Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lebanon: The Game Of Words

By Walid Choucair
Lebanon is seeing a huge political struggle now being dominated by playing with words and manoeuvring, as big-time headlines and slogans are wielded. Some parties are saying one thing and privately maintaining the opposite; they put forward descriptions by which they mean to cover up things that are the opposite of their true meaning. They announce commitments that allow them to escape their pledge, and then to place the responsibility on others.
It is a game with a single function, namely to cover up the stepping back from commitments, and to secure cover for the coup against the types of consensus without which it will be difficult to guarantee stability in Lebanon. It is a game of the art of maneuver, which is being carried out by those who are professionals when it comes to the policy of waiting – waiting for something to happen outside this game, which will turn things upside-down and alter the political scene. Then, the arena will be one in which the true players would appear, or these professionals would gain time in order to for them to turn the situation upside-down, when the time is right.
Over the last three days, the debate in the Lebanese Parliament has seen a considerable amount of playing with words, especially by the majority, and particularly over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is trying to uncover the truth behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. However, there is a fundamental significance to this control over this game, which saw, before and during the parliamentary session, vague expressions that could be interpreted in various ways: in other words, what happened outside the session and will happen afterwards will help clarify the true meanings and objectives behind this game, which is legitimate in the eyes of Lebanese politicians.
They believe that engaging in this game indicates intelligence and acumen, to the degree that they sometimes go as far as to believe in their playing with words. However, they also fail to notice the embarrassing situation they are in, the confusion that dominates them, and their anxiety about their actual situation. The game takes them as far as believing these arguments, and upon them they base expectations. However, most of them find no embarrassment in stepping back from what they say, because their public will believe them in any case, and keep in line, or forget what they said previously. This is because a group affiliation attracts this public to them, or because the circumstances have changed, such that accommodating themselves to these new stances is justified, and any retreat will be understood by some of this public, at the least.
The easiest example to indicate this is the seamless ability of Walid Jumblatt, the head of the National Struggle Front parliamentary bloc, to undergo tremendous political changes, due to the shifting balance of power, and justify this by saying that he had "erred." Meanwhile, Hezbollah has found no embarrassment in stepping back from its positions, or "jumping forward" on other fronts, in the game of words. The party is cohesive. Besides, the loyalty of its base and the surplus of force it enjoys locally and regionally allows it to disregard any type of calculations on this front. Before the formation of the new government, Hezbollah's leadership and cadres were convinced that it would not be formed, but it was. The party believed that the government would not continue, but it did and the party accepted to include it in previous government policy statements, and supported them. However, Hezbollah believed that justice through this government would undermine stability, because it would bring civil strife, so it turned around and rejected a deal trading justice for stability, and asserted that there would be no civil strife.
In this gamble, between its actual position and the talk it puts out, Hezbollah is relying on its over-confidence, even though its rivals see this as confusion and a sign of mistaken calculations, which will eventually prompt the party to modify its stances, and try to outrace things.
Speaker Nabih Berri is matching Jumblatt and Hezbollah in the game of words, because he plays it well, is good at maneuvering, and is accommodating himself to the changes without incurring huge losses. He is taking advantage of his position as the speaker of Parliament, who is needed by his allies and some of his rivals.
Other leaders do not care about losing credibility in this game of words.
However, Prime Minister Najib Mikati enters the game without a party to support him, or a group affiliation to constitute a mass base that can help him compensate for the damage he might incur from this game when he faces the facts of the actual situation, if it leads to shrinking his margin of maneuver. Then, he will be forced to take a clear stance or exit the game when the hour of truth comes. This is because he will obliged to be loyal to one of the sides; what he says contains two interpretations, and he will be forced to take sides, or step away, especially since there is no settlement to the dispute over the STL on the horizon.
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 08/07/2011

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