Tags Posts tagged with "Kataeb"

Kataeb

There is a fantasy among many in Lebanon- liberals in particular– that a silent majority of Lebanese do not support the country’s political establishment. That most Lebanese would prefer a life free from the political parties of today, which had largely been former militias established by warlords during the civil war. And if this is true, it is the millions of Lebanese living abroad that would be this best indicator of such a deep regime change desire, felt particularly by those who have fled their homeland due to the destruction warlords have caused.

So when voting was allowed for the first time this year from the millions of Lebanese living in the diaspora, many hoped the balance of power could shift, that voices of those opposed to the political establishment would be heard more loudly.

But so far, that doesn’t seem to be quite the case.

The voting is continuing as I type this, yet Lebanese TV stations are on the ground all over the world today, giving us a good idea of what the polling stations and early voters look like. And there are plenty of party colors to see.

In Sweden:

In Australia:


In Brazil, it was basically an FPM street party:

Future Movement had its corner too:

The PSP and Lebanese Forces were not left out though:

Meanwhile in Ivory Coast, West Africa, nearly everyone seemed to be wearing an Amal cap or T-shrit:

This case was similar in Berlin:

Posters of the party leader, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, were even seen plastered around the voting area:

But the Future Movement ascots crew were not missing:

Meanwhile the PSP was strong in Montreal:

And in Washington, the Orange love was tangible:

Many reporters found this all too amusing, remarking on how well the rivals got along abroad. An Al Jadeed reporter in Africa was having a great time with partisans remarking: “all the parties are one heart today.”

But then one added: “We are only here for Nabih Berri.”

The Lebanese ambassador to Brazil was very proud that all the parties were represented and how “democratic” the affair had been. Suddenly places like Brazil and West Africa became “a model for coexistence” that the homeland should emulate.

Only one reporter noted that there were no representatives from alternative parties. None mentioned the fact that these parties all illegally reappointed themselves, cancelling elections for almost a decade. Or how they have failed to deliver any semblance of basic public services during that time, manage the garbage crisis or have direct roots in the destruction of the entire country and gutting of its institutions we are facing today.

In fact reporters could have suggested that Lebanese parties have gotten along very well in the postwar period and warlords are now friends and even have dinner together. So clearly hugs and smiles are in no short supply.

Instead of asking tougher questions about the parties, reporters focused more on the excitement of the day. And indeed many first time voters offered moving stories, especially elder voters living abroad much of their lives. Watching the polling station workers, carefully reviewing IDs and passports, the multi-screen displays at the ministry of interior, checking live feeds from every polling station worldwide, and the excitement and relative calm of the operation, it was hard not to get caught up in the moment.  It was indeed a historic day and the largely bankrupt Lebanese state somehow managed to pull it off.

But what does it all mean? That Lebanon is hopelessly locked into its current party system and nothing of significance is going on with independents?

No.

Independents are making a big showing this year, bigger than ever before. And party popularity, despite the loud partisans we may see in the streets, is at a low point and party leaderships are having to work harder for votes than ever before.

But we must have realistic expectations. Independents are not going to sweep to victory any time soon. Not because this is Lebanon and nothing changes, but because that is true in almost any established political environment, including Western democracies. It is very difficult for independents to break into an entrenched party system.

First and foremost it is hard to compete with that kind of money. Independents are generally small and young groupings that lack the huge campaign chests of major parties and even more importantly, the media and institutional power that they have been accumulating for decades, essential to sustaining their current positions of power.

But change is still happening, and we should look more carefully at how new political activists and collectives are having an impact on political culture and political practices, and not focus solely on poll numbers or election results. As I have argued in a major research paper I wrote at Oxford last year, political change is felt most strongly outside of elections and also in the ways that establishment political and media institutions react to the discourse and activities being put forward by activists.

In the paper, I try to give many real world examples of the tangible activist-driven changes felt in recent years, from changes and reversals in policies, laws and major projects. The title is Structures of Change in Post-war Lebanon: Amplified Activism, Digital Documentation and Post-Sectarian Narratives.

Yes we can be optimistic for change. But we also have to be realistic about the deep power of political parties and how that power is maintained, no matter what their ideology may be. Independents are having an impact, but if they want to win, they need to understand more about what these parties have offered and continue to offer, beyond simply dismissing them as backwards or irrelevant.

 

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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?