Elections, Lebanon, Reform

Tunisia’s Upcoming Elections: Lessons for Lebanon?

Lebanon's various electoral maps (courtesy of IFES, see report below)

The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) has published an excellent primer on Tunisia’s upcoming elections. It is succinct, well-written, and will bring you up to speed on all of the most important players, issues, and questions in about twenty minutes. I highly recommend checking it out (download the PDF here).

Speaking of elections, Lebanon’s Interior Minister Marwan Charbel unveiled a new electoral draft law a couple of days ago. It contains several positive elements, such as a 30% gender quota, pre-printed ballots, and an open-list proportional representation system, but disappoints in other ways — several small districts, no independent supervisory commission.

The big debate over the law will focus on the question of how many electoral districts to include. Unless the districts are large, proportional representation will not generate the major benefit that its advocates ascribe to it, namely a diverse representation of political parties. For some background reading on the subject of electoral districting in Lebanon, here is another excellent primer, this one by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (whose work we have highlighted on many occasions).

Thoughts on electoral reform issues are welcome in the comment section.
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70 thoughts on “Tunisia’s Upcoming Elections: Lessons for Lebanon?

  1. Can anyone explain to me in clear language why was Nabatieyeh made a separate Mohafazah?

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 14, 2011, 4:20 pm
  2. In the new law or the old?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 14, 2011, 4:37 pm
  3. Ghassan,
    Frankly,and simply;Berri wanted a Mohafaza where its capital is a Shiia city.Although Tyre is a larger city than Nabateieh,It didn’t make sense to make Tyre the Mohafaza for geographic reasons, Nabateieh was the winner.lol
    BTW,He tried to move the Qadhaa from Bint jbeil to His home town of Tibneen,But He could not pull it off since Bint Jbeil was under occupation,and it would have looked really bad.

    Posted by prophett | October 14, 2011, 4:41 pm
  4. QN,
    Not electorally but administratively.

    Those of the readers who like things Lebanese or of a Lebanese origin and who happen to live in NYC or are planning a visit to the city should see “Sons of Prophet” at the Roundabout. The play is written by a 31 year old Stephen Karam who was born in the US and is being billed as a very promising playright. The play is about a Dwayheh family …
    (Just in case anyone is wondering, I have never met or even heard of the guy until the NYT had a half page positive write up 4-5 days ago)

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 14, 2011, 4:58 pm
  5. Ilias,

    What do think of Romney appointing Waled Farris as his adviser on the Mideast and what will the effect of the status of the Syrian Christians, do you have any thoughts.

    Posted by Norman | October 14, 2011, 5:51 pm
  6. 3Ammo Norman

    I wrote a post about Walid Phares a couple days ago, if you check the main page.


    I see. The governorate is not limited to Nabatiyyeh; that’s just the center of it.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 14, 2011, 7:07 pm
  7. QN,
    I find this fascinating. Very few peopleseem to realize that Lebanon is made up of six Mohafazaat and not five. (Prophet and I seem to be the exception:-)

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 14, 2011, 7:16 pm
  8. It’s not just Nabatieh that’s a ‘secret muhafazah’; there’s some law somewhere that has made Akkar one too, while Baalbek & Hermel are reportedly also gathered together as a muhafazah as well as an electoral district, but I have been told that these decisions have never been implemented. So it’s 6 muhafazat. Or perhaps 7. Or perhaps 8. While most people think it’s 5. The real question: does it matter? Are muhafazat only just there for putting placemen as governors and for pretty mapmaking. I mean, do they actually do anything?

    It’s time there was some clarification on how Lebanon’s administrative divisions are drawn. And perhaps a rethink too.

    Posted by Qaimaqam | October 15, 2011, 1:38 am
  9. Qaimaqam
    You are right that potentially there are eight Muhafazzat but the plans to separate Akkar and Baalkech-Hermel have not been acted upon.
    Nabbateyah was established in 1975 and it makes no sense since it looks like a bite out of the South. Was it created only to give Beri more prestige and power? He probably is the one who appoints the Muhaffez and all the other officials in that region.Was it created to be a fiefdom?:-)

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 15, 2011, 4:07 pm
  10. Ghassan,
    If I’m not mistaken,Nabateih governorate was officially established in the early nineties,right after the Taeif Accord became Lebanon’s new constitution.

    Posted by prophett | October 15, 2011, 7:35 pm
  11. And yes,Berri approved all officials appointed in that governoate,until He Had to share with HA ,Aoun (in christians areas),and Jumlat(in druze areas)

    Posted by prophett | October 15, 2011, 7:40 pm
  12. Just bite the bullet and make Lebanon one district as we did in Israel. It is the best way to stop civil war in the future. Yes, you get weak governments and many parties, but all people feel represented and no votes are lost. Who needs strong governments anyway?

