After decades of sectarian rule, the people of Lebanon have had enough. Since the end of the First World War, and the beginning of the French presence in the country, they have been living in a sectarian state that is designed to give powers to different religious groups rather than the people. The citizens of Lebanon are not choosing their leaders, the religious sects are giving power to their religious cohorts at the expense of other groups, and there is not an even playing field in Lebanese politics. This sectarian government violates the most basic rule of a democracy: a democracy must be a government for the people, by the people.
After the Lebanese civil war, which was fought to get rid of the disproportionate majority that the Christians had in government, the government was set up to give all religions in the country power in government. The President must be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of Parliament a Shia Muslim . Beyond that the parliament has allocated the seats in proportion to the size of the religions in Lebanon. The only people in government that are directly elected by the people are the parliamentarians. The Parliament chooses the president, who chooses the prime minister, who then choose a cabinet . The politics, debates, and agreements that go along with this choosing the new administration often lengthens the amount of time it takes to transfer power and end up leaving the citizens without leadership for years at a time, most recently leaving the country without a president for 2 years . The people are able to vote for their parliamentarians, but the informal institutions that are in place give the people weak leadership that is chosen through deals and not democratic processes.
Once the politicians have finally agreed on who is in power the different sects begin to divide out the jobs and contracts to build a well-functioning society: not to the most qualified or the people who can offer the best deal, but their friends and people in their denomination. One such example is the 2015 garbage crisis. After years of incompetency, the streets all over the nation were covered in garbage. The government commissioned new landfills and gave the contracts to Jihad al-Arab and Dany Khoury . Al-Arab is a Sunni Muslim related to the prime minister’s inner circle, and Khoury is a Christian who is close friends with the president . Al-Arab has added water to the trash that he takes into his landfill and Khoury is dumping the trash that he receives directly into the Mediterranean . After spending millions of tax-payer dollars, the leadership chosen through religious bargaining rather than elections have chosen to give contracts to friends and family rather than award the contracts to competent members of the citizenry. Fortunately, the trash has left the streets of major cities like Beirut. Unfortunately, that same trash now floats aimlessly in the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
This blatant corruption does not just leave them with garbage in the streets, they are also unable to enjoy a stable power grid. In fact, many of the public utilities and services are either not properly funded or are underperforming. Blackouts, which can only be stopped by fuel powered generators, are a normality since the owner of one of the fuel importers is the leader of the Druze minority . For years money has been poured into useless ventures like these while money is being sucked from vital enterprises that help the people. In 2019, over 100 forest fires raged in the country causing hundreds to evacuate and dozens to be hospitalized . Lebanon was forced to call for help from Cyprus, Jordan, and Greece after it was revealed that their planes were not in working condition due to lack of funds. While the firefighting fleet was grounded, the riot police vehicle was in perfect working condition and were able to help fight the fires, perfectly showing where the government’s priorities were . The unelected administration continues to ignore the needs of the people and instead chooses to grow its power. The way the government handles its many crises shows how the many sects in the government would rather grow their power than heed to the interests of the people and provide the basic needs that a government should provide.
The protesters of Lebanon currently operate without leadership due to fear of attack from the ruling parties, particularly Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a Shia political party that is currently a part of the ruling coalition of Lebanon. Throughout history Hezbollah has used force to get its way and to silence opposition. In 2005, Hezbollah killed opposition forces and took over the streets when they were losing control over communication and Lebanon’s airports . The force parties in control use to silence opposition, paired with government resources going to supporters of their cause, creates an uneven playing field in politics. The people and parties who directly oppose the ruling parties are not able to properly assemble and they do not have equal access to resources that would be necessary to give them a fair shot at political positions.
The government proposed new taxes that would fill in the gaps in funding, but the people had had enough and went to the streets to express their views. The very faces of the Lebanese government are not democratically elected representatives of the people, instead they represent the many groups that infect politics in Lebanon. Those same people focus on growing power for their sects often at the expense of other groups including the constituents that they were chosen to represent. and the rampant violence against opposition and corruption means that opposition parties do not have equal access to positions of power. It is no surprise that the people have been protesting for months, they were promised a democracy and instead they have been given a sectarian regime.
First of all, you did really great job analyzing a very distant and little-known country. I like how you first give us some kind of idea about the political structure of Lebanon and only then described their path of democratic erosion. However, I think that not all the examples of backsliding you described are related to the religious representation. For example the 2015 garbage crisis. The practice of giving contracts not to qualified people but to the friends and relatives of current people in power is very common in the developing Eastern European countries, which are pretty secular. But overall that was very unique and interesting information. If not for this post I would never know about that situation in Lebanon.