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Les collèges électoraux confessionnels entre le تفو (tfou) et le نيعئ (nya32)

Posted by worriedlebanese on 20/02/2013

Hier, les commissions parlementaires conjointes, réunies sous la présidence de Nabih Berri, ont approuvé l’article 2 de la proposition de loi électorale suggérée par le “Rassemblement Grec-orthodoxe ». Cet article introduit deux nouveautés dans le droit électoral libanais: Il change le mode de scrutin et redéfinit les collèges électoraux. Effectivement:
– un mode de scrutin proportionnel remplace le mode de scrutin majoritaire que le Liban a connu jusqu’à maintenant.
– des collèges électoraux confessionnels remplacent les collèges électoraux pseudo-territoriaux (en réalité patrilinéaire et patriarcaux: le citoyen n’étant pas intégré au collège électoral de son lieu de résidence mais à celui de ses aïeux ou de son mari) auxquels nous nous sommes habitués.
Notons que l’accueil de ses deux changements a été diamétralement opposé. Le premier est applaudi, surtout au sein du monde associatif et journalistique, où un consensus très large s’est constitué autour de ce mode de scrutin bénéficiant d’un préjugé favorable et promu comme “plus démocratique”. Le second quant à lui a suscité une vague d’indignation, surtout au niveau de la presse et de la blogosphère. 
Ce changement dans la définition des collèges électoraux est indéniablement difficile à digérer. Non seulement il contredit notre tradition électorale et constitutionnelle, mais il s’oppose de manière brutale à notre idéologie d’État qui est anti-confessionnelle. Il est donc à ce titre triplement dérangeant, mais aussi triplement révolutionnaire.

Une redéfinition allergène et indigeste801657_52511123783
Les objections à l’établissement de collèges électoraux confessionnels sont nombreuses. Certaines se basent sur des principes que cette redéfinition des collèges électoraux violerait d’autres s’appuient sur les effets attendus de cette réforme électorale. Les examiner de manière individuelle prendrait trop de temps, surtout qu’il faudrait expliciter les nombreuses suppositions sur lesquelles elles se fondent et rappeler les ambiguïtés de notre système juridique et politique.
Certaines objections sont si farfelues et l’analyse déformée (par des considérations tenant plus à la cohérence idéologique de l’auteur que de ce qu’il observe), que j’étais d’abord tenté de “défendre” ou de “justifier” les collèges électoraux sur base confessionnelle. Mais à vrai dire, j’avais été moi-même choqué par cette proposition lorsqu’elle a été présenté par le “Rassemblement Grec-orthodoxe ». Donc au lieu de répondre aux arguments que d’autres personnes ont formulé, j’ai décidé d’analyser les raisons pour lesquels cette proposition m’avait choqué.
1. L’objection normative: le collège électoral confessionnel comme enfermement: l’établissement de collèges électoraux sur une base confessionnelle restreint le choix de l’électeur aux membres de sa propre communauté-confessionnelle. En d’autres mots, elle le renvoi non seulement à son appartenance confessionnelle, mais elle limite son choix électoral aux membres de sa confession. Notons que notre système électoral renvoi déjà l’électeur à sa confession à travers la manière dont le Ministère de l’Intérieur organise les registres d’électeurs auprès des bureaux de votes. Effectivement, cette organisation des registres se fait généralement sur une base confessionnelle: les électeurs relevant de communautés différentes tendent à voter “à part” même s’ils appartiennent au même collège électoral. (Notons que ce choix particulier d’organisation des registres n’a aucun intérêt sur le plan juridique, mais il se révèle pratique sur le plan politique dans les conflits autour de la représentativité confessionnelle de certains hommes politiques).
Ce n’est donc pas tant le renvoi à l’appartenance communautaire qui dérange dans cette loi, mais le fait qu’elle limite le choix des électeurs aux membres de leurs communautés. Ceci est ressenti comme un « enfermement supplémentaire » du citoyen dans sa communauté-confessionnelle, cette fois-ci sur le plan électoral. Mais est-ce que le fait de voter pour des candidats appartenant à d’autres communautés le “libère” pour autant? Et à quel prix se fait cette impression de “libération” sur le plan de la représentation de certaines communautés et de la représentativité de certains députés? C’est en somme les deux questions auxquelles le “père” de cette loi, Wael Kheir, nous renvoi.
2. L’objection socio-culturelle: inadéquation de ce type de collège électoral à l’inscription socio-culturelle de certains votants:  Cette proposition se révèle particulièrement problématique que pour deux types d’individus: ceux qui ne s’inscrivent pas dans leur groupe d’appartenance communautaire (c’est le cas des personnes qui n’ont pas été socialisées dans un groupe communautaire spécifique ou ceux qui le rejettent), et ceux dont le groupe d’appartenance ne correspond pas à celui de leur confession (celui qui ont été socialisées dans un groupe communautaire mixte). C’est en examinant le deuxième type d’individus que l’on réalise le caractère paradoxal de cette proposition de loi. Alors même qu’elle a été élaborée et promue à l’intention des communautés chrétiennes, elle contredit de manière flagrante leur réalité socio-culturelle. Effectivement, le degré d’intégration (ou d’interpénétration) de la majorité des confessions chrétiennes tant sur le plan social, spatial, économique, culturel et politique est tel que leur division en collèges électoraux distincts est difficile à justifier. Mais est-ce qu’elle met en danger ce rapprochement, cette interprétation? Est-ce qu’elle brisera les familles mixtes ou décourageras les mariages mixtes? Est-ce qu’elle aboutira à l’éclatement des partis politiques dont les cadres et la base recouvrent sur plusieurs confessions chrétiennes (CPL, FL, Kataeb,PNL, BN) ou plusieurs communautés religieuses (ex: PSNS)? Ce sont des questions qui sont intéressantes à poser du fait qu’elles peuvent être vérifiées. Une chose est certaine, le système confessionnel n’a pas freiné ce rapprochement et cette interpénétration qui semble augmenter d’une génération à une autre.
3. L’objection conservatrice: le bouleversement de la tradition électorale libanaise: La loi électorale libanaise traduit une certaine conception du “partage du pouvoir” (power sharing) fondée sur le principe de la diversité communautaire dans la représentation politique, la mixité communautaire dans l’élection des représentants et la collaboration trans-communautaire pour l’accès au pouvoir. Effectivement, Toutes les circonscriptions actuelles sont plurinominales, et la majorité est mixte aussi bien au niveau du collège électoral que des sièges parlementaires à pourvoir. Ceci oblige des politiciens appartenant à certaines communautés à s’allier à des politiciens appartenant à d’autres communautés, à courtiser des électeurs appartenant à plusieurs communautés et à envisager comme rivaux principaux des candidats appartenant à leur propres communautés (car c’est contre eux seuls qu’ils concourent). Les effets escomptés de ce système électoral sont multiples: au niveau de la classe politique, il est censé produire une élite trans-communautaire rompue aux alliances trans-communautaires (puisqu’elle doit son accès au pouvoir à une délibération trans-communautaire). Au niveau du discours, il est censé encourager la modération communautaire (puisque l’extrémisme coutera des voix aux politiciens). Au niveau de l’exercice du pouvoir, il est censé conduire à la neutralité communautaire des politiques publiques… Or, les effets escomptés de notre système politique ne se produisent plus ou ont été dévoyés. Comment alors justifier notre attachement à ces mécanismes? Peut-on continuer à refuser d’examiner les raisons de cette neutralisation des effets et ne pas explorer d’autres pistes?

