Friday, June 4, 2010

What Ails The Lebanese Political Syatem

The modern concept of sovereignty of a nation state and all its implications to the inviolability of borders, the sacredness of its territorial integrity and the supremacy of the state are traced to the treaties that ended the thirty year war through the Peace of Westphalia. I mention this only to highlight that this took place almost 400 years ago.

A young nation state can be excused, during its first few formative years, for its inability to exercise its sovereignty immediately at its inception despite the fact that independence for a nation state is usually based on the idea of sovereignty. Realistically no society can be expected to make the transition from dependence to independence overnight. Institutions have to be created, elections held, laws promulgated and citizens informed and educated. But a learning curve of 65 years that fails to make any progress whatsoever is only a sign of total failure in the effort to establish a viable independent sovereign state. Under such circumstances one must wonder whether the experiment that has so far gone awry is worth continuing or whether it would be more advisable to just stop the pretense and dissolve the state.

As you might have already guessed, the above scenario is not fictitious. It is a perfect description of what passes for political leadership in the nation state of Lebanon and for either the inability or the refusal of its citizens to act responsibly by demanding accountability from their so called leaders.

There is no doubt that the present is the sum total of our past decisions and choices. We are what we have become because of our history. But it is wrong to even suggest that the past shapes our future. The only time that the future becomes an identical image of the past is when we keep making the same decisions and choices over and over again. The future doesn’t have to be an extension of the past since its most significant feature is that it embodies immense possibilities. Whether these possibilities are actualized or not is a function of the decisions that we undertake in the present. Our present is the history of the future moment.

So it is not enough to dream about equality, dynamism, individual freedom, economic prosperity, responsible government or a sovereign state. We need to take action that is commensurate with our objective if that goal is to ever stand a chance of being fulfilled. But we can never set our sights high and yet proceed to act as we always have when we were greatly displeased with the outcome. The same input will result in the same output irrespective of our hopes. For our hopes to be fulfilled, we must have the courage to reject business as usual. It will always fail to deliver on our dreams and aspirations because if we cannot change our actions then our goal would be only a wish. Lipstick on a pig.

If we are dissatisfied with the performance of the political regime and with all the politicians in Lebanon, as we should be then we have no right to complain if we do not have the courage to show our outrage at their incompetence, exploitation and feudalism. Note that the 4.5 million Lebanese sheeple find it easier to put up with the inconvenience of having one of the most outdated unreliable and expensive public electric power system in the world by installing private generators, at a great expense, rather than demand a solution to a problem that is simple to solve but that has persisted for over a decade. Why did we reelect the same rascals who created the problem in the first place? We complain about the lack of law and order but when the politicians elect a president by violating a very clear constitutional clause no one questions the decision. How can we expect a person to respect the sacred constitution when the same person accepted to be elected under unconstitutional grounds? The message is simple. Laws, including the constitution were made for the convenience of the Lebanese oligarchy. Their disregard to the constitution and the rights of the citizens is all around us. Its best manifestation is the unworkable new interpretation of a national unity government whereby the executive branch is a tower of Babel, the legislative branch has for all practical purposes been subsumed by the cabinet and the judicial branch has been abrogated. I ask you, have you seen any demonstrations against the above?

Then we have our “Progressive Socialist Party” that is everything but progressive or socialist. It is run by a feudal lord and its leadership is passed along as part of the inheritance. Actually the ever charismatic head of the party regaled us on a recent popular TV show by the analysis that part of the current Lebanese political problem is that PM Hariri represents the Sunni while President Suleiman does not have the support of the Maronites. And that from a progressive socialist. Somebody should remind Mr. Jumblatt of the high regard that Karl Marx had for religion. He went on to say that he; Jumblatt; will not accept an invitation to visit Iran unless King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia gives him his blessings. And that from a progressive socialist in Lebanon. (What is true of the incongruity of the positions of Mr. Jumblatt is endemic of all other parties bare none.

