Centered on Civil Liberties & Political Issues, Human Development & Socioeconomic Matters
“The more things change, the more they stay the same”
Though this cliché has been used millions of times, it has never been more fitting than it is in this country now. It seems that in Lebanon, a nation founded on the principles of special confessional consideration and liberty, the crucial lessons of the war are being mostly ignored. Every now and then, a hate crime is reported somewhere in the world; largely, against an innocent people whose only mistake is belonging to a certain religion.
Many cultures have claimed, over thousands of years, some unsubstantiated reasons for their prejudice and dislike of other people’s religion. Even in Western democracies, where many of us believe that they treat all individuals with equality and neutrality, the existence of prejudice or a kind of sectarianism is undeniable.
Sectarianism and denominationalism differs from any form of bias and discrimination; it is rooted much deeper in the psyche of many people. It is reasonable enough to say that sectarian notions are passed down from parents to children. Although parents may not lecture the hatred of others religion, there is certainly some kind of repulsion to the Other that is somehow transmitted to their children. Just a few simple words like; “I hate those stupid …” may not seem significant to an adult, but it might have a great effect on an impressionable child.
However, in Lebanon, 17 years of warfare was supposed to be the ultimate lesson, or at least a wake up call, for Lebanese politicians to know that denominationalism, sectarianism and confessionalism must be abolished or at any rate firmly contained so that peace and prosperity can flourish. It is almost terrifying to think that we are making the same fatal mistakes over again.
Dogmatism and intolerance are the primary base of any sectarian society. However, the level of sectarianism practiced within the Lebanese nation, and between ordinary people, is somehow weak and tolerable. Yet, the extent of sectarian practices that Lebanese politicians and bureaucrats hold and act upon is clearly seen to be hard and unacceptable.
Actually, this is because Lebanese politicians have either been elected as “representatives” or selected as bureaucrats and ministers from within their own confessional and sectarian group, mainly to represent their sect and serve its interest–not the interest of the entire country as they often claim.
While the fact is that most of these politicians and bureaucrats serve their personal interests first, and when victorious they widen their circle to cover their relatives and associations, afterward they might extend their network to include their neighbors.
This inclination, however, is because of the current Lebanese confessional political system that restrictively allocates key public offices to certain confessional and sectarian groups. While the other reason is a consequence of that deficient sectarian electoral system they embrace – a system which, in all probability, they will stick with.
Essentially, it is because of the Lebanese ailing political system that lack real democracy. The core issue is of providing fair electoral law and regulations, confessional or not, in a context that could enable the Lebanese public to have genuine representation of their choices without interferences.
In fact, the present era in Lebanon is characterized by a widespread belief that most government officials are sectarian, corrupt, incompetent and indifferent of citizens concerns.
Meanwhile the wealthy elite within each sect evade the frustrations of dealing with an incompetent, indifferent government by the use of their economic and political leverage, normally meaning connections or bribery.
During the wartime, Lebanon’s civil society was shaped by the state’s failure, justifiable at that time, to deliver political stability, basic services and social welfare. However, at this time, the government’s failure to deliver these essentials, and the negative effects of this on a majority of Lebanese citizens, are unjustifiable and inexcusable. This situation is causing a great deal of resentment among the Lebanese people, which could become destructive.
Lebanese political society and its sectarian system are visibly warped to serve the interests of few sects, and this detracts from political cohesiveness which results in a feeble and corrupted political administration. The government usually defends its actions by invoking the risks to “the national security”, posed by the Arab-Israeli conflict, which allows its high-sounding officials to operate without effective supervision.
Such sectarian politics, however, has undermined the concept of “real citizenship” and led to many political crises because of politicians’ negative response to major political and administrative reform.
Reform is stillborn in Lebanon. It is mentioned in government policy announcements and in government officials’ speeches. But Lebanese is eager for reform in their country and want to see the development of democratic practices based on the national interests rather than confessional ones.
The government should pass a new non-confessional electoral law, to secure the independence of the judiciary, to reform its bureaucracy and, above all, to develop a non-sectarian political and civil system for all Lebanese.
This will happen when Lebanese legislators and the government fulfill their declared commitment to political and administrative reform, and do not block efforts towards non-confessional political development.
Author’s Note: This article was also published in “The Daily Star” newspaper