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Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Civil Society, Diversity, Idiosyncrasy 961, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Reform, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »

Le “mariage civil”: un pari risqué et fortement idéologisé

Posted by worriedlebanese on 01/02/2013

a17bLes mujahidin du mariage civil au Liban s’enflamment sur cette question, réchauffent des arguments qui datent des années 1930 et la traitent en méprisant les enseignements d’expériences similaires conduites dans des pays qui nous ressemblent. Je pense à la Bosnie, à l’Égypte, à la Syrie et à l’Iraq. Pire, ils n’essayent même pas de profiter de nos propres expériences en la matière. Ils restent abstraits et nous balancent leur crédo. Sous l’étiquette “progressiste”, les partisans du “mariage civil au Liban” se rapprochent plutôt des détracteurs du “Mariage pour tous” en France surtout sur le plan de la méthode.
Je ne traiterai que brièvement deux des présupposés brandis par nos mujahidin.

#1. Le MARIAGE CIVIL est un pas vers la DÉCONFESSIONALISATION et la PAIX CIVILE.
– La Bosnie a expérimenté pendant un demi siècle avec un mariage civil exclusif… mais aussi avec l’économie d’État, le parti unique et plein de techniques de brassage et d’uniformisation musclés… Dans les années 1990, plus d’un tiers des bosniens était issu d’un mariage mixte. Est-ce que cela a empêché l’éclatement de la plus sanguinaire des guerres yougoslaves et l’exécution de stratégies de nettoyage ethnique?
– L’Égypte, la Syrie et l’Iraq ont dans les années 1960 et 1970 expérimenté chacune à sa manière avec la laïcisation… Suppression des tribunaux religieux ici, promulgation d’un code civil là… Sont-ils pour autant plus “libre” ou “déconfessionnalisé” que nous? Leur histoire récente tend à montrer le contraire.

#2. Le MARIAGE CIVIL est une OPTION LIBÉRALE qui assure les DROITS des CITOYENS.
– Qui d’entre vous a lu le projet de mariage civil d’Elias Hraoui? Savez-vous que ce projet extrêmement conservateur aurait compliqué la vie de ceux qui se sont mariés (ou se marieront) à l’étranger? J’appartiens à une famille où deux générations se sont mariées civilement. En cas de promulgation du mariage civil au Liban, un des mariages sera plus compliqué à défaire et l’autre sera dissous. Est-ce que ça augmente nos libertés ou est-ce que ça les réduit?
– En 1959, le Liban a expérimenté avec la première “laïcisation” en matière de statut personnel: celle du droit successoral. Face à la protestation des autorités religieuses et la pression de l’ordre des avocats (en ce temps majoritairement chrétien), la loi fut adoptée… mais réservée aux seuls “non-mahométans”. Depuis cette date, la législation catholique en matière successorale a évolué (ceci concerne 6 des 13 communautés soumises à la législation civile)… mais pas le droit civil libanais, rendant la législation catholique plus libérale que la législation laïque en matière de succession des enfants… plus libérale mais non valide au Liban… laïcisation du droit successoral oblige…

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Civil Society, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Secularism, Version Francophone | Leave a Comment »

The great awakening of Syrian sectarianism

Posted by worriedlebanese on 13/06/2011

A syrian blogger's idealised vision of the Syrian revolt

As I listened to the news today from Syria, I had a strange feeling of having heard that story before. The people interviewed were giving their version of the events in Jisr al-Shughur… but the stories they told were exactly like the ones I heard about Dar’a a couple of weeks back:
– Massacres of Sunnis, especially sunni soldiers who were not willing to shoot at other sunnis.
– Alawite paramilitaries helped by Iranians and Hezbollah (“other Shiites”)
There were only two ways to explain the similarity between the two narratives: either the events they were describing were being repeated or a sectarian rhetoric had crystallized into a solid narrative that is circulating within some circles of Syrian society.

Flashback
Four weeks ago, I spend an evening with a Syrian family from Dar’a discussing the situation in their hometown. It wasn’t really a discussion. I sat for almost two hour listening to them, and only asked a couple of general questions to encourage them to talk about their personal experience. As expected, they were very emotional about what was going on: They had after all fled their town because of governmental violence, and they seemed to know some protesters who were killed. It was actually quite hard to get any “hard” information from them. Sure they described some events, gave a couple of names (of people and locations) and even threw in a couple of figures. But most of what they said was based on hearsay and they constantly shifted between a “victimisation narrative” and a “heroic narrative”. In both cases, the arguments were selected and adapted in a way to suit the narrative’s objective.
What struck me at the time was the sectarian lens through which they perceived all the events that they described. Sectarian discourse had long been taboo in Syria, and one could only hear it in closed circles and in veiled language. Syrians usually mocked Lebanese for their sectarian discourse and sectarian system, and prided themselves for being “non-sectarian”. Now things seemed to have radically shifted. Syrians were resorting openly and unashamedly sectarian analysis and were using an extremely violent sectarian discourse.
Here I was talking to a sunni family that proudly mentioned during our conversation its communal belonging, and even mine (on one occasion when they spoke of the rights of the majority – ie Sunnis – and felt that they had too reassure me by telling me that they bore no ill feelings toward non-alawite minority groups).

Fact or Fantasy?
The current dynamic within Syria is certainly sectarian. The bloody Dar’a repression quickly transformed a mostly cross-sectarian economical revolt into a sectarian political/economical revolt. And this was extremely clear in Lattakié where alawites withdrew from the protestations and sunnis joined them in greater numbers… and syrian troops left Alawite villages and neighbourhoods while they took control of sunni villages and neighbourhoods. Needless to days Bachar Assad broke the “social contract”, following Qaddafi’s footsteps. In the Libyan case this social contract was tribal in nature (and violations started a couple of years ago), in Syria it was communal in nature. The break in the Libyan case was complete, and the country is today completely divided on tribal lines. In the Syrian case, the situation seems more complicated. Symbolically, the tacit social contract is between two communities: the alawite minority and the sunni majority. But as communities are not organized political bodies but a complex blend of institutions, networks and mental representations, the real “covenant” is between the elites within both communities… and this covenant has up to now survived what can be interpreted as sectarian violence: the victims of the repression are mostly sunnis (especially among the killed), and the alawite community is today mobilized behind the Baasist regime that is now widely perceived as being “alawite” and as supporting alawite interests. One has to speak of “perception” here because the “objective” reality is quite possibly very different from what is subjectively perceived, and in any case, it doesn’t really matter. Perceptions and discourse can over-ride reality and symbolic elements can have a larger impact than deeper structural realities.

