Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Change(?) we DON’T believe in… (1)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 22/05/2009

DistrictsThe quadripartite oligarchy has decided to unburden Sunnis, Shiites and Druze with the hardships of democratic choice. The weight of the electoral battle lays on shoulders of the Christians.

This is not particularly new. In 2005, the Quadripartite oligarchy had struck an alliance, withstanding its members’ opposing geopolitical alliances. The Christian electorate had to choose between the christian allies of this quadripartite alliance and those who opposed (or were left out of) this alliance (most notably the Free Patriotic Movement).

Today, things have slightly changed. The quadripartite oligarchy is not running on the same tickets  (even though the geopolitical rift between it’s two parts isn’t as big as before). Why? Probably because they no longer need it (Politics has precedence on Geopolitics)!

The 1960 electoral divisions has clearly set aside  the Shiite electorate from the Sunni and Druze electorates. Bahia Hariri’s election no longer depends on the Shiite electorate, and Berri doesn’t risk opposing votes from Sunni Saïda… And if you check out the competing lists, you will find that the quadripartite oligarchy, even divided, doesn’t face much competition, and the rivalry between its members is almost inexistent. Do Hezbollah and Amal support a rival to Mustaqbal (Future Movement) or Ishtiraki (PSP)? Not really… Do the Mustaqbal or Ishtiraki support a rival to the Hezbollah-Amal bulldozer? Not really… The quadripartite oligarchy has unburdened Sunnis, Shiites and Druze from the hardships of democratic choice!

The only change is to be found on the Christian side. The battle no longer is between the allies and foes of the quadripartite oligarchy, but between two groups of its allies. Oddly enough, for the first time since the 1972, the Christian electorate will be able to choose more than half of the Christian MPs (36 Christian MPs and 4 Muslim MPs: mostly in historical Mount Lebanon and East Beirut). Moreover, this electorate still enjoys important leverage for the choice of another 7 MPs (5 Christian and 2 Muslim in Zahlé). Under such conditions, one would expect the Christian parties to have a greater autonomy from the internal rifts of the Quadripartite alliance. But this isn’t so.

Here’s my thoughts on why this is the case!

The recent evolution of the patronage system: Even though most of the Christians share the same political views and cultural perceptions, they were not integrated into a dominant denominational patronage structure in the 1990s by the Syrians, unlike the Shiites (under Nabil Berri’s Amal Movement), the Druze (under Jumblatt’s Ishtiraki) or to a slightly smaller extent, the Sunnis (under Rafik Hariri’s Mustaqbal Movement). Many of them were actually split up between those three groups (especially in Beirut, Southern Lebanon and Southern Mount Lebanon where traditionally “indepedent” patrons such as Michel Pharaon, Fuad Saad, Salah Honein became clients of larger Muslim patrons), while the rest were integrated into smaller denominational patronage structure (that of Michel Murr,  Suleiman Frangieh, Elias Skaff).

Geopolitical positioning: the quadripartite oligarchy has replaced politics with geo-politics. And two of its members (Hezbollah and Mustaqbal) enjoys very strong regional and international backing (financial and military). In such a game, the Christians find themselves with no allies and with no say.

Electoral reasons: The Quadripartite oligarchy commands the election of no less than 21 Christian MPs (the Hezbollah-Amal alliance: 5 christian MPs; the Mustaqbal-Ishtiraki alliance: 16 MPs). In those elections, the Christians electorate has no say at all. Moreover, one member of the quadripartite oligarchy can have an important influence for sway votes in the choice of 10 additional Christian MPs (in districts where the Christians electorate is dominant).

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