While the U.S. began her longest government shutdown in Dec. 2018, Lebanon was limping away from nine years without a president, two years without a government and 12 years without a federal budget.
In order to compare American and Lebanese culture, it is key to understand how their politics compare.
The forging of American independence came at the help of the French allies in the 18th century. However, Lebanese independence was conceived in opposition to French colonial rule in 1946.
Geographically isolated by two oceans, the U.S. has kept tranquility and constitutional continuity for more than two centuries. However, the Lebanese Republic, surrounded by hostile neighbors, has suffered a history of political adversity and sectarian warfare.
The fast food diet proves to be a very convenient and ubiquitous lifestyle for many Americans. But in Lebanon, fast food is a rare treat, although there are a few fast food chains in the country.
There is only one Popeyes restaurant in the entire Lebanese Republic. There are 12 KFCs and 20 McDonald’s restaurants.
From an early age Lebanese children are taught multiple languages; mainly Arabic, English and French. Given Lebanon’s political ties to the West, there is a lot of demand for Lebanese people to speak western languages, especially English.
The Lebanese culture prides itself in authenticity, with its original Levantine queasiness such as hummus, pita, kibbeh, kafta, kanafeh, manakish, sfeeha and other uniquely rich foods.
However, in the U.S., most children are not obligated to learn a foreign language until high school—typically Spanish, French or German are the top choices.
Given America’s geopolitical primacy, knowing a language other than English is not as important in the U.S. as it is in Lebanon, a country that can barely survive the political turmoil that surrounds it.
While trends in atheism are growing in the U.S., the Lebanese remain deeply religious. Lebanon has a primarily sectarian education system, providing choices of catholic, protestant, Islamic and other schools.
Although both countries are a constitutional democracies, the U.S. has a secular government, whereas, Lebanon has a sectarian one. Further, the U.S. is a presidential democracy, while Lebanon is a semi-presidential one.
In other words, the U.S. is led by a uniquely powerful presidency, although presidential influence is institutionally limited by a coequal Congress and limited terms, and is politically determined by regular democratic elections, all without religious institution.
On the contrary, the Lebanese Shiite-led parliament elects a Maronite Christian for president who then appoints a Sunni Muslim for prime minister.
Lebanon’s political incapacity to manage her religious disputes is largely due to the fact that her government is institutionalized according to her sectarian divides, mainly the Christian, Sunni and Shiite sects.
Lebanon is culturally diverse, with more than 18 religious sects and a population of 6.1 million, including 1.5 million Syrian refugees, and countless more who are unregistered, all within 4,036 square miles. Lebanon’s specific demographics are unknown because the government, or lack thereof, has not conducted a census since 1932, during the French Mandate period.
It is no wonder that Lebanon cannot maintain a functional political system.
The more expansive and populated U.S. has hummed with harmony for most of her 230 years, besides a four-year civil war in the 19 century that resulted in 600,000 dead. The Civil War in Lebanon endured for 15 years, from 1975 to 1990, resulting in 120,000 deaths, about 1 million emigrants and a $35 billion deficit which she is still struggling to payoff.
That war ended before another 15 years of Syrian occupation. In 2005, Lebanon was finally liberated by UN Resolution 1559 urging Syria to fully withdraw.
Lebanon’s fierce resentment toward their Syrian, Israeli and Palestinian neighbors dates back to the Civil War— a war fractured by her sectarian divisions.
During the Hundred Days War of 1978, the Syrian Army surrounded the Christian stronghold of Achrafieh, pounding the city with internationally-banned 240-millimeter howitzers. The onslaught resulted in more than 500 casualties
In the Battle of Zahleh, another Christian stronghold endured a six-month Syrian offensive, managing to survive with the mountainous terrain that advantaged their defense against the onslaught in 1982, resulting in a Christian victory.
Much of Lebanon’s ambivalent attitude toward the U.S. is due to the sectarian nature of her government.
In 2014, when the Obama Administration affirmed the JCPOA program with the Islamic Republic of Iran, Lebanese Shiites and their Hezbollah advocates rejoiced, whereas, Sunnis threatened war with Hezbollah, all while Lebanese Christians were divided across their different sects and political preferences.
Recent complications in Lebanese-American relations are a classic representation of U.S. policy in the Middle East. America’s historically ambiguous foreign policy toward Lebanon has most often produced precarious consequences—such as the 1978 Camp David agreement, the JCPOA withdrawal or the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem.
Now Americans are growing anxious over a bear market and an election that keeps getting closer. Meanwhile, the Lebanese are fearing another outbreak of civil war.
Her pain and politics seem to have no cure and her adversity sees no end. Nevertheless, she will always be someone’s home, heritage, and national identity.