Today’s post was intended to be a tour of Doha’s nightlife. But my eye was caught yesterday by two news stories – or rather, by the popular responses to each.
When it comes to Lebanon, I sometimes find it hard to follow Christ’s second commandment. And as a Christian, the neighbors I find harder to love are more often than not Lebanon’s Christians.
I don’t mean this post to be one of casting the first stone – after all, the United States has had its share of intra-Christian sectarian woes. I recall one of our childhood neighbors telling me that as a child his schoolmates demanded to see his horns, because as Protestants they had been told in church that Catholics have horns on their head like the Devil. But that was 50 years ago, and I am shocked by what I have read this week.
My first shock came from an article in Monday’s Daily Star about the current mayor of Broumanna, Waleed Rizk. Rizk, the town’s long-time vice-mayor, whatever that means, became mayor after the previous mayor, Pierre Achkar, stepped down in order to be eligible to run for Parliament in the recent elections.
That isn’t the shocking part – I think that requiring candidates for one post to give up their current post is not a bad idea, and one that the United States might consider. What shocked me is the reaction of some Broumannis to the fact that their new mayor is Greek Orthodox and not Maronite:
Traditionally the mayor of Brummana is Maronite, usually running along family lines with Pierre’s own ancestors Georges, Chachine and Georges standing before him.
But, for the first time in Brummana’s history the position has been given not only to a vice mayor but to a Greek Orthodox candidate.
“Usually they say in Brummana the mayor has to be a Maronite, and the vice is Orthodox but now what has happened is I am the mayor and I am Orthodox,” says the newly-appointed Rizk. “When people come into the office surprised that I am Orthodox, I say ‘no, I am not Orthodox, I am simply Brummanese.’”
Rizk says this couldn’t have happened unless the last mayor was forced to step down to run in the parliamentary elections and forfeit his job, leaving little time for a new election.
But now Rizk is having to battle people’s perceptions. “Some people say I shouldn’t be mayor because of my religion, but because I am working hard I am making them start to forget this issue,” Rizk says. “And I do believe the Brummanese will soon forget about it.”
This was shock number one: that the sense of sectarian entitlement extends to the municipal level, and is so deeply felt. For an American equivalent, try substituting race:
“When people come into the office surprised that I am African-American, I say ‘no, I am not African-American, I am simply a New Yorker’.”
“Some people say I shouldn’t be mayor because of my race, but because I am working hard I am making them start to forget the issue.”
Lovely. But there was a second shock – Rizk the sectarian under-dog is also Rizk the very self-entitled member of a big family:
He says that there have always been two families in Brummana who had the ambition to be mayor – the Achkar family and the Rizk family, which caused many years of rivalry. “Our ancestors always used to fight, but now we need to put the past behind us – we are doing what is best for the municipality.”
Right. What if ‘what is best for the municipality’ were the creation of a mayoral position open not only to residents with varied religious backgrounds, but varied family backgrounds as well?
The third shock, as some of you may already suspect given the theme of this post, has been the reaction on assorted blogs and other websites to the wedding of Nayla Tueini and Malek Maktabi, such as these. (I don’t mean to pick on the Ouwet Front exclusively, but the Orange Room’s website is currently down and I’m searching primarily for comments in English.) There are a few voices of reason, but what I notice most is the vitriol of those unhappy with her marrying a Shia – some because she is a Christian MP, and some just because she is Christian.
I personally am not a great fan of Ms. Tueini (or of Mr. Maktabi’s talk show), but the explosive hostility of some of the commentators leaves me with a deep cold pit in my stomach. This type of irrational anger can be deeply corrosive. On the other hand, both their Facebook pages are filled with congratulations, and at least those posting their anger online are still in conversation with others more sanguine about the ‘mariage’.
I don’t have a good conclusion to this post. I hope for better things in the future, am glad to see any movement in the political system, and think that mixed marriages could be a major source of strength for the Lebanon of tomorrow.
And I’m looking very much forward to writing a nice quiet post about Doha nightlife tomorrow.