Lebanon’s presidential elections. What’s the fuss about?
Posted by worriedlebanese on 21/11/2007
For the past two months the presidential elections have been making the headlines of the Lebanese daily newspapers, not that they had anything new to inform their readers about. I was chatting to a friend a couple of hours ago and he asked me who I thought will be the next president. I told him his identity was irrelevant. The issue was somewhere else.
Since the Taef reforms, the post became politically insignificant and the last two years have eroded what was left of its symbolic importance. The pro-governmental forces and their western allies are obviously responsible for this evolution, but so is Emile Lahoud who in his exceptional mediocrity failed to restore the symbolic importance of his post and missed the many opportunities to do so (the 2005 parliamentary elections, the dialogue table, the July war, the governmental crisis). Thanks to his complete political ineptitude, he wasn’t able to take or face the challenge (or even make use of those who proclaimed themselves his allies).
“But isn’t the presidency important to the Christians?”, asked my friend. It certainly is. But how relevant are they in Lebanese politics today. Economically, socially and culturally, Christians still play an important role in Lebanon, albeit a dwindling one. But politically, they’re insignificant, even though a look at the Lebanese media might give you a different impression (I’ll try to explain why in tomorrow’s post).
“So what’s the fuss all about?”. Well, it’s quite simple. The presidential election threatens the status quo between the Shiite leadership (Hassan Nasrallah and his sidekick Nabih Berri) and the Sunni-Druze leadership (Saad Hariri and his sidekick Walid Jumblatt). Up to now, both parties have profited and enjoyed the stalemate (even if they publicly condemn it). It has helped them mobilise their “troops”, consolidate their hold on their community, secure the backing of their regional and international sponsors, safeguard their position ahead of their rivals within their communities… Why risks all these benefits now? Can they hope to get anything more than what they’re getting now? No chance of it.
If that’s true, why don’t they agree on a weak, meek President? This is just what might happen if they can get themselves to agree on anything. This is not very easy for them to do because of the general distrust they have of one another. Even though they both profit from the present deadlock, and have refrained from doing anything to unsettle it (they don’t even support their opponent’s rivals within his community other than by allowing them a small space for expression in the media they control), they are convinced that the other party is involved in one way or another in a plot to annihilate them. Come to think of it, it’s quite amazing to see the amount of restraint they’re using in their rivalry. But then again, it could be a question of benefits more than political responsibility.