Some three weeks have elapsed on the Beirut port warehouse explosion which left at least 177 dead, 6000 injured, an estimated 300,000 people homeless, and property damaged to the tune of USD10–15 billion. Today I feel grave concern for Lebanon: the people, motherland, and State. Admittedly, a cynic would argue: what State is there in Lebanon? The Lebanese people are there, albeit fragmented, confused and powerless to do anything but protest in wrath and frustration, rejecting the current state of affairs and demanding full change. The motherland is there too, rooted in the land, its history and identity, yet shattered and torn among factions whose sole concern is to divide the cake, Lebanon in its entirety, among them on sectarian basis. For the last 50 years they never ceased fighting over division and redivision of the cake to reallocate the shares. In the process, they perfectly exploited sectarianism, ethnic differences, tribal and clan dominions, geographical divisions and military militias. What motherland can survive this? Again I pose the question of where is Lebanon the State?
The Lebanese people gave their answer when they took to the streets last year, on 17 October 2019, to protest against the massive failure on the economic, political and security levels. They persisted in their demand for change, but their call fell on deaf ears, and was met with arrogant stubbornness by the poles of corruption that hegemonised the Lebanese scene and usurped the cake. Then came the recent catastrophe of the Beirut port, leading to protests that expressed resolve and determination by the Lebanese people to break the current givens and reorganise the house. The people’s voices rose condemning all, cursing all and calling for retribution. But how can retribution be attained by a powerless defenceless people whose sole weapon is to scream against repression? The Lebanese people felt so ineffectual that 60,000 of them signed a petition demanding the return of the French Mandate in order to save Lebanon from its current state and work on reformulating a modern civic Lebanese State that would include all the Lebanese and deal with them on the equal footing of citizenship rights.
After WWI, Syria and Lebanon became French protectorates—as a League of Nations Mandate; they gained independence from the French Mandate in the 1940s, but Lebanon remained strongly attached to France. Firm economic, cultural, educational and service ties continued to link Lebanon to France, serving as an umbilical cord between mother and child. It was thus not surprising that in the middle of their crisis the Lebanese people turned to France for rescue, and France did not let them down. It directly lent a hand, rallying international relief support and help for the reconstruction of Lebanon. France accepted to foster the process of reformation of Lebanon’s future political map.
This promises to be a rather complicated process the features of which are yet unclear; but the presence of France at least ensures a political umbrella to shelter the road towards achieving the aspirations of the Lebanese people in outlining a national non-sectarian State. It would also secure, under the auspices of NATO countries, a military shield that would serve to stop in track any greedy force set to exploiting the political void which could ensue upon redrawing the power map of Lebanon. Only then could the fragments of the cake be gathered into one whole that would be returned to the Lebanese people.
During his significant visit to Lebanon in the wake of the port blast, French President Emmanuel Macron said that Lebanon has turned a corner and that its political crisis can only be resolved through real change that would establish a new political charter. But what new political charter was President Macron alluding to? I imagine that there is now an urgent need for the Lebanese people to sit together and write a new constitution for their nation basing upon citizenship status rather than sectarian quotas. A constitution that would hold all Lebanese equal in rights and duties regardless of tribal, clan, or sectarian affiliations; a constitution for a centralised State with one flag, one army, one identity and a single loyalty. A constitution that would finally put an end to all forms of affiliations and divisions.
I wish with all my heart that the current sufferings of our dear Lebanon and its beloved people be but labour pains that would birth a new strong Lebanon where all sectors are united in one nation.
20 August 2020