How power is applied and diffused in the roads of Lebanon.

El Khoury, a candidate with the Free Patriotic Movement in the 2018 Lebanese parliamentary elections.

Beirut, Lebanon.

Not a long time ago, I was driving in Beirut, I entered a one-way street, but a car, driving the wrong way, blocked “my way”.
I decided to resist, simply because it was “my way”, I had the right to pass because of the rules the Beirut city had put up. But the other car was also resisting, and quite violently. It was a big 4×4, with black tainted windows, it had a short number on its plate, and the car was advancing with short bursts against the little space between our cars. The driver couldn’t be seen, but he (or she but most probably he) started to honk repeatedly. After one minute or so, I decided to “yield” the way and drove on a rear gear until the big car could pass. I had bent to force.

Residents of Lebanon spend a lot of time on the roads within cities and between them. Whether we use a private car or public transport, we are exposed to drivers / car owners who apply their power or high hierarchical positions on others drivers / road users.  (within different contexts and environments).

We’ve all seen a convoy blocking a road for dozens of minutes, rendering the whole circulation still, we’ve been all harassed by a big car trying to push us aside, often, they will have a short matriculation plate number, if any, the drivers will be always males, violent, brutal.

We are exposed to a blunt display of power by those who hold it on roads. We “meet” them directly, physically, when a “normal” car owner is exposed to a convoy for example.

Some cars (and subsequently their owners) display power in a “formal” manner. We can think of any car in direct official positions of power within the parliament, government, security branches and state institutions. Their power is deemed as “legitimate” by some because of its “official” nature.

Others display it less formally, they do not hold official positions, but are high on the hierarchy of classes (ruling class), or are closely connected to the ruling class. (Big wasta, but no capital)

Lebanon is, I believe, quite unique with this display of power on the roads. The main message behind this display and application of power is: we own the country, and thus, we own the roads. Convoys, of course, do block general transport in other countries, but not at the same daily rate as in Lebanon, and certainly not in the same manner.

Taking back time and space.

We can look at the extreme [formal] example of convoys that block roads and main highways for sometimes dozens of minutes. While it is claimed that security is the first reason behind this phenomenon, the convoys carry a greater message of power. The “leaders” of this country are showing that they are able to own space and time. They show they own their own time by reducing useless traffic time, and own the time of the “normal” citizen, by elevating his or her time spent in traffic. They also own your space, even if it is not permanent, a convoy will block you from moving freely in your “own” country.

“Time is money”

Usually this saying is tied to the “opportunity costs” when “losing time”. Losing time means losing profits.

With convoys, time and space can be determined as an asset, or capital, taken away from the “normal citizens” (the ones outside of the ruling class). Time IS in fact money [i.e: capital] and losing time in traffic for the ruling class is not an option.

Sharing space, but not really.

Other examples could be a car owner that “shares” your space and time on the roads, but will try their best to take back this space and time for their benefits [and again, to expose their power]. Anyone driving or spending time on the roads of Lebanon can tell you about a car that tried, for no reason, to push you aside. These cars have often black tainted windows, adding to the supposed high elevation on the social strata. [could mean they hold tools of wealth / capital creation or just a direction “connection” to a powerful lord]. Drivers are often not seen not because of security reasons; black tainted windows just add a layer to the separation between the ruling class, and the classes under it.

Other cars will display power without really annoying your driving or ride, but by displaying this power, one will make sure to get away from them, and not attract problems. One could think about any car tied to the Internal Security Forces, General Security, the Army, Jamerek, any “political car” (with a yellow number). Most of them will own cars with black tainted windows, again, for so called security reasons.

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Publiée par ‎موقع الزرارية الاخباري‎ sur Dimanche 30 août 2015

Nabih Berri, the eternal head of the Lebanese parliament, arriving to Nabatieh.

Cars with “normal numbers” [white plates in Lebanon] will reveal the power of their owners in other ways, either again with black tainted windows, annoying and loud honks, and short numbers. Small numbers, or “unique” ones (i:e: 666444, 10000, 300) will send a clear message of power and capital accumulation. These numbers, often bought for thousands of dollars, will show that the drivers are not “anyone” but people that can hurt you if they are “hurt”, (if you would honk at them for example). These numbers of course are often associated with luxurious, sport cars, once again, showing prestige and power.

