Rebellion in Lebanon

A round of student elections has just ended in Lebanon.

Every year, the same debate occurs around the question: Why don't Lebanese youth rebel against the political system? Why do they become coopted functionaries of political parties?

So this post doesn't go too long, here are a few quick reasons:

1. Sectarianism - students feel the meta-struggle between the sects and think they need to join a particular cause to advance their personal interests as opposed to those of members of other sects. The grand irony is that one always remains a part of one's sect, thus it could be argued that a Maronite (who will always be identifiably Maronite by name, region, accent, etc.) should have no problem joining the Communist Party or Amal. [I'm well aware that there are many Maronite members of the SSNP and Communist Party, but that is not the norm unless you're from Koura or Dhor Shweir].

2. Lebanese culture - we live at home until we are married. Our entire lives depend on our parents. They subsidize everything we do, and our marital opportunities are somewhat (and often times very) dependent on our parents' occupations, social status, and family name.
Also, in universities like AUB and LAU, there are many children of affluent parents. Politics is a major part of Lebanese culture, and many wealthy individuals aspire to seats in parliament. Given that the actions of the child reflect on the parents, the student does not have the freedom to join an opposing political party. His rebellion will undermine his family and his own future. It's a big decision to make.

3. Wasta - Lebanon is not a meritocracy. Your parents will be leading the charge to get you a job (your proper employment reflects on them). Your sect will often times determine which jobs you are SOCIALLY qualified for.
However, political organizations can also help you get a job. Party leaders often own businesses.

4. Rebellious concepts are the norm - There are so many different ensconced political groups in Lebanon that some group will represent your views. Lebanon is not like the West when it comes to politics. It's okay to be Communist here. It's okay to promote anti-semitism. It's okay to worship Saudi Arabia. It's even okay to be gay (although that's not normally discussed in public).
If you want to rebel against your parents or society, there's someone ready to accept you in Lebanon. There are people here who love Lebanon and people who publicly advocate that it should not exist. Where is the opportunity for true rebellion?
Oddly enough, the biggest form of rebellion would be to convert religions, but that would completely destroy you since you would be giving up your entire community.

We, the Lebanese youth, are not blind. You can never disappear into the fabric of Lebanon because this country is so closely woven together. It's not like America, Canada, Australia, or Brazil where you can change location, identity, and occupation frequently. In Lebanon, the same guys work at McDonald's for years.

We know our political situation is messed up. We are not in the position to change it, but we are trying. Sadly, many of us who work in independent groups like No Frontiers and Pablo Neruda end up leaving the country to seek employment.
There are no major national leaders who have not been tainted by war or have the charisma and zeal to lead a political party. Nassib Lahoud, Mosbah Ahdab, and Muhammad Safadi are not attracting students and youth en masse to their cause. Rafi Modayan only attracted students because of his step-father, Communist leader Shaheed Georges Hawi.

What do you think?


At Friday, November 18, 2005 1:01:00 PM, Blogger desmond said...

Good post, LP. As you say, I think that society as a whole in the West is not partitioned as it is here along sectarian and class lines. Students abroad are able to rebel and make a difference against the political system precisely because they have a common cause which is not diluted by sectarian or other demands.

At Friday, November 18, 2005 2:10:00 PM, Blogger Hassan said...

One reason Lebanese youth don’t rebel is that the system absorbs this rebellion with the chances and divisions that you mentioned, and it exhausts the idealism of youth in most active young people.

I also think we should account for the fact that a true “rebellion” for Lebanon would border on anarchy. It should be against the entire system, a system which includes even those “trendy windows of rebellion”, often embraced by those groups who wouldn’t normally be expected to be rebellious. The best samples of these were AUB’s “leftist” population of rich kids, and children of intelligence officers and journalists-for-hire.

These samples are now shadowed by the more “in” groups like the BEES of this year and Representing the Silent Majority (RSM) of the year 2001-2002.

Back to my point, activism in Lebanon is more of a trend than a cause, and those few who are sincere about it are usually the victims.

At Friday, November 18, 2005 3:39:00 PM, Blogger hummbumm said...

I understand how small lebanon is but i think what you touch on is tha lack of individualism in the society. I am who I am. Of course that is a reason why I don't live in lebanon, it seems that most people who seek to create their own space leave rather than challenge societal norms. of course, I have not had to play the game so to speak, so it is easy for me to pontificate. I still hope for more. In the end, if the climate does not change, emigration will continue, as the appeal of standing on your own two feet, no one caring who your family is is very strong

At Saturday, November 19, 2005 11:57:00 AM, Blogger Charles Malik said...

