If the rather outdated saying “you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them” were to be applied to Lebanese governments, it is today perhaps more valid than ever.
We waited eleven months for our political classes to negotiate a new government, as vicious infighting and polarization allowed the country to drift rudderless towards civil war. Yet, just a few weeks after they announced a new cabinet, we are already paying the price for it.
For the past two days Beirut’s already large traffic problems have been exacerbated by the arrival of dozens of MPs at parliament to debate the new Cabinet’s policy statement. For this farcical spectacle, large parts of Downtown Beirut have been blocked off, with dozens of black tinted SUVs guarding endless barricades.
For those trying to get to work in the key economic hub of the country, the situation has been unbearable. Hours stuck in traffic have cost companies thousands of dollars in man hours.
It may seem petty to moan about a bit of traffic when parliament is meeting properly for the first time since last May. I would certainly agree if there were signs that any of the parts of the cabinet statement would ever become reality, but that is patently not the case.
This government’s mandate is due to end following the election of a new president at the end of May – little over two months away. It took them a month to agree on a policy statement, so are we really meant to believe reform will occur in just eight weeks? Even if they stagger on until the end of the year, the compromise nature of the government means that each side will spend their time blocking the other’s moves.
These are the same MPs, let us not forget, who last year voted to extend their own mandates by 17 months and then crushed those who tried to show it was unconstitutional.
In the media, the television networks have round the clock coverage of these debates as minister after minister makes an irrelevant speech where they promise changes we know and they know they will never achieve. I would like to suggest three ways that we could improve this bizarre spectacle.
Put it on at night
Putting the debates on at night would have two major benefits. First of all it would ease the city’s traffic crisis as the MPs would only have to travel into the city in the evening – just when all of the country’s real workers are leaving.
The added advantage would be that we could all watch it while relaxing after work. It is clear that with the state of collective depression the Lebanese are sliding into, the country needs some more light fiction entertainment.
Move it to Tripoli
Alternatively they could do something radical and move the event to Tripoli. Around a dozen people have died in the city in the past week in fresh clashes that have been all but ignored by the political classes. Shipping our 128 elected officials for a walking tour around the city would surely focus their minds, while leaving those in Beirut free to work. And who wouldn’t want to watch a minister get up to give his speech on the frontline between Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabaneh?
Stop paying attention
My third and final suggestion is to the television networks. Perhaps they can finally see this farce for what it is and stop covering it. It is an insult to our intelligence to pretend this government will do more than any of its predecessors – so why do we continue to mislead our population?
We should just ignore them, pretend they don’t exist at all. No one report on it, no one talk about it. Maybe then we will realize we can live without them after all.