    Posted by AIG | October 15, 2011, 8:38 pm
  13. @ Gus, I saw the Prophet thingy during its Boston stint last Spring. It sucked big time then. I’m sure it still sucks in the City now. I have a soft spot for the Dwaihies and the Karams (specially when the latter were still Sahyouns), but, sorry to say, the play sucked big phallus, and the title was misleading and a low blow, It cheapens Gibran, and was a big disappointment for a lot South-End old-timers of my generation to whom the title meant something else entirely.

    Posted by LNH | October 16, 2011, 12:39 am
  14. @ Prophett
    Ghassan Karam is actually right. The governorate of Nabatieh was established in 1975, but only implemented after the war. The official reason was political. But the actual reason was to bring the number of governorates to a an even number in order to reaffirm the parity rule between Muslim and Christians that was established in the public administration by Fuad Chehab.

    And as you said, we do have 8 official governates today… but two are still waiting to be detached from a larger administrative entity.

    Posted by worriedlebanese | October 16, 2011, 1:20 am
  15. LNH,
    I will let you know my views when I see it. I might wait until the previews are over though.
    It is nice to hear from you again. I did enjoy the exchange that you had with QN. It did remind me of a few posts that we had on the topic 5-6 years ago. It is interesting to note the advances that have been accomplished by the colloquial over that short period of time, it strikes me that most of the successful advertising campaigns; print and visual, are built on colloquialism.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 16, 2011, 10:12 am
  16. Could this be true:

    Didn’t they discuss the issue with him before giving him the job?

    Posted by AIG | October 16, 2011, 8:04 pm
  17. AIG,
    I do not think that this can be done without disolving the cabinet. If that is the case, which I doubt, because it is obvious that HA and its allies need the votes of the Tripolitans and those of Jumblatt otherwise they cannot prevail.
    If they decide to let the cabinet resign then that implies that they will have decided to resume their old policy of making it difficult for anyone else to govern
    BTW, I have been anticipating this problem since day one because the way that cabinets are formed in Lebanon is to gtreat each cabinet minister as a mini prime minister. The premiership does not have the power to dictate an agenda and to choose members that are willing to serve at the behest of the PM. a cabinet of all chiefs and no indians cannot function effectively.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 16, 2011, 9:35 pm
  18. Ghassan,
    The Mikati cabinet was allowed to be formed because of the deteriorating situation in syria, and it will survive as long as Bashar survives.
    Except for Aoun and his self interest,non of M8 component were eager for a cabinet to be formed after the ouster of Hariri.
    A caretaker cabinet will do in worst case scenario,where He can still fund programs in Tripoli in order to maintain the support of his followers.
    If a vote on STL financing is to take a place .He’d please both sides where he can show the west and M14 that He tried his best to fulfill his promise,and at the same time M8 will succeed in blocking the financing of the STL.Lebanese are very creative when it comes to justification of their actions and failure
    But the key is still Syria,and its situation.

    Posted by prophett | October 16, 2011, 11:39 pm
  19. I’m all for one district across all of Lebanon. All these “adminsitrative divisions” do absolutely nothing positive. Their sole purpose is to add to the corruption and feudal make up of the system (and yes, i DID use the word “Feudal”, QN).

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 17, 2011, 1:10 pm
  20. Lebanon is badly in need of an “occupy Wall Street ” movement. The wages are being raised by 40 % ; which might still be rescinded; in order to become $466 per month.
    Yet a restaurant in Gefinor Center is advertising to the general public a special affordable dinner for $46.0 per person. I imagine that this excludes the VAT and the tip) . Yes a couple should have a dinner that will set them back by more than a weeks wages!!!
    Lebanon will eventually implode. The country cannot be run forever for the benefit of the top 5-10% and the wealthy Arab tourists..

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 17, 2011, 1:24 pm
  21. AIG,

    The common objection to one national district is that voters lose the sense of having “their own representative” in government. With single-member majoritarian districts, as In the US for instance, candidates compete with each other to win over the consituents of a district by trying to do the best job they can for that district (so the theory goes). They rise and fall based on their performance as judged by their district constituents.

    When one’s constituency is the entire nation rather than the people of a specific district, you lose this relationship between the MP and their local supporters. Of course, many would argue that this is precisely the relationship that we need to disrupt in Lebanon! Still, I think there are legitimate reasons to carefully consider the national district before jumping right into it. I have an unfinished post on this that I’ll try to publish tomorrow…

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 17, 2011, 2:14 pm
  22. On a personal level I have always expressed my preference for a single member majoritarian district because of the reasons spelled out by QN above plus the fact that I do believe that a single member majoritarian district will open the door to independents and could also break the back of sectarianism.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 17, 2011, 2:30 pm
  23. QN,

    Well, the theory only encourages pork barrel politics. Lebanon and Israel together can fit tens of times into Texas anyway. I bet there are congressional districts with the geographical size of Lebanon in the US (of course there are, in Wyoming and Alaska the entire state is one congressional district).

