the absence of a progressive alternative


Despite the momentum of the October 2019 uprisings in Lebanon, there is little hope for progressive alternatives in the upcoming elections, especially with such a weakened trade union movement, writes Joseph Daher.

Ballots for the upcoming elections in Lebanon will be cast on May 15. [GETTY]

The Lebanese legislative elections in May will take place two and a half years after the outbreak of the Lebanese Intifada in October 2019. However, amid a deep economic crisis and the absence of a viable progressive and secular political alternative, the parties The dominant sectarian neoliberals, from Hezbollah to the Lebanese Forces, will most likely know how to mobilize their sectarian bases and maintain, if not strengthen, their hegemony in the next elections.

There are several reasons for this situation. First, the Lebanese system of laws and political framework, which are governed along religious and patriarchal lines, are essential for maintaining divisions within society and therefore for the domination of the ruling sectarian elites.

In this regard, the “reforms” of the electoral system adopted for the 2018 elections have not favored any external dynamics of sectarianism, quite the contrary. The requirement of an electoral threshold and preferential vote largely neutralizes the effects of proportional representation provided by law and mainly benefits the dominant sectarian neoliberal parties. This system actually encourages candidates to solicit preferential votes.

“The elections were used as a new opportunity by different sectarian neoliberal parties to provide services to particular neighborhoods and local populations in order to win their votes. At the same time, these parties have resorted to intimidation techniques and acts of aggression against opponents.”

The Lebanese electoral system remains an obstacle to the emergence of a class politics from below challenging the sectarian, neoliberal political system and its elites. Within this framework, the parliamentary electoral system remains an instrument for institutionalizing sectarianism and for reproducing and reinforcing the sense of sectarian identity.

This is why, among other reasons, some small progressive sectors of the uprisings have called for a boycott of the elections so as not to legitimize again such a system and its actors in power.

Moreover, Lebanese sectarian neoliberal parties have developed various mechanisms to maintain their dominance, alternating forms of consent and coercion. For example, they have exploited privatization schemes and their domination of ministries to reinforce networks of clientelism, nepotism and corruption.

In addition, the deepening financial crisis and the ensuing Covid-19 pandemic have presented them with new opportunities to deliver services, such as campaigns to clean up public spaces and distribute food to the needy across the country. aim of restoring their image.

In this context, Hezbollah has been one of the main players to benefit from the financial crisis, thanks in large part to its vast network of institutions and its access to resources, which has continued to expand since the late 1980s. It has maintained and increased its welfare support to its Shia base between 2020 and 2022 as a means of reconsolidating its hegemony over this population.

The elections were used as a new opportunity by different sectarian neoliberal parties to provide services to particular neighborhoods and local populations in order to win their votes.

At the same time, these parties have resorted to intimidation techniques and acts of aggression against opponents. In mid-April, for example, armed men, believed to be members of the Amal movement led by Speaker of the House Nabih Berri, surrounded and assaulted opposition candidates in the village of Sarafand, South Lebanon, as they prepared to launch their electoral campaign. program.

Similarly, opposition candidates in Shia-populated areas are attacked on social media by Hezbollah supporters, or accused of collaborating with Israel, while some face outright intimidation. Several Shiite opposition candidates in the Beqaa, in the cazas of Baalbek-Hermel, have indeed resigned after threats and family pressure.

A report published by the Lebanese Association for Electoral Democracy (LADE) at the end of April denounces practices on the increase in the run-up to the elections, such as vote buying, pressure and threats on candidates, abuse of power and public resources in electoral campaigns.

However, the main problem is the continued absence of non-sectarian and progressive mass organizations and parties rooted in the country’s working classes. These do not yet exist, which was a visible weakness of the protest movement that emerged from the October 2019 uprising, and its ability to genuinely challenge neoliberal sectarian parties and their system.

The electoral landscape reflects this situation well.

The progressives and the various sections of the left were very fragmented during the protest movement and this is still the case during the elections.

It was only in the constituency of South Lebanon III, which includes the cazas of Nabatiye, Bint Jbeil and Marjeyoun-Hasbaya, that the political movements of the October 2019 uprisings as well as the Lebanese Communist Party, succeeded in uniting their rows to offer a single slate. although not without problems.

More generally, leftist and progressive forces have failed to build a united front capable of channeling the protest movement’s demands for the elections.

However, the more liberal and right-wing sectors of the protest movement, such as the National Bloc, which advocates a liberal economic discourse, have reached electoral agreements in several regions with sectarian parties such as Kataeb. They have also struck deals with former MPs, many businessmen who were part of sectarian neoliberal parties and now present themselves as reformists or supporters of the October 2019 uprising.

In the region of Kesrouan and Jbeil, for example, the former deputy and businessman Neemat Frem succeeded in allying himself with the Kataeb and the National Bloc, while in Beirut I, the Kataeb and the men of Antoun Sehnaoui business allies on the same list.

”There is no doubt that the parties in power are now ready to use the elections as a means of trying to regain some legitimacy, both locally and internationally. However, they will struggle, especially among the wider population, as no one has the political will or perspective to change the nature of the system given that they all benefit from it.”

Furthermore, the weakness of trade unions is a recurring problem. During the civil war, labor movements and trade unions were important social actors in organizing and coordinating protests and civil resistance against war, sectarian divisions, militia power, Israeli occupation and are fought in favor of workers’ concerns.

After the end of the civil war, the country’s elites have actively contributed to weakening independent trade union movements since the 1990s. They also co-opted the main trade union federation, first the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers (CGLT) in 2000, and the Union Coordinating Committee (UCC) in 2015.

The possibility of intersectarian mobilization and the development of class movements present a potential threat to all sectarian neoliberal movements in Lebanon. The CGTL and the UCC were completely absent from the Lebanese Intifada of October 2019 and so is their role in the upcoming elections.

Under these conditions, the emergence of a leftist and progressive opposition bloc that can challenge the domination of neoliberal sectarian parties in the next legislature is particularly complicated, even if a few personalities are elected here and there.

The dominant sectarian neoliberal parties, on the other hand, though diverse, have managed to maintain their hegemony over their religious communities through various means, including the use of violence. This tied the interests of the lower classes to their party structures and agenda. They have not ceased, despite their rivalries, to work to prevent the development of any form of social or political alternative during and outside the elections. This is particularly the case with labor movements.

Undoubtedly, the parties in power are now ready to use the elections as a means of trying to regain some legitimacy, both locally and internationally. However, they will struggle, especially among the wider population, as none have the political will or perspective to change the nature of the system given that they all benefit from it.

This will therefore ultimately prevent any progress towards a real democratization of Lebanon and, moreover, a form of economic recovery and development plan to tackle socio-economic economic inequalities and the impoverishment of large sectors of society, as well as to strengthen the productive sectors of the country’s economy.

Joseph Daher teaches at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and is an Affiliate Professor at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, where he participates in the “Wartime and Post-Conflict in Syria Project”. He is the author of “Syria after the uprisings, the political economy of state resilience”.

Follow him on Twitter: @JosephDaher19

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The views expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or its staff.

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