A Moral Obligation?

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A few months ago, I sat down with a friend in London and discussed the current political situation in Lebanon. To be honest, I was pretty clueless as to what has been going on there but I did know that the upcoming elections were going to be crucial for Lebanons future. I have since met a Lebanese colleague at work as well who went into more detail and explained the different parties and the current situation in the country. It was interesting, to say the least, to see different perspectives on opposing parties and a good opportunity to learn more about it.

The parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in Lebanon on June 7th. The two main competing rivals in this election are the March 8 group, which is led by the Iranian and Syrian backed Hezbollah and the March 14 group, which led the Cedar Revolution on March 14th following the assassination of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. March 14th calls for a free, sovereign and Independent Lebanon and wants a balanced relationship with Syria based on mutual respect.

As you may have noticed, we havent read much in the news in the past few days about the elections. However, many Lebanese people I have talked to have warned me that this is just the calm before the storm and that its going to be an intense weekend!

Ms. Anonymous (Lets just call her Sara for now) was kind enough to share her personal opinions below on the upcoming Lebanese elections right before she caught her flight home prior to the big day. Sara has completed her Bachelors in International Relations, Development, and Middle Eastern Studies in the United Kingdom and is currently living & working in Manama, Bahrain.

Although Sara is a Christian by religion, she strongly maintains that before anything else, she is Lebanese and will always have the best interests of her country at heart. She also explained that the reason she is heading home tonight is to have the opportunity to vote for Kataeb, which is a March 14 Lebanese Phalange Party, as she is a believer in their God, Family, & Country slogan.

June Seventh A Moral Obligation?

Welcome to the proxy playground of the Middle East.

As the parliamentary elections are quickly approaching, both the March 8 & the March 14 coalitions are busy with their last minute campaigning, as they know that each vote is going to count this time. Yes, that’s right … each vote is going to count!

These elections are going to be the first set of elections since the July 06 War & March 08 events, which left the country divided and debilitated. To be honest, these are most definitely going to be one of Lebanons most crucial and decisive elections yet. Similar to any other Lebanese Im stressed about them as well. Personally, I think Lebanon should be proud of the fact that before such a major internal political event, the environment is peaceful and relatively calm. As 128 seats are controlled by the majority right now and considering the fact that the potential changes will bring a new line forward in the parliament, the Lebanese people both at home and based abroad deeply understand the importance of casting their vote on this coming Sunday.

As disappointing as it is, the Lebanese community based abroad is currently ineligible to vote and I can imagine them struggling through this process. There are some who may feel that this is not their battle to fight and then there are others like myself, who feel that it is their responsibility to return to Lebanon immediately and vote. The absentee voting process, which was proposed in the Fouad Boutros Law of Electoral Reforms in 2006 was not carried out in time for the Lebanese immigrants to have the opportunity to vote in their country’s embassies around the world. So citizens with valid IDs have to physically be present in Lebanon to cast their ballot. Despite the fact that the elections are going to be extremely corrupt and problematic, I am not allowing that to bother me as our voices need to be heard under any circumstance. I strongly urge the Lebanese community based abroad to make the effort to return so they can sway the votes and help make a difference.

Lebanon has not and should not be another nation that blindly conforms to the Arab Islamic Ummah, whose vision is to fervent in the GCC-MENA region. We have been a centre for intellectual thought, amazing art, profound literature, and promoting free thinking in the Middle East and we should ensure that we maintain this identity. I guess it truly comes down to the root of the country and Lebanon has retained a unique pluralistic identity due to the fact that there is a demographic make up with a Christian head of State. Lebanon should be that one nation in the Middle East that should play the role of the mediator and a leader in Foreign Affairs in this part of the world. We cant allow proxy wars to be fought here anymore, as we will not tolerate it. Who gave our neighbors the right to use our land? Why not alternate between the different countries? Why just Lebanon?

These elections are shaping out to be the arena where the Sunni-Shiite card will be played out again in the theatrics of the Lebanese elections, which is almost as important for the Arabs to resolve, if not more so, as the tragedy of the Palestinians. This is also in part due to the dwindling of the Christian population, which by force majeure has been reduced to a side show. The Christian population has lost a lot of their powers in the past few years, which even included the Christian President to lose his powers to the Sunni appointed Prime Minister under the Taef Accord of ’89. If you take a closer look at the scenario, you will see that most of the hard-fought battles on the domestic front are always fought in Christian electoral areas, which include Beirut, Metn, and Keserouan. Whereas in the Muslim majority electoral areas, there seems nothing but peace and quiet as agreements between Hezbollah and their opposition Future Movements have already decided to elect two politicians ahead of the polls, which will include one from each sides electoral list.

