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The wages of sectarianism: Lessons from Lebanon

14 August 2020

A country subject to a long period of colonialism. Power is concentrated in a minority confessional group.

The colonial force codifies sectarian division and, when they reluctantly pull back, the code continues to operate.

A post colonial constitution freezes in the minority rule but includes all the factions, with different groups allocated specific government posts. The judiciary is divided along sectarian lines. War and a mass influx of refugees changes the demographics and civil war breaks out. Foreign powers operate through military intervention and with a peace process that gives the underdogs more representation but retains the old system.

The system staggers on. Invasion is followed by savage battles between regional powers and their local agents, supervised by the US and France.

In a formal sectarian structure everyone is included except those who transcend sectarianism, such as radical working class organisations and socialists. Many groups are direct agents for other powers. Resources are shared out. The groups operate with impunity outside any common legal structure. A system of clientelism and patronage eats away at civic society. Stasis and chaos creep slowly towards collapse.

The imperialist powers stand on the rubble, blame the locals and propose a new and improved version of the same old formula.

Sound familiar?

We are talking about Lebanon, but there are many parallels with Ireland. The Lebanese have faced untold horrors. We in Ireland do not face carpet bombing and invasion by Israel. We have never had to face the genocide of thousands of Palestinian refugees by Israeli backed fascist Falange groups in the Sabra and Shatila camps. We do not expect that a corrupt and incompetent Stormont executive will accidentally detonate a three kiloton bomb in the centre of Belfast.

However "Peace" processes imposed by imperialism tend to have structural sectarian division baked in. Class politics are ruled out and the administration includes all the factions. The task of the executive is to share out the spoils. Endemic corruption follows automatically, as responsibility for the common good is mostly notional. In close proximity comes impunity, as the legal system is tasked with keeping the show on the road and an effective defence of civic society runs counter to that.

Political activity freezes and the society comes to a standstill. In the stasis corruption and decay are everywhere. Genuine accountability, the long term allocation of resources and economic development all go out the window. The assembly becomes invisible, as decisions are no longer part of its role. Quietly there is a mass looting of resources in Health, Education and Housing.  Privatisation is touted as the road to success, but it simply speeds up asset stripping of services.

This is the mechanism in the North of Ireland. All but the smallest parties have a seat in government.  The voting system in the Assembly is based on separate confessional vetoes. Corruption is followed by public inquiries that talk about lessons to be learned and the issues are quickly forgotten. Even the most blatant robbery of the public purse and collaboration with paramilitary groups goes without comment, as does widespread general apartheid in housing and the consequent sectarian intimidation that maintains it. The police routinely wash their hands of issues of intimidation, which they brand as cultural divisions.

The Southern state is not far behind. The major political parties have seen a dramatic drop in their vote and have formed a national government with the support of the Greens. The only major party excluded is Sinn Fein who are in the Northern executive. Their left credentials do not stack up, so there is no convincing opposition.

Two corrupt states are now in a vice between Europe and a far right Brexit regime in Britain. As hard Brexit advances, the Dublin government have tried to conciliate and protect the interests of big business. The interests of the working class come nowhere.

The governmental crises in Ireland will not end with a bang, but with a growing whimper of despair as the background network of public services continues to erode.

The workers in Ireland will be forced to organise and intervene. Their chief need will be for a revolutionary programme and nascent revolutionary organisations.

Even in Lebanon, where public anger has forced a mass resignation on the government, the demonstrators are aware that the capitalist state still rules them and struggle to assert themselves, as the imperialist Macron struts the streets, blaming the locals for the colonial system imposed by France.

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