Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rulers and ghosts

Was it Shakespeare who wrote, "The world is but a stage, and we are all actors"? It certainly was not the Wizard who coined this phrase The Wizard is anything but a plagiarist. Having made this pithy remark, let us examine the characters who determine our lives on the stage of the Middle East. Lebanon concerns us most.

We have Emile Lahoud, the President of the Lebanese Republic, as consumate an actor as they come, especially when he starts delivering homilies on nationalism, resistance, solidarity and loyalty. Other than loyalty to Syria which had out hum on the Presidential chair, we doubt whether he understands the true meaning of the terms he uses. Where would he have learnt them; not as Admiral of the one patrol boat which Lebanon owns. To his credit, he seems to have a good tailor.

We have Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a battling cock and an expert helmsman, judging from the way he has navigated Lebanon through the worst crisis of its existence. One question comes up, again and again : why is it that over the past sixty years of independence, no one has seen fit to train and equip the Lebanese army with modern arms and equipment ?

On the Lebanese stage, we should not forget Nabih Berri, the Speaker of the House, who has been able with machiavilian dexterity, to manouver himsel into a fourth term in office, a remarkable feat in the annals of democratic Government. He is referred to as "al Istaz" with emphasis on the first two letter letters "Is" of his name. This term means lawyer or teacher. One or the other, he has shown himself to be a master of the game. Before we get to the recent leading actor, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, we must stop at Mukhtara, the 19th century residence of Walid Jumblatt. With his beak of a nose, his white dome of a head, framed between two thatches of matty hair, he resembles a species of the avian world. As leader of the esoteric Druze community, he rules over a large area of Mount Lebanon, where his word is law. He has made no secret of his opposition and contempt for the Syrian Regime of Bashar el Assad and his Alawite cronies, all members of a hermitical sect of Islam who seized and have remained in power in Syria for the past thirty years. He has branded the Regime as assassins, and for cause, having assassinated his father Kamal Bey, not to mention other assassinations attributed to their agents.

And last, but not least, we come to Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Shia formation, "Hizbullah" [Hezbollah] (Party of God), a formation with deep roots in south Lebanon. Its military wing, referred to as "Al Muqawama' surprised Israel and the world with its dogged and successful resistance to the Israeli war on Lebanon, such that apart from a few points along the frontier, Israel has made no headway into Lebanon, despite its awesome air power, which destroyed south Lebanon and the southern outskirts of Beirut, reducing both to rubble and perpetrating several massacres of women, babies and children; such that Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah declared that had he suspected Israel's response to the kidnapping of two soldiers, he would not have had them kidnapped; a bit late in the day perhaps to make such a statement. There is little point in crying over spilt milk, in this case, thousands of dead and wounded and the destruction of the entire infrastructure of a whole country. Equally his words prompted Israel' Olmert to claim victory on his recent tour of south Israel.

The Lebanese drama, of which the above mentioned persons have been the principal actors, is unfortunately repetitive, in that is has been played six or seven times over the last fory years. We have grown weary of it the time has come to move to a second stage, Syria, for example.

The principal actor who occupies the center stage is Bashar el Assad, who has mastered his role of vilification and venomous hatred to perfection. He strangely resembles an Okapi, with his tall neck and small head, in every sense of the term. He would get a better hearing if he were to vary his role from time to time, and instead of making war by proxy, if he were to take some measures to liberate his Golan, occupied and colonised by Israel sine 1967, other than fighting till the last Palestinian and the last Lebanese. What is highly entertaining is Bashar's Foreign Minister, Al Muallem (also means teacher), who resembles a midget Oliver Hardy and acts like one. To tell the truth the actors on the Syrian stage are highly boring and a change of cast and scene are in order.

Moving across the Jordanian frontier, we meet the young King Abdallah II, a Hashemite descendent of the Prophet Mohammed, with a touch of English blood in his veins, more than a touch, since his mother was English, which might explain his calm and youthful dignity, two qualities generally lacking in the bombastic Arab world. He seems unpurturbed that his throne sits on he moving sand of a Palestinian majority.

Across the frontier into Israel, we have the Olmerts, the Netanyahus, the Baraks and the Perez, moving on the stage with dazed steps and debating whether to nominate or not to nominate a committee of inquiry to determine what went wrong in the war on Lebanon, and why in Milton's words, "Lucifer fell in all his glory."

A long way from Israel lies Iraq, embroiled in civil war, an example of the Bush American new vision for the Middle East. We pray God hat we are spared the vision of that demented character, George W. Bush.

Egypt, on the other hand is a different kettle of fish. A jovial Husni Mubarak has ruled over a docile population for more time than we can remember and he is currently busy preparing his son to take over when his time has come; a monarchy in different clothes, but more absolute than King Farouk ever was. A pariah in the Arab world, since his assassinated predecessor Sadat paid his famous visit to Israel, Mubarak's Egypt plays a leading role in the politics of the Middle East.

Equally important is of course the royal family of Saudi Arabia. Descendents of zealot warriors who threw the Hashemites out of Mecca and Medina, King Ibn Saud, the founder of the dynasty cemented the country through hundreds of marriages followed by divorces and remarriages for his ex-wives. What a sexual athlete he must have been.

The Sheikhs of the United Arab Emirates, the Emir ot Qatar, and the King of Bahrein have succeeded in transforming their desert realms, thanks to oil and services, into havens of peace and prosperity. Dubai is a prime example of what an enterprising Sheikh Mohammed can achieve to transform the city of Dubai into a world center, with impeccable town planning and architecture

Here we come to the end of our scenario. It is time to draw the curtain.

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