There is nothing like waking up on a Sunday morning to an episode of one of many inspiring and animated Lebanese political talk shows. Well, not really. Political talk shows are only a mirror of the dismal centuries-long political vicious circle we have been stuck in, anything but inspiring and animated in a tragicomedy kind of way. But when I tuned to New TV’s Sunday talk show yesterday, there he was with his salt and pepper mustache that Lebanese men of old days would swear on; characteristically irritated and annoyed; decorating his speech with the vernacular that you’d never think would make it on national television. Listening to Charbel Nahas at any time of day is refreshing and animated, and so I watched on.
Today, Charbel Nahas brings his usual logic and no-nonsense perspective to the issues the Lebanese government is dealing with, or rather, does its best to stay away from. This, as he mentions, includes the government’s policy of dissociation towards Syria, at a time when the spillover effects on Lebanon on the political, security and economic front will exacerbate as the situation in Syria worsens. The Lebanese government only reacts to increased refugees and security incidents and lacks the will to take a clear stance on Syria and be truly prepared to face the deep-seated changes in Syria as they have a direct effect at home.
Nahas also rightly mentions the way the current government is drowning the country deeper into financial chaos and unconstitutional behavior. Cabinet passed a budget that doesn’t include sources of revenue while promising to adopt, among other things, increases in salaries and the amendment of salary scales. Nahas interestingly points out that the salary issue is in itself an important reflection of the government’s will to strengthen the state and its institutions. Providing decent salaries and an appropriate package of benefits for public employees would attest to the true will of politicians to attract the best people for public jobs and thus ensure top-notch public services to the population. Given that the compromise reached on the issue of salaries, according to Nahas, doesn’t come close to the expectations and needs of the people, this speak loud and clear of the government’s lack of interest and will to strengthen the state and its institutions.
The local political debate has lost a lot since Charbel Nahas resigned as Minister of Labor in February 2012. One had the sense that here was a political figure that argued within the government based on ideology and principles, instead of politicians who keep fighting each other only based on who would get a bigger piece of the pie. Needless to say, it would only be a matter of time that he resign, especially as his independent stances and seemingly genuine will to “change and reform” began to stand in the way of General Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM)’s alleged “change and reform” (which on the ground translated more into “complacency and retreat”), the movement that made him a minister in the first place.
It was after his resignation that his appeal and popularity became apparent, as a true ‘Minister of the People’. The popular gatherings he held to explain the reasons for his resignation and the discrepancies behind the government’s policies on the minimum wage gathered his supporters. They were from all walks of life, age, creed, social background and different political affiliations, joined by a strong desire for change through a man who didn’t look like the rest of the old political faces. He brought his academic and political experience to the table in a way that the common man could understand, without arrogance, but with simplicity and empathy. Here was someone who wasn’t afraid of the people, but would make many of those with high stakes in the current system afraid, as he attacked the system and called for people to support his vision of change and the young to see this change through.
I am not one to privately nor publically align myself to any political figure or support any political party in Lebanon whatsoever. To me, few, if any, political figures have any credibility of stances and actions, while political parties have never really existed here. Yet, I continue to sense a breath of fresh air with Charbel Nahas. You may not always support his stances in full nor his confrontational style, but he has so far proven to be a man of his word, a man of principle, and really, politics can’t always be diplomatic and built on consensus, but needs that shout out and confrontation every once in a while. Among other things, he attacks the current Lebanese system, and for that, I like him. He also talks of introducing some of the aspects existing in social democracies such as the Scandinavian ones that have brought true welfare and social wellbeing to its citizens. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that either.
Although Nahas noted that there was more than a 50% chance that parliamentary elections would not take place next year, if they do, it will be his chance to translate his popularity into something more tangible. Having a new electoral law would certainly help, as well as a populace willing to support new faces that have a vested interest in change. Even if Nahas remains outside of the confines of the decision-making process, only by attracting more courageous supporters, will he have managed to break some ground in people’s apathy and given them the right to hope that change can be a reality some day, and not only a dream…