Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The Unsung Heroes of Lebanon 

Since ancient times, Maronite political figures who adopted positions opposite to their sect’s mainstream, using common sense rather than populism, have brought about greater good. However, they consistently have been reviled not only by rivals but, specially by their own. 

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In 1770, Shaykh Saad el Khoury, and later his son, took the party of Amir Yusuf Shihab. They saw in this line of Shihabiprinces a source of stability for Mount Lebanon. Amir Yusuf harbored no intents on crushing the powerful feudal Druses families as did his successor namely, Amir Bashir Shehab II. He also avoided any partisanship in politics. However, the Maronite fief-holders who took the side of either Yazbackis or Jumblatis, were popular amongst their flock and better viewed despite the pile of disasters they caused Mount Lebanon by such partisan politicking.  What followed was a series of mini-civil wars in 1841, 1842, 1845 and the disastrous one in 1860.

In 1943, another el KhouryShaykh Bechara, was not too popular amongst French-influenced elites and his Maronite community. His rivals wanted the continuation of the French mandate, and the creation of a ‘Safe Christian Refuge’. Shaykh Bechara took many risks by favoring an independent, united, non-aligned Lebanon. He did it all in tandem with Riad el Solh, the Sunni leader of the time who saw in the former a genuine, equal partner. Shaykh Bechara was vilified, and unjustly accused of manipulating local politics.  Following the premature end of his second mandate, his Maronite successors invested less in the partnership that el Khoury ushered with Muslims. They adopted Western leaning policies that might have been beneficial, but which were obviously ill-timed, during a frantic era of revived Arab nationalism, itself another catastrophic by others. However, what followed was the internal clash of 1958.

In 1958, yet another unpopular Maronite Pres. Fouad Shehab, built the foundations of a State premised based on well-administered institutions, national -not factional- doctrine and pro rata equality amongst all citizens. Projects were delivered on time, public functions were won on merits, and law and order prevailed. This did not go well with the Maronite political elite whose Maronite supporters were manipulated to viewing him a ‘sell-out’ either to Nasser, or to the Muslim partners in the country.  In his detractors’ eyes, he was either too aloof or too ‘militaristic’, not a State builder and internal peacemaker. What followed was the inevitable civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990.

In 1990, Elias Harawi, a moderate politician who was the first Maronite president elected after the Taef Accord, tried to find an equilibrium between an overbearing Hariri père and over-reaching Berri, who were respectively backed by Saudi and Syria. He attempted to accommodate the interests of all communities under such strenuous circumstances. He was vilified by the Maronite warlords for not sufficiently upholding their rights and privileges within the new State structure, which rights and privileges those same warlords had squandered in their brutal and internecine wars from 1988 to 1990. 

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After 1990, when the Qornet Chehwan gathering was formed, it comprised more ‘unpopular’ Maronite faces than not, whilst most ‘popular’ warlords were either incarcerated or exiled. This group of rational -but still unpopular- politicians banded around the patriarch, called for the Syria’s to withdraw, organized peaceful demonstrations following PM Hariri’s assassination and, delivered an independent Lebanon for a short-lived period. Then the ‘popular’ Maronite leaders returned home, and all hell broke loose. MAoun sided with Hezbollah, A. Gemayel’s son was later assassinated so, he gradually exited from politics, and S. Geagea whilst standing his ground for a while, slipped soon thereafter in sectarian paths starting with the so-called Orthodox electoral Law and culminating with the election of Aoun for president. What followed was the Anschluss of the Lebanese State by Iran via its proxy Hezbollah and the consequential irrelevancy of all politicians and communities, chief amongst them, the Maronites. 

Unsung Maronite leaders are my heroes. This is a minority view in Lebanon. But then we are in the “Democracy of the Internet” where an opinion counts for the most important constituency namely, one’s own conscious.

Henri David Thoreau in his book Civil Disobedience wrote: “Any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one, already” 

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