place, but in our everyday lives. We are sponges and we live in a world where the fire hose is always on. […] Online, we are always beckoned forward to the next great thing, often right in the middle of what we thought we wanted to read about. Consider how many times you have clicked a link early in an article and never returned to what brought you there in the first place.

So what can be done about it? Who is to blame and how can this be “fixed”? David Carr again, in another article from a few days ago:

So whose fault is it? No one’s. Nothing is wrong in a fundamental sense: A free-market economy is moving to reallocate capital to its more productive uses, which happens all the time. Ask Kodak. Or Blockbuster. Or the makers of personal computers. Just because the product being manufactured is news in print does not make it sacrosanct or immune to the natural order.

“But Lebanon is Different”

The least mentioned detail about Annahar these days is that it is actually the Lebanese newspaper that has most tried to join the digital age. It has redesigned its website often, it embraced social media, it even dabbled with online video. But most notably, it has overhauled the entire print edition, complete with a custom font designed by Nadine Chahine and a layout done by one of the world’s foremost newspaper layout experts.

But no matter how much they try, this will not change the fundamental economics: Advertisers are realizing that there are many cheaper ways to reach newspapers’ audiences that don’t involve printing machines at dawn and trucks driving across the country. Readers are also realizing that they can read fresher, more immediate news for free. Even the politicians who used to support newspapers may be starting to realize that their investment may not be worth it. When that happens, the newspapers in Lebanon will be truly dead.

In any case, don’t kick a horse while it’s dead and try to be empathetic to a newspaper’s demise.

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Can the Islamic Caliphate Lead to Good things?

The only way a grand idea can die is for it to rise then have a spectacular public crash

On paper, Communism was a fantastic idea. It caused aspirations that spanned the globe, threatened established orders in entire countries and caused a certain kind of people to yearn, deeply, to be part of its utopia. In the end, it was neither propaganda nor weapons that killed the idea of Communism, it was the rise then spectacular fall of the Soviet Union. If it weren’t for the failure of the Soviet Union, we would still have people all over the world yearning for a communist rule, causing mini revolutions everywhere trying to establish communist orders.

Dreaming of a Caliphate

Any Muslim who spent enough time around other Muslims will have noticed that many of them have a deep yearning for the resurrection of an Islamic Caliphate that would rule the entire Umma under shariaa law. At this point some westerners would be incredulous: Why would anyone want to live under a medieval rule with unaccountable rulers and ruthless laws? My answer is: I have no clue, I’m team modernity all the way. All I know is that this is a real and relatively widespread dream for many Muslims, especially those disillusioned by modernity and western cultural norms which they see as “foreign” and “imperialistic”, much like the “artificial” borders between Muslim states.

One can only get a real appreciation for how popular this dream is when one reads the tweets of the tens of thousands of supporters of ISIS on twitter. Normal people who otherwise tweet about the world cup and what they had for breakfast are tweeting about how they wish that ISIS’ Caliphate will reach their own countries.

The purpose of this post is not to make light of the horrors taking place in Iraq and Syria. It is not to diminish the real danger that extremists and their caliphate pose on places like Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It is to posit that the rise of the Islamic Caliphate today could play a role in the real transition of the world’s Muslims to modernity.

The apparent rise of ISIS (now IS –Islamic State–) has given hope to many Muslims around the world. Its military effectiveness, its large area of control and its substantial wealth, are all causing many to believe that this is the real deal, the Islamic state they have always been waiting for. People are joining from Europe, the US and all over the world. These are not paid mercenaries, these are real believers in the cause who are leaving their loved ones to join the cause, not unlike western communists who defected to the Soviet Union when it was at the peak of its power.

Building a future on crushed hope

Strong hope is a necessary ingredient for the death of an idea, for crushed hope alone can beget real introspection and soul-searching. Like the Soviet Union, the Islamic state is built on unsustainable fundamentals and is on course for a spectacular implosion. Only when that happens can Muslims around the world finally let go of the idea of a Caliphate and start a real negotiation for a social contract fit for modern times.

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There is no Such Thing as the Right to Watch the World Cup

Badna ne7dar

Let’s get this out of the way first: FIFA is greedy. Very greedy. The international body responsible for the world cup tries to squeeze out every single penny it can from our pockets. It sells very expensive ads and then it double dips by selling broadcasting rights for exorbitant prices. If FIFA were a website, it would set up a high pay wall to access it and then it would litter it with display ads, text ads and sponsored posts to the point that you struggle to find its main content. Again: “Greedy”.

That said, it seems people need to be reminded that there’s no such thing as “the right to watch the world cup”, a phrase we are hearing constantly in Lebanon following the debacle over broadcasting rights that left many people incapable of watching the games.

