Protesters take to the street on the one-year-mark of the Beirut blast. (Photo: Lynn Sheikh Moussa / Beirut Today)

Lebanon: The era of “morbid symptoms”

Almost two years after the famous October Uprising, Lebanon has collapsed. It is not “on the brink.” It is not “on the edge.” Lebanon has officially collapsed as a State.

The devaluation of the local currency, along with the government’s failure in providing basic necessities such as electricity and water, and the soon removal of subsidies, has left residents of Lebanon in a never-seen socio-economic catastrophe.

In the midst of all this chaos, the main question remains: Was the rebellion witnessed really revolutionary? 

Revolutions are usually guided by the popularity of one socio-political ideology, the cornerstone of all successful uprisings. As Peter McPhee, Emeritus Professor at the University of Melbourne wrote, some key characteristics of revolutions are: short-term triggers of widespread protests; violent confrontation the power-holder cannot contain as a faction of the armed forces defect to rebels; and the consolidation of a wide alliance against the regime.

In comparison to the October uprising, the riots had neither a unified ideology nor defection of armed forces or a wide alliance against the regime. All the opposition had was anger. Anger fueled the streets for weeks and months. But, as anger cooled down, the uprising cooled down too. 

One would ask, why does a revolution seem almost impossible in Lebanon? The answer lies in the system. Since its founding, the State of Lebanon has been built on consociational democracy. 

According to political scientist and scholar of consociationalism Arend Lijphart, “consociational democracy means government by elite cartel designed to turn a democracy with a fragmented political culture into a stable democracy.”

It’s a form of government for plural societies with deep religious, ideological, linguistic, regional, cultural, racial and/or ethnic segmental cleavages.  In Lebanon’s case, sectarian war-lords turned politicians and businessmen hold the keys to power in a predetermined system where high State functions are divided between different sects.

All the political system has done over the years is keep citizens at the edge of a civil war, never really extinguishing the sectarian hate –albeit keeping its fire low enough not to burn everything around. 

The extremely fractured society has never really reconciled after the 15-year civil war mainly due to the failure to hold war criminals accountable and the passing of an Amnesty Law in 1991. The absence of a clear accountability has, in a sense, swept all heinous crimes committed under the rug. 

In order to keep the system afloat, sectarian leaders have maintained a certain socio-economic status-quo within their sects and instilled a culture of clientelism. By downplaying the State’s role, they have become  “The State” by offering all kinds of services and support –be it financial, educational, social, and more. This clientelistic consociational democracy rendered Lebanon a failed State, putting sectarian leaders’ personal interests above common societal interests.

A year after the Beirut Blast, as thousands of protesters took to the streets in anger and rage to commemorate  the third most powerful non-nuclear explosion to date, a mass was celebrated at the scene of the crime. Just like that, the system called on the clergy to whitewash its crimes. As usual, never failing, the clergy came to the rescue.

There is no clearer image of how the Lebanese system works: Warlords kill and steal and annihilate. Clergies clean up the mess, join Ave Marias and Adhan, in hopes of masking a torn-up piece of land. But there are not enough joint prayers to make-believe.

This corrupt system is a murderous one. Either killing its people, or holding them hostages. As the road to change is slowly paved, one particular quote by Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci resonates best: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying but the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” It’s the era of morbid symptoms.