Living Together: From Canada to Lebanon, A Lesson in Multiculturalism

Some of the commentators on this blog and on other blogs have expressed their disillusionment with the recent protest in Beyrouth. The Sanyura government against which the recent protest is being held is itself the product of a mass protest which took place in 2005 after the assassination of Rafik Hariri. I have expressed an opinion on this blog in which I have affirmed that the new divide in Lebanon, the economic divide brought upon a traditionally prosperous country by the civil war and by the disastrous management of the state by Hariri, is helping bridge the sectarian religious and ethnic divide. March 14th is the movement of the rich and the few who profited from the new economy while March 8th is the movement of the disgruntled and the numerous left behind by the new economy.

Those disillusioned who live in Lebanon are asking for a third option to Sanyura's government, usually also called March 14th, and the recent protest which is sometimes labeled March 8th. Those skeptics who live outside Lebanon are also asking for a third option. One of them, a much appreciated regular commentator on this blog, wrote the following:

Sophia ,

There are several dimensions to the Lebanese struggle and they overlap. The greatest dimension is that of sectarianism. As the class struggle heats up and the feudal order is challenged, the feudal lords and their clerical partners will resort to sectarian strife to maintain their domination and force their brethern back into the fold. Lebanon is not a state in the normal sense. It is collection of sects dominated by families and parties. The political order is undergoing a sectarian revolution. One sect ,the Shia, is asking for their rightful share of the pie. The Sunnis fear that any rearrangement will be at their expense since the Christians are unwilling to give up any of their 50% share. That is why there is a constant reference by the beneficiaries of the present order to the Taif accord which slightly rearranged the political order but maintained Sunni Maronite rule. That is the crux of the problem and we will have perpetual civil wars until the representational problem is addressed. I fear that we are all headed for a violent partition of Lebanon. People are unwilling to compromise and they are talking increasingly of "federalism". I talked to my cousin in Beirut yesterday and she said that she was just at AUB and that a Shia professor pointed out that professors are huddled in sectarian groups talking about the situation in hushed tones. She complained that her Sunni-Shia marriage is undergoing some strain because of the political situation. It is obvious that Lebanon is in preparation for another round of its civil war.
I wish there was a third way or alternative to save the Lebanese from March 8 and 14. On second thought it would not be enough because regional and international forces are aligned with each faction in Lebanon and are intent on pursuing their conflicts by proxy. I pray every day for some regional arrangement that will calm things down and give the Lebanese a chance to come to some arrangement.


I understand the concerns of these people. However, foreign influences on lebanese politics aside- foreign interference is efficient only when there are people inside the country willing to collaborate with an outside power against the interests of the country- I believe we have a third option for Lebanon and that this third option is being advanced by the recent alliance between Hezbollah and the free patriotic movement (FPM) led by general Michel Aoun who organised the recent protest and open-ended sit in. These are my premices:

- Those who criticise the recent protest are calling it March 8th in reference to the March 8th 2005 massive protest of Hezbollah as a Thank you for Syria who was leaving Lebanon. As a consequence, March 8th is seen as pro-Syrian while March 14th is seen as anti-Syrian. However there is a lot of confusion in these categorisations. First, as I wrote in a previous post, Syria is outside Lebanon and has little political leverage for now both inside Lebanon and in the region. In addition, March 14th politicians being, before the assassination of Hariri, all pro-Syrians, Hariri the first among them, it is difficult to label them as anti-Syrians when Syria is no longer in Lebanon and their opponents as pro-Syrians when one of them, general Michel Aoun fought a desperate war against the Syrians in 1990, when the Syrian army was actually in Lebanon, before leaving for an exile from which he returned only after the Syrian withdrawal. This leads me to the second confusion made in the characterisation of the two blocs. March 8th is different from the present December 1st alliance opposing Sanyura's government. March 8th was composed of Hezbollah and Amal alone, mainly Shias. The recent protest is a result of a year old alliance between FPM and Hezbollah, an alliance between Shias and Christians. The recent movement is then different from March 8th. While March 14th, since the assassination of rafik Hariri, was struggling to keep its unity along sectarian divides and special interests and has been ever since its formation " primarily fuelled by the assassination of its leaders," said Amal Saad Ghorayeb of Beirut's Carnegie Middle East Centre, March 8th was evolving in a less sectarian way and in a way based on the aspirations of Lebanese across the religious divide.

