In one of Lebanon’s ex-Prime Minister Dr. Selim Al-Hoss most relevant quotes, he said: “Lebanon enjoys a lot of freedom but very little democracy!”; and in the current elections’ season, this quote is more truthful than ever.
Yes, there is a lot of freedom; perhaps, even too much. However, as far as democracy is concerned, and regardless of the electoral law adopted, it is supposed to embody well-informed and responsible freedom.
Alas, this is not the case. In Lebanon, there are no more criteria to run for elections, and no point in throwing promises at an electorate that does not care, is not interested in details, does not deal with the concept of elections in a mature and responsible way, and, ignore the fact that accountability is a vital part in practicing politics in an environment that claims to be free and sovereign.
Some may argue that there were several landmarks in the history of ‘Independent Lebanon’ (since 1943) that have proven the futility of attempts to keep a self-perpetuating ‘clannish’ and sectarian traditional political system. This is actually true; as on more than one occasion, this system staggered after an almost total rift remerged between its intellectual elites and its traditional base. However, regional factors and global considerations converged to aid, and then, rescue this system.
It is surely right to say that many intellectuals have rejected, for some time, the ills of ‘clientship’, nepotism, and taking refuge and strength in religious sects and feudal politics. But, they, either continued to adhere to the ‘idealism’ of their ‘ivory towers’ or fell at the first test with reality; and thus, some chose to coexist and accept the ‘rules of the game’ so becoming part of the system, or got desperate and left, or even, immigrated.
On the other hand, political parties, long hoped for as the intellectual and organizational vehicles for change, also changed. From the very beginning, there were openly ‘sectarian’ – Christian and Muslim – parties, as well as parties that were sectarian by nature although raising liberal banners and seeking an elitist target audience. Next to these two sets of parties were secular or semi-secular ideologies that were able to attract members and supporters from all sects.
However, as time passed by, and benefitting from experience, some of the sectarian parties managed to readjust its rhetoric and approach in order to adapt to the new post-1920 politics, which were by far more complex than the simple ones of Mt Lebanon of 1860-1865. On the other side of the arena, the ideological cross-sectarian alternatives collapsed as a result of the retreat of ‘Syrian Social Nationalism’ following the failed coup attempt of 1960-1961, Arab Nationalism after the Six Days war of 1967 and later the Camp David Accords (1978), and International Left as a result of the demise of the USSR in 1991.
Furthermore, the experience with the Palestinian Resistance Movement, which was penetrated by several Arab regimes that established loyal organizations within it, became a living proof that even the noblest of aims could not withstand regional pressures, whether through threats or financial ‘support’. This is exactly what happened in Lebanon, where many parties regarded as potential alternatives to the traditional ‘clannish’ system, became ‘mercenaries’ to neighboring countries, following their dictates and even joining their wars. Among the best examples, here, was the confrontation between the “two Baaths” of Syria and Iraq. The conflict began as an organizational difference between the ‘National Command’ hosted in Iraq and Syria’s ‘Regional Command’, but it soon developed into contradictory subservient loyalties to two clan-based regimes, one ‘Takriti’ in Baghdad, the other ‘Assadi’ in Damascus.
Later on, with the escalation of the Lebanese War, which almost brought down the fragile system, an international decision was taken to ask a local regional ‘policeman’ not only to save that system, but also destroy the then catalyst to its imminent downfall, i.e., the Palestinian Resistance Movement. This is exactly what happened, after giving the Syrian army the ‘green light’ to enter and occupy Lebanon, with international and Israeli blessings.
The beginning of this episode was camouflaged by a flimsy Arab cover called the ‘Arab Deterrent Force’, but soon afterwards, the Syrian regime metamorphosed into a ‘mandatory force’ that began rebuilding Lebanon as it wished. Thus, when wider interests, such as the adoption of the constitutional ‘Taif Accords’ of 1989, were not to Damascus’ liking, the latter worked to undo it, going as far as murdering the first post-Taif Lebanese President, and suspending every item Damascus felt would jeopardize its interests.
The ‘Taif Accords’ which were signed ten years after the Khomeini Revolution in Iran, were a serious internal–regional attempt to repair the Lebanese system and help it withstand ongoing demographic changes since Independence. But, unseen in the background, were the developing conspiracies against the ‘Accords’ between Damascus and Tehran.
For a long time, many thought that Damascus was the power in charge of the ‘Lebanese file’, more so after it was given a free hand in Lebanon as a reward for Hafez Al-Assad taking part in the ‘Liberation of Kuwait Campaign’ (1990-1991). However, the passing of Hafez Al-Assad and the takeover by his son Bashar, provided an early sign that Tehran was becoming the principal player, leaving Damascus the roles of Iran’s ‘bridge’ to Lebanon, and the ‘nanny’ of its regional project in the Arab Middle East. This fact did not take long to emerge in the aftermath of the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, after the assassination of Rafik Hariri (Lebanon’s former Prime Minister) and his colleagues in early 2005. The assassination, in retrospect, was a necessary step in the advancement of Iran’s crawling expansion in Iraq and Yemen, including Iran’s political and strategic ‘war against political Sunni Islam’.
Today the role accorded to Hezbollah of Lebanon and the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq become unquestionably clear, as the map of the ‘new Syria’ unfolds under Russo-Iranian sponsorship and tacit Israeli and Western approval; including the uprooting and displacement of more than 20 million Arab Sunni Muslims from the desert arc extending from Fallujah in the east to Daraa in the southwest.
This is a fact, I claim, most Lebanese are aware of. Still, as the Lebanese approach the ‘elections’ scheduled for May 6th, they behave as if this was an opportunity to ‘protest’.
Just a demonstration they would join, and then return home.
No one really wants to think how absurd it is to have elections in the shadow of non-governmental weapons, and based on a sinister, distorted and ill-intentioned electoral law.
These elections are, actually, intended to legitimize the ‘status quo’ and make it ‘constitutional’, citing what is, in reality, an artificial stability and a fake moderation.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances. Eyad tweets @eyad1949.