Are Lebanese Christians abandoning their political culture?

Eyad Abu Shakra
Eyad Abu Shakra
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There is a proverb that says: “Corruption of the best is the worst,” one of the gravest mistakes that can be committed in the world of politics is the inability to distinguish between tactic and strategy.

Today with the controversy over the new election law in Lebanon, it is striking how an issue that should in any democratic country be considered critical is addressed with such absurdity.

The debate started with a series of strange suggestions and projects, almost all of which are in violation of the Taif Agreement that constitutes an integral part of the constitution both in text and essence. One of the most vital conditions in the agreement is the preservation of national unity and the importance of co-existence. This means keeping the nation intact and maintaining the ties between its different components while respecting diversity and affirming equality in both rights and duties.

While all armed partisan and sectarian groups in Lebanon gave up arms, only Hezbollah did not under the pretext that it was a resistance movement

Eyad Abu Shakra

While all armed partisan and sectarian groups in Lebanon gave up arms, Hezbollah did not under the pretext that it was a resistance movement
So that we do not forget, the Lebanese reached this agreement in order to end a fierce civil and regional war that lasted 15 years and left 150,000 dead and hundreds of thousands of injured. Too many have become refugees and the economy has been destroyed, barring the country from benefitting from an unprecedented economic boom in the Middle East.

In another country with a different society it would be impossible for such a bitter experience to be forgotten. Unfortunately the Lebanese did not learn anything, especially the lesson that no party should ignore its political rivals who inhabit the same country.
Nowadays, several cheap maneuvers are used to dirty the political waters; suggestions are approved by one party and disapproved by another, votes are given not of the political merit of an idea but depending on how far it would embarrass a rival party and so on.

The majority of the Lebanese people approved the Taif Agreement in 1989 and the wise among them were aware that even though it was not enough, it constituted an important step towards the construction of a modern and independent state on the basis of citizenship, the separation of powers, administrative non-centralism, and equal representation of Muslims and Christians. Therefore, the agreement aimed at eliminating the feeling of injustice harbored by Muslims and the fear of persecution haunting Christians without having to carry out any statistical surveys.

At the time, only one camp openly opposed the Taif Agreement: Michel Aoun and his supporters. Later on, some parties, stronger and apparently more diplomatic than Aoun’s camp, turned out to have approved the agreement because of the way it strengthened their position in post-war Lebanon and because of the benefits they stood to gain. This is exactly what explains the alliance between Hezbollah and Aoun’s camp with the direct support of the Tehran-Damascus axis.

The assassination of René Moawad, the first elected Lebanese president, after the signing of the Taif Agreement, offered an early indication of a tendency to consider this agreement part of a temporary phase. Between the years 1990 and 2005, the agents of Syrian hegemony made a point of ignoring the implementation of important points in the agreement, among which was the election law, administrative non-centralism, and the disarmament of all Lebanese groups.

While all armed partisan and sectarian groups in Lebanon gave up arms, Hezbollah did not under the pretext that it was a resistance movement fighting Israeli occupation. But even after the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Southern Lebanon in May 2000, Hezbollah kept its weapons, which it later used to strengthen its position in the Lebanese political hierarchy. The group then struck an alliance with Aoun in order to infiltrate the ranks of Christians, whose political ideology has since the end of the French mandate been based on the establishment of an independent Lebanese entity. But everything has changed all of a sudden.

Aoun, backed by Hezbollah’s weaponry which he hopes would help him defeat Sunni Muslims and retrieve the privileges they took from Maronite Christians through the Taif Agreement, initially supported Hezbollah’s proposal on proportional representation. This proposal would allow Hezbollah to use its power and arsenal to seize control over its areas of influence and to infiltrate those of its rivals.

But Aoun’s approval of proportional representation was met with objections on the part of Christians, who are concerned about a Shiite hegemony. Other Christian powers known for their alliance with Damascus proposed the Orthodox Gathering project which allows each sect to choose its representatives, therefore undermining the principle of inter-sectarian coexistence and violating the constitution. So, Aoun supported the Orthodox Gathering.

Then came another surprise manifested in two situations that followed. First, Hezbollah declared its support for Aoun. Second, some Christians from the March 14 Alliance rushed to support the Orthodox Gathering to abort Aoun’s attempt at appearing as the guardian of Christian interests.
In the midst of maneuvering and counter-maneuvering, it turned out that a sizable portion of Lebanese Christians have unfortunately started losing faith in a united Lebanon even though they had for long professed otherwise.

If Christians in Lebanon give up the cornerstone of their political culture, this would be indicative of an alarming political miscalculation and would constitute a grave threat to the fate of Christians and the fate of all Lebanon. Meanwhile, more fuel would be added to the fire of sectarian radicalism across the Arab region.

This article was published in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat on Jan. 22, 2013.

(Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with An-Nahar newspaper in Lebanon. Joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances, active in academic, social and charity work, and a former active member of the Labour Party in the UK)

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