Non-elections, Lebanese-style

Non-elections, Lebanese-style

Lebanon enjoys a lot of freedom but very little democracy,” said former Prime Minister Selim Al-Hoss. In the current election season, this quote is more truthful than ever. Yes there is a lot of freedom, perhaps even too much. But 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 longer criteria to run for elections, and no point making promises to an electorate that does not care, is not interested in details, does not deal with the concept of elections maturely or responsibly, and ignores the fact that accountability is a vital part of practicing politics in an environment that claims to be free and sovereign.
Some may argue that there are several landmarks since Lebanon’s independence in 1943 that have proven the futility of attempts to keep a self-perpetuating, clannish and sectarian traditional political system. This is true, as on more than one occasion this system wobbled after an almost total rift re-emerged between its intellectual elites and its traditional base. But regional factors and global considerations converged to aid and then rescue this system.
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. So some chose to coexist, accept the rules of the game and become part of the system, while others got desperate and left.
But 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 those that were sectarian by nature while raising liberal banners and seeking an elitist target audience. Next to these two sets of parties were secular or semi-secular ideological ones that were able to attract members and supporters from all sects.
But as time passed, and benefitting from experience, some sectarian parties managed to readjust their rhetoric and approach in order to adapt to post-1920 politics, which was far more complex than the simpler times of 1860-1865.
Meanwhile, the ideological cross-sectarian alternatives collapsed due to the retreat of Syrian social nationalism following the failed coup attempt of 1960-1961, Arab nationalism after the 1967 Six-Day War and the 1978 Camp David Accords, and the international left due to 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 living proof that even the most noble of aims could not withstand regional pressures, whether via threats or financial support.
This is what happened in Lebanon, where many parties regarded as potential alternatives to the traditional clannish system became mercenaries to neighboring countries, following their diktats and even joining their wars.
Among the best examples was the confrontation between the Baath parties 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 Tikriti in Baghdad, the other Assadist 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 regional policeman not only to save the system, but also to destroy the then-catalyst to its imminent downfall: 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 afterward the Syrian regime metamorphosed into a mandatory force that began rebuilding Lebanon as it wished.
So when wider interests, such as the adoption of the constitutional Taif Accords of 1989, were not to Syria’s liking, it 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.

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.

Eyad Abu Shakra

The Taif Accords, which were signed 10 years after the 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 Syria’s then-President Hafez Assad taking part in the liberation of Kuwait.
But his passing and the takeover by his son Bashar provided an early sign that Tehran was becoming the principal player, leaving Damascus as Iran’s bridge to Lebanon, and as the nanny of its regional project in the Arab Middle East.
This fact did not take long to emerge following the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri 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 its political and strategic war against political Sunni Islam.
Today, the role accorded to Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Popular Mobilization Units in Iraq have become unquestionably clear, as the map of the new Syria unfolds under Russo-Iranian sponsorship and tacit Israeli and Western approval, including the displacement of more than 20 million Arab Sunnis from the desert arc extending from Fallujah in the east to Daraa in the southwest.
This is a fact of which most Lebanese are aware. Still, as they approach the elections scheduled for May 6, 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 are in reality artificial stability and fake moderation.

• Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat.
Twitter: @eyad1949
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