Monday, December 24, 2012

Less than an endorsement

The transition drama continues to unfold in Egypt, and the rest of the world is watching with keen interest.  It should be. The implications are important for the region and for the broader Arab and Islamic worlds. The recent referendum on the controversial draft resolution showed close to 64 percent in favor and 36 percent against. Putting aside the serious problems that many of us have with the draft constitution, on the face of it 64 percent sounds like a respectable endorsement by the people of Egypt.But is it really?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Déjà vu

As soon as he assumed office as prime minister almost exactly twenty years ago, Rafic Hariri was made to understand the rules of the game in Lebanon. The Hafez Assad rules, that is. And the first and foremost rule was that no one can question Syrian authority in Lebanon. Also that the Lebanese government (and people) had no business interfering in such issues as: Lebanon’s national security, matters relating to Lebanon’s own army (including its geographical deployment and officer promotions), Lebanon’s policy on the Arab Israeli conflict,  the Palestinian militias in Lebanon, as well as all other security and foreign policy matters that really mattered. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

No, it is not enough!

After being mum for days following Syria’s issuance of arrest warrants against former Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Deputy Okab Sakr, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati finally made a passing comment on the issue this weekend. He described the Syrian action as “completely political” and “void of any legal merit or value".

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Morsi’s Flawed Referendum

A sharply divided Egypt begins voting today on a controversial draft constitution. In principle, this important way station in the country’s democratic journey is an occasion for Egyptians to celebrate. Casting a vote in a free election or a popular referendum are clear manifestations of the democratic process. Another reason to be optimistic about Egypt is the way the Egyptian people reacted to what seemed to many as an attempt by President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party to tighten their grip on the country through the President’s constitutional declaration.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Brotherhood's Choice

Last June I commented on the Islamic Brotherhood's election victory in Egypt. The current events in Cairo bring back those very same thoughts. I am still as optimistic about Egypt's transformation as I was then. Here is an excerpt from last June's posting.

Wrong Lessons from Gaza 

The Palestinian people and the Palestinian authority deserve to celebrate the hard won recognition of their statehood by a large majority of the world, overruling a shameful and politically nonsensical negative vote by the US. This comes only weeks after the newest Gaza battle, which ended with both Hamas and the Israeli government both  claiming victory. Those claims are misplaced; and so are the lessons which the forces of "Resistance" in the region seem to be drawing from the eight-day  Israeli aerial assault and the rockets lobbed on Israeli towns.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Panel Discussion on the Future of Christians in the Middle East

(from Almoustaqbal daily in Arabic) 

 نظمت "دار سائر المشرق" يوم السبت الماضي ندوة حول كتاب "بقاء المسيحيين في الشرق خيار اسلامي" لانطوان سعد شارك فيها الوزير السابق الدكتور محمد شطح، الوزير السابق كريم بقرادوني، السفير السابق د.عبد الله بو حبيب وأدارها  الاباتي بولس نعمان في حضور حشد من المهتمين والمثقفين.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


The State of Palestine at the United Nations

In the coming days the United Nations General Assembly (GA) will vote on Palestine’s bid to become an observer state. This will circumvent a guaranteed US veto at the Security Council, which is the body that decides on full-fledged membership at the UN. While the US has already indicated that it would vote against a Palestinian state at the General Assembly it will be joined by only a minority of the 193 members. The latest tally I have seen (which may not be up to date) shows that only 27 countries plan to vote against, while 115 (more than half) plan to vote in favor. 51 are still undecided and are being lobbied heavily by both sides.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

They Say a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

If you are wondering how confused (and confusing) some Lebanese can be, then here is an illustration of the political battle lines in today's Lebanon...

And the New York State Supreme Court ruling is….

On August 4 this blog pointed to an interesting case before the New York State Supreme Court. Justice Ellen Coin who had been assigned the case has now ruled against the plaintiff (Mr. Adnan Abu-Ayash of the now defunct Al-Madina Bank) and in favor of the defendants (eight major international banks with branches in New York).

