(First published in An-Nahar October 30, 2018)
A couple of years ago a major political party had a monumental change of leadership. Mind you, this wasn’t due to an expiration of his term limit, because of a clause in the party’s constitution. In typical Lebanese fashion, this was because of the previous leader dying or moving to bigger and better things. Not surprisingly, the closest male heir took the helm after a “vote.” All this wasn’t surprising to anyone — after all, in our “Democracy” we’re quite accustomed to the male heir taking over from the patriarch.
In fact, it probably wouldn’t surprise you if I told you that, say, Jumblatt is the Governor of the Chouf District or that Soleiman Franjieh is the governor of Ehden … except, I’m not talking about now. Fouad Beik Jumblatt was the governor in 1921 and Soleiman (Ghnatios) Franjieh in 1908. That’s right, not only before you (or your father, or grandfather) were born — even before the whole country was born. In my father’s day and in my day, it wasn’t really surprising or unusual for Dany to take over from Camille or Kamel from Ahmad — we didn’t know better — but today, when we’re able to travel, both physically and virtually, to other countries, and see how proper governance is done, how can we still accept this?
However, in that instance, not too many people found the change of command of this party to be that unusual, and, after a little grumbling, life went on. But what most people didn’t notice is something even more egregious. Though there were female heirs, one of whom I know personally, and can vouch for, and state unequivocally that she is more qualified than any of the men in contention at the time, it never occurred to this party to appoint her, because apparently she’s missing a certain biological qualification to take such an important leadership role. So the minor grumbling wasn’t about the fact that a more qualified woman was bypassed, or even that a woman has a closer bloodline to the patriarch, but only that there were better males to choose from.
However, this elite stratum of leadership is not totally and absolutely fixed. Every now and then, someone new forcefully breaks into this “Old Boys Club” but once they’re in, they adapt very quickly to the convenient old rules. After an initial resistance from the old guard, they are reluctantly welcomed into this modus operandi, resulting in essentially the same clique of names, with this new adjustment, leading the country for decades.
When I say, “forcefully breaks in” I mean that literally, usually as part of the various civil wars or low-level skirmishes that have taken place in the last several decades, although, sometimes, as an alternative method to a militant entry, vast amounts of cash can also cover the “entrance fee.” The success of this flawed system of government is, to a large extent, due to the fear factor (“divide and conquer”), propagated by the leaders in each sect, against the other sects: “I’m here to protect you, X Sect, from the Big Bad Y Sect.” The irony is that most Lebanese would agree with this assessment, but carve out an exception for “their guy.” In other words, all the sectarian leaders are corrupt or incompetent except for the guy who represents my sect.
As today’s government is being formed, most Lebanese, who are naturally, some might say psychopathically, optimistic, are holding a lot of hope for this government. After half a year of squabbling, over a name here or a name there, or a shift of numbers one way or the other, they’re very close to deciding the fate of the country. This time, people are betting, this “new” government will institute reforms, they will fix our electricity grid, our garbage problem, bring potable water to every house … and of course, turn around our catastrophic unemployment rate and debt level. It’s not that they’re importing Albert Einstein from Germany or Milton Friedman from the University of Chicago … no! that’s just too much to ask. Let’s not bring in experts in their field to deal with this critical economic situation. Instead, after a game of musical chairs, let’s bring in essentially the same characters to take charge of our country.
My favorite appointment to this new government is the Minister of Women’s Affairs … from what I’m hearing, a guy. Apparently our women are so incompetent, that we cannot entrust them with running their own affairs. Perhaps because men have done such an outstanding job, women are letting them continue to govern the country. Or maybe, while there a few more days left before the constituency of the government is announced, they can salvage this, by taking to the airwaves and streets, and yelling loudly:
“If you don’t want to represent us proportionally to our demographic presence in the country of 50%, AT LEAST APPOINT A WOMAN AS A MINISTER OF OUR OWN AFFAIRS!!!”