The sectarian lens goes regional
As we have seen, there is an obvious sectarian dimension to the revolt/repression. But what is even more obvious is the sectarian lens has become prevalent in the political discourse and in political analysis: both sides interpret the political situation in Syria in exclusive sectarian terms. The Syrian regime insists on the sectarian dimension of the revolt and dubs it “salafism” (i.e. a version of sunni religious extremism). While opposition groups and their supporters insist on the sectarian dimension of the repression/regime (and calls it Alawite or Shiite). And both parties claim to be non-sectarian and accuse the other of playing sectarian politics. Actually, one of the main traits of the sectarian lens is that it refuses to acknowledge that it is sectarian in its nature (much more than the communal reality it is supposed to be “neutrally” observing).
The situation in Syria is actually quite similar to what happened in Lebanon when the sectarian lens became prevalent in political analysis and political discourse.
What is new today in Syria is that the lens has taken an important “regional” scope. The sectarian geopolitical approach (that can be considered as a prevalent bias in today’s geopolitical analysis) has fed the national sectarian narrative. The alliance between Syria, Iran and Hezbollah which actually benefits the interests of the three parties is seen as being a sectarian one. It’s true that Iran and Hezbollah share a strong shiite religious identity… But extending it to the Alawites is stretching it a bit too far and giving too much credit to the Alawite’s discourse.
The claim that Iran and Hezbollah are participating in the repression has not been supported by any fact. It resembles the claim that Hezbollah participated in the iranian crackdown against the Green revolution.
Such accusations are made quite lightly and no serious investigation is done to verify the claim. If they were proven to be true, this would have serious implications to Syrian politics, but also Lebanese politics.

  • For Syrian politics. The big difference between Syria and Lebanon is that the Syrian political class has always objected to foreign meddling in its affairs (while the Lebanese political class actively welcomed it before 1943 and after 1958). If Hezbollahi and Iranian direct intervention were proven to be true, that would mean that the Baasist/Assad regime has changed the nature of the syrian political game.
  • For Lebanese politics. Hezbollah has already a first hand experience in political repression (May 6, 2008). But that was a very short one. Any implication in the Syrian repression would mean that it would be furthering its experience in scale and scope. And it would be the first Lebanese actor to have meddled in another state’s affairs.

Posted in Civil Society, Conspiracy, Discourse, Discourse Analysis, Intercommunal affairs, Semantics, Syria | Leave a Comment »

Hooking up: my month with Facebook

Posted by worriedlebanese on 17/07/2010

Well now I actually am.

I’ve been on Facebook for a little more than a month now, and I have to admit that I’m rather hooked. I still haven’t discovered all its possibilities, and even less engaged in them, but I do believe that this medium has an extremely interesting edge to it. Set aside its extremely limited language (where all people who are linked are “friends”, and all pages that you follow are those that you “like”), and look at its possibilities. It gives you the opportunity to communicate with people you know without having to knock at their door every single time. It allows you to work on your readership, nurture it, engage with it, interact on a personal level.

Like many, I heard through friends about Facebook. I learnt that it was a fascinating mutant interface that combines email/chat/blog/social networking. For a long time I was wary of its exhibitionistic and superficial tendencies, and wasn’t very comfortable with the idea that it would link the different networks I’m engaged in (they are not exactly compatible). So I resisted Facebook until a friend of mine (my number one fan and paragon) convinced me that it could be tempting and that I should give in. And so I did.

Truth to tell, I’m rather put off by the “personal” dimension of Facebook and decided from the onset to keep private things private: so no holiday pictures, no display of mood swings or details of my personal and social life (when I have one). No posting will seem to be torn off from my diary (one that I choose to share with others while I write it; that sounds very Tanizaki, doesn’t it). I’d rather share ideas, explore them as I write them, throw them around and see what bounces back. And instead of chasing info, roaming from one blog to another, it’s really great to find so many interesting things scattered around on my page every time I log in.

Tapping into the unexpected

One thing really caught me off guard: The process of creating a “friend list”. Here’s the catch, when you open a personal page with your name on it, you send an invitation to all the email addresses in your possession, and you’re sure that friends and family will accept it. And gradually, people you have met or who fancy you, or know you by name or you’ve lost contact with will send you an invitation. And that’s that. Well, things play differently when your profile is anonymous and you only deal with political issues. Friends and family are certainly among the least interested in your political prattle. So they’d probably refuse your invitation unless you revealed your identity… And even then, you’re sure they’d be the first to roll their eyes (and suck their teeth) every time you post something.

So here’s what I did. After activating the automatic search engine to find the facebook profiles of the people I interact with through mail, I started asking myself whether or not I should invite this or that person. How would (s)he likely respond? Would they be interested in my political rambling? So I started asking myself questions about my readership that never ran through my blogger’s mind. Why wouldn’t people be interested in my political prattle? Is it because it is political or because it is prattle? Could one interest them and how? As I wrote my second note on Lıbnéné Qaliq, I felt things were starting to change in my writing process. I wonder if it is noticeable.

Posted in Blogosphere, Civil Society, Communication, Personal | 3 Comments »

The secular march… what next?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 14/07/2010

What is future of the Lebanese Laïque Pride? Salman al-Andari offers us an informed glimpse at what lies ahead for this dynamic group of Lebanese in an article published by the  Nahar al-Shabab: “The secular march… what next?“. He asks three people involved in this march what future steps should be undertaken to achieve their goal. A quick look at their answers shows that they are facing huge problems that were perceptible from the onset: There’s a whole lot of ideology (and ideological confusions), the goal is general and vague, and the action plan unfocused.

Instead of analysing their arguments, I believe it would be more interesting to try to suggests some concrete and profitable future steps. But I honestly can’t do it because the goal is too vague and the ideological matter too thick. This is not really the “Laïque Pride” groups fault. The issue they are tackling, secularisation/secularism/laïcité, is an extremely ideological one. This is particularly true in Lebanon (with our consociative system and its anti-confessionalist rhetoric and program) and France (with its particular blend of republicanism and its religious history and anti-religious rhetoric). So basically, here are the problems they are facing:

– “Laïque pride” is running under a highly ideological banner, that of Laïcité. This word is extremely tricky because its definition speaks of absolutes while its history is that of compromises. Moreover, laïcité presents itself as an abstract and universal principle, while it is grounded in a very particular history (that of France) and owes a lot to it.

