Lebanese Democracy: It Just Isn’t What You Think

By Ghassan Karam, Special to Ya Libnan

WWhenever the subject of democracy, modernity, equality or liberty come up, which is almost in every conversation, the Lebanese invariably advance the argument that the Lebanese society is the most liberal in the Middle East, and is the most advanced and the most democratic. Some will even imply that the Lebanese are the smartest, the best educated and the most capable. Well guess what; narcissism and hubris are arguably the worst of sins. Misplaced arrogance is nothing short of self deception.  But those who suffer of grandiose self deception will not usually listen to reason. This time, however, there is a factual study that presents as solid of an argument and as objective and scientific of an opinion as one can possibly ask for that can conclusively point to the errors brought about by hubris.

The process of healing whether it is for an individual, an institution or a state cannot begin until the offending entity admits to its mistakes and acknowledges that a different path is needed. The Second Annual State of Reform in The Arab World impressive study that calculates an Arab Democracy Index has just been released. The study is the culmination of an annual effort by a large number of Arab Think Tanks from Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria and Kuwait in conjunction with a number of European institutions.

The report for 2009 covered 10 Arab countries and concluded that democracy is not well entrenched in any of them. That in itself is a judgment that is worthwhile since it is in essence the result of Arabs who are looking at their own societies analytically. But what is of even greater concern for us in Lebanon is the fact that when all is said and done Lebanon ranks as the 4th country out of the ten in the study which is an improvement on our rank of being the sixth out of the 8 countries studied during 2008. Thank goodness for the improvements.

What the study shows conclusively is what many of us have known for a long time but unfortunately the politicians have consistently refused to admit. Lebanon is a hollow democracy with many ineffective institutions, legislation that is never implemented, social injustices that are dealt with through lip service and the most egregious of all a backward. Undemocratic even feudal electoral system based on the most discriminatory idea of sectarian belief.

This comprehensive study goes on to highlight some very relevant facts about other Arab countries. The two countries that have the most influence in Lebanon and the two that in essence shape many of its decisions and policies; Saudi Arabia and Syria; have the lowest Democracy Index rank among the ten countries covered by the study and the third lowest respectively.

The final rankings were as follows:

Jordan  620         Morocco  601          Egypt 596          Lebanon 583         Algeria 570

Kuwait  553         Palestine 506           Syria  461           Yemen   457          Saudi Arabia 402

Can you imagine seeking instructions from a tutor who is more badly in need of remedial work than the client? That in a nutshell is our sad state of affairs. If we do not reverse these trends and introduce political, social and economic reforms then our chances of ever becoming a vibrant, modern and liberal state will just fade away. Will we ever realize that a wish is not a plan?

The Rankin

You can read the full report here.