Posted by: sean | November 26, 2008

Being a democrat against elections

Student elections are being held today at AUB, but I’ve decided not to go – for a couple of reasons. First, I’m recovering from the flu and am not crazy about getting out and about and risking a relapse of the nasty virus that’s been circulating. Second, the whole affair depresses me.

Last year, I manned one of the voting booths for a bit to get a better sense of how things worked, although one doesn’t learn much about the voting by sitting behind the ballot box. Later that evening, the two sides, each representing one of the two main Lebanese coalitions, lined up and taunted each other until the results were released, and then there was a brawl on Bliss Street, directly in front of the university, that brought in the campus security guards and the military, which was obviously untrained for riot control.

This year will be more of the same: national sectarian political parties using the campus and its students as a show of power. To my mind, this is just a symptom of Lebanon’s political woes, and frankly, I don’t want to have anything to do with it.

There have been some independents, but there have also been all kinds of machinations in which parties bill themselves as independent just to throw their votes at the last minute to one of the coalitions. Maybe this is some progress, in that for some of the students, being independent is a selling point.

Otherwise, I floated an idea with 75 of my students last week, asking them who would support the administration if it told students that since they had obviously misunderstood the principle behind student representation, letting the elections turn into the mirror image of national politics in all its sectarian ugliness, student government would be banned. I was really surprised to see that around 60% of my students said they would support such a ban. While on the one hand, it’s comforting to know that many students are also fed up, or at least say they are, it’s disconcerting to me that despite fancying myself a democrat, I find myself in a position half wishing that elections would be canceled.

But here again, in my experience, AUB elections mirror those on the national level, because for all their complaining that student government doesn’t actually do anything and that they’re fed up with the sectarianism and political bickering,  when it comes down to it, more than enough of them will go down and dutifully cast their ballots for one of the political factions.

Then, after the elections, what usually happens is that no one hears a word about student government again until next year, about a week before elections.

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Responses

  1. […] this point, I, like Sean, could kind of care less about who wins and loses… I just want a pair of ear plugs. […]

  2. While one the one hand, it’s comforting to know that many students are also fed up, or at least say they are…

    That is exactly what I was thinking, especially if they feel this is what you want to hear.

    Things were not that bad when I was a student there (more than a decade ago). But if anything, Lebanon is a living proof that with more education, things do not necessarily improve. Scratch the most pseudo-intellectual of surfaces and you will come up against an inability for subjecting oneself – or whichever party one sees oneself in – to criticism. As I am sure you have noticed…

  3. Yes, indeed. There’s part of wanting to sound open-minded to me, and there’s also probably a lot of not saying what they really think because there are partisans of the other side in class with them. It’s hard to say what these same students would say if they were in a more homogeneous (politico-sectarian-wise) setting.

    Although Lebanon certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on that. Similar manifestations of the same lack of self criticism come up time and again in the US, France and everywhere else I’ve been.

    It’s just based on different things. In the States, it’s party affiliation, whereas here it’s often sectarian. I’m not sure my Dad’s hatred of Obama is any less stupid because it’s concentrated on Obama qua Democrat instead of Obama qua black man. (He doesn’t think much about actual policy, but rather Republican and Democrat as code for good and bad, respectively.) Which is not to say that there aren’t plenty of bigots, too.

    Lately (since May), I’ve been really depressed about things here. The SSNP just put Omar Harqous in the hospital when he was reporting on taking SSNP signs down in Hamra.

  4. Sure, lack of self-criticism exists in most places. But I was attempting – rather hastily – to comment on Lebanese intellectual and academic circles. My point was that the readiness to identify with some party uncritically and at the cost of other points of view does not seem to decrease with exposure to new ideas and better/more education (or with the insultingly transparent discourse of the parties themselves).

    I know so many Lebanese intellectuals – well traveled and decorated with fancy degrees – who are ready to defend one extreme or the other to the last. It is easier to count exceptions, in fact. While these kinds exist everywhere, my experience is that it is not as pandemic in other intellectual and academic circles I am familiar with (to varying degrees): American, French, Dutch, British, and Norwegian.

    And I don’t think sectarianism alone can explain it either. Intellectuals and academics crossing the sectarian divides in blind support of Hizballah or March 14 has stopped being phenomenal since March 2005. I think it has more to do with the conflictual and ambiguous relationship between citizen and state of which sectarianism is only one facet. But that is another discussion.

    Oh, dear. I hadn’t heard about Omar Harqous. That’s bad. That is very bad. The SSNP feel entitled to anything right now and the lack of accountability for Halba will only feed that.

  5. […] of Lebanon’s at large. I’ve written about elections at AUB before, even expressing my disappointment with the whole process. Student elections were held yesterday at AUB, and while I didn’t […]


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