Hold on, Don’t Fade to Sleep

Just a few more hours, I’m on my way

Photo by Ramy Kabalan on Unsplash

I’m coming. Soon. I really am. I swear.

Now, to say that I am rushing to meet you again would be a slight exaggeration. Not that I dislike you. You know how dear you are to me, how hard I thrive to raise and hold your name high and how my heart bleeds over what your health bill has become. You know. I’ve already told you. I’ve shown you. Many times.

I am just afraid of what I will find. It has been a while now, and your situation is worsening by the day. By the hour. I am afraid of loosing the little hope I still have of seeing you recover. I know, advice is easier given that followed, and besides, you are beyond advice now. I know I will not find you home this time, I’m heading straight to the ICU. But hey, at least you are still awake, conscious, we can speak, hold hands, even hug. I got my booster shot, don’t worry about that.

I know what you will say. I have not been visiting as often as I used to, but you have stuff you’d want me to forgive too, so let us not go there for once. Come on, give it to me straight, I can take it. Is there hope? How long do you have left? God, do you realize how hard it is for me to utter those words? It is even harder than listening to your answer, which I already know by the way: not long. Unless…

Well, unless a miracle. Shall I hope for one? Can I hope for one? Do I want to? I mean, there are elections coming up in May you know? Will they yield a change? Aren’t people too busy surviving to vote a majority of the 128 MPs out of parliament? Too many questions, to which the answer can only be at the level of faith. You either have faith in your country or you don’t. And right now, I just don’t know. I want to have faith, I really do, but I just don’t know…

Here’s what I think. The current political system consists of two factions, both corrupt to an extent rarely seen in human history. Because of this, it will be impossible to form a majority which is not aligned with one side or the other, but it is always possible to elect enough “clean” outsiders to office to create a meaningful minority with which the factions will have to negotiate to reach an absolute majority in parliament. If they can tip the balance in favor of a few urgent changes, it could buy you months, even years, by unblocking funds or restoring confidence in your economy.

It is possible. Will it happen? Nothing is less sure. I any case, I am boarding the plane as we speak. Surprise… And to be totally honest, deep down inside, I do look forward to seeing you, even if I will not admit to it. I miss you man! It’s been a long time.

Try not to fade to sleep before I get there. Just a few hours. Once I land, I will take care of you, you will feel better, we will buy ourselves some months. At least until May, until the elections. Hold on to life, you’ve been doing that for centuries now. Just a few more hours. Got to go now, the plane is about to take off.

See you on the other side of the Mediterranean my dear country.

Let the board sound


Bonnes résolutions

Dernier jour de l’année. Minuit. Je songe à toutes ces années qui se sont terminées de la même façon, un 31 décembre, comme cette année. Toutes ces années qui ont commencé par des promesses non tenues et ont fini en forfaiture. Tous ces 31 décembre ou j’ai pensé pouvoir encore sauver cette infime partie de mon âme qui compte encore pour quelque chose, celle qui garde encore les quelques souvenirs d’enfance qui me restent, celle qui m’animait il y’a encore quelques années, quand je portais encore dans mon cœur ton nom gravé en lettres de feu, quand j’y croyais encore, quand j’avais la foi.

Tous ces débuts de janvier qui m’ont finalement mené à travers compromissions et trahisons vers le même 31 décembre, année après année. Tous ces 31 décembre où l’on se promet monts et merveilles tout en sachant que rien ne sera tenu, où l’on noie sa conscience dans les limbes du néant à grand renfort de champagne et de foie gras pour mieux oublier ces promesses que l’on est supposé se faire et que l’on nomme bonnes résolutions, trop honteux que l’on est de les voir pour ce qu’elles sont, des vœux pieux.

Cette fin d’année est néanmoins différente. Pour la première fois, elle n’a pas le goût du dégoût de soi vite noyé dans un verre d’alcool, une poignée de billets et des promesses sans lendemain. Elle a un goût amer, un goût de cendre. Les cendres de ton nom, consumé sur l’autel de la forfaiture par un soir d’août, par ma main, par ma faute. Les trente deniers que j’aurai touché pour cet acte me brûlent la peau, me crèvent les yeux. Je ne me savais pas avoir encore une conscience après avoir tant couru derrière le pouvoir et les vains honneurs, mais voilà, face au sacrilège suprême, elle se rebelle, elle se rebiffe, elle se rappelle à mon souvenir.

