Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lebanon's political circus

Parliamentary elections were held in June. We are now in September ... still no government.

An excellent editorial (below) in The Daily Star expresses exactly how I, and many Lebanese, feel about the joke that is Lebanon's politics.

Spare us the agony of this freak-show called 'governance' in Beirut

The Daily Star

The ongoing effort to form a government in Lebanon several months after the parliamentary elections is a joke that just isn’t funny anymore. It is no wonder that so many Lebanese citizens have chosen to tune out all talk about the cabinet, rather than continue watching this sad spectacle unfold. After rounds and rounds of negotiations, the clowns who call themselves politicians have gotten themselves nowhere but into a cul de sac. If Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri’s proposed lineup is rejected, he will bow out of his duties, but the Parliament will re-elect him to repeat the whole process, which will likely end in another failure. This pathetic exercise makes the task of Sisyphus – who in Greek mythology was condemned for eternity to roll a huge bolder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down again – look productive.

Both the opposition and the parliamentary majority share responsibility for the current deadlock. Yet neither camp is acknowledging the real reasons that governance in Beirut so often resembles a circus event. It’s not just the clowns, or the politicians, who create a freak-show environment it’s the circus ring itself – or Lebanon’s political system – that encourages politicians to act this way.

The only long-term solution to Lebanon’s perineal political woes is to completely overhaul the system That means drafting a new electoral law that provides a basis for genuine representation in the government and creating mechanisms for actually implementing the long-ignored clauses of the Taif Accord.

To do that we need a government, but not just any old government. Such important decisions can never be taken without unanimity – or at least broad consensus – among Lebanon’s multiple factions.

President Michel Sleiman can spare us the agony of watching this freak-show of attempted governance any longer by proposing a three-month unity cabinet that takes on the challenge of building a functional political system. Such a temporary government could then work on the urgent tasks of implementing the Taif Accord and drafting a new electoral law before being disbanded in preparation for the creation of a new cabinet. After this exercise, any newly created cabinet would be equipped with tools for actually governing the country, as opposed to merely embarrassing its citizens.

The only alternative to this suggestion is to engage in what Albert Einstein’s defined as insanity – to keep doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results.

We know that the current system has produced failure upon failure. It continues to lead us to the brink of conflict, and it has inhibited our development and progress. The Lebanese deserve much better – both from their politicians and the political system in which they operate.

An overhaul of the system is exactly what is required to end 66 years of political farce. But we shouldn't and cannot wait for our politicians, or clowns, to "lead" us into an age of stability and prosperity. My post yesterday pointed to the emergence in recent years of civil society and local movements. Lebanese society is slowly distancing itself from the old, mafioso political elite that has offered nothing to the Lebanese people but rhetoric, economic mismanagement, war and constant instability. The above editorial in a Lebanese paper demonstrates that sections of the public are becoming more and more disenchanted from the wranglings of the political oligarchs, perhaps marking the beginning of a break from our hedonistic culture where warlords and chieftains are idolised to the extreme, in Arabic za'im. To put it simply, no one cares anymore.


Anonymous said...

This is very true, and has been going on for a long while now. But you'd still be surprised at the large amount of the population who - despite all the stupid acts mentioned above - still follow BLINDLY their so-called leaders. I think the very low percentage of empty ballots shows that people STILL follow politicians. I hope it will quickly change and the politicians will end up on their own. The only reason they're still there is the people who follow them.

Antoun said...


You're absolutely right, the bulk of people still follow our sectarian, factional process.

An alternative hasn't really been presented though, whereas I think with the development of a civil society, an alternative might grow from within.

That's what I'm hoping for anyway.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I'm so late. Your description of the parliamentarians' action sound like the US Congress, esp. the Republicans who seem to want NO as an answer to anything beneficial to the poor 2/3's of the population and then to the weak-kneed Democratic senators that kowtow to the wishes of the Republicans and wonder why the bills with both the regular information and the Republican amendments make each bill 1000 to 2000 pages long. I turn them off as your Lebanese listeners do. 2 parts in each section doesn't work much better than 17. It is more the attitudes of the people in the government that refuse to compromise. Government is messy every where. Each country needs more people with common sense ideas and a desire to work for everyone instead of I'm right and everyone has to be wrong if they don't agree 100%.