Back to the future: “Lebanese Left” vs “Lebanese Right”
Posted by worriedlebanese on 23/06/2010
For over a week, we’ve been reading a lot of things about the heated parliamentary debate on Tuesday 15th of June 2010 triggered by four bills (that no lebanese newspaper published) presented by Walid Jumblatt (head of the PSP, Druze MP of the Chouf), Elie Aoun (member of Jumblatt’s Democratic Gathering, Maronite MP of the Chouf), Alaeddine Terro (member of the PSP, Sunni MP of the Chouf), and why the Christian MPs refused the four “double urgency” bills that would allow Palestinians in Lebanon to own property, get work permits in any profession and receive social-security payments. Let’s look into Walid Jumblatt’s words during that debate and see what they say about politics in Lebanon:
“The ‘right’ throughout the world is stupid, the Lebanese right is worried. We’ve been hearing the same arguments for 62 years. Do you want to postpone things, well postpone them. But if you want to postpone them this time, understand that your postponing a problem. The embargo on Gaza is allegedly carried out to “topple Hamas”. However it [Hamas] prevailed and gained strength, thank God it won. In Lebanon, the breakdown of the Palestinian Authority leads to the emergence of fundamentalist movements in the camps and to the displacement of Palestinians. When fundamentalist movements appear in the camps, what happens to you? Do you loose? You don’t loose a thing. We send the Lebanese army to die and then we make promises to rebuild the camps. Is that what you want? I’ve never seen stupider than the Lebanese right, I’ve never seen stupider than the Lebanese right”. Walid Joumblatt, spoken in Parliament on Tuesday 15th of June 2010, reported by Al-Akhbar in its wednesday edition (my translation).
Walid Jumblatt raises a whole lot of issues in this short and somewhat improvised speech. I say somewhat improvised because he could have easily expected the result of last Tuesday’s parliamentary discussions; The Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces and the Kataeb were bound to oppose any bill extending the rights of the Palestinian of Lebanon, especially if these bills followed the “double urgency” procedure. Such a procedure deprives Christian politicians of the time needed to convince their Christian constituency that extending Palestinian rights do not infringe on their own political rights.
Let’s look a bit closer at what Walid Jumblatt is saying:
- He calls the Christian parties the “Lebanese right” and considers them the stupidest of all “rightist” parties worldwide. By doing so, he reclaims his father’s rhetorical arguments and terminology, with its binary division of politics between so-called “rightist” (actually christian) parties and so called “leftist” (actually muslim) parties. In a later interview with al-Akhbar, Walid Jumblatt said that he had expected this reaction from the ‘right’, “but not this degree of stupidity. This is a stupidity of historic dimension. Stupidity is not Christian, because there is a category of Christians who has struggled in favour of Arab issues even before the ‘National Movement'”. Framing the whole issue in these terms and asserting that he had expected the result seem to indicate that reclaiming his father’s heritage and boosting his “progressif” credentials could be one of the objectives behind the bills he presented.
- He states that Palestinian civil rights have been postponed for 62 years and insinuates that the Christian/”rightist” parties are to be blamed for it. This is historically inaccurate. Most of the discriminations against the Palestinians date back to 1982, and were part of the Lebanese government and parliament’s backlash against the PLO (most of the provisions that restrict the labour market were repealed a couple of years ago). Others have to do with general rules that were prevalent across the world concerning foreign labour when they were instituted and were not modified to suit current standards.
- He speaks of the Israeli policy towards Gaza, suggesting a comparison could be made between the Israeli handling of Palestinian affairs and the Lebanese “rightist” Christian policies towards Palestinian refugees. In a context like the Lebanese one, this is for the least “libellous”. The intention is to “smear” the “right”, instead of shedding a light on either dynamic (the Israeli and the Lebanese one).
- He suggests that granting Palestinian increased social rights would support the Palestinian authority and curb the expansion of Islamist groups within the Palestinian camps. This suggestion is pleasing to liberal ears, but it is extremely simplistic and unfounded. It ignores the internal political dynamics between the Palestinian Authority and the palestinian diaspora (which has become increasingly strained and loose since the Oslo accords), within the Palestinian community in Lebanon (which has become less sensitive to Palestinian nationalist rhetoric), and between Palestinians and Lebanese parties and constituencies. All these dynamics point to a weakening of the PLO and the PA’s authority, and an increased influence of Islamist parties, regardless of Palestinian social conditions.
- He says that christians parties do not pay the price of their mistakes, the Palestinians and the Lebanese army do. This is the only argument he uses that breaks away from his father’s rhetoric in which the Lebanese army and the “right” were considered as one. This rhetorical change reflects the important change the Lebanese army underwent in the 1990s (under the Syrian Mandate) and now “switches sides” in the political equation.