Once Upon a Time in Maaloula

It was December 2010, slightly after Christmas, that I went to Maaloula as part of a two day stay in pre-war Syria.

The village was nestled up the mountains some 30 minutes away from Damascus. I had no idea what to expect there, other than some difference from the  souks and mosques that their country’s capital had to offer. I should have known that Maaloula would be drastically different – the driver had been talking a language I wasn’t understanding all the way. It was Aramaic.

Once upon a time, the Maaloula I visited was a calm village, part of a calmer and oppressed country. The people there seemed poor. They also seemed especially devout, asking us to take off our shoes as we visited Christian shrines for saints that Christians in Lebanon worshipped. The town’s houses were tightly packed together, haphazardly built, in a way that climbed up the mountain that overlooked the village. A statue of the Virgin Mary could be seen atop those mountains. I’m sure they figured she’d be protecting their homes.

I walked around the hills next to the village, patches of snow from a storm a few days prior still visible. The townspeople looked at us warily: just another batch of tourists who are coming and going, expecting some funky eccentricities. A few children were busy playing football on the tarmac across the street. They asked us to play but we didn’t have the luxury of living where they did. So we kept looking around.

The monastery we visited, Deir Mar Takla, where the relics of a renowned Saint reportedly lay, was not very different from several ones I had seen in Lebanon. But I guess it’s always more interesting just because it represents a minority, something different in the vast sea of sameness you had come to associate with the Syria I was visiting back then. I never thought that desolate town, huddled in those cold Syrian mountains, would become the focal point of Lebanese politics almost three years later.

I never gave Maaloula a second thought until today when I was told that the Syrian civil war had reached it and I was told that I should care about the lives of its people, just because they are Christians, more than the lives of all the Syrian civilians who have died since whatever’s taking place in Syria started back in 2011. There are varying levels to the value of a human life.

Maaloula became the centerpiece of a long-used argument revolving around the core foundation of Christian victimhood, because the presence of Christians in this region cannot be guaranteed but by dictators and oppressors. Let’s always choose the lesser evil.

I was also invited to #ActForMaaloula today, an admirable effort and all. But I have to wonder: aren’t Muslim villages worthy of me acting for them? Who am I supposed to act for in Maaloula exactly fully knowing that 90% of its people have apparently left their town? Am I supposed to act for the Churches that have not been touched according to all news services? Am I supposed to act just for the sake of acting so I can tell the entire world that I care about the likes of those who happened to be born into my religion just because they worship Jesus and don’t fast Ramadan?

Christians in this region are and apparently will always be dhimmis, precisely because of this rhetoric, whether they like it or not. They’re dhimmis because they’re always forced to ask for protection. They’re dhimmis because they’re always treated differently than the countries of which they are part. They’re dhimmis because they relish in the rhetoric that they are different, that their lives are more precious, that one needs to act for their sake but not the sake of others just because they have carried a Cross.

Being against the regime next door doesn’t mean we sympathize with the Islamists. It doesn’t mean some Lebanese politicians, who remember the never-ending Christian victimhood argument listed above whenever they’re bored, get to patronize us about not doing enough for our “Christian brethren.” I refuse to be blinded to the fact that this talk about extremists and Islamists and Nusra and Al Qaeda did not exist in 2011. I refuse to be forced to forget that the talk about a ruthless regime, which can send the cold, penis-less corpse of a thirteen year old to his mother’s doorstep, has existed since the 1980s. I refuse to be forced to fall to that ridiculous notion that Christians are special and must be protected because Israel considers them competition.

I used to think the fear for Christians in the region is overrated. I don’t think that way anymore. But I also think that the entire way the issue is being dealt with will only lead to further decimation of those Christians and further increase of the fear they are forced to live in. You want to protect the Christians of Syria because you love them so? You fight for a political solution that involves stopping the regime that has killed hundreds of thousands of its people and with it those Islamists we all fear whose existence stems from that precise regime.

One more thing before I bring you full circle.

The Syrian regime protects Christians, sure. The rebels are creatures who want to behead Christians and only do that, sure. The following is not in Maaloula.

Lebanon, courtesy of the Syrian army.

Lebanon, courtesy of the Syrian army.

Whose protection am I supposed to ask for now?

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America, Syria And All Those Arab Hypocrites

It’s funny how many people are suddenly against foreign interference in Syria. I’ve been wondering for the past week, as news of a possible American strike against Damascus surfaced, where all those people who cared about the sovereignty of Syria were for the past two years?

