Friday, January 25, 2013

Shaykh al- Aseer goes to Kisrawan and scores against his adversaries, again

Shaykh Ahmad Al Aseer

                                    Not the sharpest tools in the shed

There is a stereotype about Muslim clergy. The stereotype is that they are not the sharpest tools in the shed. In a country like Lebanon the thinking is that it is not the smartest students who aspire to be shaykhs but the weakest students. The smartest students want to go to engineering school or medical school were their intelligence can pay off financially. One of the top students I went to school with graduated with distinction from the American University of Beirut and went to study in the United States where he earned a masters in Math. Then he went to study at the Al Azhar in Lebanon to become a Shaykh. I remember the reaction was: What a waste of talent?

                                    Nasser undermines religion

The Nasser regime and its minions in Egypt used the central role of Cairo as a producer of popular culture to help create and propagate this stereotype. There are numerous Egyptian movies from the Nasser era were the shaykh is portrayed as a fool and a hypocrite- sometimes even drinking alcohol and dancing with belly dancers. Nasser's Egypt was at war with all challengers of Nasser's absolute power and religious authorities had to be discredited and co-opted. Under Nasser, the Azhar took its marching orders from Nasser as if Egypt were the UK. In the UK the queen was head of state and church. Egypt's Nasser was the head of the state and the de facto head of the al Azhar as well- with absolute power.

                                    Al Aseer goes to Kisrawan

Shaykh Al Aseer is a very intelligent man that is always underestimated by his adversaries. Even though he is a relative newcomer to the public life of controversy he has held up well against a number of veteran sharks of Lebanese politics. He has appeared on the Lebanese political stage and reached prominence in a relatively short period. He has a cause and a script- the need to restore balance in an unbalanced confessional system where the Sunni sect is the prime victim of this imbalance. This is the shaykh's jihad/struggle. His picnic to Maronite- majority Kisrawan, whether by design or by default, ended up promoting this cause. Those who wanted to ruin his picnic to the snow mountains of Kisrawan, those who spoke against him, those who defended the people who blocked the road, all of them, wittingly or wittingly, helped to promote Shaykh al Aseer- he came out as a victim of intolerance and they came out as bigoted and intolerant. He and his companions who went on a picnic, a group of people that included women and children, came out as sympathetic victims of bigotry and lack of civility on the part of those who claim to be modern and enlightened. After all, who would block the way of unarmed civilians, more than half of them women and children, who merely wanted to see the snow and play with the snow? Who would react angrily to such a picnic? Who would have children and women sit in buses for hours just because they want to play with the snow?

It was quite a trip for the shaykh. He got to play with the snow and with his adversaries as well.

As to the Lebanese government- the way that Interior Minister Marwan Charbel handled the crisis in Kesrawan is further evidence of wisdom and political skills. He is eminently qualified to be President of the Republic of Lebanon.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The first civil marriage in Lebanon: Launching a married life from the loophole to the marital and postmarital unknown

Flag of the Republic of Lebanon

Two Lebanese citizens were able to get "married" civilly. In Lebanon. The legal way for the Lebanese to get married civilly was and is to travel outside the country and marry civilly. 

The Minister of the Interior Marwan Charbel  has questioned the legality of this marriage and raised the key question of the legal vacuum that the couple would face had their marriage been a valid legal marriage under the laws of Lebanon.

The news of the "first civil marriage in Lebanon" was received with irrational exuberance as if this were the be all end all of all Lebanese agony. The supporters of civil marriage have it as an article of faith that needs no proof that civil marriage strengthens the national identity of the Lebanese.

There was no consideration of the implications of such a marriage if it were legal. Family law goes beyond the issue of the marriage itself. There are numerous related issues- birth and registration of the children, divorce, custody, marital property, etc. In Lebanon, all these matters are decided according to the relevant personal status laws of the different faith communities in Lebanon.  Many marriages end in divorce. Divorce is a reality if it were to happen that couple would find themselves in a legal vacuum. Under which law would they divorce each other, determine custody, support, alimony?  There is no civil law to deal with these real issues.

Also, there is the issue of probate law. In Lebanon, unlike in the US for example, probate of estates is considered a personal status matter that is under the jurisdiction of the various religious courts. Even though young people don't expect it but people die- at all ages. What happens if the husband, the wife or both die?

An optional civil marriage requires that the parliament pass laws dealing with all these issues  independently from the religious courts. Until then only the religious courts regulate the marital relationship and its consequences. It is highly unlikely that the parliament would write such laws.  

Even though the exuberant couple thought that they pulled a fast one on the Lebanese confessional system- the system has the last laugh.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Tripoli and Injustice in Lebanon- 5 years and counting of detention awaiting trial

In Tripoli Minister Faisal Omar Karami’s envoy was subject to an armed attack by unknown assailants.  The attack got a lot of government and media attention- a nearby protest did not get the attention it needed.

The attack coincided with a gathering of Sunni Muslim Islamists and their supporters protesting the detention of Sunni Islamists in the military prison in Roumieh. The families and supporters of the detainees were not protesting the innocence of the detainees or asking for their immediate release. They were protesting the unjust reality that in the democratic Republic of Lebanon one hundred eighty Sunni Islamists, Lebanese citizens, are detained without charges awaiting an appearance before a judge. They have been languishing in poor prison conditions awaiting an initial appearance in court. Why the more than five years of detention without charges or trials?

The reasoning given by the Lebanese government is that this delay is due to the lack of proper courtroom space to hold the hearings. This continued detention and the seeming lack of concern on the part of Sunni politicians, most of whom are eager to be seen enlightened nationalists and not the least sectarian, is creating space for Sunni Islamists to claim the mantle of the leadership of the sect by speaking on behalf of the “wronged Sunnis.” This detention is presented as proof of the marginalization of the Sunnis and their denial of basic rights and freedoms. The perceived lack of involvement or care by the Sunni representatives in government is seen as evidence of the lack of their  legitimacy- and the system's. The Sunni politicians, especially those from the North, are supposed to defend their sect's rights in the confessional regime of Lebanon.

 The Lebanese Sunnis are losing confidence in their representatives in government due to the perception that these politicians are not doing much to help. These politicians are seen as afraid of being perceived as soft on terror or sympathetic to groups perceived as radical and violent. Faisal Omar Karami is one of these Sunni politicians. It’s unclear if the armed attack on his envoy is related to the detainees’ issue.

The reality is that there are serious sectarian tensions in Lebanon that are fed in part by a sense of Sunni grievance that the government is not dealing fairly with the Sunni Lebanese. The thinking is that had these detainees been Christian or Shia they would not have languished in detention for all these years. A point often raised is that Lebanese who spied for Israel, one of them a prominent former adviser of MP Michel Aoun, a Christian, received a speedy trial and served time in prison that is shorter than the pretrial detention of the Sunni Islamists. This reality is seen as evidence that the government is treating Sunni Lebanese as second- class citizens.

There is no doubt that some of these detainees are guilty- may be even many of them might be guilty. However, it does not take much under Lebanese law to detain someone for a seemingly open ended period where it might end up that the time spent in detention awaiting a court appearance is greater than the punishment for the possible charges.
 The continuation of this reality, detention without charges aggravates the sense of Sunni grievance and is not good for the detainees, their families, or justice.