Let’s be real for a few moments, and admit that the Lebanese government and institutions are weak. They’re very weak. Infested with corruption, outdated laws, unworthy employees in important positions, a crumbling judiciary, rotten police force and the list goes on and on.
But, Lebanese people, good, upstanding citizens who pay their taxes and try to make a living, are regularly oppressed. We don’t have a Hosni Mubarak, or Moammar Gaddafi, or the Saudi King or Iran’s Ayatollah though (we do have the latter two to some extent, but you get what I mean). We don’t have a strong man in power, there isn’t one ruling party that exercises oppression exclusively in Lebanon. Instead, we have many ruling parties, and they’re all magnificent at giving excuses.
On one side, we have the carcass of the March 14 coalition, the ones that weren’t assassinated or just gave up. The components of the rotting corpse of what was something beautiful in 2005 are experts at blaming Hezbollah for everything. It’s sorta like the “Thanks Obama” the US Tea Party uses for everything like a cold pizza being delivered. So, the broken record goes something like “illegal arms” “state within a state” etc. which are all very legitimate concerns, but as we say in Lebanon “ma bi ta3mo khebez” (rough translation: don’t put bread on the table). It’s exonerated whatever is left of March 14 from doing anything themselves to try to make things better. Khallas, just sit at home and blame the arms for everything, and more recently, fund and arm Al Qaeda offshoots to allay the anger the Sunnis have towards Hezbollah’s fighting in Syria with the Assad regime.
On the other, we have Hezbollah. Militarily unmatched, they pull the strings and when push comes to shove, their black shirts sort things out for them. The problem with Hezbollah though, is it is a religiously extremist group, no matter how you look at it. It’s headed by a cleric, and adheres to strict Islamic law (notice how no women singers, including Fairuz who loves Sayyed Nasrallah, are ever shown on Al Manar) so having them as Lebanon’s overlords is something no one wants (no one who’s a fan of stuff like freedom and rights and equality that is). The problem too is that to their supporters, they are infallible. After 6 or 7 attempts to blow up Israelis in other countries to avenge Imad Mughniyeh’s assassination, Hezbollah doesn’t admit foiled plots, but that this wasn’t the time God has chosen. Also, convincing Hezbollah fighters and their families that going to Syria, fighting and dying there, is actually something justifiable is also an example of how deep the indoctrination runs: fighting someone else’s war, on someone else’s territory, for someone else’s interests.
With that depressing foreword, I want to get to the things I care about more: our daily lives. Ideological and regional wars are great news reel content, but for the average Lebanese person, it’s not the war in Syria that’s got them worried, it’s police corruption and brutality, judiciary intimidation and opaqueness and how with a few bribes you can pull off anything in Lebanon.
How People Are Oppressed
Which brings us to the “how” part. Government institutions and employees are generally lazy. They would never monitor social media for example, if someone higher up wasn’t whipping them to, or someone from outside the circle was handing them fat stacks of cash. So, here’s lesson number one: the Lebanese government is weak, and it can’t oppress people, but, with enough money, you can use the government’s jurisdiction and power to get a message through or punish someone that’s bothering you.
Proof? The endless parade of journalists and bloggers being summoned to the Cybercrimes Bureau. Why? Because a powerful individual or company with some spare, crooked cash pays off a district attorney, who pays off a bad judge, who issues a summon for something as simple as a tweet, or as big as an investigative report that foils an online prostitution ring in Lebanon, or a scam that involves international theft and money laundering.
Of course, there’s only so much they can do to harass you legally, but the problem is, that the time and effort you waste being dragged around by the same institutions that allow wife killers, rapists, thieves and militants to roam free, makes you think twice before tackling a sensitive issue in the future, and that is the worst that can happen to Lebanon’s freedom of speech advocates: self-censorship for fear of harassment and imprisonment.
Then, these journalists and bloggers are made as an example. The crooked scam artists and dishonest TV hosts can make calls and send emails to anyone criticizing them saying, “look what we did to X” or “if you keep criticizing us, the same that happened to Y will happen to you”. So, further oppression and threats.
Of course, you have the really mean person with really mean friends, like that annoying neighbor, who calls up his cop friends to raid your house party and when they don’t find any contraband, slap you with an absurd “satanic worshipping” indictment or being homosexual. That’s of course only if your urine test turned out negative for drugs, or else they’ll have a field day (and pay day) with that instead of the satanic and gay stuff.
The list goes on and on, and I’m sure you folks will post a lot more in the comments section. But yeah. We might not have a dictator oppressing us, and a weak government incapable of strong-arming us, but we most definitely have bad people and companies, using the government’s almost unlimited power over an average citizen, to send a message, quiet down dissenters or just make your life a living hell.
We’re not criminals. We’re normal folks, who want a normal life, and to be happy in Lebanon.