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Lebanon's Democracy Needs Support of Western World

Lebanon's Democracy Needs Support of Western World

by Henri Bou Saab in Beirut for

Lebanon's democracy needs the support of the Western world, not a whole lot of unreasonable demands that threaten to undermine the nation's unity and social frabic.

The international news stories on Lebanon these days contain a whole lot of "demands" of Lebanon, but there are no "demands" made of our southern neighbour, Israel, who we are told by the same international news commentators is the "only democracy in the Middle East".

Yet, for all the talk in the Western media about democracy in Israel, the fact is that Israel has for all intents and practical purposes annexed not only Syria's Golan Heights, but also all the strategic heights in the Palestine West Bank.

That includes the Jordan Valley between Jordan and the three Palestinian ghettos that have been created since 1967 in the West Bank.

What that means in practice is that Israel has extended all the rights and privileges of Israeli citizenship to a select group of people in the West Bank (settlers belonging to one national or religious group) but those same rights and privileges are not extended to their next door neighbours who belong to the "wrong" national or religious group (the Palestinian Sunni Moslems and Greek Orthodox Christians).

The West does nothing while Israel builds its huge walls of separation through the occupied territories. The West does nothing as Israel rejects all of its international obligations as a military occupation army.

The Palestinian Moslems and Christians get huge walls built around their towns and villages, have to pay taxes to underwrite the cost of their own military occupation against international law and then have to watch those taxes collected by Israel but not distributed because Israel didn't like the result of Palestinian elections!

In other words, Israel includes vast tracks of land in the West Bank where entire towns, villages and communities are excluded from enjoying the citizenship that the State of Israel extends to their next door neighbours who live in exclusive "settlements of citizenship".

That is no democracy.

Israel today is no more a democracy than South Africa was twenty years ago when the National Party propagandists went around saying that South Africa's was "an imperfect democracy, but the only democracy in all of Africa".

Meanwhile in Lebanon, which never gets a mention in the Western media as a democracy despite the fact that all religious or national groups of the country are extended citizenship rights, gets a whole lot of demands from the "international community" and no recognition at all of the complexity and delicacy needed to safeguard our democracy from being torn apart due to strong foreign interference in our internal affairs.

Let me quote from two events in Lebanon this week.

The first came from the national commission which is drafting a new electoral law aimed at enhancing the democracy and discusses all the thorny issues you would expect such a law to address.

Many in Lebanon believe that while the media, for example, as a whole is balanced, individual media outlets taken separately are biased - that is, they support one parliamentary bloc or another over others.

So there has been a lot of debate about how we can improve the balance in journalistic coverage of our electoral process, to make it fairer, particularly to candidates from party lists that aren't so large. There is also debate about the length of TV political advertising and so forth.

In other words, unlike Israel where Palestinians in the West Bank are excluded for voting for the Israeli Parliament while Jewish settlers in the same territory can vote, Lebanon has the hallmarks of a genuine democracy not a sham one.

But there was another story from Lebanon this week.

It came in the form of a warning from the founder of one of our biggest parties, Hizbullah, Sheikh Sobhi Tufeili.

Sheikh Tufeili warned that the huge pressure that the West is imposing on Lebanon at the U.N. risks not only undoing all the good work toward national reconcilliation since the end of our civil war in 1990, but actually pushing the country back into civil war once again.

The Western demands on Lebanon - that our President stand down that our resistance forces that successfully repulsed the Israeli occupation of the southern third of our country (1978-2000) immediately disband - risk strengthening all of the former Civil War political leaders that our country needs like a hole in the head.

Lebanon's imperfect democracy needs time to evolve and strengthen, just as England's democracy strengthened over time without outside interference and pressure, but all the Western pressure on Lebanon these days risks destroying Lebanon's stability and our democracy with it.

The irony is that without all this Western pressure, the truth is that Lebanese on their own with new democratic political leaders would in time dismantle its southern armed resistance and in time elect a new President: It is the undue pressure on us to do these things that risks fracturing Lebanon along old Civil War dividing lines and if that happens the West can take its share of the blame for killing the one true democracy in the Middle East.


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