Alors en ce 31 décembre, je me fais une promesse. Celle de me retirer de la vie publique dont je suis indigne. Celle de me consacrer à ta reconstruction, non pas à partir du confort du fauteuil du pouvoir auquel je suis tellement habitué, mais sur le terrain, humble ouvrier sous les ordres de ces contremaitres, qui se dépensent depuis des années sans compter pour te garder à flot, envers et contre tout, pompiers sacrifiés sur ton port, urgentistes et infirmières sanglants cherchant les victimes de mon sacrilège dans les décombres de la ville, et tant d’autre sacrifiés sur le même autel que toi, soldats sur tous les fronts où ton nom doit être défendu.

Je reprends leur serment à mon compte, qui est celui de ton armée, institution qui n’aura jamais failli.

Je jure par Dieu Tout-Puissant de faire mon devoir jusqu’au bout, afin de préserver le drapeau de mon pays, et de défendre ma patrie, le Liban1.

أقسم بالله العظيم أن أقوم بواجبي كاملاً، حفاظاً على علم بلادي، وذوداً عن وطني لبنان

Un responsable – مسؤول

Against all odds

They are too strong, tool powerful for us mere mortals. They pledged allegiance to gods too vile, to masters too dark.

They have taken our jobs, our homes, our families, our dreams, and trashed them on the altar of Filth.

Photo by Jo Kassis

They have branded us with the shameful iron of the corrupt and we have thus become slaves to their corruption.

They have shattered us around the universe in a diaspora spanning 150 years and 5 continents.

They have driven us to wars we should not have fought, to endeavors we should have blushed with shame to even consider.


You know them. Some are people indeed. But some, most, are daemons lurking in our souls, deep within. The worm is in the fruit sometimes. Many times. All the time.

All is not lost however, dear knights, for as long as you can find a spark of light in you to outgrow the darkness within, we stand a chance. A spark, that’s all it takes. Your loved ones. Childhood memories. Summers. A long-forgotten dream. Whatever brings a smile to your face, some tears to your eyes.

And we will prevail. We must prevail.

Against all odds.

Let the board sound

And don’t forget to vote


On some folks


A hardcore right-wing capitalist, very vocal on free enterprise and economic liberties, a bit too much to the taste of

a fellow hardcore left-wing socialist, desperately trying to bring this impenitent capitalist to his views and into atonement, but to no avail, taking solace in

another hardcore left-wing socialist steering so much to the left she sometimes closes the loop, ending up on the right, next to

a right-wing conservative minding her own business, and

an anarchist, minding his own business as well, distractedly listening to

a moderate left wing progressist, always agreeing to disagree with his conservative fellows, while

another moderate, right in the center of the political compass this time, is carefully listening to the argument and then doing as he pleases.

Oh, and me.

These folks do not share many features, apart from the fact that they are human, speak the same language and happen to exist in the same place and time. Oh, and they share a very active chat group over WhatsApp and have lunch together at least once a week and have been for years.

Photo by MissMushroom

It happens that they also share the same origins. All Lebanese, living abroad. You saw it coming did you not?

As you might or might not know, religion and confession are core defining attributes of one’s political and social self in this small country, at least in the eyes of the Lebanese State, and this group is a good enough representation of the Lebanese society from that respect: Sunni, Shia, Catholic, Orthodox. But also, believer, agnostic, on a quest. And even more than that:

Despite their very heated arguments over lunch or over chat, they do appreciate each other’s presence on the table and in the chat group, and they appreciate each other even more as people. In fact, they are quite good representatives of the Lebanese society from that respect as well. Yes, the same society which tore itself apart in a 15 year long civil war and is still struggling in the midst of one of the worst economic crisis ever.

