There is no room for citizens here. Individuals must choose between struggling for the establishment of a state of institutions, waiting for one to tumble out of the sky, or cowering under the banners of the sectarian criminals and accepting the status of sub-citizens, a cut blow second- or third- class citizens.
The shaping of public opinion, meanwhile, is nowadays the preserve of media outlets that are suffering from their worst credibility crisis since the country was established.
The upshot is complete paralysis, afflicting the state first, and extending to individuals, even when they come together.
What we saw over the past two days on the Lebanese political scene was a detonation of the Taif agreement that has been anticipated since it was signed – by dint of death in Lebanon and foreign decree – around a quarter of a century ago.
It told us something: The so-called National Pact of 1943 in fact set up a sectarian regime which advantaged the Christians. The Muslims soon turned against it and waited for the right moment to scupper it. But they replaced it with the Taif agreement, which in fact set up a sectarian regime which advantages the Muslims.
So the Christians are protesting again, either wanting full rights, or in some cases perhaps dreaming of reverting to the previous formula. And the Muslims are behaving no more intelligently than the forces of “political Maronitism” did four decades ago. They are clinging on to an obnoxious sectarian system, refusing to discuss or amend it, when what they and the Christians alike really need is a system that bypasses this sectarian formula – in other words, a state in which the law replaces the rogues who rule the country and its people in both wartime and peace.
Yesterday’s turn of events in parliament made Lebanon seem similar to how it was in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet it could also set the stage for a fresh approach, which would displease all those who are standing in line awaiting a new round of civil wars, and which would address or be influenced by what is going on around us.
On the Christian side, there has been some nasty talk of the need for balance to be restored with regard to the employment situation in the public sector. Put plainly, that means full equality in the purely numerical sense. In other words, whenever a Muslim is hired, a Christian must be hired to offset them, whether in the security forces, military or public administration. It should be clear that this has become unviable. Lebanon’s demographic balance is not as it was 50 or 30 years ago. Some two thirds of the population are Muslims. Those Christians who demand an equal share of state jobs should be prepared to accept an equal share of unemployment too. Can this be right?
On the Muslim side, the appetite of the forces representing the Muslims within the state is insatiable. This applies both to the warlords who went on to contain the state rather than be absorbed by it – as per Nabih Berri and Walid Jumblatt – and to the “business world” which the late Rafiq al-Hariri inserted into the post-Taif state. Yet the actual benefits of this greed reach less than 10 percent of their Muslim constituents. But whenever calls are made for the Taif to be reconsidered, authority to be devolved, or powers to be seriously separated, the reaction is that this would lead to civil war. Essentially, the Muslims are telling the Christians: This is what we have, do as you please.
On the civic side, there is a frightening degree of impotence. No action aimed at opposing these policies can expect to attract large numbers of the people harmed by them. There are worn-out political parties – no matter what colors they try to take or twists and turns they make – and a rotten trade union sector that lacks integrity and is in the pay of its supposed social adversaries. Meanwhile, we have a host of non-governmental organizations running around, many of which end up being piggy banks for individuals who get involved in more than they could handle, or fronts for the political or security activities of foreign powers. It is delusional to think that anything short of a major, and perhaps slightly crazy, series of actions can tear down this wall of silence.
Yet there is another dimension to the latest crisis. It is also a first test for the remarkable agreement that broke the traditional pattern of sectarian alignment in Lebanon, namely the understanding between Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement. This test needs to handled thoughtfully, lest it turn into something more, given that so many want to see the entire applecart upset.
Hezbollah does not only need to engage in discussions with Michel Aoun on the necessity of searching for a new formula for governing the country. It also has to understand that it can no longer afford to keep silent about the corruption of its political partners and co-sectarians, and that mounting a challenge of this nature would not damage the resistance, as Aoun’s choice is not a political manoeuvre a la Walid Jumblatt.
However, we are being buffeted by major changes that are connected to the absence of the state. We may end up with nothing left to sacrifice for.
Ibrahim al-Amine is editor-in-chief of al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.