The return of the right

I don’t know if this has gone unnoticed, but there has been something strangely disenchanting about local Christian politics in modern day Lebanon.

I will list a couple of disjointed points:

1- The Loubnanouhom paradigm is gaining institutional currency. Once a remote petty reactionary movement led by the son of a disgruntled leader followed by a plethora university followers, now the leader of Lebanon-old party, the Kataeb, and a parliamentary member, Sami Gemayel may well be the representative of Christian isolationism for the decades to come. As this article makes clear, Gemayel will still brandish the federalist option as a suitable system for the Lebanese tiny hell-hole of 10452km2. I remember having this discussion with a friend who said that these guys will always be marginal to the Lebanese political system. That was without counting Christian betise. In a matter of a bit more than a year, Sami Gemayel is now at the top of the most reactionary and elitist political organization of the country. Today Loubnanouna is the Kataeb party: Young, re-energized, very elitist, anti-Muslim, and ready to impress.

2- The Tayyar/Hizbullah is not just being undermined in the economy of texts, meaning, and knowledge, but is most probably the one trigger of the winning of more radical Christian right-wing brands. Basically, Christians were not prepared to understand such rapprochement, it is just anathema to their different cultural viewpoints. I won’t cite here the multitudes of media propaganda that kept on bashing this very unusual political step judging from Lebanese historical practices. From my own experience, I felt that whether coming from Tayyar or from Hizbullah, both parties had a very strong interest at keeping a solid alliance that reached down social networks and localized activism. But what is scary here is to see that Christian chauvinism has trumpeted the culture of this agreement, and has actually rejected. Hizbullah is still a weird and unknown beast for many Christians from Tayyar who if anything do bear the marks of historical Christian isolationism. This is not a condemnation I insist. This is the very core of Lebanese first national narrative: the Maronite re-writing of history of geography and community. It just cannot be otherwise, unless you do away with On what parties like the Lebanese Forces and Kataeb are betting by allying with Hariri, I still can’t figure it out. But I find it hard to believe that they could have found an admiration for Sunni politics, even though Sunni politics has dramatically change throughout the years, going from a form of contesting the very existence of the Lebanese state and its Maronite dominance to adopting a virulent the concept of Lebanon, change the national mythologies.

3- One of the reasons why Hizbullah is hardly accepted is because they present new national stories that are quite different from the earlier Christian even though quite dependent on them. Hizbullah’s weapon is not really an issue in itself because it is the way one perceives these weapons that changes the picture: Hizbullah is seen as contradicting actual (sanctified, official, etc) Lebanese national priorities. Whereas Hizbullah supporters and allies find it very logical that Hizbullah has weapons for ‘national’ reasons, whatever the reasons it makes sense to them, in the same vein others are truly scared of that. But the scary aspect of it is caused by a cultural factor. Countless times did I have discussions with Christians (when I say Christian I talk of people belonging to a specific social ‘niche’ like me for example), who after showing the rationale behind the weapons (Israeli threats, resistance, etc) would quickly revert to the argument, “but we don’t want to live in an Islamic state” or “we want to still be able to drink alcohol” etc. That is the frightening part, even if baseless.

4- But still Hizbullah will have to come to terms with that. If they want to be part of the Lebanese game (i.e. nation), which is surely what they want, they will have to accept Christian petty fears. But as I already mentioned here, the biggest competitor to Hizbullah is Tayyar at the end of the day. This may be exacerbated now that the Tayyar/Hizbullah alliance is being shaken from its foundations. I don’t think thought that this alliance will fall apart, but will surely assume other priorities. Maybe more interesting ones. Let’s see.


11 Replies to “The return of the right”

  1. To say that Sami Gemayel is anti-Muslim is not a fair assesment. In other words, you’re wrong in my opinion.

    Concerning federalism, which many countries have like Canada (because of french Quebec) are progressing fine. Sami has never denied it, though Hezbollah, every time they ask them if they want an Islamic state, they act as if its the most obsurd thing they’ve heard and feel insulted if raised the question. BUT have never denied it. Look at archives…

    No Official Hezbollah (high ranking) has ever “denied” making Lebanon an Islamic state. They just never say a simple “No”. Somehow, having Sami Gemayel in such a game make its all the fairer.

  2. Gigu, what I mean by anti-Muslim is a cultural trait at best. Although I could draw many other aspects of this anti-Muslim from my personal experience with people working for an organization like Loubnanouna, Let’s stick with that:

    The mere fact of calling for a federal state infers that there are some kind of ‘fundamental’ difference between people living in this or that geographic of the already tiny Lebanon.

    Also Gigu do you know how big is Canada compared to Lebanon? And federal structures in Canada are built along the lines of historically different influx of different language speaking emigrants. I won’t even go into the economics and politics of all this. I wrote something on why federalism is counterproductive alternative.

    Meanwhile have you ever asked yourself what does “islamic state” mean in a context like Lebanon? Also have you ever asked yourself what Hizbullah may mean by it? I spent the last three years studying this studying precisely what you ask me to do.

    I will just give you one very simple open information that you can find everywhere in the media and in Hizbullah’s declarations. Hizbullah does want an Islamic state only if it is the will of the people to have one. What does it mean? It mean Hizbullah does not want an Islamic state. They don’t even have a remote idea of how to establish one in Lebanon. It is just not in their interest. Hizbullah is not even interested in substantial state power. That would isolate them from international and regional goodwill. Hizbullah needs the ‘diversity’ or projected diversity (because there really isn’t one in Lebanon) that the country seems to have. It protects them and gives them the popularity they have.

