A few days ago, a supposedly wise Lebanese politician hailed the imminent end of the presidential impasse by saying “we are going to have ‘a made in Lebanon president!’”
Such words are as misleading as they are painful. The said politician, who is well-versed in Lebanese politics, militarily and politically, with foes and friends, must realize that Lebanon has never managed to elect a president without either a foreign deal or as a result of dramatic regional or international imbalance. In fact, had the Lebanese had any real say in choosing a president, the post wouldn’t have remained vacant for 29 months, there wouldn’t have been the Doha Agreement (that allowed the election of ex-President Michel Sleiman and ended the occupation by Hezbollah and co of downtown Beirut), the Taif Accords (which ended the 1975-1990 Lebanese War), the Richard Murphy attempt in 1988 and the Robert Murphy deal in 1958.
Alas, the fact is that Lebanon has been an unfinished nation-building project despite its 96 years of its existence within its current borders, 73 years of which have been as an independent state. The reason behind this is that the philosophy that underpinned the format for independence viewed and treated the Lebanese as members of sectarian groups, not as citizens. As time passed, and in the absence of proper citizenship and lasting religious and sectarian loyalties, the group mentality became more entrenched, and was eventually institutionalized. Then, even when vibrant forces within all attempted to rebel against this status quo, many internal and external elements came together to crush all attempts.
Thus, today, when some hail the agreement on “a made in Lebanon president,” they intentionally ignore important and unsavory facts, just as those who have been parroting the silly words “any president is better than the continuing vacuum.” In reality, there has been no vacuum and talking about it, or rather using it as an excuse, is to overlook the following truths.
The first is that Lebanon is a country occupied and dominated by Hezbollah; a religious-military party with vital links outside the country (i.e. Iran), and one that enjoys stature and capabilities that far exceed those of the Lebanese state, which in turn is penetrated by the party thanks to the sectarian apportionment of political, military, and economic posts. Incidentally, Hezbollah, which is an inseparable part of Iran’s regional set-up and is widely said to follow its orders and political directives throughout the Middle East, has been the actor that has prevented the election of a president for the past 29 months, blackmailing the Lebanese people into accepting its candidate, now described as “a made in Lebanon president.”
How can the Lebanese, who have failed to build a homeland, believe that they can produce ‘a made in Lebanon president?’Eyad Abu Shakra
The second is that Lebanon, even before becoming a polity in 1920, and later as an independent republic in 1943, was a principality that covered Mount Lebanon and was always susceptible to regional competition and jockeying for influence between regional governors and sub-governors of neighboring Syria, Palestine and even Egypt. Later, since the creation of Israel in 1948, Lebanon became a battleground of the Arab-Israeli conflict and its repercussions, which added to its fragile fabric and weak political consensus. Today, as the maps of the Levant are being revised, Israel does not seem bothered by Hezbollah’s de facto occupation of Lebanon or worried about the alleged presidential vacuum. Even more importantly, it does not feel uneasy at all with Hezbollah’s active participation – with other sectarian militias – in Iran’s occupation of several parts of Syria.
Thirdly, as far as Iran is concerned, the whole Middle East is currently going through a decisive and historical period of nationalist confrontation with a sectarian façade. Iran, it seems, is fighting a comprehensive war of revenge against Arab Sunni Islam. So far, this war has displaced between 15 and 20 million Arab Sunnis in Iraq and Syria, and has destroyed their cities and towns from Falluja and Ramadi to Dera’a, through Mosul, Deir al-Zor, Raqqah, Aleppo, Hamah, Homs and Damascus’ suburbs.
Fourthly, in connection with the above, President Barack Obama, during his last few weeks in the White House, seems to be in a hurry to complete the mission he considers the cornerstone of his Middle East policy, as reflected in the JCPOA with Tehran, which is rehabilitating and normalizing political relations with Iran, if not making it a strategic ally of the USA and giving it a free hand in its neighboring Arab countries. Thus, it is no coincidence that the need to end the vacuum in Lebanon was timed with the battle to liberate Mosul, which the UN expects is going to leave more than a million homeless (mostly Sunni Arabs) and the silence accompanying the annihilation of Aleppo at the hands of a shaky regime saved from collapse by Iran’s militias, then by direct Russian intervention.
Without disregarding Yemen too, today we are in a regional situation exacerbated by an American vision that has impacted several sensitive issues, namely in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.
In Europe, Washington’s withdrawal has sent a clear message to Moscow to do as it pleases in its own historical sphere of influence, beginning with the Ukraine. It has also allowed a humanitarian crisis like the refugee waves heading for Europe to become a strong political card played effectively by anti-European Britons and racist and ultra-conservative anti-refugees groups – mainly Muslims – in France, the Netherlands, Germany and other nations. Such a situation has, in the opposite direction, prepared the ground for an angry and extremist, sometimes terrorist, reaction within the underclass of marginalized second and third generations in slums and ghettoes inhabited by Muslim immigrants.
However, it is in the Middle East and North Africa that Obama’s catastrophic policies have been most obvious, in every respect, since his now famous Cairo Speech just before the Arab Spring. What sounded like an innocent utopia for Palestine, democratic change and fighting terrorism in Obama’s discourse, clearly appeared during his second term as destructive unethical negativity, the consequences of which are clear for all to see: Iraq is been torn apart, Syria is in ruins, Turkey and the Arab Gulf are states under threat, the Palestinian settlement is all but non-existent, Sunni-Shiite tensions are becoming a raging sectarian war and long dormant Arab – Iranian and Turko – Kurdish tensions threaten to engulf the whole region with blood and fire.
Given such a background, how can the Lebanese, who have failed to build a homeland, believe that they can produce “a made in Lebanon president?”
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on November 2, 2016.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He 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. Eyad tweets @eyad1949