The Lebanese Elections as Prelude to Civil War

Article Summary
With Lebanon's parliamentary elections approaching, the debate over the election law has revealed the sectarian nature of Lebanese society, Talal Salman argues.

For two months, the Lebanese have heard a lot of chatter about the parliamentary election law in the making — that is, if the election is allowed to take place at all, amid this charged sectarian atmosphere.

What is funny is that this chatter happens every four years as elections approach, as if by surprise! Every four years, the Lebanese ask themselves: what election law will be adopted this time?

Nothing is constant in Lebanon’s democracy. The upcoming election may happen based on consensus, or based on sectarian considerations — or it may not happen at all. Parliament, which the deputies have rarely visited, may have its mandate extended. Some deputies are attending the parliamentary election committee today to write a new election law. But they are living in a nearby hotel for safety reasons — because democracy is costly!

What is even funnier is that many governments and power centers in the Arab world are following the Lebanese democratic debate (which is more of a Byzantine debate) with great interest and see in it a model to emulate.

There are other debates in the Arab world. They are about “human rights,” how “nations” are built and by whom, how to move into the 21st century and the role of democracy.

In the debate about democracy, the issue of sectarianism cannot be ignored. In addition to this, there is tribalism and regional belonging. All these vices contain genuine “interests” that democracy should “protect.”

Because Lebanon has a long history of civil wars — with multiple causes, even if sectarianism is one of the most prominent — many Arab political forces in the region wish to learn from the “Lebanese experience.” They see in it “a unique achievement” that can address the problem of minorities through “consensual democracy” — which effectively cancels election results and free choice.

The unique “Lebanese experience” encourages a population’s members to return to their original roots. The population becomes a collection of minorities with no shared origin, history, land or identity. There are no countries, only entities that have been formed, or will be formed, by outside forces to suit their purposes. It is as if other countries’ populations — both in the East and West, from Europe to the United States, Australia, Africa and the Israeli enemy — are of a single race! Worse, some Lebanese politicians are preaching “consensual democracy” to other countries.

At every Lebanese election we suddenly “discover” that the Lebanese are not one people, but rather a collection of sects who have been battling each other since the beginning of time! Most electoral laws are formulated on the basis of this “discovery.” Some sects get separated from others, and some sects get joined to others to make up for a demographic deficit. As a result, everybody becomes sectarian.

“Lebanonization” has become a dangerous political achievement. It has become more important than nationalism, progressivism, socialism or capitalism. This is a major achievement for a small nation!

With the spread of a civil-war climate in the Levant, some remember how one people can be broken up into minorities which just happen to be located on the same patch of land. Geography, history and life realities are ignored, while sectarian affiliation is taken into account. The sects forget that they have switched affiliation several times out of necessity. What is certain is that there are family ties between them. Their religious separation happened because of sectarian or religious persecution, or because they sought political power.

The danger of “Lebanonization” right now is that decision-making circles in distant capitals are using a sectarian or racial pretext to take advantage of the civil-war climate in the Levant — Syria, Iraq, Yemen and possibly Jordan.

Egypt’s Salafists are denying the rights of the Copts in the country that carries their name. Some extremists demand their deportation, while the ruling Muslim Brotherhood erodes their rights. In Libya, racial differences are being stirred up between Arabs and Imazighen, and between former African slaves and their masters who “bought them.”

The Imazighen, the Tuareg and the descendents of other African tribes in Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania can be used to create strife that never reaches the level of civil war, but that does eliminate nations and deal a blow to their people’s unity.

Is it not an exaggeration to say that whenever Lebanese politicians lecture about democracy, their supporters are struck with fear that a new civil war may erupt over parliamentary elections that, while possibly replacing the deputies, will never unite the Lebanese nor improve their right to a decent life?

Is it not ironic that the political class demands that expatriates be allowed to vote, while those same expatriates have chosen to flee to the ends of the earth in fear of a democracy that kills both the nation and its citizens?

Found in: violence, sectarianism, sectarian conflict in lebanon, salafist, lebanon, lebanese politics, elections, christians

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