Lebanon’s Leading Political Talk Show: A Popular Circus of Discontent

Sunday 9 February 202001:37 pm

A state of chaos dominated yet again Lebanon’s political scene right in front of thousands of TV viewers. Only this time it was a prime time political debate show on Lebanon’s most prominent TV show: Sar el Waet (It Is Time). The show stems from an older version called Kalam el Nas which dates back to 1995. 

The participation of the younger generation is what distinguishes the new version from the old one. A group of young men and women from political parties as well as the civil society who do not associate with any of the long established political parties. However, the participation from these groups overshadowed the political debate intended to be on a free-falling economic meltdown. Having the young generation of the country express their anger and frustration against the political system is one thing, but turning the show into a ten seconds of fame for those picked by the host to make a show of resentment at the political elite is another thing. Instead we find ourselves having to watch the participants take up a chunk of the show whose main purpose is to showcase what the guests’ vision out of this crisis is. Surprisingly, we find ourselves having to watch the educated middle class young cross-section of society vent out their anger at the politicians and at each other alike unrestrainedly live on TV. These are our friends, neighbors, our colleagues at work which begs the question: What is the purpose of pitting people against each other. Political debate is supposed to serve as an informative tool for citizens to make informed decisions about the issues that affect our lives. I doubt that the process of opening the floor to statements from the crowd could have any added value especially when they offer nothing new and given the ways in which the debate could easily spiral out of control and an attempt to control impulsive reactions and deep seated frustrations towards “the other” have in other episodes seemed like mission impossible.

Looking beyond the fuss around Marcel Ghanem's show where he juggled on multiple occasions between commercial breaks to abruptly ending the show; This is indicative of a political reality marred by a decline of ethics and steep political division.

That is not to say that the opinions of those participating in the show are trivial. Their views could still be voiced by a political representative from their ranks who could take part in the show on behalf of those disillusioned with the system-now called “the rebels” as commonly used in the Arabic lexicon; a use of terminology that the protestors seem to find pride and certainly no trouble in- despite the historic connotations the word beholds often associated with armed conflict. It is worth having a quick look at the history pertaining to rebel groups around the world and reflect on whether the people’s movement against the establishment in the case of Lebanon could use some revision regarding its use of terminology.

Looking beyond the fuss around this particular show where the host had to juggle on multiple occasions between having to break into commercials to even abruptly ending the show, this is only indicative of a political reality marred by sharp ethical decline and steep political divisions. It is indeed a reflection of the wider public as political divisions have come to play a rather destructive role with pronounced divisions among family members who happen to fall on different party lines or across the broader circle within the society. Unless we are able to reconcile our differences and become able to accept different views without feeling offended by them and having the need to become all defensive, then the rebels’ cause is still a long way to go before reaching a viable inclusive state for us all.

Picking up bits and pieces of history becomes a poisonous tool when it is used to either distort facts or score points. The seeds for division and hate must be stemmed out if #Lebanon is to come out of this debacle as one nation.

IT IS ABOUT TIME we stop scoring points at one another. A recurring trend in political debates which resurfaced again in yesterday’s show was an attack on Political Harirism- named after the assassinated PM Rafic Al Hariri. He is thought of as the architect who laid the foundations of the post war economy back  in the mid 90s, when he tasked himself with Lebanon’s reconstruction. His economic approach post the civil war stands accused for much of today’s economic ills and mounting debt. Whichever side of the argument you fall on, it is about time we rise above these endless and pointless shifting of blame- if we are to stand on our feet again. What fueled the stage though was an attack mounted by one of the participating crowd against the establishment including on President Aoun for seeking asylum or escaping to the French Embassy when he was the commander of the Army at the end of civil war. The rest was an out of control crowd shouting and screaming at another. I wonder what the intended contribution this man really had in mind for the show or for the thousands watching him at home. He certainly got his ten seconds of fame.

History serves as an archive to look back on provided that we have looked at material from expertise in the fields of history, economy, social science, etc.. Unless we are aware of the literature and the readings that came before us from multiple sources, we are not to pass judgements. That is not our duty, history should be learned from and we should all own up the responsibility collectively as we now shoulder the consequences collectively.

Picking up bits and pieces of history becomes a poisonous tool when it is used to either distort facts or score points. The seeds for division and hate must be stemmed out. We have come to what we have come to as a result of failed successive government policies and no political party could assume innocence or can prove to be inculpable of the political and economic situation we find ourselves in, ourselves included for voting them in power year after another.
Drawing up on the US dark history of 400 years of slavery, conversations around race, discrimination and police brutality consume much of the political debate. Still, the aim of these conversations is to cement the ground for a conciliatory approach to this history through various ways including reparations among other methods of confronting and redressing this racial injustice. 
Justice is not a point of view. Let’s spring to action and provide airtime for healing not warring. Participation in TV debate with the aim of scoring points and stoking division fails to serve any purpose turning TV shows into a bad circus.
Injustices, whether racially or politically, must be challenged by the people and not whitewashed. In contrast, remaining stuck in history provides little remedy- if any- for the victims. In Lebanon's context, we remain stuck in a political history of less than 30 years of post civil war injustices as reflected by the conversations between young men and women (the educated middle class), as political wars are being waged against this side or the other. Compared to much tougher and much more challenging contexts, our differences must and should be overcome. If we cannot reconcile with a span of 30 year  of political injustice, then what would we have done had we had centuries of differences and struggles. What brings us together is far less than what divides us, most notably our struggle to gain independence twice, against the Ottomans and the French colonization consecutively. Only this time, and with the right approach and needed awareness, hopefully this decade would mark our independence from the devil within.
IT IS TIME such political shows bring to the public a more refined political debate free from defamation and political assassination that have no conducive role in rebuilding our nation or bridging the differences between the opposing factions of the society. This form of participation involving the crowd similar to the one seen in yesterday's episode only causes more stir among the public. It is far from the participatory form of democracy, with the aim of involving citizens, like the one we would have hoped to see and that one that one of the participants hinted at. Justice is not a point of view. Let’s spring to action and provide space for healing not anger. Participation with the aim of scoring points and stoking division fails to serve its purpose and certainly turning the show into a circus is nowhere near that. 
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