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"Top blog/Renato Obeid's World/Today's pick: This rambling weblog is worth reading not so much for its satirical posts but more for its insight into the minutiae of life in Lebanon, including the etiquette of road accidents and how to hire a taxi.”
-Jane Perrone, The Guardian
Monday, February 28, 2005
As if by cruel yet ingenious design, a majority of Lebanese people are right where the Establishment want them to be – at the exact level of subsistence.
“They” couldn’t have calibrated it any better if they had of set out to do so (which they have indirectly done).
The people aren’t starving thus are somewhat productive* and aren’t at that rock bottom level where desperate people who have nothing to lose rebel yet they cant’ afford to rock the boat and lose the little they do have.
Lebanon ought be making timepieces – the famed Swiss horologic precision is nothing compared to this marvelous mechanism.
*Not exemplars of productivity but “productive” enough to sit in shops all day and glare at customers (who put up with it because they don’t know any better - the crux of the problem in Lebanon regarding high prices and bad customer service etc), to drive buses and beep and swear at other motorists etc – which is all that “They” require from them (the majority of jobs don’t require loads of enthusiasm, just attendance and a willingness to bear the drudgery).
Funerals are seldom-happy occasions but one swallow doesn’t make a summer, let alone a “Beirut Spring”.
Had Rafic Hariri, God rest his soul, died of a heart attack, the numbers at his funeral probably wouldn’t have been any less – only the tone would have been different.
Let’s not forget that an estimated five million Egyptians attended Gamel Abdul Nasser’s funeral when he died of a heart attack in 1970.
As I watched the funeral on television and heard talk of this being the start of some sort of people power revolution, I had my doubts – whether it actually is or isn’t will not be apparent now but later.
I thought to myself that the worst thing these two hundred and fifty thousand* odd people could do is go home.
And go home they did and the “revolution” went home with them
The protests since then have been likened to the Ukrainian revolution and whilst the symbols have imitated the events in Kiev and the events in the rest of the former Soviet Bloc (wearing a particular scarf a la the Ukraine, toppling a statue of Hafez el Assad in Cana etc), the numbers quite simply do not bear this out.
You can’t have a people power revolution without the people.
Whilst Mr. Hariri was very popular and greatly mourned and the Lebanese are fed up with the whole situation, the majority of people (twenty five thousand today and ten thousand last Monday) at the two protests that have been the people who usually attend protests – political activists, partisans and students etc.
The majority of people at last Monday’s protest, judging by their party banners and pictures etc, were Christians and Druze – the old established opposition.
I noticed this as I watched the protests on television and the Western press has since confirmed this but the Lebanese press has chosen not to.
Since then, the leaders of the opposition have called on the protestors to not carry party flags and partisan pictures but to carry only the Lebanese flag.
This is admirable but only the most naïve person would not be able to see the practical reasons for this (alongside the patriotic one).
The Muslims buried Hariri, the Christians and the Druze avenged him.
That is not say that Lebanese of all creeds are not now united, which they are, but that the Establishment (be they opposition or loyalist) have more or less always been united** (or at least the divisions amongst them were not so much sectarian but more to do with dividing the spoils) and that this unity appears to be slow in trickling down to the roots of the cedar tree.
Although all Lebanese are united in grief, Rafic Hariri has only become a national leader since his death.
This is quite simply because there are no national leaders in Lebanon but leaders of the various sects.
It is ironic that whilst Mr. Hariri was a regional and even international figure, he only became a national one in death.
I heard a young Lebanese woman telling BBC World Service Radio “for once the opposition are taking to the streets – the revolution will not be televised”.
This “revolution” is nothing but televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Gucci – this is being called the “Gucci Revolution” as most of the protestors are from the middle and upper classes.
I am not a counterrevolutionary but for the time being, until further notice, there is no revolution - quite simply because there are no people power revolutions in Lebanon or the Arab world.That’s not to say that I don’t applaud these professional revolutionaries but I just don’t think that it has really caught on yet and I don’t know if it ever will.
Lebanon, like any country, needs and deserves to be free and sovereign but that should be only the beginning of the revolution.
