It has become a truism of sorts that student politics here in Lebanon “mirror” those of Lebanon at the national level. 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 stick around to see the results yesterday, from what my students told me this morning, March 14 won.
Generally, my students get worked up about the elections and feel that the results are very important. And as I mentioned before, since student elections are considered a bellwether for the national scene, it’s understandable that students would feel that their university elections might have an effect on actual politics, although this year, nearly half of my students said they didn’t vote at all.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, then, to see that these elections seem to have replayed national politics instead of foreshadowing them. For one thing, the March 14/March 8 divide was still the primary grouping of candidates, even though this is a division that I believe is largely defunct after last June’s parliamentary elections and even more so now that there is finally a government five months later. (See Qifa Nabki and Miss T for some views on the new government.) For example, even though Jumblatt left March 14 back in August, student members of his Progressive Socialist Party still ran on the March 14 ticket. (A student representative was on television last night explaining that they participated in the March 14 block, because they thought they would have better chances of success than with March 8.) And when I say ticket, I mean that literally, because students, mirroring national parties, prepared little color-coded electoral lists so their classmates would be able to vote a straight ticket, or “as is,” as the electoral campaign had it last summer.
But without a clear signal of what direction the country’s going, students have reverted to a political autopilot that reflects last year’s dynamics. In fact, many of these students are young enough to not really understand Lebanese politics in any other context than March 8 and 14. Perhaps it’s only a function of timing — student elections falling well after parliamentary ones (but before scheduled municipal elections, possibly subject to postponement) — but the elections here seem to have very little predictive value for national politics. This being the case, the students seem to have just echoed what their older compatriots were doing, like a long distance phone call over a bad connection. March14, March 14. March 8, March 8.
So what does this tell us about politics in Lebanon? Well, as far as coalition politics, party popularity, or the state of the nation, not much. What is does tell us, though, is that the political culture that so many Lebanese complain about, the blind loyalty to party, coalition or big man, is alive and well in the nation’s youth. With the young generation mimicking even defunct political memes, Lebanese politics don’t look ready to change any time soon.