There really isn't a concept of individualism in Lebanon. No one is disconnected from their family or family name (not even a Khoury - Lebanon's Smith).

However, a space has opened up for non-traditional rebellion, in particular, homosexuality. There is a large (and growing) gay community in Lebanon. I wonder the importance of one's family within that community, especially because many gay men in Lebanon become ostracized for who they are.

Then again, given the wasta issue, gay men might have to keep some sort of attachment to a powerful member of the family. That is, unless President Lahoud has taken them all under his protective wing. :)

At Saturday, November 19, 2005 7:47:00 PM, Blogger Maldoror said...

I believe the results of those elections speak for themselves. Whether it is a new trend or not, students haven't voted blue they haven't voted yellow and they surely haven't voted for any rainbow. Students have voted orange, which is a blend of red and white. They have voted for unity to replace sectarianism. They have voted for new ideals to replace other people's "birth right to the thrown".
By the way, I don't know if you are a supporter of the gay cause or not(you only talked about gay men, don't gay women also exist?!), but I don't think they are the only people suffering from the freedom to make their own choices in a country ruled by several autocracies. It is an effort we all have to participate in, and the seeds are starting to be grow.
Last but not least, a society throughout the course of history witnesses many changes and is always on the boil. So it is only normal to be amazed and intrigued when we take time to notice it. Rebellion is a word that doesn't exist. Every minor change takes a lot of time to take effect, even an earthquake or a volcanic eruption.
Living abroad is not quite the same as living here, but this surely does not mean that outside is more exciting. You just get to blend into a forged system that here, we are trying hard to find and adopt. It is a choice you have to make and some people decided to fight for their dreams instead of getting what THEY have to offer.

At Sunday, November 20, 2005 1:06:00 AM, Blogger Delirious said...

Maldo, cut it out already!
Someone told me today about a medical seminar that took place yesterday, at the end of which the speaker held out a Lebanese flag where the red color was replaced with orange. I sincerely think megalomania has limits, don't you agree?

And can someone please explain to me what the heck do politics have to do with university elections for student representatives?

At Sunday, November 20, 2005 1:23:00 AM, Blogger Maldoror said...

Well, it is a long story Deli :)

At Monday, November 21, 2005 4:40:00 PM, Blogger Assaad said...

I finally decided to post a comment. My comment will treat point by point.

1- I know that all the elections became sectarianism.... i can add that even if you want to find a job, than they will look from which sect (for me it is community not sect) cause it is the lebanese system! What is funny is that when i got my Baccalaureat in Lebanon, my father told : Emche nrou7 na3mel zyara lal beik l foulene 7atta tfout 3al 7arbiye !
Anyway, if you feel you want to have freedom in joining any party than nobody can stand in your face. If you don't start to change the System everybody is following, than who will do it ? I think, you must do it even if you loose but you'll feel free inside !

2- I agree with you in some parts of this point not all. The fact that our life depends a lot on our parents till we get married is not a shame and i don't agree with the occidental ideas & cultures (don't worry, i live in Paris) where childrens can leave home at 18, can get married or get a GF without the involvement of the parents.... We can't follow this imported culture! It is a part of the lebanese culture and traditions... you can, by your personality, reduce the influence of your parents, but don't tell me you wanna change everything! It is crazy how occidental we are becoming!!
As for the fact that families influence the decisions their sons to join opposing political party, i can say that unless you (you means all for me) are a son of an actif member of a political party, you are FREE and you can do whatever you want.! If my father is "Kataeb" and i am for "Kouweit" than i won't follow what my father do unless he convinces me!

3- Unfortunately, 70 % of what you are saying is true (and they get the best jobbs) and the 30% is for those who run from company to another with their CVs in order to get good job well paid! This is one of the worst thing in Lebanon!

4- Here you mentioned some very good points. Things started to change since the death of Martyr Rafik Hariri and the retirement of the Syrian army BUT the system (political one) is still here. We still have the same leaders who changed their faces but not their mentalities..... I think, youngs have many things to do to renew this corrupted system. We must continue to show that we need another system, another mentality.... the problem is that we are divided to :
- Those who follow the present political parties
- Those who don't speak "ma baddon headache"
-Those who left and continue to leave the country!

Maybe we need to start to teach our childrens the right meaning of a civilization and freedom (keeping in our minds that we have to protect several parts of our culture and traditions) and wait until they grow up and see what they will do! Here i mean that next generations must be able to rebell and to change this ols system!

NB : I appreciate what Delirious wrote and mentionned about holding a lebanese Flag with orange color replacing the red one. I simply say : IT IS A SHAME". Those who did are not lebanese. I am sorry!

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