Given the above few examples, and they hardly scratch the surface, it should be clear to any observer that Lebanon is neither independent, nor sovereign. Its inhabitants talk the talk but never walk the walk. If freedom, democracy and sovereignty are important then let us act as if they are by vowing to hold all the current politicians accountable. We need to remind them that they work for us and we should make it sure not to reelect any of them again. The problem of Lebanon is not its politicians. It is its voters. Unless we learn to act upon our convictions then we deserve the government that we get.


Bad Vilbel said...

Another fantastic piece, Ghassan! I very much enjoyed that. Too bad this kind of thinking appears to be falling on deaf ears.

Gus said...

I just could not believe the way that the discussion was being conducted at QN. Were the others reading what was being said. I have often heard that people make up their mind on an issue and then they go about rationalizing it so what passes for conversation is a charade. Nice to hear from you .

R said...

Hey Gus,

Good stuff as usual :). I have one main issue though: your assumption that Lebanon is a nation state. It is barely a state (as you so clearly put it), but certainly not a nation state. An objective take at Lebanese history (recent and otherwise) reveals that we are more like a collection of fiefdoms - each religiously homogeneous - that do not really share a common history. That is, they do not share a common history apart from being on different (mostly antagonistic) sides as history unfolds around them. Perhaps more importantly, the various groups do not seem to share a common culture or values, except for bigotry, sexism, etc...

On another note, I find it fascinating how superior some of the commentators on QN think they are, when they compare themselves to Arabs and especially Muslims. They seem to have an amazing capability to not notice that they are the flip side of the same bigoted coin...

R said...

Of course, I know we agree about pretty much all of this stuff Ghassan. To put a more positive spin on what I wanted to say: Lebanon is a nation state only if we work hard to turn it into one.
PS: I find it both funny and sad at the same time that we have to advocate nation-statehood for Lebanon - especially since I am not a big fan of the arbitrary concept of nationality. But hey... its a step up :)

Ghassan Karam said...

I think that many in Lebanon confuse the name given to a geographical region with statehood. So many like to go as far back as the Biblical mention of the land of milk and honey. The region will always be called Lebanon irrespective of the political arrangement.
The term nation state is used loosely in an effort to avoid the controversy of what is a nation and who qualifies for that designation.
I am usually not comfortable , on a personal level, whenever I use the term since I am down deep a cosmopolitan who believes that we are witnessing a weakening of the nation state concept. Not that we are going to become anytime soon a united planet but the power of nation states will erode by Global governance institutions and especially by having more and more global citizens.

Gus said...

I almost forgot, besides the tone of superiority exhibited by some commentators on QN I also find fascinating the confidence displayed by some Islamists who no longer shy from saying that they do have a global agenda and at one time someone stated bluntly that Islam was created to rule over all others and you better get used to it. I don't think that you would have heard this 4-5 years ago. But you are right about the view of the arrogance displayed by some.

A Purple Monkey said...


Just give up already. Things will never change... The Beirut Spring was a miracle by all measures. If that miracle and within no time still led us back to square one, I dont think anything will move the Lebanese forward. If you still havent immigrated to Canada, spare yourselves and do so already.
"O Canada...Our home and native land!"

ghassan karam said...

Purple Monkey,
It is difficult to argue with your conclusion. There are no signs that anything will change for the better. What else to expect from a place where MP's don't go to lunch without an escort of 3-4 large SUVs full of armed private security.

rayan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mo said...

If it were as simple as you state.

First problem in trying to portray Lebanon as any other state that has gained independence:
Lebanon was a state founded to be a bastion of Christianity in a sea of Islam. It was to be the Christian version of Israel attested to by the closeness between the Zionist movement and the Maronites in the first half of the century.

The problem is someone forgot to either get rid of all the Muslims or at least sign up to the plan.

Therefore, one could say that the first 50 years of the nation were about Muslims trying to do exactly what you suggest, fighting the oligarchs for fairer representation. This fight resulted in one minor and one major civil war. It also resulted in the various actors becoming used to the idea of external intervention - And it got the external actors to get used to involving themselves in our affairs.

So in actual fact, one could say that from the 1940's to 1991, there has been a perpetual struggle for Lebanon.

