Monday, June 13, 2005

Polarization: The Catalyst for Action

Polarization in Lebanese politics can be disturbing. Lebanon has yet to prove that polarization in politics can remain peaceful, co-opted by the democratic mechanisms of the Parliament, the highest democratic authority. History has shown us that polarization has led to destruction, to failure, to lawlessness, and to chaos. That is why I sit watching the story of our history unfold with my hand on my heart.

Last year around that time, polarization in U.S. politics was at its highest. In November 2004, the U.S. was divided literally into two camps, Democratic versus Republican. The race was heated; people sat to watch every single Presidential and Vice-Presidential debate. Rumors and rumors of scandals were rampant, political money was dumped everywhere possible. Come election day, President Bush won. I could swear that blood was rushing up my head that day; polarization yes was at its highest. But the difference between the American common man and me was that life continued and it was business-as-usual past 2:00PM, when Kerry read out loud his concession speech. No one went up to arms; life continued…and for those who have lost, they promised each other that they’d work harder the next time around, harder on the local level in preparation of winning a base for the upcoming Presidential elections. I said to myself: “Those Americans are patient; they’ll wait another four years…”

Polarization in America works; recent history has shown it. But in Lebanon, no! And we are yet to see the story unfolding.

I cannot but allude to Kerry and Bush when I think of Aoun and the Christian Opposition. I found out that anywhere in the world, the common man is thirsty for simplicity. Aoun, wearing his orange polo, his white hair, his simple, unsophisticated rhetoric appeals to the common man. He’s clear; the common man wants the black and white….just like Bush, Aoun could have been the guy next door whom many would have a cup of coffee with sharing small talk in a “soubhiyye.”

This simplicity, this black and white is exactly what the sophisticated, educated amongst us dislike, what many cosmopolitan Americans disliked about Bush. We know that issues are always in shades of grey. We thirst for complicated, sophisticated, smart political assessments and moves. We hold politicians accountable for what they say, opening up our history books to double-check on the facts, researching and fact-checking, analyzing and breaking down words and statements….

But who ends up voting in our country??? Half of us doing the fact-checking are NOT in Lebanon!!! We can enlighten ourselves as much as we can about the facts, about the intentions, about the consequences, but at the end of the day, we’re not there; we are voiceless! Even the journalists who do a great job of disseminating information about the intentions, consequences, and facts are not widely read…I remember reading two years ago that only 3% of the Lebanese read newspapers. The Lebanese rely on the TV, just like the Americans rely on Fox, CNN, and MSNBC for their news needs. At least here in the U.S. people have the internet to get their news.

My “activist” friend from the Democratic Party is leaving the cosmopolitan D.C and heading to the Deep South; she is armed with a strategy to appeal to the devout Christian base that has been loyal to the Republican camp. She is aware that the Democrats have done a bad job at appealing to a base that tips the balance in any election race. She believes that this is the place to start regaining a lost race; that’s the heart of the battle.

Let yesterday’s election race in Lebanon be filed under the “lessons learned” and marked as “to be reviewed soon for devising new strategies.”

I watch the story of our history unfold and I vow not to sit watching and commenting any longer. If yesterday’s elections achieved anything, it is indeed the polarization that pushes those on the sidelines to take action. But let us work together to ensure that the definition of “taking action” in our country is a far outcry from carrying arms to fight the brother, but rather by using our heads and leveraging our energy for positive action.

"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."


hummbumm said...

Nuance isn't always what it is cracked up to be. All the shades of grey that "sophisticated" people see often leads to muddled action, if any, and poor results. There is a quote that is big in the military, but I find applicable in all walks of life:" Blunders can be forgiven, but a lack of boldness cannot." In the end it is courage, or in the case of some politicians, the projection of courage, that people respond to. Aoun projects courage, determination, leadership and people respond to that. The ideal of course is to marry courage with deep thought like Lincoln, but in the end I take courage over thought. Washington was the indispensible man, not the more intellectual Jefferson.

Anton Efendi said...

Doha, calm down. You're taking the Jumblat discourse too seriously. This has nothing to do with "extremism" over "moderation." Jumblat is pissed because he didn't want to deal with Aoun. He wanted to pick (and let Hizbullah set conditions on who the Christians that should be picked are) the Christians he wanted (George Adwan!? Solange!? Please...)

Aoun, and you know that I don't like him, has set a balance now. Now people have to deal with each other and COMPROMISE. That's the name of the game. Nothing in Aoun's speech after the victory points to extremism or civil war. Only Jumblat did that, and that's dangerous and shitty on his part. Relax, cut your losses, move on. It's the first elections, and it's very problematic. More will come. Don't go nuts. Don't forget what we achieved here.

Doha said...


I in no way was taking Jumblatt's discourse seriously; I did not even think about it when I wrote this entry. I was consumed with the idea of polarization and how polarization sometimes is good because it pushes poepole to action, pushes them to care, and to seize remaining on the sidelines. If some who never voted in their lives wanted to vote this time around because of Hariri's death, for instance, now they might just be moved to vote for other reasons...which is in reality great.

