Lebanon’s fraudulent elite predicted to remain in power
For the first time since 2018, at a time when one crisis was followed by another in Lebanon, the country holds a general election. Although a majority of the population has been thrown into poverty, of which the current leadership is blamed for, many things indicate that the same political elite will remain in power.
Since the last general election in Lebanon, the country has witnessed a protest movement which resulted in several ministers resigning, one of the largest explosions in the history of the world and an economic crisis that the World Bank deems one of the worst in modern history. Sunday’s election takes place in a country described as just as ravaged as during the Lebanese civil war that wreaked havoc between 1975 and 1990. An overwhelming majority of the country’s six million inhabitants are now living below the poverty line.
The crises have led to an increase in the number of independent candidates that do not belong to any of the traditional political parties, as alternatives to the political elite which has driven the country into the numerous crises. “The economic crisis was entirely preventable; it was actually created by failed government policies”, writes the UN’s Lebanon monitor in a new report, where he urges the country to choose a new direction. Despite this, the political parties that have been in power since the end of the war in 1990 will most likely retain their power in the 128-seat parliament.
– I do not think that many independent candidates will win seats, the same political elite as before will stay in power. And if not them, then their sons will be elected, comments Rola El-Husseini, Senior Lecturer in political sociology at Lund University.
The reason for this is political clientelism. Lebanon’s political system is based on the so called Taif Agreement which was signed during the civil war in 1989. According to it, power should be shared equally between the different religious groups. Previously, a more informal power-sharing system based on religious affiliation had been used in Lebanon since the 1920s. This system of government has resulted in the population being loyal to religious denominations, tribes or local villages, rather than to the state. Political issues are treated as secondary and the leaders of the different denominations are often more powerful than the state when it comes to bread-and-butter issues.
– Often, it is more important to know the right people, rather than having specific merits or educational achievements, says Rola El-Husseini, who has written books about Lebanese power-sharing.
The political elite tends to trade loyalty for other benefits. People looking for work, for instance, have a greater chance finding a job through the religious organisations, which can distribute state resources to people within their congregations.
– There are people who work at the Lebanese Railway and Public Transportation Authority and collect their paychecks regularly although no trains have been scheduled for decades.
The fear among many people in Lebanon is that if the current regime is replaced by new people, they might lose their only source of income and stability. However, the current system of politics has resulted in the currency losing 90 percent of its value since 2018.
A massive mobilisation for change has created some momentum in the run-up to the election. Foremost in the capital Beirut, the movement has received support among the highly educated middle class. In addition to this, four times as many people from the Lebanese diaspora have registered to vote compared to the 2018 election. A lot of hope is placed on the diaspora, as they are seen to be sufficiently free of domestic religious pressures to be able to vote freely for candidates that actually offer a promising political program. However, the number of votes from the Lebanese diaspora only constitutes 6 percent of the total number of people qualified to vote, according to a report from the think tank the Arab Reform Initiative. So most votes are expected to come from less educated rural people from areas where the religious organisations still exert great power.
– The road to change is also complicated by the fact that the current regime has re-written the election laws before almost every election since the 1990s, Role El-Husseini comments. As such, the system is custom-made for the political elite to remain in power.
Facts: Lebanese Politics
In Lebanon, power is divided according to religious affiliation. In 1989 a formal power-sharing agreement was signed, in which it was decided that the President should be Christian Maronite, the Prime Minister Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the Parliament Shia Muslim. A more informal power-sharing based on religious affiliation had been in use in Lebanon since the 1920s.
The sectarian system of politics is often criticized for obstructing the establishment of cross-religious parties and for enhancing the divide between the different groups. State power in Lebanon is deemed weak in comparison to the influence of the different religious groups.
Many of the top politicians that run the country today belonged to militias that fought during the 1975-1990 civil war. An amnesty after the war made it possible for the war lords to become politicians.
Read the original Swedish article by TT in Göteborgs-Posten (published May 14, 2022)