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elections

Even if independent candidates don’t win big on election day, they are already having an impact on Lebanese political culture. They have introduced new styles of campaigning that come as a sharp contrast to how politics is commonly practiced in Lebanon.

While establishment politicians deploy their usual tactics: blanketing the streets with their faces:

Photo: Ali Harb/ Middle East Eye 

Spending hundreds of millions of dollars on canvases that say nothing and will be thrown in the garbage:

But also colonizing public spaces and causing traffic jams:

وصول الرئيس سعد الحريري الى قهوة دوغان – طريق الجديدة

Posted by Saad Hariri on Friday, May 4, 2018

 

Throwing lavish events for their supporters:

Posted by LF photos on Thursday, May 3, 2018

 

Giving out free flags and hats:

Posted by OTV on Saturday, April 28, 2018

 

Free food:

Balloons:

And even a Hezbollah orchestra, literally singing for your support:

Independents, meanwhile are taking the race to some unusual places. But places that are not unfamiliar to most Lebanese, who are not living in a party atmosphere.

The Madaniyya party, for example, held a press conference at a giant trash dump to call attention to the incumbent parties’ failure to deal with Lebanon’s waste crisis that is endangering public health.

Rather than adding more pollution to the mix, the Kollouna Watanti party created virtual posters on Facebook, photoshopping over the politicians faces with a deeper message: “When you see their advertisements, remember their accomplishments.”

فقط للتذكير أنّ اعلاناتهم ووعودهم الانتخابية التي تملأ طرقاتنا.. كان الاجدى ان تستخدم بتكاليفها الباهظة ليخبرونا عن انجازاتهم لا تكرار وعودهم التي لم تتحقق طوال تسعة سنوات..

Posted by ‎كلنا وطني‎ on Tuesday, May 1, 2018

 

Meanwhile the Kelna Beirut list decided to cover some of the faces with reflective sheets, bringing the campaign focus back to the voters and away from the leaders’ self promotion.

إنتو بيروت، كلنا بيروت

إنتو بيروت.#كلنا_بيروت

Posted by ‎Kelna Beirut – كلنا بيروت‎ on Tuesday, May 1, 2018

 

The Beirut list, LiBalladi, also introduced something that shouldn’t be new: debates between candidates

Curiously, establishment candidates cancelled their appearance at the last minute for unclear reasons.

Independents are also using their new platforms to raise important questions not often tackled by the media.

Here, candidate Ali Darwish unpacks the danger to Lebanon’s water resources that may result from the recent loans taken out by the Lebanese government as part of the “Cedre” package:

موقف علي درويش من مؤتمر سيدر للاستدانة!#كلنا_وطني

Posted by ‎Ali Darwish علي درويش‎ on Monday, April 30, 2018

 

Another party asks how well do you know your MPs? Do they ever come around when elections are over?

مين بتعرف من نواب بيروت الحاليين ؟#عصام_برغوت #بصوتك_يستمر_العطاء #لبنان_حرزان#تعليم #فرص_عمل #صحة #بيئة #انتخابات_٢٠١٨

Posted by ‎Issam Barghout – عصام برغوت‎ on Saturday, April 21, 2018

 

Finally, a LiBaladi commercial reminds voters that politicians have failed to address rampant pollution along the country’s beaches, the lack of safe public spaces for children to play and dangerous, overburdened roads with no public transportation:

شو عاملين ب6 أيار؟

Let's all get up and vote for hope on May 6!ما تطولوا النومة كتير، أجلوا مشوار البحر والجبل، وتعوا نصوت للتغيير ب6 أيار#شو_عاملين_ب6_أيار؟ #صوتي_لبلدي #كلنا_وطني

Posted by ‎LiBaladi – لبلدي‎ on Thursday, May 3, 2018

 

Now what is interesting is also how mainstream parties have reacted to independent campaigns. While some like Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea dismissed independents, others have somehow taken up some activist causes of recent years.

Here, Nicholas Sehnaoui, a former minister and senior leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, includes the Fouad Boutros Park in his list of projects, a plan proposed by heritage activists five years ago.

هيك بتصير بيروت الاولى!

هيك بتصير بيروت الاولى!تعرّفوا على برنامجي الانتخابي عبر: http://program.nicolas-sehnaoui.org

Posted by Nicolas Sehnaoui on Monday, April 23, 2018

 

Other candidates, such as Nadim Gemayel, have also begun speaking about the need for a right to the city, public spaces and sustainability, brought up extensively by new parties from previous elections such as Beirut Madinati.