Arabs are interesting people. You only need to say America once in order to get them rallying behind their one common secondary enemy. The United States is the world’s biggest terrorist organization, some of them would say. You can sit back and laugh. The problem is that they firmly believe that the problem is actually the United States.

Media and people have rallied against any possible American strike, against the “imperialistic” regime that has targeted the countries of the Middle East for a long, long time. They started recalling Afghanistan and Iraq. They reminded people of the thousands who are dead because of this American greed for oil and power, although they failed to mention that Syria isn’t on the oil map. How dare they think they can use our airspace to fight our neighbors? How dare they think they can do whatever they please and not find repercussions? What right does the United States have to attack Syria?

Or so say the people whose brand of interference is not satisfied by America. Say no to foreign interference in Syria. Except foreign is only that when it’s non-Arab, no? Because somehow Arabs get to interfere in each other’s business as much as they want but it’s more than acceptable because they’re all one big happy family, raised on accepting each other’s boundaries and liberties.

For the past two years, every single Middle Eastern country has made it its bread and butter to interfere in Syrian affairs daily. But no one had a problem with that, right? Everyone is against foreign interference in Syria – except when said interference is at the hands of Hezbollah and Iran? Why? Because they’re helping the region keep one of the last remaining regimes against Israel’s zionist plans?

How exactly is the Assad regime resisting Israel? When was the last time that regime attempted to liberate the Golan Heights? How many bullets has Assad fired at the Israeli army in the past twenty years? What did Assad do when his country was bombed by Israel a few months ago?

How does anything that Assad did regarding Israel actually qualify as being a “resistance” regime? Does threatening Israel through Hezbollah in case the United States does anything to his country actually count?

The way I see it, the only country getting screwed in that non-sensical logic is Lebanon, as always. How long are we supposed to be the playground for that Syrian regime whenever it feels like it? How long are we supposed to be an extension of the war in Syria just because some parties in our country can’t mind their own business? How many more explosions that are caused, whether directly or indirectly by said parties, are we supposed to withstand just because they decided to go rescue their best friend next door? How many more independent war and peace decisions are we supposed to swallow just because they can do whatever they please? How is anything those parties are doing remotely acceptable to the entire well-being of this supposed nation that we want to call home?

Or is it because the Syrian regime is in bed with Iran and is therefore, by association, fighting Israel? And is “Israel” the only factor that is relevant enough to help us shape whatever policy or opinion we want to have? Is this “resistance” axis, whose only activity is that restricted to empty words, enough reason for us as Lebanese to let our country be screwed every single day?

Or are Arabs really afraid that those Western countries they despise actually have a form of accountability to their politicians that might see them removed from office that their countries would never, ever have? Because they’ll never see their parliaments vote against strikes? Because they’ll never see their presidents defer such decisions to legislative bodies? Because they’ll never see their leaders lose elections due to their political choices such as the ones that come to matters of war?

I also keep wondering how many people have actually forgotten what the Syrian regime is actually capable of when it comes to atrocities. Somehow, the discussion has become to let the regime stay because those rebels are worse. We’re fighting with the regime because we don’t want those “takfir” people to reach power. How abused has that word become lately? And how scared have people become of it without knowing that those who are supposedly fighting those “takfiryyin” are no different? This isn’t a matter of choosing the lesser evil. This isn’t a matter of bad versus worse. This is a matter of worst versus worst.

Do you not remember the years of human rights abuse that the Syrian regime has committed against Lebanese? Are you not familiar with the different types of experimentations that the regime has done on Lebanese people just because they defied it somehow? Do you not remember the children in Houla who were murdered ruthlessly last year by regime forces? How is this better than those “animals” who eat hearts and behead Christians? Are Christian lives more valuable just because they’re minorities? Can we stop using such useless arguments just because they allow you to have some form of cover for you coming out in support of a regime that is as horrible as the rebels you despise just because they don’t fit in your political mold of choice?

And then there are those who suddenly woke up from their two year coma and noticed there are human rights violation in Syria. Chemical weapons are a no-no – that is the red line that must not be crossed. Never mind the countless red lines that have already been crossed in Syria over the past two years as the entire world stood by watching. Human lives are not really worthy when their nationality is not of the decent kind. Those people have, therefore, decided that it makes sense for the United States to finally interfere in a “limited” strike whose effects might be anything but “limited.” Because human rights are somehow best perserved by increasing violence in a country that is already torn apart by violence? Because there’s no other solution to Syria except the easiest solution that involves sending missiles gifted from Washington, London and Paris to Damascus with love?

