From the Editors
Last week the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) released the names of four men indicted in the assassination of Rafik al-Hariri to the Lebanese Ministry of Justice. For years now, the question of Hariri's assassination, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon, has been one of two topics that have saturated the political field in Lebanon. The other topic of interest has been the question of whether or not Hezbollah should be disarmed. Hariri and Hezbollah, that is all we have been hearing about for years. Every political, social, or economic issue in Lebanon since 2005, and especially since the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, has been hijacked by political factions that disagree over these two issues; the Saad al- Hariri-led March 14 movement and the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance. The rise of petty crime in Beirut, the ongoing deterioration of the Lebanese electrical grid, the sorry state of internet connectivity and speed in Lebanon, the price of cellular phone usage; all of these issues have been swallowed by a political discourse that is polarized around the different answers offered by March 8 and March 14 to the questions of Hariri's assassination and Hezbollah's weapons. Of course, some times these groups unite, such as when they both kill an initiative to grant Lebanese women the right to give Lebanese citizenship to her spouse and/or children. I suppose we should be thankful that our politicians would unite to defeat the dangerous proposition of allowing female citizens to actually be full citizens. But beyond agreeing on some issues, one would think that the Lebanese politics began and ended, opened and closed, with the words Hariri and/or Hezbollah. Even other leading politicians, such as Michel Aoun and Walid Jumblatt, were and are classified on where they “stand” (or perhaps, in both their cases it is more accurate to say: where they stand for now) on the issues of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and the presence of an armed non-state resistance group in Lebanon.
Of course, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and Hezbollah's military strength are (rightly) unavoidable issues in Lebanon. Clearly, Hezbollah's presence in its current formation and structure is unsustainable. And obviously, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon has less to do with achieving justice for the political assassination of Lebanese politicians and the civilians who were “collateral damage” and more with the political aim of isolating and ridding the “New Middle East” of both the Syrian regime and Hezbollah. After all, both the STL and the question of Hezbollah's arms have the power to tear the country apart. Moreover, they have been threatening to tear the country apart for years, most notably in the planned clashes of May of 2008 and in 2011, when the March 8 alliance succeeded in constitutionally toppling the Saad al-Hariri-led government, pushing him and his allies into the more politically comfortable position of the opposition. From the opposition, March 14 could continue the trend of trying to cripple the government and ensure its ineffectuality, playing the exact same game that March 8 had used against them since the 2009 parliamentary elections. As they play their game of golden musical chairs (most recently seen in the wrangling over the division of golden egg ministries in the Mikati cabinet), the country sags with the weight of their irresponsibility. Furthermore, now that the STL indictments have come, naming four Hezbollah members as suspects in the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, it has become obvious that there will be no political catharsis on the horizon of Lebanon's future. The indictments, which Hassan Nasrallah, Saad al-Hariri and other “big men” have been using to scare Lebanese citizens and residents for years, were not met with the country's meltdown. Rather anticlimactically, the indictments inspired just more of the same recycled rhetoric from March 14 and March 8. Now that it is clear that the current stalemate will not be resolved soon and that it will stretch the country more and more brittle, it is incumbent on us, as citizens and residents of Lebanon, to take politics back from the politicians.
What does this mean? It means that we should refuse to be cowed from away from issues that affect our lives daily. We should not be silent about the corruption that unites all politicians, no matter what their stance is on the STL or on Hezbollah, into one ruling and oppressive class. We should not allow our politicians to disrupt our lives and to not do their jobs because of either ineptitude, unaccountability, or political standoffs. We should not accept a cabinet made up of men who are not qualified to do the job assigned to them. I am confident that if these men had to formally apply to work in high level positions at the ministries they now lead with a C.V. instead of a phone call made by a “big politician,” many of them would not be hired. Over the past months there has been a debate in Lebanon over whether or not a “technocrat” government will be “acceptable” to politicians. The word “technocrat” is a synonym of “expert”. A person who is a “technocrat” is a person who is qualified and who excels at doing, or managing, the work under their responsibility. Lebanon is a country with much unemployment, even more under-employment, a public health system in ruins, a ballooning cost of living, a decaying public education system, crumbling infrastructure, enormous public debt, child labor, a corrupt prison system, and a judicial system that is grossly inefficient. Can we really afford to not have a government full of ministers who actually know what they are doing, have experience doing it, and are professionals? How is it possible that in a country like ours, with intermittent electricity, growing pollution, a widening gap between rich and poor, and gross gender inequality, whether or not to have a “politician” cabinet or an “expert” cabinet is even a debate? Have we forgotten that ultimately, everyone who occupies a seat in Lebanese politics are the public's employees? We not only pay their salaries, but we will be paying the cost of their inefficiency and corruption (to say nothing of the politicians who played active roles in destroying the country during the 1975-1990 Civil War) for generations to come.
For example, recently some of these Lebanese politicians have been making grand statements about how Israel is trying to remap the maritime borders in order to control as much of Lebanon's offshore gas reserves as possible. While this is obviously a question of national security and economy and it could be a boon to the entire country, why has it taken so long to tackle Israel's belligerence head on? How much time has the wrangling over potential profits and its premature dividing up among politicians and their allies cost us? And if and when there is gas in Lebanese waters, who will benefit from it? Even if its revenue flows into Lebanese state coffers, will this gas money be safe there, in a government fund headed by the “politicians” (not, thank god, “technocrats”) who rule the country? For example, it is well known that Lebanon's internet is pitiful. For years politicians have been promising that better connectivity and faster internet is on its way, but the problem is not (only) infrastructural, or consumer-based, or fibre optic. The problem is that nothing new can come into this country until the appetites of politicians and their allies are accounted for and have been sated. Why do we have horrible internet in Lebanon? It is because people are still fighting over who will benefit, and how, from an upgrade. Once a deal is cut, 3G will come (now that the rest of the world has moved on to 4G), and so will higher bandwidth and a faster connection. This deal will make many people in powerful positions happy, but the Lebanese people will be shut out of it.
Let's not kid ourselves. We are all the victims of a political system that, even more than it is sectarian, is built to promote and protect political/economic elite interest at the expense of the public good. If Lebanese citizens and residents find it hard to find something that can traverse the facile binary of “March 14”- “March 8” and beyond sectarian and gendered divisions, they need only compare their monthly salary to their grocery, electricity, or telephone bill. They should look to their brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and husbands and wives and daughters and sons who have had to move away from their families in order to provide for them. They should demand a public audit into every ministry's and every parliamentary committees finances. We should police the walls between politics and business and not allow politicians to tell us what is and is not politics, what is and what is not our concern. We should realize that these politicians are not our protectors, they are parasites on the public body. It is in their interest that the Lebanese citizenry remain divided, after all, that is how they maintain their power bases and keep them busy with fears of the "other". We should together question why “technocrat” has become a bad word in Lebanese politics. This will not alone bring change, but it will begin the process of taking politics back from career politicians.
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