Hazem Saghieh

Are We Headed to Post-Nation-State in the Arab Levant?

It is widely believed that freedom, rights, and interests are the Arab Levant’s vehicle to national democratic change, that is, toward refounding its homelands. Here, citizens head to public squares and bring down a regime with absolutely no legitimacy that is contaminated by nasty interests; a new legitimate regime created by the population emerges and represents their interests. As for ramping up civic and peaceful resistance, it accelerates this noble and meaningful exercise.

This is indeed a noble process defended by noble people. However, its Achilles heel is that it treats the currently existing countries as a fait accompli. The worry is that this might not be the case, and that all the poison injected into our societies has poisoned them as single societies in which the population is unanimous about their unity. Rather, the worry is that we have reached a stage in which those societies’ capacity to degenerate revolutions is far greater than revolutions’ capacity to unity societies. This perhaps calls for taking a step back, away from the “classical theory” that we have inherited, paving the way for us to take two steps forward in how we conceive of our democratic future and building it.

Today, a brave uprising that brings to mind some of the features of the 2011 revolution, as well as showcasing the role of women and the vigor and determination of the local community, is underway in Southern Syria. Nonetheless, there remains a legitimate question whose answer the course taken by the uprising will determine: Will the rest of Syria rise up and come to its aid, turning it from a regional insurgency largely associated with a particular community, the Druze, into a cross-sectarian national revolution?

There is nothing novel in stating that the size and peripheral location of As-Suwayda, do not allow for asking it to carry more than it can bear with regard to Syria at large.

Nonetheless, we have seen contradictory indications so far: there are pockets of protest across Syria, including the Alwaite-majority coastal region. However, these pockets are far too weak to allow for providing the kind of support that is needed. The insurgent movement in As-Suwayda has raised national Syrian slogans, and, on the other hand, it has highlighted local Durz symbols. As for how this significant development was received outside the area and by those belonging to different sectarian communities, it is also two-sided: some have met it with enthusiasm and support, engaging with it as a prelude to a bigger national push, and others have been more reserved and skeptical, seeing the movement as unrepresentative of the Sunni majority, to say nothing about the state propaganda machine distorting and slandering it. If the slogan of decentralization raised by some of the protesters is indicative, then the difficulties hindering collective national action are far from few: from the defeat of the revolution a decade ago, to the scattering and fragmentation of the Syrian people following their mass displacement, and finally the many foreign occupations the country is now subjected to.

It would not be wrong to assume that the regime's atrophy does not necessarily imply its collapse. It could also be true that the targeted blows it is receiving, which are encouraged by its atrophy coupled with a total failure to do anything to improve the economic or living standards, might not come together or accumulate to become a knockout blow that hits in the center.

Syria might end up in a situation where it is neither ruled nor changed as a unified entity. We are thus left with a simultaneously painful and scandalous truth, which is that the victory against the revolution of 2011 was a victory against Syria as a united country. For their part, those looking for other achievements, and victories are supposed to be a prelude to accomplishments by the victor, they search in vain.

Moreover, the Durzism of insurgency is neither a reason to criticize nor to glorify it. Rather, it is an image of a reality that some have likened to the image of the northern regions on the Turkish border. The Kurdish community there has not hidden its desire for autonomy within the framework of a federal system. And while the Syrian Kurds are aspiring to attain what federalism has guaranteed the Iraqi Kurds, the rest of the Arab Levant is seeking the same end through different paths, albeit more circuitously and less expressively.

We are all well aware of the setbacks suffered by the new brand of Lebanese patriotism with the two failed attempts to reform and renew it, first after March 14, 2005 and then after October 17, 2019. We also know that the Iraqi uprising in 2019 only encompassed the Shiites, who faced up against a Shiite regime that, despite all the claims to the contrary, is Shiite. Outside the Arab Levant, some voices in Sudan, Yemen and Libya are also now calling for decentralized form of governance.

Our political imagination might be required to draw some inspiration from the city-state model, in the hope that this could help us find a way out of the turbulence facing the nation-state and the prospects of open-ended conflicts, decline, and perpetual oppressive domination.

The region had already resisted the mood of the times, when nation-states were established after World War I ended and the Ottoman Empire collapsed. At the time, the global mood was rejected, in the name of a larger homeland and nation under the pretext that the emerging nation-states were produced by “fragmentation” and reflected a “colonial project”. It would be better to avoid going against the mood of the times again, after the regimes that emerged, with the support of a dead culture, succeeded in emptying our nation-states of any usefulness or potential, while fragmenting and destroying the smaller homelands