Oh right, the government…

… totally forgot about that. For those among you (and me) who gave up trying to follow the endless bickering and cowtowing between the nation’s politicians since the June elections, the invaluable Elias Muhanna (aka Qifa Nabki) provides a handy concise update in the National. Not forgetting to include his usual lucid analysis: ‘In Lebanon, where political power is distributed between different religious groups, the ideal of consensual government is seen by many as an essential ingredient to maintaining a modicum of inter-communal harmony. Indeed, as the oft-repeated formula goes, conflicts should have “no victor, no vanquished” – so as to prevent the domination of one sect over the others. However, to conflate communal coexistence with consensual politics (and, by extension, with unity governments) entails three dubious assumptions: first, that sectarian communities are discrete entities whose interests are fully represented by political parties; second, that the practice of politics is nothing more than a zero-sum competition between these sectarian communities over the resources of the state; and third, that the best way to ensure that one sect is not allotted more than its fair share of spoils is to give every sect the ability to throw a spanner into the works. It is to assume, in other words, that political affiliations and sectarian identities are one and the same thing, which has the inevitable effect of further legitimising sectarianism as a dominant feature of Lebanese political life. To put it another way, interpreting coexistence to mean “consensual decision-making in government” mandates that national politics should be nothing more than a meeting of tribal elders, who gather periodically to brainstorm about how to divide the harvest and keep the peace. Sharing power with your political rivals may be a nice idea in theory, but it is almost impossible to achieve in practice without regular breakdowns and severe inefficiencies. The claim that such a scheme prevents sectarian strife and violence by giving all political players a place at the table is simplistic and naive. As we have witnessed over the past four years in Lebanon, power-sharing governments, based as they are on an unrealistic ideal of consensual decision-making, are highly vulnerable to paralysis. This is the case because they provide no pathways for forward progress under the likely scenario that disagreements between political players arise. The only option is to agree; otherwise, the system collapses. The dynamics of such an arrangement virtually demand that the main business of government is the prevention of state failure. Rather than attending to real problems facing the country – like the crippling national debt and the sagging infrastructure – the cabinet inevitably becomes the arena for petty infighting masquerading as consensual co-existence. And while it is commonplace for Lebanese politicians to argue that unity governments help to immunise Lebanon against foreign interference in its domestic affairs, in fact, it is the very fluidity of the Lebanese system that makes it so susceptible to manipulation.’

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