Why? How? Well let me argue, at the risk of puzzling the audience, that the people in this country are naturally tolerant and well meant towards each other despite the war and the difficulties faced by their homeland. How can they not be when they amount to 18 communities still cohabiting in this small land and having been for centuries? Had they not had minimal social skills, the landscape would have been much more uniform I suppose. Let us just say that the tolerance they display to each other has sometimes extended to leaders who should have rather been shunned.

To be honest, I did not want this post to be about Lebanon and the Lebanese people specifically. I wanted it to be a nod to these seven folks who joyfully fuel their lunches and chat groups with their differences and idiosyncrasies. So here’s to you folks, you might recognize yourselves if you are reading me.

Let me know what you think in the WhatsApp chat. You know which one.

PS: who’s in for lunch on Friday?

Let the board sound


Plaidoyer perdu d’avance

Votre honneur,

Je ne sais comment débuter cette plaidoirie, d’une part car je ne sais jamais comment en débuter une, d’autre part car le sujet que je souhaite plaider a été tellement rabâché que ça en est devenu le cliché le plus éculé de l’histoire moderne. Je tiens pourtant à rajouter sans prétention ma pierre à cet édifice auquel maints théoriciens de la chose publique et de la politique, tous bien plus éminents que moi, ont déjà contribué. Permettez-moi donc de m’adresser aux prévenus.

Prévenus. J’aborde ce sujet avec tellement de candeur, et je m’en rends compte, que je suis à deux doigts de lâcher ma plume par crainte du ridicule de ma position. Ou de la vôtre. Cela étant, c’est peut-être justement cette candeur qu’il vous faut, puisque vos interlocuteurs habituels et autres contradicteurs de circonstance sont tous sans exception des sherpas de la politique alambiquée et tordue de ce coin du monde. Expertise que je suis loin d’avoir, Dieu merci.

Allez. Candeur. Je me lance donc avec une première question plutôt candide vous en conviendrez:

Quand donc avez-vous fini par verser dans la prostitution?

Photo by Vadim Kaipov

Avant d’avoir vendu vos idéaux au plus offrant? Après les avoir perdus?

Avant de vous autoproclamer champions du socialisme et du progrès? Ou après, une fois que votre système féodal ait étouffé ce qui restait d’idéal chez vos ouailles?

A moins que ce ne soit avant d’avoir trahi la cause des déshérités? Après les avoir asservis à votre clientélisme, cette drogue dont dépendent aujourd’hui les enfants et petits-enfants de ceux qui n’avaient déjà rien? “Mais à celui qui n’a rien, cela même qu’il a lui sera ôté“. Je ne vous croyais pas si pratiquants, si pénétrés de la parole du Seigneur…

Quand donc avez-vous vendu votre vertu? Avant d’avoir renié le serment qui vous reliait à votre patrie? Après? Avant d’avoir vendu vos frères d’armes, ceux-là mêmes auprès de qui vous aviez juré de protéger le sol de votre partie, ceux-là mêmes dont votre serment vous rendait responsable? Ou après avoir baisé la main du maître de ce monde, le fauteuil du pouvoir?

Avant d’avoir pris les armes? Après avoir abandonné vos études, vos vocations? Au cours de vos luttes fratricides qui ont laissé sur le carreau tant de vos frères, de vos alliés? A partir de quel assassinat l’innocence de votre âme à-t’elle péri?

Au bout de combien de sesterces avez-vous réussi à changer d’allégeance? Combien d’expropriés, combien de pauvres hères conduits à la banqueroute aura-t-il fallu pour anesthésier votre conscience? Combien de fois avez-vous dû courber l’échine, combien de mains, de pieds avez-vous dû baiser pour toucher les piécettes qui vous sont aujourd’hui refusées ?

Quand donc avez-vous décidé d’oublier la piété de vos parents, les préceptes de votre prophète, le dieu de vos maîtres spirituels, celui que vous aviez juré de prier, de servir, pour vous tourner vers d’autres idoles, celles du pouvoir armé, celles de la corruption du pauvre peuple, celles des alliances opportunes et opportunistes?

