By Ghassan Karam, Special to Ya Libnan
The Middle East is a tough neighbourhood. That is incontrovertible. But to use that as an excuse not to call things by their real name is a travesty. Lebanese society is a good example of the dangers that reside inside such dismissive attitudes. Rampant corruption, misguided policies, human rights violations, social injustice, economic inequities and ecological degradations are excused, brushed aside and even justified by always comparing them to the records of other neighbours and constantly concluding that since conditions in Lebanon are less illiberal then they are to be tolerated and even promoted.
Current Municipal elections are an excellent illustration of the above permissive attitude and the tendency not to hold any party or political leader accountable. Elections in a democracy are expected to be an automatic process that takes place according to a time table that is predetermined by the law of the land. Both potential candidates and registered voters know in advance of a date certain when these seminal acts are to occur. But not in Lebanon. Our political oligarchs feel the need to reinvent the wheel, at every turn, in an effort to demonstrate their magnanimity to the ruled. The whole Lebanese government, including the President spent months discussing whether the elections are to be held, when they are to be held and how are they to be held. I always thought that responsive democracies, we never tire of proclaiming Lebanon a leader in democratic affairs, hold elections whenever the calendar triggers the process. Well such behavior can be excused because our oligarchs have nothing else to do and so they feel compelled to create pretense of work in order to fill their time.
So what was the outcome of all this hullaballoo in the three largest Lebanese cities? Sham election in Beirut, no elections in Tripoli and potentially quasi elections in Sidon. In Beirut, March 14, pulled all the stops in order to avoid an election by popular vote and cobbled together a coalition that satisfied most of the traditional political leaders. A renegade group dared to insist on challenging the status quo and so nominated its own slate of candidates that offered less than token competition. The oligarchs rule was not to be challenged. Tripoli on the other hand promises to be even more of a shady process. Mr. Samir Al Jissr, a Mustaqbal MP, told Voice of Lebanon radio that”an agreement has been reached as to who is to head the Tripoli Municipality and there is no problem in specifying the other members on the list…” Who is it that forged this agreement and what was the input of the residents of Tripoli? Is that what we call elections; oligarchs choosing who is to do their bidding. In Sidon on the other hand, Al Mustaqbal worked hard to prevent an actual election from taking place and almost pulled it off except that at the last minute a relatively credible opposition decided that if Municipal elections are to be held then voters must have a choice. This was reluctantly accepted by MP Bahia Hariri and MP Fouad Saniora. They are bemoaning the fact that Sidon is to have a real election when it could have anointed oligarch representatives.
Another illustration of the tendency not to call things by their name are the almost daily statements by Sheikh Naim Qassem in which he declares that “It is our right as a resistance to own arms that we see appropriate to carry out our obligations … “What the Hezbollah deputy secretary-general neglects to say is that the militia/resistance in question is above the law, exists in spite of the law and is trained and financed by foreign interests in order to do their bidding. Now that is representative democracy isn’t it? What is the difference between the rationale of the Hezbollah militia and the egregious acts of many residents of Ketrmaya?
The current Lebanese oligarchs can teach George Orwell a thing or two about newspeak. Corruption is efficiency, social injustice is equitable, labour exploitation is progressive , environmental degradation is eco friendly, unbearable sovereign debt coupled with a real estate bubble is a sign of economic strength, daily electric power rationing is a sign of prosperity, private “public” beaches speaks of equality of access, poverty is a sign of economic growth, expensive private education implies equal opportunity , sectarianism and oligarchical structure is vibrant democracy and yes pigs do fly.