Monday, April 22, 2024

The Myths and Realities of the Federalist Discourse in Lebanon

Why is Arab Nationalism not taboo while Federalism is, in Lebanon. Nasserism, Unity with Egypt, prior to that, Unity with Syria, and today solidarity of all fronts against Israel is the dominant slogan of Lebanese politics, but Federalism is not. Whilst all these currents and schools of thoughts (we don’t know if any patriotic thoughts have been put into them) have a single objective of seeing Lebanon either merge and disappear into a larger neighboring entity or pick a fight against another neighboring entity and get destroyed, Federalism, coupled with neutrality, is the only proposition that preserves the unity of Lebanon. Still, it is dismissed not only by its traditional opponents, who seem to have clear agendas, but by ‘intellectual puritans’ who believe that the very essence of patriotism would be impaired if the Republic of Lebanon becomes the Federal Republic of Lebanon.

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Early opponents to Federalism in Lebanon have traditionally included Sunni political barons (R. Karameh, S. Salam, S. El Hoss). They rejected it on many levels some of which, they refuse to disclose publicly. To start with, the “Umma” is one of believers vs. infidels so national boundaries and borders have no meaning, since the “Umma” rises from Oceans to rising Oceans round the globe. More closely to home, the Arabist projects have always been a darling of the Sunni nomenclature starting from the Arabian Emirate with Prince Faisal in WWI to the unity with Syria prior to 1920 and until Al-Sahel Convention in 1936, to the confederation with Egypt and Syria during Nasser’s time (the United Arab Republic), and with whomever, ever since. By bringing an Arab country into the fold, the Sunni political barons thought to dilute the Christians’ erstwhile majority and control over Lebanese politics. So, it was a matter of demographics not geopolitics since this so-called elite had very little to add to Nasser’s project in intellectual input or tangible benefits. They agreed to becoming junior partners or even serfs at the service of Nasser then of the PLO, then of Assad just to rid themselves from the uneasy, and in their eyes, ‘unfair partnership’ with the Christians.

Hezbollah in turn – Amal being a minor coalition partner in this grand scheme- could not play the demographics card, being surrounded by a sea of Sunnis from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean. When their time came to attempt a takeover, they played it subtly. What they did is use the subterfuge of the “Alliance of Minorities” which was in fact a means to coopt all minorities in the Levant (Alawis and Druze in Syria, and Druze and Christians in Lebanon) against the Sunnis. The objective being the transformation of Lebanon from an independent State into becoming a satellite of Iran. A satellite that Hezbollah controls and governs whilst using pawns from all other communities to assist it in administering this Iranian province. One must admit that this is an upgraded version from the Sunnis’ proposed Anschluss with Egypt or Syria or the PLO, as it ‘preserves’ Lebanon nominally, but practically it ‘destroys’ its spirit and raison d’être by becoming a satrapy of the Ayatollah.

The other opponents to Federalism are the ‘intellectual puritans’ who believe that Lebanon has a mission and a purpose beyond all other neighboring nations. They have developed a belief that the country’s current constitutional and administrative structure (i.e., a centralized government overseeing regional districts), is a proof nay, a model, of societal plurality and inter-religious harmony. As if Lebanon’s manifest destiny is to cling on to an immovable constitutional framework set up by French colonial powers in 1920, and enhanced slightly in 1943 and then, poorly in 1989, despite eighty years of continuous emigration, crises and wars. No introspection, no self-criticism, and no revisionism are allowed of such an experience, according to those ‘intellectual puritans’, lest we risk destroying the very essence of Lebanon. The puritans’ attitude is animated in part by fears that Federalism will be fought including, physically by its fiercest opponents, chief amongst them Hezbollah. However, Federalism’s proponents are not intending on forcing it upon other communities but seek to ‘make its case’ in the court of public opinion. Others might join or be seduced or be intrigued or be won over by its propositions. Making Federalism a political taboo, or a subject constantly cast out from any national debate, prevents such an informal referendum.  Other counterarguments to Federalism revolve around the sacrosanct nature of the Constitution. Puritans posit that a serious attempt at Federalism would open a Pandora’s box giving each sectarian group the right to tailor the Constitution right down to its own size and preferences. Frankly, those planning such ‘regime change’ are not waiting for Federalism to attempt it and often, do not even hide their intentions for doing so, irrespective of Federalism. 

To the would-be heirs of the Sunni barons and to Hezbollah, one can safely state that schemes to merge, dilute, drown, subjugate, or adulterate Lebanon into another country (including 400 years of Ottoman rule) or making it a satellite of another (whether Nasser or the Ayatollah), have been disappointingly barren. Nasser, Assad, and Arafat are long gone, and soon the Mullahs will be put back into their box. That’s how the Great Game of nations is played. As to the ‘intellectual puritans’ opposed to Federalism, we can unreservedly state that when reviewed without sentimental bias, or intellectual animosity, or gratuitous cynicism, Federalism is in fact the ideal platform that you defend -under the current dysfunctional regime- but with more functionality and longevity.

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