There is a current standoff between the Lebanese people and the ruling establishment, who for two consecutive weeks has been trying to force a parliamentary session to pass an amnesty law, which would absolve the ruling elite from a number of crimes, including tax evasion.
This standoff comes as part of a nationwide uprising, which has seen millions of people take to the streets, demanding a change to the archaic and corrupt governance structure that their country is infamous for.
This amnesty law is no mere legislation but rather part of an elaborate scheme by the ruling elite to create schism and chaos in the midst of the protesters by placing them at odds with each other while at the same time providing the different political factions with legal leverage going forward.
The political elite envisioned that any opposition to this amnesty law would mobilize the families of thousands of convicts awaiting amnesty, and thus turn the national uprising into a sectarian brawl.
The proposed bill, submitted by two members of speaker Nabih Berri’s bloc, did not follow proper procedure and never went through subcommittees for proper revision and approval.
Perhaps more importantly, the parliament session and any other legislative sessions at this moment in time are unconstitutional simply because article 32 of the Lebanese constitution clearly states that the parliament in its current session “shall be reserved to the discussion of, and voting on the budget before any other work. This session lasts until the end of the year.”
Therefore, the parliament cannot technically meet unless it passes the much-anticipated budget or in case of “legislative necessity” which the current amnesty bill is no justification for.
The most sinister part of the bill is that it places Lebanese factions in fierce opposition, as the draft law is designed to cater to thousands of outlaws, some predominately Shiites from the eastern part of the country who are in jail or on the run for crimes connected to narcotics.
It also caters to a segment of Sunni Muslims who are branded locally as “Islamists”, some of them accused of fighting the Lebanese army in the past few years. By proposing this amnesty bill, both Hezbollah as well as Hariri can muster up much of this popular support which they have lost during the uprising against their excessive corruption and lack of vision.
Contrary to what it repeatedly claims, Hezbollah is in bad shape not only because of the US sanctions on its patron, but because its arsenal of weapons does not contain any economic tools to address the current challenges. It believes that this protest against corruption and bad governance can be suppressed by force, just like the uprising in Syria or the protests in Iraq and Iran. The majority of the people on the street might not be chanting against Iran and its Lebanese subsidiary, but they know full well that one of the main reasons why the Lebanese temple of corruption remains standing is the fact that Hezbollah’s weapons will it.
On the two separate occasions that speaker Berri tried to convene parliament, the Lebanese people flocked to the parliament house and laid siege to the area and prevented legislators with their armed convoys from gaining entry.
Berri’s brutish and condescending attitude is reflective of the mindset of the entire political class, which ostensibly acknowledges the demands of the street, yet refuses to take any step in the right direction to remedy or address any of the political and economic reform challenges.
The ruling elite claims that the parliament session which also had other items on the agenda was geared towards the adoption of judicial reform to fight corruption and empower various governmental entities crucial for establishing the rule of law. These claims however are fallacious and, just like the economic reform plan set forth by the current caretaker cabinet of Saad Hariri, masks a sense of immortality and a belief that they can still outsmart the public and pass on more corruption and usurpation of power as reform.
The people on the streets know quite well what needs to be done to change the current predicament, and their roadmap does not include parliamentary sessions nor false promises from the decrepid political class. The road to salvation passes through the gradual relinquishing of power to a capable and righteous emergency cabinet that would respect the Lebanese constitution and empower the judiciary and respect the separation of powers. Perhaps then, amnesty will give way for rule of law and justice for all.
Makram Rabah is a lecturer at the American University of Beirut, Department of History. He is the author of A Campus at War: Student Politics at the American University of Beirut, 1967-1975. He tweets @makramrabah.