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Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Lebanon’s trash bin politics

A basket deal to solve the presidential impasse would benefit the country’s tribal chieftains while continuing to ignore the welfare of ordinary citizens

A woman holds her breath as she walks near a temporary garbage dump in the neighborhood of Jdeideh, northeast of the Lebanese capital Beirut on September 1, 2016. (AFP/Anwar Amro)

Haggling and disagreements over new spoils, masquerading as negotiations over the presidential election, dominated Lebanon’s political scene over the past week.

 

As characteristic of Lebanese politics, the vote for a new president is a contest between tribal chiefs. The process is always disconnected from actual governance. Other than “restoring Christian rights” or “recognizing Shiite demographic increase and political ascendance,” the presidential election has no relevance to the country’s needs, its resources, or how to match the two.

 

Lebanese politicians are often consumed by their meaningless squabbling and start behaving as if the general public is raptly following their petty proposals and counterproposals, the most recent of which was Speaker Nabih Berri’s “basket” offer to presidential candidate Michel Aoun.

 

In Lebanese political lingo, basket means a series of deals, stricken all at once. In this case, Berri — who has been singlehandedly obstructing Aoun’s election — agrees to support Aoun to become president, only if Aoun agrees to later steps. That is, before Aoun becomes president, he has to agree to the selection of a prime minister, the choice of parliamentary election law and other concessions.

 

While “other concessions” required of Aoun might include some form of constitutional amendment in favor of the Shiites, and perhaps agreeing to share any potential revenue from Lebanon’s to-be-explored gas reserves, Aoun has pushed back, trying to argue that it is unconstitutional to slap preconditions on the election of a president.

 

Needless to say, Aoun ignores the fact that — over the past decade — he has set a series of conditions at almost every step that he or his parliamentary and ministerial blocs took. Aoun’s ministers never attend cabinet meetings without having determined the outcomes of the meeting beforehand. Aoun’s parliamentary bloc has skipped close to 50 parliamentary sessions for the election of a president, so long as the result of the election is not in favor of Aoun for presidency.

 

When confronted with constitutional mandates of attending parliamentary sessions dedicated to presidential election, Aoun and his bloc often countered by reverting to the National Pact, which in their minds is violated if Aoun is not elected president. Hence, to Aoun, the so-called pact trumps the constitution.

 

Lebanon’s presidential bickering is not only silly and irrelevant to the lives and interests of the Lebanese, there is no reason why Lebanese politicians should have blown it out of proportion.

 

To put things in perspective, consider that while Lebanon’s chief executive presides over a country of five million people and an annual budget of $10 billion, the mayor of New York runs a city with 10 million residents and a yearly budget of $58 billion.

 

If electing Aoun president, along with a series of compromises known as the basket, help break Lebanon’s political impasse, then let it be. The problem is, with or without Aoun in Baabda, and with or without compromises, the Lebanese state will continue to be a failing one. Lebanon’s failure is structural, and cannot be rectified by redistributing state positions to the same old oligarchs.

 

For Lebanon to dig itself out of the hole it lives in, politics will have to reflect the interests of its people. Presidential election, and the ensuing prime ministerial and cabinet appointments, will have to be connected to the nation’s problems and how to solve them.

 

Modernizing Lebanon’s politics by connecting them to reality requires upgrading the underlying sociopolitical culture. This seems impossible given the ease with which Lebanon’s oligarchs can agitate the majority of the Lebanese by simply reverting to sectarian fear mongering.

 

As long as Lebanon’s sociopolitical culture cannot sustain modern politics, all sorts of Lebanese elections — presidential, parliamentary or municipal — will remain irrelevant to the welfare of the country and the interest of its citizens.

 

And as long as Lebanon’s political terminology includes words like basket, which in Arabic can also mean a trash bin, the country will keep living in the piles of garbage that it has been for two years now.

 

Unfortunately, Lebanon has become a dumpster, and its political lingo reflects just that. Maybe if the current political brass is trashed altogether, another generation of leaders might emerge with slightly less trashy lingo and ideas. Until then, the Lebanese can only watch and try to keep their cool.

