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The Media Line: Lebanese Need to Prioritize Their Country Over Their Sects (Opinion)

Opinion – Lebanese Need to Prioritize Their Country Over Their Sects

By Daoud Kuttab/ The Media Line

Few people will disagree that the way out of the crippling political and economic crisis in Lebanon is to change the identity priorities of its leaders. Instead of being Shiite or Maronite first and Lebanese second, the Lebanese identity must prevail and be the priority over any sectarian or denominational identity.

The disease that is hitting Lebanon hard now is prevalent in many countries. When tribalism and smaller factional identities prevail over the national identity, countries suffer. Look at Yemen or Syria or Libya or Iraq and it is the same lesson. Even in societies which are relatively stable because of the existence of a religious supermajority like in Jordan and Palestine, other subtribal identities or factions are given exaggerated powers and attention at the expense of the national one.  This problem leads to hoarding power and encourages undemocratic dictatorial authority.

The idea of sharing the power with others is a hard lesson that many in this part of the world have yet to learn and implement. No wonder Arabs have won many individual medals in the Olympics but they have yet to win a single medal in a team sport.

While in some countries the election process is rigged or simply delayed, Lebanon has not meddled with the election law. The problem is that the system that has been in placesince 1932 is highly problematic in the way its participants see it. The Lebanese system attempts to democratize sectarianism by regulating that the president must be Christian,and not just any Christian: the president must be of the Maronite denomination. The same applies to the prime minister, who must be Muslim but from the Sunni population; and the speaker of the Parliament must be Shia; and so on.

But this division that was written into the constitution in the early 20th century was no longer valid by the end of that century as the population’s demographics changed. Some argued that keeping this sectarian democracy is the only way to preserve the rights (and some say privileges) of religious minorities, but this sectarianism led to the civil war in which Palestinians were brought in to take sides and this led to the Israeli invasion. The war continued after the departure of the PLO and only ended with the help of thenPrime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

The civil war officially ended in 1989 when Hariri succeeded in reaching agreement and in implementing the Saudibacked Taif Accords, which split the seats of the parliament equally between Muslims and Christians while keeping all else the same.

But while the civil war finally ended in this way, the solutions that brought about a hiatus of the problems and a shortlived honeymoon has quickly evaporated largely due to the greed of the warlords.

Lebanese know well the cost of the war and have no intention of returning to it, but the economic disaster they are experiencing can easily lead to more explosions, not the least of which was the port blast, from which Beirutis have yet to recover.

A friend from Lebanon wrote to tell me that the economic situation is so bad that they don’t know what to do. “The economy is really bad, there is no gasoline, the dollar is sold for 18,000 lira and there hasn’t been a government in a year, the letter said.

Instead of looking inward to find a way to prioritize their country over the smaller sectarian identities, Lebanese continue to look outside for a solution. With the failures of the French, they are now expecting a solution to come from the Americans, the Iranians, the Syrians and the Saudis, but not from themselves.

The outside world wants Lebanon, which was often seen as a model of coexistence, to find a way out of its crisis. There is a limit to what the outside world can offer. The real heavy lifting must still be the responsibility of the Lebanese people. All of us from outside are praying that the wonderful resilient Lebanon and its people can find a way out of this crisis and can return to shine as it has for generations.

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