Desecrating the corpse of the Lebanese body politic

Desecrating the corpse of the Lebanese body politic
The Lebanese parliament's unilateral extension of its own term amounts to a constitutional coup - in which the entire political elite is complicit.
7 min read
17 Nov, 2014
Parliament's extension has been controversial in Lebanon [al-Araby]

"Extension by 95 votes:  The Lebanese Forces Prevents Vacuum" - Al-Mustaqbal Newspaper

"The Lebanese Forces Salvages Session… Pro-Extension Party the Largest Bloc" - Al-Nahar Newspaper

"Extension in the Name of the People" - Al-Akhbar Newspaper

"Extending an Extension in Vacuum State" - Al-Safir Newspaper

These are the headlines of Lebanese newspapers, mouthpieces for the country's various factions, on a morning when these factions unashamedly staged a coup against the people of Lebanon by extending the mandate of the Chamber of Deputies. 

The Future Movement wanted to convince its audience that what happened was not just the "only" option, but also an incredible act of heroism. In fact, it was a self-serving political ploy, because the movement's popularity has sharply deteriorated of late and it is no longer able to guarantee the votes to return it to parliament as the largest political bloc.

     The Lebanese political elite have staged coup after coup against the people, the Constitution, and the law.

Hizballah and those who speak for it claim rather passively and in populist fashion they should not be blamed because "the people" are the ones to blame.

This is simply because Hizballah is not actively doing anything to prevent what is happening. It acts as if it is not part of the political elite, denying its own people the right to a democratic process. And it appears Hizballah has an interest in what is happening. The party has been accused of intensifying its war across the border in neighbouring Syria and wants to annul the constitutional mechanisms which could punish it.

Meanwhile, Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement has expressed its distaste for the extension, but it has contributed to the paralysis of the Lebanese political system by blocking the election of any president except for its own Michel Aoun. However, it alleges this is a reformist, even democratic stance.

Coup after coup

The Lebanese political elite have staged coup after coup against the people, the Constitution, and the law since 20 June 2013.

The latest started as a procedural coup, when former members of parliament whose mandate had already expired, performed a play they called "the extension" at the end of their latest legislative term.

No parliament can extend its own mandate without referring itself to the authority of the people. When such a thing happens, it can only be considered a coup against parliamentary democracy. This is true even if those who backed the coup claim the fragile security situation prevents the holding of elections.

This excuse is used to justify almost every coup that has ever happened. In this situation, it is justified to ask why the Lebanese don't start a revolution against their rulers, now that the political elite have usurped power and unilaterally cancelled the social contract binding them to their citizens.

The semi-leftist populist political rhetoric in Lebanon lambasts the people for their "defeatism" in failing to revolt against their political class. But many of those who employ this rhetoric work as hired writers and clowns for the ruling party itself, and claim to be better than the people in their steadfastness and determination.

Away from this rhetoric, the answer starts in 2005, shortly after the withdrawal of the Syrian army from Lebanon, and the deep political chasm that emerged between the 8 March and the 14 March movements. The erosion of citizenship started then, when the social consensus in Lebanon was fatally undermined.

It was destroyed first on the psychological level, when the confrontation between the 8 March and 14 March movements turned into what looked like a fierce war between two bitter rivals. Each party's media outlets stoked racial and sectarian bias against the other, to the extent that each assassinated the other, symbolically and morally.

This created psychological barriers among the Lebanese that are hard to break.

After the July 2006 war, the 8 March movement accused its opponents of supporting Israel in its war on Hizballah. This led many Lebanese citizens to accuse each other of treason. Then came the demonstrations, a million-strong, for the 8 March and 14 March movements, which only deepened the political chasm and made the accusations levelled against the Syrian regime and Hizballah of involvement in the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri even more bitter.

The May 2008 conflict, in which Hizballah did not hesitate to employ military force against its domestic opponents, generated a huge amount of resentment and bitterness.

     The coup against the constitution in June was the outcome of adeadly disease eating away at the heart of the third Lebanese republic.

This resentment and hostility affected nearly everybody. The political elite continued to dine and socialise together as if nothing had happened.

The business elite continued to strike deals with each other at the expense of the people.

The clear proof of the continued conviviality of the political and business elites across the political divide can be seen in the beginning of these coups against the constitution in 2006, as successive governments failed to send the Chamber of Deputies its draft budgets. Both the 8 and 14 March movements colluded in the allocation of government money outside the correct constitutional framework, which amounts to the theft of public money.

Even the existing constitutional financial controls of the monstrous Lebanese capitalist system, meagre by international standards, were too onerous for the elite and they have conspired to ignore them.

Cancelling the social contract

The Lebanese adapted themselves to the situation with patience and resignation, out of the belief that the systematic, sustained plundering of the state budget by the elite would not change much - draft budgets or no.

As long as no leftist party or parties dared to seriously confront that dynamic and challenge the political status quo, Lebanese leftists divided their loyalties between various right-wing factions.

It has become clear that their chances of escaping from this dark tunnel were slim from the outset. After 2011, the political chasm in Lebanon deepened to export its sectarian hostilities to the Syrian arena. Some elements started to support the Syrian revolution on a sectarian basis, and other elements, against the Syrian revolution, became part of a sectarian army fighting a war in Syria.

What was left of the social contract in Lebanon was cancelled, so each of the opposing camps could achieve what they wanted. The coup against the constitution in June 2013 was nothing but the outcome of the deadly disease that was eating away at the heart of the third Lebanese republic. It has now become a living corpse.

On an almost daily basis, the Lebanese feel the game that is Lebanese politics has exceeded its limits and that all its rules have been broken. They feel that the political elite, long uninterested in the fate of their people, is waiting for a victor in Syria to reap the benefits in Lebanon. Everyone was haunted by the belief that the calculations of foreign powers will not allow the rule of the political elite to be challenged.

Consequently, the Lebanese have no opportunity to unite against the status quo and revolt against what is happening. Struggling to make ends meet day to day, the Lebanese people are under siege. They are divided by crudely sectarian political caricatures and made to fear each other.

And they are manipulated by the politically factionalised and biased media. Even more important is the absence of an independent popular movement that goes beyond mere "civil activism", which could play an independent role in monitoring - a role which existing media should be playing.

We are talking here about the rise of a popular political movement that would allow the Lebanese to organise themselves to regain their rights democratically.

Although time is not on the side of the last few democrats in this country, recent attempts to revive the trade union movement might form the nucleus of a new political force in the future. This is the only way the Lebanese body politic can be revived.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.