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Political 'Maronitism' and 'Shiism'

Political 'Maronitism' and 'Shiism'

Wednesday, 23 September, 2020 - 09:00

“Political Maronitism” “and Political “Shiism” are two terms that lack precision. They do not mention which Maronites and Shiites are being referred to, nor do they call attention to the differences between Maronites and other Maronites or Shiites and other Shiites, just as they do not account for divergences of epochs and social conditions or these divergences’ ramifications for them all.


With that, merely for the sake of argument, we will use the term “Maronitism” to refer to the epoch (1975-1943) during which this sect governed Lebanon, and for “Shiism”, their control over decision-making extended from partial control beginning with the Taif Agreement in 1989, then a more robust grip with the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005, and it finally reached its apex with President Michel Aoun’s ascension to the presidency in 2016.


There is a tendency in Lebanese historical literature to discuss these two eras as eras of “Maronite rule” and “Shiite rule”, though some of us would undoubtedly prefer to be able to define these periods and regimes through the social groups they represented and their ideological inclinations.


Nevertheless, we can say that the era of “Shiite rule”, behind facades, most prominently Emile Lahoud and Michel Aoun, was dark first and foremost for Shiites. During the period that preceded Hezbollah’s rise, the latter was the most dynamic of the sects because of its ties to administration, education, and emigration, thereby producing a great number of modern cadres. For this reason, one could bet, at least theoretically, that the Shiites would culminate the Lebanese national project after the Maronites and Christians withered and had little left to offer. This withering was reflected in choosing Sulieman Frangieh, in 1970, to be president of the republic and their cultural production being weighed down by the burdens of rhetoric, romanticism, ruralism, and nostalgia.


Making this bet was not out of place, accompanied by a promise or potential for moving along a path that ends with weakening sectarianism and the centrality of Mount Lebanon, in favor of a state that is simultaneously more democratic and modern.


The Shiites had a very solid relationship with the state and its administration at the time, and the majority of their weighty bloc had moved from rural areas to urban ones. And they seemed to have surpassed Maronites and Sunnis at two aspects: they were less romantic and had less of a tendency to clutch on to the old rural conception of patriotism than the former, and less susceptible to Arab nationalism and its implications than the latter. And while their association with Najaf, and to a lesser extent Qom and Sayyida Zaynab in Damascus, broke their isolation and reticence, the link’s limitation to a cultural and spiritual dimension did not weaken their Lebanese patriotism.


Moussa al Sadr, during his early days in Lebanon, personified this tendency, and he continued to do so until Sulieman Frangieh shot down each of Sadr’s attempts to make changes and introduce reform. Thus, Sadr leaped into the Assad embrace and Palestinian training camps, and the path of degradation that was later crowned with Hezbollah and Iran began. The Shiites, instead of being the sect that resumes and renews the Lebanese project, became the faction that hinders it, and the majority were transformed into tools for destroying it. In other words: instead of the potential for communication and the continuity of republican history, a radical and sharp rupture arose.


In a historical overview, equivocating between the two sects, merely because they are two sects, does not seem justified. There are at least three reasons to distinguish them from one another: Firstly, according to its own narrative, “political Maronitism” is defensive: it is the offspring of a fear that prompted a request for protection before the independence of 1943, and another for “guarantees” or “privileges” after that. “Political Shiism”, on the other hand, is inherently offensive. Also according to its narrative about itself, it is the product of resistance action that reached into politics through the vehicle of rifles and missiles. However, the second, perhaps more important, reason is that the “political Maronitism” arose with the state’s establishment, and through it, while “political Shiism” prospered by dismantling the state and establishing a parallel state, the backbone of which is an arsenal. Finally, the “political Maronitism” emulated the West, or at the very least, it claimed that it did, while “political Shiism” was woven along the lines of Khomeinist Iran.


“Maronite rule” was, therefore, not merely a military or security grip, as it traditionally entailed an advanced position in building institutions and playing significant roles in education, economy, and finance which resulted in the emergence of the broadest middle class in the Middle East. “Shiite rule,” on the other hand, remained limited to arms through which it dictated to others a will that does not resemble them; indeed they unanimously concur its dangers. The public institutions, universities, and political life that had been built in the first phase were dismantled in the second. The country that the first phase had placed on the map was removed from it in the second phase.


The mood changed internationally as well: the first phase coincided with the Cold War and grand ideologies. In society, even though it was not the case of political echelons, shame with associating with smaller identities, in the favor of one form of nation or another, had become widespread. The second phase coincided with an explosion of small identities and boastful expression of them. At the time, what had been required was a city that merchants, tourists, and bankers, as well as intellectuals and the educated, could brag about. Subsequently, a suburb that is governed by gunmen and glorifies them was required.


On the other hand, “Political Maronistim” degenerated into Aounism, a degeneration that perhaps compelled Christians to rid themselves of it after the port explosion; the fear is that it might be too late for the Christians, and with them, the rest of the Lebanese.


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