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The Fate of The National State

The Fate of The National State

Friday, 3 April, 2020 - 10:15
Lebanese students rally in front of the Ministry of Education during ongoing anti-government protests, in the capital Beirut. (AFP)
Tarek Mitri

In the 1990s, as profound changes accelerated in the world, it became common to say that “national states have become smaller in terms of the ability to tackle big problems and greater in terms of dealing with small problems.”

This statement is true in varying proportions. In our Arab world, our countries seemed unable to address big and small issues, except those related to security and control policies.

After the outbreak of the Arab revolutions, our national states became more fragile, and in some cases their institutions collapsed or were dismantled.

They became even weaker in assuming their roles in managing national affairs, preserving the lives of citizens and safeguarding their rights.

However, in other countries, governments have regained the potential to subjugate society under the pretext of fighting terrorist, societal or political violence, and to avoid slipping into the anarchy that people fear

Instead of drawing a distinct line between the state and the authority, the latter prevailed over the former.

Some authorities, in addition to the use of bare force, relied on subnational, sectarian, tribal, regional means that generated sectarian interests.

Some regimes have reached the point of dealing with public interests as if they were private property.

Committing to the policy of tyranny, and by developing new totalitarian patterns, those regimes claimed to be defending national dignity while actually reducing the value of personal dignity.

In the present days, where the spread of the epidemic and its grave dangers impose a move away from some public affairs, an urgent need arises that of a state that protects its citizens and prioritizes the public well-being over small gains.

This need is not confined to controlling the society and imposing an organization to prevent the spread of many harms. The needed measures - if not accompanied by a rational social policy that encompasses the weakest and the poorest - will soon justify the confiscation of public space, the disruption of policy, and the restriction of freedoms.

After the current grave crisis recedes, our country will face again the challenge of building the national state – a state that acquires its actual legitimacy not only by monopolizing violence, but also by assuming its responsibility towards people’s interests.

The path towards building a national state, which has proved to be essential around the world, requires controlling the authority, holding it accountable and calling for a system that effectively achieves its people’s interests rather them tightening its control over them.

Only through this path can we prevent the repetition of an experience that we knew years ago, when some people accepted the domination of the authorities, fearing the continuation of lawless states, and regimes assumed that the demand to build the state is a call to perpetuate its tyranny.

Tarek Mitri is the former Representative of the United Nations in Libya, a former Lebanese minister and President of St. George University of Beirut

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