Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Invisible Occupation of Lebanon

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Invisible Occupation of Lebanon

Article excerpt

Syrian's withdrawal from Lebanon has increased freedom there, but Lebanon still faces internal threats: self-serving political leaders, a strange power-sharing formula that divides up power among religious sects, and a scary national debt.

Sectarian politics is the most fundamental structural problem in Lebanon.

Political representation and government positions are apportioned to 17 sects, in three religious communities: Christian, Muslim and Druze. The exuberant energy and phenomenal organization of popular demonstrations after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Harari brought people across the religious divides to the street to demand Syrian withdrawal and democratic reforms.

Three months after the demonstrations, this energy may be starting to dissipate in the face of the challenges of nation building -- including national elections.

Voting for a new parliament starts May 29. The parliament will elect a new president who is expected (according to the Taif Accord, a legal document that ended the civil war) to be a Maronite Christian. The President will assign a prime minister from the Sunni community. The parliament will elect a Shiite speaker of the house.

The Taif Accord was written in an ambiguous style making it difficult to create a working democracy. Taif assigns political representation to sects according to Lebanon's demography. Demography changes rapidly, and as a result, the representatives become more preoccupied with numbers than with problem solving.

Regrettably, the traditional leaders who led Lebanon into its current quandary are back in command of politics, organizing lists of candidacy for the new parliament. Ideology is secondary to money and social status in the contest for political power. Among the Sunnis, the Harari family is enlisting candidates from the various sects and forming hard-to-beat electoral lists for the election. Rafik Harari's son and his sister have emerged as powerful national politicians.

Hezbollah leads the Shiites, which are an estimated 35 percent of the Lebanese population. The group is likely to score well in the elections, given its significant demographic representation and its popularity as a "resistance" force. Walid Jumblat, a master of rhetoric and theatrical politics, leads the Druze minority community in the electoral campaign.

General Michael Aoun is the most popular politician in the Christian community, which has shrunk demographically over the last few decades. Aoun's popularity is not easy to explain. He has a large following among the educated youth, who dream of radical change. He is a former army commander, secular and non-sectarian. He recently returned to Lebanon after a period of exile in France.

Aoun's popularity, however, makes him a threat to many traditional politicians within the Christian establishment. …

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