People are feeling this way because they have always managed to watch the games for free. Our shock stems from the fact that someone has finally managed to come up with a copy-right technology that we couldn’t hack our way around. In the end, this is a business that is run by a private corporation, FIFA. We don’t eat at restaurants for free. We don’t go to the cinema for free. Even the players are not playing for free. Why should we watch the world cup for free? We feel we are entitled to watch the worldcup because it involves intangibles like national pride, the brotherhood of men and the beauty of sports, but in the end, it’s all about balancing the books for FIFA.

Many Lebanese are also shocked that the government or municipalities don’t just subsidize our access to the world cup, tax-payer-money be damned. Governments subsidizing sporting events is an old tradition of authoritarian regimes who want the “mobs” to spend their energy on activities other than revolting against the government. There is plenty of government hating in Lebanon, but that still doesn’t justify taking away millions of dollars from salaries of public employees and spending them on our game-viewing pleasures.

The real problem is that FIFA is a monopoly, a corrupt monopoly at that. FIFA doesn’t feel it needs to stem its greed because no other body is competing with it for organizing the world’s beautiful game. Competition would magically transform us, the viewers, from powerless consumers meekly touting our “right to watch the world cup” to king-makers who drive down prices and broaden access to the game. This is where our anger should be directed.

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On Moderation

As I’m watching the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) take over important parts of the levant, and as I witness Abdel Fattah al Sissi getting sworn in as Egypt’s president, I couldn’t help but think of “moderation”, an idea that is central to our political discourse in the Muslim world and central to the way foreign powers like to talk about us.

Moderation is often touted as a solution to all our problems. Just yesterday the ex ambassador to Syria Robert Ford got in on the action and told us that we should arm more “moderates” to fight the Assad Regime… But what if the quest for moderation itself was a source of trouble? What if moderation was one of the causes of our repeated historical tragedies?

Meet the Moderates

One cynical way of defining a moderate is that he is someone who doesn’t have anything he’s willing to die for. As I wrote in a tweet: People die for country, for belief, for ideology, for loved ones, for money. Nobody dies for the cause of “moderation.”

Moderates don’t want trouble. We could even call this their defining characteristic. They want their businesses to prosper, their kids to grow up in good health and they don’t want to think of bothersome ideas that sound good on paper but that effectively mess with their livelyhoods. At first signs of serious trouble, rich moderates immigrate, poor moderates become refugees and those who are stuck either surrender to their oppressors or die. When Syria occupied Lebanon, Lebanese moderates “worked with” the Syrian dictator.

Moderates Hate Uncertainty

Across the Arab world, there was a big sigh of relief among many moderates when Abdul Fattah al Sissi was sworn in as the President of Egypt amid cries of “Egypt is back!”.

Is Sissi a moderate? You judge: His courts just sentenced Alaa Abdul Fattah, an activist who did nothing more than break an anti demonstration law with 15 years of prison. Before that, many “moderates” breathed a sigh of relief when hundreds of Islamists were summarily handed death sentences for allegedly demonstrating and killing a policeman. There is an active attempt by the Egyptian military elite to restore the “rule of fear” that kept Mubarak in Power (until he fell that is).

But Arab moderates love Sissi. Dictators serve a very important role for Arab moderates. They deal with the dirty business that is preventing people from living normal lives (remember, avoiding trouble is a moderate’s defining characteristic). It’s a win-win situation: Dictators get power and prestige while moderates get to go about their businesses without worrying about obnoxious moralists telling them what they can drink and eat and how their daughters should dress and how often they should pray. The calm creates stability, stability creates business and jobs and moderates love that.

With luck, you get a couple of generations of stability accompanied by good public education and you end up with a high litteracy rate and a semblence of democracy like Turkey or Tunisia, where the anti-clerical become a large part of the population and begin calling themselves “secular” instead of “moderates”.

Moderation as an end in itself

My favorites words to describe good politicians are “pragmatic” and “reasonable”. But these words, like the word “moderate”, are usually auxiliary to a main, defining ideology. For example: A pragmatic conservative. A reasonable liberal. A moderate socialist.

But in this part of the world, we use the word “moderate” as an end in itself, as a way to distinguish us from “extremists”. In our tribal societies, moderation is the secret handshake that tribes use to tell each other that they neither want trouble nor want to cause any. But what happens when one of the tribes becomes a bully? This is when a dictator (or foreign powers in Lebanon’s case) comes in handy

An army that will fight in the name of moderation is a mirage. A real ideology should be behind a fighting doctrine: Be it nationalism, “Freedom” or a religious belief.

The next best option is a dictator, and you can call him “moderate” if you want

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