Gemayel spoke recently to Facebook page El 3ama, which illustrates an important campaigning media change: politicians are now talking to alternative websites, when in the past, political communication strictly took place on party-run or affiliated channels. Interviews like this one let us see the candidates in a less controlled environment, catching them off guard at times and thus revealing more than they may have wanted to say:

Live NG El-3ama

Posted by Nadim Gemayel on Tuesday, April 10, 2018

 

Mainstream media outlets like LBC also seem keen on capturing a broader youth audience, with shows like Lawen Waslin, which is a bit like Carpool Karaoke with politicians. In this interview, former minister and political veteran Wiam Wahab takes activist positions on the destruction of Lebanon’s coast by private resorts. But then also in an awkward moment reveals that “women should not act like men.”

Major Lebanese TV channels are also reportedly charging guests up to $250,000 per appearance, keeping primetime a commodity mainly limited to the country’s business and political elites.

We saw a similar trend of activists differentiating themselves from mainstream political practices during Beirut’s municipal elections in 2016, where ruling party candidates also mimicked activist rhetorics. (You can read more about that in this previous post.)

Could this influence continue to strengthen in future elections?

During an episode of Al Jazeera’s The Stream, this week, I spoke with independent candidates and was struck by all the organizing work that has gone into their campaigns, with some creating nationwide alliances for the first time. Activist causes helped bring these individuals together to build wider networks and stronger platforms, competing in municipal elections, union elections and now parliamentary elections.

You can watch the full episode here:

Independent candidates are realizing that politics is a long term game, that takes years of organizing, alliance-building and election strategizing. But they are advancing quickly and their influence is already being felt. The mere fact that politics is taking place outside the established party system, that people now have alternative ways of expressing themselves and being heard is a feat on its own.

The number of candidates running this year (1,000) is an exponential increase on previous years, particularly when it comes to over 100 women candidates, including an unprecedented all-female election slate:

Posted by 10452 on Tuesday, March 20, 2018

 

Suddenly establishment parties are also featuring a number of women on their lists. Was this also a reaction to gender rights activism over recent years?

In their campaign posters, establishment parties project an air of confidence. This billboard simply says: “Beirut, don’t worry.”

But maybe Beirut should worry. The country is facing an environmental disaster, a public services disaster, a refugee crisis on a globally unprecedented scale, just to name a few.  Even if activists do not win, they are forming stronger coalitions of dissent to challenge those in power.

The political parties are still very entrenched and well resourced- after all, they have been building themselves up for decades. But their media and messaging is increasingly undermined and outdated. With so many new online media outlets, they can no longer monopolize public debates and hide uncomfortable issues from public view. With so many people interested in politics for the first time (partly due to the party’s failures) competition and oversight is growing and politicians cannot rely on old tactics as much as they once did.

In this changing political environment, it is the old guard that should be worried or at least less comfortable, and that could be a good thing for everyone.

If you still haven’t made up your mind, there are many resources out there such as Mist3ideen and Megaphone that have put together some extensive research on the candidates and the voting process.

4

In a space of a few hours, one can witness two radically different visions for Beirut’s future.

On a recent afternoon, under the shade of ficus trees, a town hall meeting was held by Beirut Madinati, the new political collective comprised of activists and urban professionals running in the city’s municipal elections. The group is campaigning on an issue-based platform that seeks to look beyond traditional clientalist and militia-style Lebanese politics. As such, they have organized a series of these town halls in city parks and public spaces dubbed Masahat Niqash (spaces for discussion) to get feedback from citizens-which is rarely if ever done by mainstream parties, who often rule by cults of personality built around feudal strongmen.

Dozens of citizens spoke up. Each was given a two minute intervention. They raised their hands and waited for their turn. The atmosphere was passionate yet orderly.

IMG_6092 (1)
Beirut Madinati town hall in Ashrafieh
IMG_6119 (1)
Any participant could speak but with a limit of 2 minutes per speaker

Citizens produced a range of detailed ideas and questions related to the problems of water distribution, traffic, pollution, lack of maintenance of streets, sewers and sidewalks, municipal taxes and accountability. The questions and suggestions were written down and Beirut Madinati candidates responded with answers and proposals.