I don’t know who used sarin gas in Syria. Arguments can go both ways. Proof, be it fabricated or not, can also go both ways. Rebels or regime. Terrorists or the terrorist fighting those terrorists. But does it even matter who used sarin? The ship of common sense questions regarding Syria has sailed a long, long time ago. And by the looks of it, that ship won’t be coming back anytime soon because if there’s anything that life in the Middle East has taught us, it’s that the people of the region tend to think with their emotions when it comes to the matters of the head. But when it comes to politics, emotions have no role.

Insulting The Maronite Patriarch

I don’t believe Bechara al Raï’s visit to Syria was the devil incarnated as many seem to believe. He simply went there to hold Mass, believing his visit would actually get the Maronites of Syria to relax about their future. But it’s not all peachy. His visit is most probably not on his own accord. Odds are the Vatican had requested he visit Syria but I think Al Raï was more than itching to go down in history as the first Maronite Patriarch to visit Syria post Lebanon’s independence. The visit, in my opinion, is absolutely miscalculated and, if anything, showcases a seriously short foresight on his behalf as well – one that a person in his tenure should not have. Al Raï was simply too limited to see the repercussions of such a visit. The hidden meaning is far more serious than it being a simple religious visit.

The Syrian regime has, over more than 20 years, systematically persecuted the Maronites of Lebanon, be it politically or demographically or even socially. The Maronite Church stood against the regime countless times, effectively being the first catalyst that led to the regime’s army departing from Lebanon on April 26th, 2005. Bechara Al Raï’s stances have been far removed from the Maronite Church’s historical views towards the Assad regime. But how can a patriarch truly expect the first Maronite Patriarchal visit to Syria since 1943 be considered as a shallow affair of prayer seeing as it is visiting the country of a regime who did what it did to Lebanon’s Maronites? His visit was not to the regime, granted. But in a way, it is by extension. The Maronites of Syria sure deserve their patriarch to visit them – but not under current circumstances. The argument that Maronites all around the world deserve a patriarchal visit is something that the patriarch shouldn’t even touch to justify him going to Damascus. There are also Maronites in Israel. But that part is taboo.

The Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al Raï’s visit has been, to say the least, extremely polarizing. Many were supportive of it as a step towards reaching out to the scared Maronites of Syria, few as they may be. Others were staunchly against it, characterizing the visit and its Mass as diabolical. Caricature drawings in Saudi newspapers were circulated:

Bechara el Rai Caricature Saudi newspaper Al Watan

The idea being discussed was the following: the Maronites will never do what the Sunnis did with the prophet caricatures or what the Shiites did when Hassan Nasrallah was portrayed on Basmat Watan. The argument goes that Maronites are “more civilized.”

Someone forgot to tune in during last week’s Maronite road barricades in support of the Lebanese army. So it’s not really beneath us as Maronites to block roads. After all, it is in these days.

The Caricature in Al Watan newspaper is definitely not acceptable but it’s not because it’s demeaning and offensive to Christianity. Al Watan newspaper did not, similarly to Danish newspapers, publish offensive pictures of holy Christian figures in order for the comparison between potential Maronite reactions, or lack thereof, and Muslim reactions to be valid.

Pretending as if this is the same caliber as the Muslim reactions to the prophet drawings, which in themselves were not acceptable, is quite frankly very silly. Patriarch Bechara el Raï is not Jesus. He is not a Holy person. He is a neo-politician-priest who did what many believe is a mistake. And it stops at that.

But it is not acceptable in any way whatsoever for a disgusting newspaper, Al Watan, which is published in a country like Saudi Arabia where freedom of speech does not exist, where they cannot – nor do they dare – criticize their own religious folk and their ruling class after which their country was named, where Christians are not allowed to practice their religion freely (even the Cross in the caricature was hidden), where women are kept on a leash, where liberties are suppressed and where human rights are unheard of to remotely have the right to criticize anyone in that way, let alone someone who does not affect their country in any way whatsoever.