My only worry is that the Lebanese might just interpret polarization in a negative sense, and might think it means a call for arms. That's my fear; history has made its mark. I hope that we break with that history to write up a new story for our country and ourselves.

Raja said...


It appears that the Maronite community has voted for strong leadership. Aoun's victory is a victory of leadership - a notion that has been lacking in the Maronite political elite for quite some time now. None of the members of Qornet Shehwan measure up to Aoun in that department - that is why they lost.

We now have new political realities in Lebanon. For the first time, the most powerful Christian politician is not an unpopular Syrian appointee who can be lambasted and even mocked as a stooge by almost everyone in the Maronite community. Now, with Aoun's victory, the most powerful Christian politician is someone who has a popular mandate, and who for all intents and purposes, will represent his community.

The voters have made their choice. What worries me today is the following:

We all know that Aoun is not subtle and is very confrontational. Prior to these election results, I even questioned his political abilities. However, assuming that I am wrong and that this victory was not the result of an overriding desire on behalf of the Maronite community to be represented by a strong leader, how will this style of politics affect the daily realities of the Lebanese political scene? Will anything ever get done? Or will every single issue we can imagine turn into a political head-butting match (similar to what we saw between Hariri (R.I.P.) and Lahoud)?

That form of politics, which in the end, would harm the country more than help it, is what I'm worried about; and I believe it is what you were alluding to in your post.

Let's all hope for the best.

Anton Efendi said...

Well, Raja, it all depends on how Jumblat and Hariri decide to deal with Aoun. If Jumblat thinks he can continue to use Berri-Nasrallah to out-muscle Aoun, ignore him, isolate him, etc. then yes, you might have deadlock on some matters, and the people who want this most are precisely Berri-Nasrallah, because they can isolate the Christians (and return to the political status quo of the 90's, where the Christians are mere observers and cheerleaders, not real partners). But if they do that, they will only make Lahoud stronger, and make things tense, and make it seem like what Jihad Zein wrote, that Hizbullah wants to bump off the Christians and replace them in the political majority. I.e., there's always an isolated party.

No one should be isolated like that. Unfortunately, Hizbullah has been playing that card against Christians (portraying them as agents of Israel and America etc.), and they will continue to do that because they know that the Christians are the most vocally uncomfortable about their weapons (Jumblat and Hariri both are, but they're not "stigmatized" with it as the Christians are). So Hizbullah and Berri (each for very very different reasons) will try to gang up with Hariri and Jumblat and make it seem that there is an anti-Hizbullah movement in Lebanon that is Christian. Jumblat has already played that tune on LBC. That is irresponsible and dangerous. If Saad falls into that trap, it would be a very bad sign indeed. That's the essence of Michael Young's article a little while ago, that has so far proved somewhat prescient.

So let no one get polarized, especially the Sunnis. If we lose the Sunnis, it would be a veritable shot in the heart. If Nasrallah can use that, he'll get what he wants. I just hope that Jumblat doesn't hand him that on a plate just so that he can settle a stupid score.

Anton Efendi said...

And it's unfair to make Aoun into a Lahoud. Lahoud was operating under Syrian (Bashar's) orders to always undercut the late Hariri (read Nouhad Mashnouq's interview. It's linked on my site). And Lahoud was doing that to safeguard his own financial interests as well.

Aoun neither takes orders from Syria, nor is he personally involved in financial projects. Well, at least not yet. So I think the analogy is a bit unfair at this point. And again, for whatever its worth, I remind people that I really am not an Aounist, or even Maronite.

Anonymous said...


I am as mad as you are, and I love the Aon-Bush analogy, but let us not fall into the democrat's rhetoric and give the "elitest" impression. That will only further alienate the rest of the people.

That being said, my family in Lebanon keeps being badgered about being maronite "traitors" because they do not like Aon, so obviously Aon IS indeed playing the "taiifiyyeh" cord and it is disgusting, considering his previous rhetoric.

I would not mind him had he been indeed secular and less megalomaniac. Diversity in the parliament is always good, but not this kind.

Finally, I am not sure how these people can be reasoned with, but calling those people common and us intellectuals will get us nowhere. We have to find a better approach.

Raja said...

Tony, it remains to be seen if Jumblatt will allow bitterness to overcome political prudence. He is suffering from humliation right now though, so hopefully, he'll learn his leason. As for the Aoun-Lahoud comparison, you're right... Lahoud was Syria's stooge, and Aoun is yet to own any business interests in Lebanon.

However, just because Aoun doesn't own any businesses, doesn't mean his family members or close friends can't. In fact, Lahoud wasn't the one who owned the interests... it was his son. So, as you pointed out in your own comment, there's a wait-and-see factor there. Even if Aoun doesn't get corrupted, however, there is that one thing he's been mentioning since he landed in Beirut: the audit (i.e.: I'm commin' after you, bub!)