– “Laïque pride” embraces a very common reading of Lebanese politics that is extremely ideological and misleading: it adopts the constitutional program for the abolition of confessionalism, it confuses State-Religion relations with Society-Religion relations, it opposes communalism and secularism… Its Arabic name is even more emblematic, “the seculars’ march towards citizenship”, which fits perfectly with other slogans used by the political class such as “abolishing confessionalism to give birth to the nation” (what I call national negationism, a virulent type of national self-loathing), or “building the state” (delusion at its best, we’ve got a huge and expensive state). Is there a more effective way to disfranchise citizens than by refusing to acknowledge the rights that they already have?

Is there a way out of this? Obviously, but it won’t be simple. There’s a whole lot of intellectual work that should be done. And this type of work takes time and needs a lot of ressources. And like all intellectual activities, its only reward is intellectual. I’m not sure that Laïque Pride is really interested in “intellectual rewards”. They want change and they want it now. And this attitude is the reason for their success. Anti-confessionalists in Lebanon are comfortable in their certitudes and they are frustrated by what they perceive is a lack of change on this issue (this perception is erroneous… the Lebanese political system is all but static, and it has been undergoing constant changes since the 1920s… all of them allegedly reinforcing the so-called “confessionalism”, but actually diverting it and changing its meaning).

What are the risks of avoiding this “intellectual work” and remaining in these murky ideological waters? I believe this would condemn the goal to remain general and vague, and the action plan to remain unfocused. How much would this hinder “Laïque Pride”… I’m not so sure. The group didn’t propose any new content, what it did is offer a new packaging and a new methodology. It repackaged the dominant anti-confessional rhetoric, put it under a new label “laïque pride” (likely to attract a westernised middle class crowd), functioned as a network and used Facebook as a mobilising tool. The group proved that it was rather good in what it did. To sum things up, there’s a conventional side to “Laïque Pride” (its substance) and an innovative side to it (its form). It’s not clear how long the innovative dimension will remain. When asked about the future step “Laïque Pride” should undertake, the three activists interviewed by Salman al-Andari gave extremely conventional answers. They proposed what other organisations have been doing for years.

So at the end of the day, Laïque Pride can be summed up as a particular moment in “anti-confessional” activism in which a new generation takes possession of a heritage and gives it a facelift. Its success and its failing will be those of the “anti-confessionnal” movement, that has always been politically hijacked by communal leaders and patrons (Kamal Joumblatt yesterday, Nabih Berri today), and its only horizon seems to be the civil marriage proposition which will condemn all Lebanese who seek to avoid religious law to a conservative, patriarchal and bigoted alternative (check out the Hraoui proposition if you’re not convinced) deemed good because “secular”, instead of allowing them to choose more liberal laws abroad.

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Blogosphere, Civil Society, Culture, Discourse, Idiosyncrasy 961, Lebanon, Secularism | Leave a Comment »

A Placebo storm in a teacup

Posted by worriedlebanese on 10/06/2010

What I find most deplorable in the “Placebo affair” is the fact that it spawned a useless amount of opinion papers.  The concert took place yesterday without any problem, showing that there is a difference between “calling for a boycott” and “censorship”. But this did not prevented the Lebanese “French-speaking daily” to continue to publish editorials on this “affaire” (read Fifi Abou Dib’s take on it published today: Epineuses et cactées).

There is something decidedly quixotic in this fight against “the furies trying to slowly kill the Lebanese cultural scene”, and this call for “cultural resistance” (two closing lines of MHG’s article yesterday). Don’t people find something remotely ridiculous in describing an the cultural consumption (of a foreign product) an act of CULTURAL RESISTANCE?!

If only the newspaper had the sens to interview Brian Molko or reproduce his interview. As Lotus Weinstock used to say, “I used to want to change the world . Now I just want to leave the room with a little dignity”. I wish L’Orient-Le Jour  took a couple of minutes to ponder on that thought.

Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Discourse, Journalism, Lebanon, Prejudice | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »

Weapons of Mass Underdevelopment

Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/06/2010

Marketing strategies can change their image, but not their nature: The Lebanese political class

I’m not going to waste time explaining how and why our political class are the reason behind our underdevelopment. I wouldn’t want to insult my compatriots intelligence. It is quite obvious to us all that this rather small group of people not only bring on us destruction, but deprive us from any chance of progressing socially, culturally, politically and economically. And this is true in time of peace and war (though it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between the two).

The greatest challenge we face today – as Lebanese – is undoubtedly to find a way to diffuse this extremely threatening danger. And that is certainly a tricky business because this closed club controls almost everything through their individual and collective power. The oddest thing about this business is that everyone is conscious of it. However, each and everyone of us supports it in one way or another. We did it quite efficiently these past four years by falling in a meaningless extreme political polarisation. But we also do it by refusing to act and think freely; by insisting on “the global picture” instead of fighting for the details; by buying into the different slogans; by playing it safe.

What risk have we been taking? What new ideas have we been supporting? What new battles have we engaged in? Honestly!! Let’s face it. We haven’t been doing much. There are very few exceptions. Let’s face it. And even in these cases we could have gone much further. But we’re playing safe. Something is holding us back. What can we do to unleash that energy? There’s a lot of talent, there’s a lot of good will, there’s a huge need, and there is one space that is left uncontrolled: cyberspace. Let’s use it.

I’ve been thinking about different strategies to diffuse our lethal weapons for some time, and I think only two can work:

  • A Political strategy: At first, I thought that supporting a maverick would destabilise the system, fragilise it, open it up. To some extent, this is what the maverick did, but he also played a stabilising role within the system and was co-opted into it… To make a long story short, the little space that the maverick left open, we didn’t use. We only benefited from the space granted to us by the political system, not out of generosity, but lack of interest. And even that space wasn’t used optimally. I personally believe that we could follow a political strategy that could be effective. The gradual overthrow of a system that was founded in 1958. And this could only be done through a cultural strategy.
  • A Cultural strategy: This one is quite tricky. The challenge is to push the country into the 21st century  (screaming and kicking). Some good work has been done in this respect in two issues: women’s rights and migrant workers. But even there it’s not enough. The initiatives are too isolated. They function like all awareness campaigns: they last as long as the campaign lasts… And this is not enough. The idea here is to push forward many new and challenging ideas in an integrated way, and to lend support to those who want to do it. Economically, the initiatives will still be largely dependent on foreign financing (even though it would be interesting to try to interest local structures to finance these initiatives), but I believe it would be possible to impose on them a local agenda instead of submitting to theirs.

Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Democracy, Lebanon, Patronage Networks, Political behaviour, Politics | 2 Comments »

La “résistance” à petit prix

Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/06/2010

Deux petits exemples d’attitudes pseudo-résistantes: un égyptien et deux libanais.

