Friday, April 24, 2009

Corruption yes but the focus should be the increased sectarianism!

The New York Times correspondent Robert Worth has given the Lebanese elections their first intentional exposure in the English language press. Worth makes some pretty big claims stating that, "The parliamentary elections here in June are shaping up to be among the most expensive ever held anywhere, with hundreds of millions of dollars streaming into this small country from around the globe."

There is no doubt hundreds of millions of dollars will stream into Lebanon and I have already had people email me asking which parties are offering free flights; by the way I don't know! I am at a loss at how the editors of the NYT let such hyperbole slip through "the most expensive ever held anywhere". Somehow I think the US elections may beat Lebanon.... But don't worry he has covered himself with wonderful words such as "shaping up" and "among". No doubt these will 'probably be the best elections in the world!'

Worth is however, correct in highlighting the wide scale corruption and vote buying that will go on in this election. The article articulates how systemic corruption in the Lebanese electoral system has become. "Lebanon has campaign spending limits this year for the first time, and the Arab world’s first system to monitor that spending, by the Lebanese chapter of Transparency International. But the limits — which are very loose to begin with — apply only in the last two months of the campaign. And they are laughably easy to circumvent, according to election monitors and Lebanese officials."

When I talked to
Gaƫlle Kibranian, the Project Director for Lebanese Transparency International (LTA), she denied that candidates are ignoring this issue completely. "The main political parties/blocs in Lebanon are using the promotion of transparency as part of their electoral program especially when it comes to campaign finance. They are all taking the question very seriously, trying to abide by the law, in order to avoid future challenges." Kibranian did not deny however, the serious shortcomings in the law and not to mention the fact that the Constituinal Council (CC) is still yet to be established. This means that any corruption that the LTA uncover cannot be prosecuted or even looked at officially. There will be more on the issue of the CC in the future.

I can not come to terms with the fact Worth does not mention sectarianism once in the article!! The most serious implication of the 2008 election law is the fact that it has increased sectarian nature of Lebanese politics. Not once! As Kibranian told me, "the main problem in Lebanon remains confessionalism, which shapes the relationship between citizens and state, as well as the lack of separation of powers.These lead to nepotism, clientalism, and patronage." As the Democracy Reporting International report stated on the electoral law the new law accentuates confessional differences and is "increasing the long-term potential for conflict in the country."

It was also interesting the candidates that he picked out. Only
Walid Maalouf and Ahmed al-Asaad two very marginal but very pro-US politicians. I actually am a fan of Robert Worth but I think he needed a bit less hyperbole and more thought on this one.


  1. Deen Sharp said: "I actually am a fan of Robert Worth but I think he needed a bit less hyperbole and more thought on this one"

    It happens all the time. Admired people disappointing fans when they touch subjects fans know much better…
    Trying to keep it in mind can be a valid intellectual prophylactic tool against elation fueled by sympathetic political analysis on conflicts or places that we know less well. (I say sympathetic, because when the reader stumbles on articles or authors that irritate him ideologically, the level of critic alert remains high while reading).

  2. Your categorization of Walid Maalouf and Ahmad Al-Assaad as "marginal" and "very pro-US politicians" is itself an attempt by you at discrediting them, as you make no mention whatsoever of the platforms they are running on.

    This makes you an integral part of a corrupt Lebanese mindset that rejects anyone who is not from the established (and equally corrupt) political establishment that sees any intruder (notwithstanding the promise of reform that he/she may bring) as irrelevant and unworthy of coverage.

    Lebanon Iznogood

  3. I take your point on the 'marginal' comment but the "very pro-US" remark was to point out the lack of balance in the article. In the article the following are quoted: Walid Maalouf (M14), Ahmed al-Asaad (M14), Carnegie Middle East Center and a Saudi embassy official. The opposition March 8 (the other side making these elections democratic!) are not given a voice, not one quote, in this article. To me that is absurd.