Walid's Wanderings

Reflections on life, good-and-evil, family, humanity, and anything else that occurs to me, usually when I travel. Right now I am on a 6-year trip through Lebanon, the homeland I had never really lived in before.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Taking to the streets

So far it's only been television and blogs for me, but I have a mind to go report live from the massive demonstration downtown. I was there for the March 14 2005 demonstration, and I remember distinctly that the majority of the people did not choose to go down to the downtown sit-in until it had gone on for several weeks. The impetus was a direct challenge by another party that spoke against the original demonstrators. People like me, with children and jobs to worry about, finally felt moved on the 14th of March 2004 to stand besides the smaller numbers who had been demonstrating in order to show that we agree with theier stand.

What was that stand? It was a realization that Syria's occupation of Lebanon was not only trampling our rights to due process if we tangle with the government and our rights to voice our opinions unimpeded if we disagree, but also stealing our economic future by making impossible to challenge corruption in high places. So we went down and chanted "Syria out!".

Today Syria is out and opinions are expressed more freely. But the degree to which the fruits of our economic labor goes to enrich others rather than to ensure the future of our children is up by a modest amount, and the degree to which we see it happening before out eyes instead of being able to wish it away is up several degrees of magnitude. We wanted Syria out so we could throw out the corrupt Lebanese who were installed by them, and instead the same corrupt Lebanese switched sides faster than we could and became the darlings of the democratic world without having to even pretend to shed their economic corruption. No one even tried to change the monopoly status of the companies owned by ex-ministers. No one dared add one line to the script that pits the nationalist thief, who wants to charge us double for electricity to pay his governemnt-connected fuel brokers, against the internationalist thief, who wants to privatize the electric grid by selling it to a single well-connected party on a no-bid basis and chage us triple. So we are mad.

What do we hear when we decide to move against this same government whose actions made us mad before when the Syrians were behind them? We do not hear the whoosh of water cannon to disperse the
demonstrators. Instead, we hear a chorus of disapproval against the demonstrators from all corners of the earth. And what convincing and well-though-out arguents do they have against the Lebanese demand to make our government accountable to us, the people of Lebanon? Here's a list

  1. Name Calling: To some, the name "Hezbollah" is an epithet in and of itself. To others, the designation made by Bush and co. that "Hezbollah is a terrorist organization" is all that is needed to determine which side right is on. Others still resort to circularity: Hezbollah is bad because they listen to the Iranians, and Iran is in th eaxis of evil because they support Hezbollah. What is lost in all this is any consideration of who did what when and of who is asking whom for what now.
  2. Appeals to Racism: Those funny-accented men from the south. Those women with the funny scarves. How can they have a voice?
  3. Attribution of ulterior motives: The Syrians ordered this. The Iranians want this happen. Totally forgettin what it is about the Syrians or the Iranianans (apart from the name recognition factor - see above) that we hold reprehensible.
  4. Democratic facade: The "institutionally correct" was to amend the cabinet is for parliament to give a vote of no confidence. Actually, the first thing this parliament did when it came into power was to dissolve the Lebanese equivalent of the supreme court. The next thing thing they want to do is to replace the president. I personally would not mind if the president was replaced, but it is not clear to me how you can call something a democracy if one gerrymandered election gives the same people power to replace the cabinet, the president AND the supreme court, even after the very people who voted that parliment into power take to the street to demand a new division of electoral districts?
  5. Scare tactics 1 - fear the unknown: "Things will go to hell." "You never know who has guns stashed away." And my favorite, by no less democratic a luminary than Egypt's own riot-averse Mubarak: "If thing go any further, then Arab forces will intervene to help out the government, and Iranian forces will intervene to spite the Arabs, and Lebanon will be the only victim." Funny how the rhetoric is more inflamed than Pres. Lahoud's prediction that "someone naughty boy will toss a firecracker" at the March 2005 demonstration. Did not deter us then and will not deter us now.
  6. Scare .tactics 2 - fear the known: Hezballah has arms, so they (a) should, (b) eventually would, and (c) count on others' fears that they might .... turn them against someone. Again, the actual requests (more transparent government), past actions (clever leverage of weapons as deterrance agains a more powerful foe) and present methods (peaceful demonstration) matter less to anyone who makes or buys these arguments than how they feel about whomever is saying them.
So if anyone sees me at the demonstration tomorrow or next week, know that I am there to demand a more transparent government. I want a clear decision on how our next parliamentary elections will be run. I demand a proper voice to the Lebanese people, as opposed to the foreigh ministers of Europe and the tail-between-the-legs neocons of Washington and the dictators of the Arab world, in the running of the country. I am not overjoyed at the company I will be keeping in making these demands, but they are the ones with whom I have to share a homeland. As long as this homeland institutes rule of law, any of them who actually do steal, murder, or rape, as opposed to voicing an opinion that I find distasteful, will be held accountable.

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