I am personally against March 8th alone, I am also against the FPM alone. But I am for an alliance of these movements and especially an extension of this alliance to other politcal movements and sects in Lebanon because the only solution for Lebanon is unity. It is only with unity that we can achieve independance from foreign powers.

- I believe that March 14th deceived the Lebanese and lost the popular support and the political capital it was sitting on since the assassination of Rafik Hariri as much as Bush has deceived the Americans and lost the political capital it was given by the American nation after 9/11. Why these movements have been unable to capitalise on their poltical successes ? Because they have great contempt for ordinary citizens. Not only March 14th have been unable to keep unity in their movement but they were being deaf to the aspirations of the Lebanese, only listening to the foreign powers who back them. They have betrayed Lebanon and the Lebanese, not only on the economic reforms and the promises of a better future but also on the notions they claim to fight for: freedom and democracy. Israel's agression on Lebanon was a crude test in the matter. It made March 14th insensitive to the plight of the Lebanese or worse, an implicit ally of this savage invasion. Can't anybody see total absurdity in the present cortège of foreign government officials from Saudi Arabia to the UK and the US visiting Sanyura in a show of support while these same people stayed deaf to the plight of the Lebanese in the middle of the Israeli agression, not asking for a ceasefire when they did not implicitly approve of the agression ? This is a clear proof that Sanyura's government is completely disconnected from Lebanese.

I think March 14th has discredited himself in the eyes of the majority of Lebanese and it has support only outside Lebanon or in the few fanatic and blind sectarian minds which are being endoctrined by Hariri paid clerics in Tripoli, Akkar, Saida and Beyrouth, those same ones who applaud Bin Laden, and the few Christians who are afraid to live with poor Muslim shias, out of fear of losing their Gucci identity, and the Christian leaders who exploit their fears. Moreover, the representation of Christians within March 14th is very biased, it is mainly a representation made of Christian leaders elected by sunni votes, thanks to the Syrian crafted electoral law that was meant to help those same leaders from March 14th, who used to collaborate with Syria, get elected and who represent only those wealthy christians who fear any association with anything poor, their identity being in their pocket and bank accounts. Therefore the interests of the increasingly economically hit Christians are poorly represented by March 14th which is mainly under Hariri leadership and Saudi money tutelage, backed locally by wealthy sunnis.

- The small representation of the alliance between Hezbollah and the free Patriotic Movement inside the government is hindering national dialogue. Both Aoun, the leader of the FPM and Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, along with Amal, the other Shia movement, represent more than 60 % of the population of Lebanon by all conservative estimates, yet they only have two ministers in the government. Why is the Sanyura government blocking a fair representation of this part of the Lebanese population in the government ? I think it is out of allegiance to Saudi Arabia who has emerged recently as the main crusader against the access of Muslim shias to important positions within state apparatus everywhere in the Arab world including Bahrain. No matter what they say, March 14th movement aapear in the eyes of Lebanese as serving external Arab and international interests, the US and Israel, more than those of Lebanese citizens.

- Shias from Hezbollah and Amal and the Christians of the FPM have to their credit shown us that Lebanese can unite across sectarian lines not on the basis of external interests but on the basis of an inclusive political and economic project for Lebanon. This project is written and was discussed and agreed upon by Aoun and Hezbollah before the July war. It was snubbed by Washington who does not want to see people in power in Lebanon who don't take orders from them or from their client Saudi Arabia. This project means that we can live together, not only form alliances for power sharing and electoral success like March 14th but out of a real desire to live together and to find solutions for a concerted way of life.