About an hour later, I was walking through Sassine Square, feeling slightly more optimistic about Beirut’s political future, when I heard loud music and honking in the distance. Soon the cacophony grew louder and suddenly a convoy of cars approached the intersection.

They included loudspeaker trucks, black tinted SUV’s, loud police-style sirens and an escort of young tough-looking men on scooters–all with the candidate’s face plastered on the front:

IMG_6220 (3)
Candidate convoy enters Sassine Square

The scooter men drove toward the center of the intersection—one of the busiest in Beirut– and began blocking cars from crossing. They held up traffic for several minutes as the entire convoy of some 50 vehicles blaring horns and sirens passed through a red light.

IMG_6233
Campaigners use scooters to block all lanes at one of Beirut’s busiest intersections
IMG_6224
Scooter men direct the convoy through a red light at Sassine

Here is a video of the affair:

Not only did the campaigners break multiple traffic and public order laws by seizing an entire intersection in broad daylight, using illegal tints, police sirens and running red lights– they also seemed to create their own laws.

This included allowing a fellow tinted-window “important” Jaguar to pass through the convoy. Clearly this car could break the rules, even the fake rules, perhaps due to his Wasta, i.e political connections.

IMG_6225
Campaigners make an exception for a luxury car
IMG_6227
Tinted windows will take you places in Beirut

At one point, some people began honking their horns–one man got out of his car and shouting erupted. Lawlessness had broken down to violence. But within a few moments the convoy cleared and the scooter men dispersed. The police were nowhere to be found.

Although it only lasted a few minutes, the scene can be read as a microcosm of how politics is often practiced in Lebanon. The powerful rule through force, they flout the laws when it is convenient to self-interest, while allowing exceptions to allies. This often leads to clashes between citizens because the police have abdicated their posts or lack any sort of power to confront feudal or militia strongmen. Thus the powerful act with impunity.

Lastly, the candidate appropriates public property with his posters attached to street lamps around Sassine. His sectarian identity is clearly displayed with a visible golden crucifix around his neck.

There is no platform, no issues, no listening to citizens’ concerns, no patience and thoughtful contemplation. There is shouting and pushing, monopolizing the streets for the interest of a few, while the rest of the population is held up in traffic, at the mercy of these cults of personality and their intimidating ground operatives.

 

Meanwhile, Beirut Madinati continues to hold town hall meetings in an attempt to reach out to several neighborhoods. Last weekend they were in Kaskas, Horsh Beirut.

IMG_6291 (2)
Beirut Madinati town hall in Horsh Beirut
IMG_6344 (1)
Kaskas residents voiced concerns about unemployment and lack of services

The working class and poor neighborhood has traditionally voted for Beirut’s most powerful political dynasty, the party of ex-prime minister Saad Hariri. But rather than offer any sort of platform for fixing the city’s problems, he has merely used the clientalist patronage of his late father as incentive, superimposing his image in adverts:

13133195_10209579781915524_74194902385024805_n
Hariri municipality list as advertised on Facebook

Hariri’s campaign is using the slogan “Campaign for the Beyerti” a colloquial term, which for many, connotes notable Beirut Sunni families, the “real” Beirutis. Many find the term exclusionary to the city’s hundreds of thousands of residents that settled in the capital over the last few decades, including Lebanese Shia and Maronites as well as Palestinians, Syrians and others. Many point out that Hariri’s claim of authenticity is ironic considering the fact that his family actually hails from the southern town of Saida, and rather than address the city’s needs, his family’s massive real estate interests have only helped commodify the capital, erasing public spaces to facilitate massive real estate deals for wealthy Gulf investors that have helped fund his father’s political career.

The memes have already begun to voice that critique:

13082761_987177721363484_8116454484072581860_n
Source Swaha Cartoons

Beirut Madinati is not the only reform party. “Citizens Within A State”, headed by activist and ex-minister Charbel Nahas, is also proposing an issue-based platform and taking Beirut residents on free bus tours of corruption around the city.

Still, it will be hard for such groups to compete with the power of well-established political machines and the grip they have over public services and utilities as well as the meager handouts they offer the poor in exchange for votes. But whether or not they win, these new parties are introducing practices of Lebanese politics that differ significantly from their established rivals, offering a path toward change to build upon or at least the possibility of one.

9

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There’s still time to get tickets to next Saturday’s TEDx event, and as a speaker, fans of this blog will get a 20 percent discount. I have 10 discount codes to give away to the first people who comment below or reach me by social media.

