How to have a fair election
The first impulse in reacting to a proponent of the “me first” ideology is to respond in kind. America first practically screams for a reactionary response that simply says, No, my country first. Not America first, but Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Jordan and so on. Self-affirmation has its appeal. It also has logic. Let’s face it: Orienting economic policies toward one’s own country, its people and their fundamental needs or desires is not all bad.
Of course that does not mean acceptance of exclusionary views or propositions underlined by the perspective of, “we must win and they must lose”. It would be idiotic to think that Lebanon, or any other country in today’s world, can thrive in isolation. The global destiny of people on earth is larger and more important than any zero-sum game plan of an individual nation. In this regard, it would certainly not be constructive to answer every idiotic measure with a similar retaliatory counter-measure.
If we agree to one part of a sentence from the January 20 inauguration speech of new American President Donald Trump, it is the confirmation “that a nation exists to serve its citizens”. But we insist that if we are to put Lebanon first, we do it right. We say it is right to put Lebanon first — only if it is understood that we must put nation over group interest, partisan loyalty to a community and individual identity.
We also agree that “it is the right of all nations to put their nation’s first”, but we will not relent in emphasizing what this means. Standing up for Lebanon absolutely requires, without any negotiations, to adhere to the “enduring values of liberty and justice for all”, as AUB President Fadlo Khouri put it in a letter in response to Trump’s executive order barring entry to the United States for citizens of seven countries. Executive agrees that it is time to show that, as Khouri wrote, “those values which unite us all as a human race are so much more powerful than all the factors that come between us”.
We will go further and say that it is not only education, but also immersion in business and economic activity that, when conducted ethically and properly governed, will put the people of the world on a more equal footing and recognize those values that every decent human being needs in order to thrive. We also insist that it requires the same ethical conduct from all Lebanese civil servants; those who want to play for power and realpolitik have to abide by the rule that it is better to resign than to accept an evil in the state’s systems or grievous corruption in a ministry.
As a small country surrounded by powerful neighbors, standing up for Lebanon necessarily includes building not only a national and coherent identity, but also creating better infrastructures and better ties to important neighbors, including the country to our east with which we have the longest common border. Peace in Syria will be the best-case scenario for Lebanese prosperity, not a wall or even raising of invisible barriers against foreign labor.
For the past 25 years, Lebanon has suffered from a deplorable sense of inferiority and foreign dependency, and the people of Lebanon have felt that their country was existing for the ruling class and not for them. Both things have to change by making Lebanon a better place to live in, and by consequently, allowing the country to become a source of justified patriotic pride for its citizens.
In the first instance, this effort must entail the adoption of an electoral law that can provide all citizens with a sense of representation. While the project of a perfect and 100 percent fair election law in this country, with its multi-tiered structure and diverse communities, could be a subject of eternal debate (see explainer on page 18 for the options), parliamentary agreement on a law will go a long way toward enhancing a sense of national ownership and identification with the nation among its firsttime voters and slightly older populace with experience from previous parliamentary races alike.
Next, by focusing on national pride and its eternal counterpart, civil responsibility, it will be useful for Lebanon to concentrate on measures that bring tangible improvements to all people, like investment in infrastructure. Lebanon needs more functional infrastructures in every respect: garbage treatment is perhaps the most urgent concern (see page 14), but so are power, information technology and telecommunications, housing, roads, bridges and alternative transportation systems, as well as soft infrastructures in government services and fundamental social safety nets, plus education, health care, pensions and so on.
The educated Lebanese already know perfectly well that this requires