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Lebanon: Lies that are Impossible to Uncover!

Lebanon: Lies that are Impossible to Uncover!

Sunday, 25 October, 2020 - 11:15

Infinite adjectives and expressions of bewilderment and intrigue have ensued from Saad Hariri’s designation to form a new Lebanese government, especially regarding his ability to do so, some addressing it positively and others putting it in a negative context.

“Will he manage to challenge the impossible?”, “It would be a miracle,” “the fateful task,” “unworldly difficulty”… are some of the comments and questions that followed the designation. Hariri himself used the phrase “swallowing poison” when he had previously agreed to a Shiite being appointed finance minister. On that day, everyone recalled that Khomeini is the one who, for the first time, used this phrase when he announced that he accepted to end the war with Iraq that had claimed a million lives.

Designating somebody to form a government, then, is more akin to the paranormal and magical than to the political. For arriving at a government pressed with patching up the economic collapse and other suffocating crises has become beyond the capacities of mortals.

On the other hand, just a few weeks ago, the launch of negotiations on demarcating the borders between Lebanon and Israel was a point of exceptional consensus between the influential political-sectarian factions. Some were enthralled, some approved half enthusiastically, and others maintained their silence approvingly, while others expressed their disappointment for the record and then looked past it. The matter seemed to be within the scope of mortal capabilities and among the issues they can agree on. It is as normal and natural as can be.

The comparison between the two developments reflects a state of affairs that is dangerous in its implications for Lebanon: all the weighty sectarian forces are ready to cut a deal with some sort of outside force, even with Israel, whom the battle against is described as existential and sacrosanct. Hezbollah, chief among those who hold this, is no exception. But these same powers are not ready, without doing the undoable, to reach to an internal agreement among the “brethren,” one that would slightly limit, or slightly delay their ability to economically and politically gnaw at what remains of the state and society, as well devouring what the others cannot gulp up.

It was very indicative, for example, that international powers succeeded at making us accept an external settlement, while their attempts at making us agree to an internal one have failed. Even French President Emmanuel Macron, after two consecutive visits, may not be capable of doing so. We recall, regardless of the difference in the details and headlines, that previous settlements had called for a special meeting between Fuad Chehab and Gamal Abdel Nasser (1959), the Riyadh and Cairo Conferences (1976), the Taif Conference (1989) and the Doha Conference (2008).

This comparison teaches us two things: one is common knowledge and openly acknowledged, and the other remains, to some or other extent, obscure and kept somewhat quiet about.

As for the well-known aspect, we can call it the price: the price demanded by every sectarian leader without exception and the governing cabal in all of its components. Haggling’s primacy became far more entrenched with the direction set after the Taif Agreement, and it strengthened further after the crimes of 2005, before settling at its highest peak with Michel Aoun’s election as president in 2016. This doctrine’s contemporary champion might be the minister/son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, but he is not alone in championing it.

The relatively concealed aspect is that ideology does not, in the end, mean much to the Lebanese people. Regardless of the sanctity conferred to it, the issue of Israel and Palestine does not deviate from this rule. Sect leaders use ideology as a pretext at their discretion, and sect masses gravitate towards it when it seems to them a suitable clause for their clientelist sectarian “program” and in line with the traditional and inherited ideas of their milieu. When it appears otherwise, they divorce themselves from that ideology.

Thus, the space that remains for ideas and consciousness is always very narrow: it is not ideas that compelled the vast majority of Christians, at one time, to oppose Nasserism and then the Palestinian revolution. Neither did ideas compel the vast majority of Sunnis to pledge their allegiance to Nasserism and then the Palestinian resistance. Nor did ideas compel the majority of Shiites to rally around Hezbollah and Khomeini and Assad’s regime.

In this sense, when Hezbollah talks about “eradicating Israel” and “praying in Jerusalem,” it is merely adding a new segment to the Lebanese lexicon of devious rhetoric. If the party presented itself to the world as a political and organizational tool at the service of a sect among the others, it would have been tenable, despite the difficulty involved, to level the playing field a little. Then, we would all discuss the price and haggle, as had implicitly been the case with the demarcation agreement.

This suffocating duplicity is among the issues that the October 17 revolution, a year ago, tried and failed to do away with. For the thousandth time, it became apparent that taming sects is a task that neither this revolution nor any other is capable of and that the perpetuity of deception and sanctification is a need that no force can overcome: pricing needs sanctity, while sanctity was created to raise the price.

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