“Lebanon’s political system is the product of a decades-old power-sharing arrangement among leaders of Lebanon’s 18 religious sects, the most important being the Sunni and Shia Muslims and Maronite Christians.”
“It has helped mediate sectarian conflict, forced leaders to build consent among their constituencies, and prevented the heavy centralization of power that plunged much of the Arab world into dictatorship.
But this particular medicine has side effects. Political elites have used their positions to bleed the economy dry and monopolize control over public institutions. Parliament and many cabinets have been filled with some of the same faces for decades. The speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, has occupied the post since 1992. As members of the traditional ruling class age or die out, their sons often replace them, meaning politics has become a family business for the Gemayels, Hariris, Aouns, and Jumblatts, to name a few.
Many politicians have amassed great wealth by taking cuts of public contracts, facilitating bureaucratic processes, or directly siphoning public funds. Public servants are appointed by sect rather than on merit, and national loyalty competes with and often loses out to sectarian loyalty.
This has undermined civic life and turned politics into a zero-sum sectarian competition rather than a policy debate. Questions as mundane as where to build a waste incinerator or how to reform public utilities, for example, take on sectarian dimensions over who gets what.
Why, then, do people not simply vote this rotten elite out?
For one, they have played on sectarian insecurities to perpetuate distrust among the population, casting themselves as saviors of their community. Attempts to unseat a particular leader are quickly seen as attacks on the sect itself, leading to a rallying effect around said leader regardless of their performance.”
“The political class has also skillfully used the state to provide constituents with jobs, financial support, and other privileges. And, of course, where persuasion fails there is always coercion. Parties routinely harass and intimidate those who seek reform or even dare to criticize their leaders.
All factions are complicit to some degree, but one in particular presents an altogether more difficult problem: Hezbollah.”
“Hezbollah maintains a formidable militia with direct support from Iran. It has turned Lebanon and its Shia community into the base of its “resistance” project of open-ended conflict with Israel and the West.
Hezbollah runs a state-within-a-state, complete with a military, security forces, and infrastructure; at the same time, it has penetrated Lebanon’s institutions through politics or by cultivating powerful allies. The Lebanese military lacks the will and ability to disarm Hezbollah. Those who present a serious challenge to its armed status are intimidated or killed.”
“Attempts to constrain its military arm are violently repressed. In May 2008, for example, a cabinet decision to dismantle the militia’s independent telecommunications infrastructure was met with a military takeover of much of Beirut. Hezbollah has also been implicated in a string of assassinations of political rivals, most recently through a United Nations tribunal that convicted Salim Ayyash of complicity in the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.”