N’êtes-vous pas revenus à la raison quand le destin vous a éprouvés dans votre chair? N’avez-vous pas ressenti l’urgence de vous racheter quand vos pères, vos frères ont été assassinés par une main sans honneur et sans nom? Quand vos fils ont péri sous les balles? Quand vous avez été bannis, quand vous avez connu la flétrissure de l’exil, de la fuite, la damnation de la prison, le poison de la calomnie? Quand la maladie vous a rongés?

Il fut un temps où vous aviez sans doute d’autres ambitions, d’autres valeurs que celles qui vous font tourner aujourd’hui. Vous étiez nés dans des familles humbles, dans des villages montagneux, des banlieues populaires. Rappelez-vous de cette époque. Puis les premières compromissions, avec vous-mêmes d’abord, petit coup de canif à vos idéaux d’alors, puis, de coup d’épée en coup de sabre, vous êtes devenus les apôtres sans vergogne de démons immémoriaux: la guerre, le pouvoir. La corruption.

Vous êtes trop puissants pour le commun des mortels, on ne peut plus vous atteindre. Vous avez le monopole des armes, du pouvoir, de l’argent. Et surtout la capacité, que dis-je, la malédiction d’accaparer les âmes des pauvres gens qui voient en vous la seule lueur d’espoir et qui sont nombreux à se damner pour consolider votre emprise sur ce qui reste de ce pays, de ce peuple. Vous servez des dieux trop vils, des maîtres trop sombres.

Vous pouvez toujours inverser le cours des choses et éviter de finir dans les poubelles de l’histoire. Faites-le pour la mémoire de vos pères. Faites-le pour laisser autre chose que des dettes infamantes, un héritage qui jette un peu moins l’opprobre sur votre nom. Et si cela ne vous parle pas, faites-le pour faire la Une des journaux. Pour vous refaire une virginité. Pour pouvoir vous regarder dans une glace sans vous cracher dessus, que sais-je! Mais faites-le vite car bientôt, il ne restera plus grand monde pour chanter vos louanges en ce bas monde. Et ne comptez pas trop sur l’au-delà pour vous couvrir de lauriers…

Je n’ai rien à rajouter à cette plaidoirie votre honneur.

Let the board sound


Cet article est également publié dans les colonnes de L’Orient-Le Jour.

On revolution

Dear Revolutionary

Wherever you are, you would be glad to know that Revolution today is a word on everyone’s lips in a small country on the verge of oblivion in the middle east.

Photo by Joe Kassis

According to your fellow Lebanese revolutionaries, revolution is the only way forward, the last chance for their homeland. I can hear that. For many of those, “religion and religious affiliation are the mothers of all disasters happening to this country”. Not a very surprising point of view for a country where 18 sects representing a little north of 4 million people are trying to cohabit for better or worse, without too much bloodshed.

For many others, “we need to burn everything at the stake and rebuild the country from scratch”. 

So what’s the plan? How will you pull it off? With what would you rebuild it? With revolutionary ideals or whatever that is you had been daydreaming about in your long and boring calculus classes back when a US dollar was still worth 1507 Lebanese liras, and which you think you can put to action now that the country is ready for them? 

No my friend, you need resources to rebuild a country. Dollars that is.  And fresh. Don’t go burning these…

You also need people on your side and guess what, most people in Lebanon still define themselves by the religion or sect to which they are affiliated, and this reality cannot just be canceled by slogans like “religion is evil”. Besides, regardless of your own opinion, dismissing religious affiliation in the political arena and the people who hold on to it is a complete disregard to a majority of Lebanese who, like you and me, want the best for their kids, their families, their communities and yes, their country, believe it or not. They just have not read Marx yet, or whoever got you and me on the revolution track in the first place, and probably never will. Irreconcilable differences you could say, except divorce is not an option if you want to rebuild the country. 

I guess what I am trying to say is that building a country on the premise of religious affiliation is probably not a good idea but disposing of a country because it is built on such premises sounds a bit over the edge. Yes, some things must go, but some things are good enough to stay. And some just cannot go, because people are not ready to let them go, or because it would be too high a price to pay.