Le Conseil d’Etat Egyptien a jugé en faveur de la déchéance de nationalité des Egyptiens mariés à des Israéliennes. Cette décision pourrait concerner jusqu’à 27 000 personnes. Elle s’appuie sur deux idées: la présomption que toute juive est sioniste (ce qui n’est pas évident dans ce cas sachant que ces Israéliennes ont tout de même épousées des Egyptiens musulmans), et que ceci pose un problème au niveau de la loyauté puisque “un sioniste ne peut être loyale à l’Égypte et au monde arabe » (et cela en dépit du fait que l’Egypte a signé la paix avec Israel en 1979).  La décision du Conseil d’État reconnaît une exception: elle ne s’applique pas aux Égyptiens mariés à des Israéliennes arabes. L’argumentaire derrière l’exception est que les “Arabes de 1948” ont subi cette nationalité, et ne peuvent pas par conséquent être considérés comme des sionistes. Etrange attitude, et perception, venant d’un pays qui a conclu la paix avec Israël, qui s’est engagé depuis trois décennies à normaliser ses relations avec son voisin, et qui coopère avec le gouvernement israélien sur plusieurs plans, notamment dans la politique d’enfermement de Gaza (pour satisfaire des intérêts égyptiens).

Plusieurs photos commencent à circuler du premier acte de l’embarquement du commando Israélien. Celui dans lequel les manifestants ont capturé quelques soldats israéliens. Dans une des images, on voit un soldat Israélien manifestement blessé, choqué et humilié pleurer. Et sur le site de tayyar.org, j’ai remarqué plusieurs commentaires sous la photos se moquant des larmes du soldat et mettant en doute son courage et sa masculinité. Pathétique non?
Cette attitude rejoint celles de nombreux manifestants qui applaudissent à Beyrouth et à Rabieh (siège de l’ambassade de Turquie) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan alors qu’ils étaient totalement absents au moment de Nahr el Bared, lorsque le conflit entre l’Armée et Fateh el-Islam a conduit à la destruction du camp, à des pillages, à des “dommages collatéraux” et au déplacement de la population civile qui d’ailleurs n’a toujours pas été autorisée à rejoindre le camp et à rebatir.

Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Palestinians, Prejudice, Version Francophone | 6 Comments »

Haunted by Kıtırmäya

Posted by worriedlebanese on 30/04/2010

I couldn’t get the image out of my head. I tried, but it kept on coming back. Not the one posted here, which is bad enough, but the one that my mind reconstituted from the pictures I saw and the facts I learnt about this ghastly affair. This type of drama is the stuff of fiction; Peter Greenaway’s Baby of Mâcon meets Ken Russell’s The Devils. Having it happen a couple of miles from where you live is unbearable.
So basically, a man who had brutally killed an old couple and their two grand-children was nabbed while in custody… twice!! by angry villagers. The first time, he was beaten unconscious by a mob that snatched him from the police who had taken him to the scene of the crime for reconstitution (a day after the crime was committed). After being taken to hospital, he was nabbed a second time by the same crowd (that had followed him), stabbed, hanged to a car and dragged to the village square where he was hanged by a butcher’s hook while women ululated and men shouted that the crime was avenged.
I won’t be surprised if some journalist in the Orient Le Jour claims that this crime committed in a Sunni village of the Chouf is somewhat linked to Hezbollah being armed…
All day, I listened to the news and read the press, nobody spoke of any arrest in the village. All that time I sat wondering how the police and the judges should react to such a criminal outburst of collective anger. And frankly, I don’t know how.

Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Lebanon, Violence | 4 Comments »

Politics as an artistic performance or a happening

Posted by worriedlebanese on 25/04/2010

Three thousand participants. That’s quite a number for an artistic performance. And let’s not forget the viewers who saw images of this event on their TVs or in their mail box. The organisers should be proud of their achievement. I truly believe that this activity should have been integrated to Ashkal Alwan’s forum on Cultural Practices “Home Works 5” (more on that in the coming days). But how significant is it politically? what meaning does it have? and what does it say about our politics?

The political significance of an artistic performance
As expected, the 4 months of preparations weren’t enough to clarify the message and the demands of this demonstration. People joined with no contraints, no program, no structure… only one common enemy “al-ta2ifya”, a Lebanese catch-word that is used to describe everything that’s wrong in the country. Each person could bring along his or her banner, board or sign; shout the slogans we’ve been hearing for almost a century with the impression that something revolutionary and new was being done.
This show-performance reminded me of those that I very willingly (and happily) attended in 2005: the midweek and the thematic sunday marches. They were less participatory (everything was prepared for us) and consequently more uniform (at least visually). But the feel-good atmosphere, the self-satisfaction that exuded from them was present today. But back in 2005, these performances enjoyed a large political support (i.e. they were sponsored by first rank politicans on both sides of the spectrum) and were organised with the help of Ad agencies (which made them visually very appealing and gave their cristal clear slogans a very sexy edge).
But these demonstrations gathered hundreds of thousands of people and reached a million on several occasions. They gave people the impression that their voice matters and that they not only could express themselves freely, but that this public expression of opinion could have a significant effect. For a very long time, the Lebanese were prevented from taking to the streets. Rafic Hariri prevented any kind of social protest, and the Syrians banned all political protests. The 2005 demonstrations signified that things had changed. People could once again demonstrate, voice their complaints and even bring governments down (or is this restricted to governments headed by Omar Karamé, a guy who holds two titles: son of a Prime Minister like Saad H. and martyr’s brother like Bahia H.). The downside of these demonstrations was their numbers. They were so monstrously high that they dwarfed demonstrations of other kinds, making them politically insignificant. That was the paradox of the 2005 demonstrations. They opened up the public space to social and political mobilisation while practically restricting them to two players: Mustaqbal and Hezbollah.

الاستنتاج

There is nothing wrong with artistic performances. Calling Laïque Pride by that name is in no way demeaning. Performances are mant to express something before an audience, something meaningful, to intrigue the public, to engage it. And that’s exactly what Laïque Pride achieved. It also showed the limits of political protests without big sponsors and ad agencies. It also showed that demonstrating against the most shared prejudice in Lebanon (الطائفية), the biggest political insult that is used against a politician or a system  (طائفي) can only mobilise a limited number of people. Could Laïque Pride have been anything more than an artistic performance? Probably not.

Posted in Civil Society, Communication, Culture, Democracy, Discourse, Lebanon | Leave a Comment »

Commemorating what?!

Posted by worriedlebanese on 14/04/2010

“You should do activities that have to do with the memory of the war. The most important thing is to remember what happened during the war”, that’s what a socially very active woman said the other day when she learnt about the activities we were doing in the peace organisation. A few years ago I would have congratulated her for her stand, but now, I wasn’t so sure how to react. Why is remembering the war so important? Are people forgetting what happened during the war? Is this dark experience not being transmitted to the younger generation? Would this knowledge prevent future wars from happening. I’m not so sure about that any longer. I’ve been interested in that topic for a long time. I remember back in college a teacher in anthropology launching a large research project on that. I remember the many authors and books he suggested I read. I remember reading them, I remember them. And yet I’m not so sure that “remembering” the war should be everyone’s priority.
I’m not saying that the war should be forgotten. Quite the contrary. I firmly believe that we should preserve some of its physical traces. I also think the work many organisations and individuals are doing is crucial. They are collecting the traces of this war, trying to understand what happened and why it happened. They are gathering data, providing narratives. But all this isn’t enough to prevent a new war from happening. However, it is more than enough to condemn the perpetrators: the politicians, the militiamen, the hate-mongers… Oddly enough, this elements is usually overlooked by those who work on the “memory of war”. Those on the “left” still believe that Kamal Jumblatt, or Yaser Arafat were good blokes (and absolve them of all criminal intent and behaviour), the few that are on the “right” have the same feelings for Bachir Gemayel or Dany Chamoun. If these men and their wrongdoings are not condemned, is it really worth remembering or commemorating the war? and what exactly is being remembered?

