Thursday, June 19, 2008

Power Sharing and Power Cuts: The Concept of a State in Lebanon

Recent events and developments in Lebanon have brought back an all-too-familiar face; namely the blatant sectarianism of Lebanese politics and the complete inefficiency, or more accurately non-existence, of Lebanese state services. Recent major power cuts across the country have reminded us of the primitiveness and corruption of the Lebanese political system while ongoing developments in negotiations over government formation have clearly exemplified the utterly tribal, sectarian nature of this system. In all this, one reality continues to prevail; the complete absence of a true state in Lebanon.

In line with foreign commands, certain political forces in Lebanon have demanded that the Resistance surrender its weapons out of an alleged "respect" for Lebanese state "sovereignty." It is claimed by these politicians and tribal and sectarian chieftains that if we are to build a true state in Lebanon, then no armed force should exist outside of the authority of the state. The implication is thus that the only thing standing in the way of true state formation in Lebanon is the weapons of the Resistance. This of course is an utterly disingenuous argument wrapped up in complete falsehoods and made by the very people who have, throughout their sectarian political history, shown nothing but utter contempt for the Lebanese state.

One only needs to watch the Lebanese political process for one day to realize that Lebanon does not really have a state, but instead is made up of a conglomeration of sects and tribes who are in continuous conflict with each other over who gets what share of what pie. Sectarian and tribal chieftains want to consistently assure themselves of a political and financial interest in the government by using highly divisive and destructive sectarian machinations. These chieftains control certain areas in the country, where members of their sect happen to be in the majority, and treat it as their own fiefdom, acting as feudal lords over their subjects in said region. No businesses or social projects are allowed to develop unless they are first consulted and given a stake in the matter. In many cases these chieftains impose their own taxes on people of their area and behave as petty dictators subjecting their followers to the rule of their armed militias. Should any person object to such a scenario, their fate will be at the mercy of these feudal lords as there is no recourse with a state institution to protect the rights of the citizen. The local chieftains further use religious clergymen who issue decrees reinforcing the sectarian nature of the country and effectively granting divine authority to those feudal lords.

In addition, all ministries and government institutions are treated by these sectarian chieftains and their employees as their own profit-making enterprises without the least regard for the plight of the average citizen and their basic needs. Ministries and government institutions are not viewed as vehicles for providing public services and forming policies for the public interest. Rather, they are seen as mere opportunities to increase their personal wealths and strengthen their political powers. The average citizen is thus left to fend for himself/herself and can only receive minor services when one of the chieftains decides to grant such citizen certain services as "favors" in order to sustain and promote a patronage system whereby they increase their particularistic power base.

Therefore, the country is turned into one where citizens must form their own armed Resistance to defend their land, as no state exists that is committed to the defense of the homeland; where average people have to operate their own generators as the power supply provided by the government is grossly insufficient to meet the basic needs of the country; where local social services have to spring up in order to provide citizens with basic education and medical needs, as no state exists to provide such services; and where an unhealthy patronage system is continually maintained where sectarian and tribal chieftains will provide particular "favors" for people in exchange for these people's loyalties.

Such a system cannot constitute a truly effective governing body, as it lacks the very basic concept of statehood and of citizenship. It further disrupts and hampers the country's economic life, as citizens are inhibited from engaging in innovative economic projects by consistent interference by local chieftains, acting as feudal lords, as well as corrupt government employees. The system in Lebanon must be changed from a highly tribal, sectarian system into a secular system that treats all citizens as members of a single nation with equal rights and duties. A new system must arise which clearly enforces the following principles: Separation of religion from the state, debarring the clergy from interference in national political and judicial matters, removal of the barriers between the various sects, the abolition of feudalism, the organization of the economy on a productivity basis, protection of labor rights and of the interest of the nation and the state; and the formation of a strong armed forces which will be effective in determining the destiny of the country and the nation. Outside of such a basic structure, Lebanon will continue to live in a constant state of tension, and Lebanese citizens can only expect to experience continued woes and disasters brought about by vicious sectarian politics and agitation.

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