Another Opportunity for Lebanon

Since its creation in 2016, the party “Mouwatinoun wa Mouwatinat fi Dawla” (MMFD) or Citizens in a State has warned that Lebanon was edging closer towards an economic collapse. In 2018, the party notified the sectarian leaders, the Association of Banks, the Lebanese Central Bank (BDL), and the ambassadors of relevant foreign governments that Lebanon will be facing an enormous financial catastrophe. MMFD’s letters to these parties highlighted the necessity of pre-emptively coping with the crisis using a temporary government with legislative prerogatives to lead the transitional period away from the interference of sects, exploitative billionaires, and foreign powers. The political class in Lebanon responded to this urgent call for immediate action and responsibility by claiming that MMFD was fearmongering and ruining Lebanon’s image. Almost two and a half years into the crisis in Lebanon, political leaders have taken little to no measures to mitigate its effects on society, with the World Bank calling it a “deliberate depression”. The sectarian leaders in power did not plan for the economic crisis in Lebanon. Their deliberate inaction in taking any steps to deal with the crisis rises mostly from their inability to take decisions in distributing the financial losses. This is because distributing losses entails making tough decisions in choosing who carries the burdens and whose rights will be protected at this important stage. Sectarian parties are incapable of dealing with such decisions, simply because every sect includes people from all socio-economic backgrounds. Therefore, the sectarian establishment has decided to give BDL governor Riad Salameh and PM Najib Mikati the green-light to intentionally speed up the brain drain and exportation of youth to increase foreign currency cash-flow into Lebanon and decrease local consumption. Making one group within a sect pay while protecting another group within the same sect will cause any sect to be divided on real politics, rather than empty slogans that polarise society such as being “with or against” Hezbollah. The sectarian parties backed the Salameh-Mikati government to avoid such a scenario. It is because of the sectarian establishment’s inability to make tough choices and deal with the crisis effectively has MMFD decided to call on the sectarian leaders to negotiate a temporary peaceful transition of power. In the transitional 18 months, MMFD’s government with legislative prerogatives will implement a detailed economic and political plan from distributing losses in a fair and purposeful way, to conducting Lebanon’s first census since 1932. Only at the last stage of this transitional period will they hold Parliamentary elections in a new secular system with civil legitimacy.

To get the sectarian leaders to the negotiations table, MMFD has been using multiple tools to turn the balance of power in its favour. The most prominent tool is mobilising and organising individuals that are already in unions and syndicates to call for universal healthcare (to be paid for by the bankers that squandered the unions’ funds) as part of the “Wen Sandou2ak” campaign. This campaign is aimed at making those in unions aware that their unions’ deposits in Lebanese banks have been squandered. The Wen Sandou2ak campaign highlights that the problem is not limited to certain classes, groups, or professions, and therefore the solution cannot be class, group, or profession based. Besides being a basic human right, MMFD emphasises that universal healthcare can be used to limit dependence on sect-based clientelism and build the foundations of a true civil state that establishes a healthy relationship between the state and its citizens.

MMFD’s decision to take part in the 2022 Parliamentary elections, with candidates in all 15 electoral districts, was an attempt to unite as many opposition parties and individuals as possible if they can agree on a clear political program. This unprecedented move of running in all of Lebanon is also a show of force by a clear alternative that does not conform to regional divisions that were made to solidify sectarian rule and hegemony. MMFD is using the elections as a platform to highlight this nation-wide alternative and tip the scales in its favour in negotiating with the sectarian parties, which are expected to renew their legitimacy towards their foreign sponsors using the elections. MMFD also argues that regional “opposition” coalitions such as Shamaluna are based only on electoral alliances rather than political alliances and do not pose any threat to the status quo, especially since it is in the regime’s interest that a small opposition force is represented in Parliament to give the illusion of a healthy democracy. MMFD does not believe that change from within the sectarian system and “Berri’s theatre” is possible, and is therefore in talks with various opposition parties to establish an alternative “National Civil Parliament”.

Most traditional parties in Lebanon keep their supporters under control using dependence on clientelism, the idea of historic “achievements” and “sacrifices”, sectarian affiliation, as well as a mixture of fearmongering and polarisation. The two main narratives of this polarisation include Hezbollah and its allies on one side, and Kataeb, the Lebanese Forces, and PSP on the other. While Hezbollah and its allies blame the crisis mostly on the October 17 uprising and an “American conspiracy”, the parties in the other camp have been positioning themselves in the opposition and blaming Lebanon’s problems on an “Iranian occupation”. MMFD stressed that these two narratives are made to further divide the Lebanese around issues that strip them of their political agency. MMFD attempts to challenge the status quo by aiming the national discussion at state-building and tackling the crisis. MMFD’s candidates running in every Lebanese region can also be seen as symbolic of a true confrontation with the sectarian parties, highlighting the sectarian parties’ hypocrisy by asking questions like “If the Lebanese Forces truly want to weaken Hezbollah, then why are there no Lebanese Forces candidates in Bint Jbeil?” and “If Hezbollah truly considers the Lebanese Forces a foreign-backed party aimed at weakening the resistance, why are there no Hezbollah candidates in Bsharre?”. MMFD does not only call for critical thinking by supporters of traditional parties, but also for a serious reflection of their experiences in the past and present.

MMFD aims to set the grounds for a real democracy, with its vision of a way out of the crisis and clear roadmap to build “the first civil state in the region”. More than two years into the crisis, MMFD’s plan is seen as the most pragmatic approach to deal with even the most polarising issues in Lebanese politics with a sense of urgency.

Mohammad Hazimeh, Member in “Citizens in a State”