So how about finding common ground, a common project for the Lebanese and their country which transcends religion affiliation? I am sure that if we brainstorm for 15 minutes, we can come up with a couple of ideas worth starting with. They can be around Lebanese international influence through the expatriates network. Imagine what could lie behind such an idea with regards to the current sclerotic citizenship law, the expatriates voting rights and the Lebanese diplomacy in general. They can be around the environment and becoming an energy independent country. We have sun, we have water, we have brains. They can be around becoming an education and research regional hub once again. Or about becoming a health regional hub again. More than a regional hub actually, and why not. Any or all of these. Ideas which have nothing to do with pointing fingers and finding scapegoats. Stuff around which people can gather.

We need new blood to uphold these ideas of course, not the old guard currently in place and in this sense, I cannot agree more to a revolution. However,

Dear Revolutionary

One last thing, before the board sounds. I can hear frustration in you. I can hear it in me. I might even hear hate. And there is but a tiny step between frustration and hating your country and many of your fellow Lebanese which you hold responsible for the great collapse. It is easy to blame those you deem to be bigots or extremists or immoral vicious scum or whatever you want to call them when the real enemy is lurking behind. You know it, you’ve known it all your life. It transcends race, sex and religion, bigots, extremists and scum. 

Dear Revolutionary

Corruption is the opium of the people. Corruption is the enemy.

Fight corruption. 

Heal people.

Let the board sound


On dictators


Well here’s one with style: Gaius Julius Caesar, main antagonist in the “Asterix” comic series, also incidentally a Roman general and one whose legacy led to the relegation of the Roman republic to a mere slogan and the rise of an empire which would hold for the next 14 centuries. Not bad, considering that the next guy to seriously take a stab at a thousand year realm managed to uphold one for twelve only and went down in history as one of the greatest villain of all time.

But back to Caesar and his fellow Romans. Before the dawn of the Roman empire, ancient Rome was indeed a republic, with a senate, elected magistrates and a system of checks and vetoes to keep the powers in balance. It became a republic after having been a monarchy for centuries, when the seventh and last king of Rome was ousted and his Imperium or power bestowed upon two consuls elected yearly by the Roman citizens.
In extremely dire circumstances, when the republic was in jeopardy, the senate would call for the consuls to appoint a dictator to take the matter in hand. Dictatorship in ancient Rome, unlike what it became later in history, was a temporary and exceptional magistracy above all others, entrusted with the full authority of the state. All other magistrates were subordinated to its imperium, including the two elected consuls, and the powers conferred to it were nearly absolute. Kind of a last resort superhero summoned to save the republic when all else had failed. 
Given the extraordinary nature of the role and the risk it instilled on the state if misused, a dictator was to resign once his mission was accomplished or within a timeframe set by the senate, usually 6 months. As you would expect, some dictators would not abide by this rule. Julius Cesar managed to be appointed as dictator for life by the senate in 44 BC. It would only be the forth time he yielded such a formidable and unappealable power and the final step of a journey where he will have concentrated all the powers normally bestowed on different magistrates for a fixed term into his own hands and for life, essentially becoming an absolute ruler, a de facto emperor of what was until then a republic.

Cesar’s quest was a constant search for perpetual power and a constant justification of his entitlement to it. He would have to fight tremendous rivals who would rise between him and the destiny he saw for himself. Pompey the great, or Crassus, richest man in the Roman republic, or Cato the Younger, the incorruptible senator, to name a few. He would work around them through alliances and bribery or defeat them in battle, but all to no avail it would seem as in the end, his insatiable quest led to his demise. He would be ambushed and stabbed 23 times by a group of senators led by Brutus in 44 BC, an assassination which the intrigants will present as a tentative to save the republic from tyranny, but which would end up sparking a civil war and ushering the dawn of the Roman empire, with Octavian, Caesar’s heir, as its fist emperor under the name of Imperator Caesar divi filius Augustus.

