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Lebanon: Minimal Politics, Extreme Existentialism

Lebanon: Minimal Politics, Extreme Existentialism

Wednesday, 3 March, 2021 - 11:00

If the situation in Lebanon were portrayed in an image, the most precise might be the following:


A family of four or five live in the same house, but one of the family members owns a pistol that he oils and toys with in times of “stability” and calm and points at the others’ heads when there is tension, thereby pacifying them and restoring “stability.” Under this status quo, everything collapses: the economy, security, judiciary, political life, ties to the outside world... The pillars of the house itself are cracking, and it is in danger of collapsing, especially since it had been targeted by a near-nuclear explosion.


Nevertheless, the members of the household are forbidden from seeking their neighbors’ help when it became impossible, after several attempts made individually and collectively, for them to help themselves. However, in response to the request for help from the neighbors, the gun owner raises another argument: we are getting along nicely, so why are you complaining? We are resisting. Is this not sufficiently glorious and dignified for you? Of course, he insults the neighbors and holds them responsible for the afflictions of the household and its residents.


The advocate elevates his argument to the level of sanctity, accusing anyone who repudiates it of treachery. Nonetheless, the other household members do not see it as anything but the primary reason for their hunger, despair and his control over them. They are confident that without this resistance, they would garner, besides all the potential material gain, a more real sense of glory and dignity. The sanctity that the pistol wielder ascribes to his pistol seems, to them, a lame joke.


The picture drawn above shows that a large majority of the Lebanese are suffering an existential affliction of the most extreme form. A quarter of their afflictions is enough to create comprehensive political change. With that, the likelihood of political change materializing is no more than minimal due to a number of reasons. The most prominent of them: the October 17 revolution’s collapse, which killed off hope for a national cross-sectarian response, and the gradual and circuitous return - caused by that collapse - to what resembles the March 8 and 14 dichotomy.


Because the strength of sects is what explains all of these developments, forces that are by definition sectarian inevitably took the mantle. The Maronite Church, as it usually does in major turning points, is taking on this difficult task.


This transformation, imposed by reality itself, crystalized some issues, though it also meant that other issues would be put to rest. The rally held at Bkirki on Saturday announced that resolving the questions of arms possession, regional conflict and, especially, Iranian influence is the inevitable gateway to any other reforms. This is what the October revolution was prevented from saying. The same event also announced that Michel Aoun’s Christians had made a huge mistake when they provided cover for Hezbollah’s policies, weapons and its war in Syria. This in turn paved the way for Aoun being stripped of his Christian base and Hezbollah being stripped of Christian backing. It also puts Lebanon back on the map as a country in danger of dying and in need of foreign intervention to save it.


Under the current circumstances, none are more equipped or ready to play this role than the Maronite Church. Those who oppose this based on their opposition to religious figures interfering in politics also oppose the Polish Church’s role in leading Poland to freedom and the Irish Church’s role in leading Ireland to independence… Worse still are those whom many commentators have pointed to, who use secularism as a pretext to protest the role Bkirki is playing though they sheepishly follow a simultaneously religious and sectarian party, Hezbollah.


However, because of the church’s ecclesiastical nature, a clear line is drawn: the radical change that some youths had been dreaming of is not on the table. True, the issue of weapons possession is an entry point to other issues, but it is a gateway that demands a degree of effort and sacrifice that leaves no energy left for resolving any other issues. A weak international response, which is expected by many, will complicate things. A swift international response would do the same thing.


In the meantime, we might not hear a single strong voice crying out against all the afflictions simultaneously, the latest of which are the sufferings of Tripoli and Lokman Slim’s execution, or a voice that simultaneously promotes Lebanese patriotism and rebukes racism against “the Syrians” and “the Palestinians.” Such demands, unfortunately, seem like luxuries.


This situation could potentially be partially remedied in a manner that sees other sects and groups meeting the Patriarch halfway. This is what happened between 2000 and 2005, when Walid Jumblatt, then RafiK Hariri, added their voices to that of Patriarch Sfeir. However, this remedy, though partial, might pave the way for a clash over the nature of the country and its ability to persist, one that would be difficult to avoid. As for the family members whose heads the pistol is pointing at, they are fully ready to ask: Why not?


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