Lebanese Youth, Stuck in Déjà-vu

Wednesday 9 August 201705:39 pm
  I watched as a car parade honked by, during municipal election-day on 8 May 2016. Young adults my age spilled out the windows, waving flags for Saad Hariri’s Future Movement. The poll had created a sense of trepidation among the many Lebanese whom, like myself, are fed up with past and current seat fillers: for the first time a civil society group, Beirut Madinati, was running against the leading clique, which felt threatened enough to overcome their alleged differences and form a coalition. I remember thinking at the scene: how can people my age still think that voting for the Future Movement is good for them or the country? We have all witnessed how confused it has been, since the 2005 assassination of Saad’s father Rafic—one day declaring another faction its enemy and the next forming an alliance with it. And indeed, most of these young people waving and honking likely would leave Lebanon the second they got the chance. The Future Movement (like all other parties in Lebanon) may offer jobs to some, but not all, and the country itself hardly promises prosperity. The way things are, we usually stay for one reason: we didn’t find the right opportunity to leave. Lebanon has been deprived of political leaders genuinely working toward our collective wellbeing since before the civil war, almost half a century ago. For a while, conflict spawned factions fighting each other because they wanted different things for Lebanon: Hezbollah started off resisting Israeli occupation while aiming to establish an Islamic State molded on Iran. Various groupings later came together to defy Syrian occupation and usher in a more liberal order aligned with the West. But today, beyond the rhetoric, they all seem to get on, splitting power among them and divvying up what’s left of an economy. Granted, these Parties are not completely useless on an individual or communal level. Hezbollah fills in for a dysfunctional state by providing its supporters with much-needed basic services, jobs and security. Other groups offer aid to their respective communities too, on a smaller scale, and luckily so: without them people would have no other “caretaker” to turn to. But it’s a mixed blessing: bent as they are on short-term expedients, none of the political groups put much effort into devising a medium to long-term plan to develop Lebanon as a country. Rather, they cater for their own in ambiguous ways. This hit me hard one night as I was passing by a cemetery where Hezbollah buries its martyrs from the Syrian war. All the graves were blinking with colored lights, surrounding large smiling portraits of the young men inside them. Some even had balloons tied to them, in celebration of the deceased’s martyrdom, or their birthdays. And there was a woman sitting next to her son’s tomb. Her back was bent, as she talked to it. It Despite all the smiles, the pretty lights, the only way this mother could spend time with her son was in a graveyard, in a one-sided conversation. None of the ostentatious joy hid the palpable sadness. I felt that the mother’s true feelings must be smothered by showers of congratulations. How could she feel grief when Hezbollah is pleased with her? How could she mourn if the Party says that her son is better off dead? Congratulating a parent for the death of a child is absurd. The mother deserves, at least, a compelling reason why her son had to leave her so soon. Protecting Lebanon from a Jihadi invasion makes sense, arguably, although it’s also one of many never-ending conflicts that all the factions use to lock their loyal supporters into a suspended present, where the future is something to fear, not to look forward to. Defeating Daesh, supporting the Syrian regime, fighting Israel, why not, but what next? To what end? As a matter of principle, parties form a vision they want to accomplish. They develop a plan, with concrete steps to make it happen. Since I was born, 23 years ago, all I have been hearing is the same people bringing up the same excuses and preoccupied mostly with handing the torch to their heirs and heiresses. The same names, the same faces, the same words, over and over. How can we vote for more of that and believe it will bring about change? When one turns 21, he earns the right to vote in parliamentary elections, which we haven’t done in almost ten years. Here is what I suggest to you who honks and waves: vote for your trusted leader but insist on an actual vision for the future. Prove me—and the many others like me—wrong about their uselessness, by demanding they at least put forth a program. If you succeed in doing that, it is as much of a win for me as it is for you, and the rest of the country. In the meantime, of course, I will be looking for a fresh-faced group with real potential, and I will do my best to help them. I will work against you. But if we compete over meaningful visions for the future, the country may finally stand to gain.
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