On October 19, a huge explosion shook Ashrafiyye, a neighbourhood in the Christian-majority eastern parts of Beirut. The explosion was at rush hour, when kids were exiting their schools and employees headed home. Eight people were killed and more than a 100 people injured, in addition to the devastation that the street and the buildings suffered.
There had been around five years of relative peace in Beirut. Ever since 2008, the country has witnessed a delicate political balancing act that was maintained by the Doha agreement, signed after nonstate actors representing the Lebanese sects clashed together violently in the street. As with all political assassinations, the Lebanese political parties raced to accuse each other of the October 19 attack.
The two major political factions in Lebanon are the March 14 bloc (currently the opposition), and the March 8 bloc (currently in power) – who both started a major media campaign of political rampaging. This rampage was translated into action when armed gunmen, who are politically loyal to March 14, went down to the streets of Beirut, blocked roads and started shooting at other neighborhoods occupied by March 8 supporters. The army interfered and fought back, which made them retreat. March 8 remained silent on the ground, but made a counter attack in the media, and renounced all the acts that were aiming to topple the government and bring chaos to Lebanon, as they said.
Moreover, March 14 supporters protested outside the Grand Serail, Lebanon’s government headquarters, demanding the immediate resignation of the prime minister. They even tried to storm the building by force but were turned back by the security forces, so they put up tents in the square in front of the building.
It doesn’t take an expert to tell you what is happening in Beirut, because it is been happening ever since the Lebanon we know today was established. After its independence from France, the Lebanese political system was established based on incorporating sectarianism in politics under the title of “protecting minorities”. The majority of the political parties established on that basis increased divisions between the people, ultimately leading to a 15-year long civil war between 1975 and 1990 that left 150,000 people dead and over 300,000 injured, not to mention the 15,000 people missing. After the war, the political parties were incorporated in the government, with the same mentality that was fueling the civil war.
Although the Lebanese constitution seems to be civil at first glance, it is uncivil in many matters. Take for example gender discrimination; women cannot give the nationality to their children from a non-Lebanese father whereas the father can if married to a non-Lebanese woman. Moreover, the political actors in Lebanon remain in power simply by controlling most of the important economic sectors, whether governmental or non-governmental. According to Dr. Fawwaz Traboulsi, a famous Lebanese historian, 30 families has formed what he calls a consortium which controlls the Lebanese economy.
Also, the famous Lebanese electoral law was designed to keep people in power where electoral districts were divided according to the political power of the current parties. Therefore the political arena in Lebanon is dominated by these actors, who are very much influenced by issues that happen outside Lebanon such as in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Palestine and especially Syria. The Syrian crisis spilled over in Lebanon and set the whole country on the brink of exploding, with March 8 supporting the regime in Syria and March 14 supporting the opposition. A lot of demonstrations collided in Beirut, fighting over everything but Lebanese matters.
There have been numerous independent initiatives launched by domestic civil society and also individuals in order to forge an independent political platform for people outside these two alignments. The most famous one was the “Down with the Sectarian Regime” campaign which was directly influenced by the Arab spring, and even adopted the same slogans. This campaign grew rapidly and demonstrations occurred every week or two, however in the long run failed because it lacked a political, social and economic program, and most importantly because it was unable to answer the question; “What alternative system is suggested to face the sectarian system?”
However, hope remains in the movement that was recently established in Lebanon and called “Take Back Parliament” or TBP. This movement came as an idea from individuals who decided to fight back the existing wave of corruption and political failure. It is an initiative that aims to nominate people from the civil society for parliamentarian elections on the basis of a program written by the activists of society themselves. This program takes human rights to be pillar on which it was established, as well as the other political, social, economic reforms that were drafted.
But for the time being, Lebanon will remain as unstable as always. The political tension will continue to escalate especially with the Syrian crisis not close to being resolved. The Lebanese have a bloody past, and a scar never healed from the civil war, because there was no reconciliation. Perhaps the most frightening thing that anybody could hear in Lebanon, is what an ordinary man said on TV when asked about the current political turbulence, and he replied that he is willing to kill again when the war comes knocking on the doors again.
Change, for better or for worse, is a matter of time. Lebanon is just waiting for the time bomb to explode.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Your Middle East.