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Lebanon: A Nation Postponed | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A man dressed up in a Lebanese flag attends a demonstration against proposed tax increase, in Beirut. (Alia Haju / REUTERS)

As it is well-known, there is a basic difference between an ‘examination’ and a ‘contest’. In the first, all entrants may pass, not so in the second which must end with ‘winners’ and ‘losers’.

In schools and universities, examinations are the norm unless there is a need to fill a limited number of vacancies in highly selective advanced or specialized courses. In such cases, these examinations become contests – or ‘concours’ whereby even those who achieve passing grades would not make it to the final desired number chosen to fill available vacancies.

The occasion for this is what is supposed to be the much hoped for – but what has been an elusive – agreement among Lebanese politicians on a new electoral law. This ‘agreement’ has been farcical, to say the least, especially, that it has emerged while all concerned parties are talking of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’!

Wrangling, maneuvering, impossible demands and counter demands have dominated the Lebanese political scene, becoming like other issues, ranging from energy crises to garbage collection, into ‘red herrings’ designed to occupy people in a country that refuses to acknowledge that it is suffering from a ‘governmental crisis’ if not an ‘existential debacle’. Indeed, what is even more noteworthy is that the Lebanese legislators have continued talking about ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ among religious and political blocs openly throughout the media after reaching the ‘agreement’!

Sure enough, for ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ to emerge from adopting a certain electoral law is not an exception in any proper democracy; but the notion of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ in Lebanon implies marginalization and exclusion.

However, in a proper democracy, election results are not predestined or guaranteed in advance, and no fair and free elections can be conducted while one of the country’s constituent community is exclusively allowed to carry and use heavy weapons, and in de facto control of its own territories, while still imposing its influence in others’ territories.

Furthermore, sectarian apportionment in the Lebanese political system is enshrined in the law of the land. Religious/Sectarian identity precedes citizenship in Lebanon in most fields related to rights and duties, since the Lebanese Constitution deals with the Lebanese when they become candidates for government posts – be they civilian or military – as ‘members of sectarian flocks’ not equal citizens before the law. Yet, under the silly and barely credible slogan of ‘national unity’, it was deemed necessary to show respect to diversity by equally distributing government posts between Christians and Muslims, regardless of population figures and demographic rates of changes.

Given the above, it would be obvious to talk of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’; first, as long as Lebanon remains a hostage to institutionalized sectarianism; and second, as long as political parties remain blocs with sectarian identities, loyalties, and interests. Such a situation means that any increase in a certain sect’s share would surely be at the expense of another sect, simply because parliamentary seats are limited and earmarked or reserved for particular sects, and so are senior government posts in the judiciary, civil service, diplomatic service, armed forces and security forces.

On the other hand, the immense influence political Lebanese religious leaders wield and practice is not something new, but today, in the era of NGOs and Internet, even religious occasions have become political platforms. In the Christian camp, the regular meetings of Maronite bishops chaired by the Patriarch are almost always concluded by political statements, the same applies to weekly Sunday sermons. While in the Muslim camp it has been the habit of Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah to deliver fiery speeches, calls to arms, and engage in political arguments and threats in Shi’ite religious festivals and landmarks; and recently, Ramadan Iftars (breaking the Ramadan fast) on the Sunni side have been turned into opportunities to settle political scores and mobilize political supporters.

Thus, in the final outcome, while most Lebanese claim to be striving for a healthy civil society based on true consensus and accords, the forces which speak on their behalf spare no moment in undermining any move toward that goal. It may not be far off to say that the Lebanese today are more extremist and more sectarian than they were during the 1970s (when the Lebanese War broke out). Indeed, to make matters worse, Lebanese youth who are now calling for lowering the voting age and are active in various NGOs, do not – to some extent – possess a strong political memory, and are unable to comprehend the dynamics that dominate and control the political realities of the country.

Actually, talking of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ from approving the electoral law, in conditions as those prevalent in Lebanon, destroys several notions in one go:

1- It destroys the notion of ‘national consensus’, underlining the fact that it is nothing but a lie exploited by political merchants from all religious communities.

2- It destroys democracy, as it is being deprived of its true spirit while using its ‘ready-to-order’ technicalities into tools in the hands of those possessing real power at the expense of true co-existence.

3- It destroys the notion of a common destiny for the Lebanese through temporary factional and sectarian deals reached in the shadow of the current competition for ethnic, religious and sectarian hegemony between regional powers.

4- It destroys the last opportunity to build a real ‘homeland’ all Lebanese have a vested interest in building together and live in it together, not at the expense of each other.

Not building a ‘homeland’ whose inhabitants are supposed to have learned from the mistakes and tragedies of a devastating war which lasted for 15 years, and insisting on escaping forward, is very damaging.

More so, in a region already paying a heavy price of wars and foreign interventions, in the absence of wise and capable leaders, it would have been better safeguarding Lebanon instead of throwing it in the quagmire of nations’ collapse, hatred, and seeking foreign protection.

Alas, Lebanon’s political class seems to be still living in the past, and for the past.