Saturday, August 29, 2020

In Lebanon, the squeaky wheel gets all the media attention.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

International media are gloating. The time has come. People in Lebanon are turning their backs on their leaders, and want change, real change. The magnitude of the August 4 explosion that happened was such that people have changed their lifelong allegiances, and want out. Hezbollah has a very weakening base it seems, an ex member who sells arms certifies it.

Lovely narrative, if only it was true. 

You know the expression, "the squeaky wheel gets all the grease" and the people protesting really do seem sexy....

Here's a burning question: Do all Lebanese people want change?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: No, they don't.

Lebanon is governed by the 6w6 mkarrar equation. Six and six multiplied, which means government positions are split evenly between Christians and Moslems. When the rule was instated, there was indeed such an even distribution between the sects and religions. Let us see what the demographic numbers said in 2019: "The latest official census conducted in 1932 indicated that the Lebanese population totaled 875,252 people, while Muslims made up 40% of the community and Christians 58.7%. The recent report shows that Christians make up 30.6% of the community, while Muslims make up 69.4%." (Source)

So, with the Lebanese Christians now proportionately, half of the number they were, they are being given a favor in terms of the equal splitting of the official positions because currently, they are getting 50% when they currently make up 30%. Would you, as a Christian, want to change such a system?

Shiites make up 30,6% and Sunnites 30.3% - That is almost even but again, currently double the Christian side.

The Shiites long dubbed "el mahroumin" (the deprived) - and rightfully so - now find themselves kingmakers in the current system. It would be idiotic to let go of such a power honestly. This is an unpopular opinion, but it is based on facts. When there were no schools, hospitals or dispensaries in the Shiite areas, Hezbollah came (yes, with an agenda) and built such places. Then, the government woke up with the house on fire, and for a long time, there was a talk about the state "exerting its power in all Lebanese land" (nice propaganda). Too little, to late. Someone else was there before you. And the people's allegiance is to them. Or to use an expression dear to the Americans "won their hearts and minds".

Now as a liberal and progressive with little or no paranoia, as someone who befriended people from other religions long before it was "cool" and (instagram) photogenic to do so, I have zero threat about who rules me (how is sexier for me). Naturally, this is not the case for many. Lebanon is a country not just à deux vitesses (on two speeds) but on a hundred different speeds all at once.

I have been hearing so much about anticipated parliamentary elections. Great, but.... Without educating people about new possibilities, the same lot already elected will come back, with a vengeance. Now, famous singers Elissa and Zein el Omr disavowed respectively, the Lebanese Forces and the Free Patriotic Movement after being staunch supporters of each. But these are the exceptions rather than the rule. Normal people, seeing their visual and emotional references vanish in the explosion gravitated closer to what they previously knew: Their political alliances and likes.

At the end of the Ottoman empire, a consultant was brought by the French to assess the case of Lebanon. At the end of his long report he ends with, "Ca marche, n'y touchons pas" - it works, let's not touch it.

My fear is that it still works (with all its defects and issues), and we are touching it.