A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

a leader by any other name …

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on July 11, 2007

This weekend should be a busy one both for and in Lebanon. For some of my friends, it promises to be a big beach weekend; for others, its the chance for a long weekend in Istanbul; and for G, it means an eagerly-awaited reunion with a high-school friend.

For Lebanon’s politicians, this weekend brings the long-anticipated and much discussed summit in France, which has been receiving great international attention thanks to its inclusion of Hizbullah – the first time the party has been welcomed as a Lebanese political participant by a Western government.

I’m optimistic about the talks, although I am pessimistic about the Lebanese political system overall. Much as I complain about faults in the US system, I miss the idea of political parties when I am here.

Parties, as in institutionalized organizations whose life and relevance does not depend on the charisma of one particular man, or the long-standing eminence of one particular family. For example, the GOP may have supported Bush pere et fils, but it does not need them – its institutional structure and voter base are what give it strength and longevity, not any one political figure.

With that on my mind, I scowled at one of the graffitis I pass every morning – graffiti that was painted on the walls late this spring, and that no one in the neighborhood wants to (or feels safe to) take down:


Its a message of support for Saad Hariri, and it says: “yes to the leader of the Future Party”.

At least, that’s how I would translate it for comprehension in an American context.

But the word I’m translating as “leader” is “za3im”, which is less a political leader (or even a business manager, which is the primary function of the US party heads) than a charismatic figure whose leadership is grounded in his monopolization of both the means of force and the local patronage networks.

And the word I’m translating as “party” is “movement” or “tendency”, two much more transient entities.

I’m optimistic about the talks in France, but that graffiti reminds me that what I wish Lebanon’s political class would take from France is a civics lesson.


One Response to “a leader by any other name …”

  1. […] I’ve mentioned this graffiti before – its all around one of the neighborhoods I pass through on my walk to the gym. Or at least it was all around. This morning I noticed that every graffiti I passed had been carefully sprayed over, with black or silver paint. Its a tidy job – and not a very effective one when done in silver. But its a definite change. […]

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