Lebanon needs a complete revolution – political, social, economic, you name it.
Above all, all Lebanese need their own personal private revolution – the revolution has to come from within each and every one of us.
And for that you don’t need to stand outside the house of parliament and protest against its inhabitants, you need to stand inside your own house and protest against its inhabitants.
You need to get your own house in order before you start gunning for the big house.
If you must protest to parliament, here’s a time saving hint for you – you don’t have to go all the way to parliament, just stand in front of a mirror because your elected representatives merely reflect you and your society (warts and all).
This is great people and a great country but for it to be truly great, the revolution must indeed not be televised (as this one is) but internalized.
Whilst I don’t believe for a moment believe the treasonous propaganda that some elements have been spouting that unless we’re occupied we’ll all kill each other, I don’t think that the country is going to be much different nor any better post-liberation unless we make it so.
Until then, we should all begin with liberating ourselves from within so that we can be ready for the liberation.
Whilst what’s occurring now is a good start, there’s a danger that all the marching, waving of flags and mouthing of slogans etc (which the Lebanese are very good at) becomes an end in itself and a substitute for actual real substantial reform in the country and becomes the main event.
As to what is going to happen next, if indeed anything does “happen next”, I don’t know.If you want to know what happens next, don’t ask me, or anyone else for that matter, because it’s all speculation and it’s mainly all wrong – just wait for it to happen.
*The Arab media says that there were at least a million there but my general rule of thumb is to divide any “Arabic numeral” by four.
My formula has proven pretty accurate – an opposition MP said in parliament that a hundred thousand protestors had gathered today, whereas the Daily Star put the number at around twenty five thousand.
**Years ago, a cousin of mine visiting Lebanon for the first time remarked that he was amazed that there were politicians from all across the sectarian spectrum at a social function we were attending.
I told him that they were all in it together.
The people at the top of the cedar are, like people at the top anywhere, more or less united - divided only when they disagree on how to divide the spoils.
Although Lebanese are essentially ethnically homogenous, Lebanon is one of the most multicultural countries on earth.
On top of its cosmopolitan aspect (you can buy national newspapers in three languages at a village newsstand), you have compartmentalized confessional communities living in semi-autonomy (one’s religion is one’s nationality here).
The Maronite lives as a Maronite, the Druze lives as a Druze, the Sunni lives as a Sunni, the Shiite lives as a Shiite etc - all with their own separate personal status laws (regarding marriage, divorce, inheritance etc).
And this is all within the same ethnic group!
This might sound strange coming from an Australian – Australia being one of the most multicultural countries in the world – but the difference is that Australia is a melting pot that groups all nationalities under an overall Australian umbrella whereas Lebanon is a furnace the fires all its communities into permanent cantons.
What might sound even stranger than that is that Lebanon is a very democratic country - in the sense that there is far greater interaction and personal contact on a grassroots level between the governors and the governed here than probably any country in the world.
And that’s all that matters here – your local member of parliament may have done absolutely nothing for you but may have personally presented his condolences to you at a time of bereavement (or sent a representative) thus you will vote for him.
I’ve tagged along on campaign visits to villages where people didn’t even broach the subject of a candidate’s politics but remonstrated with him for not paying his condolences to them when so and so died.
It also works the other way around – the lowest person in the country can go and pay his respects to the highest person in the country.
Quite literally the lowest person in the country – I saw a midget amongst the tens of thousands of people who filed past to pay their condolences to the Hariri family (a lot of it was broadcast live on television).
Although people were repeatedly urged to walk past and just do the shorthand greeting (touching your right hand to your forehead and then tapping it on your chest) for the sake of processing the huge numbers, said midget insisted on shaking hands with and kissing the family members.
And he didn’t bring a ladder with him – they had to stoop down to shake his hand and kiss him.
A great example of grassroots democracy in Lebanon and a great example of the modesty and outreach of the martyr Rafic Hariri and his family.
Protocol and form are very important in this society – I remember watching the news with some people who commented that a particular politician shown receiving people “doesn’t know how to shake hands”.