I have to wonder, in what way does Al Raï’s visit to Syria bother Al Watan? It only shows exactly how silly that newspaper is – that they’d go after a religious figure who is probably unknown to the majority of Saudis just because he is one of the few religious figures in the region which they can attack. And it’s not because they hate Christians, as many seem to believe, which I would suppose might hold some truth. It’s because it gives them the illusion that they are free, that they can do this and face no repercussions. They thought wrong.

If this caricature had come out from a newspaper in a country known for its freedom of speech, such as Denmark – a place which dared to publish Mohammad caricatures – the discussion would have been totally different. If the pope receives such caricatures, then why not Raï? But Al Watan, with the demented theocratical country it operates in, publishing them is not and should not be tolerated. They only practice their freedom of speech when their bosses approve. When it doesn’t get on the nerves of its readers… when they address a population which lives far away in an issue that does not affect them in any way whatsoever.

They don’t dare to see that their own society has a multitude of issues that could be made into a caricature, starting with that sheikh who beat and abused his 6 year old daughter to death to the fact that women are now starting to learn how to drive after their gender has been voting for more than several decades in countries around the world. And that makes them cowards. It makes them not respectable as a publication or a newspaper or any form of media that wants to be read.

The best place for Al Watan is the trash bin.

Now let’s address our own Lebanese.

The Lebanese reactions towards the Saudi insult have not been much better although a Lebanese addressing the issue is definitely more acceptable than someone who comes from a country that doesn’t even know freedom of religion. The caricature, the visit and everything around it was milked politically like everything in the country nowadays. Anything that revolves in any way around defending Christians in this country serves as ammo for politicians from both sides to fire at each other, trying to create a firework display of Christian power to please the masses ahead of the parliamentary vote.

As the constant disk of those “bad Sunnis of Saudi Arabia attacking us poor Maronite minority in Lebanon” kept playing, some people were forgetting who was doing even worse than those Sunnis to the former patriarch Sfeir with insults that went from the belt down (“heida l batriark thayyaj” anyone?), to attacking his tenure, his position, his seat and his person. But that doesn’t count – because it’s only bad when a non-Maronite does it apparently.

You want to criticize the patriarch himself, as a person, fine by me. Feel free to criticize his political opinion, if any. Feel free to address his stance regarding social issues as much as you want. I think it’s healthy when religious figures are challenged in this country and no religious figure has probably been challenged as much as the Maronite patriarch, especially by his own people.

But there’s a minimum required respect for the seat the man occupies. The Patriarch is but a temporary filler for the head of the Maronite Church. Calling the patriarchy a patriarchy of disgrace is not acceptable. Calling the Mass that took place in Syria as diabolical is unacceptable. I am not saying religious figures – as men – are the ones that should never be criticized despite everything. I’m saying that the institutions that these figures represent have a minimum of respect that should be given to them, regardless of where you stand when it comes to the matters of faith or lack thereof.

When I read some Lebanese people calling the Maronite patriarchy a new prostitute for Al Assad, that to me – even as a non religious Maronite – is offensive because it not only attacks the patriarchy in its current form, it also attacks my forefathers of whom I cannot but be proud as they struggled through centuries of persecution against tyrants who were worse than Al Assad and I don’t mean this in the religious but in the historical sense.

Insulting the Maronite Patriarchy and patriarch is not exclusive to one sect or one political side. Everyone does it and pretends as if it’s not okay to do it. What many seem not to realize is that there’s a thin line between being critical and downright insulting, especially when it comes to such institutions, that we cross way too readily, most often on a whim. Criticizing the Maronite Church’s practices is definitely not and should never be a taboo. And I’ll be the first one to criticize some of the policies they might come up with, something which I have done many times before. However, a few questions need to be asked: did the patriarch’s visit to Syria really cause any harm among the Maronites here or there? No. Did it bruise our pride? Perhaps it did. But is that reason enough to insult the patriarchy, the patriarch and enable publications from countries that do not even know the basic concept of freedom to do the same? I hardly think so.

The Killing of NewTV (Al Jadeed) Cameraman Ali Shaaban: Can We Talk about Syria’s Transgressions in Lebanon Now?

Assad’s army fired into Lebanon yesterday, killing NewTV cameraman Ali Shaaban. And even though similar transgressions happened many times before, this is the first time that the public has grasped how bad Syria is breaching Lebanon’s sovereignty by it killing our people without us doing anything.

It happened back in January when the Syrian navy kidnapped three fishermen from Lebanese waters in the North and killing one of them. But we didn’t do anything then. Will our government act now? I don’t think so.

