Whose Time has Come?

I was reading with interest Nadine’s post today, aimed at inspiring the “angry disenfranchised people” in Lebanon:

I have a feeling that our time has come. We, the people on the margins. The angry, disenfranchised people who pay too much for bread and fuel and rent and water and parking. We, the kids who grew up in the 80s. We, who are unamused by boring media and mindless entertainment. We, who’ve been struggling for years trying to create small, important projects that go nowhere and achieve nothing. Civil marriage. Women’s rights. Green spaces. Anti-corruption. Renewable energy. Equal pay. Migrant rights. Bicycle lanes. Refugee rights. Public schools. Public universities. Social security. Protect our beaches. Protect our workers. Protect our Internet. Protect love. Save our animals. Save our forests. Save our heritage. End torture. End the civil war. Build a public transportation system that works already!

As a general vision of what is wrong in the country and needs to be fixed, this is a wonderful paragraph. It can be the basis for a manifesto and a program for a new left-wing party. It can be a to-do list for journalists and reporters who are looking for material for their next investigation. It could even be a checklist for politicians who are seriously thinking of ways to improve their constituencies’ lots.

The problem though is that the post is not meant to be any of the above. It is meant to be a call to action:

I have a feeling that thousands of you agree that enough is enough. And what’s different this time is that I have a feeling thousands of you want to do something about it. What better thing to do than take back Parliament?

I’m not exactly sure what she means by “take back Parliament”. If she means “form new parties that are voted in to replace those bums”, then great, go for it. But if this an attempt to “occupy parliament”, to somehow resurrect the “revolution against sectarianism”, ie a street action meant to replace the entire political class and system, then she is in for another disappointment.

There’s a general fallacy in the minds of some Lebanese activists that goes along these lines: “There are many, many people out there who are unhappy with the system and want real change. If only we could find a way to get them all together on the street to overthrow the system in a people’s revolt”.

That is a mirage that is refusing to die. There are a lot of things that the Lebanese don’t like (look again at Nadine’s list above), but it is misguided to assume that together these people form a homogenous group. Many people who “grew up in the 80s” don’t give a damn about renewable energy or equal pay. People who want to save our heritage don’t necessarily care about public transportation or animal welfare. Some of these objectives are even at odds with each other: Money used to create bicycle lanes (which although very important, are a luxury) is money taken away from “public schools, public universities and social security”.

The problem with Nadine’s “Our time has come” is that the “our” doesn’t exist.

The system is not perfect but a lot of people are okay with it. What we need is gradual, long term and focused activism, the kind of activism that Nadine dismisses as “small, important projects that go nowhere and achieve nothing”. Groups like the Civil Campaign for Electoral Reform (CCER), My Nationality is A Right (Jinsiyati), KAFA, Ontornet, the Anti Racism Movement and even Nasawiya itself (in which Nadine is a major pole) are doing the admirable work of slowly shifting people’s attitudes and effecting, with time, real change. One can even argue that we live in the golden age of these NGOs because of the new technologies that make their work faster and more efficient.

To assume that there’s some sort of shortcut to the hard work these groups are doing would be to delude ourselves. There will be no “Lebanon Spring”, no magical moment in which everything suddenly becomes better (an ironic statement from a blog called “Beirut Spring”). Democratic systems in which there’s a modicum of popular representation can only be slowly perfected through the ballot and through gradual attitude shifts.

There will be no revolution, and no, “our” time has not come.

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  • Observer

    What if she omitted “our” ?

    Would that be more suitable?

  • Dania

    Sadly the “many who are unhappy with the system” have all left the country(me included) and those who havent are not interested in change

    • Observer

      That isn’t true Dania.

      I can assure you that 95% of Lebanese are fed up.

      It’s the political class that hasn’t changed since the dawn of the establishment of this country and that isn’t “interested”.

  • http://Www.nineteenzerofive.com Fadi

    Hi Mustafa,

    I could not agree more to your vision in the gradual change: I no longer believe in super politicians that think they are bigger than our diversity, nor I believe in magical overnight revolutionary  solution, because of that same diversity… 

    But where I am differ is in the “our”. In fact I find it really weird that we are still relying on politicians that were active before 1990 – that is 20 years ago! That we rely on politicians that were experts in wars and demolitions and expect them to reconcile us in “tawelt el hiwar”.
    I really think that it is time fir them to let go… To move on…. Even to pass it over to their young ones if necessary… 
    We did vote for them in 2005, and 2009, but really where is the gutsy alternative? The gutsy candidate and the gutsy voter? 
    On a personal level I have vowed never to listen, vote, or give credit to a war time (pre1990)politician, as a person, not a party.
    The 20th century  is over, i believe its about time  to move into the 21st with new faces. Not in a “revolution” but by votes, time to move into our time. Expats voting is a good start….

  • Antidisestablishmentarianism

    How is gradual cumulative change possible in a system DESIGNED to regenerate and perpetuate itself and the elites that control it? Example? Jumblatt’s position against PR. In Lebanon, sadly, the system is the problem, and some sort of revolution/civil war with conclusive results is the only way history will move on in this country (whether this will happen or not is a different question altogether, I for one don’t think it will). Those who left Lebanon have made a wise choice, because there is no hope. There really is no hope. I am sorry. Abandon all hope, and go find yourself another country, things only get worse in Lebanon (just look at the past couple of decades and see the trend. NOTHING can change that trend.)
    Electricity – Worse
    Internet – Worse
    Inflation – Worse
    Wages – Worse
    Real Estate Prices- Exorbitant
    Poverty – Higher
    Pollution – Worse
    Sectarianism – Worse

  • Z. H.

    Mus,

    If the revolution for personal freedom that started in Lebanon proves to be self-destructive, you could always rebrand your site to “Beirut Springboard”.

    Now for the more serious comment; today’s young Lebanese are indeed deluded when it comes to change, because they are cheering their sides to the finish line, instead of thinking of ways to cooperate. I say they are deluded because most of them criticize their elected MPs but fail to vote for other ones. Lebanese believe in the “greater good” that justifies all kinds of devious political (and sometimes military) manoeuvers, so in the long run, we keep degrading into our endless abyss.

  • http://www.ninars.com Tony Sagbhiny

    Good points Mustapha.
    I also liked Nadine’s article, i has hope. I think it’s good for the alternative activism scene to meddle itself in the elections in order to help itself evolve and know what it really takes to change and run a country.
    On the other hand I really don’t know where to start when commenting on the Lebanese activism scene; almost everyone in it wants a quick fix and despise anyone who says “we need a plan”, they use the same useless repertoire of action again and again then blame “the people” for their failure. And the closed clicks and the paid employees have somehow monopolized and strangled activism and drove many people (including myself) away.

    I don’t know if the time has come, revolutions might happen when we don’t expect them but they’re not always a positive event in history.

    • http://www.ninars.com Tony Sagbhiny

      *it