Lebanon's Ills Summed Up by Garbage
09 August 2015
By Eyad Abu Shakra
I remember from my youth the popular Lebanese saying, "Everything in Lebanon
is ‘zift' [asphalt] except the roads!"
Metaphorically, asphalt, or rather, "zift," came to mean any bleak and slimy
bad situation. However, the Lebanese now recall those "zift" days with
nostalgia, simply because their current situation is much worse.
In the good old days the Lebanese used to bemoan their "political class" and
criticize "political feudalism" and "traditional leaderships"; little did
they know what the future held. For example, they never thought they would
see the day when one man claimed to be the sole representative of the whole
Christian community, the same community whose arena was large enough to
accommodate longstanding competition between Émile Eddé, the leader of the
National Bloc, and Bechara Al-Khouri, the leader of the Constitutional
Bloc—whose groups both transcended sectarian divides. It was also capable not
only of living under the high statures of ex-president Fuad Chehab and the
Maronite Patriarch Paul Peter Meouchi, but also the popular "triumvirate" of
Camille Chamoun, Pierre Gemayel, and Raymond Eddé. Even during the Lebanese
civil war, when charismatic Bachir Gemayel sought "to unite the Christian
guns," there were still many Christians occupying prominent positions in the
Leftist and Arabist parties of the now defunct National Movement, which
refused to tie down the fate of the country's Christians with to that of its
right wing parties.
The scene was similar in the Muslim camp, where the field was also open to
multipolar politics. Among the Sunnis not one leader could monopolize
Arabism, patriotism, or moderate Islam. As for the Shi'ites, multipolarity
was even more clear-cut, whether in northern Beqaa or south Lebanon where no
single clan was in control. And, last but not least, the Druze were
originally living under the ancient historical Arab bipartisanship of Qays
and Yemen, which later reinvented itself under various guises.
Back to today: as Beirut and other Lebanese areas struggle to breathe under
mountains of garbage, the problems of the past seem blessings in comparison.
A couple of days ago, Lebanon's Environment Minister Mohamed Al-Mashnouq—who
is a decent and rational man—asked the public to be patient for a few months
and give the government time to find a new and suitable place to dump all the
accumulated garbage, and thus solve the niggling problem. The minister,
however, seems to have forgotten that a serious crisis threatening the very
existence of Lebanon still remains unsolved after more than a year. He
forgot, or seems to have forgotten, that the country's presidency is still
vacant because there is one man named Michel Aoun who insists on being the
sole and exclusive spokesman of Lebanon's Christians, and resurrects his old
slogan, "freedom, sovereignty, and independence," in a country that, thanks
specifically to him, has in fact ceased to be free, sovereign, and
Aoun claims that he alone is the "guarantor" of Lebanese Christians' rights,
and their secure "shield" in the face of "political ISIS-ism"—as his
son-in-law the Lebanese foreign minister informed us. This is indeed strange,
since conventional wisdom tells us that in a state created specifically to
fulfil the wishes and ensure the security of its Christians, those Christians
should seek no refuge but that state itself. Yes, this state—not Iran's
Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which pretends to be infatuated with "the
protection of minorities" while in order to further its own interests and
influence is engaged in a mad genocidal project against a colossal sea of
Sunni Muslims extending from Indonesia in the east to Guyana in the west!
Today, when Michel Aoun, an MP, obstructs the work of the state, while his
son-in-law opens up sectarian wounds in an attempt to sell the Christian man
on the street fake heroisms achieved by the "savior hero," he, Aoun, is
gambling on the naïveté of those who refuse to see that Hezbollah, the
Lebanese branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, is the conductor, motivator,
and decision-maker in an illusory and lopsided "pact" whose task is to cover
up plans for foreign hegemony in the Middle East.
Furthermore, the Aounists think, first, that Hezbollah is ignorant of Aoun's
political past, and second, that it is ready to hand over real power to their
leader. However, the truth is that Hezbollah is quite knowledgeable of who
Aoun is, and that Hezbollah's strategic aim is total hegemony over Lebanon,
leading to tying it up with Tehran's hegemonic "bloc" extending from Iran to
the Mediterranean, and including Iraq and Syria.
It is unfortunate for Lebanon's Christians that general circumstances in the
region seem ostensibly to favor Iran's plans. Thus, instead of holding Aoun
responsible for his actions and dangerous gambles, there are those who
whisper that the guy is a "visionary" and even "wise," and that his bet on a
US–Iran alliance against Sunni Islam is well-placed.
Yet, this may not necessarily be true. Actually, it is still too early to
expect solid political results from the Iran nuclear agreement, more so while
there are still regional players Washington is loath to openly alienate.
Another fact worth remembering is that "Political Sunnism" is too large,
flexible, and capable of acclimatizing both regionally and globally, to be
exemplified by ISIS and its ilk. As such, Washington is deep down quite aware
that it would be risking too much if it chose the road of open confrontation
in the Middle East; it has been justifying its recent concessions through its
desire to settle problems, minimize costly tensions, and keep away from
Naturally, in Lebanon Aounists, Assad "Arabists," and Hezbollah "sectarianists"
would all like to forget that while Iran is a theocracy headed by the Vali-e
Faqih and controlled by the Revolutionary Guard, the US is a democracy based
on the principle of change of government through the ballot box. Hence, tying
the existence of Christians—in fact, all minorities—to an agreement between
the Vali-e Faqih and a constitutional head-of-state with a limited term in
office would be a disastrous adventure indeed.
In any case, some observers are associating the loud noises coming from Aoun
and his followers with reports from Tehran claiming that the Iranian
leadership is now ready to contemplate three names seriously suggested for
the Lebanese presidency; Aoun is not one of them.
This is surely a welcome development. It may solve Lebanon's problem with one
man, facilitate government work, and end the garbage crisis; but on its own,
it will certainly not cure those in the country with sick mentalities.
Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat.
He has been with the newspaper since 1978.