Sunday, November 11, 2012

 Lebanon’s Golden Triangle

A few days ago Mr. Walid Junblat and Mr. Nawwaf Moussawi made separate statements regarding the issue of Hizbollah’s idependent armed militia, a.k.a the Islamic Resistance. Both statements are quite remarkable and deserve a  comment.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Stalemate of Second-Bests

As the battles continue to rage across Syria, ordinary people and TV talking heads alike speculate whether and when it will all come to an end. Some believe that the unspeakable violence the world is witnessing simply cannot continue much longer; that the international community will also realize the dangers of a protracted armed conflict in such a sensitive spot as Syria, and will find a way to stop it. Others expect the US and other western and regional allies to step up their assistance to the FSA and enable the revolution to defeat Assad’s viscious military machine. Perhaps.

But the possibility of a drawn out armed conflict in Syria is also possible, even likely. Here is why.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mr. Mikati’s Three Major Mistakes

It is probably too early to write Mr. Najib Mikati’s political obituary. It may even be too early to write the obituary of his current government. But it is not early to point to three major negatives on Mr. Mikati’s performance evaluation ledger since he took over as Prime Minister a little less than two years ago.

Interview on LBC- Nharkom Saeed (Arabic) October 27, 2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Any Feeling of sympathy?

Frankly, it is difficult to feel any sympathy toward Lebanon’s foreign minister, Mr. Adnan Mansour. Following Mr. Nasrallah’s drone speech, he was quick to announce, among other things, that Lebanon was ready to bear the consequences of Hizbollah’s launching of an Iranian drone over Israel’s nuclear facilities and offshore gas platforms.

Much more than a jailbreak......

A jailbreak story is normally newsworthy but not totally unusual. It can happen anywhere, and it does. But what made the Roumieh story particularly dramatic was the appalling condition of the prison and its administration (or rather the lack of it), which became glaringly clear as the story unfolded. People could not believe that government authorities had failed to reinstall the prison doors that had been destroyed during last year's riot, or that inmates had been allowed to do the roll calls themselves instead of prison officers. That was the bigger story behind the jailbreak story.

But in reality there is yet another story behind the story behind the story that should alarm us all.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

                   Interview on LBC- Nharkom Saeed (Arabic) October 14, 2012

Saturday, October 13, 2012

To Shield Lebanon or to Use it as a Shield…

I was pleased, in a way, to hear what Mr. Nasrallah had to say in his prime time television appearance two days ago. Not that I agreed with his him on much of anything. But in my view he has served everyone well by blowing away the illusions and fog surrounding the lines of demarcation on crucial issues that divide Lebanon today.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


The Baabda Declaration Revisited

It is not an easy job to be president of Lebanon. These days, this is an understatement. The President undoubtedly recognizes the threat to Lebanon posed by a violent revolution in Syria, with increasingly sectarian overtones. He must also be worried about the threat to Lebanon from a possible escalation in the conflict between Iran and its enemies; enemies who view Hizbollah as an integral part of Iran’s power and military strategy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The FPM, Election Law and Christian Representation

I hesitate before I say anything regarding the election law in Lebanon. Most people are probably sick and tired of the endless television debates and arguments over this issue. Besides, if you are concerned that the preoccupation with the election law is diverting attention away from other more urgent national issues (as I am), then you would hesitate even more before you enter the fray. But I will overcome this hesitation and make one observation about Christian representation under the alternative proposals.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Radio Orient Interview (in Arabic)  September 30, 2012 
with Wardeh: Elmajalis Bil-Amanat

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

 Press Release: Ambassador Chatah’s visit to the U.S

Ambassador Mohamad Chatah, senior foreign policy advisor to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri concluded a week long visit to Washington at the invitation of the Aspen Institute where he participated in a panel discussion on Lebanese banking. He also met with US officials in the White House and the State Department concerning the situation in Lebanon and the region and gave a talk at the Wilson Center to a large group of Middle East experts and US officials.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

This is a video of a panel`discussion held in Washington DC at the Aspen Institute on September 19, 2012. The panel included U.S. Assistant Secretay of the Treasury Dan Glazer and was moderated by Jay Solomon of the Wall Street Journal. The topic was:

Banking on Credibility: Lebanon’s Financial Sector Amidst Sanctions and Regional Instability

video link:

