Why Would Anyone Want to be a Lebanese Politician?

More of the same coming from Lebanon

It has never been easy to be in Lebanese politics. And that may be the understatement of the year. For the past few decades, Lebanon has been split into those who supported the Syrian control over the Lebanese political system and those who were pushing for sovereignty. Since its creation in 1982, Hezbollah has been a stalwart of support for the Syrians while providing the best resistance against Israel – who had occupied southern Lebanon for 18 years. American and western aid for Lebanon has only hardened the political divisions within the small country while Syrian and Iranian influence remains strong. Of course, the nearly 20 high level political assassinations in 2005-2006 alone demonstrate just how hazardous Lebanese politics is to one’s health. In other words, trying to stay afloat as a Lebanese politician is a pretty tough business that involves a whole lot of wheeling and dealing (not unlike the English Premier League). Unfortunately, the divisions that have plagued the Lebanese government for years has made the Lebanon home to one of the most inefficient working governments out there.

With the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) issuing arrest warrants to four members of Hezbollah and potentially to members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle, the quagmire of Lebanese politics is as confusing as ever. Former Prime Minister and son of the murdered Rafiq Hariri (the STL is the UN investigation into the assassination of the elder Hariri) Saad Hariri is currently living in Paris after receiving news of an assassination plot from the UN and the French government. Druze and Progressive Socialist leader Walid Jumblatt continued his efforts to continuously stay on the winning side of Lebanese politics by once again pulling a political 180, coming out agains the STL. And, perhaps most importantly, Prime Minister Nagib Makati – who was once allied with the March 14 bloc (led by Saad Hariri), but then became Prime Minister after accepting the nomination of Hezbollah (the dominant party in the March 8 bloc) – may soon resign as he faces tough decisions on whether to support the STL (as he did when allied with M14) or to withdraw government support (as M8 desires).

Yet while political squabbles focus around the STL and the potential disarming of Hezbollah (“But beyond agreeing on some issues, one would think that the Lebanese politics began and ended, opened and closed, with the words Hariri and/or Hezbollah,”) the country is suffering. Moreover, those in power seem intent (naturally) on maintaining their grip on power while others are demanding more efficiency and more expertise from the government:

Over the past months there has been a debate in Lebanon over whether or not a “technocrat” government will be “acceptable” to politicians. The word “technocrat” is a synonym of “expert”. A person who is a “technocrat” is a person who is qualified and who excels at doing, or managing, the work under their responsibility. Lebanon is a country with much unemployment, even more under-employment, a public health system in ruins, a ballooning cost of living, a decaying public education system, crumbling infrastructure, enormous public debt, child labor, a corrupt prison system, and a judicial system that is grossly inefficient. Can we really afford to nothave a government full of ministers who actually know what they are doing, have experience doing it, and are professionals? How is it possible that in a country like ours, with intermittent electricity, growing pollution, a widening gap between rich and poor, and gross gender inequality, whether or not to have a “politician” cabinet or an “expert” cabinet is even a debate? Have we forgotten that ultimately, everyone who occupies a seat in Lebanese politics are the public’s employees? We not only pay their salaries, but we will be paying the cost of their inefficiency and corruption (to say nothing of the politicians who played active roles in destroying the country during the 1975-1990 Civil War) for generations to come.

Unfortunately, if history teaches us anything, it is that the formation of a coherent, effective government that is able to adequately tend to the needs of the Lebanese people is fairly unlikely. Rather, the political squabbles and shifting alliances that have defined Lebanese politics for years is likely to continue.

Photo from TX Lady

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