And even if you’re sick of hearing my rants about preserving archeology and heritage sites, there are plenty of interesting speakers this year, doing much needed positive work in Lebanon. I have written about some of these individuals and organizations before including Beirut Green Project, represented by cofounder Dima Boulad:

 

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Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections activist Nabil Hassan:

10623061_701162806599394_6500397520225203796_n

 

And the 17-year-old CEO and app developer, Jihad Kawas, whom I interviewed for my recent magazine piece on the Arab tech industry for Aramco World.

10635704_700771529971855_6106360763693344357_n

 

Check out the TEDx site for more great speakers including positive innovators such as Beirut Creative Space founder, Sarah Hermez, Sanad founder, Lubna Izzidin, unconventional architect Imad Gemayel as well as musicians such as Karim Khneisser and Ashekman.

Once again, discount codes to the first 10 requests, either in the comments below or by Facebook or Twitter.

 

2

For decades, Lebanese politics has been ruled by a small group of men. So why not get some fresh faces in government?

This seemed to be the underlying subtext of a United Nations report on youth in politics, released earlier this week to a small audience at Parliament’s third floor auditorium.

Though many youth are active in parties, few are given decison-making positions, the report found. The parties also lack transparency, with budgets and political platforms either secret or nonexistent.  Perhaps most interesting of all, the report found most Lebanese political parties do not even hold elections.

The report, which was carried about on behalf of the UNDP by governance consultants Beyond Development and Reform, recommended term limits for party leaders as a possible way to see new faces in leadership positions–and to chart a path toward future growth.

“What will happen when the leader is gone,” posed BRD consultant Carmen Geha.

But many of those in attendance, including youth representatives from Lebanon’s dominant parities, balked at the suggestion of term limits for their leaders.

Tashnag’s Bakradonian

“Who are you to force a change in leadership,” asked Ashod Bakradonian, representative from the Armenian Tashnag party. “This is an internal issue. We should be able to keep our leaders for as long as we want.”

“You are so right,” said the representative from Hezbollah. “We want the Sayyed,” he added, in a reference to Hezbollah Secretary General, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah.

If someone has a problem with the leadership, they should change parties, he explained– a comment echoed by the others.

Youssef Bassam from Hezbollah’s youth delegation

It was one of the few moments of agreement among the partisan youth representatives, who frequently mocked one another throughout the two hour session.

Another recommendation called for a free access to information law. Following the civil war, television licensing had been restricted largely to groups associated with the parties in power, thus leaving a gap in objective reporting on government and party affairs.

But when the question of transparency came up, some joked about seeing transparency in Hezbollah’s military wing. The Hezbollah member answered: “We are all the military wing.”

When the moderator explained some parties didn’t respect the rights of women–others suggested there were parties that didn’t respect rights of the army.

The report also revealed that some parties have not even been officially registered with the government.

“Raise your hand Youssef,” a delegate who did not identify himself sitting with the March 14 members shouted out, pointing at the Hezbollah representative.

“We were registered in 1992,” Youssef shot back.

Despite this penchant for rules, the accuser spent most of the time playing games on his phone, pausing for the occasional snicker.

Other representatives, such as those from the Kateab party, argued that Lebanon lacked political culture and identity– impediments to reform. But the same participants also rejected a recommendation to  mandate all Lebanese parties have a minimum 1 percent membership in every qada (district/county), which could force the factions to be more inclusive and less territorial.

“Look at him,” one pointed toward the Armenian delegate. “He’s not Arab, why should we force him to be Arab?”

“Are you guys joking or speaking seriously,” Gilbert Doumit a consultant with BRD asked the delegates, urging a return to the study recommendations.

“Power corrupts. There should be a ceiling for power,” he said.

Others in the room rejected dealing with Lebanese parties altogether.

“We cannot build a political future on a false foundations,” a representative from Min Ajel El Joumhouryia (For the Sake of the Republic) commented. The new political group was part of efforts to occupy downtown Beirut earlier this year, protesting the postponement of elections and the lack of accountability for MPs.

A delegate from Min Ajal El Joumouriya rejects the party system

But a Syrian Baath party representative countered, warning the new movements not to sideline official parties, “who had sacrificed many martyrs for this country.”

“I guess we’ll need martyrs to get recognized,” the Joumhouriya member murmured quietly.

