By Marcus Yalcin Beth Saho (24/10/2020, SyriacPress news desk) – Lebanon has hit rock bottom politically and economically. Attempts to overcome the political impasse have been ongoing since. But the Lebanese political plutocracy and sectarian reality is unruly, and the political impasse seems to be dealt with only on the surface.
What about a fundamental rethinking of Lebanon’s political model? Is federalism a possibility? Free Patriotic Movement political activist Naji Hayek thinks it is. Naji Hayek, a Syriac Maronite, is an outspoken advocate of federalism. In an October 15, 2020 interview with Lebanese TV channel OTV, he said that the federal system is most suitable for the Lebanese people and that the majority of Lebanese, especially the Syriac Maronite of the Christian component, feels this way; “Federalism is demanded by the majority of the Lebanese people.”
Hayek urges all Lebanese to shake off their fears and taboos and discuss freely and investigate unashamed the possibilites and benefits of a federation. Decentralization and governance through local and regional laws, gives back a larger part of state administration, institutions, and the economy to its citizens. Federalism can channel and limit the friction between the different ethnic components of Lebanese society.
With regards to Lebanon’s role in the region, he states that like the Israeli economy, Lebanon’s economy should be based on technology and Lebanon should maintain good relations with the U.S. and Europe – a statement which can be read as a message that Lebanon should look West and not East (Iran). Lebanon should not allow internal actors to wage wars on behalf of foreign causes.
Hayek is not the only Lebanese politician to speak out on a possible federated Lebanon. President of the Universal Syriac Union Party (USUP) Ibrahim Mrad agrees on federalism as the solution for many of Lebanon’s problems. Considering the current state of Lebanon, the USUP President concludes the centralized political system to be a proven failure.
In Lebanon and other countries in the Levant and Mesopotamia, says Mrad, the centralized system has evolved along sectarian authoritarian structures into dictatorships. It has led to the theft of the public domain and common goods from the state and peoples, and it has caused an erosion of political and human values. The centralized system in the Middle East governs its people with iron and fire. It shatters their political will and human dignity. It nullifies their existence and pluralism and has caused killings, massacres, and displacement of peoples from their homelands. The centralized system has only attracted calamities and ignited wars in order for corrupt and illegitimate regimes to remain in power.
Many agree that federalism is not the perfect solution, but the best alternative of available models to Lebanon. Human rights activist and political analyst Jean-Pierre Katrib stated already in 2008, that the federal formula for Lebanon will not be a panacea for the country’s complex political problems. Nonetheless, it will help the Lebanese deal with those problems more effectively. In theory, he says, combining regional self-rule with national shared-rule, will ensure that there are checks and balances in place to prevent abuses of power. It will encourage new voices to emerge by offering more leadership opportunities, enabling those who were “losers” at the national level to become “winners” at the regional level. It will bring government closer to the people and encourage a more responsive administration. As such, citizens will enjoy greater access to public authorities, and there will be no more remote or forgotten regions serving as hubs for extremism.
Federalism can go best hand in hand with a policy of “active neutrality” and Syriac Maronite Patriarch al-Raï penned a memorandum proposing Lebanon adopt such a neutral policy. The memorandum calls for Lebanon to pursue a policy of “active neutrality” and extract itself from regional and international conflicts and, given the ethnic and religious diversity of its population, to act as a mediator in the region. According to the Syriac Maronite Patriarch, Lebanon will benefit from the status of neutrality in two main points:
- Neutrality safeguards the unity of Lebanon, in terms of its territorial integrity and the preservation of its population, and revives the national Islamic-Christian partnership, which was weakened in many instances. Lebanon’s neutrality ensures that its eighteen confessional communities regain their security and stability, as well as their mutual trust far from conflicts. It is only on the basis of this political platform of neutrality and peaceful coexistence among various social and religious groups that Lebanon would be able to positively contribute to the stability of the region and peace in the world.
- Neutrality makes all components of Lebanese society become more flexible and positive, because it excludes alignment and biased approach in the exercise of prerogatives and authority among those in power regardless of their political or confessional affiliation.
Lebanon has hit rock bottom politically and economically. Economically, the country of Mount Lebanon and cedars is bankrupt after years of unabated corruption and financial and fiscal mismanagement. In October 2019, the Lebanese were fed up and took to the streets. The Cedar protests transcended sect and religion, all were united in taking down corruption and years of sectarian plutocratic division and political negligence. The August 4 devastating explosion in the port of Beirut destroyed a country already in ruins. Highly armed Iran-proxy Hezbollah, a ‘state-within-a-state’, became the catalyst of the protester’s anger.
The tried statesman and former Prime Minister Hariri is by some regarded as Lebanon’s new savior. He may be acceptable to the West, be the door to Saudi Arabian money, but whether he will or be able to take on Hezbollah is unknown. If his periods in which he led to Lebanon (2009-11; 2016-20) are to be seen as a leading example, the future looks bleak.
Federalism and active neutrality might hence be the only realistic starting points to get Lebanon out of its path of self-destruction marked by corrupt politicians who had allowed their citizens to sink into poverty and despair.