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Pothole Down the Road

They say a joke is sometimes more eloquent than a thesis. I first heard this one back when Fouad Siniora was still Prime Minister. It goes something like this:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Not Everyone Wants to Shield Lebanon

The Syrian regime is bound to lose its battle for survival. But few are ready to predict when that is going to happen. In the meantime, the risk of a serious spill-over into Lebanon will continue to mount. Loud accusations are voiced by both sides of the Syrian divide in Lebanon concerning weapons and fighters moving across the border. The recently uncovered Syrian plot to send large amounts of explosives into Lebanon to kill political leaders and target popular gatherings in the Akkar region is indicative of the desparate attitude currently prevailing in Damascus.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Lebanon and the NAM Summit 

Iran plans to host a summit meeting for the so-called Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) later this month. President Michel Suleiman is on the list of invitees. Talk of the town is that he will attend. But should he?

For one thing, the idea of being non-aligned with  either the Soviet-led East or the U.S.-led West is a cold war  idea whose time has come and gone. It has little relevance to today’s world. But that’s not a strong reason why President Suleiman should not go. In fact, presidents do make many foreign visits and attend many events which are of little added value. As long as no harm is done one normally lets such things pass without making a fuss about them.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

On the Brink Again

It was Bismarck who once quipped that a fool learns from his own mistakes but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. But what would you call those who learn from neither? Well, I am afraid the way things seem to be heading here, you might as well call them Lebanese.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Maybe Time for Some Lebanese Defections 

It’s a big story. It’s a big story when a prominent Lebanese politician is apprehended by Lebanese police; a big story when that politician is one of the closest advisors to the president ( the president of Syria, that is), and the security agency doing the apprehending is the ISF - no love lost with the Syrian regime; it’s a big story when the alleged crime apparently involves a plan to detonate deadly explosives (and in turn detonate deadly sectarian clashes) mostly in the sensitive border region of Akkar; and it’s a big story if a smoking gun confirms what many people have been warning against - the possibility that the Syrian regime in Damascus may, in its moment of desperation, try to dig deeper into its Lebanese bag of tricks and do something bad. Really bad.

The potential ramifications of this story are enormous.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

False (and Sometimes Dangerous) Ideas

A little less than two thousand years ago Claudio Ptolemy, a Roman citizen of Egypt, had a brilliant but false idea. Most people did not realize it until fifteen centuries later. His model of the universe had a stationary earth at its center with everything else rotating around it. Though false, the model worked perfectly, or so it seemed. It was so good that for centuries astronomers used it to track and predict with a good degree of accuracy the movements of heavenly bodies across the skies. It really did not matter that Ptolemy’s theory was false. It served its purpose well, then. And being false presented no danger.

Friday, August 3, 2012



Why we should care about Ellen M. Coin

Very soon Ms. Ellen Coin, a New York State Supreme Court Justice, will make a ruling regarding the disclosure of bank documents associated with a fugitive defendant, to a plaintiff who had won a three billion dollar lawsuit in a Montgomery County, Maryland, Circuit Court last February. The plaintiff’s lawyers had asked that eight international banks (with operations in the US) be forced to dig into their world-wide archives and provide all the banking transaction documents relevant for the case and for the enforcement of the judgment.

Why is this important?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


The National Dialogue and the Defense Strategy: True or False?
1. The National dialogue is meant to bridge the gap between two points of view on how to defend Lebanon.

False. The gap is not between two "views". The gap is between the Lebanese constitution, which gives the state exclusive authority over all armed forces in the country, and the presence of a military organization (associated with one party) and operating outside the constitution and authority of the state (which represents all the Lebanese people).

Monday, July 23, 2012


Tet Offensive all over again?

Analogies are admittedly risky. You can easily take them too far and reach the wrong conclusion. But you can’t stop your mind invoking them in an attempt to place new events into a coherent perspective constructed from past events.

Watching the war developments in Syria in the last few days I found my mind (and I am sure the minds of many others) traveling to a distant time and place; to an almost forgotten war.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


  From Troy to Latakia

Michael loved his family but wanted nothing to do with the “family business", as he kept telling himself and his pretty fiancée. He was different. At least he thought he was. She did too. But fate had other plans for them. In retrospect, he was probably doomed from the outset.

