Monday, December 10, 2007

Istiqlaal or Istighlaal?

Lebanon, always a house divided, is finding out the hard way that being independent (Istiqlaal) is not as easy as it once seemed on that beautiful day in March, 2005. It looks as if that the country is in an abusive relationship with its past: you know you should leave, but the exploitation (Istighlaal) of yesteryears sure feels comfortable as well. It’s like the Russians wanting communism back…oh sweet nostalgia.

Both March 14 and March 8 have little to show for after all their demonstrations, heated arguments and bold statements. A recent low was the outright dismissal by March 14 of Aoun’s proposal to review the election law. Remember the first priority of Siniora when he became Prime Minister? Right: to revamp that same law. As always, to truly enjoy some good ol’ nostalgia, it’s better to ignore historical facts and to indulge in a little amnesia instead.

What’s an equally important character trait for any politician in this country is the strong belief in one’s self-importance. With Suleiman’s presidency as good as certain, most people would naturally conclude that the bickering is over and that all politicians can go back to work now. Alas, it’s never that simple, not in Lebanon anyway where politicians never miss a chance to stress how much needed they are.

Like, the current debate is whether or not the required constitutional amendment has to pass by the government. Obviously, it should pass by Siniora but that would imply the Opposition acknowledges the legitimacy of his cabinet. This is a difficult step for March 8 to make as they have always maintained that Siniora’s government is illegal.

March 14 refuses this. With all the ideals they have already given up during the last two years, suddenly, they show a spark of passion. Not that it really carries any relevance anymore, but hey: a victory is a victory, no matter how petty. So expect once again strong declarations about the highly urgent matter of amending the constitution in the correct way.

The amendment itself is no longer topic of discussion. One could even cynically wonder if it ever has been. The presidency comes cheap these days. Remember Lahoud refusing to step down because he felt that the president should not bow to popular pressure because that would bypass the constitution? He was right about that and many Christians understood his position, even though they might not have agreed with him.

Still, that inevitably led to a Catch-22 situation: by staying on to protect the dignity of the presidency, Lahoud has made it abundantly clear that the presidency has become obsolete since the country didn’t stop functioning despite having an isolated president who was no longer involved in the government for over two years.

One would think, therefore, that it is high time to fully restore the position of the president. Sneaking in a candidate by means of changing the Constitution somehow doesn’t seem the right way, though. It feels as if the position is up for grabs and what’s more, no one really knows what the position of Suleiman is on crucial topics.

So far, he has mostly refused to take explicit sides and stated that he will only do so after being elected president. Basically, this boils down to electing a candidate whose positions are unclear and you just have to pray they match yours, which some bloggers feel will not be the case. Electing a president by the people, like in the USA, suddenly doesn’t seem such a bad idea anymore.

Going back to the original question: will Lebanon choose for Istiqlaal or Istighlaal? Well, the politicians and the press will surely find this a fascinating question that requires many more talk shows on TV, but the average Lebanese already knows the answer: the country will get a little bit of both, with the independence part sufficiently watered down to not make a difference anymore.


George said...

Why are you so negative, had a tough weekend? ;-)