Basic policies overlooked by Lebanese political parties

When my family and I moved into our house in Brighton, we were surprised to find a magnificent pair of deer antlers still nailed to the dining room wall. I called the property agent. “Ah yes. I was going to mention that,” he said. “The removal men refused to touch them; Health and Safety regulations apparently. Out of my hands I’m afraid, but I’m sure you’ll get used to them.”

My wife and I saw the funny side and agreed that Auto Khaled, our Beirut movers, would not have been fazed for a second by the seven-pointer. The proud horns would have been whipped off the wall, bubble-wrapped and thrown into the lorry before you could say monarch of the glen.

Living between Lebanon and the UK offers a continuous “compare and contrast” process. I miss the can-do attitude of the Lebanese, especially when faced with the full force of an often-obstinate British bureaucracy. Lebanon is a country where obstacles that would normally be swathed in red tape, can be easily navigated. You just have to pay for it.

It is, however, an attitude that has cost us dear. The ease with which a palm can be greased might be a godsend when dealing with a man from an electricity or water company, but it has also contributed to the chronic corruption that has hindered Lebanon’s bid to be a fully inclusive member of the international community. And so on balance the UK shades it, even with its ludicrous rules and regulations, characterised by the department of health and safety and its apparent rules on pointy animal headgear.

For a start, the British try to make sure their political choices count. One of the more eye- opening experiences – and remember this is with Lebanon still coursing through my veins – has been to listen to the public engage in the debate surrounding the upcoming parliamentary election on May 7.

It promises to be one of the most hotly contested elections since the end of the Second World War, especially with the emergence of the United Kingdom Independence Party, or Ukip, which has already effectively displaced the Liberal democrats as Britain’s “third” party. The hot ticket issue is immigration, followed closely by the usual suspects: the economy, taxation, education, the health service, jobs, state benefits, defence and security, law and order and housing.

I mention this because, while the Lebanese might consider themselves political animals, there is a worrying lack of what I’d call “issue politics” in a country in which most people vote according to their sect. (I can’t imagine the Lebanese getting into a lather about potholes in the same way the British did before the 2010 elections.)

In fact, in the run-up to the historic 2005 Lebanese parliamentary elections (the first after the Syrian withdrawal), Executive magazine, of which yours truly was the editor, questioned the leaders of the major political parties on their plans for the economy or public spending. We figured that all parties, even the minor ones, would have a position on what should be Lebanon’s economic and fiscal priorities.

I don’t have the results to hand, but if memory serves only Hizbollah, a party whose entire raison d’être involves, well, fighting, had anything approaching a policy, which was a clear vision on social welfare and job creation. Speaking from Paris, a still-exiled Michel Aoun, head of the mainly Christian, professional middle class Free Patriotic Movement on the other hand, sounded bemused and irritated by my line of questioning, as if I was trying to catch him out. He had diddlysquat.

But were there to be an election tomorrow, there are no end of issues that should be of concern to the Lebanese electorate, not least our own immigration woes as well as infrastructure, education and health. Sort out those issues and the private sector will pretty much look after itself.

In case you’re wondering, the antlers have found a new role as a highly useful hat and coat stand.

Michael Karam is a freelance writer who lives between Beirut and Brighton.

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