Personally, I must choose to vote for the lesser of two incompetent evils, and have decided to cast my vote for March 14. However, before I explain my reasoning for it, I must clarify that I am not in favor of the high reliance we have on our relationships with the West including France and the United States, which would be similar to March 8’s alliance with Iran & Syria. I would like to see a free & sovereign Lebanon that finally takes advantage of its geographical location and has the opportunity to be a powerbroker in the geopolitical issues facing the region who knows, we could even be the Switzerland of the Middle East with more panache?!

March 14 have launched a plan for the elections, which I can relate to and have learnt to appreciate as well. Some of these points include the protection of Lebanon from Israeli attacks, the imposition of the state authority over all its lands according to the Taёf Accord so that there are no weapons besides those of the states to keep Lebanon in harmony with the international community, to give a bigger role to the woman in the social, economical and political life in Lebanon, and last but not least, to commit to the Lebanese expatriates in the world supporting the independence of Lebanon, its sovereignty and prosperity, ensuring they have the same duties and rights as the local inhabitants, giving them the opportunity of investing and working in Lebanon.

I believe that I am less likely to see a semi-soveriegn state if March 8 is elected and I fear that their loyalties will lie with Iran and Syria. March 14, on the other hand, is calling for positive neutrality rather than authoritarianism in the governing process. Regarding a majority win by the opposition in the elections, MP Fneish of Hezbollah has reiterated that Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah’s stance would strengthen the role of the “resistence” in the region. I believe that one of the reasons why the Lebanese must vote in favor of sovereign parties is to prevent Lebanon from being dragged into contentious regional and international conflicts.

These elections will be the completion of the liberation battle for Lebanons sovereignty. I am exhausted and tired of being a prisoner of dependence and just being used and abused by foreign countries. I want to see my precious Lebanon be an independent, democratic, and a peaceful country. I refuse to allow the essential democratic institutions to falter and crumble and I will do my bit to protect my culture, my way of life, and my country. No matter what happens on Sunday, I will keep my head held high in hopes of seeing a positive change. I truly believe that the results of these elections will shape the future of my fragile nation and I feel that its my moral obligation to catch that flight tonight to go and cast my vote to uphold pluralism in Lebanon.

God bless Lebanon, my beautiful country.

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26 comments

  1. Beirut is one the most beautiful cities I have ever been to in my life. The people are not only the most hospitable, best looking and friendliest but they have a resilience I have not seen in too many other places. I had one of the best times of my life there and can say with certainty that no one knows how to party and welcome complete strangers into their home like the people in Lebanon.

    I had gone in 2007 and it was heartbreaking to see the damage that had been done. We (a bunch of grad students) were met with the warmest welcome and random strangers would come up to us and tell us how happy they were to see us in their city despite the news agencies reporting how dangerous it was. One girl infact had tears in her eyes when she saw us and said how she missed tourists in the city and took us around to show us her favorite parts of Beirut.

    I wish the people of Lebanon all the best and hope this election helps them reach their potential. The potential of being the Middle East’s center of art, literature, fashion and the best of everything.

  2. Ijaz Ul Haq · · Reply

    Beirut – one of the most beautiful cities, if I may say so. I have unforgettable memories as a young boy visiting Beirut on my first visit overseas. It was 1969 and it was memorable because I was taking my first trip with my father – father and son together in a flight from Amman, Jordon to Beirut to spend the weekend together. Stayed at the Phoenicia Hotel and went to Casino De Liban to watch the great LIDO which was later shifted to Paris. The ocean, the mountains, the green pasture and beauty beyond explanation.

    The second visit was the following year in 1970 with a friend in a Taxi to Damascus (Syria) and onwards to Beirut. What a sight and the beauty of the nature – unparallel anywhere in the world. This was the peak of Lebanon, the financial hub of the Middle East , the center of tourism with very talented people. The only problem was the breakdown of moral values – prostitution and nudity. It was difficult to walk peacefully on the streets of the city as one would be approached openly by sex workers. It made me think that at the time the country is going too far to soon and if this continues the downfall is imminent. Couple of years later, the city plunged into ethnic riots and soon it was Palestinians versus the rest. It is going on with small breaks in between. Lebanon has now become the center of proxy wars — between Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. The country is caught between Hizbullah on one side and Israel on the other. I hope the coming elections will bring peace and prosperity to the country which is full of potential and growth.

