Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Investigating Lebanon: The Ethnic Dilemma (Part II)

Check Part I

Probably what drives ethnicity or in case of Lebanon, sectarianism, would be bad economy. Leaders would not be capable of abusing the Proletariat for their own interests if economy was flourishing. Brown writes:

“many countries in what we would like to think of as the developing world seem to be in a semi-permanent state of economic shambles. Others are in an economic free-fall. Unemployment, inflation, and resource competitions, especially for land, contribute to societal frustrations and tensions, and can provide the breeding ground for conflict. Economic reforms do not always help and can contribute to the problem in the short term, especially if economic shocks are severe and state subsidies for staples, services, and social welfare are cut. In short, economic slowdowns, stagnation, and collapse can be de-stabilizing.”

Harriri Sr. won elections with the promise of a better economy. His crew’s taxation system led to the increase of class inequality, as the rich got richer while the poor poorer. The Down Town project got monopolized by a single corporation, while the first hand investors were kicked out.

Lebanon has experienced unemployment on the increase, while those who remained inside Lebanon gradually lost their purchasing power. Seniora’s plan to integrate Lebanon the Value Added Taxes (VAT) within 5% suffered drastically. Expectations were issued in the European Issue of the Business Week only pushed revenue up to 10-15% rather cover 50% of the deficit. Worse, Lebanon’s debt, dating back to the Civil War, had 90% going on the coverage of the interest rate while only 10% was distributed as salaries (Business Week European Issue).

The only efficient service system was provided by the private sector, regarding the Banking, Investment, and Insurance sectors; however, not anyone can afford such privileges. The interest rate has been on the decline, specially on the bank deposits of customers in terms of Lebanese Currency. Deposits reached at a one point 20%. The Central Bank follows the Fixed Rate (in opposition of the WTO policies) rather the floating rate. The only way to keep the Lebanese Currency fixed to the dollar (1$ = 1500 LL) is through the Central Bank which sells Foreign Currency and purchases Lebanese Currency from the international market.

Services in general have been bad within the Public Sector, and based on favoritism. Lebanon suffers from inflation, which was reflected after the July War, and immigration of Human Resources increased. Politicians would hijack the Lebanese recession to blame the other. Mass mobilization have been carried out by the opposition under the banner of “We Want to Live” while accusing the Government of robbery. Little does the opposition remember, or seems to impose amnesia, that certain sensitive ministries were in their hands, such as the Ministry of Labor (governed by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, whose ideology opposes Union Activism) and Ministry of Electricity (governed by AMAL). Again, platforms are irrelevant since the core is political. Both factions agreed that the clash is Political while a lot of Opposition party figures, such as Aoun, do not disagree with the government’s right-wing policies.

In the absence of proper economies, Hezbollah succeeded in securing the Shiite rural areas with their own welfare system, similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine or Egypt.

“Second, discriminatory economic systems, whether they discriminate on a class basis or an ethnic basis, can generate feelings of resentment and levels of frustration prone to the generation of violence. Unequal economic opportunities, unequal access to resources such as land and capital, and vast differences in standards of living are all signs of economic systems that disadvantaged members of society will see as unfair and perhaps illegitimate…Economic development is not necessarily the solution. Indeed, it can aggravate the situation: economic growth always benefits some individuals, groups and regions more than others, and those who are on the top to begin with are likely to be in a better position to take advantage of new economic opportunities than the downtrodden. Even if a country’s overall economic picture is improving, growing inequities and gaps can aggravate intra-state tensions”

Prior to the Taef Agreement, the Christian Parties benefited most of the economic situation. Whenever the economy was flourishing, they recruited most towards the public sector since the ration was Six Christians to Five Muslims.

Currently, all benefits are seen going to Harriri Jr. since he is continuing his father’s grand plans of integrating Lebanon in the free market. He represents the top business class.

Reforms taking place during and after the Syrian mandate showed that nothing is solved. The July War aftermath showed that the Lebanese, divided in Sectarian matter, are willing to shoot each other when violence erupts, and worse check-points segregating according to Sect/Region, are applied.

The opposition has been marketing that the government have been stealing the people’s pocket while they also played a role in it.

(The Above Quotes were taken from the Economic Section)

“The Second factor that falls under this broad heading [cultural] has to do with group histories and group perceptions of themselves and others. It is certainly true that many groups have legitimate grievances against others for crimes of one kind or another committed at some point in the distant or recent past. Some “ancient” hatreds” have legitimate historical bases. However, it is also true that groups tend to whitewash and glorify their own histories, and they often demonize their neighbors, rivals, and adversaries…Stories that are passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth become part of a group’s lore. They often become distorted and exaggerated with time, and are treated as received wisdom by group members.”

Probably the most simple example is how the Civil War was relative to the others. Residents of West or East Beirut remember how each bombarded the other. The people of East Christian Beirut argue how they defended Lebanese soverneignty despite the fact they invited the Syrians and Israelis over. The People of West Beirut till current day remember the horrors of the Israeli siege to West Beirut with the blessings of Bashir Gemayel. East Beirut keep reviving the 100 days war with the Syrians. The Shiites supported the Phalange Cabinet till they allied with the Syrians for better positions (in case of AMAL). Till current day, a lot celebrate the death of Bashir Gemayel as victory while others mourn it.

Till current times, the shadow of the war and its hatred lives till current days. No matter what happens, the Lebanese Forces or AMAL would always be remembered as butchers while most of their own supporters call them heroes. Worse, the Lebanese War had no war criminals placed on trial as a means of establishing justice or peace. All warlords have been given amnesty.

The Shiites remember Lebanon in the good old days as bad. Lebanon in the 1960s and early 70s have been disastrous since they were most marginalized from governmental budgets. Hezbollah preserves its supporters in the quest of avoiding the return to such political, economical, and social marginalization.

The most interesting syndrome perceived during the Civil War is Walid Junblatt. Walid’s ancestor Bashir Junblatt has entered a clash with Bashir Shihab in order to dominate the Druze back in the 19th Century. When Walid’s forces entered Deir el Qamar, he loudly expressed that his family’s honor was avenged.

History is relative in Lebanon. There has been no unifying book which talks about Lebanon’s history, rather history has been written to satisfy the different sects. Some go naively as to relate Lebanon’s existence to the days of the Phoenician cities, other have been relating its presence till 1860 or 1920. Recent attempts took place to unify the history of modern Lebanon, all ended in failure as each Sect wanted to erase its dark history with the other.

“These ethnic mythologies are particularly problematic, if rival groups have mirror images of each other, which is often the case.”

In case of Lebanon, things are rather contradictory. The Shiites welcomed the Israeli army, based on the request of Pierre Gemayel, Bashir Gemayel, and Camille Shamoun, with rice and flowers. The Shiites were fed up from Israeli retaliations on PLO operations. Afterwards, the Shiites played a role in resisting the Israeli invasion, in 1984, which to them also were resisting the Lebanese Forces.

The SSNP till current days have not forgotten how the PSP backstabbed them while fighting the two year wars. The Lebanese Forces do not mention how they agreed with the Israelis to enter Lebanon. Worse, current leaders of the bi-polar camps revive parts of history which burns the other.

(Above Quotes taken from the Cultural Section).

(To Be Continued)

1 comment:

Renegade Eye said...

I still think much of your writing should be a book. I don't know why, you're writing better lately than ever before. It cries out to be a book.

I went to the theater with the head of WIL in the US. They plan to publish some really good books. They own the rights to Trotsky's books now. My friend negotiated with Trotsky's grandson, who lives in Mexico City still.