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Lebanon: The Opposition Takes form as Chaos Brews

Lebanon: The Opposition Takes form as Chaos Brews

Friday, 2 July, 2021 - 11:15

It would not be an overstatement to claim that the results of the Beirut Syndicate of Engineers and Architects elections, held last Sunday, marked a paradigm shift in the work of the youth opposition forces that emerged in the wake of the October 17 uprising, as it ended with a sweeping victory for the opposition. After contesting these elections under the banner “The Syndicate Revolts” against the entire establishment’s lists, the opposition is offering new representative options for a socially and politically influential class.

While forces affiliated with the uprising managed to unify their efforts and reached a consensus that brought together parties from across the left and right of the political divide, in addition to civil society actors, thereby constituting a strong bloc, the established political forces seemed unable to rally their supporters in one of Lebanon’s main productive sectors, as their outdated rhetoric and the absence of a real project resulted in a stunning defeat propelled by protest votes. This victory was the result of frustrations with traditional political forces that, for years, had monopoly control over unions and syndicates, voiding them of their professional substance and managing them with the logic of sectarian and partisan spoil-sharing.

In the latest Syndicate of Engineers elections, protest votes featured prominently and served as a dangerous omen to those in power, warning of similar developments transpiring in the Lebanese Syndicate of Physicians and the Bar Association or any other future syndical elections. This is especially likely if the opposition succeeds in performing at the same level as it had in the Syndicate of Engineers and Architects elections, where their performance invoked, in the minds of establishment parties, the question of the upcoming parliamentary elections in the spring of 2022. Despite their financial and organizational capabilities, in addition to their weapons, the introduction of protest voting would prompt them to rethink their engagement with elections or compel them to agree to postpone them.

The Syndicate of Engineers elections will not necessarily reflect on the legislative elections. According to experts, the Syndicate of Engineers elections is limited to a specific voter base that does not exceed 8,000 voters, most of whom are elites with the capacity to avert partisan and sectarian pressures and to make unilateral decisions due to an array of cultural, professional, and lifestyle factors. Socially, this can be referred to as “vertical transformation,” which, if properly invested, could help in propelling a horizontal transformation that reaches all segments of society, regardless of their intellectual, cultural, or social capital.

Popular classes aggrieved by the ruling clique’s economic policies, if convinced of the alternatives, may go with the protest voting option, which could shift the distribution of power in the upcoming legislative elections –if they are held. Therefore, Lebanese parties in power won't accept the results of the Syndicate of Engineers and Architects’ elections. Regardless of how arrogantly they deny this transformation, these parties know with certainty that unity within the opposition’s ranks is now possible, that alternatives have become available, and that the street is ready to go with these options, especially if living conditions exacerbate further, which would lead to the vertical disintegration of the political class and a horizontal disintegration at the level of its popular base. This would inevitably lead to social chaos that could only be curtailed through two things: The first is the popular movement retrieving its momentum and redirecting the masses towards their real objective, and the second is the armed forces carrying out their role and curbing any instigated security chaos and protecting what remains of state institutions and siding with the people.

With a political class that is prepared to burn the country and its people and repeat an experience similar to “Assad, or we burn the country,” the Lebanese political class is prepared to mobilize all of the means at its disposal to distract the uprising through security strife and organized chaos to exhaust the armed forces and make them confront protesters on the street, with the end goal being the instigation of clashes between the two sides –the October uprising and the army- thus derailing the uprising and reducing the army’s chances of being a lever for change.

Therefore, the Lebanese will continue to face difficult weeks ahead (economy, living conditions, and security), and the ruling elite wants the army to be a tool to suppress people under the pretext of preventing chaos. This decision was explicitly announced by the Supreme Defense Council, whose constitutional powers are questionable because it is illegally carrying out the work of the government. A ball of fire is moving between the country’s regions today, and if the fire intensifies, it will eventually devour whoever ignited it.

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