From 91 to 2005, the Syrian dominance over a nation just enjoying not being at war meant that people got used to being cowed.

Since 2005, people begun to voice their anger; Politicians like Najah Wakim, who were ridiculed in the late 90's and onwards dont sound so foolish now.

The main problem Lebanon has today is the level of emnity that exists between the various parties. The vitriol they have for one another is on a level very many times that above what is usually kept for political opponents. This hate as it has become is still at a level that can turn deadly. Until the nation takes a deep breath and steps back from that abyss, nothing can change because we will not trust each other to apply that change for the good of all.

And just to prove what I am saying, imagine how many would start a reply to this post with "yes but, if only so and so would do so and so everything would be fine" - In other words, if only they would do what we want, there wouldnt be any problems! No one is going to do what the other side wants - It doesnt happen in sombre Western democracies so its hardly going to happen in our hot house.

Until we learn to accomodate rather than hate, work with rather than against, we ain't going anywhere.

Ghassan Karam said...

I honestly and genuinely like your post. I have never said that there is no hope but I literally cry at opportunities missed.
Eventually there is going to be a resolution but I am afraid that I will miss it. It just is not going to happen fast enough. Furthermore if we don't move fast enough to put our house in order then the world will again pass us by.
I have no idea whether you would agree with me on this but i firmly believe that Lebanon can rise like the Phoenis and it can influence the region but only if we stop being sectarian. Secularism has a bad name in Lebanon because we are essntially a conservative traditional society and many peole think that secularism means that they can no longer practice their faith. I am always flabergasted when I find out that the majority of the Lebanese dismiss secularism outright based on a misconception.

Ghassan Karam said...

You are right that I did not see the triumph of the "opposition" in Lebanon but if you go back to the archives I have not changed my position that much. I just do not believe that the good old days were that good. Actually the roots for the current crisis were sown by the Chamoun administration and Maronite arrogance.

mo said...


I don't think you will miss a resolution because I think things are changing maybe not that fast but fast enough.

It is those that use secterniasim to enthrall and put fear in their followers that are on the back foot.

I know you are not a big fan(understatement)of Hizballah or Aoun. But put aside everything else they represent that you don't like, in terms of arms, Islamism etc., and look at their MOA from a purely social and political point of view.

This agreement for me is a turning point in Lebanons history. The two parties (sects, whatever you wish to call them) that have historically been so far apart to come together like this is historic.

Yes,secularism has a bad name not I think because we are such a conservative society, but because like I said earlier, the country was born secterian. The problem is secularism has failed dismally in the past to help people achieve their goals be they social, military or political, and I am thinking mostly about the Nasserite and Arab Republic period while the secterian parties have been very successful in providing for their people. Furthemore, Arabs who oppose Israel, will have seen 60 years of many secular groups fighting Israel and achieving zilch and one religious group come along and achieve what Arab nations could not.

I suppose what am I saying is its all about setting an example. Until people have a secular party to vote for, that is strong, strong enough to make a difference then they have no choice but to go secterian.

I cannot state how much I agree with you about Lebanons Phoenix like abilities (hey it was named after us so we should be able to do it !) and our ability to be influential far greater than our size should allow. The resourcefulness and ingenuity I have seen in Lebanon is frankly remarkable. If we could only find a way to channel those abilites into building a nation and economy.

What we have to do is find a way that allows people like you and me, who are on relatively opposite sides of the political spectrum but do not talk in language that make one another sound like animals, to find a way of working together; To put aside mistrust (because, from my experience, a lot of one side thinks of the other is based not sio much on fact but misconception and mistrust).

Bad Vilbel said...


I know you never changed your beliefs or positions. I've always appreciated your original positions on the subject, as you were one of the few skeptics back when everyone was trumpeting the advent of the Cedar Revolution.

You were more hopeful than you are now though. I literally saw the change before my eyes from "I'm skeptical that these feudal lords can really live up to the spirit of M14. But I see change coming." to "It's hopeless. The Lebanese people are rotten to the core and are to blame." over the period of a few years...


Free Blog Counter