Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Student elections echo the country’s woes

Posted by worriedlebanese on 05/11/2009

Political exploitation

Results: Politically exploited, freely interpreted

I followed quite closely this year’s student elections back at my Alma Mater. The picture wasn’t a pretty one. If you took the time to read the Daily Star, l’Orient-Le Jour, An-Nahar, As-Safir, lebanese-forces.org and Tayyar.org, it might just kill your hopes for a better future. Here are the highlights:

  • the university changed the electoral law without consulting students, without any debate. The proportionate system was chosen because it was “the most democratic voting system”. The university didn’t even explain how it came to this conclusion, echoing the recent general consensus that was imposed in Lebanon that the proportionate system is the only democratic voting system.
  • the student groups decided to choose politically neutral names for their lists in a bid to depoliticise the battle. This bid didn’t go any farther than this terminological camouflage (that everyone found satisfactory). Most candidates didn’t hide their political affiliations and much of the discussions within the student body were about political affiliations.


    Picture 3

    Unabashed political bias by L'Orient-Le Jour

  • The battle was extremely polarised. “Independents” didn’t have a common platform and many question their real independence. The dominant lists replicated the national divide between “opposition” (that is extremely heterogeneous and mostly in government) and “majority” (that is a loose and divided coalition of rival or autonomous parties and patronage networks), here called “B+” and “réforme” (or “University2010”).
  • The campaign were quite costly and relied on explicit or implicit commercial and political sponsoring. The University did nothing to regulate the financing of the campaign. Even if there were no cases of vote buying, patronage networks were quite active. You had posters, T-shirt distributions, professional logos for the campaign… To try to mobilise the students, one camp proposed manakish and crepes, while the other proposed popcorn. On the following day, each brought loudspeakers and played electronic music.
  • Are you interested in programs? Well, each list had prepared one. But the students didn’t seem much interested in it. Most of those who I talked to had no clue about what each list was campaigning for (those who did were actually part of the core team supporting a list). The programs were a formal exercice with very little meaning.
  • Each camp had its own interpretation of the results. Samir Geagea, the leader of Lebanese Forces celebrated the victory of “March XIV” with a “bye bye ya 7alween” while Aoun claimed that his party won the popular vote and most of the big faculties.

8 Responses to “Student elections echo the country’s woes”

  1. lirun said

    interesting piece – thanks bro

    university activism is a very important thing to note.. in theory you would expect universities to foster liberal sentiment.. problem is universities also foster revolutionary currents.. sometimes this can cause an undesirable clash..

    certainly something to monitor..

    • thanks for your comment Lirun.
      I don’t believe one could find either liberal or revolutionary currents in Saint Joseph University, or in most universities in Lebanon. Ideologically, there is a very large consensus that cuts across party lines and the great divide. Most parties are center right economically and stick to traditional or conservative choices when we get socio-cultural issues.
      What you have is competing interests and diverging tactical and geopolitical choices.

      The student elections confirm this. and they also show that there is no potential for change. the youths are being integrated into a highly dysfunctional and unstable system, and all they do is reproduce it on a smaller scale.

      • lirun said

        and the enlightenment of education doesnt help them cut across this veil of entrapment?

      • I don’t believe it’s actually their fault. The problem is structural. The political and communal polarisation is extreme, and so is the concentration of wealth and ressources.
        Against all these odds truly independent figures and movements don’t have a chance. The only way out of it is for the university to build a space within which the students are empowered to be independent. Unfortunately, the University is caught up in this polarisation too…

        Maybe I should write to the Rectorat about it…

  2. lirun said

    u know what kills me ? a little off topic but still i need to say it .. that i have friends in lebanon .. good friends .. who are scared shitless to call me because they fear that they could be pursued by HA .. and i dont mean weak sideline people .. and its not like they want to plot a revolution .. just to talk .. but hey wont call or allow me to ..

    • You’re right Lirun, it is rather off topic, but to set the record straight, it is illegal to call Lebanon from Israel and to call Israel from Lebanon. In fact, if one looks at the laws or legal orders in both countries, one would find a prohibition against any contact with the enemy state… and our countries are officially at war.
      The telephone companies are under surveillance in both countries to monitor or block such calls. Now this question is being addressed differently by both governments. In Lebanon, there is an insistance on having contact with any Israeli (which is taking the law very literally), in Israel the government is more lax on this issue because it is more pragmatic (it knows that the overwhelming majority of contacts do not constitute any threat whatsoever) and has strong intelligence service that can not only monitor a great deal of contacts, but actually put them to use.
      I have a more pragmatic question to ask u. u travel often to Europe, you could always call them from there. and then there’s skype… the possibilities are endless.

      • lirun said

        i know but its so inconvenient.. and such a crock of shit.. if you dont let people talk and meet then how does this dumb ass war end..

        i mean – it would be pathetic to try and limit this discussion we are having right here – so whats the difference if audio is involved.. and why does it matter if a telco is engaged to facilitate the connection..

  3. Back to the central topic, here’s a comment I left on another blog (+961)

    The official results should be published tomorrow. But the problem isn’t there. As you and many of yours readers put it, the problem lies in the interpretation of the results.
    Because of the bipolarisation of all electoral battles, results have been interpreted as if we were in a two party system, which is far from being the case. At USJ, just like everywhere else in the country, there are deep divides within each camp that are just as deep if not deeper than the divide between the camps. The relationship within the popular base of Hezbollah and Amal for instance are just deep as the ones between the LF and the FPM. The same could be said about the Kataeb and the LF (where the divide is as deep within the leadership as it is within the popular base).

    One should go beyond the flexible “we” of the LF (”we” the christians, “we” the LF, “we, March XIV”), and the egocentric “we” of the FPM, and see what lies behind it. If you check out both sites you find no info on how many seats people close to the Mustaqbal won, or Kataeb, or the Ahrar, or Hezbollah…

    When discussing a battle between camps that are so heterogenous, it is silly to talk of who one and who lost in global and binary terms. It’s more fruitful and interesting to see how each party fared. And one does that, one can see that with each election, the representation of muslim party is growing, benefiting from the competition between the FPM and the other christian parties (Kataeb, Ahrar, Lebanese Forces), which is bringing more diversity to the student council but also submitting everyone to the countries dominant communal patronage networks.

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