“A state cannot be constituted from any chance body of persons, or in any chance period of time” said Aristotle, and historical Lebanon is no exception.
The Lebanese people witnessed major changes since the Cedars Revolution drove half of the population to the streets: the withdrawal of the Syrian army, international support expressed through international resolutions and the establishment of the STL (Special Tribunal for Lebanon) to inquire in the murder of prime minister Rafic Hariri. For a moment Lebanese from different sects came together and the call for independence, sovereignty and freedom was becoming a reality, especially among the Christians.
But then things started to fall apart. Lebanese were divided on almost every single issue: Syria, the STL, the arms of Lebanese and non-Lebanese faction, the West, Iran, decisions on war and peace etc. They barely evaded a civil war when the supporters of Hezbollah, Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement occupied downtown Beirut. For almost two years the legal institutions were paralyzed and Beirut was captive to Amal and Hezbollah militias.
It is under these circumstances that Lebanese went to cast their vote in the parliamentary elections of 2009, but how did this come to happen?
Political Lebanon has always been a reflection of the prejudices minorities felt under the Muslim majority rule, since the first Islamic conquest at the hands of the Umayyad circa 630. This was first reflected in the social and political organization of the inhabitants of Mount Lebanon and later in modern Lebanon. Independence in 1943 took into consideration those realities and as a result the constitution divided powers on a basis of religious representation, equally between Christians and Muslims.
For decades, Lebanese politics was dictated by the defiance the different sects felt towards each other. This was definitely a hindrance towards efforts of building the state based on citizenship rather than religious affiliation. As a result Lebanon had a fragile system that would prove easily susceptible in the face of the many huge developments to come to the region, starting with the yielding power of the Ottoman Empire, the Israeli Arab conflict, the Khomeini’s revolution all the way to the rise of the extremism in the Middle East and the war on terror that led to the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. These unfolding events echoed unrest on Lebanese soil: 15 years of civil war, international mandate to Hafez Assad of Syria to occupy Lebanon during 15 years, and many different wars with Israel, the latest in 2006.
Due to the change in the geopolitical map and the nature of the conflict in the region the Christians felt abandoned and marginalized. Today the United States is allied with the Arab Sunnis of the region against Syria Iran and the Shi’a. In that wake the Christians went to the ballot box in the summer of this year faced with two choices: either the Sunni-Arab-Western alliance or the Shi’a-Iranian-Syrian one. Unfortunately the times were not for the spread of democracy, or human rights championing – it was about Iran and the nuclear program.
And the result came as no surprise as the Christians were divided between two ideas. One is represented by Aoun and his followers, and it stands for the alliance of the minorities against the Sunnis. They believe that Sunni Islam has closed the door on the interpretation of the Quranic verses and therefore they are regressive. In addition to being the source of militant Islam, they are represented by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia –“the epitome of decadence”. While for those Christians the Shi’a represent the future of Islam since they haven’t closed the door on the interpretation of the Quranic verses and they are viewed as are progressive, and they are a minority who is backed by Iran, has defeated Israel and forced it to liberate Arab soil. They always cite the magnificence of the Persian culture and its multicultural face, ignoring the decadence of the actual regime.
The other Christians represented by the Lebanese forces, and other Christian figures, believe that the Sunni sect has undergone a big transformation by rallying around the idea of Lebanon First and by redefining Arabism through economy and culture rather than politics. They find their long-awaited partner in the moderate Hariri’s and Future Movement. They wanted to detach the country from the regional conflicts by promoting a neutrality status of Lebanon, but to no avail.
The only time Lebanon felt some sort of stability was back in 1860, after Mount Lebanon experienced civil unrest, where massacres took place. The powers of that time mutually agreed to pacify Lebanon and impose a system (‘Mutasarifiya’) that lasted till the dawn of WWI, in which prosperity and revival in culture and economy where thriving. At the time Lebanon was just a mountain, Israel was yet to come, oil was not a national interest for which wars would be conducted, distances were wide, the echoes of the age of enlightenment was reaching the shores of the Middle east, nationalism was on the rise, religion was on the down, immigration was about money not safety, and the world was a promise for the better.
Today, as before, the Christians and Lebanese in general, have unfortunately tied their fate to the regional events almost guarantying stability unattainable. The regional balance of power dictates the states of affairs in this fragile country and therefore all eyes are on the outcome of the struggle between The West and Iran.
Elie Fawaz is a Lebanese political analyst with the Beirut offices of the Lebanon Renaissance Foundation, which promotes democracy and rule of law.