Lebanese and Arab Dictatorships: Secterianism is the Law! | Nidal Ayoub
Lebanese and Arab Dictatorships: Secterianism is the Law! Print
Nidal Ayoub   
 Lebanese and Arab Dictatorships: Secterianism is the Law! | Nidal AyoubWhen Bouazizi decided to immolate himself, he did not know that his ashes were to be dispersed in the neighbouring countries to bloom in spring. Bouazi opened the march of a thousand miles with his step and the barrier of fear was broken, the contagion spread, eyes have been unsealed and the Arab people began to acclaim freedom starting from Tunisia, then Egypt passing by Libya, Bahrain and Yemen and then Syria and Lebanon.

With the beginning of the events and the outbreak of the revolutions, the Lebanese have had to interact with their environment. First of all, they have expressed their support and encouragements to the Egyptian revolution after the Tunisian revolution had surprised the Arab peoples. As from the first days of the Egyptian revolution, the Lebanese have taken the initiative to organise open sit-ins and protests to praise and support the sit-inners in Cairo’s great squares. However, the support protests alone were not enough; this is when Lebanese activists wanted this small Arab country to have its own revolution. This is where the story begins.

Borrowing the slogan “The people want…” from the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, the Lebanese started their campaign to bring sectarianism down. This campaign that generated different reactions between partisans who found an opportunity to launch an attack on a system based on confessions and replace it by another one set on the concept of citizenship and opponents who believed that the campaign was a prelude to remove the legitimacy of a leader who welcomes them and protects the “others”. Between partisans and opponents, there is a silent mass whose precise orientation could not be determined due to the short duration of this campaign.

This movement’s possible failure was considered as from the beginning. A revolutionary spirit has resonated among young activists who believed that it was the right time to act. Adhering to the slogan: “The people want the fall of sectarianism” and neglecting the effective action, they failed to present real proposals encompassing political, social and economic issues that attract the interest of all categories and gathering the “children” of all confessions.

 Lebanese and Arab Dictatorships: Secterianism is the Law! | Nidal Ayoub
Moreover, the main slogan was unable to clarify the campaign’s direct objective. Indeed, sectarianism in Lebanon is not limited to the person of the Head of State or government for example, but is a global socio-cultural structure extending from the base (the public) to arrive to the leadership (authorities in all their forms). This is why the slogan in itself carried the seeds of failure because it anticipated an action that should have been exerted on this structure’s components and wrong footed the Lebanese, the partisans, the opponents as well as those who were neutral in the fact that they had not taken position yet.
A rapid retrospective of the campaign reveals the weaknesses that have characterised the behaviour of certain organisers. It also enables to note that certain sectarian parties and other parties who took advantage of the system in place in various ways conducted a counter campaign. The first weeks of the campaign have been remarkably successful evidenced by the large number of participants who believed in change even if they did not manage to drag other categories into the movement. Subsequently, the signs of a counter campaign marked by the accession of some politicians to the campaign claiming the fall of the same system they belong to emerged!

 Lebanese and Arab Dictatorships: Secterianism is the Law! | Nidal Ayoub
The politicians’ "exploitation " of the movement has caused a contention that continued to deepen from day to day among activists: in the politicians’ statements, some saw a positive aspect that could help achieve a bigger popular gathering, while others totally refused the bargain that these figures represented sectarianism. The third group refused to ally with these parties for any reason whatsoever as long as the fall of sectarianism meant the fall of every ruling class that protects it. However, this attitude of principle faced the reality that the majority of Lebanese support sectarian parties whose certain factions ally with one another to confront others. Thus, it is not possible to bring down the sectarian system without having previously attracted the majority of the population so that it turns against the leaders.

So despite the enthusiasm that the campaign brought by among a very large number of young people, this momentum has not withstood the challenges or weaknesses that emerged in this spontaneous movement.

The most important cause of the campaign’s failure is probably due to the fact that the demonstrators used no means to convince the sectarian majority of the relevance of their objectives. On the contrary, they have presented themselves as the adversaries of this system in a country that is characterised by the multiplicity of despots, as many studies and analysis written by Lebanese intellectuals such as the writer and novelist Elias Khoury have noted. Elias Khoury stated that Lebanon is the most despotic country as it is subject to sectarian despotisms, stressing that Lebanon should kill several dictatorships, that in Lebanon there are many despots, that each confession has a despot and that certain confession have even more than one.

