A Work in Progress: Lebanon First

Posted in Broader Middle East | 03-Sep-08 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

I knew the discussion with MP Mohammad Kabbani of the Future Movement was going to be interesting when he started by saying that like many others, he supports the idea that Lebanon comes first. However, they have yet to agree what Lebanon is in order to know what steps to take next.

The tense ongoing situation in Tripoli reminded everyone of the very recent past when the members of parliament (MPs) had to move to the Phoenicia Hotel, abroad and to other places for security reasons. No one can forget the shock of having a chain of assassinations in the country. MP Mohammad Kabbani said that: "In the beginning the motive was clear. The majority had to become a minority by killing, not by elections."

At that time the country had no president and the assassination trend was meant to stop the majority from electing a president by 65 votes out of 128, which is the 50 + 1 formula. However, not all killings followed this terrible logic. Not all of those who were murdered were hawks, as MP Kabbani put it. Thus there was no need to target them. When I asked Mr. Kabbani why the majority did not make use of the broad international support it had at one point to elect the president with 50+1, I was told that: "We needed local and international support to move forward. The Patriarch Sfeir was late in giving the support, and by the time he agreed, the momentum had passed. There were also some in our group, March 14, who believed we would be taking a lot of risks if we do it. Then, the idea of electing General Sulayman came and it was the right idea, just that it took some time to crystallize."

He went on to say: "The threat of being a target seems to be fading away because the minority has the blocking third. The majority is no more a decisive majority, except in minor issues. According to the constitution, which was outlined in the Taif Agreement, you need 2/3 of the Council of Ministers to amend the constitution, for the electoral law, to declare war, to sign a peace agreement, also for the laws of the sects, concerning marriage, inheritance and so on; since there is no unified law for all, if any needs to be amended, it has to be done with the 2/3. There are no more reasons for assassinations, but who can gamble on it? This is one mistake nobody would be alive to learn from; therefore we have to keep on being cautious."

Through the Taif Agreement, the Lebanese have a chance to reconcile their different views, explained MP Kabbani. This was a point that I hadn’t considered. He reminded me that if Lebanon had an upper and lower house of parliament the situation would be much different. The senate would be a place for the sects to discuss and dispute opinions, objectives and specific issues, and the lower house would be a national forum where the level of talks would not focus on what the Sunni, Druze, Shias and the Armenians want, but what the Lebanese want.

This might be the right solution for all parties, assuming that none, in spite of the sectarianism and group interests has a desire to incorporate Lebanon into Greater Syria or to act as an Iranian, French or American protectorate. There must be some kind of national pride they all share. Or if this pride is not there yet, this is the right time to start building it.

What happened in May made some remember the old days when conflict took over the country. Fear, prejudice, self interest and ignorance have shown their ugly heads once again.

Hizballah was wrong to use their arms in the country, and Amal and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) and others who stepped in to help were as wrong as Hizballah. You cannot assure your partners who already have serious doubts about your long-term objectives and allegiances that you are not to be feared, and do that through a show of force. It lacks logic. Furthermore, it was unnecessary. Everyone knows Hizballah's military strength. You don't have to overstress it on the streets if you are seeking a real partnership. On the other hand, if in theory you seek partnership and in practice something else, the May events might have been the tip of the iceberg.

After years of coming and studying this country, I have yet to understand why Lebanon settles for second and third best and at the same time gives privileges to foreign powers on a silver platter. Is it a severe inferiority complex that the political leadership has had since 1943?

If Iran wants to settle its problems with the United States, let them do it outside of Lebanon. If Saudi Arabia wants to send a message to President Bashar al-Assad, the Saudis are more than welcome to do so, but not through Lebanon. If Hizballah feels entitled to fight for the Palestinians or for whatever people or country, they can always use the territory of their sponsors. If they want to continue to use Lebanon, they should at the very minimum at least ask all the people of Lebanon if constant war and a puppet role is what they aspire to.

Lebanon is one of the richest countries I have ever seen at the people level. It is unbelievable how this wealth is thrown away. And for what? To serve whom? When foreign powers have the leverage here, Lebanon loses. It is that simple. In this respect, the Lebanese seem to be walking in the footsteps of the Palestinians: Lost people used by all, including their own leadership.

The loser mentality found in Lebanon - always too afraid to say no to both internal and external forces that undermine the very foundation of the country - must come to an end if Lebanon is to survive.