  3. “I strongly urge the Lebanese community based abroad to make the effort to return so they can sway the votes and help make a difference.”

    Whoops, I think we just found the problem…

  4. Ha ha – Are you taking “sway” in a negative context? I guess that’s her opinion as she would like for people abroad to come make a difference. What’s your opinion on the subject?

  5. I don’t have an opinion: http://williamcurtisdonovan.com/2009/05/my-dear-lebanon-about-that-election/

    But I will say just one thing – on March 14 2005, a million Lebanese rallied against syria, and on March 8 2005, a million rallied in basic support of Syria. It is upon these lines the discussion in lebanon is now framed.
    But that is tremendously misleading – there are four million lebanese living in this country, which means, assuming there was no overlap, two million people stayed home to live their lives on both days, doing what they’re supposed to be doing when everyone else is screaming at each other over politics like it’s the end of the world: working, breathing, smoking, tanning, drinking, and generally engaging in the revelry of the joys of this country.

    You can count me in the camp neither of the opposition nor the sky-is-blue-ers.

    You’ll find me in the sun having a beer and a cigarette with those two million lebanese who actually live here and who want this whole thing just to be over with.

    These people are the true majority in lebanon.

  6. Thanks for your message and great Blog. I just checked out the link you pasted.

    Appreciate your honesty over here as you’re right.

    Enjoy that beer & cigarette and I hope the weekend will be peaceful for you guys out there in Lebanon. I also just hope that the elections will bring peace and prosperity to the country.

  7. Rafayat · · Reply

    Oh WOW, thanks for this insight! Lets wait and see what happens since only few hours left! Hmm.

  8. I’m Sharez’s friend and came across your blog. I just spoke about the elections with my lebanese friend a few days ago who was really bummed about not going back to vote. hes very anxious as are the rest of us.

  9. Withering Cedar · · Reply

    I think it is important to look at the action historically taken by candidates in choosing a favourite in a political race. It only makes sense to elect people given their track record, and not their, very often, fake promises during election season.

    Indeed, listening to a reporter on CNN describe the March 8th camp as ‘syrian backed’ and ‘iranian funded’ will inscribe fear in any Western audience.

    And yet, ask yourself who was able to free the South of Lebanon from its 23-year Israeli occupation in 2001? Or in a more recent episode, who was able to stand up and defend the Lebanese from the brutal and illegal Israeli attacks in the summer of 2006? Who has NOT forgotten about the Lebanese territories which are still occupied by Israel such as the Chebaa Farms and the THOUSANDS of Lebanese prisoners still illegally held in Israeli prisons?

    I think it is clear that the March 8th camp are the sole form of defense that Lebanon still has from meddling external forces. And that is the reason why it is CRAZY to ask them disarm themselves. Had they really had any intention of taking over Lebanon or acting as a ‘government within a government’ they could have done so years ago given their disproportionate military power relative to the army or other political parties.

    Most people in Lebanon know this, and yet this does not guarantee a win for the March 8th camp. For this, we have the Taif accord to thank for numbing any sense of democracy that is left in Lebanon by imposing the most truly undemocratic system imaginable.

  10. Question – I just wanted to ask, why do you point out this:
    “Although Sara is a Christian by religion, she strongly maintains that before anything else, she is Lebanese and will always have the best interests of her country at heart”
    what do you mean by Although Sara is Christian by religion… why do you make the point to single her religion before her nationality… It sort of bothered me… just as a question as myself a jewish / christian lebanese family who by the ways has roots in Lebanon even before islam exists, does that mean that I am less of a participant? or there should be a differentiation made? lebanon has always been a multicultural country… no need to point out religions in the process.
    Now when it comes to the thread in matter, all elections are important and being participants of them are important for the health of a nation, no matter your religion.
    Many people feel like Sara, that they are first lebanese before anything and would love to return but are unable to do so because many of them are having their citizenships denied despite they were born lebanese and grew up in Lebanon, example my mother and my uncles and aunts that left due to persecution…. Yes returning is essential to create real change, but most of all the right to return is more important than anything.