What’s sad is that the death of Ali Shaaban was preceded by many warning signs from the Syrian side via the many transgressions they committed. But we didn’t act. The death of this young reporter could have been averted had our government adopted a stance to begin with regarding the killing of Lebanese people by Assad’s forces. Will they speak out now? I don’t think.

Ali Shaaban's sister, weeping him

And here, I stop to ask the same question I asked when those fishermen were kidnaped: What if it had been Israel?

Can we talk about Syria’s insults to our land, water and people now or is it still a taboo topic? Can we consider the Assad regime as an enemy for killing our people or does Lebanon only have one enemy?

When NewTV is speaking out against Assad’s army, you know it has hit the fan. Rest in peace Ali Shaaban, rest in peace every single Lebanese who was killed by the Assad regime. Here’s hoping there will come a day where that regime answers to killing you.

What Is Going On in Syria?

In case you don’t know what’s happening in Syria, this is for you.

In case you don’t think anything is happening in Syria, this is for you, too.

“Be brave. Don’t give up. The history is on your side. Every dictator… every bad person out there throughout history has gone down in flames. They all go sooner or later – no matter how bad or evil they are. History advances, and the human race progresses. And that’s what’s happening now in Syria. I’m so proud of you” – Michael Moore.

I may not like Moore but his words resonate true – especially with all the atrocities happening in Syria. Award-winning journalist Marie Colvin was killed in Syria today. Anthony Shahid, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist of Lebanese origins, died a few days ago.

More than 7000 people have been killed in Syria just for asking to be respected on every basic human level. The victims are losing their voices with every journalist killed. But the revolutionaries are still fighting and Assad’s forces are still killing. And some countries are still silent.
BeirutSpring speculates that the first step in starting a massacre is to end front-line reporters. This is what’s happening in Syria today in order to silence the world. This is what we, as bloggers, people, activists and humans, need to prevent from happening. It is high time to take a stand. I’ve taken mine. When will you take yours?

Dear Patriarch Raï, Enough… from a Lebanese Maronite.

I won’t lie and tell you I wasn’t happy when Beshara Al Raï was elected as the successor Maronite Patriarch to Nasrallah Sfeir, a man I believe is truly one of the greatest Lebanon has ever had.

Nasrallah Sfeir was berated, ridiculed, attacked, mocked and bashed for having very staunch views regarding the political situation of the region, his congregation and country. He never wavered. He was never afraid of speaking his mind, regardless of the repercussions. With Nasrallah Sfeir, I, as a Maronite, was proud of my Church. I was proud of the liberty walk the Maronite Church was pioneering across Lebanon.

It was the Maronite Church that called for Syrian troops withdrawal in 2000. It was the Maronite Church that was the staunchest anti-Syrian entity in the country when every single politician inside Lebanon was busy playing house with Bashar Assad’s men. It was the Maronite Church that ignited the first spark for the Cedar Revolution in 2005. And it was all because of one man: Nasrallah Sfeir.

Many Aounists do not like Sfeir. They’re the ones who ridicule, attack, mock and berate him, calling him senile, demented, etc…. And one of the main reasons I cannot take Aounists seriously is because when Sfeir supported their electoral campaign in 2005, whilst their leader Michel Aoun had not gone the deep bend yet, they loved Sfeir. He was one of the main reasons they got high number of votes in crucial Christian areas. But when Michel Aoun changed his views and started making love to Hezbollah, Sfeir remained firm. Aounists flipped with their leader and Sfeir became their focus of hatred. Excuse me for not taking you seriously.

But I digress. This is not a post to speak about the qualities of Nasrallah Sfeir. This is a post to talk about the shortcomings of his successor: Beshara Al Raï.

This will not be a post of me bashing the Maronite Patriarch. I try not to be a hypocrite and as such, I will try to avoid falling to hypocrisy over here. I hated when the Aounists cursed Sfeir and I’d hate myself for cursing Raï.

But Mr. Raï, you really need to be careful about what you say.

First, you support the oppressive regime in Syria, a regime that you personally fought against while it was ruling you in Lebanon. You adopted the mentality that many Christians in Lebanon and the region have: protection comes through an alliance of minorities. Well, I think this is simply cowardly. Have you forgotten Mr. Raï what that Syrian regime did in Lebanon in the years that it ruled the country? In case you forgot, here’s an extensive reminder. Have you forgotten the people that lost their lives at the hand of that regime? Have you forgotten the Maronite priests who were murdered or kidnapped by that regime? How can you fathom asking your congregation to accept allying themselves with the killer who tore at their souls for over fifteen years? Being afraid is not the solution Mr. Raï. Assuming responsibility, fighting for human rights and democracy is. 

