As I update this post on 16 November 2016, several months have passed since the events described in this excerpt have taken place. However, considering that Lebanon has only two weeks ago elected a new president following two years of just, you know, not having one, it is surely worth taking a deeper look into what some (the author of the following excerpt, in particular) would label as a dysfunctional machine-type political system.
What are machine politics? Feel free to draw reference from the political power brokers that you saw in Gangs of New York. This will be woefully inadequate, as far as analogies go, but perhaps it will at least offer a small frame of reference. My goal in reading this was to better contextualize the nuances of the Lebanese political experience, contrasted slightly from, say, Saudi Arabia, where all authority emanates from the crown and is leached from by the hundreds of powerful and semi-powerful princes. In the case of Lebanon, there does not appear to be any central governing authority, with power instead resting in the hands of several well-placed political actors. They are difficult to dislodge, assuming that you would want to do so.
(But there are so many countries in the Middle East, how are we to possibly understand them all??? (Start by reading the article linked here and excerpted below:)).
In principle, the Future Movement’s constituents desire a strong traditional state. In practice, the Future Movement’s political bosses (known colloquially as zaims) subordinate financial, economic, and social development to party loyalty and communal identity. If the state’s governing bodies are not in harmony with the governing zaims, then citizens suffer neglect until their many bickering bosses resolve their differences. When “quorum is complete,” the boss’s political interests still take precedence. The mechanics of the Hariri dynasty in its home city of Sidon show how a dysfunctional national order is built block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, political broker by political broker — and explain how the entire country of Lebanon remains under the control of a small number of powerful families, and why it is so difficult for new entrants to compete independently, even at the municipal level.