  11. I’m not sure the way you defined the two groups was fair, giving words such as ‘free’, ‘sovereign’, ‘independent’ and ‘mutual respect’ to the March 14th group. All the imagery given to the March 8th group entails Syrian and Iranian flags maybe, which did not do them justice. Hezbollah represents more than just its financial backing, in fact it’s main power is psychological. I find it laughable that we are so used to hearing ‘Syrian or Iranian backed Hezbollah, and we never hear Saudi and US funded Hariri. Even worse, we completely forget the July war massacre back in 2006, when the Lebanese were abandoned for a month until the ceasefire.

    You cannot discount Hezbollah’s significance as a resistance group in the hearts and the minds of many, precisely what Israel, the US and its allies have a problem with.

    Personally, I am anti-violence, anti-war, and anti- all these leaders that only served their own interests and wanted power. However, after spending much time living in a few Arab countries, I tend to scrutinize and study the people, their behavior and psychology as it is their responsiveness to these leaders that determines everything. The provocations on both sides are easily made and equally destructive. The psychological power and honor of Hezbollah, however, is not equated with March 14th and summing it up to a group backed by Iran and Syria is unfair.

  12. I will have to agree with D with the reaction to this. There are many Christians supporting Hezbollah, this is more political than it is religious. With 18 religious sects and different regional powers steering the country with their interests, it becomes difficult for the identity to be homogeneous and fitting for every Lebanese. Some things can explain why Sara supports Kata’eb like her community, her family ties, social status, education, etc. The same sort of things that can explain why another Sara in Dahyieh supports Hezbollah. There are the odd ones that don’t want to bother, of course. But it is only understandable that one would vote for their best interest, be it political interest, financial, psychological or religious etc.

  13. R: “I’m not sure the way you defined the two groups was fair, giving words such as ‘free’, ‘sovereign’, ‘independent’ and ‘mutual respect’ to the March 14th group.”

    I believe OUHs definition is fair as the challenges to Lebanon’s freedom and sovereignty are the weapons of hezbollah, their communication network and their state within the state. Hezbollah is the “righteous” version of corruption. They plunder the state’s resources. They triggered the 2006 war with Israel and are responsible for its consequences.

    Hezbollah’s popularity originates from the social services they provide to the Shiaa community and this is thanks to the Iranian funding.

    Let Iran stop the flow of money which would put an end to hezbollah social services, and then check their psychological power.

  14. A, My point was to consider what they mean to their audience/followers.

    They triggered the 2006 war, which the US didn’t interfere with until there was plenty of damage.

    Let Iran stop the flow of money? Why do they bow down to Saudis in Lebanon, could it be the flow of Saudi money? So yes, I agree it’s all about the money. Add psychology.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pro or anti anyone, but I’d like to understand why anyone is.

  15. R,
    Most of the western world is to blame for not pressuring Israel to stop its destruction of Lebanon in 2006. I am not arguing that.
    The difference between Saudi money and Iranian money is that historically, Saudi Arabia has always contributed to the country whether through interest-free deposits to support the national currency or investments, and has never tried to impose an ideology. Iran’s money went exclusively to a faction alongside an arsenal of weapons which are all destined to support confrontation with Israel. Take out the money and the armed rule of a militia, lots of Shiaas will vote against hezbollah because they do not favor the war option nor the wilayat-al-fakih ideology.

  16. A,
    The pretty buildings and modernity built since the civil war may not have imposed an ideology, but Sara’s life in Dahiyeh hasn’t changed, has it? Again, don’t get me wrong, when I used to hear the guy with the poor-speech skills and the guy with the good-speech skills from both March camps, I used to roll my eyes. But that would be ignorant because a whole lot of people listen to both of them. Supporting Hezbollah is not just about the rise of Shiites, it’s also about resistance and its honor, and you know for the Umma and all. But you also got Christians and Atheists supporting Hezbollah, I beg to differ that it’s religious. I used to call them thugs, but I realized it’s not constructive when you know how massive the supporting herds are. I would rather make an effort to really understand how such psychological power can be steered into a direction of tolerance.