Monday, July 16, 2012



The National Dialogue, Once Again….

Round 3 of Set 4 of the national dialogue is scheduled to take place in Baabda on July 24th. The declared objective is still the same. It is to reach an agreement on the issue of Hizbollah’s weapons in the context of an overall national defense strategy. Most people believe that the chances of reaching such an agreement are nil. They are probably right.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

….A Stairway to Hell

Today Tremseh, tomorrow ........?

In Lewis Carroll’s fantasy novel “Through the Looking Glass” the Red Queen explains to Alice that in her wonderland she has to run faster and faster just to stand still.

What is happening in Syria is no fantasy but that’s exactly what the regime seems to be doing. Using increasing force to kill more people. And if using force doesn’t seem to be working, well, it uses more force to kill yet more people. What does the regime achieve? More borrowed time for the regime, at best. But in the process many more bereaved but angry Syrians bent on revenge.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Lebanese Banking System under Attack: a Credible Defense Strategy is Needed

These are dangerous times for Lebanon. As if the desperate attempt of the Assad regime to quell a determined and increasingly capable revolt isn’t bad enough, Hizbollah’s promise (or threat, depending on where you stand) to enter the conflict on the side of the regime in case of outside military intervention in Syria (as recently intimated by Hizbollah’s leadership to Damascus-based PFLP General Command) has compounded the danger. This is on top of the strategic risk of Lebanon becoming the theater of a violent conflict between Iran and its adversaries over the still-unresolved nuclear issue. Now we have to face a new and more insidious threat. Its target is Lebanon’s banking system.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Ain’t no Soviet Union

Common Fallacies are terrible creatures. They infect minds and spread rather easily, helped by wishful thinking and receptive emotional triggers. One fallacy making the rounds in this neck of the woods these days has to do with Russia’s position on Syria.
It is not a fallacy that Russia is shoring up the faltering regime in Damascus, providing it with moral, political and material support. China, Iran and Hizbollah are doing the same, more or less. Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea can probably be added to the bunch.
This has led some to the fallacious conclusion that what we are witnessing is the beginning of a new bipolar world, with Russia leading one side and America leading the other. This is hardly the case.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

….But Can the Frog Still Jump Out?
I can still recall how fascinated I was when my middle school science teacher told us about the “boiling frog” phenomenon. Apparently, as some experiments had shown, if you put a frog in a pot of water and let the temperature rise very slowly, the frog’s reflexes (which are geared to respond to sudden environmental changes) will not react to the gradual heating of the water. By the time the temperature reaches a fatally high level, the frog is incapable of jumping out of the pot even if it wanted to. In fact some experimenters claim that frogs subjected to such experiments show signs of actually enjoying the deadly increase in warmth as long as it is very gradual.
That’s what came to my mind as I watched the smiling faces of happy strollers along the new elegant boardwalk of Beirut’s beachfront.
No one can blame those young men and woman for looking happy, or for being oblivious to the (dangerously) gradual degradation which their country is experiencing. It is those who are in position to turn off the switch before it is too late who deserve the blame.

Monday, June 25, 2012

How to Save Lebanon from its Looming Fortune

(This opinion was published in the Lebanese Dailystar on May 11, 2012 under a different title.)

It is now almost certain that Lebanon’s maritime exclusive economic zone contains hydrocarbon deposits. In fact, there appears to be quite a substantial amount of such deposits, according to advanced seismic tests prepared by the United States Geological Survey.

In spring 2010, the survey estimated the recoverable amounts of gas and oil in the Levant Basin in the Eastern Mediterranean (of which Lebanon’s exclusive economic zone constitutes close to a third in terms of area) at some $700 billion in gross market value. This is subject to likely upward revision, thanks to subsequent discoveries of large gas fields off the coasts of Haifa and southern Cyprus.

Egypt’s Revolution or the Brotherhood’s Evolution?

 A lot will be said and written about the historic drama currently unfolding in Egypt. Many of us spent Sunday afternoon glued to our television sets, mesmerized not only by the breathtaking events themselves, but also by what they meant for the political evolution of Egypt and the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Many thoughts were no doubt racing in the heads of millions as they watched President-elect Morsi deliver his acceptance speech last night. Three major ones were floating in mine: