The Death of Lebanese Civil Marriage

Khouloud and Nidale are a couple that distracted everyone from the utter failure of our politicians at coming up with an electoral law last week with them using loopholes in Lebanon’s political system to have a civil marriage in Beirut. Everyone was abuzz with what the couple did.

But, as is the case with Lebanon, not all reactions were positive and their marriage left us with more questions than answers (link).

The first official reaction to the marriage was Lebanon’s president Michel Suleiman who expressed his support to what Khouloud and Nidale did, voicing the need for civil marriage in Lebanon. His statement was also echoed by the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al Raï.

Soon enough, our prime minister Najib Mikati was the first to shoot down hope of ratifying a proposal to have legalize marriage in Lebanon because we “don’t need such controversial issues at the time being.” It eventually culminated with Lebanon’s justice minister announcing that Khouloud and Nidale’s marriage was, in fact, illegal and will not be accepted.

And we thought that was it – we had a brief stint with the possibility of our country maybe becoming civil. But Lebanon’s civil marriage drama was renewed today when the Sunni mufti, Kabbani, decided to captivate us with his take on the issue by issuing the following fatwa (link):

“Whoever of Lebanon’s Muslim politicians in legislative power agrees to legalize and ratify civil marriage – even if optional – will be considered an apostate and a deserter of the Muslim religion. He won’t be washed, entombed, prayed on and buried in Muslim cemeteries.”

And with one of Lebanon’s main sects absolutely refusing any prospect of civil marriage in Lebanon, the issue has been killed probably to no return anytime soon. Many people agree with him as well.

What Mufti Kabbani is failing to realize is that he doesn’t live in a country where his sharia is applied to everyone and when he effectively shoots down a national proposition of this magnitude, he is limiting everyone’s freedom of choice – not only the Muslims that he wants to fight for.

What Mufti Kabbani seems not to know is that for $2000 his Muslim population can hop on the first plane to Cyprus, get married and be back in Lebanon that same afternoon. What he is failing to realize is that the point of an optional civil marriage is precisely that: it is optional. Those who want have a civil marriage, regardless of religion, should be free to have one. And those who want a pure Muslim or Christian marriage regardless of their reasons could have one as well. Why should it be the entire country’s problem if he’s worried that, when given another option, many of his Muslims would opt out of an Islamic marriage?

I fail to see how an optional civil marriage is degrading to the rights of Muslims. I fail to see how such a fatwa is Lebanon’s mufti fighting for the rights of his Muslims. Whoever of his Muslims doesn’t want a civil marriage and believes it is blasphemy can simply not have one.

We are now a country that threatens with apostasy to make a point. We are now a country that has fatwas target civil liberties. Last time I checked, that existed in places that we ridiculed as having no freedom of speech and whatnot. It turns out we may not be much better. Thank you Mufti Kabbani for the eye opening realization.

Let’s Talk About Lebanon’s 2013 Elections: The Orthodox Gathering Law

One can argue that the French mandate was the root of Lebanon’s sectarian system. Its goal was to make a country that serves as a safe-haven for Maronites, with an edge in parliament seats and in governing powers. The sectarian divide in power reflected upon the people over the years. Blame the French? Blame everyone I guess.

Growing sectarianism and a feeling of injustice among sections of Lebanon’s population led to the Lebanese Civil war which culminated in the Taef agreement. The agreement took away most of the president’s powers, rendering him a near-puppet in a growingly tense political scene, and equalized between Christian and Muslim representation in parliament, despite the case not being so demographically.

Subsequently, a Syrian-led Lebanese regime managed to fragment Christian communities even more. The demographics, due to constant persecution, low birth rates and high immigration rates of Christians, continued to become even more lopsided. As it stands, Lebanon’s population is 60% Muslim and 40% Christian. That’s on a good day of statistics.

The problem with a skewed demographic, however, with an equally split parliament is that many of the minority’s seats cannot be chosen by said minority, regardless of what that minority is. This wouldn’t be a problem in a place where majorities and minorities didn’t view themselves as such: I have the power of numbers, therefore I rule over you.

That’s how the idea for an Orthodox Gathering Law came to be: the power that Christians lost over the years “must” be recuperated. And that should be done despite Christians not having the power of numbers anymore.

Here’s what’s given about the Lebanese situation today:

  • There’s no such thing as a Lebanese social fabric.
  • There’s no such thing as national unity – it only exists in the wildest fictive ideas of those who live in their own Lebanon-utopia
  • There’s no hope to achieve a state of national unity under current circumstances.
  • The biggest obstacle towards national unity isn’t regional (i.e. coming from different cazas across the country) but sectarian.
  • Sects always feel threatened by different sects in the country.
  • Sects are already more or less isolated and with rising bouts of extremism.

Apart from a minority in the Lebanese population, people identify with their sects first and foremost. They are more inclined to feel sympathy towards another person’s strife if that person is from their corresponding sect. It’s sickening, definitely. It’s horrible, you bet. But it’s the way things are. To fix this, you need to fix sectarianism.

You can’t fix sectarianism by forcing secularism upon people. You can’t tell a country with many who associate the current political system with being “religious” that the country is now secular which they will undoubtedly believe is also correlated with atheism. Off with their heads! No, the change towards secularism has to be gradual just as Lebanese gradually but surely became a sectarian state. People need to leave behind their sect-survival instincts in order to adopt a more global approach towards how they vote, towards how they act regarding others who are different from them, towards how they perceive those who are different.

For instance, here’s a little experience that I observed firsthand recently.

As news of Hay el Sellom in Beirut being flooded broke out, I saw two drastically different reactions in front of me. In my own little piece of the Lebanese Bible belt, people asked: Are those Shia? If they are, then ma3le (it’s okay). On the other hand, as Lebanese journalist commented on those people of Hay el Sellom’s grave violation of the law in where they built their houses, half of Twitter’s Shias, who tend to be on the more liberal side, were up in a fit.

Sectarianism is there – even among those who claim not to be sectarian.

As it stands, Lebanese people vote in a “to be or not to be” mantra. This needs to change. They are voting as such because:

  • Christians are made to fear wilayat al Fakih and those bearded Islamists.
  • Sunnis are made to fear the Shia weapons.
  • Shia are made to fear everyone being after their weapons.
  • Druze are made to fear anyone trying to breach their tightly-knit community.
  • Minorities are made to fear everyone else.

As this article is heading, you might believe this is in defense of the Orthodox Gathering law. If you had asked me a few days ago where I stood regarding that law, I would have told you this: Based on the current way that Lebanon is run, given the country’s state and fabric, the Orthodox Gathering Law makes sense. The way I see it, it doesn’t increase sectarianism and it might help, if sects stop feeling threatened, to get people to vote based on accountability which is very needed in this country. On the long run, if sectarian parties can no longer fuel people in a sectarian way then maybe – just maybe – that would help with things.

But that was a few days ago.

The MPs going on and on about how the Orthodox Gathering Law is unconstitutional and how it’ll increase sectarianism and whatnot are full of it. The only reason they are panicking isn’t because they want to keep the idea of Lebanon being an example of non-existent co-existence intact. They want to have their own behinds saved from the chopping block of a law that most probably wouldn’t vote them in again. Our MPs – all of them – are only seeking out a law that ensures they return to power. It’s as simple as that. The discussion isn’t about the country’s sake, it’s about their own personal interests.

Today, when I think about the Orthodox Gathering Law, I am not on the fence, I am against it. It’s not because I don’t believe it’s a must to tackle the growing “injustice” towards Lebanese Christians, whatever that may be. It’s not because it is demographically incorrect as it gives Christians more weight than they’re supposed to have. It’s not even because it’s sectarian in principle. It’s not because it makes it harder for centrists to break in. It’s not because it drowns out a secular minority that can’t identify with it.

I am against the Orthodox Gathering Law today for very simple reasons:

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, have the prerogative of having a law tailor-made for my sect and have it applied to all other sects as well? Don’t other Lebanese sects have woes as well? Don’t they have “minorities” whose voices are also drowned out by a Christian majority somewhere?

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, consider myself to be the only sect in this country who has rights eaten away and who needs some “justice” restored?

Why should I, as a Lebanese Christian, have to vote only for people who correspond to my sect without knowing if those people share my worries or if they’re even aware of the issues that I want to vote for? Does a person from a certain sect running for office automatically mean that person is knowledgeable of the issues that their sect faces? No.

My problem with the Orthodox Law today is simply that it tells me that I, Elie E. Fares, a Maronite Christian (on paper) from the mountains of North Lebanon, should have a problem in having a Sunni or a Shia or a Druze or a Catholic or an Orthodox or a Jew or a Alawite or an Ismailite or a Syriac or an Evangelical or an Armenian or whatever sect a person belonged to have a say in a parliament member that represents them all, not just me.

I believe that what the Orthodox Law is telling me is unacceptable. But I’m a Christian minority in thinking so. Most Maronites and Christians, especially some of our politician who double as Christian saviors-wannabes, want you to believe that what I believe is wrong. They are telling you that their way is the only way for you to get your rights. They want you to believe that if Christians don’t elect every single Christian-designated MP, then they’re being persecuted.

The Orthodox Law isn’t the way we get back our “rights.” We get back our rights by voting to people who can fight for those rights without turning it into a media propaganda as they kickstart their 2013 election prospects. We get back our rights by actually knowing what our rights are. And let me tell you, those rights aren’t Lebanon’s Christians selecting half of its parliament all by themselves.

So as our politicians play a game of chess with each other, you know what your rights are according to some of them? You only have the right to be afraid of everyone else all the time. You only have the right to believe you are persecuted all the time – that those big bad Sunnis and Shia and Muslims are after you all the time. Welcome to the state of mass paranoia. And we just can’t live like that – not as Christians, not as Muslims, not as Lebanese and we can’t allow laws that are based on our paranoia as Christians rule the entire country.

Lebanon Described in 1870

This seems very familiar, right?
Some things may have changed. But the crux of it all is still the same.

20120816-141132.jpg

It’s been 142 years and this still rings true. Should this sadden us? Or should this open up the eyes of those who are still blinded by the infinite quest towards national unity which will never happen?

(source)

Welcome to the republic of eternal fragmentation.

The Week I Lost Hope in Lebanon

It is a sad moment when you find out that even though you belong in your country, you simply don’t fit there. This past week had this revelation thrust upon me. I belong in Lebanon. But I do not fit.

It started with me blogging about the Batroun cocaine scandal and my parents getting inundated with phone calls for me to pull the article offline. Some of those calls had been from a high-ranking priest. Others had threatened to pull their political strings. My parents got so worried about my well-being that they couldn’t sleep that night. I had to abide. It seems that there’s a limit to what you are allowed to say even when it comes to littlest things such as writing a harmless, nameless post about an issue that’s affecting my generation. But it doesn’t stop with drugs.

Everywhere I look, I am faced with the reality of people so untouchable that the mere idea of mentioning them would make me lose sleep. I am not a coward. But it’s just the way things are. In fact, I think I am automatically limited in Lebanon to the confines of what is allowed to me simply because my father is not one of those untouchables, he doesn’t know one of them and he’s not a millionaire who can buy his way into becoming one.

As I sat pondering over this in my Achrafieh apartment, I was melting in the July heat. There was no electricity. I wasn’t put off by the fact that the three hour cycle I had gotten used to by now was being messed up. It would only be a matter of minutes. But when those minutes turned to hours and those hours started doubling, I knew something was wrong. It just couldn’t be.

The situation persisted for a day. And two. And then three. So much so that after the only 50 minutes of electricity I had gotten on one of those days, I met up with some friends for a walk around Beirut. As we wandered through Gemmayzé and then Downtown, I felt happy to see so many people happy. Perhaps alcohol-induced ignorance is really bliss.

But as we got to Downtown, a Lebanese-looking girl came up to me and said with a khaliji accent that I later realized was fake: “I want you to fuck me.” My first reflex, after the few seconds it took me to understand whatever she had said, was to reply with my Lebanese accent. She immediately lost interest. It seemed that this girl and her friend had been hunting down foreigners and khalijis in Downtown Beirut, using an improvised accent to hook them. If you’re Lebanese then odds are your coffers are empty and they wouldn’t be interested in you.

As I walked through Downtown and some very annoying people came flooding over me with their pleading for me to sit in one of their restaurants, I looked at the menus they were offering. And behold: the main dish every day for the entirety of summer is…. KABSE! Our national dish is no longer tabboule or fattoush, but Saudi Kabse. Even l’entrecote de Paris in Downtown Beirut had hookahs being offered. Would you like some apple-flavored nicotine with your French steak, sir?

Scattered around the area were ancient ruins as well, some of which had been demolished already in favor of the newer structures. Others stood defiant among restaurants, churches and mosques. I remembered the Phoenician port that was demolished and how some people thought that decision was wise. What use would the port be for tourists? Would the Khalijis like to visit the port?

Because the entirety of the country now rests upon what the khalijis may or may not like. So we give them what we expect would bring them pleasure and say screw everything that is Lebanese.

Our identity crisis didn’t stop there. Our need to please foreigners with what we think they would like doesn’t stop at the mere elements of food or ancient monuments. Our walk took us to Saifi village, a very beautiful place in Downtown Beirut. One of the shops there was selling khaliji clothes and nothing more. Because, you know, there’s nothing better-looking than for me, as a Lebanese, to wander around in one of those white robes with that thing strapped around my head.

So I left the security zone known as Downtown Beirut and went back home. And there was no electricity still. I showered with whatever water I had left using a fluorescent light that I had left charging with whatever grid-coverage my house had gotten throughout the day. And then when the lights flickered, I decided to watch the news. Somehow, a very creepy looking bearded man riding a horse (or a donkey) and making fiery statements in Saida had made national news. That man was sheikh Ahmad el Assir, an extreme Muslim cleric who has apparently decided to restore Sunni pride and honor by blocking roads and making speeches, despite the former being clearly against Islamic shari’a.

Ahmad el Assir was followed by another bipolar segment about the Maronite Patriach and another statement of his that contradicted something he had said a day or two before. Then came on his Holiness Hassan Nasrallah (because using any other prefix would get you shot) to bestow upon us his eternal wisdom. As I listened to these three men talk, each of them representing one of the country’s three main sects, I realized exactly how deep their influence runs. When Nasrallah speaks, the Shiites rise. When Ahmad el Assir shouts, the Sunnis boil and when Beshara el Raï does anything worth mentioning, the Maronites go into a frenzy.

It’s the way things are. It’s the way things have always been and will always be.

It is then that I decided to check the situation of my visa application at the French embassy for my trip during the month of August. The same notification popped up. “Wait 10 business days on average for the application to be processed.” Fine. So I decided to see if there was a possibility for the visa to be done before the 10 business days. They did say “on average.” My google searches led me to a page that listed which countries were required to have a 10 day wait for their schengen application to be processed. Lebanon is one of them, obviously. What are the other countries that Lebanon was grouped with? Let me name a few: Niger, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Congo, Rwanda, etc…. The total is 39 countries. How many of us thought we were better than those countries? I’m sure most of us did. Not for the folks in the Eurozone. The rest of the world either doesn’t need one or can have it issued in less than a day.

I don’t really care about needing a visa, although ideally I would prefer not to. But it seems my passport is so low-grade that even my visa has to go through countless bureaucratic steps. My mind then wandered to my family in the US, how they are all US citizens, with the exception of my father, and how for the simple fact that they hold that navy-blue American passport, they have much more opportunities – the simplest of which is when it comes to traveling. But I shrugged the idea off.

The following day, my friends were trying to come up with plans that involved going to the beach in Sour (Tyr). I had my reservations on the matter. For the past few months, the only thing I had heard of Sour was about restaurants serving alcohol getting bombed and liquor shops getting forcibly closed. I had started to wonder if that part of the Lebanese South was slowly getting turned into New-Tehran. And even though I had never been past Saida, my interest in visiting Tyr had gotten very minimal. My friends told me my worry was unfounded. But when the minimal concept of people being free to drink whatever they want is lost upon some individuals, what would they think of me?

“You don’t really need to drink beer on the beach in Sour.” But the question is: what if I want to?

Amid all of this, the citizens of Jal el Dib were busy throwing a tantrum. Their bridge had been demolished because it was a safety hazard and their commute time had increased by a few minutes. Totally unacceptable. What way of protest did they decide was the most suitable? Block the highway in both directions. That would teach the Lebanese something, sure. And they, of course, got what they wanted: $20 million from our tax money for them to have a bridge (or a tunnel) whose construction will create way more traffic for everyone in the year or two (or even more) it will take to finish. It’s not like this form of protest is illegal but our security forces are too cowardly to crack down upon them and open the highway. It’s apparently not my right to go to class or work but it’s their right to stop me.

And we’re also not allowed to talk about the army, the ISF or any form of people who are “protecting” the country because they are doing all of us a service. It seems that the concept of a person doing his or her job has escaped people in the country. People have forgotten that they’re paying the army, the ISF. But I digress.

“Thank you minister Sehanoui for fixing the internet!”

It’s his freaking job to fix the internet. I shouldn’t thank him for it. It’s his duty to fix whatever went wrong because he is in charge of it.

“Thank you minister Bassil for providing the $1.2 million needed for the water project in Ebrine.” That was a banner at the entrance of my hometown.

No, I don’t want to thank Bassil for using money that I had paid to fund a project that has been in the works for a few decades.

No, I don’t want to be eternally grateful to ministers and MPs who are spinning doing their job into a 2013 elections campaign.

So as I sat in one of my med school’s tutoring classes, as a practicing physician told me how I’d be lucky to get paid $400 in Lebanon after 7 years of medical school, I looked around me and saw one of my colleagues who thinks Ahmad el Assir is the best thing to come to Lebanon in a long time and then another who thinks Muslims should be eradicated from the country because they are the root of all evil and a third one who believes that Hassan Nasrallah is the undeclared return of Imam el Mehdi.

And I realized that these three people represent their societies, their families. Their convictions run way deeper than what they’ve declared. And as the realization that I do not really fit among my friends dawned on me, I remembered that girl from downtown, my electricity situation at home, my crappy cellular coverage, my lack of water availability at home, the deafening traffic, the people who can move mountains, figuratively, with a flick of their finger; the people who can block roads and not face any resistance; the people who honk until your ears bleed because you stopped at a red light; the people who cannot stand to grab their kleenex for a few minutes so they throw it outside their cars without caring; the people who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about our national heritage… And the list goes on and on.

I realized I have pitiful job prospects in a country of no national pride, no national unity, no electricity, no water, no internet, no security and – for the first time – no hope whatsoever.

Can we nag? Sure. Would that lead anywhere? No. Can we talk about it? Sure. Would that get us anywhere? No. Can we do something about it? Perhaps. Would that change things? No.

We’re in a ditch that we cannot escape, change or alter. And they wonder why we look West in envy. What 2012 has shown over and over again is that the situation is hopeless. We thought we had learned from May 7th, 2008. And then many mini-May 7th took place in the space of a few weeks. We thought we had learned not to get swept by enticing political rhetoric. It only takes a leader a sentence to get his followers on or off the streets.

I know I had said before not to take Lebanon lightly. But I believe that we get the country that we think we deserve. The sad reality is that the collective of the Lebanese population thinks they deserve shit. And shit is what they’re getting.

Bab el Tebbaneh vs Jabal Mohsen: The Dichotomy Representing Lebanon?

Ask any Lebanese today and they try to distance themselves from Bab el Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen as much as they can.

That’s simply not us, they’d tell you. They’re just not us, we’d all rationalize.

But the simple truth is Bab el Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen are the perfect representation of the Lebanese id, Lebanon without limits, Lebanese without boundaries, Lebanon let loose.

On one hand, you have Jabal Mohsen. The only thing Lebanese about Jabal Mohsen is its location. Even the people who are from there would rather be Syrians. Their leader had even asked for the return of the Syrian army to Lebanon not very long ago. In fact, this is their official Facebook’s cover picture, just to show exactly where their allegiance lies:

On the other hand, you have Bab el Tabbaneh: the poorest region in Lebanon, where people follow politicians not because they are convinced by them but because they are a source of food and living. It’s a place where many families live in what used to be prisons with no basic facilities and with each elections coming up, politicians come and throw a lot of promises around to get these poor people’s votes. And then they go into the realms of forgetfulness again.

You’d never see such an array of flags in Jabal Mohsen

Both neighborhoods are heavily armed, as is the entirety of Lebanon, whether we like to admit it or not. Jabal Mohsen’s weapons are provided by Syria or its allies in Lebanon. Who’s providing the weapons in Bab el Tabbaneh? Your guess would be as good as mine. Or as good as Mustapha who wrote about it here (interesting read, by the way, so check it out).

Why are they fighting?

The struggles between Bab el Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen are very old. They are making news more than usual these days because they’ve become more recurrent than before, because they are being linked to the crisis Syria is going through next door and because of the different kinds of weapons used.

My friends from Tripoli have been telling me about how they’re spending their nights, cowered away in one corner of their house with their family – where the bullets wouldn’t reach them. The fights had never been this heavy. The weapons had never been this strong.

The fights between Bal el Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen have been recurrent since 1986 with the Bab el Tebbaneh massacre. The wounds run too deep for the healing.

You have the poor Sunnis on one side and the empowered Alawites on another. The fights are sectarian.

You have the staunch pro-Assad group on one side and the staunch anti-Assad people on another. The fights are political.

Both regions are marginalized, forgotten, and impoverished. The combination of their living conditions make them much easier to be manipulated. Both regions are puppets in the hands of those who are stronger than their people. The fights are a mere expression of other powers wanting to meddle in Lebanese affairs.

Everything aside, Bab el Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen are us. They are sectarian Lebanon. They are politically divided Lebanon. They are poor Lebanon. They are controlled Lebanon. They are armed Lebanon. The only difference with the rest of Lebanon? Their self-restraint regarding violence is much weaker.

It is here that I stop and give a biology analogy. A neuron, which the most important cell that makes your nervous system, responds based on an all-or-none law. That is, if the stimulus given to the neuron is above a certain threshold, the neuron will give a maximum response no matter how much you increase the stimulus.

Beirut is not much different from Jabal Mohsen or Bab el Tebbaneh. It just needs a higher threshold of stimulus because of its apparent “civility” in order to fire. And we’ve already crossed that threshold a few times.

In a way, Jabal Mohsen and Bab el Tebbaneh are a compas of some sorts to the Lebanese situation. Whenever they explode, know that there are worse things going on behind closed doors and that the crisis that our country (the Syrian affair, Sunni vs Shiite, etc…) has always found itself in is in one of its upward, rather than downward curve, of the alternative current that is Lebanese politics.

 

 

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.

A Middle Eastern Revolution Overdose?

Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria… and now people wanting to overthrow the system in Lebanon. I find myself wondering if it’s getting way out hand – if people are suddenly beginning to take advantage of this surge in regional adrenaline.

Do we really need to march down and demonstrate to overthrow the system in Lebanon? Is it really the best option we’ve got?

We are the only country in the region that actually has a democracy that functions – regardless of whether you think it functions properly or not, we can still vote, get our voices heard and be able to do marches like the one planned today. Sure, we have many shortcomings but I believe they dwarf in comparison to what the people of Egypt, Tunisia had to go through to get where we were in the 1940s, let alone what the people of Libya are going through as we speak.

To change the system in Lebanon, I don’t believe you need a revolution. I think you need common sense, one that is easily blinded when excitement surges among the people. Look at it this way: say the planned “revolution” succeeds and a secular state is enforced, do you honestly think that will happen without changing the basic foundation upon which the state is built? And by that I mean democracy. Do you really think shoving down secularism down people’s throats would get you further?

The people of Lebanon are not secular people because that is not how they were brought up. To move towards a secular state, you need to have a secular mind – one that is only present in a handful of people currently. And I don’t think the current political atmosphere in the country warrants further upheaval.

The best way, in my opinion, to have a peaceful and logical transition into a secular state is via a major overhaul of the education system. You cannot keep on teaching the same things being taught dealing with the way the country is run and still believe a secular state is plausible. People need to be taught on embracing the different other in a more hands-on approach, people need to be exposed more to the other’s religion and we need to at least have a version of our history that does not stop when the French Army vacated its barracks in 1946. By having an education system that invites people to become more aware of the different other, perhaps we can start moving our minds towards becoming truly secular and understanding that if I, a Maronite, do not have the presidency written for my sect, that’s okay. Or if you, a Shiite, don’t necessarily get the speaker of parliament, that’s okay as well. Same thing applies for the Sunnis and all the other sects.

Moving towards a secular Lebanon is a very hard thing to accomplish. The movement towards that should be transitory and not blunt. It should be accepted and not forced. Therefore, uniting Lebanon starts by letting the people of Lebanon share their ideas and come to common grounds with those ideas. Uniting Lebanon does not come by having one idea forced upon everyone. That would be basically a dictatorship.

On a final note, I invite people not to fall into the misconception that atheism is synonymic to secularism. It has become a common belief among many in Lebanon that the two are inherently related. That is far from the case. I also hope that we appreciate what we’ve got in our country and not take it for granted. We are still the only democracy in the region and it’ll take the countries that have had recent revolutions years to get to where we are today – regardless of what you might think lacks in our democracy. Is a revolution an answer? I don’t think so. Do we need to move towards a secular state? I believe it’s a necessity. How? Let’s just say, don’t get carried away by political excitement.