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Dreadful Majoritarian and Minoritarian Consciousnesses Cripple Lebanon

Dreadful Majoritarian and Minoritarian Consciousnesses Cripple Lebanon

Sunday, 25 July, 2021 - 08:45

With the first anniversary of the Beirut Port explosion approaching, a shameless petition signed by 28 Lebanese deputies emerged. The signatories are keen on immunity not being lifted from three deputies (all of whom are former ministers). They want the judiciary not to try them. Instead, they want the “Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers,” whose members parliament appoints, to do so. So: we, ourselves, prosecute ourselves.

The petition was not merely an attempt to disrupt what a brave judge by the name of Tarek Bitar is doing. It is, before and after that, a slap in the face of the Lebanese generally and the blast’s victims and their families particularly. It is a declaration of disdain for the truth and of explicit complicity with the crime and the criminals.

The Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers idea rubs a lot of salt in our wound.

Moreover, given Lebanon’s well-known sectarian composition, another aspect of the petition is its immense callousness for an area deemed Christian because it lies in the north of Beirut and for the fact that the vast majority of the blasts’ victims were Christians. The sectarian affiliation of the deputies who signed the petition glaringly spoke to this: thirteen of them are Shiite, eleven are Sunni and four are Christian.

On top of that, the latter’s sectarian representativeness is considered lacking; two of them were elected to parliament as part of Shiite Amal and Hezbollah’s lists, a third is a deputy from Tripoli, a city that has become overwhelmingly Sunni, and the fourth is a Syrian Social National Party member. This meager representation was exacerbated after, in response to a targeted campaign launched against the petition and its signatories on social media, two of the four Christian deputies withdrew their signatures, as did three of the Sunnis.

That this petition coincided with the developing rapprochement among the three Muslim parties (Amal, Hezbollah and the Future Movement) suffices to remind Christians of many of the grievances that they have had over the past few decades. The most prominent of them, perhaps, are three:

- That in the past and the present, those who call for getting involved in regional conflicts through armed struggle pay them no mind and do not consult them as “partners in the country.”

- That their marginalization during the “Syrian tutelage” period that extended until 2005 was overlooked, while business went on as usual.

- That the four major Muslim parties (Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, the Future Movement and the Progressive Socialist Party) formed a “quadripartite alliance” after the Syrian army pulled its troops out of Lebanon. Christians understood this development to manifest a desire to maintain Christian marginalization and perpetuate it, with or without Syrian tutelage. Michel Aoun was the major beneficiary of this perception and the frustration that accompanied it.

The dreadfulness of this majoritarian, Sunni-Shiite, consciousness, of which the parliamentary petition was the latest manifestation, is met only by that of the Christians’ minoritarian consciousness: responding to those grievances by rallying around Aoun and his alliance, since 2006, with Hezbollah, and the subsequent adoption of the “alliance of minorities” theories, which, in practice, entail pitting Christians, Shiites and Alawites against the Sunnis. Here, the minoritarian consciousness was not satisfied with separating its problem from that of the majority of the people; instead, it pitted its problem against the majority’s problem and in opposition to it.

This doctrinal current took two forms, one silent and one loudly talking:

- Loudly expressed, was immense support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime as it went about killing its people with all the tools available to it and bringing foreigners in to finish the job. That position, in Lebanon, and especially in Syria, made the dispute or discord between the communities more like an unbridgeable schism.

- Silently, they turned a blind eye to Hezbollah’s violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty and borders, with seasonal and unconvincing support for “resistance to Israel” based on an extremely sectarian and short-sighted understanding: Shiites are being killed, not Christians, and what matters, at the end of the day, is weakening the Sunnis by any means necessary.

This dreadful experience, in both its forms, demonstrates the immense difficulty of having a sound minoritarian consciousness when the majoritarian consciousness is not so, and vice versa. However, it speaks to the fact that our social and cultural fabric is frail and produces only reactions of retaliation and vengeance, which stems from a tribal consciousness that modernity has only trimmed around the edges.

In fact, since the mid-nineteenth century and the emergence of sectarianism, we have been besieged by a burning question: can our political thought arrive at a configuration that combines an understanding of the problem of the people, or the majority of the people (where recognition of the problem of minorities, and sometimes even minorities’ existence, is rare) with an understanding of the problem of minorities (where recognition of a problem faced by the majority is rare)?

The recent petition scandal was a small reminder of an enormous, deep-rooted fact about our public life.

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