 Lebanese and Arab Dictatorships: Secterianism is the Law! | Nidal Ayoub
After the failure of the campaign that aimed at bringing sectarianism down, the Lebanese had to resort to other places to express their solidarity with the revolutions of the other Arab countries whose people have engaged in the path for freedom with the will to achieve their objectives. Sectarianism is deeply rooted in the psychology of the Lebanese, as much as in their regime. This was probably reflected in their attitudes vis-à-vis the revolutions and has sorted them out, each of them according to their confession.

In fact, after the Arab revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt had encouraged and gathered the Lebanese, the signs of division began to appear with the extension of the revolution in Syria, Libya and Bahrain.

 Lebanese and Arab Dictatorships: Secterianism is the Law! | Nidal AyoubIt is the Syrian people’s revolution that had the clearest effect in the consecration of the division between partisans of the revolution and allies of the regime. However, it is easy to understand the motives of the Syrian revolution’s partisans especially when we see the harmony between this attitude and their support for the different Arab revolutions. However, the analysis of the regime’s allies’ position leads us to address two fundamental aspects related to the structure of Lebanese society characterised by sectarianism and “denial”.

In order to clarify this position, we must remember the support of a large majority of the Lebanese population to the Egyptian revolution and the rejection of any support to the Syrian revolution using the pretext of “the revolution and the denial” that the Syrian regime has managed to use throughout its years in power. This part of the population seems to be in harmony with the attitudes of their directions (religious as always) as was for instance the case of the two allied parties “the Amal Movement” and the “Hezbollah”.

Since the beginning of the revolutions, the Amal Movement has taken the initiative to adopt the Libyan people’s revolution against Mouammar Kaddafi’s regime, despite the NATO’s foreign military intervention in return for their silence on the actions committed by the Syrian regime at the Eastern borders of Lebanon under the pretext of “plot” targeting Syria. Likewise, allied with Iran, the Hezbollah raises its voice to support the people in Bahrain in return for their unequivocal support to the regime of Bashar Al Assad, “the resistant”.

 Lebanese and Arab Dictatorships: Secterianism is the Law! | Nidal AyoubThis attitude precisely leads to a deeper understanding of the reasons behind the division, namely the religious aspect. With the arrival of the winds of revolution in Syria, the discourse on the “fear of minorities” has taken a flagrant public aspect through which certain religious and political directions (always religious) in Lebanon justified their support to the Syrian regime. This attitude was reflected in the popular population belonging to these directions who believed the eventuality of Islamists coming to power a good reason enough to accept the killings committed by the Syrian regime. In this context, the Maronite Archbishop of Lebanon who warned against the threat that the fall of the Syrian regime would represent to the “Christian minority” (instead of talking of citizenship) is the clearest example. Besides, one should also note the attitude of the “Free Patriotic movement” (allied to the Hezbollah to confront the Movement of the Future and its allies of the 14th March Movement) who chose to stand with the Syrian regime.

However, the hostile attitude of some Lebanese towards the Syrian regime, consistent with their leaders, is part of a mainly internal struggle (sectarian struggle par excellence). When one seeks to precisely understand this attitude towards other Arab countries, especially Egypt, people are silent because of the friendships and common interests that connected them to its deposed president Hosni Moubarak.

This split between the Lebanese reflected a greater number of conflicts, some of which were carried to the streets where clashes took place between partisans of the Syrian revolution and allies of the Syrian regime. These conflicts have been strengthened by the government’s (mainly composed by sectarian forces that support the Syrian regime such as the Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Free Patriotic Movement) attitude of official ignorance of what is happening in the country’s international borders. The government totally ignores the issue of the violation of borders by Syrian forces in pursuit of the revolution activists and refugees fleeing the regime’s repression and who seek shelter in villages situated near the Lebanese border.

Thus, the Lebanese have failed to take advantage of the revolutionary climate. They were unable to review the issues brought up by the revolutions, especially the issue of citizenship, intrinsically linked to the concepts of freedom, justice and democracy, concepts that are completely absent in Lebanese society that enjoys a masked freedom, a freedom that in reality is a simple chaos governed and directed by “non state” confessions.

Nidal Ayoub
Translated from French by Elizabeth Grech