Second, you support Hezbollah’s arms. I understand your motto for your patriarchal campaign was “love and partnership.” The notion of partnership, Mr. Raï, invokes equality. And there’s no way that an armed militia, terrorizing those that do not support it, is in a partnership with the rest of the country. And there’s no way supporting its arms and giving it extra Christian-support can be a sign of seeking partnership. It’s also hard for me to believe someone like you, who actively championed against these weapons before you became patriarch, can so easily change his mind. It’s not a switch of a button Mr. Patriarch.

Third, calling for love and partnership does not warrant you asking Christian convents and churches not to hire any non-Christian foreign workers, soon after the murder of Myriam Achkar. Her murder, Mr. Raï, was not sectarian. It was a sick, twisted man killing an innocent woman. If your message had been for churches and convents not to hire any foreign workers, it would have been greatly more understandable. Even if you had asked them to hire only Christian Lebanese, it would have been somewhat understandable. But not at the moment. Sometimes saying things just because the situation is still boiling, just to score a few points, is not the best strategy for someone in your position. As the head of the Maronite Church, your job at times like these is to get people to cool down, not fuel their hatred. Perhaps in a month or two you could have issued a private decree to Maronite convents with this particular order. Just not today. Besides, what’s the fault of the many Lebanese Muslim families already employed at convents and churches? Is their fault someone they share a sect with turned out to be a raging psychopath? Why are they the ones who have to assume responsibility for something they didn’t do?

I’m pretty sure Mr. Raï that if the tables had been turned and a Maronite had killed someone named Fatme Achkar and the Shiite/Sunni clergy asked their mosques to fear Christians the way you are asking now, you would have been throwing a fit.

Ever since you became patriarch, Mr Raï, the amount of paranoia and fear among Maronites has been exponentially increasing. It’s not us against our fellow countrymen. It’s all of us together against the foreign entities that want to mess with our country. It’s not Maronite VS Sunnis, it’s not Maronite VS Shiites. It’s Maronites and Shiites and Sunnis together to build a country. I understand the fear of having land owned by Christian be spread around. Perhaps asking Christians not to sell their land now is understandable – at least until this tricky phase the region is going through subsides. But in a country where economical woes are spreading, why don’t you help these Christians keep their land, Mr. Raï? Doesn’t the Maronite church have enough money? Can’t it hire those Lebanese in need to work in the many, many, many hectares it owns?

I’m proud of my heritage as a Lebanese Maronite and the sacrifices my Church has gone through over the years to build the country I live in. It saddens me, however, to see the person representing my church go to this extent against the natural current that has helped build this church. It saddens me to see the Maronite Church losing its sense of nationalism and its sense of patriotism.

Some might say it’s not my place to write this. At the end of the day, I did not vote for Mr. Raï nor could I have voted for him. So unlike a politician whom you can hold accountable, the Maronite Patriarch is someone out of your reach somehow because his time as patriarch only ends with him resigning or passing away. I do not wish any of those on Mr. Raï. What I hope to accomplish is perhaps, by having a voice of his congregation voice concern, I wouldn’t seem like an “outsider” intruding. It would be like a group within a big family debating. And when the faults the patriarch is committing are all across the news, a harmless blog post doesn’t seem such a disgrace, I guess. At the end of the day, I feel obliged as a Maronite to express my concerns about anyone who says they represent me, whether they truly do or not.

Christmas is coming up soon. Perhaps Mr. Raï you should consider this time of prayer to look at all that you’ve done in your first few months in the patriarchal office. Hopefully your gift to us will be a back to basis.

The Aoun Paradox

Michel Aoun

You should know by now that I’m as close to a supporter of FPM leader Michel Aoun as there is hope to explain the Holy Trinity.

Even though I’m not closely following Lebanese politics lately, I was surprised when Mr. Aoun came out of his parliament bloc’s meeting, attacking the Lebanese president left and right.

I remembered how almost two years ago, he was defending this president, saying that we need to give him more rights to fortify the role he – the representative of Maronites – has.