On the other hand, here’s another dictator with no less style:

Back in the early days of the republic, Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was an old patrician who had fallen in disfavor and made to sell most of his estate and retire from public life. He was nevertheless called by the Senate to assume the dictatorial magistracy in 458 BC when the republic was facing dire military hardships. He embraced this formidable power, went on to heroically defeat the Aequi at the Battle of Mount Algidus against all odds and relinquished his Imperium a mere 16 days after it has been granted to him, having brought the mission to a close. He would be appointed as Dictator again in 439 BC only to resign his dictatorship 21 days later upon mission success, in a near similar reenactment of his first dictatorship.

Cincinnatus was held in very high esteem by ancient Romans even centuries after his time. His legacy lived on and even today, there are numerous places which bear his name and stand as testament to his integrity, civic virtue and leadership, the least known of which not being the city of Cincinnati in the United States. 
He was most probably an inspiration to George Washington, first president of the United States of America and later a president of the Society of the Cincinnati, who surrendered his command of the continental army after the treaty of Paris was signed and later refused to run for a third term as president of the United States, which he could have certainly secured had he bothered to run for it, setting by that a precedent to which all later presidents but one will abide, until it would eventually be made into law. Washington was “first in war, first in peace and first in the heart of his countrymen” as per Henry Lee’s eulogy of him. And still is the titular figure on the one dollar bill, but no more than that it would seem, at least since January 6, 2021. 
Alas, his legacy seems to have been forgotten, as 224 years after the father of the nation stepped down as president at the end of his second term, America, Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, would tear itself apart over a man’s ambition, much like Rome many centuries earlier, over the legacy of a man whose thirst for power would dry out a republic and quench an empire for 14 centuries.

Let the board sound,


On political courage and ideas

“La France ne peut être la France sans la grandeur”

Le Général always held the greatness of France in high esteem. He was driven by the idea that “France cannot be France without the greatness”.  LA grandeur. THE greatness, not just greatness. A very defined and specific greatness, one without which his France would not be.

Photo by Nicolas

It was so central to the character that it gave him the means and will to transform an improbable gathering of French men and women of good will fighting the Axis into the sole legal representative of France in the eyes of the free world and the governments of the Allied Forces. All this despite the fact that the French government had capitulated to Nazi Germany and had stripped the General from his possessions, his military ranks, his citizenship and sentenced him to death for treason. 

He had the courage to stand by his idea of what France should be and his courage led France to victory against all odds. France emerged in the aftermath of World War 2 as a permanent member of the UN security council and would enter the very select club of military nuclear powers fifteen years later. 

In 1958, the General was called back into the political arena, was elected president in  December 1958, and again in 1965. He called in two referendums during his time as president and linked his political fate to their outcome. He took decisions which could (and would) alienate him the support of powerful allies and key voters. He withdrew France from the NATO military command and initiated the independence of the French nuclear program much to the dislike of the United States, ended the French colonization in Algeria to the great anger of the pied-noirs and the military and vetoed the entry of the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community. Twice. All for the greatness of France. 

The General was a cunning politician who knew all the trick in the hat and then some and despite that, some of the decisions he took proved later to have been less than effective. But he had the courage to do what he believed had to be done for the sake of his country and countrymen, even if the decisions came at a great personal and political cost. A school case of political courage.

But political courage alone is not enough, and I like to think that the General would have not disagreed. Remember, the man was driven by a certain idea of France.

You need an idea. One you have thought inside out, upside down and backward, for long enough to possess it. To be inhabited by it. You need to write it down over and over again, proof read it against the opposing tide, criticize it and let your peers take a stab at it, fight it with everything you have until the day where in your mind, it provides an answer to any question, a solution to any problem and only then can it be put to trial in the political arena. Your idea will be challenged, tested further than it has ever been and part of the political courage is to stand by it even when everything seems lost.

Political courage and an idea, that is what it takes. And this is where most leaders fall short, and even the very few who happen to take courageous decisions beyond electoral concerns often lack an Idea to drive them.

In the end, I would like to make a case. Not for politics with courage neither for politicians with ideas but for citizens who have ideas. 

Embrace your ideas, test them, throw them a thousand times at the sounding board and refine them with every echo you get back. Listen to people who share your ideas and even more to those who don’t. 

And when you are ready, face the world and lead with courage. Political courage.

Let the board sound