Sectarianism may remain the comfort zone of Lebanon’s ruling elite, but if left unchecked, it will become a big problem.
In his iconic poem, Pity the Nation, both a sardonic and frightening accusation of the turbulent politics in his ancestral homeland, Khalil Gibran, Lebanese-American poet, writer and visual artist, asked us to “Patience the nation divided into fragments / each fragment considering itself as a nation”, a nation which, relying on outsiders for its definitions of self, “wears a garment that it does not weave / eats bread that it does not harvest / and drinks wine that does not flow from its wine press” .
It is just as agonizing an outcry about Lebanon’s descent into social anarchy, economic desperation and sectarian conflict in our time as it was in 1934, when the poem was published in its title. posthumously two years after Gibran’s death.
As we speak, Lebanon is divided. He is helpless. It’s dysfunctional. And if no one seems to have a solution at hand, it is quite simply because the country’s ruling elite, for whom parochial interests trump national interests, not only are loath to seek one, but seem spare no effort to prevent one from being sought. .
A Kafkaesque saga
If it doesn’t sound like a Kafkaesque saga, I don’t know what other nightmarish scenario it conjures up. How else to describe a government system dominated by sectarian blocs that want to prevent any serious investigation by the judiciary – a subsystem of the very system of government they supposedly run – of the Beirut port explosion on August 4 2020, which killed 200 people, left thousands homeless and destroyed large swathes of the country, an elite keen to ensure the investigation goes nowhere if it threatens to uncover wrongdoing from them ?
The end result of this culture of law and immunity will undoubtedly prevent the law from holding accountable anyone of importance, that is, anyone in power. In fact, at a cabinet meeting last Wednesday, Hezbollah, one of those blocs, demanded that the judge in charge be replaced, threatening that he and other cabinet members would stage a walkout if the demand does not. was not satisfied.
All of this points to the existence in Lebanon of a parallel state, in fact a state within a state, endowed with its own armed forces, institutional structures and political programs, led by powerful figures free to challenge normal political behavior and show contempt for the rule. of the law.
And, yes, it doesn’t matter that people have a right to know exactly what happened on that terrible day and finally find closure.
Tayhouneh roundabout – a fault line
You will recall how supporters of this system staged what they called a “peaceful march” in downtown Beirut last week, taking rocket-propelled grenades, kalahnikovs and small arms with them. which sparked hours of fighting which then spread from the Tayhouneh roundabout – a fault line dividing line between competing sects during the 1975-1990 civil war, similar to other fault lines that continue to this day to roam the streets, neighborhoods and even the corridors of government power in the nation’s capital – to other parts of the city.
You may or may not want to trace the root cause of Lebanon’s current woes – which rocked not only the Lebanese people but those across the region – to the faulty political system established there by the French Mandate authorities in 1942, which distributed representation in government to the various sects – in Lebanon, to the many – that made up the ethnically homogeneous but religiously heterogeneous population.
For my part, I do. Sectarianism, in particular that witnessed by the ruling classes of Lebanon, that is to say wrapped in the garb and glove of parochialism, has always acted not only as a blow to the social stability of the nations, but also as a trigger for bloody conflicts.
We have all been aware, since our first year of college studies in Political Science 101, that its manifestations are not unique to a people, an era or a culture. In their history, Europeans have suffered more than they want to admit.
Series of bitter and bloody sectarian wars
Consider how, in the early 1560s, for example, France, then a kingdom, fell into a series of bitter and bloody sectarian wars that lasted more than two decades, pitting Catholics against Protestants; and from 1618 Germany, then part of the Holy Roman Empire, suffered the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War, at a high price in blood and treasures.
Other sectarian wars continued to erupt and sectarian tensions simmered elsewhere in Europe for centuries.
In our time, there are several conflicts of this type – some religious in their form but in reality political in their content – tearing the countries of our region apart. But no country among them is more in danger of collapse than Lebanon.
Few of us expect another civil war there, but if the political stalemate, massive financial collapse, and disruption of public services are not addressed – and soon – then death by a thousand cuts awaits Lebanon, the Lebanon we all love, the Lebanon in which this chronicler grew up and made his original leap towards a maturing consciousness.
– Fawaz Turki is a Washington-based journalist, scholar and author. He is the author of The Disinherited: Diary of a Palestinian Exile