Posted in Civil Society, Lebanon, Memory, Peace, Violence | 4 Comments »

Muslim-Christian feast… symbolised by a song

Posted by worriedlebanese on 04/04/2010

This year, Lebanon finally celebrated its first muslim-christian feast: the Annunciation (البشارة) on March 25th. I said “finally” because the decision had been taken last year by the Council of Ministers, but the Prime Minister Fuad Siniora had refused to sign the decree, yielding to pressure from the Sunni Grand Mufti who had disapproved of the decision (and sacked one of its most crucial promoters, his secretary).

This day commemorates the announcement to Mary (by the archangel Gabriel) that she would miraculously conceive a child despite being a virgin. As long as you don’t go into details and stick to this general description of the commemoration, you’ll find it compatible with the New Testament and the Coran. But if you delve into the details, disagreements between the two texts start to appear. For Christians, the angel announced the birth of the Son of God, Jesus (يسوع or in the old language of Lebanon يشوع), for Muslims, the angel announced the birth of a Prophet, Issa (عيسى). Now these are very important dogmatic and theological differences. So to safeguard this feast consensual and inter-religions character, one has to respect the delicate line between what assembles and what separates; keep to the communalities and discard differences.

At first, I was quite skeptical about this inter-religious feast. When I was asked to write a short article about it last year, I had to fight against myself to “stay positive”, rein in my skepticism and cynism. But oddly enough, when the current Prime Minister Saad Hariri signed the decree in February, and announced it to the pope in Rome, I started to feel that there was something good about that celebration, and felt all the potential it had. Hopefully, it will be more meaningful (and pleasing to the eye and ear) than this rendering of the Ave Maria.

Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Idiosyncrasy 961, Intercommunal affairs, Lebanon, Levantine Christians, Religion, Values | 8 Comments »

Censorship… consensual style

Posted by worriedlebanese on 31/03/2010

Randa Chahal Sabbag’s film “The Kite” was finally withdrawn from NTV’s program yesterday following political pressure and threats made against the TV channel’s director M. Tahsin Khayat. This is not the first time the Lebanese Public is deprived from viewing a film directed by deceased Lebanese film director Randa Chahal Sabbag. A previous film she had directed was banned from Lebanon unless the director re-edit it and cut out 40 minutes, something she obviously refused to do.

Calling a spade any other name
What is interesting is to see how the news of this censorship was reported by the Lebanese Press. L’Orient-Le Jour for instance didn’t speak of censorship when reporting on the matter. They based their short article on the press release issues conjointly by Walid Arslan-Jumblatt and Talal Jumblatt-Arslan: quoting it extensively and using its terminology. Instead of using the word “censorship” or “cancellation” or “de-programming”, they used  the words “postponement”, and instead of insisting on the policial and communal dimension behind this censorship, the Lebanese French-speaking daily quoted the justification given by the Arslan-Jumblat duo: the respect of the “sensitivities that might arise in some religious circles”.
L’Orient-Le Jour published the statement and then very euphemistically put it in context: “The statement followed hostile demonstrations held near the residence of the owner of the chain Tahsin Khayat, and near the headquarters of the TV-station in Wata Mousseitbe”. There is no information on the number of people that participated in these demonstrations, and no comment that the larger demonstration was in front of the owner’s house in Doha (an affluent suburb that was formally controlled by the Druze militia in the territory it had carved for itself). Why demonstrate in front of his home? why make this issue personal and threatening? The word “hostile” is used to replace the language of the demonstrators. The article doesn’t mention what did they actually said. Only the words of the communal leaders are seen worthy of publishing. Nothing is said about the threats that were made (of arson, among many).

Deference to politicians: Hush Hush, let the politicians speak
The most striking feature of this information is the press release that the paper conscienciously published. What is striking is its Orwellian style. It goes well beyond newspeak and claims the opposite of what was actually done: It rejects the principle of censorship! Here is the last part of the release: “MPs Walid Jumblatt and Talal Arslan reaffirm their commitment to freedom of information that remains one of the pillars of democracy in Lebanon, and rejected again all that is likely to undermine this principle, they also reaffirm the freedom of media to disseminate the film and arts in the manner they deem appropriate”.

Censorship… a summary
The last few years, several of l’Orient-Le Jour’s editorialists ranted against two acts of censorship, one by Hezbollah (when its news programme objected against the invitation of Jewish comedian Gad el-Maleh for his alleged ties with Tsahal) and one by the censorship division of the Ministry of Interior (against the film Persepolis). For weeks you had articles and opinion papers that decried “cultural censorship”, “authoritarianism” etc. But not in this case. Why? Because the fight was never against censorship or for the freedom of expression. It was simply an excuse to attack a political party (Hezbollah) or “axis” (Syrian-Iranian). And this illustrates quite well the role journalists and the media have taken for themselves: not that of a 4th estate, participating in the balance of power meant to widen public and private liberties, but that of a political (and geo-political) player.
This type of censorship also show the meaning it has in Lebanon. It’s not about preventing people of seing something. People have access to satellite, the internet and pirated copied that escape all censorship. I personally saw “The Kite” in Lebanon through cable television, and also bought an Israeli by Elia Suleiman in Beirut’s flee market. Censorship is about carving a place in the public space. It’s about asserting a political side’s power over this public space and confirming its quality of representative of a group and its interests.

Posted in Civil Society, Culture, Discourse, Journalism, Lebanon, Semantics | Leave a Comment »

Amalgames: variations sur le discours anti-confessionnel

Posted by worriedlebanese on 12/02/2010

Voici quelques arguments que j’ai exposé sur un autre blog: chroniques Beyrouthines qui traitait de la question de la Laïcité au Liban:

Premier commentaire: un appel pour plus de nuance!

Comment voir clair dans un débat d’idée lorsqu’on met sous un simple mot (laïcité) une bonne dizaine de questions: la représentation des communautés, la pluralité du statut personnel, la séparation entre l’Etat et les institutions religieuses, la neutralité religieuse de l’espace public, la sécularisation de la culture, l’égalité devant la loi, les libertés religieuses et la liberté de conscience, le traitement égal des institutions religieuses…

Que des Libanais ne connaissent pas très bien l’histoire de France ou les paradoxes de la laïcité française, passe encore, mais un petit effort du côté français tout de même.

