Friday, June 5, 2009

Hail Emperor, those who are about to vote salute you!

By Joseph El-Khoury

I usually love elections, any elections. To the point that I can find pleasure in predicting the outcome of the English local elections or commenting on the turnout at the latest voting exercise in Mongolia. One would argue that the ritual isn’t very different from betting on a racehorse or a greyhound. You find uncertainty, a contest, rumours, speculations and finally... a winner and a loser. Free entertainment all round without the vulgarity of reality TV.

But on this occasion I am beyond disappointed with the electoral process underway in Lebanon. The cynics will argue that it is brought on by the fact that, for personal reasons, I was not in a position to get on a plane to perform my patriotic duty. Maybe! And why shouldn’t I be bitter when none of the political parties campaigned seriously for my right to vote at my local Lebanese embassy. Instead they thought it more fruitful to control the vote by controlling the influx of voters from abroad. I say beyond disappointed because any first-hand experience of Lebanese politics is enough to suck the enthusiasm out of any aspiring patriot. This happened to me some years ago, and since that date I have been left with the hope that things couldn’t get worse. But unfortunately they did!

So here we are, a nation of sects and expats, with roughly the population of Georgia and the international clout of Liechtenstein, gearing ourselves for another ‘rendezvous’ with history. You would imagine that after so many dates with the above mentioned, certainly since the 1960s, we would have learnt that she has a grudge against us and that we always emerge worse off. But this defeatist attitude is not for us eternal optimists, blighted by a deeply engrained narcissism.

120000 Lebanese have flown back to vote in the upcoming parliamentary elections on Sunday 7th June. At stake: the country’s identity (again!) and future (what about the present?). You will find the additional dimension of the global battle between the good American and the evil Iranian (or is it the other way round?). Not wanting to miss out on the action, our esteemed leaders kindly auctioned the 10452 KM2 (Minus the Shebaa Farms but plus the mount of rubbish near the Dora coast) of our fledgling democracy as a battleground, where the fate of the Middle East will be determined. Saudi money, Iranian weapons, Syrian intelligence, Western influence. All these ingredients will guarantee us some air time in International media outlets. These will be less interested in the post-elections day, when we will wake up to the same ghettoised entity, where social stagnation is the norm and intellectual degradation a fait accompli.

We are the only democracy in the Middle East. (The other one is an oppressive racist colony). But democracy is a means to an end, not an abstract exercise. When you subjugate your vote to primal tribal and patriarchal instincts, you turn it into an instrument of your own oppression; a tool in the hands of the Emperor.

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