16 April 2008

-The Divorce of Aoun and Murr

It is amazing how everything is bi-polar to the extent that 14th of March has a lot of supporters now calling Michel Murr as "The Wiseman" while the Opposition call him "The Traitor". The Opposition seems to have forgotten what he has done to the Syrians.

One of the shakiest alliances that took place between any two individuals was between Aoun and Michel el Murr. During last year elections, 14th of March gambled on the chance that Aoun and Murr will break their alliance, to which the latter two disappointed them when both announced loud and clear that the trilogy alliance between Aoun, Murr, and Tashnag is still alive and kicking. Although it has to be noted, Murr and Aoun forgot to mention the Syrian Social Nationalist Party's votes (estimated at least 4500) that gave Camille Khoury the breaking factor.
Couple of months later, Michel el Murr appeared on Marcel Ghanem's show, and he defended his alliance to Aoun on the basis of paying back an old friend a favor for saving his son during the last couple of years in the civil war. But Michel el Murr was explicit to also state that he doesn’t talk with Aoun's men, and in fact he indirectly slapped their form of talking on TV with the highest pitch (almost every time between Tony Nasrallah, Alain Aoun, Salim Aoun, Nicholas Khoury, Jubran Ba"th"il, and others. Michel el Murr also stated that if he was a Maronite Christian, instead a Greek Orthodox Christian, he would have run on the elections.

To be honest, in my personal opinion, the smartest politician to join then Michel Aoun's coalition "Reform and Change" was el Murr. The man managed since the late sixties to sustain himself in the parliament, knocked out Bshara Merhej to grab hold of the Ministry of Interior, and developed a gigantic empire in Matn whereby he swept over 80% of the municipalities. To be more exact, Murr's empire was gigantic. At a one point, he was the deputy for the Speaker of the Parliament, his son was the Minister of Interior, and his daughter was head of the Upper Matn Municipalities. When Albert Mokhaiber passed away in 2002, he ran his daughter to the Parliamentary elections. The only candidate who was supposed to block his daughter from making it to the Parliament and attain a seat next to her daddy was ironically Gabriel el Murr, his own brother. When Gabriel el Murr, supported by anti-Syrian forces, won, Michel el Murr successfully closed down his channel (and don't laugh it was called MTV, aka Murr TV), and found charges to disqualify his own brother, which ironically made Ghassan Mokhaiber win in default the elections (who was actually Joubran Tuieni's and Walid Junblatt's candidate, eventually the tides changed when MP Ghassan ran against his ex - allies in Matn).

Prior to the divorce between Aoun and Murr, Michel Murr still remained one of the most powerful politicians within the Reform and Change coalition. He emerged victorious from Upper Matn elections, he became a powerful figure head in the Opposition while his son is a powerful figure in the Government. Even strangely, the current government is hanging on the edge, if one more Minister resigns/gets assassinated, the government collapses. Elias Murr remained within the government. Probably what triggered the distrust in the first place between these two figures is the assassination attempt on his son, the current minister of Defense: Elias Murr. Hence, Michel Murr immerged as the most controversial figure of 2005 elections, and of course preserved his title as "King of the Upper Matn Constituency".

So who is Michel Murr?

Michel Murr has been a powerful figure that won elections since the late 1960s in Matn area. In 1979, he was a minister of President Sarkis. It has to be noted that by then Sarkis was a close ally of Bashir Gemayel who didn’t mind bringing Bashir Gemayel's loyalists to the government. Michel el Murr is actually the primary funder of Bashir Gemayel's child "the Lebanese Forces." He was the one responsible to secure that the Lebanese Forces were properly funded. Eventually, he remained a minister till 1982, primarily when Bashir Gemayel was blown to kingdom come due to his alliance with Israel.

Like Michel Aoun, Elie Hobeika, Samir Jaajaa, Karim Bakradouni, Fadi Freim, the Sarkis family, and a lot others: he was one of Bashir Gemayel's powerful figures. His marriage to the Syrians secured Upper Matn as his little kingdom, and of course Murr abused his Ministerial authority and made sure that everyone in that district found work as long as they found work.

Through blackmail, giving the Lebanese nationality to over 10,000 blue collared Syrians (and not to forget the non-Syrians), by "coincidence" they were allocated in Upper Matn. He is associated and accused of the Burj Hammoud cheating when "the electricity went out" in 1996 and of course the expulsion of Nassib Lahoud's "Freedom List" observant in 2000. Murr is also notorious for his generousity in elections during the vote cast.