Of all the incumbent parties present only one conceded the need for change. “I would like better youth representation in my party,” Marada representative Rebecca Hosary said, to applause from the audience. 

But after we wrapped up, one of the UN delegates felt ill about the general atmosphere. “It makes you want to cry,” the representative said of the constant bickering and rude interruptions–the general lack of listening to the other side.

Moderator Carmen Geha had at one point noted that the room served as a microcosm of the political atmosphere at large. Rather than focus on local representation, the delegates argued fiercely over foreign policy issues.

Perhaps this hints at the heart of the matter. The study had found that many youth join parties based on family or sectarian ties, rather than actual policies or positions on issues that affect the citizenry.

I would add existential fears to that. How does one reconcile with a mindset perpetually at fear of the other–enough to support the same leader indefinitely (and cynically so), to avoid the perceived danger of appearing divided and weak before the enemy?

Is it even possible to work with an existing system that uses fear of your fellow citizens as political currency?

    0

    In defiance of parliament’s decision to renew its term this afternoon– and thus delay elections for over a year– protestors pelted MPs cars as they left Nejmeh Square.

    Tomatoes rained down on the black tinted luxury vehicles. Some attached protest stickers, others pounded the hood. Policemen tried in vain to hold them back, but many could not help smiling. “We wish we could join them,” one soldier told me.

    Today’s decision by MPs also nullifies the victories of independent candidates, an illegal and unconstitutional move, activists say, aimed at silencing opposition to the dominant parties.

    Protestors today chanted: “Theives! Theives! Leave the country!”

    Here are some of the pictures I took.

    It all began with activists throwing tomatoes at MPs faces printed on a canvas:

    Some even got out their shoes:

    But then, MPs’ cars started pouring of the Majlis and in the heat of the moment, the target changed to their vehicles:

    Many of the cars were forced to back up and change directions, taking a beating as they went.

    After nailing enough cars, the activists continued their planned protest, marching toward Martyr’s square with mock coffins to bury the constitution:

    “You have no right decide when we have elections,” one speaker said. “It is our right to decide.”

      0
      From right: Independent candidates Elias Abou Mrad and Nadine Moussa at protest earlier this month. 

      During a private meeting at his office today, Lebanon’s interior minister Marwan Charbel rejected a request that he declare victory of independent candidates in uncontested parliamentary races, candidates who attended the meeting said.

      Charbel suggested the candidates “sue” the state, if they felt “their rights had been trampled,” attendees  said.

      Some 49 candidates claim to have won parliamentary elections by default because Lebanon’s ruling political parities– embroiled in a fight over re-districting– failed to submit candidates by the election registration deadline of April 10.

      Yet in an eleventh hour attempt to nullify such victories, parliament (which is dominated by the same parties who did not submit candidates) voted to cancel article 50 of the current election law, which calls for uncontested victories, when a candidate is not challenged.

      In addition Charbel extended the deadline for candidate submissions, paving the way for hordes of establishment candidates to register today.

      But the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE), which monitors the polls, has sided with the independents, saying parliament’s amendment to the law was not published until April 13, and thus does not apply to uncontested victories two days earlier on the April 10 deadline.

      “Everyone who submitted their candidacy on or before April 10 at 11:59 PM should win by default if their seats were not contested,” the managing director of LADE, Yara Nassar, told me earlier this month.

      LADE has published a list of the 49 winners by default here.

      When asked today about the discrepancy Charbel said his interpretation of the law was supported by “a consultation from a council of consultation,” without providing any specific detail as to what that meant, candidates said.

      Take Back Parliament candidate Nadine Moussa, an attorney who claims to have won a seat in Metn challenged Charbel’s extension of the deadline, saying he had to justify such a move by providing exceptional circumstances, such as war or natural disaster, which would prevent candidate registration.

      Taken aback by the suggestion, Charbel stood up and spoke animately saying his long experience in elections “since 1996” empowered him to take such extraordinary measures which were supported by the president and prime minister, Moussa recounted.

      When another Take Back Parliament candidate, Elias Abou Mrad, noted government decisions were not effective until they were published, Charbel initially agreed. Thus asked if the candidate victories were still valid, Charbel exclaimed that  he was not in a position to announce such victories and urged the candidates to sue.

      However early during the meeting, Charbel had noted that he was indeed empowered to declare uncontested victories and would do so next week, Abou Mrad said.  

      “There was a total confusion and contradiction,” said Moussa.

