Lebanon: Civil war or rule by sectarian warlords

Politicians Qatar power-sharing deal no solution

After the last two weeks of street conflict between pro-government and opposition armed militias, workers in Lebanon are now facing two ’choices’: either a sectarian civil war or ’civil peace’ with a ruling ’coalition’ made up of sectarian warlords that have minor differences in their economic programmes.

The leaders of the government and opposition parties returned from a five star hotel in Qatar where they held negotiations. But they brought no real plan for change. They decided the outcome of presidential elections before they started. They divided up the parliamentary seats along confessional and sectarian lines. They agreed on the division of state services, with each party having a share. They also agreed on a new president, the current head of the Lebanon Army, who has no economic or social or even political programme with which to enter the quagmire of Lebanese politics.

The politicians and media constantly tell us the army is neutral in Lebanon’s sectarian politics and above the fray. Yet, the army waged a war on the Palestinian Nahr El Bared camp, last year, fighting against a reactionary Islamist group, ’Fath El Islam’. The army completely destroyed the camp and the camp’s residents fled. The army is also responsible for the death of five men during the Hay El Sellom strike, in 2004, and of seven others, in 2007, at Mar Mkhayel. Their only ’crime’ was to protest for a real improvement in their living conditions.

In a five star Qatar hotel, Lebanon’s politicians divided up the spoils of office. There will be no economic benefits for workers and the poor. In fact, the politicians are opposed to a genuine independent workers’ movement. Such a movement had the possibility of starting to develop over the last couple of years, following a series of mass workers’ protests and strikes against the high cost of living. We saw the beginnings of workers organising themselves. When workers were on the brink of continuous industrial action, just weeks ago, armed clashes broke out between sectarian and confessional based militias, taking us back 30 years and turning people’s primary concerns to those security. Working people worried about how to stock food in preparation for a war – a new civil war that would be seen as the end of the country for many and which many people want to emigrate to avoid. At the same time as the armed clashes on the streets, the price of a barrel of fuel rose by 600 Lebanese Lira (US$0.40).

New president elected

Most Lebanese were relieved when agreement was reached between the government and opposition parties over the presidency. New elections in parliament were agreed to elect the new president, despite the fact that the procedure is unconstitutional and against the law and that the people of Lebanon have no say in the elections. On 25 May, on ’Resistance and Liberation’ Day – which was cancelled as a holiday by the Seniora government – the Lebanon army general, Michel Suleiman, was elected president.

But there is a total absence of any sort of democracy in the election procedures; not only in the presidential elections but also as planned for the parliamentary elections in 2009. The election system is based on the 1960 election law and means small ’constituencies’ which sees Christians electing a Christian and Muslims elects a Muslim etc.

We demand an electoral system that is genuinely democratic and not based upon sectarian and confessional headcounts. This means genuine regional constituencies and national electoral constituencies based upon proportional representation. This would allow for real electoral representation in parliament and would also open the door for other non-sectarian political forces, including socialists that can have a class appeal across all religious and ethnic lines.

Situation facing workers

Today, just as in the past, workers are given the ’options’ of accepting the confessional politicians terms and conditions of either going hungry but having illusionary peace, or of a descent into civil conflict, if they take to the streets. These conditions make putting an alternative for change even harder but all the more necessary. Working people need an alternative because no other force than the power of workers and youth can provide a way out.

There is a huge responsibility on the shoulders of, but also great opportunities for, the left and communists, in particular, to mobilize the masses against the ruling elite. This is because there is declining trust in any of the governing parties. It is clear that they are all taking part in the impoverishment of workers and the attacks on rights that workers historically fought for with their blood.

What the working masses need is an effective resistance, which stands up to the continuous attacks of imperialism and to economic policies of the Lebanese government. It is in the interest of all workers in Lebanon, and the region, to reject sectarianism and sectarian armed conflicts, which is breed by capitalism. This divides workers, weakening their ability to organize to fight for better conditions.

The CWI calls and struggles for mass workers’ organisations that are independently organized and armed with a political and economic programme that contests the big bosses. The only way to resist the global capitalist system – that creates war and poverty – is through united fighting trade unions and mass parties for democratic socialism and a workers’ international.

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May 2008