    What is much more important is to let people have a peaceful outlet for their political views. A minority that is geographically divided may not be able to elect its representatives into the parliament. That can only lead to the radicalization of the minority. On the other hand, even a small party can punch more than its weight if it is smart enough and knows how to play coalition politics. For a country like Lebanon the one district system is a must in my opinion. It will also encourage schisms in the bigger parties thus making everybody all around feel better.

    Posted by AIG | October 17, 2011, 3:38 pm
  24. When one’s constituency is the entire nation rather than the people of a specific district, you lose this relationship between the MP and their local supporters.Of course, many would argue that this is precisely the relationship that we need to disrupt in Lebanon!


    This is exactly my point.

    Lebanon is small enough that comparing it to the USA to talk about “local representation” makes no sense whatsoever.
    Mayors and municipalities are there to administer the local affairs of specific communities.
    Central law-making should be done at a nationwide level and should not take a backseat to local-based affiliations in a country this small.
    SPECIALLY if we ever want to break out of the shackles of sectarianism and feudalism.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 17, 2011, 5:35 pm
  25. Let us not rush to judgement saying that A is good and B is bad. Each has some positives and some negatives. Large districts make it possible to dismiss smaller areas completely. In that regard a 25,000 voter district is ideal because it will allow each representative to get to know her constituents and to try and live up to the campaign promises. No district is too small to be taken seriously. In a single large district , on the other hand, one can potentially dismiss the views of the small peripheral areas by concentrating on the large ones. In that case Beirut becomes Lebanon.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 17, 2011, 7:44 pm
  26. Just to play devil’s advocate… I don’t think population size has anything to do with the salience of local representation.

    The following is a list of European countries around the same size as Lebanon. As you can see, none of them has a single national district; they all have multiple districts. Just because Lebanon is a relatively small country does not mean that it is “small enough” to forget about the idea of local representation. The issue is more complex than that.

    Albania: 3.6 million (PR, 36 districts)
    Croatia: 4.6 million (PR, 12 districts)
    Denmark: 5.6 million (PR, 10 districts)
    Finland: 5.4 million (PR, 15 districts)
    Ireland: 4.4 million (Single-transferable vote, 43 districts)
    Lithuania: 3.4 million (71 single-member districts, 70 nation-wide PR)
    Norway: 4.9 million (PR, 19 districts)

    Secondly, what proof is there that a nation-wide PR system would encourage de-confessionalism? The big sectarian parties that exist today would still exist in a nation-wide PR model. How would a new electoral system change that? If anything, there’s a risk that these parties will become more xenophobic and sectarian in their rhetoric because they won’t have to pander to majoritarian multi-confessional constituencies. The Sunni parties might simply try to dominate the Sunni community, the Shi`i parties will vie for the Shi`a, etc.

    All this is to say that things are much more complicated than one might think…

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 17, 2011, 8:38 pm
  27. On a slightly different subject, I noticed that Tunisia has plans to have a specific number of parliamentary seats reserved for candidates who represent their expatriates abroad. Some other countries have such a system in place as well, and I think it would be worth it for Lebanon to explore… might be a good compromise between no overseas voting and a total free for-all.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 17, 2011, 8:44 pm
  28. The Problem with us is that all our parties are personality parties not issue oriented parties .

    About the expat, their strength is not in real votes but with money they contribute and affect the election,

    Posted by Norman | October 17, 2011, 8:54 pm
  29. I highly recommend this piece at Foreign Policy’s Mideast channel about the upcoming elections in Tunisia.

    Not to harp on this theme, but it is clear from the example of Tunisia that there are many sources of social divisiveness in Middle Eastern countries besides sectarianism. Tunisia is 98% Sunni, and yet the country still faces “political polarization, frustrated popular hopes…deep societal divides… deep fissures in Tunisian society…many different, and often mutually exclusive, views on the future of their country, etc.”

    Why is this the case? Are Tunisians also “feudal”? Or is there some other cavalier term to describe their inability to just grow up and be all modern and democratic like everyone else? How about “medieval”? Or my favorite from our previous discussions: “a degenerate populate”?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 17, 2011, 8:58 pm
  30. Social divisiveness is not a synonym for feudal or to be more appropriate neo-feudalism. If it looks like a duck and squawks like a duck then it is a duck 🙂 A political system , like that in many parts of Lebanon is often described as feudal since there are traditional leaders whose judgement is never questioned and who inherit their power i.e. they expect blind allegiance ,and they get it, from a very high proportion of the residents in an area. Actually the allegiance is so blind that it does remind one of the lord serf relationship. If that describes Tunis then it would not be a stretch to say that it is political feudalism.

