Hussein el-Husseini: A politician above politics

Nadim Shehadi
Nadim Shehadi
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Lebanon mourns Sayyid Hussein el-Husseini who died yesterday at the age of 86. One of the main founders of the Amal movement, former speaker of parliament and the principal architect of the Taif agreement that ended the Lebanese civil war.

He will also be remembered for having stepped back from politics in 2008 and resigned from parliament of which he was a member since 1972. This was in protest at the Doha agreement and the behavior of his fellow politicians and, such a step is a very rare phenomenon in Lebanon where politicians tend to cling to power.

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His parting words on the 12th of August 2008 were that, "in the face of the fact that the authority is capable but unwilling I announce my resignation from the membership of this council."

In a country that is in revolt against its entire political class, this earned Hussein el-Husseini unanimous respect. He had the unique status and the credibility of an eminent elder statesman who can comment and oppose from outside the system with a certain degree of objectivity.

He was a firm believer in coexistence based on four postulates: freedom, equality, a life of dignity as well as solidarity defined by the interdependence of people and communities. He saw this as Lebanon’s universal mission as a property of humanity that transcends its current population and size.

His influence remained in his role as a political activist and staunch defender of the principles behind the Taif agreement which he saw as the culmination of previous efforts to resolve imbalances in the system that were present since the creation of the state in 1920. It is in this spirit that he deplored the Christian boycott of elections in 1992 which created an imbalance in the application of the Taif agreement.

He also criticized UN Security Council Resolution 1559 of 2004 calling for the withdrawal of Syrian troops and disarming of the resistance. He saw it as aiming to turn the clock backwards and returning Lebanon to a previous state rather than move the country forward. He also claimed that it led to the assassination of Rafik Hariri.

Most of all he disapproved of the Doha agreement of 2008 which imposed governments of National Unity inclusive of all political parties. This in his view paralyzed the state and led to the travesty of government by consensus which was undemocratic and anti-constitutional. Instead of there being an opposition the system was corrupted and hijacked by a handful of politicians dedicated to sharing the spoils.

He used harsh words going as far as calling for an orderly and peaceful civil resistance against a powerless bankrupt and failed state which he considered as illegitimate and authoritarian; holding the country hostage and incapable of delivering any services to its citizens. He called for a referendum as a tool of bringing the power back to the people based on the fundamental principle that the people are the source of power.

He had faith in the people as the source of power and in a civil society that is aware of the maneuvers of politicians and their tricks such as the continuous use of the threat of civil war. The fundamental basis of politics needed to be honesty, sincerity and integrity.

He was also critical of calls for national dialogue initiatives because they usurp the role of parliament where such dialogue should take place and puts the decisions in the hands of five people who have decided to share the spoils. This is consistent with his lifelong belief in institutions rather than individuals.

He led the Amal Movement in 1978 after the disappearance of its founder Imam Moussa el-Sadr. Husseini’s vision of the movement is consistent with his defense of Taif and the principle of coexistence. He describes it as a continuation of a trend in Lebanese politics with its roots in the politics of President Fouad Chehab. This is based on an awareness of imbalances in the path of building the Lebanese state and part of resolving fundamental issues in its development. This is a process which culminated in the Taif agreement itself.

The Amal movement is therefore for him a movement for social justice which had broad participation and represents a continuity in Lebanon, it is not to be seen as a sectarian party. His resignation in 1980 after two years of leading the movement also demonstrated his belief in institutions and could have been the result of having differences in vision.

In 2013 he proposed a National Initiative to Rebuild the State in which he urged civil society to push for a system of proportional representation which was later adopted in the electoral law of 2018. He also saw this as a remedy for the imbalances in favor of independents and political minorities. He failed to form an independent list in 2018 and remained in opposition:

A politician above politics and a believer that Lebanon was already a civil state with its potential to be realized by the next generation.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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