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World December 16, 2007
 
The "Arab Democracy" Goes to the Polls
An eXile guide to getting your head around Lebanon’s presidential elections By Khaled Assaad Browse author
 
 

BEIRUT — There's always something very funny about elections in the Middle East. Whether it's Syrian President Bashar Assad winning unopposed, or Hamas giving the international community a taste of their own medicine by beating U.S.-backed Fatah fair and square. But somehow Lebanon always manages to kick it up a notch by showing there are no limits to how crazy the so-called "Arab Democracy" can get.

To appreciate how things work around here, you have to understand the twisted arrangement that runs this god forsaken country after the 15 years civil war that pitted, well, everyone against everyone.

The Lebanese system is built around the Taif Accord, which states that every sect has to be equally represented in the political decision making process. This means that if the few Buddhists living in the village on the other side of the mountain between the forest and the river are unhappy with the budget, the country will likely enter anther period of endless political crisis. And a "political crisis" in Lebanon means power rationing, higher gas prices, and, for some mysterious reason, a messed up internet connection that's gonna make sending this freaking report to Moscow a hell of a challenge. Not to mention a lot of dead bodies.

Can someone please give this girl a president?

The Taif Accord was intended to allow representation for Lebanon's 18 minority sects in Lebanon's 128 member parliament. The 18 sects might be out of date in 2007, but it still makes a good tourism commercial. It's especially good to mention the Christians and remind Arab tourists that they can get to see unveiled chicks and maybe even get laid in those renowned Lebanese strip joints. But that was 17 years ago. Because of demographics and emigration, there are today three major sects in Lebanon's politics: the Shias, which are the majority; the Sunnis; and the Maronite Christians. The Druze are the fourth most powerful sect despite their small numbers, thanks to their leader Walid Jumblat, a feudal warlord who made it big slaughtering Christians in the civil war.

According to the Taif Accord, Lebanon's president must be a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni, and the speaker a Shiite. Back when Syria was running shit around here, everything ran smoothly. If some politician was unhappy with the way things were going, he had to suck it up. If he didn't, Uncle Hafez from Syria or his son Bashar would send one of his undercover cab driver slash moukhabarat (information service) agents to straighten him out with a beating or two. But those days are over, and with Syria driven out by the Cedar Revolution, every low life who dreamed of making a speech in Downtown Beirut in Martyrs Square began to drool--especially the Christian leadership. There is an old saying: "To annoy the least amount of people, its best to keep on beating on the same guys." And since Lebanon is a Middle Eastern country, guess who the Syrian chose to pick on over and over again? Of course, the Christians. So all these Christian politicians who had been oppressed by Syria over the last 30 years or so are back with a vengeance, with the one post reserved for them in sight: the presidency. In a civilized country, the parliament would convene and elect one from an endless list of candidates. But this is Lebanon; logic is rarely allowed to prevail.

After Syria's withdrawal in 2005, the Lebanese population has been split right down the middle between what the western media likes to dub pro and anti-Syrians. On the one had, you have the March 14 coalition which groups Sunnis, Druze, and many Christians (and thus holds the majority of the parliament's seats.) This group includes every dude who holds a grudge against the Syrians. On the other hand, Hezbollah and some Christian allies make up an outfit known as March 8 (the date thing is very popular in Lebanon). There are so many political parties we have run out of names, so each coalition names itself after some large demonstration date. Now here's the tricky part, since the anti-Syrian coalition holds the majority of the parliament, they could technically elect an anti-Syrian president. But in order to do that, the parliament must convene for the election, and the guy who has to convene the parliament is the a pro-Syrian Shiite speaker warlord who can't take a piss without Hezbollah's approval. Also, for the election to happen, a two third quorum is required, which the majority doesn't have. Bottom line is that for three months now, parliament members couldn't meet, because the only way this could happen is if all parties agreed on a consensual president, basically someone who is at the same time pro- and anti-Syria.


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