Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Arab Spring In Lebanon

By Abdullah Iskandar
Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi
The March 14 Alliance in Lebanon has claimed paternity of the Arab Spring, considering its opposition to Syrian presence in Lebanon, which was followed by the withdrawal of Syrian troops in 2005, to have been in defense of national sovereignty and of democracy, and for lifting foreign tutelage. The March 8 Alliance, or its political authority of reference as embodied by Iran, has also claimed paternity of the Arab Spring, considering the Islamic Revolution against the Shah to have been the inspiration for the Arab youth to rise up against their rulers.
Regardless of the true nature of the Arab Spring, and of the reasons and the motives behind it, such paternity claims by the two main political camps in Lebanon should have led to finding common grounds between them, grounds connected to the meaning of the state of law, compliance to the authority of state institutions, and peaceful political activity – and thus to reshaping political life in a manner that goes beyond sectarian and confessional division, and beyond reliance on and threats of making use of armed force.
Yet we are today witnessing a deepening of the confessional divide on the domestic scene, one from which those concerned have not been able to emerge. In fact, they have taken two contradictory stances on a single issue in two Arab countries witnessing popular upheaval, i.e. Syria and Bahrain. This means that confessional alignment remains much stronger than any affiliation with the Arab Spring and its slogans. Thus announcing their paternity of the Arab Spring becomes a claim devoid of substance. More than this, in fact, as it represents cover for sectarian and confessional fundamentalism, and denial of the meaning of citizenship in a national state.
The debate over the statements made by Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi about the developments in Syria has come to confirm this sectarian and confessional outlook. Indeed, no one has managed to depart from their own community’s view of itself and move towards the broad-minded perspective of demanding freedom for all and democratic change that would allow for equality among all. Rahi may have, from his religious position, expressed apprehensions connected to the fate of Christians under a situation of Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict, as took place in Iraq. And these are apprehensions such a conflict would justify. Yet the contradiction between such statements and the significance of the Arab Spring lies in considering the protection of Christians to be linked to a certain regime, not to the nature of such a regime.
Confirming that the Lebanese remain outside the framework of the Arab Spring is the fact that Rahi turned overnight into an active member of the March 8 Alliance (not to say Hezbollah) from the perspective of the March 14 Alliance, and into a champion of Hezbollah’s resistance from the perspective of the March 8 Alliance. In other words, he has been turned from one holding a religious position with a role and a history in Lebanon into a “militant” in confessional struggles – this knowing that the Maronite Patriarchate has in the past been biased towards one group of Lebanese at the expense of another, yet only in order to save the unity of the Lebanese. This happened between Patriarch Meouchi and President Camille Chamoun when the latter sought to renew his mandate in 1958. This also happened between Patriarch Sfeir and General Michel Aoun when the Taif Agreement was ratified in 1989. In both cases, the Patriarch became biased towards the consensus among the Lebanese, including Muslims, at the expense of a minority within his own sect.
Indeed, neither those who have criticized Rahi nor those who have praised him have paused at the historical experiences of the Patriarchate, because doing so would have referred them to the necessity of returning to the state of law and its requirements. That is something that seems to have no place on the agenda, especially on the background of waiting for the outcome of the events in Syria, and for its repercussions on the balance of power between confessions in Lebanon.
-This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 02/10/2011
-Abdullah Iskandar is the managing editor of al-Hayat in London

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