4.12.06

The anti-Sanyura protests and class struggle in Lebanon

Most of the time, Lebanon is portrayed as a sectarian country divided along religious and ehtnic lines and this is true. However, since the reconstruction of the country after the 15 year civil war, a new divide emerged between communities fueled by the increasing debt of the country and the absence of a real economic project for the Lebanese society, both brought by Hariri father who wanted to make Lebanon a country like Monaco or switzerland where Arab gulf states and Saudi Arabia can spend their money, spend, not invest. Consequently, the service sector increased while corruption reached incredible highs inside the state apparatus. An ambitious young professional friend of mine working for an NGO in Beyrouth during the Hariri years when Sanyura used to be minister of finances told me he was offered a high profile job but refused it because the corruption and incompetence in the government would have made any other professional move for him impossible if he would have accepted such a job.

The grim economic situation has reached now Christian communities who were usually relatively wealthy and the new economic divide is helping bridge old religious sectarian divides. Lebanon is traditionally an agrarian country. People possess their land and when they aren't able to have a job and a salary they could at least exploit their land and live in dignity. This is how it used to be. However, shiites were prevented from this dignified life, even before the civil war, due to the Israeli hostilities against Palestinian camps in the south and Israel's frequent invasions of the south since the seventies. Southern Lebanon could not sustain its villagers because of the perpetual state of war against which the Lebanese government did nothing, shiites being poorly represented within the government and the state apparatus. Shiites migrated to Beyrouth's southern suburbs and were the poorest in the country when all other communities enjoyed a relative wealth.

The civil war, its economic impact and the disastrous debt brought by Hariri, whose companies were heavily involved in the reconstruction of downtown Beyrouth, have contributed to the extension of economic distress to Christian communities. When I visited Lebanon in 2005 I was struck by the Disney land character of the new Beyrouth, a well reconstructed area that only the rich can reasonably access. Everything was expansive. I had promised my children, who were visiting for the first time, to take them to one of those ambulant restaurants on the seaside where we used to eat bountiful sandwishes of shawarma and falafel before the war but there was none. We had to walk to Raouché, a popular seaside, also invaded by Saudi money and a movenpick resort, to find only Kaak sellers (Lebanese bread with sesame), but there were no meals to eat on the go and one had to sit inside a restaurant to get some food. Everthing was so expansive, even by Canadian standards. I wondered how could poeople, whose salaries don't match those that are practised in a liberal economy, make ends meet ? I was told that Lebanese were living on their savings, working two to three jobs, borrowing and families were sticking together in a collective sort of household economy.

When we were children, my father used to say that those who did not possess land are those who are poor even if they had big salaries and big money in the bank. This is why, despite us living outside Lebanon for more than twenty years now, we kept the land there, olive orchards land which is being exploited by other people who barely send us olive oil and who keep shrinking our share in the harvest out of greed. We kept the land out of respect for my father. My father used to tell us also that those who sell their land are those who are in great financial need. Even though selling the land and investing this money in the west could have brought us a fortune, we didn't do it out of respect for my father and his values which were and still profound Lebanese values. In 2005, I realised that many people from my village have sold their land in order to send their children to school and universities. The cruel irony in this is that the Lebanese economy, which Hariri built after the civil war and which was not human resources oriented but Las Vegas style oriented, was not able to meet the expectations of young educated Lebanese. Lebanese traditionally value education and higher education and in 2005 I met many young people educated at the university who were desperate because there were no well paid jobs or no jobs at all for them in the country.

This new economic context brought to us by Hariri and his mentors, the Saudis, has managed to install an additional divide in Lebanon, the rich and wealthy on one side and the poor and needy on the other. Lebanon has become a land of opportunity more and more for a restricted oligarchy and much less for the majority of its population. Along these lines, the March 14th movement that installed Sanyura as head of the government is the movement of rich sunnis and christians. Their protest against Syria in 2005 was called the Gucci revolution because women who marched were dressed with couturier wear and accessories and marched with their Sri Lankans maids. The alliance between Christians who support Aoun and the shiites of Hezbollah is the aliance of the disgruntled, of the people for whom the new lebanese economy brought poverty and more uncertainty about the future.

Recently, many analyses start pointing to this fact and to the fact that the Sanyura government and its supporters are treating these protesters with contempt...Read the following links:

Link 1

Link 2

Link 2 has its source in an LATimes article that requires a registration.

9 comments:

annie said...

A very interesting post which taught me a lot about your country. I just linked to you.

Sophia said...

Annie,

you didn't leave a link to your blog. I have a link to one Annie in my blogroll since I dirst started this blog but I don't know if it is the same person. Please leave your link next time.

Thanks for the comment

Behemoth101 said...

All in all, it's a great appraisal.

However, you forgot to mention the capital (and physical flight) of middle and upper-class families with young males to avoid submitting to the mandatory military service requirements.

Sophia said...

Well, for us it wasn't mandatory military service requirements, it was mandatory militia service requirements imposed by the Phalanges, the Gemayel militia. Families who did not submit to this were ostracised and/or punished by having one of them shot by friendly fire...

Behemoth101 said...

"Six of one, half a dozen of the other."

Anonymous said...

Sophia ,

There are several dimensions to the Lebanese struggle and they overlap. The greatest dimension is that of sectarianism. As the class struggle heats up and the feudal order is challenged, the fuedal lords and their clerical partners will resort to sectarian strife to maintain their domination and force their brethern back into the fold.

Lebanon is not a state in the normal sense. It is collection of sects dominated by families and parties. The political order is undergoing a sectarian revolution. One sect ,the Shia, is asking for their rightful share of the pie. The Sunnis fear that any rearrangement will be at their expense since the Christians are unwilling to give up any of their 50% share. That is why there is a constant reference by the beneficiaries of the present order to the Taif accord which slightly rearranged the political order but maintained Sunni Maronite rule.

That is the crux of the problem and we will have perpetual civil wars until the representaional problem is addressed.

I fear that we are all headed for a violent partition of Lebanon.
People are unwilling to compromise and they are talking increasingly of "federalism".

I talked to my cousin in Beirut yesterday and she said that she was just at AUB and that a Shia professor pointed out that professors are huddled in sectarian groups talking about the situation in hushed tones. She complained that her Sunni-Shia marriage is undergoing some strain because of the political situation.
It is obvious that Lebanon is in preparation for another round of its civil war.

I wish there was a third way or alternative to save the Lebanese from March 8 and 14. On second thought it would not be enough because regional and international forces are aligned with each faction in Lebanon and are intent on pursuing their conflicts by proxy.

I pray every day for some regional arrangement that will calm things down and give the Lebanese a chance to come to some arrangement.

Behemoth, actually there has been a lot of patriation of capital especially after 9/11. The Gulfies and emigrants especially from Africa see Lebanon as safer haven for their capital. As for military service there are many ways to avoid it rather than emigration.

Issam

Sophia said...

Issam,

I will be posting only one article on lebanon before I leave for Cuba. With your permission, I would like to feature your comment in the post.

Anonymous said...

Sophia , Permission granted.

I wish you a safe and enjoyable trip to Cuba. I can't wait to hear about it.

issam

Sophia said...

Issam,

Many thanks. I will not be able to post from there, most probably, but I will be keeping a diary and will publish some of it upon my return with pictures.

 
Since March 29th 2006