I will write more about this soon, but for now here are some of my comments featured in the Wall Street Journal this week, prefaced by a priceless quote from one of our MPs:
In a telephone interview, Mr. Gemayel said his bodyguards did nothing wrong and blamed protestors for instigating the violence.
When asked why his convoy was parked illegally, in the middle of the street, closing down part of a busy Beirut neighborhood, Mr. Gemayel was at first reticent.
“They were not parked illegally. Ok, they were parked in the middle of the street but the street wasn’t being used.”
Journalists like Habib Battah, who writes the popular blog BeirutReport.com, point to how comfortable officials like Mr. Gemayel are when openly admitting to breaking the law, and the media’s partisanship as a reason why citizen journalism is so important in Lebanon. Political parties own the majority of Lebanon’s media outlets.
More and more Lebanese citizens, Mr. Battah says, are tired of the status quo: a corrupt government, arbitrary laws and a complacent populace, which helplessly waves off abuses with the “Welcome to Lebanon” mantra.
Mr. Battah’s blog has documented much of Nasawiya’s standoff with Mr. Gemayel and is credited with challenging wasteful government projects. More recently, Mr. Battah helped stave off the destruction of two important archaeological sites, one dating from the Roman Empire, nearly torn down by real estate developers earlier this year.
But activists and bloggers like Mr. Battah have a gargantuan task: Lebanon’s government is considered one of the most corrupt in the world, according to a study by Transparency International, a global watchdog.
Although Lebanon has not experienced the Arab Spring revolutions its neighbors have – largely because of its more pronounced sectarian divisions — popular discontent with the government still runs high. But channeling that discontent into change is difficult.
“I don’t feel protected by the judicial system. My only recourse is writing about what I see on my blog. And hoping it goes viral,” said Mr. Battah.