Lebanon’s Disconnect from Reality
By: Fidaa Itani
Published Wednesday, April 18, 2012
It would be truly tragic were the Lebanese public not fully complicit in it: the state and role of Lebanon’s government and politicians, and of its democracy, which has degenerated from a game into a total farce.
There is a complete disconnect between reality, what we see on TV, and what the politicians say.
The reality is that the entire country is living on the edge of civil and regional war, with struggles and international conflicts raging all around it, fires burning in Syria, and the revolution’s vain attempts to effect change over the northern and eastern borders. The Lebanese sects see a day coming when they can resume invading each other, and plunge the land of incense and honey back into a conflict aimed at settling the cardinal question: “Which sect rules Lebanon?”
The outward appearance, meanwhile, is of squabbles over the definition of social security, and whether Lebanese emigres should vote in parliamentary elections.
The sense of alarm was such that Hezbollah was prompted to stage undeclared paramilitary exercises in Lebanon a few weeks ago. These extended to various parts of the country, with units discreetly deploying in the capital then pulling almost unnoticed. It is also said that hundreds of Lebanese Forces fighters flocked to the old battlefronts after Samir Geagea was fired on by a sniper. They were reportedly intending to attack parts of the southern suburbs and Ras al-Nabaa, and would have done had their leaders not hastened to hold them back.
Amid this high tension on the streets, the president of the republic goes globe-trotting. It’s a mystery what goes on in his mind or what prompts him to go on these tours.
Here he is in Australia, saying things that could make a baby’s hair stand on end. He speaks of holding parliamentary elections, even if under the antiquated 1960 election law, and even if we go back to 1860. This is an allusion to when sectarian massacres began in Lebanon, notably between Maronites and Druze. Their bloody memory still lingers in Lebanese minds, and incessantly re-enacts itself every decade and a half or two. Yet the country’s president, instead of seeking to reassure his compatriots, stands up and stresses his determination to ensure that parliamentary elections take place. The elections will bring nothing new, and serve only to re-consolidate the sharing of spoils between Lebanon’s tribes. But the president is so determined to hold them that he’ll put up with sectarian massacres if need be.
The president’s travels seem to have disconnected him from the current reality, which is that there are political and sectarian groups that are intent on settling accounts with each other, and reducing each other’s shares, via the proportional representation law. They want to use it to cut down the influence of the groups that have sided with the Syrian revolution in pursuit of local vendettas and in hopes of enhancing their domestic influence. So determined are they to exploit this rare opportunity to undermine their rivals, that they are seriously considering not going to the polls next year.
Opposing them are the groups that seek by all possible means not to lose ground at the forthcoming elections, while waiting for the Syrian regime to fall, and their fortunes in Lebanon to improve – either automatically, or with the support of the new sectarian dispensation in Syria. In a bid to avoid sustaining losses, they insist on applying the 1960 election law as amended by Ghazi Kanaan, or on blocking the elections as a last resort, to gain more time pending the demise of the regime.
So the president does not seem alone in his disconnection from reality. While he declares that the election law will enable emigres to vote, the country wrestles with a thousand demons, and the nation’s elected representatives take to the screens to regale the public with floods of curses directed at their fellow MPs and members of the Mikati government.
Lebanon’s politicians have an incurable case of disconnection from reality. But the country’s citizens are not dissimilar. They spend four years cursing the politicians, and then routinely reinstate them in their parliamentary seats, prompted by pathological sectarianism coupled with petty self-interest. The politicians then continue to drag their country to the brink of civil war, while lining their pockets, lying via the media ,talking of developing the country, and hurling accusations at others.
Only regional and international players ameliorate and protect us from the politicians’ disconnection from reality. It is they who invariably set us straight, by telling us that nobody can be bothered, or has the time, to watch us killing each other. So the Lebanese defer their next round of invasions , and watch the pathologies of their politicians and their not-so-ailing compatriots.
Fidaa Itani is an Al-Akhbar columnist on Lebanese affairs and Islamist movements.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.