    “. The second legacy was the introduction of political feudalism in the political system. This tendency of political elites to seek access to state institutions and wealth under the disguise of serving community interests, can be credited in part for the growing intensity of sectarian politics that would ultimately bring about the collapse of the “Lebanese miracle”. Marie joelle Zahar

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 17, 2011, 9:59 pm
  31. “Feudalism” may be a little imprecise, but how about authoritarianism and clientilism? I don’t know a whole lot about Tunisian politics but I’d guess, looking warily at my copy of Orientalism, that some of its political complexity stems from the traditional politicking, whereby power and patronage go hand in hand, dependent as much on concrete familial and personal relationships as on abstract, issues-based representation.

    Posted by Jonathan | October 17, 2011, 11:07 pm
  32. “A political system , like that in many parts of Lebanon is often described as feudal since there are traditional leaders whose judgement is never questioned and who inherit their power i.e. they expect blind allegiance ,and they get it, from a very high proportion of the residents in an area. Actually the allegiance is so blind that it does remind one of the lord serf relationship.”

    What about the very substantial numbers of people who don’t feel blind allegiance to a “traditional leader”? Are those people somehow not feudal? How did they manage to escape the clutches of the Middle Ages?

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 18, 2011, 5:25 am
  33. Jonathan

    That strikes me as a much more sensible and useful vocabulary than “feudalism” and “medieval”…

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 18, 2011, 5:26 am
  34. QN,
    I don’t think that we are going to go very far in this but the answer to your question is simple. The relationship that binds some to others is an attitude, a view of reality. Education is often the determining factor.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 18, 2011, 11:46 am
  35. GK,

    The determining factor I believe is actual experience. What changed the attitudes of Europeans? It was WWII, not education. The Lebanese civil war is still in the minds of most Lebanese. You either have to show people concretely that an alternative system works well, or you have to make them suffer so much under the old system so that any alternative would do. Otherwise, there are usually too many vested interests that stand in the way of peaceful change. Apparently, the Lebanese have not suffered enough yet under the current system.

    Posted by AIG | October 18, 2011, 12:16 pm
  36. Ghassan

    Yes, we probably won’t get anywhere with this discussion. I believe that the dynamic you are describing (i.e. blind allegiance sworn to traditional leaders) is more of a caricature than an accurate representation.

    Are there still people who chant (with no trace of irony) “Allah, al-Ouwet, al-7akim w bass!”, or “Allah, Nasrallah, w al-Da7iyeh killa!”? Yes, plenty. But there are many more who don’t feel blind allegiance to any political figure, and yet will not hesitate to support certain parties in order to partake of the benefits of patronage politics. You don’t have to be a dyed-in-the-wool Hariri-lover in order to take his handouts. You might be agnostic about the Future Movement, or think that it’s better than the alternatives, or that your hospital bills have to be paid one way or another. After all, ordinary people are opportunistic, just like politicians, and in most cases I think that the relationship between the two sides is driven by more mundane calculations (occasionally spiced by sectarian sentiments, perhaps) than blind allegiance.

    Why make a big deal out of this point? Because if what I’m saying is correct, then political behavior can be moderated by changes to the ways that goods and services are apportioned in Lebanon. If what you (and BV) are saying is correct, then there’s no hope of moderating political behavior without some kind of mysterious spiritual reformation in the souls of Lebanon’s feudal masses, who blindly follow their leaders and do whatever they say. Just not convincing to me…

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 18, 2011, 12:38 pm
  37. QN says:

    What about the very substantial numbers of people who don’t feel blind allegiance to a “traditional leader”? Are those people somehow not feudal? How did they manage to escape the clutches of the Middle Ages?

    Substantial numbers?
    Strange, howcome I haven’t seen these “substantial numbers” vote in some independent candidates during the previous parliamentary elections?
    Howcome I haven’t seem them mobilize “substantial” sizes when it came to protesting or marching against sectarianism or corruption?

    I remain convinced that even though a large number of average Lebanese (as opposed to card-carrying party members) talk the talk of anti-sectarianism and anti-feudalism, but when push comes to shove, and it’s time to put their money where their mouth is, they fall back on the old sectarian loyalties. When it’s time to vote, they still cast their votes for the traditional zu3ama.

    What people say publically and how they feel privately are 2 different things. I can’t begin to tell you how many people I’ve talked to who have no real party affiliation, and who start with very progressive talk of “sectarianism is bad. we should get rid of it. etc.” only to degenrate (once you get to know them better) into “but the Shia are taking over Beirut. We have to stick together.” or “We christians are getting phased out of the middle east, we gotta stick together” (or any number of such rationales).

    Look no further than the relatively newest political movement on the scene. One that did not come from an older generation of feudal zaim: The FPM. These are people, usually well educated. Anything but medieval. With big talk of anti-sectarianism and anti-corruption. Who followed a military man with no feudal background originally.
    And look at how that turned out over the years (compared to the ideals that brought his followers together in the 89-90 years).
    Again, big talk of secularism and anti-corruption among the followers. But once you dig a bit under the surface, it turns out that these very anti-sectarian people (in principle) still have that primal “Christians are being wiped out” fear bringing them together.

