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French Version

Pandering to the public's hopes is not political progress

FIRST PERSON by Hani M. Bathish

It may not be the case that all people prefer the truth to the sugar-coated half-lies that are the bread and butter of the professional politicians. Nonetheless, citizens deserve to have their politicians be painfully honest with them instead of distorting reality, even with the best of intentions, by keeping false hopes alive.

Conventional wisdom holds that giving people hope is good for business, keeps investors interested and maintains internal order and civil peace, thus keeping society functioning smoothly. But the Lebanese are emotionally exhausted from repeatedly being brought to heights of elation only to be dragged back down to the depths of despair. Nerves, like worn shock absorbers on a car, eventually lose their elasticity: The sense of humor evaporates, a pathological irritability sets in, and our natural ability to cushion repeated blows to our minds diminishes steadily over time.

The Lebanese have been assailed for the past year by a daily diet of political backbiting, demands and counter-demands, conditions and preconditions, abuses and accusations, while the affairs of the nation have been put on hold. From the comical and absurd to the dramatic and uncompromising, politicians of all colors are paraded daily on radio and television to fill spots on talk shows or populate dead air with mindless chatter. The cumulative effect of this on the human brain must be significant.

Speaker Nabih Berri is the undisputed master of the hope shop, selling a vast array of options, alternatives and promises, and setting dates for parliamentary sessions that never convene but only serve to mark the weeks and months that pass fruitlessly.

No one can blame him for trying, or can they? The truth is that the country's problems run much deeper than many people assume. Our political problems may appear to have a significant regional and international dimension on the surface, but at the heart of the political impasse lies a deep-seated mistrust and suspicion between the rival camps. No sooner do opposing groups agree on one point of contention than disagreement emerges on several other issues.

Consensus over the nomination of Lebanese Armed Forces commander General Michel Suleiman for the presidency was cause for many people to feel optimism. Then came the issue of the constitutional amendment to make Suleiman eligible for the presidency, which needed to pass through Cabinet to become law. The opposition categorically opposed any amendment that needed to go through the present Cabinet. This led members of the majority to wonder whether the opposition wished to renegotiate the whole Taif Accord before deigning to elect a new president. Thus differences of opinions on seemingly minor technical issues blossom into full-blown crises. Each side, with every escalation and postponement, digs itself deeper into a dark hole from which escape without conceding defeat becomes impossible.

Our Constitution, only 18 years old, is already in tatters from repeated amendments, alterations and from neglect in implementing many of Taif's provisions, from establishing an upper house of Parliament to the gradual abolition of political confessionalism. The Constitutional Council, whose envisioned role was that of unbiased legal and technical interpretation of the Constitution, was never granted the authority to assume that role by MPs jealously guarding their prerogatives.

As Lebanon has teetered on the brink of sectarian and factional strife and lawlessness, one institution has saved the day, by remaining whole and intact: the army. The wisdom of the army commander, who unequivocally placed himself under the authority of the executive branch, i.e. the present government, saved the country from total collapse. The continuity of the present government, which while lacking a Shiite component retains enough of its members to function and remain viable, has had a reassuring effect. But this abnormal situation cannot persist for too long.

The political and ideological divisions may be insurmountable. If the present Cabinet continues to function as the executive and retain presidential powers, it can in theory run the country even against the wishes of the opposition. But such a schism in a very small country will sooner or later erupt into factional fighting, or at the very least encourage those who feel they have been disenfranchised by the present regime to look elsewhere to achieve their political goals "by other means." We may not see another civil war in the next 10 years in Lebanon, but we will watch a new breed of "angry young men" gain in power and rise to the forefront.

Beirut 20-12-2007
The Daily Star

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