Thursday, June 28, 2007

Investigating Lebanon: Sectarianism and Fear of Other (Part II)

Check Part I

Interactions and Groups

Lake and Rothcild wrote: “Competition for resources typically lies at the heart of ethnic conflict. Property rights, jobs, scholarships, educational admissions, language rights, government contracts, and development allocations all confer benefits on individuals and groups. All such resources are scarce and, thus, objects of competition and occasionally struggle between individuals and, when organized, groups. In societies where ethnicity is an important basis for identity, group competition often forms along ethnic lines.”

The base of power for a sect leader is his/her claim to protect his/her sect’s interests. In Lebanon, the public sector for example lacks any merit system for recruitment. For example, when a Maronite is recruited to the Foreign Affairs department, five other Sects should be recruited to equivalent positions. Three out of six are from different Christian Sects, and three others are Muslim Sects. This has been the case ever since the Civil war ended n 1990. Almost all other public positions contain parallel logic. Even elections are based on confessional basis per region, and it is strange how I see the government and the opposition preaching reform while still reluctant to cancel confessional distribution. Probably the only thing that is secular in nature are the student elections in the major universities (but mobilization there also is based on sectarian basis for political purposes).

Lebanon’s private sector is a bit tiny better. The major institutions that are directly and indirectly affiliated to political parties also contain Sect oriented logic. If they want to diversify, they would recruit sects belonging to allied parties. Future TV, Harriri Inc, Hezbollah Inc corporations, corporations with politically oriented managers, even as far as restaurants has this logic. Most institutions would prefer to have one “political color”, which currently is either pro-Government or pro-Opposition. Those institutions which has balance of power (such as the foreign universities such as American University of Beirut and Lebanese American University…etc) would witness pro-government/pro-opposition employees mingling separately with few breaking the ice to crack political jokes (primarily attacking the other in a funny way). Within each political color, sectarian division lines are horded, unless the people belong to a secular trend. Those secular would sit next to their closest allies in logic or in terms of personal ties.

A lot of cases, political ties (primarily based on Sect) play a role in recruitment whether in the public sector or private. As sad as it sounds, this little dilemma is true. Even those who claim to be leftists also recruit based along division lines (major NGOs, UN institutions, others). Different political figures intervene for recruiting purposes. This guy is a cousin of a friend who say works for Michel el Murr, then he can find a job easier than the ones who are non-affiliated.

The time when Christians politically dominated Lebanon (pre-1975), they had the privilege of attaining jobs in the public sector 6:5. This was a primary reform agenda of Kamal Junblatt which was to demolish whether peacefully or revolutionary the sectarian system. Sadly, when Kamal Junblatt, despite his socialist ideals, was assassinated, the Druze as a Sect went into rampage of anger to butcher Christians based on Sect, despite the fact a lot of Christians butchered (and some cases beheaded) were members of Kamal Junblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party. The Druze out of vengeance forgot their socialist ideals and directly regarded Kamal Junblatt as their protector, a martyr, and sought revenge on allies of Syria then (Phalange – Ahhrar in 1977).

Lake and Rothcild wrote: “Politics matter because the state controls access to scarce resources. Individuals and groups that possess political power can often gain privileged access to these goods, and thus increase their welfare. Because the state sets the terms of competition between groups, it becomes an object of group struggle. Accordingly, the pursuit of particularistic objectives often becomes embodied in competing visions of just, legitimate, and appropriate political orders.”

The name of the game hence in any society is to dominate a government to access its resources. Usually in Western nations, democracy witnesses collisions of platforms, and in several occasions the voters focus on the political actors’ previous performance (as well as propaganda). This is seen clearly as Democrats sweep over Republicans in the United States or vice versa the Republicans sweep over the Democrats. In case of Lebanon, things are different, there are different communities with primary Sect leaders and minor players, and neither community can dominate the whole parliament, which leaves the primary actors re-elected (due to Sectarian reasons) and the government is usually a last minute patch-work (used to be forced patchwork during the Syrian Mandate). This makes the country rendered helpless at the mercy of the sectarian elites. Technically this is the crisis what the country faces these days. Division of political opinion, mobilization on Sectarian basis, to safeguard the elite’s interests and their foreign cliental would cause the masses to mobilize to protect themselves, protect their sect leaders, and above all fend themselves from the other aggressive sects.