  17. D, R, don’t be upset by OUHs Although Sara is a Christian by religion, she strongly maintains that before anything else, she is Lebanese and will always have the best interests of her country at heart.
    It’s a fact that usually Lebaneses vote regarding to their religious belonging, even if they didn’t agree with the party’s political linz. I think this weird political system ( Maronite Christian President, Shiite Muslim speaker of the parliament , and a Sunni Muslim prime minister) inherited the Colonial period, is the main problem. Lebanon needs a real Democratic system and not a system based on quotas.
    I know that some would object that the Muslim demography is the main obstacle…

  18. According to Bloomberg:
    “Turnout High in Lebanon as Hezbollah-led Coalition May Gain”

    http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarch

  19. the lebanese economy is projected to grow 4 to 6 percent this year come hell or high water. certain people want to ensure that they have a piece of that – as all things, this just comes down to who is gonna get the biggest piece of the financial pie in 2009 and 2010

  20. Its a tense situation today with army truck, tanks, jeeps and soldiers every where. Its a scary situation, there were couple of shoot outs in my area but sutuation is now under control. The results will be declared tonight or may be early morning so every one is anxiously waiting to see whats the future of Lebanon. At the moment as I am writing there are fireworks outside seems Hariri party is winning from our area…

    There was fighting and probably shooting at the Future TV station in Hamra, which was taken over by the army. There were shootings in Sassin square which is down town and in Ashrafiyah and again the army took over there. Many people are out celebrating in hamra.

  21. Preliminary results show that March 14 wins all 5 seats in Kesrouan, a seat in Saida, all six seats in West Bekaa, all seven seats in Zahle district, all three seats in Koura, all five seats in Beirut I and both seats in Batroun, ….etc. After the speech of Saad Hariri there were extensive fireworks in Hamra.
    As I am writing my comments I can hear supporters of Hariri on the street outside my apartment in Hamra in their cars chanting, honking and loud music …..its really exciting to see all this….

  22. Omar, I can’t help but worry about Lebanon building again only to get destroyed once more. I hope they build equal opportunities, tolerance, and unity, which can only be built by the people and not their trust funds whether from Iran or Saudi. Let’s just hope everyone behaves!

  23. The system of demcoracy in Lebanon is not a real one, there a lot of changes that need to happen before this is so.
    What this election shows is that there is still a great deal of work to be done to have elections that are truely representative of the peoples wishes.
    Money seems to have been the big winner ,but in truth not much has truely changed and it will be a even longer time now for it to change.
    There is much about the election system that I personally dislike but more than anything I feel that other nations should mind their own business on the internal decisions of lebanon, I also dislike the fact that people who do not live in lebanon or a paticular area in lebanon can decide who represents that area, all lebanese should be allowed to vote but only for the area they live in.

  24. One thing most Lebanese agree to is that whatever the demographics between Christians and Muslims, The country should have equal parliamentary representation between both.

    Our system is sectarian where the sects have become tribes with a chief. This has and will continue to create a problem as when you criticize a chief it is implied and insinuated that you are criticizing the whole sect.

    This is better explained here…

    Written by W.M. Thomson, Protestant minister, in « The Land and the Book », published in London in 1870.
    * LEBANON DURING 1870*

    Lebanon has about 400,000 inhabitants, gathered into more than six hundred towns, villages and hamlets?

    The various religions and sects live together, and practice their conflicting superstitions in close proximity, but the people do not coalesce into one homogeneous community, nor do they regard each other with fraternal feelings. The Sunnites excommunicate the Shiites ? both hate the Druse, and all three detest the Nusairiyeh. The Maronites have no particular love for anybody and, in turn, are disliked by all. The Greeks cannot endure the Greek Catholics – all despise the Jews. And the same remarks apply to the minor divisions of this land. There is no common bond of union. Society has no continuous strata underlying it, which can be opened and worked for the general benefit of all, but an endless number of dislocated fragments, faults, and dikes, by which the masses are tilted up in hopeless confusion, and lie at every conceivable angle of antagonism to each other. The omnific Spirit that brooded over primeval chaos can alone bring order out of such confusion, and reduce these conflicting elements into peace and concord.

    No other country in the world, I presume, has such a multiplicity of antagonistic races ; and herein lies the greatest obstacle to any general and permanent amelioration and improvement of their condition, character, and prospects. They can never form one united people , never combine for any important religious or political purpose ; and will therefore remain weak, incapable of self-government, and exposed to the invasions and oppressions of foreigners. Thus it has been, is now, and must long continue to be a people divided, meted out, and trodden down.

  25. I recommend you Amin Maalouf’s (one of my favourite writers) “In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong”. You will love it

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