For some reason, the term ‘overkill’ has not worked its way into the Lebanese vocabulary. When a new leader arrives on the scene, logic goes that he must be celebrated ad nauseam. Today’s leader au jour is army commander Michel Sleiman, as seen about a thousand times this morning on my commute from Mount Lebanon to Beirut. It included:
Sleiman in uniform.
Sleiman in a suit.
Sleiman on the bridges. Sleiman, Sleiman…
Sleiman, Sleiman. Two Sleiman’s are better than one?
Even gas stations caught the buzz.
So who had all the time and money to put up this glossy abundance of signage? The municipalities of greater Beirut apparently.
Filling crater-like pot holes that dot the country’s roads or putting up street lamps to illuminate the dark and dangerous highways at night is clearly a second priority for these men in yellow trucks. It’s far more important, it seems, to celebrate a leader who has barely made a single public policy speech and whose politics thus remain a complete mystery to most Lebanese.
I’m not saying he is a bad choice. Sleiman is credited with keeping the Army united as the country’s politicians toyed with civil war. He is the ‘consensus’ candidate, loved by all, at least for now.
But his candidacy raises an inherent problem with Lebanese political culture. It is too often based on idolatry rather than issues, limited to stern looks or smiling faces over concrete policies and proposals. To succeed in Lebanese politics is to create a personality cult based on mythological strength rather than identifiable achievements.