Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Autumn Of Lebanon And The Arab Spring

By Walid Choucair
This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 03/06/2011

Is it possible that Lebanon is experiencing an "autumn" of unknown duration, at a time that has come to be called the "Arab spring"?

The essence of Arab revolutions and uprisings, irrespective of the problems they encounter in this or that country, is based on trying to achieve a minimum of political pluralism, after decades of tyranny and one-party rule. Meanwhile, the domestic struggle in Lebanon is moving that country's political life in the direction of less pluralism, by which Lebanon has always been distinguished compared to its surrounding region, despite the distortions in the country's political life due to the sectarian political regime.

The Taif Accord resulted when Lebanon's pluralism reached a crisis over dividing power between Muslims and Christians. The partnership between them was distributed based on a precise balance, and the Lebanese sects' acceptance of this system was based on the idea that this partnership should be subjected to bargaining and political settlements imposed by the needs of a variety of sects and political forces in these sects, with each making mutual concessions instead of seeking all-out domination over the power structure.

However, Taif could not be implemented, due to external, and specifically Syrian, intervention in managing power in Lebanon, and this prevented the implementation of the distribution mechanism that was created for various decision-making posts. The reason for the blockage of Taif was essentially external, and in many instances relied on the use of force. The Lebanese were not allowed to test their ability to bargain and see concessions made by the elements making up political society; this is because the use of force and violence in drafting political settlements does away with, at the core, the idea of pluralism, rendering such a system a disguised "one-party" system.

The element of external force obscures the true reasons for the obstruction of a Lebanese pluralistic formula. This is because domestic polarization in the dispute over positions of decision-making is a reflection of the external competition over holding on to power in Lebanon, as expressed through issues such as the dispute over Lebanon's regional role, its identity and its alliances… Thus, local political forces require artificial domestic slogans that justify the reasons for their bias toward external parties. Therefore, the regional and international external settlement over Lebanon is not ready yet, although the preparations for completing it (the settlement between Saudi Arabia and Syria, or "S-S") involved concessions imposed by Lebanese pluralism, but what actually happened was the bringing down of the national unity government headed by Saad Hariri. The external situation did not permit the degree of national unity presumed by the settlement. Thus, also, Lebanon's external conditions prevent Hariri from even playing his role as a caretaker prime minister. He is denied a role in running day to day affairs, even if it involves the rescue of Lebanese stuck in the Ivory Coast. He is forced to leave the country because there are those "who do not want to hear his name." There are efforts being made to do away with his connections to state technical and security organizations; meanwhile, a prime minister is designated but he is unable to speak in the name of his sect and plays no role in the formation of a new government, except for "waiting" for what the influential political forces do to complete the Cabinet formation, which has yet to be completed…

The same goes for how the president and speaker of Parliament are unable to create an agreement that is limited in size and duration on extending the mandate of the Central Bank governor, even though this issue is connected to maintaining a minimum level of monetary stability. The former is obliged to provide cover for the inter-Christian conflict, in which he represents one of the parties, by taking steps to compensate for the efforts by his rivals to weaken him. This growing struggle has prompted some to seize the opportunity of putting forward the idea of amending the Taif Accord. The speaker, meanwhile, must provide cover for the Sunni-Shiite struggle by accusing his rivals of taking Lebanon 60 years backward, without taking into consideration his own role and sharing of power over the last 20 years.

Thus, also, a political leader such as Walid Jumblatt, whose weight must be taken into consideration in the country's formula, resorts to waxing nostalgic about the old, i.e. pre-Taif Lebanon. This is a result of his feeling of "weightlessness" on the political scene. He visits former Prime Minister Salim Hoss and seeks guidance from his opinions, and remembers the late Prime Minister Saeb Salam when visiting his son, Tammam, and the elder Salam's slogan, "no victor, no vanquished." This phrase has profound symbolism.

Lebanon is in a state of chaos. The local and external influential political forces in the country are awaiting the results of the Arab spring, in order to discover the shore upon which the Lebanese ship will dock. This need leads to a suspension of everything else, such as Taif, and the requirements of pluralism that govern the agreement. A state of chaos is fertile ground for some to slip toward the logic of all-out victory. It is the autumn of Lebanon.

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