Hazem Saghieh

‘Strength’ as a Relationship Among the Lebanese Sects

The Aounist “philosophy of strength” has run its course, ending up powerless and lying flat on a haystack. Anger and bluster were not enough to conceal this terrible fact.

The “strong president,” his “strong rule,” “the ascension of the candidate who is strongest within his sect to the presidency,” and “Christians obtaining their rights….” These were headlines of the celebrations six years ago.

The celebrations were as loud and boisterous as the end was voiceless and lethargic. The 89-year-old man, whose demeanor and manner of speaking did little to suggest he is in remarkably good health or has a presence that defies his age, promised to start fresh after leaving the Presidential Palace: in the coming days - he said - the “strong struggle” begins.

The affair gives rise to several sentiments; sadness is one. The men and women who did not leave the ring, refusing to recognize their frailty or that their best days were behind them, inspire pity when their roles in the history of art and cinema are discussed.

The more they remind us of their strength and abilities, the more we notice their weakness and the erosion of their capacities.

With the Aoinsits, the “they did not let him rule” theory, a kind of admission of some sort of weakness in itself, is enough to explain what is going on.

Regardless of the roles that others have played, the Aounists’ popular support has been withering: in the 2005 general elections, 70 percent of the county’s Christians voted for them; in the 2009 elections, they received 50 percent of the Christian vote, and then in the latest elections held this year, their share of the Christian votes dropped to a mere 20 percent.

Here, we should keep in mind that given the sectarian makeup of Lebanese society and the country’s political system, those who win electoral battles during crises are the most representative of the supposed “spirit of their sect.”

Another matter that this claim to “strength” overlooks is the declining demographics of the Christian community, which have reduced it to less than a third of the total population. Thus, joining Hezbollah and its genuine strength has become a requisite for Aounist “strength.” This renders the whole concept of Aounist strength even more farcical.

However, as the Presidential Palace witnessed the miserable end of one “strength,” the southern borders witnessed another end to another “strength.” We are not dealing with Aounists here, but a serious faction bolstered by a cohesive and experienced army and a stockpile of missiles.

Nevertheless, the maritime border demarcation agreement has effectively ruled out the use of this strength - unless it is only used to force other Lebanese communities into more submission.

The Shiite demand for “strength,” which began in the mid-1970s with Moussa al-Sadr’s call to arms- “weapons are the accessories of men” has reached a point at which it has become difficult to justify itself.

Meanwhile, the boundary separating the “strength” of the allied parties has disappeared: the secretary-general of Hezbollah is a soldier in the Velayat-e Faqih army and is also fighting in Homs and Daraa.

Furthering the interests of these regional powers and complying with their dictates have always been prerequisites for garnering the strength that the party has attained.

In decades past, we saw two attempts to seek “strength”: the Druze, through Kamal Jumblatt, tried to expand the scope of their strength, and so they came together with the parties of the late “Lebanese National Movement,” which soon became - and this the “National Movement” mind you - hostage to Palestinian decisions and arms.

The other ally in this loose bloc, Syria, quickly turned on it, assassinating Jumblatt himself before playing its decisive role, directly and by proxy, in ending the Palestinian military and political presence.

The same experience of bitterness was undergone by the Sunni voices that began demanding “partnership.” This was a just demand in the Lebanese context, but the slogan “the Palestinian resistance is the army of the Muslims” rapidly emerged and was coupled with the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Syrian regime splitting the “Christian” army.

As had been true for the Druze, the Sunni Muslims reaped no benefits from this “strength,” especially not after the Palestinian resistance was defeated in 1982. We thus saw the shift to supporting the “Arab” role that Syria played in Lebanon and saw hopes pinned on this role, which continued until Rafik Hariri was assassinated in 2005.

Together, these experiences tell us that “strength,” as a relationship between the sects, is impossible in Lebanon. This strength serves others, not the Lebanese demanding it.

More distressingly, announcing the death of strength when it dies is almost impossible, as it exposes the emphatic defeat of a sect and its project for confronting other sects and their projects. This explains a crucial aspect of the humanitarian, national, and economic crises Lebanon is currently grappling with.

Indeed, “strength” could be valid as the framework shaping the relationship between two hostile states and mistrustful of one another. They could also inherit historical conflicts that push them to work to alter the balance of power constantly.

Sadly, applying the concept of strength among countries vis-à-vis one another to the relationship among communities and sects has become a general rule for many Arab countries. Lebanon is not alone in that.

This does not merely speak to the weakness of the national fabric, which is transparent to anyone willing to see it. It also suggests that such a national fabric may never emerge, neither today nor tomorrow…

We are, until further notice, being pulled by our hair to share a single homeland and country. Nothing but dead rhetoric and morbid prose suggests otherwise.