A Lebanese Abroad

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Monday, July 04, 2005

Polarization of Lebanese Politics

After Rafik Hariri’s assassination and the Elections, the country was supposed to come closer together. Instead, we seem to be drifting apart. Each major religious sect (Maronite, Sunni, Chia’) seems to be clinging away at their own key post, without due respect for the opinion or votes of others.

I don’t recall in recent memory that the processes for selecting or supporting the Prime Minister/Government members, Speaker of the Parliament and President were as polarized as they are today.

I have several questions, but no satisfying answers.

Under the auspices of the Hariri/Jumblatt majority alliance, the Future Movement is the new Sunni pride and is deciding Lebanon's future via its distribution of ministerial portfolios. Little is done in terms of checks and balances due to the President's passive role, a result of his recent political isolation.

Of course, Berri’s nomination was shoved down the Parliament because he was the Chia’s choice, so no one could argue it.

And a majority of Maronites have lately rallied around President Lahoud now because he too symbolizes their religion.

What were the factors that lead us to such polarization?

- Was it Patriarch Sfeir who started with his remarks that only 15% of Christians could select their leaders under the current election law?
- Was it Saad Hariri who is monopolizing his father’s assassination, i.e. assuming carte blanche because Lebanon “owes” him that much?
- Was it the Chia’ voice which is amplified by Hezbollah’s arms that see the Speaker’s position as their only protection?
I sense there is even mistrust between Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement and Hariri’s Future Movement members relating to a simple event such as the Aoun-Hariri break-down. While both leaders took great pain to express their mutual respect for each other and left the door open for future co-operation, partisans of each party saw it differently. On one side you heard: “Hariri walked into Aoun’s trap”. And the other side claimed that “Aoun walked into Hariri’s trap”. The level of mistrust is indeed alarming.

Why can’t the Prime Minister, Speaker and President represent “national democratic choices” instead of being “chosen” by their own religious groups without respect for the others except for make-believe agreements?

The current political process discourages the rise of a real national political leader that is mutually respected by all sects, religions and regions, because as soon as one person starts to become popular across religions and begins to unite others, the other camps start to attack him since he is not from their own “club”. This is happening to Saad Hariri and Michel Aoun right now. They both have the greatest potential to unite the country, but they are caught inside a bad system where they spend their energies fending off attacks instead of working on uniting Lebanon. They both have baggage they can’t shake off: Aoun doesn’t have the support of all Christians and Hariri is under the threat or influence of Hezbollah and Walid Jumblatt.

I am not sure if this is just me, but I am sensing a real breakdown in the Lebanese political process. Please tell me if I am right or wrong, and if we can change it?

4 Comments:

Blogger Doha said...

TG,

Why are you very pessimistic? I don't believe that things are as bleak as you see them to be. Of course, it's not going to be easy for anyone right now to form a government that will be facing major issues that will shape our country's direction for the next decade. And for the first time, the government is being formed without outright Syrian interference.

Yes, the situation was very polarized during the elections, but right after that stage, the rhetoric was toned down and politicians were starting to meet and talk about the next steps. I personally feel that what happened with FPM's decision to stay out of the government is not negative; that situation will create a balance. And by virtue of not hearing ugly talk and accusations being thrown out from both sides is a sign that this is all part of a democratic process.

As for talk about leadership, it's true what you're saying, but I believe in our country, it is difficult to have ONE leader; we're a pluralistic system. What we aspire for is apart from leaders who represent their sect, we need opportunities for more leaders to rise who represent notions that cut across class and sect. This will be hopefully achieved when we have a Parliament that is non-sectarian (and of course a Senate that represents all sects.)

TG: I feel that you want change to happen overnight. That cannot be, though we all wish it could be. What has been accomplished since February 14th is a lot, and we should be grateful. Our job is to of course be critical of what's going on with regards to politics, but also try to focus on the positive, on the prospects for change, on what is being reformed, etc...

7:57 PM  
Blogger ThinkingMan said...

Doha,
I hope you're right, but I want things to be "better" than before, not as before, i.e. in terms of the consensual process.
This is the 21st century, and while many politicians own 21st century things, their minds are still in the Middle Ages (not all of them, but those ones drag the others).
I wasn't referring to the FPM specifically, but more to the continual state of low-level consensus that seemingly plagues the scene; i.e. they keep lowering the standards of agreements instead of raising them and stretching their committments (a bit harder).

5:12 AM  
Blogger JoseyWales said...

One of he problems, seems to me, is lack of debate/plan on the part of the political forces.

In the case of Aoun/FPM, they wanted justice to do something (reform and clean), and they said so. They did not get it, and said we are out. Simple enough and people can judge, now and later. I wish others would do the same.

Most others want portfolios to cover their butts and/or wield power and will not and cannot say so in he open.

Having said that, I think it is the PM's job (later the gov. as a whole) to set policy, and then implement.

I.e. Aoun cannot set reform policy at Justice, HA set diplomacy if they get Foreign Aff., whoever set tourism policy, etc...

8:17 AM  
Blogger Charles Malik said...

thinkingman,

You do a very good job of characterizing the government polarization. The current state of affairs at the highest levels is ridiculously sectarian.

The entire country was left pondering, "Who is Farid Mkari?" Would he be anything significant in politics if he was not Hariri's Orthodox business associate? Probably not. He won out because of his religion.

However, on the ground, I think we are much less sectarian. Most young people are really disgusted by what is going on.

From what I have seen, many Christians and Sunni are less polarized in terms of sectarianism: Saad and Sitrida's personal relationship seems to have trickled down to the masses (no sexual pun intended, only one to Reagan). The Druze are incredibly loyal, although they know they have to work with others.
The Shia are divided between secularists and sectarian devotees. But no one is declaring their sect to be the true people of Lebanon. That's a major move up.

Berri and Hezbollah are using sectarianism simply for a power play. With the Sunni and Maronites operating from the same playbook, the Shia leadership needs to maintain their corrupt relavance (Saad/Seniora and Aoun seem to have come to quite an agreement, even if they can't work together for personal reasons - ie, the person of Jumblatt).

11:44 AM  

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