    I still maintain that your “substantial numbers” are actually a VERY small minority when it comes to actual action.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 18, 2011, 12:47 pm
  38. BV

    My last comment to Ghassan addresses some of your points (regarding why people continue to vote for certain parties.) And you may have missed my other comment (#26) which makes swiss cheese out of your argument about voting districts and small populations. 😉

    As regards your anecdotal claims about what most Lebanese really feel deep down, I have no way of responding to that. You may be right. But I think it’s still a far cry from “blind allegiance” to say that sectarian prejudice and paranoia still exists in Lebanon. For that matter, racism and Islamophobia are widespread in the West; that doesn’t mean that North American and European societies are too divisive to function democratically.

    And with respect to the FPM, I actually think that the situation is more complex. Yes, they have been very cynical with their sectarian rhetoric, and I’ve been extremely critical of that. But their alliance with Hizbullah is a major piece of evidence demonstrating that sectarian divisions are hardly an effective bulwark against run-of-the-mill politicking. If the FPM politicians or their constituents really had a hard-wired fear of the Shi`a (as you’re suggesting that most Lebanese do, even the seemingly secular ones) they wouldn’t have taken such an unorthodox step. Aoun gambled that whatever sectarian Christian support he would lose because of his move would be more than made up for by the latitude gained from his alliance with Syria, etc.

    Anyway… interesting discussion.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 18, 2011, 1:04 pm
  39. What do people in the US vote for?

    They vote for the candidate they believe has their best personal interest in mind.

    Lebanese are no different.

    Candidates in the US have been selling themselves out to the corporate money machine for decades and why should little Lebanon, Syria and the rest of the “little” nations be punished for following our big American brother’s corporate suit?

    Posted by R2D2 | October 18, 2011, 2:09 pm
  40. There is a stark contrast between the Tunisians who are electing a constitutional assembly in order to develop a political foundation for their communal interests and what they consider to be social goods and the way QN and other commentators are describing the Lebanese as self interested and utilitarian individuals who make rational choices! There is little difference between blind faith in zaims and in myths (whether religious or ideological) and blind faith in personal interests and utility when it comes to politics. There is no political community if there is no real or material foundation for the social or communal good (“general will”, the “commons”, etc.) and for processes of negotiating shared meanings and values (freedom, justice, etc.). So it seems that we all live in the Hobbesian pre-political world, whether we are in the US or Lebanon, and only a revolution can save us! But the revolution does not serve economic or individual interests, and in a world that only acknowledges the reality of such interests, the revolution is impossible. How different is that worldview from the feodal pre-democratic and pre-enlightenment view?

    Posted by parrhesia | October 18, 2011, 2:41 pm
  41. QN,

    I wasn’t necessarily tying the 2 issues together (electoral districting and sectarianism).
    The electoral district issue is debatable. And we’ve been debating it.
    I still think that a single-district would help fight sectarianism. Of course, there are downsides as Ghassan pointed out.

    On an unrelated note, I was pointing out the – as you rightly called it – anecdotal evidence of the Lebanese being sectarian at heart.
    I believe that part is irrefutable. It does not require one to see in the hearts of the Lebanese to guess at this.
    One has merely but to observe ACTIONS (which are scientifically measurable, in a general sense).
    I took exception to the words “substantial numbers” in your comment for the simple fact that there is ZERO proof of such numbers.
    As I said, look at actions: How many Lebanese citizens came out to vote in the last elections?
    What percentage of those voted for non-feudal, non-sectarian, non-established candidates?
    Even more to the point of your comment: How many voted for an anti-sectarian platform? Was there even a platform to vote for? If not, why not?
    Where are these substantial numbers you speak of?
    Other than seeming “substantial” in salons, over a cup of coffee, I haven’t seen them.
    What I have seen are substantial numbers of people who turn up for feudal and sectarian reasons, be it to vote, or in general to support someone (even if they are not “card-carrying members”).

    How many Shia who actually came out to vote, voted against HA?
    How many druze who actually came out to vote voted against Jumblatt and Arslan?
    you get the idea…

