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Towards Sects and Clans… March

Towards Sects and Clans… March

Monday, 30 August, 2021 - 09:30

In 2015, when the garbage crisis erupted in Lebanon, we found ourselves thrown into a strange situation: all the Lebanese, with no sectarian or regional affiliations, were suffering from the problem. At the same time, many villages and towns yelled out: don’t bury “strangers’” trash in our area. The “strangers” were none other than the sons of the villages and towns adjacent to the villages and towns objecting.

Today, with the great collapse, similar sentiments are being yelled out at gas stations: “strangers” are filling their tanks in “our” stations, using “our” gas.

The resurgence of micro loyalties, after the decay that has struck the state and politics and left the economy shriveled, has become broader, more comprehensive and louder than they had been in 2015. A month ago, for example, around the time of the Beirut port blast’s first anniversary, retaliatory clashes erupted between Hezbollah and the “Arab tribes” in Khaldeh, south of Beirut. Several were killed and injured as a result.

At the time, it was said that sectarianism’s armed face had come to the fore because the clashes were between two Shiite and Sunni factions. However, the past few days have demonstrated that the matter goes beyond sects, encompassing intra-sectarian conflict as well. In Akkar in North Lebanon, medium and heavy weapons were used in clashes between the Sunni towns of Fnaidek and Akkar al-Atika, with one man from each of the villages dying. The clashes erupted over chopping wood in an area disputed by the two towns.

The An-Nahar newspaper described the situation in Tripoli like this: “Tripoli has entered a new phase of the chaos and insecurity that are sweeping through all of its neighborhoods, especially in its poorer areas, where the sound of exploding hand grenades can be heard at night, particularly around the Abo Ali river, where the neighborhoods have turned into arenas for armed clashes.”

My colleague Youssef Bazzi wrote about the “gas station war” that could, at any moment, become an armed free for all battle. He described it like this: “The thugs will come and try to cut the queue. The youths on motorbikes are sure to storm the station. The powerful, with their huge cars and tinted windows, will also take our place in the queue with explicit obnoxiousness and showy insolence. The security patrols that will organize and control the queue will also accompany the cars of the privileged and prioritize them, and that is besides the gallons (loaded into plastic containers) they will fill up for them before getting to our cars…”

Though its current eruption is graver than it had ever been, this kind of social atomization is not new. The things that used to foster and perpetuate it are many: politics being founded on a sectarian-quota-based distribution of spoils, a service economy that did not integrate the population nor shorten the gulf between them, and an electoral law that obliged voters to return to their hometowns to vote...

The official solutions, in turn, were also trivial: even Chehabism, which had made serious achievements, was delusional in thinking that the sectarian problem would be resolved for Muslims once the county’s foreign policy was handed to Gamal Abdel Nasser. It exacerbated the sectarian problem for Christians, especially after it left some of their most prominent political figures failing to win their seats in the parliamentary elections. It also imagined solving the tribal problem by wresting the tribes from the Syrian security services and tying them to the Lebanese apparatuses.

Generally, regardless of the solutions put forward, war’s ability to destroy has remained greater than the state’s ability to build. Grudges and fears on the one hand, and dividing areas along sectarian lines on the other, entrenched areas’ purity and the demonization of the other. Later on, Hezbollah’s weapons reinforced most of the Lebanese’ feeling that they need autonomous protection.

Nonetheless, the scandal of ideas was no less scandalous than that of the state. The Lebanese have known a Lebanonist awakening telling them: be Lebanese and unite, becoming one like the tines on a comb. They then saw an Arabist awakening telling them: stand as one to liberate Palestine or at least fight Israel. Finally, they saw an Islamic awakening promoted by Hezbollah telling them: unite behind our arsenal of weapons protecting you. On the margins, there has always been the class awakening telling them: unite according to your interests against class enemies.

Those who stood behind these awakenings, preaching a form of unity that put an end to atomization, all of them bet on a common cause that would entice the masses into uniting: the Lebanonists saw the cause as building a country whose achievements would be expressed folklorically. The Arabists and Islamists saw it in Israel. The leftists saw it in the bourgeois compradors or the financial junta, alongside Israel. However, all of them asked large segments of the Lebanese, if not the majority, to forget things that are dear to them, religious, confessional, or cultural. This demand that they forget peaked with Hezbollah, which has asked Sunnis, Christians and Druze to stop being Sunnis, Christians, and Druze and join a Shiite project.

The only awakening that has been clear and genuine is that of the sects and clans when it is not embellished by ideology: it has said and continues to say, “Remember that we hate each other, don’t forget that no cause brings us together.”

When the state decays, as is the case now, remembering one’s sect and clan becomes the only recollection of something tangible that grants tangible returns. The state, on the other hand, is hell, and the ideologically tainted awakenings are mere illusions of paradise.

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