Personally, I think I am risking my life by talking about this man. I myself fear him more than any other politician. This is also not to forget the speed of securing Elections Voting Cards for his supporters and their relatives while it took almost forever to secure these cards for opposition supporters. Murr's strength grew to give license for arms to all his hooligans (and a shoot-out occurred on Nassib Lahoud without the 'Ministry of Interior' investigating it).

The man, don’t get me wrong on this, has an amazing sense of humor. I think he is really the devil's advocate when it comes to politics.

Murr and Aoun lullaby

Now this is the interesting part. Aoun and Murr knew each other since 1978, when Bashir Gemayel completed his climbing of the ladder of the Phalange Party. Aoun was Bashir's Gemayel's hand inside the army; however, in Bashir's last final days he switched his allegiance to Amin Gemayel, who was then the last person to oppose Bashir politically (since Bashir militarily ended Amin's pocket cell in Bikfaya).
While Michel Murr participated in the Syrian game and the forging of the Ta'ef agreement, Aoun eventually went to exile by living in a "five-stars hotel". Murr's network and Aoun's alliance in 2005 came as a bombshell to everyone. The alliance proved fruitful for both of them, since the government wanted to politically end Michel Murr's winning streak. Even Sarkis Sarkis almost defeated Pierre Gemayel Jr. in the elections.

With Michel Murr's son in the government holding the most powerful ministry, Ministry of Defense, and he is holding a powerful position at the Opposition, specially due to his highly controversial links to Syria, the family seemed to have won the hearts of both coalitions. Probably the only person to hate him till he goes to the grave his Gabriel Murr. It is only a matter of time how long can Murr tolerate Aoun's ego and worse, Aoun's footsoldiers: the figureheads of the Free Patriotic Movement. Despite the fact that Murr tried to end his alliance peacefully with Aoun, again Aoun had to explode on Murr.

Murr argued that it is illogical to keep the nation without a president for so long, and it is insane to keep the parliament closed for that long as well. He was one of the figureheads who supported the closure of the Parliament. Yet, the top of the iceberg was exposed when Murr went to elect a President when his Son supported the election of Michel Suleiman as the President of Lebanon. While Murr said it loud and clear he wants to vote for a president, all the Free Patriotic Movement in December boycotted the Parliamentary Session to occur, and pushed the Opposition to break the quorum of 2/3 to get things rolling within the parliament. (Only AMAL's coalition in a symbolic manner were

What About the 2009 Parliamentary Elections

Well, I know one powerful leader who told me in December 2007: "Be prepared, in six months, the alliances will fluctuate and the borders will change between 14th of March and the Opposition." In fact, he added: "Expect anything!". Seems he is right although I was skeptical at first.

If the 2009 parliamentary elections take place , then where Murr will stand? Will he step down and allow his son lead his tens of thousands of supporters? Technically the primary obstacle for the 14th of March was Rafi Madayan since he is the sworn enemy of the Tashnag. Yet, now Murr fluctuated his alliances currently to neutral grounds. This may lead to a scenario of throwing Nassib Lahoud outside the Matn Formula and forge a strong alliance between 14th of March , Murr, and the Tashnag. After all, Rafi Mayadan switched sides.

Another scenario would be that Murr himself, in a vigorous manner, will go elections again but he will seek to win Matn as a whole. He might be weaker without the SSNP votes and the Free Patriotic Movement's votes (as well as the foreign votes), he still can pull it through. The Opposition and the Government can leave two or three seats for him and vote for him in the face of the others.

Or Aoun and Murr would probably strike a new alliance under different circumstances and run the elections again. This, I have to stress, has lost its cutting edge after Aoun's Tsunami disappeared to only 400 votes against Amin Gemayel. Someone will tell me that it was a nobody (Mr. Camille Khoury) crushing the ex-President, I would like to stress that Camille Khoury was not running but in name, the man who behaved as if he was running was Aoun himself.

The question would have to be asked: What about Murr's allies from the reign of the Syrian Mandate? What about Hezbollah and AMAL movement? Will they in defecto abandon the man who facilitated all black market issues for them and covered them politically? The other question is: Did Michel Murr divorce the Syrian Baathi Regime? Did the attempt on Elias Murr's life break that alliance? Time will tell…
Now isn’t it hilarious how 14th of March and the Opposition automatically switch sides in terms of Opinion?

What a long road we still have to go through…

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.