Some numbers even reportedly show a connection to some powerful politician from the ruling class, sending also a message to the regulating police for example that these cars and their owners can’t be annoyed by a red light, or general traffic rules.

Showing power with numbers [literally] doesn’t stop with car numbers, it also applies to telephone numbers. In Lebanon, holding a 03—— can mean a lot, [due to its current unavailability] but holding a number like 03030303 sends a message: “my number is important and can be remembered easily, also, I paid for it hundreds or thousands of dollars”. Today in Lebanon, it is normal to see “numbers on display” to be sold in telephones stores.

Machismo- Patriarchy on the roads.

Exhibiting your “power”, tied to the capital held by oneself, [capital here could also mean connections to the ruling class] on the roads is for most of the time intrinsically linked with patriarchy. “Applying your power” here also means “defending it”. Men, who basically hold power in patriarchal Lebanon, will thus expose themselves on the roads to defend the power they hold. This defense though, include harassment, and full machismo attitudes. This attitude can be deadly, as Lebanon witnessed a terrible stabbing of a man, Georges al-Rif, after an altercation on the road.

We could also recall the murder of a young man, Roy Hamouche, with a bullet in his head. Him and his friends were followed, cornered, and Hamouche was murdered coldly.

We feel Anger because roads are arranged into classes.

Drivers and riders in Lebanon might feel angrier and frustrated all the time, not only because of the endless congestion and the bad infrastructure, but also because car drivers are organized into classes.

Being exposed daily to a better treatment to a tiny minority, we feel an injustice and a certain rage. A recent study in air rage found:

Physical inequality on airplanes—that is, the presence of a first class cabin—is associated with more frequent air rage incidents in economy class. Situational inequality—boarding from the front (requiring walking through the first class cabin) versus the middle of the plane—also significantly increases the odds of air rage in both economy and first class.

 

We can deduce that classes on the roads, airlines, everywhere, might be one of the source of anger and frustration and even divisions among individuals that may be socioeconomically close to each other.

Conclusion: what to do?

Power is not an immobile phenomenon. It doesn’t only reside in the “rooms of power”, (Government palace, parliament). It moves through many layers of society. We could recall Michel Foucault sayings on power:

‘Power is everywhere’ and ‘comes from everywhere’ so in this sense is neither an agency nor a structure (Foucault 1998: 63).

We have to demystify power in Lebanon, and we might do it by redrawing what power itself means. Usually this means breaking the walls of fear around us, and this also means breaking the fortified walls of power, diffused all over the country.
Practically, regarding the road kingdom, we have to push for the near complete removal of black tainted windows and other features of blunt domination, including owning guns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lebanon’s parliamentary elections of 2018.

Lebanese people have not participated in this “democratic exercise” since 2009, because of the violation and abuse of power and the occupation of the parliament with 3 illegitimate extensions. (Lebanese were supposed to vote in 2013)

Needless to say, quite lot has happened since 2009 in Lebanon and the region: the Arab Spring, the uprisings and revolutions being the most significant.

Parties holding power in Lebanon broke their alliances formed in 2005 (8 March,

14 March) and now have somehow created links between all of them through coalitions and partnerships. The most significant breaking up of this polarity happened with the elections of Aoun in October 2016.

It is sadly not the goal of this article to write about this saga. The website Moulahazat goes into much details.

Before the “election” of Aoun, Lebanese people voted for their municipalities in May 2016, and the Beirut municipality battle showcased that parties will gather and ally in order to face new forces. All parties but Hezbollah (who had no big interest in a seat in the Beirut municipality) joined arms together and still barely won against Beirut Madinati list, an independent list.

The many combinations to first beat down a new possible force in Beirut and then to end the presidential crisis created somehow a new political reality, or just revealed what is the real nature of all powerful parties in Lebanon.

And thus, unsurprisingly, when the parliamentary elections got closer and it was time to form lists, a lot of alliances from the parties in power were formed. Alliances were formed on the basis of getting the highest votes and ensure seats in parliament, and was not based on the basis of any political identity or program. (Besides holding power as much as they can and as long as they can).

