Neutrality and Federalism

One hundred years after the establishment of the State of Greater Lebanon, we are, more than ever, unable to assume a minimum of national sovereignty. The political class, especially the so-called opposition, and the civil society, waver between totally rejecting current leaders and dynamics, and suggesting utopic miracle solutions.

The views expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SyriacPress.

By Dr. Amine Jules Iskandar President of the Syriac Maronite Union – Tur Levnon

Since the uprising of October 17, many believe that they have detected the root cause of Lebanon’s woes: corruption, waste and incompetence. However, these flaws are only the consequences of a country that was hijacked and held hostage by successive forces, ranging from Palestinian militias, to the Syrian Arab Army and currently, an Iranian backed militia.

Some voices in the October 17 revolution go even further by condemning all politicians, and the existing confessional system that they call “retrograde.” As early as 1926, Lebanon set up a system of governance and administration based on “positive discrimination” (known as “affirmative action”), adopted in democratic Western countries decades later.

In Lebanon, this system was designed to preserve the cultural and national diversity. While unfairly referred to as “confessional” in a pejorative tone, it ensured the representation of the smallest minority groups, in all sectors of the state. It is this system that prevented the state from being governed without the agreement of all its components, even the most marginalized ones, and prevented a militia with a dangerous totalitarian ideology from expanding its hegemony over each and every sector.

Pretexting to fight social injustice, some voices of the revolution have mistaken “marginalization” with “positive discrimination”, and the causes of Lebanon’s illness with the symptoms. Claiming that their intention is to avoid the collapse of the country, and to fight injustice, these groups might be eliminating the last card that the Lebanese people still hold against a totalitarian, extremist and over-armed militia.

They argue that the “confessional” system encourages favoritism and corruption, instead of integrity and merit. It doesn’t strike them, not even the slightest bit, that their fight against confessionalism, is also supported by the very symbols of nepotism within the revolution, and even more by Hezbollah and its satellites, who would appreciate nothing more than deviating from the problem’s roots which they are part of.

Many politicians are the unconditional allies of the “state within state”, thinking that this sort of alliance allows them to sustainably reign over the country. The system is protected and fed by “a state within a state”. This entity’s purpose is to dismantle the nation, to be able to impose slyly its foreign agenda. Their asset is the centralized state, that allows them to share the pie, and most importantly, remain far from the threat of legal and political sanctions. Therefore, the real fight should be against the monopolization of power that they enjoy, and not against the “confessional” system per se, as it is the centralization of power that gives a free pass to all abuses.

It is by no means conceivable to be able to dream of a modern and prosperous state, when Lebanon ends up abandoning its multicultural system and gets drowned in one only color, due to the hegemony of a majority group, or more specifically, a group backed by a foreign power.

What is presented as the “miracle solution” will only increase emigration and the complete disintegration of the demographic structure, as well as the identity of the country.

The idea of a Republic with civic values can also turn out to be a perilous utopia. To consider the citizen as a product of solely absolute law is to reduce the human within him, to strip him of all his historical, cultural, spiritual and individual qualities. The law and the Republic must remain instruments at the service of humanity in all its complexity, and mustn’t fall into the blind and reductive globalization. Between the citizens and the people, there was always, and will always be the Group. And the concept of “Group” falls under the constant threat of being erased by totalitarians of different forms, be it the Soviets, Nazis, Arabists, and it could even be an erroneous version of a Republic’s notion.

Facing the crisis that the Levant, Lebanon and its structure are undergoing, it becomes necessary to analyze the political reality from two dimensions: the first would be the system itself, and the second is how the system is applied.

The system itself is not a burden; it is the application of the system that is flawed. Moving away from the confessional system without providing an alternative that takes into consideration the protection of diversity would be suicidal. The new system that can be adopted instead of the confessional one, should ensure the implementation of the Democratic concepts that were lacking in the confessional system. A federal system, that recognizes entities by their cultural nature would allow the development of states with secular governance. Only then, the adoption of secularism wouldn’t be applied at the expense of minority communities, who would be left at the mercy of greater or regional upheavals in a scenario where secularism is applied without federalism. Only a form of regionalism, with the decentralization of both the legislative and executive branches can be the solution to abandon the current confessional system, and to adopt secularism in regions that wish to adopt it, by democratically voting for it.

Although this form of regionalism or federalism, is the solution to leave the confessional system behind, it is not however the solution to solve all of Lebanon’s current troubles, nor can it ensure peace, security and the prosperity on its own, as it could be severely disrupted by the current political context. It is no secret that individuals’ freedom in all its forms, the independence of the judicial system, the rule of law, will remain at risk so long as Lebanon is constantly dragged into regional conflicts. This is why Bkerké’s call for Neutrality as an essential component of Lebanon’s identity, is a crucial and vital step that should be implemented as soon as possible. The neutrality that Patriarch Béchara Peter Rai has called for, can include the “positivity” concept that allows Lebanon to express its opinion, convictions and values without the need to take part of any regional conflict.

Faced with challenges that await us, and in order to achieve secularism and the rule of law that we dream of, our top priorities must be neutrality and the notion of regionalism, as it would be suicidal to call for the abolition of “confessionalism” without the alternative of deep decentralization (itself stipulated in the Taef agreement). Such alternative, through the guarantees it offers, could result in easing the tensions between communities, thus making it possible for corrupt figures to face justice after losing the protection of their respective communities.

Neutrality is essential, since it is unconceivable to seek the independence of the juridical system with the presence of an illegally armed party that considers itself above justice. Justice can under no circumstances be the guarantor of sovereignty, freedom and law when a specific party is above the law. It is only once these basic values addressed are established and applied, that it becomes appropriate to address the values we all aspire for, such as Human Rights, international agreements, respect of individual rights and freedoms, social justice and above all the protection of the weakest. Any radical change in Lebanon in its current situation, and before adopting Neutrality, would be too risky. Even restructuring the banking system for example, while the hegemony of an armed party is present, will lead to this party’s stranglehold over the entire sector and similarly for all other sectors.

The political, economic and social demands voiced by most groups, and political parties in the revolution meet for the most part on a common vision that we share. The differences however, appear in the chronological order and in the importance assigned to each challenge, and the failure to respect this chronological order could lead to collective suicide. It is vital to be aware of the primacy of Neutrality and of a political formula adapted to diversity, within the national recovery plan.

These lines were written before August 4, 2020. The tragedy that took place on the day we were about to send the article to the OLJ only made this proposal more urgent and existential.

Amine Jules Iskandar is President of Syriac Maronite Union-Tur Levnon

For the original French article of 24 August 2020 see L’Orient le Jour