Beirut Madinati electoral campaign: redefining Lebanese politics
In the post-Taif Republic of Lebanon, politics is exclusively the craft of the sectarian elite. They exploit the weak, centralised state to maintain their deeply entrenched clientelistic and neopatrimonial networks that penetrate all public and private spheres.
In addition, they have managed to co-opt labour unions, design electoral laws that suit the status quo and build a lopsided rentier economy that consolidates the socioeconomic and political power of the sectarian system.
It should therefore, come as no surprise that this neopatrimonial arrangement is driving the country into complete political paralysis, as the private interests of the ruling elite or those of their regional backers compete with conflicting priorities. Today, Lebanon's state institutions are at risk of breaking down, as sectarian tensions rise, public services deteriorate and socioeconomic disparities become more pronounced.
Lebanon's Members of Parliament have extended their mandate on two consecutive occasions in a stark breach of the constitution. They have so far, failed to elect a new president for the Republic, and the cabinet is left in gridlock - unable to respond to any of the country's multiple challenges, most notoriously, the rubbish crisis.
In the context of this political impasse and growing disenchantment - particularly among the youth - Beirut Madinati is emerging as an organic attempt to give politics a human face and endow it with new meaning.
Beirut Madinati is an electoral campaign led by independent non-partisan and non-sectarian citizens to elect a municipal council of qualified, technocratic and independent candidates. They pledge to implement a people-centred programme which prioritises the well-being of all those who live or work in the capital.
The programme was formulated using the expertise of numerous Lebanese urban planners, transport engineers, waste management experts, economists, environmentalists and other activists, and has built on earlier campaigns and civil society initiatives working to safeguard Beirut's "liveability".
|Lebanon's state institutions are at risk of breaking down, as sectarian tensions rise, public services deteriorate and socioeconomic disparities become more pronounced
Beirut Madinati's programme highlights 10 key objectives from increasing greenery and public space and making housing more affordable, to implementing an integrated solid waste management strategy and committing to social justice and socioeconomic development.
Most important, however, is their commitment to local level constructive dialogues and face-to-face conversations with all neighbourhoods throughout the city. This will allow them to find out about the people's needs and expectations, and to engage them in the decision making process for everything pertaining to their livelihood and public welfare.
Beirut Madinati is an opportunity for change, for redefining and practicing politics in a way that reflects the primacy of the public good, social justice, transparency, collaboration and citizen empowerment.
Practicing politics at the local level means that we, the ordinary citizens of Beirut, know our needs and priorities and are willing to take part in the decision-making process. We have a say in local projects, planning and public resources management and in monitoring spending for transparency.
Practicing politics at the local level is the real measure of democracy, as the municipalities are the people's most direct form of representation, and therefore function as an indicator of the level of participation in local governance. In addition they serve to hold public servants accountable.
The fact that voter turnout in previous municipal elections stood at around 20 percent sends an alarming message about the lack of trust between citizens and the state. To reinstate this trust, initiatives such as Beirut Madinati need to be endorsed and it is essential they also gain support outside Beirut.
|...if Beirut Madinati wins the elections, it would be a golden opportunity for the city to effect change through a bottom-up process in which all residents participate in building a new model for their city
Beirut Madinati's core values and guiding principles will enable it to transform the city into an open, democratic and participatory space where citizens participate in re-imagining their city, (re)constructing it and managing its resources.
Put simply, if Beirut Madinati wins the elections, it would be a golden opportunity for the city to effect change. This would happen through a bottom-up process in which all residents participate in building a new model for their city, based on collective innovation and collaboration. It is a model that would also inspire other cities in Lebanon.
This narrative of resistance and joint action is a political one, and recreating the city is a political process. Indeed, our right to the city is a political one. And as David Harvey puts it, "The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is… one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights". Is Beirut ready for this new kind of politics?
In his famous poem of 1930, celebrated Lebanese social critic and poet who loved Beirut, Omar Al Zeenni, wrote of "Beirut, a premature flower". And today more than ever, the time has come for Beirut to blossom.
Diala Haidar is a Graduate student and researcher in International Affairs at the Lebanese American University.
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.