The Free Patriotic Movement, led by Gebran Bassil, is the best example for such alliances formed. Very often, it has allied with a group in X district, only to be against the same group in Y district. Once again suggesting that political opinions don’t really matter, only seats.

 

But is there a chance for change? And what is change?
The answer is no, there is no possibility for significant change.

Firstly, to speak about a “chance for change”, we assume that the two following conditions will be fulfilled:

1) A significant parliamentary seat change is possible and this change will benefit the new comers and their supporters.

2) We assume that this re-allocation of seats could lead to a form of a positive radical change.

Condition 1): A study published show that only 38 seats will be truly subject to change, while the wide majority of seats will simply get back to their old seat holders. Some new lists and coalitions have a small change of getting new seats.  A “chance for radical change” is not realistically possible in the parliament and the country.

2) Some candidates from the new comers lists, especially on the wide lists of Kulluna Watani or other seats like Madaniye in the Chouf are presenting a strong agenda and some strong progressive positions for Lebanon. Some candidates from Kulluna Watani and other independent are not only on point with human rights values, but with the economy itself. (The two can’t be separated).

The ruling parties won’t prepare their own poison.

The electoral law makers (MP’s and the power holders in this country) didn’t cook the electoral law dish in order to poison themselves. They know that this law, despite a few new entries here and there, will work to their benefits. Of course, only time will tell what the size of their losses will be, but the few seats won’t be enough to radically change the country. (neither will any elections).

It is a complex law, to say the least, but it is also a law that could allow “breaches”, Megaphone, a channel on Facebook and other social media platforms, explain it pretty well.

كيفية فرز الأصوات بقانون الإنتخابات الجديد

كيف بتم فرز الأصوات حسب القانون الجديد؟

Publiée par ‎Megaphone – ميغافون‎ sur Mercredi 21 mars 2018

Still, vote.

Voting is important because it could reveal first an approximation of the support new comers lists are receiving. Voters can be eventually new members of the groups that are trying to change things for the better in this country. Voters for the alternative, independent and progressive groups could be the base support for the groups to further grow.

The vote will be a first step to eventually grow and re-organize political groups and ideologies. If the parliament doesn’t self extend, we might witness a new stronger political coalition in 2022.

Hundreds of thousands of people who never voted could vote now, (the people from 20 to 29 years old), and they might push a new force within the parliament.

Choose rightly.

Today the voting law gives us finally the right to choose a candidate within a list. So we voters have the chance to choose a list not only according to its ideology on paper, but also specifically to each one’s history and positions.

A “preferential” vote supposedly mean that better candidates could get a seat (but not necessarily due to the complex electoral law).

A vote should be given to someone with a full and progressive program. And to a group that work with full transparency regarding their funding. Here are some points that should be fulfilled in my point of view.

  • Ensuring full rights and liberties for everyone in the country, and working with the oppressed minorities so that they can have full self-determination, rights, and freedoms, (and not co-opt their struggle).
  • Disapprove and reject neoliberal policies for the country. (Full liberalization, focus on finances, PPP’s etc, amass public debt,)
  • Ensuring universal rights: water access, electricity access, free education, free universal healthcare, free public spaces, affordable and accessible housing.
  • Ensuring transparency during their work in the parliament and full access to information to everyone.
  • Ensuring the country is not a political chessboard of foreign nations in the region and beyond.

Tools to help us choose:

Needless to say, do not vote for the parties in the current government, do not vote for parties with blood on their hands, (from the times of the civil war or other times), do not vote for parties that receive their funding from outside countries, do not vote for parties who self-extended their MP’s 3 times, do not vote for anyone that allied with the current power holders.

In order to help us better choose, we might take a look at Mist3ideen. Mist3ideen is a group of activists who try to look at who might the better candidate (especially from the new comers) by their standard, their list is helpful and detailed.

Human Rights Watch also published a list of candidates or parties that respect their 10 human rights points:

 

 

Why is this election somehow important?

If the results are favorable to the diverse candidates from civil society, this is will be a test for them. New MP’s might not bring radical change, some might even serve the ruling class consciously or unconsciously, but some others might bring a new image to the Lebanese MP.

One that communicates with people, one that is accessible, one that asks the government pertinent questions, one that serves the interests of the many, not the few.