Last night appeared to have made things official regarding the Lebanese presidential vacuum. Former prime minister and leader of the Future Movement, Saad Hariri endorsed former military general Michel Aoun, a major political rival. This is a big deal given that most of Hariri’s political allies within his own party rejected the endorsement. Hariri said that he is endorsing Aoun prioritizing Lebanon’s security over his popularity; however, his endorsement has paved the way to Hariri inevitably becoming Lebanon’s prime minister, indicating that could revitalize his currently lackluster political career more than anything.
But let’s set aside the internal politics of Lebanon’s establishment. There are some important talking points about these recent developments that relate to the population that needed to be addressed and discussed:
1. Lebanon’s so-called democracy
Even if the Lebanese establishment followed every rule by the book, Lebanon would be at most described as a semi-democracy, keeping in mind that parliament elects the president.
Given the circumstances that exist today, what does it mean for Lebanon’s democratic well being that the next president will be elected by a parliament that has extended its term twice? And what does it mean when you also mention the fact that Lebanon’s last president, Michel Suleiman, was voted in as a consensus candidate in 2008, due to yet another political stalemate?
2. A war criminal as president
If there would be a simple way to sum up the impact of the civil war, it would simply require mentioning the fact that a ministry of the displaced had to be established after the Taif Agreement.
A Michel Aoun presidency would also mean that Lebanon’s head of state is a war criminal. Despite the Taif Agreement, which ended the 15-year civil war in 1990, pardoning everyone from war crimes, the memory and impact of the civil war still exists.
One significant reason is that the civil war-era establishment still rules the country today, and that the reconstruction process did not include the development of institutions and an engaged and active society. Despite the anti-establishment rhetoric that has increased publicly, and despite most people not personally absolving the establishment for their war crimes, the establishment has not hesitated about considering at least one to be president.
3. An excluded generation: 1988-1994
Once the presidency vacuum is officially filled, it will mark an entire generation of young Lebanese people who have never participated in the democratic process, given the parliament extending its term twice. Despite an archaic electoral law, Lebanese citizens who are 21 or above have the right to vote for parliament, which is the body that votes in the presidency.
If anything, this represents what Lebanon is: a state where a feudal establishment rules, and the population adjust to those decisions, having little to no say about the matter, even when it comes to even the most basic of affairs. There is an entire generation of Lebanese people that have been intentionally excluded from Lebanon’s social contract.
4. Could we have done better?
The root of the problem is Lebanon’s establishment. There is no question about it. However, let’s look at Lebanon’s “civil society”- its local movements, NGOs, and organizations that have tried to bring about change. Could they have done better? Are they to blame for some of this?
Indeed. Considering the nature of these movements, much of them being rather exclusive and out of touch with the interests or demands of ordinary Lebanese people, they appear to focus more on building their personal brand or becoming celebrity activists. This is obviously damaging, and, if anything, cannibalistic.
What if these individuals who are described as “Lebanon’s civil society” focused on building a movement and organization based on achieving collective goals? Hindsight is 20-20, but it’s clear that more could have been done, and that perhaps, just perhaps, things could have looked a little bit different today. The peak of the so-called You Stink protests two summers ago is the best example.
All in all, these are all important points that we need to discuss. Whether or not the presidential vacuum is filled soon, and whether or not parliament elections will not be extended for a third time, there are significant structural problems that need to be discussed. The sooner we address these problems, the better.
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