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.