Monday, February 20, 2006

Don't overblow Lebanon's Democratic Problem!

Some in the Lebanese blogosphere have proclaimed the consensus candidate for Ba'bda Aley as a 'cataclysmic' blow to democracy. I respectfully disagree; but even if I did agree with that assessment, so what???

Lebanon's problem is not related to democracy. I repeat... Lebanon's problem is NOT related to democracy. Maybe the Syrian and Saudi problem is their lack of democratic institutions, but the Lebanese problem is not. Every democracy on this Earth possesses authoritarian elements - elements that thwart the "democratic will."

In the United States, you have the Supreme Court, the court system and the US Constitution, all of which form essential components of the "checks and balances" system, which was explicitly designed to thwart the democratic will. A less intentional and more sinister authoritarian element in the United States is the duopoly of the Republican and Democratic parties, and the fact that the system is extremely friendly to incumbents. I'm not too sure about numbers, but it is a well known fact that only an extreme minority of seats in both houses of Congress are actually contestable. The rest of the seats… well, just take a good look at Ted Kennedy.

What do the theorists say about this? Well, they don’t seem to agree. Democratic theory is more like a spectrum than anything else. On one end, are those theorists who claim that a democracy should amount to nothing more than "competition between political elites," in which the only democratic institution available to the regular citizen is the right to vote. On the other end, are those theorists who claim that the vote is inherently undemocratic because it delegates politics to "representatives," as opposed to maintaining it in the hands of the citizen.

I tend to agree more with those who claim that democracies should be limited to a competition among members of the political elite, in which citizens hold them accountable for their performance. Consequently, I disagree with those who assert that the major problem in Lebanon is its democracy (or, a lack thereof). Rather, I argue that the real problem lies in Lebanon's authoritarian institutions (the authoritarian elements within the country’s democratic system).

For example, rather than rely on the Supreme Court for checks and balances, we rely on the Sects to balance each other out. And, rather than rely on the institution of meritocracy, we rely on nepotism. And rather than rely on a secular code of laws that regulates the “personal status” of all citizens, we rely on religious courts that pay no respect to individual rights and other modern rights such as those pertaining to women.

Therefore, the calamity in Lebanon does not lie in Ba’bda Aley or the country's democratic system. Arriving at a consensus candidate is a normal development in all democratic systems. In Lebanon, the real calamity lies elsewhere….


frencheagle said...

Lebanon a democracy?
it s not technicaly democracy since all the power is in the hand of the parlement, it more an oligarchy anyway
besides that the secterian, feodalist, communitarism etc... structure doesnt allow democracy

really we see u re not in lebanon ;)

Raja said...

French Eagle,

some have argued that the American system is oligarchic... and the French and the British... etc, etc...

Besides do you attribute Lebanon's failures to its formal democratic institutions or to societal factors?

Anton Efendi said...

Not "technically" a democracy?! And that is "since" the power is in the hand of the Parliament?! Communalism doesn't allow for democracy? Really!?

It's funny Raja that you should write on this. I was thinking of writing a post on this myself, especially after reading some hysterical reactions in the Lebanese blogosphere... I mean seriously... people need to take a serious chill pill.

ghassan said...

I find the logic that it is acceptable to settle for the wrong solution if that is the choice that is made in the US to be simply astounding. Maybe what we need to do is to encourage organised crime to control the construction industry and help accounting firms mislead the public. Let us set up a commission to look at all what is bad in either the Eu or the US and then plan to accomplish the same goals.
Maybe we should adopt GIS mapping techniques in order to have more gerry mandering and to have it done more efficiently.

Raja/anton keep your heads in the sand if you want but please dont ask us to join you in calling things what they are not. Ba'abda Aley is a free and democratic election, poverty has been eradicated, there are no ecological problems and sustainability and intergenrational equity have been resolved. Give me a break!!!

Raja said...


Two points:

1. Theoretically: Democracy is not the only ideal in the formula of liberal-democratic states. There are other ideals that do not get along too well with democracy. I believe you are very aware of the notion of "tyranny of the majority."

2. Practically: all I am saying is keep it real buddy.

Okay, forget the US. Let's talk Germany. Are Coalition Governments not harmfull to the principle of democracy?

Let's say that I voted for the SDP and its political/economic agenda. The party then decided to form a coalition government with the Green Party. In order for the Green Party to join the coalition, the SDP had to adopt some aspect of the Green Party's agenda and forgo, or at least, reprioritize its own agenda.

Is that practice not detrimental to democratic ideals?

Well, you tell me. But What I do know is that the government was formed by consensus and that eventhough the SDP is the leading coalition partner, the new consensus agenda is definitely not what I voted for.

Like I said before, keep it real!

ghassan said...

I think that you German example strengthens my point:-) In Germany the vote was not predetermined by feudal lords and clergymen. The German citizens had their say and in their infinite wisdom they chose to elect a parliament that will force both sides to cooperate. That is democracy. It is the will of the people that is being respected. That is a far cry from saying that Sfeir singlehandedly is going to approve the next president or that Nasrallah has a veto power on everything.
As for the "tyranny of the majority" it is an idea that democracies will have to check. It is a propensity in a democratic process but it is relatively simple to avoid and overcome.I am niot sure that I understand when you say that democracy is not the only principle in the democratic project!!!! Of course it is otherwise do not call it democracy.I have no problems with thiose that are not fans of democracy, it is their right to believe in whatever they choose but I do get concerned whenevr I hear doublespeak. To justify what is ,inspite of knowing that it is wrong should not be tolerated.

If what you would like to suggest is the fact that the road to social justice is long and full of twists and turns, that it cannot be accomplished in a short period of time then you will find out that no one will object to that "realism". I am concerned when we do not aspire to start the trek or even think about the journey. Make no mistake about it no democracy can get anywhere unless it checks religion out side the public square. Maybe that is a place to start.

Doha said...

I just wanted to add that the political system in the US is not entirely "democratic". Think about the practice of lobbying; how democractic is that? It is a right, but look at all this news coming out regarding the abuses related to lobbying, millions of dollars spent on members of Congress so they could vote for this or that legislation and earmark special contracts for wealthy entrepreneurs. This practice is done behind closed doors, just as picking a "consensus" candidate is done behind closed doors.