Ghassan Su`ud has an article on elite marriages in Lebanon with a fascinating list of who is married to whom. It is interesting that a lot of these marriages cut across not only regional and local political divides, but, as the article points out, also sectarian ones. The latter is the case with the recent marriage between Nayla Twayni, recently elected member of parliament and daughter of assassinated Jubran Twayni, and Malik Maktabi, host of the show Ahmar bil Khatt al-`Arid — a recent episode of which provoked the ire of Saudi authorities into shutting down the LBC office in Jaddah. Since the Twaynis are a well-known Orthodox family and the Maktabis are Shiite, the marriage was cited by some as a living example of coexistence in Lebanon.
Rather than testify to some evasive form of Lebanese coexistence, however, these intersectarian marriages point to a double standard in the lives of some elite. Though her choice of spouse would lead one to expect a political career free of sectarian jingoism, when Nayla Twayni was campaigning in Ashrafiyah last spring, she more than once responded to attempts at undermining her “Orthodoxness” with counterattacks stressing al-`asab al-urthuduksi. The expression translates to “Orthodox vein,” which signifies a sense of belonging to a group. But the Arabic word `asab has a heavier thud to it, sharing its root with words such Ibn Khaldun’s `asabiyah, `asabi (nervous or quick to anger), and ta`assub (fanaticism). It remains to be seen, though, whether the same `asab will be struck with the electorate when the politician in question is a female entering into wedlock with a man with whom she will be spawning Shiite children.
If the recent election and marriage of Nayla bring some flagrant contradictions into relief, they are by no means unique to her. One is left wondering: is this a simple case of the elite cynically and hypocritically catering to and exploiting mass sentiments? Perhaps. But the use of this double standard of identification does not separate the elite form the masses as much as it separates the elite from themselves. The sort of individualism that we normally associate with European liberalism — the freedom to make one’s personal choices — finds an echo only in the personal aspect of the lives of the elite. In their public lives, however, their perpetuity remains bound to a system that reproduces them as an elite. This entails not only reproducing them as a category of the population — and hence the vigorous patriarchy — but also reproducing the communities that make them relevant as political leaders. The political significance of, say, the Pharaon family would be put to the test if there were no electoral body to be summoned as an “Orthodox” body to vote for members of the family as representatives — lack of political acumen notwithstanding.
As such, this public aspect of the political elite cannot be reduced to a cynical mask, for it is an integral aspect of their existence and probably even self-image as leaders. This dichotomy — between the personal and the political — is an ironic reversal of Hannah Arendt’s ideal types of the public and private spheres. With a suspicion of the private — the sphere of necessity, constraint, sameness, and passions — Arendt saw in the public realm as exemplified by the Greek polis the place for the exercise of decision, freedom, difference, and reason. In the case of the Lebanese elite, private lives are open to the virtues of the public sphere, as Arendt sees them, while their public lives are entangled in a most murderous web of political passions.