Magazine article New Internationalist

Yesterday's Men [Lebanese Elections]

Magazine article New Internationalist

Yesterday's Men [Lebanese Elections]

Article excerpt

In the thick of the convoluted Lebanese elections, Reem Haddad can't believe her eyes or her ears.

I MUST have missed something - or else the world has gone mad. More specifically Lebanon has gone mad. The same faces are back. Older, greyer and more wrinkled. But definitely the same ones who haunted us for 16 years of war, ordered the death of thousands, displaced hundreds of thousands and destroyed the country.

Once the civil war ended in 1991, we didn't really think about the militia leaders any more. We had other things to do: construction tycoon-turned-politician, Rafic Hariri, was rebuilding the country and pushing us all into creating a new Lebanon. The country had come alive again and we buried the past.

In early May, a week after the Syrians left, ending their 29-year occupation, Michel Aoun, Lebanon's most prominent anti-Syrian politician, returned from 14 years' exile in France. His first public utterance on landing at Beirut International Airport was to tell the throngs of journalists recording his arrival to 'shut up'. Not a promising start. There are calls for the release of Samir Geagea, who has been in prison since 1994. He's the only militia leader to serve several life sentences for crimes committed during the war. His Lebanese Forces militia and Aoun's faction of the Lebanese Army fought each other ferociously in 1990.

Other former militia leaders are already in prominent positions. Nabih Berri, for example, the head of Amal, one of the two main movements representing the Shi'a community, is currently the parliamentary speaker. Walidjumblatt, meanwhile, is still chief of the Druze community and head of the Progressive Socialist Party, which fielded the largest militia during the war.

Most of the above fought each other at some point during the war. By its end an estimated 120,000 Lebanese were dead, 17,000 missing and hundreds of thousands displaced. The economy was devastated and the infrastructure in ruins. And now some of those responsible are back and running for election.

'I am having déjà vu,' said my friend, Samia. I think all the Lebanese are. 'So the same ones who started the war are now the ones to lead the country?'

An American friend pointed out to me that this is democracy. I suppose it is. …

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