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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lebanon is Drunk on Revolution Wine

Something is in the making in the Lebanon, and it is my opinion that no good can come out of it
Today's post is about Lebanon. To be more precise, it is about Lebanese politics.
You see, something is in the making in the Lebanon, and it is my opinion that no good can come out of it.

Those of you who have been following the uprisings in the Middle-East might have gotten a hunch that the spirit of revolution is spreading amongst the people, while a surge of ill-witted responses is hitting their respective dictators, and Lebanon is no exception.
Naturally, we don't have a dictator. Some might say we have about 128 of them (that's the size of the Lebanese parliament), while other blame single entity: The sectarian system.

Quick recap for the non-Lebanese: In Lebanon public office is divided by religion. The president must be Christian Maronite, the speaker of the house must be Muslim Shiite, the prime minister position goes to Muslim Sunnis. Parliament and other official functions are divided into quotas for each sect and religion in the country.. One might wonder how this place has been able to function so far.

In the midst of a government-formation crisis, a fuel crisis, and a latent uneasy feeling that nothing is getting done to improve the people's living conditions, the people have had enough.
Well they've had enough for quite some time, except now they're planning an uprising.

Down with the sectarian system

At noon on February 27th, the Lebanese (or some of them at least) will take to the streets in protest. They march to demand a secular system that will bring about a better class of politicians and help us shape our country after our hopes and dreams. Does this sound like a protest you'd be willing to take part of ? This is the manifesto you should read. [arabic content]

I believe no good will come of it.
I've never been a fan of the system in Lebanon. In fact, a secular system is very much what I would hope for, but the best I can say about this uprising is that it is Naive.

If the Lebanese are hoping for a better class of politicians that will know what they are doing, and not bicker in ridiculous power struggles, then they need to get rid of all politicians. Choosing our politicians based on religion does in no way encourage the right people to get to the right position, but how often does that happen in the secular world really ? The political game is tricky, and it is in no way optimal. Take a look at all the incompetent politicians in the US and in Europe - our 'models' for secular governments.. We might get away with a technocracy, but that's not what the protest is calling for, is it ?

Another point I believe is naive, is the way the movement to a secular state is portrayed as the solution to most of our problems. Tell me, if the system was changed tomorrow:

- Will the issue of the special tribunal for Lebanon and all the disagreement around it go away ?
- Will the issue of Hizbullah and the conflict with Israel go away ?
- Will the sectarian lines that divide us as a people and make us vote for corrupt politicians within our sect instead of the capable deserving ones go away ?

I think not. Before we take to the streets and demand to change the system, let us improve our understanding of citizenship, let us improve our understanding of each other. I've said it before and I'll say it again: We are not a nation. We are a conglomerate of communities who got stuck into living with each other under one roof, where each community's only pseudo-guarantee of survival is the current system. It is in no way ideal, but it addresses a deeply rooted paranoia among Lebanon's different sects.

What we need to learn before we take to the streets is how to be a nation, where every individual sees himself as a part of the whole, regardless of his religion. Then the transition into a secular state will be smoother. The only thing that dismantling the current system while people are still deeply divided along sectarian lines will achieve is strip away the "survival guarantees" of the less prominent sects in Lebanon, paving the way for paranoia-driven chaos.

I believe we should focus our efforts elsewhere, namely on a step-by-step process which we would have to go through anyway in the best case scenario where a revolution actually works:

Let us push for the amendment of our personal status law. It is ridiculous that people of different religions have different laws applied to them, and we should find a sensible solution that appeals to all, with sensible compromise.

Let's make civil marriage a reality. It is the first step to encourage people of different religions to marry each other.

Let us educate ourselves and the future generations about all religions, and about the meaning of citizenship, not just with slogans, but with real awareness campaigns. Social media is powerful, and we're using it well already. Let's just refocus our target.

We need a better class of politicians. That is undoubtedly true. And if you were to march for that cause, I would be the first to hop a plane and join you. But as long as long you do it in the name of a naive half-baked revolution, I can't be very enthusiastic about it. What I do hope happens, is that the protest makes a mark and shows that secularism is popular, and hopefully that will jump start the (slow and painful) law reform process.

On a final note, a lot has been written lately on the issue, and if it wasn't for all the commenting I did on some of the articles, I wouldn't have ended up writing this one. Please show some love to the blog articles that inspired this one.

My thought for the day:
Secularism is not a miracle drug, I hope everyone stops looking at it that way.


February 26, 2011 at 2:18 PM Anonymous

"Secularism is not a miracle drug" ofcourse it's not, and that's not how we see it. but we do realize that the sectarianism is hindering way too many things, and therefore, we want to fix that.

education is the most important part of all of this. it's key. many NGOs are working on this and their efforts are wonderful. but media drowns all the non-politically-affiliated efforts .. maybe the protest is an attempt to draw attention away from single minded perspective that the country is run by, break the ice.. again.

thanks for the mention.

February 28, 2011 at 9:56 PM Danielle

Thanks for showing me the love. Fadi for President of Lebanon! (Would you take it if the title was handed to you? Would ya would ya?)

February 28, 2011 at 11:32 PM Fadi

Dani: under the current system I couldn't be president even if I wanted to, but again.. if I were to be president, I couldn't just go to tweetups whenever I felt like it, and I sure as hell couldn't live in Sweden :P I'll just leave it to someone else..

Blkbtrfli: I was actually impressed by the numbers that took part in the protest, and I'm glad to see the media pick up on it. I'm hoping there's a serious reform project behind it, not just smoke and slogans. Cheers !

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