    There are your SUBSTANTIAL numbers.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 18, 2011, 2:42 pm
  42. QN,
    I keep saying that I am not going to comment on this issue again and then I go ahead and comment:-) Sorry about that. I guess neither side is making a good case of presenting its view.
    You refer to those who seek patronage or money for their votes as an example of what I called feudalistic. Far from it. Those who want to flip flop, for any reason, are not feudalistic because they do not exhibit the blind faith and allegiance to a person based on nothing else but his family name and parentage.
    Jumblat, Salam, Arslan, Karami, Gemayel… do not need to be elected to exercise power. They inherit power and a blind constituency. Once that blind constituency fades away then Lebanon would have taken a giant step forward towards responsible governance. It would be a historic accomplishment if Timor does not inherit a sect, political part and wealth from his father. wealth should be enough. The same would be true if the Karamis, the Gemayels and the Salams would stop running for office and find some other means of productive employment.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 18, 2011, 5:30 pm
  43. R2D2,
    I truly hope that you would not take offense in my saying that your description of the US political system is very superficial.
    Yes people vote for whoever represents their best interests but in general these individual politicians are expected to deliver on their promises.
    Money plays a large game in US elections but only because it is so expensive to get a message across. 2012 promises to be the most expensive campaign yet, at $6 billion. That is an awful lot of money but not as large as you might think. Proportionately that is equal to $70-75 million in Lebanon. If one is to believe the press accounts Lebanese campaigns cost around a $1 billion even though TV campaigns are no where as expensive as they are in the US and even though we do not have Presidential elections.
    BTW, I am sure that there are some instances of blind support but that is not the overwhelming case. Campaigns are waged and rationalized only because people switch their allegiance often based on the campaign platform of candidates and their style:-) It is true that one ends up with the best candidates that money can buy but usually these candidates do not have the luxury of blind unquestioned support. Voters have demonstrated the ability to be selective and to hold office holders responsible for their performance/lack of performance.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | October 18, 2011, 5:42 pm
  44. One important element of feudalism – and which perpetuated feudalism – was the services for resources and protection equation. The serf lord provided protection (and possibly land, hence money), and the vassal provided resources, services, and importantly loyalty… In Lebanon the sectarian entities provide protection against the perceived (and real) physical threat from other sects while the constituents follow the path charted by the leaders without question.

    I think that the structural relationship in broad terms is much the same (i.e., loyalty for protection) which is why Ghassan and BV call Lebanon feudalistic. On the other hand there are no fiefdoms (strictly) and the means of production is not land, i.e., agriculture – hence QN’s objection.

    That said, it is not clear to me how this cycle can be broken unless the Lebanese somehow realize that they don’t need the protection of a leader from their own sect against the threat of the other sects. After all, sectarian threat (real or perceived) transcends economics and so the loyalty of a Christian businessman or industrialist will not go (even temporarily) to a Sunni politician, and vice versa.

    I think that the cycle in Europe was broken with the advent of a different means of production, rendering land-owners useless to the general public and empowering businessmen and industrialists. In Lebanon, this type of disruption does not seem possible because the method of control is not land ownership…

    In other words, it is not important what one calls the leader/follower relationship in Lebanon but it is important to understand how it can be broken.

    Posted by R | October 18, 2011, 7:46 pm
  45. Ghassan,

    When a central able bodied non-sectarian government can guarantee the safety and welfare of all its citizens, perhaps there wont be youngsters like Taymour inhereting a sect.
    Until then, sadly, Za3eemism, is a necessary evil for a lot of under privelaged, powerless people who still have the civil war and more recently May 8th events in their minds.
    Besides protection, theres a whole host of other issues including employment, education, medicine etc that the Zaeem offers.
    The people see him as a service dispenser as much as a fuedal lord.
    In the case of Joumblatt, I know countless Druzes who have “disowned” him { emphasis on disowned } because of his latest flip flop and lack of services rendered. When Taymour takes the plate, I can be certain the Druzes will look wearily and indifferently upon him hoping that he does his minimum { Wajbet} to ensure their protection and welfare.
    Ultimately though, knowing the Druzes, there isnt a grouping of people who want desperately a non confessional system in Lebanon and the region to shake off the ” minority” label, and in a hostile environment, the term: Druze , off their I.D. cards where one cannot be judged on what they believe, where theyre from, etc.
    Until the day comes when that happens, the Zaeem will always be a necessary evil.

    Posted by Maverick | October 18, 2011, 11:54 pm
  46. Lessons for Lebanon? How do you figure QN? There’s almost no comparison between the two countries. Tunis is civilized while Lebanon rotten to the core sectarian and armed head case that constantly swivels with the wind direction…

    Let’s see what Lebanon has to deal with before we can talk about a semi democratic election.


    1. Freedom of choice
    2. Guns and more guns.
    3. The HA statelet within Lebanon
    4. One million Palestinians…armed with gangs to defend Palestine from Bekaa and Tripoli and Damour…
    5. 500,000 to a million Syrians(in Lebanon as workers or living illegally…WTH they own the country according to Bashar’s assertions)…
    6. 200,000 to 300,000 “domestics’ (Filipinos, Ethiopians, Sri lankans etc..etc…) along with “others”
    7. The land being owned by a few who don’t even live in Lebanon…Be that Gulf/Iranian money.
    8. Government “employs” thousands of ghost workers that are patronage from the mafiosi bosses…
    9. Christians of FPM still using the Salafi/palestinian tawteen excuse as a fear factor…and hatred of LF
    10. Sunnis and Shias using each other’s fears of assimilation.
    11. Druze singing their own tune…

    I would guesstimate that at least 60% of the payroll is through Iranian & Saudi $$$ Flowing in through HA’s and FM’s “charitable” endeavors as well as the Lebanese “state” institutions ghost workers…

    There is no Lebanese individual thinking. It is all a hoax. It is typical of Lebanese to see this mirage….That Lebanon is/was free and best place to live in harmony. All the time it has been nothing but a patchwork of communities with civil strife happening constantly through its tortuous 68 years of so called ‘independence”…

    I think I rambled on too long. Sorry for the rant.

