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Aounists: The “Ceylon Tea” and Customs are Ours, You Can Have Bafflement Though

Hazem El Amin- Lebanese writer and journalist
September 9, 2020
The news of the Ceylon tea incident might have been less complicated but more striking than other news, since it was chosen to be announced by the National News Agency (NNA). A clear-cut piece of news, no beating around the bush! The tea that had been donated to the blast victims was distributed to the officers and elements of the Presidential Guard brigade.

The news published by the NNA in Beirut about the Lebanese President’s decision to distribute around 1,975 kilograms of Ceylon tea sent by Sri Lanka’s government as relief to the officers and soldiers of the Republican Guard could be considered “Aoun-affiliated” news, kicking up a storm of astonishment, as well as countless jokes in Lebanon.

This kind of news varies between covering the decision taken by a Aoun-affiliated Minister (Nicolas Sehnaoui) to distribute quails to the people of the Achrafieh district (to make use of their eggs to compensate for the protein they lost during the economic crisis), and the decision to transfer the (Aoun-affiliated) Customs head Badri Daher from his prison in Adliyeh, where he was detained after the Beirut blast, to a prison affiliated to the Customs Administration, in which case he could be both the prison commander and the prisoner at the same time. Between these two pieces of Aoun-affiliated news, there are dozens of others, one of which is the revelation that was made by Sehnaoui himself to the Lebanese after the blast: that in Hiroshima, a Christian minority were the ones targeted by the nuclear bomb. Another one was the revelation made by the then Minister Charbel Nahhas about his meeting with Gebran Bassil and Ibrahim Kanaan, which was held in an endeavor to discuss the financial crisis that Nahhas was expecting, but which then turned into a meeting to discuss the ways to change the administration of Casino du Liban and to purge it from “Michel Suleiman’s people”, and hire Aoun-affiliated people instead!

Image from the page of the Presidency of the Republic.

The news of the Ceylon tea incident might have been less complicated but more striking than other news, since it was chosen to be announced by the National News Agency (NNA). A clear-cut piece of news, no beating around the bush! The tea that had been donated to the blast victims was distributed to the officers and elements of the Presidential Guard brigade. The worth or quality of the aid shouldn’t matter, but rather the fact that it went to the absolute wrong destination, which happened by virtue of a decision issued by the presidency of the Republic. This was not an incident of corruption, but a flagrant, barefaced abuse of power; A self-evident incident that doesn’t require investigation nor explanation, as the NNA already did the job.

But we, the Lebanese, must stop getting taken aback and assuming that we are simply surrounded by Aounists’ shortcomings, as these are not shortcomings, nor are they based on corruption. In fact, Aounists are consolidating their grip on an area beyond our sensitivities; They don’t care about our bewilderment and astonishment, nor are they concerned about our rage at their corruption. When the quantities of Ceylon tea were distributed to the soldiers of the Republican Guard, whose numbers are in the hundreds and perhaps more, the decision maker thought that by distributing the tea he is extending his power over a narrow area, fitting his ambitions. The Republican Guard is often formed according to the loyalties of its members to the president. They give them tea and anything else they have lying around, to keep them around. The news of transferring Badri Daher to an unofficial prison affiliated to the Customs administration may have amazed the Lebanese, but it consolidates their (the Aounists’) power in a smaller place, the perfect spot to build influence in the Republic of corruption and sectarianism.

Probably, these mixed feelings of astonishment, bewilderment, surprise, and anger are forms of expression that do not help in this delusional confrontation. Nicola Sehnaoui knows that the story of the quails has provoked a barrage of criticism and mockery on social media, but this mockery will not put an end to his influence in the administration and the Parliament. The phrase, “Spit in their face and they’ll simply tell you it’s raining” seems correct, but they are the ones who use it in their interest. Our cynicism and astonishment are of no avail, since a tremendous crime the size of a nuclear bomb did not quell their greed.

These are not shortcomings, nor are they based on corruption. Aounists are consolidating their grip on an area beyond our sensitivities; they don’t care about our bewilderment and astonishment, nor are they concerned about our rage at their corruption.

Worse still, is that we, the bewildered, have a fishy memory, because our bet on the exposure of their blatant greed documented by the NNA was not limited to the experiences of their greed and impudence that we had previously experienced, despite the fact that Aounism pushed it to new levels and a new climax. Michel Murr, when he was ruling the northern Matn from its coast to its hills, was not more prudent in distributing the state’s spoils to his disciples, and this is what turned him, an Orthodox, into the leader of the Maronite Matn. Murr lost Matn not because he was exposed, nor because he was an Orthodox, but because the influence of the Syrian officers declined and ended after 2005.

The Aounists are repeating this experience after adding their touches with new experiences. Hezbollah has replaced the Syrian officers, and today they are extending their networks of influence to the channels of daily life, and creating a network of followers by expanding their corruption base and connecting large brackets of people with a kind of relationship with the state where citizenship is worthless, but it is rather based on dependency, illicit-gains, and spoils. The incident of distributing tea to the Republican Guard soldiers has no great material value, but it is a red flag and a symbolic incident that indicates the type of relationship with their devotees, and most importantly, also indicates their indifference to the astonishment and bewilderment it provokes.

We have to take a different course in the face of this impudent authority. We must build on the success of the confrontation in the Bisri valley, where the pressure on the World Bank to stop this absurdity paid off. We must reach out to our colleagues in Sri Lanka and turn the issue of tea that was not distributed to the victims of the blast into a public opinion case there.

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