Lebanese Zajal 

The current political process in Lebanon bears similarities with Lebanese “zajal” festivals, which used to be shown (and perhaps they are still getting airtime) on Lebanese national television. During “zajals”, four poets would be seated on a large table adorning the finest of Lebanese cuisine and glasses of arak (Lebanon’s national drink). Meanwhile, audiences at their households would wait in anticipation to hear the melodious prose from the four men. These shows were frequent in Lebanese villages and would garner mass audiences during the summer when many expats would visit their home country and watch these shows to get back in touch with their roots and heritage. Poets are divided into two groups each focusing on topics of either humanitarian or national interests. But what really got the audiences going was when the “zajal” poets transitioned to the comedic part of the act, where they switched to informal Lebanese and satirized each other. At the end of the festival, audiences would go home entertained, while the poets would start preparing for their next shows. 


On a similar note, whenever Lebanese politicians come up with an “idea” or “policy” they gather their advisors and media affiliates to help them spread word of such novel proposals. However, such allies are nothing but sophists who use complex Arabic language to disguise these hollow ideas as coherent strategies. Moreover, the political leaders’ supporters will clap and cheer on these proposals in chambers and in parliament, thus making the entire political process into a loud charade of nothingness. These political “zajals” have audiences of their own, most of which congregate on social media. Some audience members zealously show support to their leaders, some oppose the proposals and all of them participate in this hapless parody of political debate. Most social media users mindlessly support their leaders. What’s sad is the fact that the more complex sophistry these leaders use, the more impassioned their supporters become. 


Naturally, such “zajals” do not help increase the value of the Lebanese pound, nor do anything for dwindling salaries. These displays also don’t improve living standards nor do they increase the buying power for the common Lebanese citizen. While these “zajals” are happening, the Lebanese economy is falling at an alarming rate, and it seems that neither the politicians, nor the financial institution nor the central bank can do anything to bring the economy under control. The problems that these “zajals” attempt to solve are eventually abandoned, as politicians are more concerned with staying in power. 


Let’s take, for example, the electricity crisis. For the past ten years, the Free Patriotic Movement has been in charge of resolving the crisis, but all it has done is rotate team members each time promising that the new team has a plan to bring the problem to an end. Rather than finding a sustainable solution, that party has prolonged the crisis, which has now placed a 40 billion dollar deficit on the state treasury. This “zajal” process is not a new political procedure within the Lebanese political sector, in fact, it has been present ever since the assassination of Rafic El Harriri, but as the years went by the frequency of these “zajals” increased.


Another example of a scandalous “zajal” happened when Samir Geagea attended a meeting of parliamentary blocs that supported the government’s economic bloc. This meeting confused both Geagea’s supporters and opponents; the former thought that he attended as a rebel against the plan, while the latter found the event strange since attending such a meeting came at odds with his previous political stances. As such, a public “zajal” happened as people started debating what Geagea attempted to gain from this meeting. In reality, Geagea’s visit did nothing to alleviate the situation in Lebanon and the only thing his presence accomplished was a mass media frenzy that members of the public took part in. Furthermore, Geagea’s visit to President Aoun at Baabda resulted in the same circus act, as his supporters cheered him on and applauded him, while his opponents jeered and verbally attacked him. The episode also exposed the laughable job journalists allied with leaders do, as most of them need only satisfy one task: make the leader look good. 


This charade is also evident in the job sector, as political factions secure jobless wages to their supporters. As a result, there are now 400,000 government workers who earn a living for doing nothing, while 50,000 actual government employees do not receive their wages. In spite of all this showmanship, many Lebanese citizens take part in this never-ending farce, as they participate in vacant political discourse. 


While all this is happening, the people are starving, the national currency is collapsing, food prices are going up and banks are preparing for bankruptcy. Furthermore, Hezbollah is militarily, economically and politically taking over Lebanon. What’s funny is that the only thing political factions are fighting for is the position of power that the Maronite faction posses at the behest of Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that holds the real power in government. Sunni leaders want a piece of this pie, but to get their share they need to hold daily meetings with the group that assassinated Rafic El Harri, i.e. one of their previous leaders. Alas Lebanon is now in the tight grips of the “mafia-cracy”, which cares not for the wellbeing of the people. 


The US has taken the decision to starve the Lebanese until they rebel against Hezbollah. The political class in Lebanon have also taken its own decision; strive for political power even if that means you’ll rule nothing but a scrapheap that was once Lebanon. Hezbollah also decided a long time ago that it would keep on fighting even if it had to kill every last Lebanese citizen. Surrounded with all these ferocious threats, Lebanon has now become shadow of its former self.