      She added that it was in fact the interior minister’s responsibility to compile a list of uncontested candidates and declare victories.

      “He is imposing his own interpretation of the law,” said Moussa.

      Moussa has brought a court case but says it may take months to be settled, well after establishment candidates will have won most seats in parliament.

      “They are going to find some legal way to justify all that has been done. They are searching probably in the history of the courts, in the history of Lebanon,” Moussa said.

      “They are looking for something to back up what is totally illegal.”

        0

        Nadine Moussa, left, is one of 49 candidates who claim to have won a parliamentary seat by default. 
        Parliamentary elections are not expected to take place until later this summer–if then– but dozens of independent candidates are already declaring victory.
        This is because the raging dispute over the country’s electoral law has left a curious loophole in the electoral process, where legal experts and independent candidates are claiming a series of wins by default.
        The current election law, known as the 1960 law, had stipulated an April 10 deadline for candidates’ registration. Yet with Lebanon’s two rival political coalitions locked in a fight to redraw districts in their favor, neither decided to submit candidates. This left the field wide open for independents as the 1960 election law states candidates who register in uncontested races automatically become winners. 
        “They thought no one would run,” says Nadine Moussa, an attorney who is now declaring victory in the Mount Lebanon district of Metn. 
        According to a list compiled by the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE), Moussa is one of some 49 candidates who won in uncontested races, a significant figure considering there are only 128 total seats in parliament.
        Recognizing the consequences of such a power grab, Lebanon’s ruling political factions attempted to nullify the results by striking out article 50 of the 1960 law– the paragraph that calls for automatic victories in uncontested races. 
        Members of Parliament had held an eleventh hour session on April 10th, the final day of the candidate submission deadline. But legal experts say this change was not published in the national gazette (a weekly pamphlet announcing new legislation) until April 13th.

        “A legal decree is not enforceable until it is published in the national gazette,” said Yara Nassar, executive director of LADE.

        The striking out of article 50 was published on April 13 (above) 3 days after the deadline for submitting candidates.
        “This means everyone who submitted their candidacy on or before April 10th at 11:59 PM should win by default if their seats were not contested,” Nassar explained.
        Uncontested wins must be announced by the Interior Minister, according to Moussa. But despite several attempts, she says he has not returned calls by her and other candidates. 
        Moussa represents the Take Back Parliament initiative, one of several new, largely secular groups that have fielded candidates in rejection of Lebanon’s entrenched political class, whose sect-based parties have ruled the country for decades. 
        Yet at least one of Lebanon’s traditional political players has voiced support for the new candidates’ argument. Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, has entered a complaint against the striking of article 50, calling the move “unconstitutional.” 
        A judge has been appointed to look into the complaint with a decision to be issued by May 26.
        Moussa, who also plans to file a legal suit against government, says the only way independent candidate victories can be recalled is through the creation of a new election law. But Parliament’s failure to do so has raised fears that elections could be delayed or postponed indefinitely as the parties fear losing ground.
        Moussa said her move was a way of pressuring the government to get its act together. 
        “They should learn to apply the law,” she said of legislators. “We wanted to say we don’t live in a banana republic with leaders who think they are above the law.”
        ***

        Addendum: 

        The act of legislation nullifying article 50 published on April 13:

          2

          It’s that time of month again. What’s wrong with those crazy Lebanese? Time magazine tells all in another lifeless, encyclopedic entry.

          And why wouldn’t they. Lebanon–all of it– should be explained in a single article because it’s just a small country anyway. Poor Lebanese though. According to Time, even their own politicians don’t understand the system!
          What a hopeless mess, the correspondent must be thinking. 
          But I wonder. What if the United States wasn’t the world’s dominant power and thus newspapers asked journalists for 1,000 word summaries of everything and anything that determines political power in America? 
          Because who is going to win the next election, what role does the military and religion play, what role do corporations and lobbyists play, what about identity politics and race, what about history and education and economic disparity? And what’s the deal with pork-barrel spending, gerrymandering and campaign finance reform –do congressmen understand the system, do citizens understand the system–do they even vote, do they even care?
          How would citizens of some other dominant country, ‘diagnose’ this American condition in 1,000 words or less? 
          Like so many that have come before it, this Time piece attempts to ‘explain’ Lebanon in one all-encompasing frame. But is this even a frame? Are these even news stories? Or are they ‘dispatches from the field’– cliff-notes for understanding the natives?
          Even then, how accurate are said notes? The author rightly criticizes antiquated laws which force people to vote in their ancestral municipality, a topic worthy of lengthy discussion with a number of dimensions to explore. But there’s no time for that. This chapter in Byzantium needs to end soon and be wrapped up with a zinger line–something that brings us back to the ‘big picture’ of Lebanon’s overall failure and apathy complex, like…. 
          For those Lebanese who have left their ancestral villages, there is seldom any reason to… (vote). Why waste time voting for a representative who will have no actual bearing on daily concerns… All that is left is to vote along sectarian lines.”

