Alright good people, happy new year and all. Let’s cut to the chase.
Off the bat, let me say that I do not vouch for the hanging of this man, nor of any man ever. In my world, the only things we hang are clothes (and even that depends on the weekdays).
It’s a controversial story and it’s worth giving it our attention, and I would really love to hear your opinions. Here’s the rundown: In our current cabinet, the post of the Minister of Culture is occupied by a man named Gaby Layoun. Mr. Layoun is accused by factions of the media and civil society activists of having facilitated the destruction of the Beirut Phoenician harbor (a said archaeological site that dates back to 500 B.C.) in June 2012 to make way for three skyscrapers to be built on the site. Then, in October 2012, he gave permission to the construction firm of Kettaneh Group to destroy Villa Medawar in Badaro, a beautiful 1920s house that was inhabited by Amin Maalouf and his family, and be replaced by a 22-story skyscraper. The villa’s destruction started just yesterday (Jan 4 2013). Now, one may conclude that, boy, Mr. Layoun sure loves skyscrapers, but I think we can push this a bit further.
Whether the harbor was really a Phoenician harbor or not, or whether Villa Medawar was ‘traditional’ or not should not be the debate here; in fact, I personally couldn’t care less if the site was used as a port 2,500 years ago or if it were a Phoenician donkey stable. What I care about is WHY.
Why has it classically been so easy for our ministers to manhandle Lebanon’s natural wealth, economic wealth, security and cultural heritage as if they were their own sandcastles, without the remote fear of a law coming back to prosecute them or a possible loss of reputation coming back to haunt them?
Our best answer is “ ما في دولة ”, “there is no government”. The phrase “وين هي الدولة ” “where is the government” has almost become our national motto. But I think it is wiser to ask “وين الشعب”; where are the people?
When there are no people holding a government accountable, there will naturally be no accountable governance. It’s simple. Thus, instead, we wound up with a game where only a handful of men with recurrent names and their occasional widows get to be the only players. They call their job being a “politician”, which is an irony in itself because a politician is not a job, it is a title.
Resultantly, we’ve hardly seen any real work done. In fact, if you take a look at the political battles of March 14 and March 8, you will notice that they are all centered on a couple of controversial issues that have no real end in sight. We call them “white noise issues”: dramatic, contentious, and practically unsolvable. Like the issue of Hezbollah’s armaments which has been the #1 issue for a few years now: it fuels half of the country’s loyalties or the other half’s resentments (dramatic), it divides the country over a 50-50 or 40-60 division line (contentious), and everybody knows that there is no real solution to this problem anytime soon (practically unsolvable for now) yet it plagues our discussions. The “politicians” don’t get to “work”, they just get to be in power and reap the benefits. And as long as the people don’t seriously ask for anything, the white noise is controversial enough to fill the time and justify their position.
But do you think “kassarat” are controversial? Do you think asking for gardens in Beirut is controversial? Do you think asking for a cleaner sea is controversial? Do you think having uninterrupted electricity is controversial? Do you think asking for safe drinking water is controversial? Do you think asking for faster Internet is controversial? Do you think preserving our historical heritage is controversial? I cannot imagine that an issue like Layoun’s decisions would “divide” the country, nor can I imagine who would defend such decisions and keep a “white face” in the media. Of course we will not see any political leader take that battle to the political and news arena. Why? Because the entire political spectrum has engaged in similar illicit, irresponsible activities at some point, and they are not stupid to go accuse a person of being guilty of the very thing of which they are guilty. If your house is made of glass, you don’t throw stones at your neighbor!
But what about us, the people? The ones who have an educated voice and have nothing to hide? We don’t live in glass houses.
Politics is not a dirty game my friends. In fact, politics is nothing close to being a game. Politics is governance, and governance is public service, and public service is a very noble devotion. But in order for the public to be serviced, there needs to be a public.
Just a thought.