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Al Jazeera, May 5, 2005


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The Cost of Lebanese Sectarian Democracy!
By Hassan Elkhalil

Many countries hide behind the fictional concept of democracy and Lebanon is no exception. While we as Lebanese hope to have a democratic government, some Lebanese politicians strive to maintain “sectarian distribution” under the umbrella of democratic process and they call it democracy. In Lebanon democracy is prearranged, it is tailored through electoral laws and custom made to meet a politician’s personal agenda. More than twelve religious sects, each in its own way is pulling to gain power in the name of democracy. Democracy is stretched so thin that it cannot withstand even the slightest of challenges that face or may face Lebanon.

Those same politicians wonder what is going wrong, they think of almost everything except their mindset and misconduct. They make speeches all day long that the problem is always external, but never admit that they are the problem. They change electoral laws, corrupt their surroundings and they even sell their country just to maintain the status quo and stay in power and thus keep the country impaired. Democracy! Who cares? What they care about is their positions, prestige and personal greed. They name, blame, and claim. They name only their supporters or friends, regardless whether qualified or not, for government positions. They blame other politicians for grasping more government projects than they did; and they claim credit for something foreign to them. The discussion is always about each other and rarely about laws that affect the citizenry; rarely about debates of ideas; and rarely about what is next for Lebanon. This is the product of sectarian democracy. Democracy based on religious affiliation and thus impasse.

While politicians are most to blame in sectarian democracy, constituents should not be excused. When these infected politicians win election after another, prompt us to wonder if these politicians are so bad how they win elections. Some politicians in Lebanon do not even campaign; yet they win. They just win. They win by tailoring the electoral law in advance; they prearrange their triumph by interfering with the election process, or by buying their win through a handsome payment to the tribe or sect leader; or alternatively, however remote, through the ignorance of their constituents which proved to be unlikely in light of what we have witnessed in Lebanon in the last few months.

The product of sectarian democracy is greed, division, and mistrust. Rather than looking who is best qualified, the focus is on the religious affiliation. Ultimately, the only loser is the Lebanese people because instead of having a qualified individual to represent them, they have an individual just because s/he belongs to a certain sect. Sectarian democracy will never transform Lebanon to where it must be and where we like it to be. Notice what is happening in Iraq, the newly elected prime minister is struggling to form his cabinet because his concern is not who is qualified and what the country needs; rather the concern is what sect holds what ministry. Akin to Lebanon, in Iraq they create ministries just to pacify sects. Considering the present Lebanese form of sectarian democracy, the Iraqis’ future does not look promising.

Sectarian democracy handicapped Lebanon for years and no immediate solution looks promising in the near future. Our hope is that the May election provides us with a prospect of hope that the Lebanese people will depart from the tribal mentality of following “our Za eem” and sectarian affiliation “our Ta eifa” into the more educated decision making based on qualification, integrity and accountability; ignoring said approach is prone to keep Lebanon hostage to its sectarian politicians who cannot help but maintain the status quo for their personal interest. The status quo is keeping Lebanon from moving forward; from advancing and keeping up with the global prosperity. Lebanon’s interest is in the real Lebanese democracy without regard to external thoughts or influence. This interest is best accomplished by abandoning sectarian politics, opening the door to qualified individuals regardless of their religious affiliation; trust them, their knowledge, and hold them accountable to transform Lebanon to a prosperous country economically, socially, and politically.

Hassan Elkhalil is a Lebanese American Attorney.

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