En France l’écrasante majorité des fêtes officielles sont religieuses (catholique évidemment), le jour de repos officiel correspond au jour de repos catholique, le ministre de l’intérieur est également ministre des cultes (et approuve la nomination des évêques… catholiques). Toutes ces belles cathédrales sont propriété de l’Etat, leur restauration et leur maintient sont donc financés par le budget public… et pourtant elles sont affectées pour l’écrasante majorité au culte catholique! La France a une longe tradition de soutien de missionnaires à l’étranger… soutien qui perdure: Regardez du côté de l’ambassade de france, et vous verrez un soutien de la mission laïque… mais aussi du collège protestant, de l’Université Saint Joseph (et jusqu’à sa fermeture de l’Ecole de l’Alliance Universelle Israélite)… Et ceci est également vrai pour la France d’Outre mer et une partie de la France métropolitaine. La France laïque subventionne des facultés de théologie!!!
Et qui est en France le premiere bénéficiaire en matière éducative de subventions publiques: les écoles catholiques…
Faut-il aussi rappeler que la France connaissait sur son territoire national jusqu’à l’indépendance algérienne et le pluralisme personnel et le système de représentation communautaire…

Du côté libanais, nous avons une stricte séparation sur le plan éducatif. L’Etat est le premier éducateur (au niveau scolaire et universitaire) et ne subventionne aucune institution éducative religieuse (sauf si elle est gratuite… et dans ce cas il le fait au même titre que pour les écoles gratuites non religieuses). L’Etat libanais n’intervient pas dans l’éducation religieuse. La tentative de Rafic Hariri de le faire à jusqu’ici échoué (alors qu’en Syrie, par exemple, l’Etat subventionne les facultés de droit religieux… et le droit islamique et une des sources de la législation…).
Le Liban est le seul Etat au Proche-Orient (hormis la Turquie, mais la laïcité de cette dernière n’exclut pas la reconnaissance de l’Islam sunnite comme religion nationale) dont le droit ne se réfère à aucune tradition religieuse (même Israël s’y réfère).
Au Liban, la question de la foi est indépendante de la question de l’appartenance communautaire (elles font l’objet de deux articles distincts de la constitution, n’en déplaise à Ziyad Baroud). Aucune autorité n’a le droit d’examiner la foi d’un citoyen libanais, c’est pour cela qu’une autorité religieuse ne peut radier l’appartenance communautaire de ses ouailles mécréantes (alors que ceci est possible en Egypte), et que les tribunaux étatiques peuvent examiner toute fraude à la loi excepté la fraude à la loi religieuse puisque ceci reviendrait à examiner la foi du citoyen (donc bonjour la fraude… le citoyen n’est pas prisonnier de la loi religieuse mais peut la manipuler à volonté…). Et enfin, le pon pon: l’Etat Libanais reconnaît depuis les années 1930 l’existence d’une communauté de droit commun que les autorités française ont rapidement vidée de sa substance et qui attend toujours d’être organisée. Il suffit qu’une simple loi soit votée… à l’instar de ce qui a été fait durant les années 1990s avec les Aléouites (et les Coptes)… pas très dur la procédure… mais bon, il faut quand même que quelqu’un réclame son établissement.

Deuxième commentaire: Aller au-delà des slogans et des amalgames

L’Etat libanais existe bien, il est même énorme! c’est le premier employeur, le premier banquier (le système bancaire privé a été intégré au public à travers le système de la dette), le premier éducateur (premier réseau d’écoles, plus grande université…), le régulateur de toutes les activités économiques rentables. Donc oublions les slogans de nos politiciens. L’Etat libanais existe, et n’a pas besoin d’être bâti, en fait, il aurait besoin d’un peu de dégraissage… Notre problème n’est pas dans son existence mais dans son fonctionnement et les problèmes de fonctionnement ne sont pas dus aux déficiences de la loi mais à sa violation continue (par ces même politiciens qui clament haut et fort qu’il n’y a pas d’Etat).

– Les quotas communautaires n’expliquent pas l’incompétence des fonctionnaires et politiques
La question de la compétence et d’appartenance communautaire ne sont plus contradictoires. Je suis sûr qu’on peut trouver des gens compétents pour toutes les fonctions de l’Etat dans toutes les communautés. En revanche, il y a un souvent un conflit entre la compétence et la fidélité à un politicien… Du temps de l’occupation syrienne, Berri, Joumblatt et Hariri choisissaient aussi des ministres chrétiens… ces ministres n’étaient pas toujours très compétents… D’ailleurs Hariri continue à le faire, mais bon.

– La majorité des partis ont une base ethno-communautaire est un fait vérifiable. Mais ce n’est pas en soi un problème. C’est à la rigueur leur problème et dénote d’un certain souci au sein de la société auquel if faudrait peut-être écouter et répondre au lieu de condamner. Personnellement, je m’en fous s’il y a un parti des blondes, un parti des femmes, un parti des mecs qui souffrent d’une calvitie ou de problèmes érectiles… Le fait que ces partis libanais aient une base clientéliste est le véritable problème.

La lutte contre les préjugés, rien avoir avec la laïcité
L’exemple du couple mixte (qui a du mal à se faire accepter) et de la fille pas-si-bien-élevée (qui n’aime pas trop les gens d’une autre confession) n’ont rien avoir avec la laïcité. C’est un problème de préjugés, et ni les institutions étatiques ni le système scolaire publics sont responsables de ce préjugé. Au contraire, les deux luttes activement contre ces préjugés. Crois-moi, on trouve autant de préjugés sur certaines religions dans les pays laïques (comme la France ou la Turquie) qu’au Liban. Et ces préjugés sont très importants au Liban et il faudrait lutter contre. Et les plus graves aujourd’hui sont entre Chiites et Sunnites. C’est vraiment effrayant. Et ce n’est pas en prônant la laïcité qu’on le fera. Ces deux questions sont étrangères l’une à l’autre.

– Distinction ne signifie pas discrimination
Quant au fait de distinguer entre les différents groupes de la société, personnellement, je n’y vois pas de problème tant que l’appartenance au groupe est volontaire (c’est pour ça que je milite pour la reconnaissance de la communauté de droit commun qui existe dans les textes depuis 1930!!!!) et tant qu’il n’y a pas de discrimination… et le tout en luttant activement contre les préjugés. Mais je n’ai pas non plus de problème (de principe) pour abolir les quotas… mais à condition qu’ils résolvent des problèmes au lieu qu’il n’en créent. Sans quotas, la municipalité de Beyrouth serait aujourd’hui exclusivement sunnite et d’obédience haririenne. c’est pour cela qu’il y a des quotas informels (sans base juridique) pour Beyrouth. Encore une fois, je n’aurai pas de problème avec cela, mais cela aura des conséquences désastreuses sur le plan social et politique. Les non-sunnites se sentiront exclus, il aura des discriminations entre quartiers (ce qui existe déjà au demeurant)… et ce sont surtout les quartiers chiites et arméniens qui en souffriront… la ville sera complètement détachée de sa pluralité et de plus de la moitié de ses habitants… Est-ce que c’est cela qu’on veut? Personnellement, je suis pour la réintroduction d’un siège reservé aux étrangers et à la parité homme-femme au sein du conseil municipal… donc à plus de quotas.

