Monday, December 27, 2010

Let Iran go nuclear. I want light in my apartment!

Here's a peep into the private life of yorikirii, my dear readers: since last summer I am the co-owner of an apartment in Lebanon. This information shall suffice to explain my recent and future visits to the country of the most vibrant but also the most paralyzed democracy in the Middle East.

Every apartment needs electricity and to establish power in our apartment, me and my co-owner went to the direction for electricity last week to quickly get the current flowing. The office exemplified any nightmare one might have about Middle Eastern bureaucracy: a sixty's style concrete building with iron bars in front of every small window giving it a jail-like atmosphere. I felt reminded of how the great Swiss author Friedrich Duerrenmatt once described Switzerland: a prison where the inmates sit happily inside and the visitors are desperately left outside.

It is almost unnecessary to say that we were subjected to a whole lot of smoking -  remember: this is the Middle East - as we were sent from floor to floor, from corridor to corridor, from office to office in our hunt - no, not for Red October, although if smelled like communism - but for electricity to cool our days, to warm our evenings and to lighten up our nights. The smoking ban in public buildings is still miles away in Lebanon and would probably face fiery resistance from users of public services who have to kill time between getting a signature and a stamp from one office clerk and waiting fatalistically in line for the next stamp from the next clerk.

Finally we had collected our last stamp, now let's go back to the apartment to see the light at the end of our bureaucratic tunnel. Oh no, we were told, not so fast, good things will need time. Expect the electricity to be flowing into your apartment by next summer and if not, please come back and we will see what we can do about it.

Six months, we said, six months? The stamps are here, the power is - usually - there and still: six months?

Another visitor to Folsom prison had overheard our wailing and came over to explain to us the reason behind the verdict as it stood: Six months. No bail. No parole.

Lebanese politics is geopolitics and although nobody in Lebanon seems to care about politics, it affects everybody at one point or another. We were victims of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon - the Hariri tribunal investigating the assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005 - and affected by the question if Iran's nuclear program was civil or military and if the Mullahs in Tehran should be allowed to develop their program any further.

Lebanon: waiting for the power to flow

For the electricity to be running, that is for the electricity to be taxed, meters need to be installed in your apartment to measure the amount of electricity flowing into your place. Now some smart Lebanese guy found a way to tamper with these meters so he could consume the power for free. The Lebanese department of electricity now wants to switch to a new model of meters - tamper-proof - and would like to place a big order international order to procure those. Every new household must be outfitted with the new type of meters. If not: no electricity. Big order? Big money! Where to buy the new meters and at what conditions calls for a government decision. Somebody in the political high ranks wants to earn a commission with this procurement and this must be discussed within the Lebanese government. Ok, you had your 15% when Lebanon installed the speeding cameras, but now it's our turn to earn a buck when acquiring the new meters for the electricity.

For the government to decide, the government needs to convene. The all parties Lebanese government hasn't met in months because of different opinions regarding the Hariri tribunal. The majority in the government, the so called March 14 block, is under influence and pressure from the Western international community and wants the tribunal to run its path, branding it as "justice". The opposition, mainly comprised of Hezbollah ministers, has their supporters in Syria and Iran up their backs (and in their pockets) and wants the tribunal to be stopped. Until the opposition doesn't get the red light on the Hariri tribunal, they will block any government decision including the for me ever so important procurement of new meters to measure the flow of power in this country.

Of course the Lebanese opposition could be willing to accept the Hariri tribunal to proceed after all. For that to happen they will need the green light from Iran. And Tehran might be inclined to give the nod if they in turn get the ok from the international political powers to further develop their nuclear energy program without being sanctioned.

So here I am, co-owner of an apartment in Lebanon. Whether I have light in my apartment is decided by Hezbollah who depends on some kind of fatwa from Ayatollah Khamenei who himself reacts to decisions made by Barack Obama in Washington DC. Were the United Nations aware of this when they established the Hariri tribunal? Did Bashar al-Assad anticipate this when...and to whom Barack Obama is listening to when he...but no, this is no place for conspiracy theories.

There is of course the perennial wild card in this game: Israel. They will never accept a full fledged Iranian nuclear industry and will counter-bomb any political agreement. As a reaction to this, Hezbollah will send rockets the Israel way, which in turn, since Israel never sits idly by, will cause a second wave of Israeli air strikes, this time raining down on poor Lebanon and that would leave me in the dark for good. Once again the lights go out in Lebanon. Iran going nuclear? As a Lebanese you're damned if they do and you're damned if they don't!