Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Fatfatism and its limits

Everyone familiar with the Angry Arab News Service? I mention this because the Angry Arab has coined a term that is going to be quite useful in understanding coming developments in Baghdad politics: Fatfatism, named after Ahmad Fatfat, the Lebanese Interior Minister, associated in the popular mind with an incident of an Lebanese officer serving tea to Israeli officers during the recent war, giving rise to one of the popular chants in the current Beirut demonstrations: "Fatfat, you tough guy, one coffee and one tea", and with the idea of supporting any number of contradictory positions, depending on the moment and the calculation of one's own interests. The Wikipedia discussion page includes remarks to the effect Fatfatism isn't something limited to Lebanon, but is a leading characteristic of a lot of politicians in other Mideast countries too (hence should not be deleted as a Wikipedia entry).

I think we need this concept to understand what the Bush administration is aiming for in Baghdad. It is to be a government with SCIRI and the two big Kurdish parties as the base, but supplemented with Sunni-fatfatist and secular-fatfatist alliances. The exact size and shape of the fatfatist groups remains to be defined (that is of course true by definition), and certainly the reference in the Hadley memo to paying people off with money is not irrelevant here. The concept of fatfatism is particularly useful, because there are groups that will be with the US for structural reasons (Kurdish parties and SCIRI to promote autonomous regions in the north and the south respectively); and there groups that will be with the US for fatfatist reasons, best known to themselves. While on the other side, there will be nationalists who are determined to see the US withdraw its troops, but probably this will not be a magnet for the fatfatists, at least until it becomes clear that the nationalists will win.

You can see right away what the biggest problem is. The ultimate US aim for the south is to split US-friendly SCIRI from the US-enemy Sadrists, but fatfatism will not work here, and the reason is that there is a higher obligation on Shiites (which Ayatollah Sistani periodically reminds them of) not to become divided. And this is all the more of an urgent priority now that a group of Saudi clerics has called for popular anti-Shiite mobilization. So it is hard to see how any government with SCIRI as a key element won't also involve the Sadrists. We could call this "the limits of fatfatism".

Another point. It is easy to forget, but the next (third) meeting in the National Reconciliation process is to be held in a few days (this one for political parties and groups), and Al-Hayat today quotes the head of that process reminding us that resistance groups, opposition Sunni figures still in exile, and others, have been invited, and the government has signaled a positive attitude to things like revising de-Baathification, revising the Constitution, re-hiring Saddam-era law-enforcement people, and so on. The problem here is that if the government was going to revise de-Baathification and so on, it could go ahead and do so. But what it has found out is that this won't make any difference to the armed resistance movements, or to their sympathizers, without a clear US commitment to unconditional withdrawal. And "no withdrawal" is to Bush as "Shiite unity" is to Sistani. It is another example of "the limits of fatfatism".

Perhaps I am abusing the term, but I find it useful.

(Regular readers please note I have made changes and an addition to the prior post, on the anti-Shiite statement of the 38 Saudi authorities, maybe worth another read).


Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

"Fatfatism, named after Ahmad Fatfat, the Lebanese Interior Minister, filmed serving tea to Israeli officers during the recent war..."

You've got it wrong: Ahmad Fatfat (former acting Interior Minister) was NOT filmed serving tea to Israeli officers. The footage is of Brig. Gen. Adnan al-Daoud playing host to Israeli officers.

You should check your facts more closely.

Have a nice day,


7:03 PM  
Blogger badger said...

good point

8:52 PM  
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12:15 AM  

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