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Lebanon: Change Should Not Remain a Purely Moral Stance

Lebanon: Change Should Not Remain a Purely Moral Stance

Sunday, 5 June, 2022 - 10:30

Since the Lebanese voted in 13 deputies that the media has dubbed “forces for change,” Aounists and the axis of resistance have been waging a campaign against them. In the press and on social media, they sharpened their tongues. The “critics” kept their eyes locked on these “change” deputies, watching out for gaffs and overblowing them in an attempt to turn them into scandals. Thus, Beirut was witness to toxic character assassinations by the same factions that had previously had physical assassinations pinned on them.

It was expected that the parties most attached to and protective of the existing regime would launch such campaigns against the men and women in Parliament who didn’t abide by the regime’s criteria for entering the legislature. They were not carried by their religious sects, nor were they advocates for those sects and their interests, nor did they conceal their inclination to a new set of values and alternative ways of speaking, behaving and presenting themselves. Nor did they hide their sharp opposition to the manner in which the country is being governed, whether it is the duplicity of the means of violence or rampant corruption, a system of governance whose “accomplishments” extend from looting peoples’ bank deposits to blowing up the Port of Beirut...

This slander spoke to the distant past’s apprehension about omens it would prefer to nip in the bud. It could have been said that, like all slander, it is repugnant, and the only thing it demonstrates is that those behind it are isolated and feel vulnerable. However, the election of the Speaker, his deputy, and leading posts in Parliament, revealed another fact: the political representatives of the slander are strong and capable, and the distant past which they represent continues to weigh heavily on the present, while its forces and symbols are ready to coalesce and cooperate at difficult junctures. Thus, despite everything, the Amal Movement and Free Patriotic Movement coordinated on the latest vote in Parliament. One cannot but notice that the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, who distinguishes between petty and grand interests, is the one who built this consensus, which is considered “strategic,” in contrast to small, “tactical” matters. We know that this consensus engineered “under the table” was preceded by one that had been built “above the table” and sponsored by this same Good Shepherd, when he reconciled Suleiman Franjieh and Gibran Bassil in his home.

Mister “primary contradiction” is well aware that what begins with a malleable Speaker could well end with a malleable President and that electing the former can serve as prelude for electing the latter.

So let’s move from those hurling the insults, who do not deserve too much time, to their politicians and political factions, who have proven that they are still a broad ship and that they still have the ability to reproduce the system that keeps reproducing them. That is because the defeat dealt to the October 17 revolution, which the latest election tried to contain, put those on top back in their positions for reasons that surpass daily politics to the country’s social and economic fabric and its robust sectarian structures. It is true that the sectarian forces’ representation has significantly changed, but sectarian forces, when combined together, still constitute an overwhelming majority.

Such a map ought to push us to reconsider some of the meanings of change, how we conceive of opportunities to attain it and its chances for success. The “change” deputies, despite all the suffering in the country, remain a marginal force compared to this mainstream. That is a bad enough sign about Lebanon as a reality and an image, and we already know the outcome that would emerge if the sectarian mainstream and the non-sectarian margin were to clash. On the other hand, it seems that the only path toward some form of success is agreeing a certain entente with those who are a “lesser evil” mainstream forces, that is, those least implicated in the horrible things done by this regime and most harmed by its dominant figures (Hezbollah and FMP). Only by doing so, could the non-sectarians on the margins avoid being singled out and a more even political playing field could be established. Turning the principled stance (“all of them means all of them”) into an argument for disregarding the real contradictions within this mainstream or giving up what is possible today in the hopes of something that might be possible tomorrow would be extremely unproductive. Indeed, although those slogans and aspirations which were raised on October 17, are reasonable moral stances and a respectable keenness on purity, they are certainly not reasonable political banners if the aim is to actually achieve change. In addition to all that, we should keep in mind that the term “harmonious bloc” in describing the “change” deputies might not be very accurate. This fact will, in turn, compound the imbalance in the existing balance of power.

This assessment does not imply being assimilated by the “lesser evil” factions or allowing them to call all the shots. However, nothing undermines natural immunity like a fear of rubbing shoulders with other bodies, which is usually accompanied by nothing else than politics phobia and a horror at the prospect of being “contaminated” by it.

On the other hand, this is not to absolve the “lesser evil” forces in the mainstream of their responsibilities. They come from past experiences that must be reassessed, and a manner of speaking and behaving that absolutely must be recalibrated to account for the developments that the “change” deputies speak to. They come also from a tradition of stubbornly opposing the idea of collaborating with non-sectarian forces whom they had not accounted for and who did not exist in their vision of politics, or at least of seeing it as bizarre. In this regard, it is always crucial that the “lesser evil” factions adopt more radical social and economic positions, especially in terms of curbing corruption and nepotism.

In the event that, in contrast, things remain as they are, then we are looking at a recipe for electing a President that would make the election of the Speaker a few days ago seem like a reason to rejoice.

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