There are many possible solutions for Lebanon. Federalism, which is being advocated by March 14th, is a bad solution. Federalism in a small, poor and underdevelopped country is Apartheid. Federalism works only between equal entities and federal Lebanon will not be composed of economically equal entities. Even democratic Canadian federalism is struggling with the equality issue. Lebanese federalism will be a return to the ottoman feudal style of administration. This is why the feudal lords of March 14th are so enamoured with federalism. It means a return to their full and unbridled ottoman style feudal power . It means also: 'Chacun pour soi'. It means that we open the door large for foreign interference and this is not going to help us out of trouble because as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an open wound our little federated parts of the country under different foreign allegiances will be at risk of fighting each other. Who will stop Syria from providing weapons to Hezbollah in a small shia state ? And who will stop the US and Israel from providing weapons to Christians in a small Christian state ? And who will stop Saudi Arabia from providing weapons and logisitics for sunnis in a small sunni state ? In a united Lebanon we are invited to care for each other and to care in a way that take into account all the people and not only ourselves. For all these reasons, because it won't stop poverty and it won't stop wars, federalism is not a good option for Lebanese.

However, federalism is a good option for Israel for example. Israel always feared 200 million Arabs 'who will drive Israel into the sea', a convenient zionist propaganda. Israel destroyed Arab nationalism which was secular and staunchly pro-palestinian with the help of Saudi Arabia. One cannot imagine how much Israel is indebted to Saudi Arabia. Actually it was a Hijazi king who signed an agreement with Weismann accepting the Balfour declaration in exchange for the kingdoms of Jordan and Irak given by colonial England to the Hijazi family. Surely, a federalism based on the partition of Lebanon will result in the partition of other middle eastern countries where sectarian tensions are exacerbated , producing ethnically and religion based states exactly at the image of Israel. The partition of the ME is an old zionist dream and it is being accomplished now in Irak and Lebanon. Again, any kind of federalism partitioning states in the Arab world is seen by Israel and its allies and those who want to control the Arab masses as a gain. federalism is the continuation of the destruction of Arab nationalism and when Arab countries will be no more than a pack of small states based on the special interests of their small ethnies, the palestinian question will be dead for good and will be no more an issue for the Arab world.

Don't underestimate the power of the neo-cons or the AAWSII (Alliance of Americans Working Inside the US government for the Special Interests of Israel). Surely, the war in Iraq may appear as a mess and surely the partition of Lebanon and Iraq may appear as an avowal of defeat but they both serve the justification of the only ethnic state in the ME other than Saudi Arabia, Israel, while reinforcing the hegemony of Israel in the region.

I support an open alliance between the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah because it is a workable solution for Lebanon. I support any alliance that is inclusive, the most possibly inclusive. I think other solutions for Lebanon will not work, I think we are bound to live together and we are bound to take care of each other and if we have to fulfill the promises that we made to the Lebanese, we are bound to live in dignity and deliver on economic development and social justice. Federalism will not deliver on these issues, neither civil war .

I think we are better when we are together. I don't know if I am a good person when I am alone but I know that I have to be good for my husband and my children and when I am not alone I know at least that I am a better person than when I am alone. And it is the same thing with cultures and religions. I know that purists and skeptics will dismiss this call for unity because the people who are supposed to unite in managing the Lebanese state are so different. But I believe if our politicians are interested in rescuing Lebanon and in giving Lebanese a future in their country, they can ultimately sit together. We lived together before and we can still live together. Sectarian tensions serve only those who exploit them for political leverage and political profit, they don't serve the people. We have to stop serving foreign interests and if we do stop we can start to live together.