I’m all for increasing the administrative powers of the Lebanese president. If you ask me, the Taef agreement took too much away for the president to be of any essential need to the country. The president is more than a referee and more powers would allow him to assert his role more.

This change in stance got me thinking once again.

The most obvious paradox Mr. Aoun has had was his Syria stance. Back in 2005 and before, he openly declared his opposition to the Syrian regime, accusing it of even killing Prime Minister Hariri. Fast-forward a few months and this totally changes… a year later, he is visiting the Syrian president as a guest of honor. What’s even worse, I remember how a guy by the name “Jamil El Sayyed” used to creep everyone out. The ruthless man to whom the disappearance of many activists against the Syrian regime was staunchly opposed by Mr. Aoun. Up until very recently, of course, where they have become allies.

Mr. Aoun tries to defend his shift in opinion by saying we were “too harsh” to Syria in the first place. Personally, I don’t have anything against Syria as a country and people. However, I know way too many people who died trying to defend the country against the Syrian regime, which was trying to get Lebanon to become an unofficial Syrian province. Too many people who support Aoun as well gave everything they had to protect Lebanon against the Syrian regime. Is Aoun’s opinion shift justified by the argument he gave? Not even close. The main reason he switched sides? Hariri did not agree to allocate to him the Christian seats he was asking in the 2005 parliamentary elections.

What I believe Mr. Aoun is trying to achieve by this change in stance is a sort of coalition of regional minorities, believing that this is the best way to protect Lebanese Christians – and regardless of what he might say, Aoun is a sectarian person. By uniting a portion of Christians, the vast majority of the Shiites and now a big portion of the Druze population in Lebanon with the ruling Alawites in Syria, he believes that this would create the best front to fight the almighty regional devil: The growing Sunni influence.
What Mr. Aoun does not remember, however, is that Mr. Assad, the Syrian president, while being “kind” to his own people, will not offer anything close to that to the Lebanese Christians, as history has already taught us. Moreover, to think that someone like Hassan Nasrallah has had a serious paradigm shift since the days of him thinking Christians were “invadors to Muslim areas”, then Mr. Aoun becomes seriously delusional.

Which brings me back to the point I first mentioned: presidency. It has become Aoun’s lifetime dream to become the Lebanese president. When he saw this dream will not happen in his previous alliances, he simply switched it. Anything for the cause, right?

Aoun also believes in “change and reform”. He believes it is the way forward for the country. And it most definitely is. However, almost nothing he has done so far really signals “change and reform” and yet he preaches about it wherever he goes. It’s like a prostitute claiming virginity. Charbel Nahhas, current minister of telecommunications, even tried to ban Skype!
Part of his “change and reform” ideology is to eradicate the idea of feudalism from Lebanese politics: No more to the son inheriting his dad’s legacy and going forward with it, etc.
Aoun has no sons. He has, however, son in laws to whom he is passing down the mantle. His nephew is a parliament member in his bloc, his other son in law is head of his TV station and his daughter is head of his political bureau. I believe with all of this, it seems that the concept of feudalism has escaped Mr. Aoun.

So this is our paradox. This is a man who believes he is allowed of cursing whoever he wants, take his followers wherever he pleases and still believe he is correct in everything he does.
I blame Mr. Aoun’s followers… they seem to have forgotten why they became supporters of him in the first place. They seem to have forgotten the shared values they have with the movements they are cursing today. And for that reason, they are demoted from the a supporter to a follower. I have many friends who are FPM supporters. Some of them still are, others have seen a change in the man they once supported – one they do not approve anymore. Many of those supporters have been imprisoned, tortured, beaten down just because they had the courage to speak up. To those supporters, we can only be grateful. Supporters are critical.Followers simply follow.

Mr. Aoun switched sides in 2005, ruining everything his supporters and other free men of the country had tried to achieve for 15 years: true independence. The historical March 14, 2005 protest set the bar high for freedom fighters in the region. More than half of the Lebanese population had gone down to the streets to reclaim their country. And just because this man’s greed saw it fit, he decided that the spilled blood, the ruined prides, the oppressed freedoms were not enough to continue this movement to the end. I can only imagine where we would have been right now had Aoun remained somewhat sane in 2005. We would have brought Lahoud down, elected a president that represented us all – maybe Mr. Aoun even – and worked for the past six years of letting this country become one that we all deserve.
Apparently not. And why’s that? Because one man’s delusion is another country’s dark ages.