December 13, 2006

Why Lebanon?

Haven't had time to blog, so this Lebanon blog entry has been sitting at the top of my blog for a while. Somebody asked me yesterday why I'm so interested in Lebanon.

Lebanon is interesting because it is such a strange case....

Why is Lebanon so Strange?

Think about the way anarchy begins: it really only takes one death at the wrong moment to trigger a riot that becomes a mass killing that touches off a civil war. How can you prevent anarchy in a region where people are deeply distrustful, resentful, even hateful of each other? The only formula that seems to work in most places is to impose some form of dictatorship. If you squash freedoms and rule with a strong police state, you can keep anarchy in check.

But Lebanon is a democracy - a genuine, messy power-sharing agreement with strong personal freedoms and a weak government. In the Middle East, it is a form of government that shouldn't last. And yet, even after the assasination of Hariri and Gemayel, even with gun-toting Hizbollah on the streets, even after this years' devastating bombings by Israel, even during the mass funerals and the current opposition demonstrations, with humanity flooding the streets by the hundreds of thousands - have there been mass riots? Sectarian violence? Has civil war broken out? Has the fragile government fallen?

No - Lebanon is a strangely stable island in a sea of instability. The people of Lebanon somehow have a deep aversion to the polarizing thought that dominates the rest of the region. It is the one spot in the Middle East that is the counterexample to the assertion that "Arabs can't self-govern," or that "the religions are doomed to eternal conflict." The continuing peace in Lebanon is evidence that the Lebanese people - almost without exception - are a mature, peaceful, thoughtful people.

Is Peace Newsworthy?

I think the press would be happier to report on a war. International newspapers get pretty excited when they can talk about governments falling and people getting killed. But anarchy is not actually very unusual in the Middle East, is it?

Lebanon has dropped out the headlines, but really the lack of chaos there is what is newsworthy. The Lebanese disagree with each other for sure - that is par for the course. But they are not shooting at each other. And that is remarkable.

For a little insight on how the weak government of Lebanon survives, here is a bit on Siniora's approach to the opposition demonstrations from today's Lebanon Daily Star.

Update: Today 12/14, Spiegel has a nice article that talks about Lebanon's political climate of unity in spite of divisions.

And on 12/15, the San Francisco Chronicle discusses the Sinoria administration's operations during the protests.

Update 12/20, via the Quatari Peninsula, a bit on how a group in Lebanon is running a clever advertising campaign against sectarianism. You can see the website of the 05amam Stop Sectarian Campaign here.

Posted by David at December 13, 2006 11:22 AM
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