I have been living in Canada for the last fifteen years and I learned a lot form this country. I value Canadian multiculturalism and I value the fact that I am respected as a minority in Canada without having to lose my identity. I know also that even when we keep our identity in a multicultural society we transform it into something else. I know that when we reach for the other we do it with the best part of ourselves and this is the virtue of multiculturalism and this is how one can keep his religious and cultural identity in a multicultural society; by living only with the better part of himself. I know also that democracies can adapt to their religions, cultures and minorities. We don't have to have a US style democracy in Lebanon neither a Canadian style democracy but we can learn from these democracies how to live together in justice and peace and these are the main issues in a democracy.
The December 1st protesters are asking the government to be inclusive, to be just and to be transparent and because I believe that living together is ultimately our destiny, I support the December 1st protest. And if the project of the December 1st protest wins it will be a tremendous gain not only for Lebanon but for the entire ME, which is threatened by sectarian tensions aggravated by Bush's and Israel's wars.

Living together is a reasonable third option. Lets work for this option and wish it every success...

UPDATE: An account of Nasrallah's adress to the December 1st protest in downtown Beyrouth (in French).

P.S: I would like you to read Frencheagle's post on the most prominent politician of March 14th, the interior minister Ahmad Fatfat. It will give you an idea on the kind of people which are running the country right now...


Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Great post!
Nothing to add
Nothing to retract

Sophia said...

Dear doctor,

It is a great honor to have your total approval. Many thanks

frencheagle said...

Agreeing on the main parts...

however what would be your propositions to get out of the current crisis?

For ex, i m against a governement of national unity on the long term as it ll desesperate the lebanese population who wont have any democratic alternative.
I support on the short run such cabinet in order to organise new democratic elections based on the first article of the lebanese constitution stating that all lebanese are equal vis à vis the law.

Sophia said...


My proposal is to maintain a government of national unity as long as it is necessary to rebuild the institutions of the country and its constitution, rid it from foreign influence and rebuild its economy and infrastructure. I think as long as such a government is working for the good of the people they won't be tired.
Après on verra...

Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Hi Sophie, Roxie,

I never was a big fan of MIT’s great Marxist linguist...

You must ABSOLUTELY get « Wrestling with Zion » edited by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon: one of the best books one may ever read on Israel’s cynical contempt for America and the tricks it uses to enslave US Senators, Congressmen, CEOs, journalists, gullible “fellow Israelites” and imbecile ‘Christian’ “friends of Zion”.

I'm sure you'll LOVE THAT BOOK!


frencheagle said...

I was considering in my previous comment the immediate problem as you may notice that lebanon is facing, i was asking about your short term vision of what should be done.

If i understood:
so you are considering like me that the legitimation of the public institutions are a must, this legitimation wasnt done last year because of the electoral law and that in the mean time we need to go back from scratch to build a strong state?
This is a vision i m sharing and this is the plan i m advising from last year's elections.

I think that a strong state is by définition the first conditition to obtain the palestinian camps disarmement and then the hezbollah disarmement.

by the way interesting notes :)

Sophia said...

I share your vision very much,

A strong and just foundation for the state has to be laid out before everything else.

As for Hezbollah I remind you that Hezbollah's arms are here not only because the state is weak but also because the state is not fair...

MarxistFromLebanon said...

As always Sophia,

great post, and have several remarks to comment on but currently I am exhausted because I was trying to cover as much as I can from Nasrallah's speech today.

In any case, all governments that will follow will not tackle the core of the problem, which is Sectarianism and Sect-Defenders leadership/spokesmen. As for economically, no way a government can sort economically the country (taking Lebanon's resources and productivity forces) and the leaders will keep toying with Sectarianism to kick out governments after each other.

Will comment on the details

Behemoth101 said...

احمد فتفت يا قابدي واحد قهوة واثنان شاي

hilarious! Yes Angry Arab has been spewing this kind of vitriol against Fatfat for some time now. God save Lebanon against people like him.

Since March 29th 2006