          But what basis underlies this statement: ‘Seldom do Lebanese have a reason to vote in their village?’ Is this backed by figures? How then does the author explain the plane loads of Lebanese who cross oceans and continents to return in time for elections?
          I know! They are driven by their infantile ‘sectarian’ minds. Duh. 
          When will these Lebanese grow up already and embark upon more civilized pursuits such as launching wars on other countries for people like Exxon, Chevron, Halliburton and Lockheed Martin?  
          ***

          Update:

          I’m too harsh, some of you might be thinking, this journalist was just doing her job, she or Time never claimed to know ‘everything’ about Lebanese politics.

          Well here’s how the story was tweeted:

          Everything you ever wanted to know about how elections (don’t) work in Lebanon, and why:ti.me/YfranO via @timeworld
          — Aryn Baker (@arynebaker) April 10, 2013

          1

          Hours after Lebanon’s most blatantly sectarian electoral law passed a parliamentary committee, a crowd of activists had organized a rally in protest. 
          Opposition to the law, known as the Orthodox-Maronite-Gathering (or as Qifa Nabki calls it, the OMG law) immediately gained momentum on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #AgainstOrthodoxLaw.
          In a nutshell, the law forces voters to elect candidates of their own religion and is supported by the current ruling coalition due to a combination of qualms over unfair districting in the previous law and a deeply cynical reading of extreme sectarian representation as acceptable considering the existing sectarian framework in Lebanese politics.
          So after a couple of hours on Facebook and Twitter, a crowd of around a couple hundred from various groups such as #TakeBackParliament showed up downtown not far from the lawmakers’ chamber. 
          It began on the sidewalk (top photo). 
          Then a couple of activists decided to stand in the middle of main cobblestone street. “Everyone sit down,” one called out.
          Suddenly the street was full of activists, and the police, who had been watching on the sidelines, started to get a little nervous. Cars began honking, and some of the activists were arguing over the move.
          Finally a driver shouted that he had a sick person in the back and had get to hospital. After much internal haggling, the protestors relented. But as soon as the car passed through, they reassumed their position sitting on the street pavement. 
          And when they did, a horde of photographers stood in front of them taking pictures, unconsiocusly forming a virtual wall against oncoming traffic behind them.   

          Clearing the road now seemed hopeless, and dozens more filled the street.

          The police were forced to give up and cut off the road….

          Diverting traffic to Foch Street:

          But it wasn’t long before the protestors followed them there too:

          Lining both sides:

          Soon they had formed a human median:

          Slowing traffic down to a trickle, without actually blocking another road:

          Apparently worried this could get out of hand, the army was called in for back-up. Four personnel carriers showed up and parked under the nearby “Le Gray” ultra luxury hotel:

          But the protestors continued:

          They bore some interesting placards poking fun at the sectarian election law, saying it would split Lebanon into separate religious kingdoms.
          Such as “The Republic of Baalbeck and Hermel”:
          The fiefdom of the Shouf mountains:
          The Greek Orthodox Republic of Koura:
          And some less subtle ones:

          The center placard references another stipulation of the new law which calls for expanding parliment seats from 128 to 134. 
          The troops stood by as protestors chanted in Arabic: “It’s raining, it’s pouring, they’ve added six more thieves,” and “They are splitting up the country… we want a secular government.”

          But the security forces didn’t have to worry. After an hour and half, a lead protestor said: “Thanks everyone for coming. We’re going to go now, but we will keep you posted on the next event.” And after a few cheers, everyone started to make their way home.
          Here’s youtube clip, explaining some of the signs used in the rally.

          It was definitely small but there was no shortage of creativity.

          *I’ve changed the original headline which read “anti-Orthodox rally” so as not to offend anyone with my abbreviation! Thanks Mustapha