    Posted by danny | October 19, 2011, 9:41 am
  47. Thanks to everyone for taking time out of their busy schedules to beat this dead horse with me.

    Oddly enough, this is all very useful for the project that I’m working on at Stanford. Helps to have smart people disagree with you on a daily basis (even if they’re wrong, of course.)


    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 19, 2011, 9:45 am
  48. On an unrelated note. From the “respect for the law” department.
    Why is no one calling for heads to roll on the matter of these kidnappings of Syrian citizens in Lebanon, by ISF people, in conjunction (allegedly) with the Syrian embassy?
    Would this kind of crap be tolerated in any civilized country?
    Has anyone been arrested?
    Where’s the outrage? When the investigation clearly accuses a certain group of individuals of kidnapping. Are these individuals still walking free? Do they still have their jobs in the ISF?
    Why isn’t the interior minister being questioned by parliament on this matter?
    Why isn’t the Syrian ambassador to Beirut being summoned for explanations?

    Don’t bother answering the rhetorical questions…

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 19, 2011, 1:38 pm
  49. Money makes the world go round …

    Love makes the ride worthwhile.

    Posted by R2D2 | October 19, 2011, 2:51 pm
  50. BV

    Simple. The answer to all of your questions is “because Lebanon is feudal”.


    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 19, 2011, 2:56 pm
  51. Message #49 is, off course, a purely Nordic computer generated deduction based on how I, R2D2, have been programed to comprehend temperamental human life on earth.

    Posted by R2D2 | October 19, 2011, 3:10 pm
  52. It would do my databank a lot of good if humans could explain to me what defines being a Lebanese.

    Posted by R2D2 | October 19, 2011, 3:26 pm
  53. From the various online sources and databanks available to me, I have been able to deduce that Lebanese passport holders have absolutely no clue what their passport means and have had to make every available excuse on earth to explain personally they are innocent of it … for whatever reason they are guilty of possessing and having no better choice but to hold onto it.

    Posted by R2D2 | October 19, 2011, 3:51 pm
  54. QN,

    Mockery aside. That particular question had nothing to do with feudalism.
    Rather, the lack of respect for the rule of law.

    Although, the ISF officer in question is the son of none other than General Ali Hajj (former Lahoud crony and member of the “4 generals”).
    It would probably be a good bet that this fellow got his job and position thanks to his father, back in the day.

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 19, 2011, 4:31 pm
  55. Lol, never knew a word like “fuedal” can tickle someone’s fancy so much. QN is running with it while giggling to himself.
    It might catch on…” Dude, that is so fuedal…”

    Posted by Maverick | October 19, 2011, 5:40 pm
  56. The question is: Why QN is so miffed with being feudal. 😛

    Posted by danny | October 19, 2011, 6:08 pm
  57. BV,

    I get you man. People are being so flippant about the kidnappings it is totally abhorrent. Who dares? Nassrallah or Aoun will be ready to cut off your tongue!
    …and QN is talking about a democratic Lebanon or “elections”?? This is a total crock…The problem with Lebanese is they don’t give a rat’s ass about human rights or the law. They care about a sheesha or which restaurants or bars have just opened up although most can not even spend one night a month in those establishments! I have done this before and I challenge any visitor of this blog to try as well…Ask a Lebanese who resides in Lebanon about their retirement planning….See if they won’t laugh you off!

    Posted by danny | October 19, 2011, 6:17 pm
  58. Danny, retirement planning is simple in Lebanon. Have kids, educate them, send them abroad and bank on the remittances.
    In other brighter news, the FPM is finally going on the offensive with the corruption file. Unfortunately, they are only doing it as a tit for tat exchange with the PSP boys. Will see how long the exchange lasts. Perhaps this will lead to something positive. http://www.naharnet.com/stories/en/17999-fpm-psp-ministers-rattle-sabers-over-controversial-issues

    Also on the corruption front, what happened to the 7M USD Walid Bey brought home from Libya for supposed oil consultations? Did he declare it at the airport? I wonder what the tax liability is on that… (Can’t find the link on naharnet anymore)
    In other news, please disregard the previous two paragraphs because the source is Naharnet. After 4 years of living in the land of (sour?) milk and (rotten?) honey I can now conclude that everything published on that site is pure drivel and has no basis in reality as seen on the ground. It is not a news source. Unfortunately, there is no publication in Lebanon that is an actual news source. They are all the equivalent of Fox News. Political mouthpieces disguised as news organizations.
    OK, back to serving my feudal lord (is it Aoun or Geagea or Gemayel?) Shit, did I just give away that I am a Christian serf. If so, who is the feudal lord of the atheists – perhaps the head of SSNP?