Posted in Anticonfessionalism, Civil Society, Culture, Discourse, Lebanon, Prejudice, Religion, Secularism, Version Francophone | 3 Comments »

Deconstructing March XIV®

Posted by worriedlebanese on 02/02/2010

March XIV® or February 14th? Tapping into emotions to fill a void

This post is long overdue. I’ve been announcing it for almost a year now and Sunday’s Bristol meeting encouraged me to get it over with. Let’s go beyond slogans, mottos and other striking and memorable phrases that are used to refer to March XIV®; let’s look into what exactly lies beneath the label.

In its most literal meaning, March XIV® refers to a specific day, March 14th 2005, in which an unprecedented number of Lebanese citizen took the streets, peacefully, to demand the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Crowds from all over the country converged around Martyrs Square, where a temporary podium was set up from which politicians could harangue a relatively small audience ; probably less that 10% of the people amassed around the square could hear them. But that didn’t matter much. People were not here to listen, but to throw their weight behind a politician or an idea; they were here to make numbers, to assert that a majority of Lebanese was with the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and supported an international inquiry into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.

This event was undoubtedly a memorable one, an estimate of 1 million people (about a quarter of the national resident population) converged to the city center…  but there were many memorable events during those months of 2005:  the assassination Rafic Hariri, his burial, the sleep-in calling for the resignation of the government, the sunday demonstrations, the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, the political assassinations, the return of General Aoun from exil… Interestingly enough, only three dates are commemorated today: February 14th (commonly referred to as St Hariri day), March 14th (national folklore day), May 7th (Orange Tsunami day). The most iconic is undoubtedly March 14th. Why? The reason is very simple, it has become a national myth, one that reflects on two of the elements it refers to: the political coalition and the “public” that marched down to the city center on that sunny spring day.

March XIV® as a national myth. National myths usually refer to a distant past with legendary figures and acts. In our case, we’re dealing with an instantaneous myth, one that refers to the present. This feature has become a rather common phenomena these days. We saw it all across Eastern and Central Europe in the 1980 and 1990s, the most iconic event is obviously the fall of the Berlin Wall. These events share many things in common, they are extraordinary, they are supported by visual material, they were quickly branded and exploited by entrepreneurs, and they are considered as watershed moments. Their promoters believe that they represent important values and make an inspiring narrative that can serve as an important symbol (“lieu de mémoire”) that brings the nation together. One ingredient is essential for an instantaneous myth, and that’s emotion! Not only this ingredient must be present on the day of the event, but it should be nurtured and sustained.

The massive demonstration of March 14th obviously has all these features. And the emotions that is aroused were nurtured throughout the year thanks to the political discourse and a servile media.

Representing a crowd as a unified audience

The public of March XIV®. One fourth of the resident population is quite a lot of people. And it becomes a very interesting audience to refer to because of its numeric importance and the fact that it shared the same “moment”. Tapping into that feeling can help any politician reach this audience and manipulate the people’s feelings, hopes, fears and expectations. It’s not actually the emotion that is nurtured or sustained, but the emotional response. The characteristics of the initial emotion is of no importance, what is important is to convince the audience that it is the same as the one that is being triggered, that what is being prompted is simply its actualisation (while in fact, it’s the other way round, the memory of the initial emotion is modified and the present emotion is projected onto the past).

What is fascinating with instantaneous myths is that they are interactive. The audience is part of the production. It surely is the weakest player in this interaction, nevertheless it is still a player. Its collaboration is needed if the myth is to survive. This gives instantaneous myths a reflexive dimension. The participants need to think of themselves as participants and act accordingly. They have to nurture the myth socially and psychologically, even if it is by repeating a mantra. And truth to tell, there are a lot of mantras surrounding March XIV®. One of the most important one has to do with the participants themselves, the public of March XIV® or its audience جمهور اربتعش ادار. So you repeatedly hear about jamhour arbata3sh adar in the media, in coffeeshops and living-rooms. But is there such a thing as a March XIV® public. Obviously not. But like all abstract categories they work as long as people believe in them. But this can only work as long as there is an authority that supports this category, recognises it. And so politicians and the organic intellectuals actively supported this category, selling it as a cristallisation of the “majority of Lebanese” (annulling the other part), “the Lebanese in general” (insinuating that those who didn’t participate were less Lebanese) or the “Democratic Lebanese” (insinuating that those who refrained from joining were undemocratic), while it was an aggregate of individuals and groups motivated by many different things: personal initiative, group pressure, communal mobilisation, political mobilisation… Some people took their cars and walked to Martyr’s Square, others received calls inviting them to go, or were pressured or convinced by their socio-political network or several private TV channels that made a live coverage of the event, and regularly announced where one could take the free bus to Beirut. Many people wanted to participate in this event that was already being marketed and labelled as a groundbreaking event.

Once the label of March XIV® and the Jumhour of March XIV® were well established, their use became quite practical to reorder the political landscape. Lebanese political groups or communities could be brought together or separate once needed by simply granting them the label or depriving them of it. In 2006, the politicians who controlled the label (most importantly the Future Bloc and Walid Jumblatt and his followers) took the Shiite component out of March XIV® in a process I call tighyib تغييب (making absent those who were present), at first this was implicit, but then it became very explicit (during the governmental crisis). The same thing happened to the FPM, an important component in the March 14 mobilisation, and the only party at that time that called for a complete withdrawal of Syrian troops (the Future Movement and the PSP at that time was ready to settle with a redeployment to the Beqaa valley). The same techniques were used to symbolically bring together people who had no ties with each other of any kind (political, geographic, communal) and put them under one label. The label was practical in blurring the sharp division one found in the crowds that gathered on March XIV®. A friend had qualified the event as a tribal confederation. And people were admonished to hide their true political colours. I actually witnessed several battles around political banners: people wanted to march under their own banners (party flags), but their leaders forbade them to do so to give an image of unity and because they were afraid that some banners would demobilise their own group (I remember several clashes with the Lebanese Forces when they showed their colours; at that time were considered political pariahs, and totally “infréquentable”).

La quadrature du cercle: the leaders of March XIV... what do they say about too many cooks?

The March XIV® coalition. One couldn’t think of a more heterodox group of politicians. Two things united them: their slogans, and their opposition to another group (either a rival within a community or a geopolitical opponent). A non-identifiable political object was created to support the “independents” (those who did not have a large or autonomous socio-political clientelist network): the secretariat of March XIV®.

As for the strength or coherence of the coalition, I have written a dozen posts on it and wouldn’t want to bore you by repeating myself. The length of this post should do this job.

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