A woman holds her breath as she walks near a temporary garbage dump in the neighborhood of Jdeideh, northeast of the Lebanese capital Beirut on September 1, 2016. (AFP/Anwar Amro)

As long as Lebanon’s sociopolitical culture cannot sustain modern politics, all sorts of Lebanese elections — presidential, parliamentary or municipal — will remain irrelevant to the welfare of the country and the interest of its citizens.

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    "...with or without Aoun in Baabda, and with or without compromises, the Lebanese state will continue to be a failing one." Then why do you spend half of your drivel attacking Aoun with vitriol, with a mild slap on the hand to the corrupt-in-chief Berri, and not one word about Hezbollah whose boycott of elections is at least equal to Aoun's bloc and whose autonomous and hyper-militarized Iranian State within the Lebanese State has reduced the latter to the dumpster you refer to, and not a word about all the Sunni neanderthals whose umbilical cord to Saudi has shriveled out of Riyals and who only now are composing with Aoun as authentic traitors do? The Muslims of Lebanon are solely responsible for the decay of this country, what with their Saudi and Iranian priorities. Shouldn't you be focusing on the treason that this dual allegiance to foreign powers represents, just as your predecessors used to harp on the Christians' survival-driven alliance once with Israel? Your journalism does, in all honesty, rise from the bottom of the dumpster you are criticizing, smell, decay and all.

    October 8, 2016

  • كاتلين سعد

    I find you, friend without God, literate and balanced. Your written opinions poignant. Therefore, I must say that you are blessed with a calculating mind. I hate Hezbollah. I am a Maronite who admits that Maronites do not deserve the presidency of Lebanon. Why? In WWI France gained mandate over Lebanon and bestowed limitless powers on the Maronite clan. Had the Brits gained the mandate, the president would've been a Druze, not a Maronite. In WWII, Lebanon became a democracy headed by a Maronite dictator. Today's Lebanon is the why the Maronites do not deserve the presidency. Re. Hezbollah: from Amin Gemayel to Michel Sleiman, can you tell me why none of the Maronite presidents, Maronite army chiefs, Sunni prime ministers did not stop the flow of armaments to Hezbollah? Sleiman was army chief for 9 years and president for 6. That's a decade and a half of guarding the ports of entry of Hezbollah's arsenal. 33 years in total leadership of 2 Maronites - president and army head, and one Sunni - Prime Minister are enough to assure you that Hezbollah is as legitimate as 5.5 presidential terms. And I stress my dislike of Hezbollah. I suggest a solution: strip the Maronites of their constitutional rights. Give the presidency to... say Evangelicals??? They're too minority to cause headaches.

    October 9, 2016

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    I am flattered, but from past exchanges with you I have come to expect a level of discourse one hears in Deir El-Saleeb and other psychotic wards. But I will say this: Your knowledge of history and how the Maronites came to be bestowed with "limitless powers" is abysmally superficial. I wholeheartedly agree with you that neither the Maronites en bloc, nor any of the other religious cults that make up this country, should be ruling this country, and that we should be shedding this primitive definition of national identity. I also find it astonishing that you blame the Maronites for Hezbollah's armament when, pre-Taif, post-Taif, and into our present predicament, the Maronite President was either a puppet, a castrated eunuch, or a pro-Syrian occupation collaborator, and it was primarily the Sunni prime ministers, led by the Saudi hybrid Hariri, who oversaw the castration of the Maronite president into a "consensual" idiot and Hezbollah's maintenance and arming, in violation of the Taif Agreement. Suffice it to say that now, as we speak, and as the Syrian grip is finally really lifting, those same Sunnis are courting the Maronites and acquiescing to a "strong" Maronite president. The country's predicament over the past decade has nothing to do with the Maronites or the Christians of this country: It is nothing but the treason of the Muslims who define their political life in this country by what Riyad and Tehran tells them to do. The Christians in general have no foreign allegiances to speak of, and if they collaborated with Israel in the past it was simply for survival. Pseudo-intellectuals who parrot left-wing inanities they read in trash newspapers while puffing cigarettes in Hamra coffee shops should instead do the difficult work of reading and understanding their history before commenting.

    October 10, 2016