    Posted by Johnny Seikaly | October 20, 2011, 6:21 am
  59. …From all reports

    Another one bites the dust!!!
    3a2bellak ya Bashar!! 😀

    Posted by danny | October 20, 2011, 9:30 am
  60. What defines leadership to the Lebanese populace?

    Posted by R2D2 | October 20, 2011, 4:18 pm
  61. Who and what defines Universal Human Rights amongst Arabs? God … or humankind ?

    Posted by R2D2 | October 20, 2011, 4:26 pm
  62. Today’s bit of “Seriously?” news:

    MTV station reported on Friday that Hezbollah threatened the residents of the upper Metn town of Tarshish after they had prevented the Shiite militant organization from installing its own private telecommunications network in the town.

    MTV added that members of Hezbollah, who were installing a telecommunications network belonging to the party, were stopped by the municipality of Tarshish.

    A delegation from Hezbollah arrived in Tarshish and met with the municipality to discuss the matter, the report said, but no agreement was reached

    “They previously told us that because of the telecommunications network, the May 7, 2008 events took place… and today the same thing might happen again,” an unidentified member of Tarshish’s municipality quoted the Hezbollah delegation as saying during the meeting, according to MTV.

    The nerve on these people!
    And then, what is there to “discuss”? Why is there even a question of a delegation meeting about this? The municipality is the legal representative of the town. There’s nothing to discuss here.
    And don’t even get me started on the threatening verbiage quoted in the last paragraph.
    When will the rule of law and respect of the state’s institutions become the norm?

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 21, 2011, 8:09 pm
  63. “When will the rule of law and respect of the state’s institutions become the norm?”

    What a naive question. Obviously, the concept of rule of law is incompatible with the feudal mindset of a degenerate populace.


    Seriously, though, BV (and danny, and all the other feudalists out there). Why do you guys bother following events in Lebanon, let alone getting all worked up about bad behavior? If there’s no hope for the place, as you say, then why not change the channel and move on?

    Genuinely curious.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 21, 2011, 8:19 pm
  64. I’ve asked myself that question many times.
    I don’t have an answer. But my theory is that it’s some kind of nostalgia to the land we were born in.
    There’s a very strong bond between a man or woman, and the place of their birth (or more appropriately, the environment they grew up in) that seems to transcend rationality (at least in my experience).
    I don’t quite know how to put it into words, but I’m sure you all here know what I’m talking about.
    I think it’s built in to our human nature, our collective DNA, if you will. Sort of like a blood bond.
    It’s the same reason it is very hard for people to turn their back on family, no matter how dysfunctional.
    Certainly, some people are able to do so. But many are not.
    How many people speak of a sibling or parent who are alcoholics, or drug addicted, or degenerate gamblers, or simply a complete jackass. But that one can’t bring oneself to cut all contact with?
    It’s kinda like that…

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 21, 2011, 8:36 pm
  65. BV,

    Quite amazing that you were able to overcome that blood bond and shed your feudalism.

    Walla bravo.


    Posted by Qifa Nabki | October 21, 2011, 8:43 pm
  66. This post has become “fuedal”

    Posted by Maverick | October 21, 2011, 9:01 pm
  67. PS: I’m glad I’m providing some form of amusement, QN. You must be needing a break from your dissertation work… 🙂

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | October 21, 2011, 9:09 pm
  68. QN,

    I did say that feudal did not necessarily fit the behavior of the current clans. I suggest mafiosi or terrorist or combination of both. I suggest you explain to us how can the Mafiosi clan of Nassraleone push aside the “state” and intimidate people of Tashish. Off course like Arafat; Nassraleone seems in need of a compass to direct him towards Israel!

    You seem to be taking all these HA blatant intimidation as a normal state of affairs! I really don’t know why I should care about Lebanon except the fact that I seem to be a foolish romantic that believes in fairy tales…That Lebanon can become the beautiful princess we all dreamt about in a foolish stupor….instead we have the reality of the ugly frog with warts an all.

    Posted by danny | October 21, 2011, 9:24 pm
  69. Not defending Gadhafi, but am i the only one who found this barbaric behavior of lynching him very disturbing? Weren’t these guys fighting to end the brutal and barbaric ways of Gadhafi and his regime? Only to behave as bad in the end.

    QN- don’t make us go Feudal on you! Time for a new subject.

    Danny- you need to pay me every time you say Nassralleone 🙂

    Posted by Vulcan | October 22, 2011, 3:11 am
  70. Vulcan…Sorry for the trademark infringement. Please don’t overcharge. 😀

    Posted by danny | October 22, 2011, 7:20 am

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