Nabih Berri preserved some political power in the face of Hezbollah’s sweep of domination of the Shiites (post Civil War) by abusing the public sector and giving all Shiite positions to his supporters (during the Syrian Mandate). In the 2000 elections, Rafiq el Harriri and Michel el Murr promoted themselves as powerful Sunni and Christan figures during the Parliamentary elections. Saad Harriri swept elections as defender of the Sunni Sect whereby other Sunni figures like Karami and Huss appeared rather weak. In 2005 elections, the Free Patriotic Movement (Aoun and his merry men) and the Lebanese Forces/Phalange collided on who is the real Christian/Lebanese. Intersect votes were mobilized for “friends” specially when Nasrallah forced his supporters to vote for the Lebanese Forces and vice versa. Now, Sects are mobilized to win over the government or defend it. 14th of March would argue it got a lunatic general accompanied with the Shiites from Iran, 8th of March would argue that they are defending Lebanon from becoming another Iraq. Bottom line, all politicians are mobilizing on Sect basis. Even the tiny Prince Talal Irslain is promoting himself as the Durzi alternative to Walid Junblatt (and the little Prince is doing badly against the Baik).

Lake and Rothcild wrote: “Analytically, however, the existence of competing policy preferences is – by itself – not sufficient for violence to arise. Observers too often fail to recognize this important theoretical point and misattribute violence to competition over scarce resources. Violence, after all, is costly for all communal actors: people are killed; factories, farms, and the whole cities are destroyed; resources that might have been invested in new economic growth are diverted instead to destructive ends. As violence, and preparing for violence, is always costly, there must exist in principle some potential bargain short of violence that leaves both sides in a dispute better off than settling their disagreements through the use of force at the very least, the same ex post agreement could be reached without the use of force, and the resources that would have been expended in violence divided somehow between the parties ex ante. This holds irrespective of the breadth if the group demands or the extent of the antagonisms. The father apart the policy preferences of the groups are, the greater the violence necessary for one group to assert its will over the other, and the greater the resources that can be saved by averting to resort to force.”

The cost of war is always too expensive, and that is a weight to calculate. After the bloody civil war we had, the Lebanese are not willing to be ready to enter towards another civil war. The only time the Lebanese were actually united, it was during the July war against the Israeli racial aggression of bombing the whole Lebanon. The majority of the people in Lebanon were mobilized to work with each other against a common enemy of the Lebanese; however, certain reports came out that for example Democratic Leftists wont work with this bunch because it has Free Patriotic Movement, or vice versa. Yet, on the ground, mobilization was achieved towards a common end, but eventually they all returned to butcher each other politically after the war ended. The nicest lullabies are between Hassan Nasrallah and Walid Junblatt. The most interesting syndrome was Hezbollah coordinating with the Gay movement Helem (active then within Samidoun) to help the refugees. As I said, everyone worked in one way or another against a common goal.

Violence remains as a threat in Lebanon. Division lines mobilizations always occur, and the Lebanese are divided between two camps, with few left outside the equation to denounce both (and both would denounce back as traitors). Group leaders escalate with a civil war against each other in order to force the ‘others’ submit; however, the other replies back in similar tactics. When things are about to go out of hand, the leaders go on TV asking people to calm down. Probably that is the only time all media channels repeat what all leaders from all the different camps demand. However, at the grassroots level, all are ready to take action, even the others who do not want to take part, would start thinking on a sect level because the others would butcher on sect level, and henceforth things would be complicated. The only complexity would be Aoun-Jaajaa dilemma, which Christian supports who?

(End of Part II)


M Bashir said...

Copied and pasted and printed two, too.

Sectarianism is turning out to be worse than a bad pain in the ass.

And to think that some believe it is one of the "particularity" of Lebanon.

Okay, I'll read and comment later.

Jester said...

Renegade Eye said...

I thought that was a real interesting post. It shattered the idea of cosmopolitan Lebanon.

Bedouina said...

I too am copying, pasting & printing out for reading. Thank you.

MarxistFromLebanon said...

Renegade, Lebanon remains a cosmopolitan location, the people in a lot of locations interact with each other (different backgrounds); however, the division lines seperate them as I mentioned later.

Ur Shalim, and Bedouina, thank you for the nice comments, people like you motivate me to write.