Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Partisanship and sedition

Posted by worriedlebanese on 30/11/2006

I attended a very interesting lecture today in Normandy. The lecturer, Carlos Pimentel, talked about the origins of pluralism as a political phenomenon. He analysed the birth of bipartisanship in England, and its gradual acceptance. He explained that at first, political parties were denounced as being seditious and they were associated with civil strife. They were condemned because they were seen as threats to the social order, the national consensus, and the unity of the State. He showed how political parties introduced in British politics a dual tension, that of consensus and conflict. I though it would be interesting to apply his analysis to what’s happening in Lebanon.

Following their active participation in the Civil war, and almost systematic transformation into armed militias, the Lebanese political parties were much discredited. New political groups hesitated to call themselves parties in order not to be linked or equated with militias; two of the largest political formations in Lebanon consequently call themselves Tayyar (which means ‘Current’ or ‘Trend’ but is usually translated to ‘Movement’): The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Future Movement (FM).

Following their active participation in the Civil war, and almost systematic transformation into armed militias, the Lebanese political parties were much discredited. New political groups hesitated to call themselves parties in order not to be linked or equated with militias; two of the largest political formations in Lebanon consequently call themselves Tayyar (which means ‘Current’ or ‘Trend’ but is usually translated to ‘Movement’): The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Future Movement (FM).

Similarly to late 17th century England, political polarisation in Lebanon is extreme. But instead of having two opposing parties such as the Whigs and the Tories, Lebanon has two large, heterogeneous and cross-communal coalitions. On one side, we have the parliamentary majority coalition spearheaded by Hariri’s Future Movement [mostly Sunni] and Joumblat’s Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) [quasi exclusively Druze]. On the other, we have the new opposition led by Hassan Nasrallah’s Hezbollah [Shiite based] and Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) [Christian based].

This polarisation has brought about a very intense nation-wide debate over conflict and consensus. Many accusations (and curses) are exchanged by both sides, and the opponent is often perceived and denounced as a foreign agent, a tool used by foreign powers to achieve their aims in Lebanon. This accusation is widespread in cases of extreme polarisation. It shows a crisis in confidence between two opposing parties. The conflicting element overrides the initial consensus admitting that both parties are legitimate players in the political game. In the case of Lebanon, the confessional diversity and the communal polarisation (Sunni and Druze on one side, and Shiite on the other) obviously complicate the matter.

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