I may repeat others and also myself in what follows but hey, who said history is not an endless repetition of mistakes. Here are some notions that could be taught in any introductory class on Lebanese politics:
1- Different nations, different turfsLebanon is based on a confessional system. Meaning that division of political prerogatives is dependent on the different sects that make up this country’s society. This creates the possibility to have several “national” identity because different point of view or political affiliations radically affects your conceptualization of the nation or more simply said, your turf. For example yesterday, there was the celebration of the liberation of the South (that was occupied by Israel). One part of the country did not really give any importance (of course people outside the south) to this event, while other celebrates it as the most important day in their life. You can just check the press for a quick signal of identity stereotypes. If you pick the French rag L’Orient le Jour there was some sort of a by-line on the first page saying, “yup a couple of years ago the south was liberated”, with a very lousy article (with no clear purpose whatsoever) on the last page of local news including a stupid interview of hezbollahi and communist fighters. The more Arabist daily Assafir had a full supplement with many articles on the glory of such an event, and its first page swallowed by a picture of happy “southerners” celebrating liberation around a narguileh and some tea. Why is that so? Simple: the French rag is invaded by Christian bourgeois conservatives, and Assafir is more leftist/Syrian-sympathizing in its leaning and tends to forget about the horrible regressive realities of Lebanon.
2- incompetence, opportunism, or simply extremism? In Lebanon you have leaders that are either incompetent or opportunistic or simply ideological extremists. And the constitutionally deadlocked situation (prime-minister/president divide) just worsens the situation. On one end you have an incompetent paranoid president who every time he hears the word “Hariri” he just fulminates and smells bad economic deals. He may be right in most cases but he can’t just go on like this because sometimes (rarely enough) these guys have some good propositions. On the other hand, when it is not about money and economic influence then you have other paranoid figures such as the Christian right, a very diverse heteroclite group indeed (because they are so rightist that they hate each others, and each group wants to rule on the other), or the Shiite Islamic group Hezbollah who just can’t figure out how he can detach himself from his Iranian backing. Well, as long as the Christian think of themselves as having a strategic ally such as the US (needless to say that the US does not even know for the most part who these guys are), the Shiite will continue grouping behind Tehran.
3- In general they have been selected out of a lack of choice. The last legislative elections show the strength of what just said. It also shows the ambiguity of concepts such as “freedom” or “democracy”. You’re certainly not free when in Beirut, you can’t vote simply because nobody presented himself against the Hariri list. You’re certainly not free when in the north, you vote for the Lebanese Forces (right wing Christian isolationists) or Hariri (Sunni house that is trying to get a political monopoly on this sect, famous for their cronyism) just because you’re sick of traditional cronyism or just because you’re an extreme right-wing Christian. You’re not free in any case for the simple reason that you’re locked in a position where you have to choose someone from your sect and this is always a sub-optimal choice than if you could choose from anyone in the crowd.
6- Well, and this is when real trouble starts, once either incompetent or opportunistic leaders are ruling (which is what is happening today) you can’t really displace them just because you happened to realize they were crooks. Why? Because you’re a divided people that can’t really unite in order to drive out those you elected. You can scream and hail your democratic credentials on all roofs, claim that you’re the most superior country in the Arab world, that you’re a haven of co-existence and a beacon of liberty especially now that the “real cancer” is out, namely Syria, but you simply can’t actually drive out those who are showing that all of this is not true, because you’re simply profoundly divided. That’s you’re “consensual democracy” curse!
7- Just to make sure that you understand what I’m saying: Social mobilization in Lebanon is practically impossible. Hezbollah, Aoun’s movement, and some heteroclite syndicates may be an embryonic start but there is still a far way to go, namely to transform these parties to comprehensive Lebanese parties. I’ll write more on Hezbollah and Aoun’s movement in later posts. These two groups have schizophrenic attitudes, they are close to the plight of the people at large but they are still profoundly sectarian. But in the absence of a state that can bridge the sectarian gap, these are the rules of the game. This is why things should start from the State.
8- Bring the state back in All in all in Lebanon you have: opportunism and corruption countered by ideological sectarian extremism. Sometimes you can have corrupted individuals that are also sectarian extremists. Bringing the state back in is the real challenge, but as long as you have political immature parties (maturity here measured as having a realistic notion of what a state should assume). Fear nourished by division hampers social unity; in turn this keeps the same exploiters in power. And by keeping incompetents in power, you will never have any problem solved, quite the contrary, division will be nurtured just because it suits their interest (whether because their staunch ideologues, or hungry for capital). You can thus only count on a couple of enlightened individuals to turn the whole thing upside down. Or maybe, who knows, some political parties will develop and do some cross sectarian work, but the chance for this to happen is just too slim.
9- The power of ideology When you see theft, instead of becoming socially active and reach out to “the other” in order to stop exploitation you end up either praying more or fortifying your hate of “the other”. You typically think: “If I am poor, it’s not because of the guy I put in power because he believe in my god, we have the same principle, we belong to the “same culture”. It is actually because of this other guy that does not believe in my god”. Or let’s say you don’t think in such a stupid way, you still think that if anything good happens to “the other”, it is at your expense. So sleep my little lazy intellectual, it was always shown that laziness breeds extremism, narrowness, and closer. This in turn breeds hatred. Welcome to Lebanon.