They have to leave, all good ... But then what next?
"We want new blood, clean blood" ... What is more legitimate and logical than this shout of distress from a population that has lost faith in its State, and its confidence in a political class which for years has done nothing except accumulate a laundry list of crises and dead ends?
Whether the demonstrations and other acts of protest - civilized or not - that we have witnessed since Thursday evening were -and still are- entirely spontaneous (even partially, or not at all as some people are inferring), doesn’t lessen the -more or less- general feeling expressed across the entire country. That's also true for many of those who stayed at home in front of their television sets, those who went to work in the morning trying to make a living, and even those who, while still firmly anchored in the shadow of their political parties, are now filled with doubts and uncertainties.
In Lebanon it is not difficult to unify a great number of people of every class and sectarian community, around a small common denominator. And today, even more so than during the summer of 2015’s waste crisis, the feeling of discontent is a tangible and a quasi unanimous reality. One has only to take a look at the map, the geo-confessional location of the protest movements happening all over the country, to understand that these protests have widespread appeal.
"New blood, clean blood" ... The call is clear and well understood. But how is this done? Through legislative elections? The latter took place not so long ago, and on this occasion we witnessed the recreation of what is essentially the same political class, with a few modifications in the balance of power, truth be told. Some want to continue to believe or make believe that a "good" election law can alter the game. However, the voting system introduced in 2018 is already quite revolutionary compared to what was previously practiced in Lebanon. But even assuming that the new law was not afflicted with the current, ridiculously high eligibility threshold, what would have been different? Instead of one, maybe five or six more Paula Yaacoubians in the House? This ought to be enough to spice up the debates in the Hemicycle, but this certainly does not "renew the blood" ...
Taef and the excesses
On the thirtieth anniversary of the Taef Agreements (concluded on October 22, 1989), it might be a good idea to explore another path: for example trying to understand, before thinking of ways to replace the actual political class and finding “new blood”, why the current “blood” is so foul and soiled today. But in order to do this, it is necessary to go beyond the simple discourse around the widespread corruption which, as true as it may be, is not enough to explain the extent of the Republic’s excesses.
Failures, dead ends, obstructions. Must we attribute all of them to the imperfection of our political institutions and to the general principles which underlie the Constitution? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? The result of practices that have nothing to do with the system? Worse, a distortion of the system? If Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir was still alive, he would not have hesitated for one second in his reply. Sfeir, had grasped the parameters of this monstrous "consensual democracy" well before anyone else, and he who stated time and again that Taef was never applied.
Thirty years ago, the then deputies redistributed prerogatives and privileges here and there, changing the balance of power within the state to some degree, but they never came close to the foundations of the political system. The latter is based on the axiom that Lebanon is a parliamentary democracy with a specific accounting made for its diverse communities, which are taken into account in the general planning of the State, but only to a certain extent. However, the political reality of the country, before and after Taef, has meant that at times, we have largely exceeded the quota. While under external tutelage, this problem seemed relative since the referee, who often plays the dual role of both firefighter and arsonist, is in any case clearly designated. When the external guardianship disappears, or has is limited in some respect, it becomes a rat race. And we are right in the middle of it.
One of the main strengths of parliamentary democracy, based on the principle of a majority (political, non-denominational) which governs and an opposing minority, is that when a government faces a strong challenge or challenger, there is the possibility for alternation or change. But what is the alternative when faced with a government “board of administration” in which everyone is present? In this case, government becomes a constant reign of shaky compromises, give and takes and… obstructions.
In short, what are we disputing? A well-determined body politic, right, left, center? Precisely … there is none. Because one shouldn’t believe that the results of negotiations and the showdowns between Hariri, Bassil, Berry, Geagea, Jumblatt and Nasrallah should be deemed "politic", whether good or bad. They work to, at best, find the most consensual ground between them, at worst to cancel each other out, under the pretext that each one is a representative of his community. So, "they have to leave," as the crowd in downtown is shouting and demanding. OK. But to be replaced by whom? A government of technocrats? What’s the difference? The decision will always come back to the leaders who pull the strings.
There are two types of governments in the world: authoritarian and democratic. Today Lebanon is neither one nor the other. The first one appears -fortunately so-, impossible to implement in this country. The second one requires the Lebanese to urgently review their social contract, so as to aspire and hope for a somewhat democratic “normality” and the restoration of the two pillars without which there is no democracy: political change and accountability.
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 18th of October)