    Hope that helps.

  3. Bichboch,

    I don’t know who that friend is, but he/ she is not so wrong 🙂
    I won’t get into how I’ve evolved personally in my opinion concerning Loubnanouna and Kataeb, but let us make the assumption that you are right and that they, by the end of the day, are isolationist and chauvinistic. Would you rather have them in or out of the “system” ?
    I don’t have a great opinion of some parties in the 14th of march alliance, such as Al Jamaa Al Islamiya. Actually, I Would like to kick them out of the country, but it’s better to have them in the system, rather than out, because then you make sure they will be less trouble, and they will have an interest in the current system, ie state.
    The Kataeb will only keep the Loubnanouna/ federalism as an argument, but they won’t have a real interest in it, since they’re in the current government/ system/ state -> Their discourse about it is born from the fact that they “felt” they were isolated and out of the system for a very long time: or how you turn a socialist into a liberal -> Take a look at some personalities in the current French system. People simply adapt their principles to their context, especially in Leb.

    Finally, just like you underline the fact that Hezbollah, although the best organized institution in the country and in the ME, and very probably among the best in the world, doesn’t “know” how to establish an islamic state in Lebanon (and I won’t get into my opinion about that), do you actually think the Loubnanouna people have a clearer idea about how to establish a federalist state ?

    So to my opinion, it’s all for the best, and although Hariri’s definitely still not my favourite person, his rather calm speech about the resistance, and in parallel, the new position the Kataeb are in, gives you this:

    Sami—-> Hariri<—-Nasrallah

    We don't need S and N to make friends, we just need them not to blow up the country, and the way I see things, it's actually fine, how things have turned out.

    Your thoughts ?


  4. Ok you make some good points Sandrine, and I don’t want to kick anyone out of the system really, I’m just being worried about the turn of events on the political Lebanese scene. I would have really preferred not to have two Gemayels in the Lebanese Parliament (along with tueni and moawad). it really depicts quite clearly the very immature, actually infantile, and so dangerous state Christian politics has evolved to become.

    I disagree with this though:
    Their discourse about it is born from the fact that they “felt” they were isolated and out of the system for a very long time: or how you turn a socialist into a liberal

    Federalism is an idea that exists since before the Lebanese ‘civil war’ and no it did not spring out because of feeling of isolation, but on the contrary because of feelings of superiority having had power all this time, and constantly feeling that they had to relinquish it to ‘the other’. Federalist arguments surfaced really clearly with Bashir Gemayel so way before the Christians were supposedly left out of the political equation in the Syria era (let’s say that other Christians were put in though).

    I don’t really see an equivalent to the Kataeb today on the Lebanese in terms of the virulence of their chauvinism mostly because they come from an elitist tradition, and none other than them in other confessions have experienced that.

  5. Right.. I forgot to specify that when I say “they” felt out of the system, I was specifically speaking about the Loubanouna people, and its founders: don’t forget that Sami was boycotting the Kataeb and his father at the time of its creation.
    For me, Loubanouna is different from what Bachir used to say during the war.
    Loubanouna is far more structured with smart people on the top, as you know, than all the rumbling during the “civil war”…

    I’m not jumping out of happiness for the results of the elections, though.. I’m just saying that looking at the circumstances, I prefer it that way, but I know we don’t agree on that, not anymore anyway :):)

    Concerning christians, since I’m supposed to be one in a lebanese scope, I could explain in very quick and probably unclear points why I would have voted 14th of March, had I been in Leb:

    – Reaction to Suleiman’s position during the last Gaza war, when he was only applying the law: not go to the arab league, unless 2/3 of the countries are represented -> He was insulted along with the americans in front of the US embassy by Aounist and Hezbollah people -> IE, many people including me, feel that whenever Hezbollah is not happy about something, they will shake the whole country and not even the shaky position of a newly elected president after months of low morale, is above that

    – Samer Hanna and Aoun’s reaction afterwards, especially coming from a guy who supposingly was an army general

    – 7th of May, and the right they felt they had to close the airport among other things, ma3lech.. Other people live in the country too

    – Qassem’s war speech days before the elections

    – Finally, Aoun’s lack of pills, and also arrogance during the campaign, oh and also his attitude when he went to Syria (representative of arab christians ? What the fuck ? What does he know about that ?) And overall, his change of attitude, going from being an ally to Hezbollah, which was perfectly fine by me a couple of months ago, to a complete “sous-fifre” who won’t be able to criticize objectively when he should…

    I don’t think all christians who voted for 14th of March are chauvinistic and consider Hezbollah to be a beast. I think many people were lost to the very last minute, from the discussions I had with a few, and myself, I was disgusted with the choice we’re stuck with… So I just think your equation: not voting for Aoun = being chauvinistic, elitist, etc. etc. is too simple. I think you’re only looking at it from a Hezbollah angle, considering only them as the reason, rather than from a global scope, including Aoun, which has disgusted a lot of people during the last months.

    Anyways.. Yalla TC, hope what I tried to say is a little clear.

  6. Wou one last point: concerning Samer Hanna, I have read what the guy who mistook the helicopter for an israeli one had to say: and yes, it is a mistake, and of course it does happen. My problem with that episode is not with Hezbollah, it’s with Aoun.
    And I think that during these elections, many rather had a problem with him than with anything else.

  7. Sandrine, I may be wrong but it seems that the only reason why you want people like Sami is because you think that there are ‘as dangerous people as him’ around.

    It is exactly this ‘reactionary’ (following an action, say the presence of other people we ‘don’t like’) that I have been referring to as being symptomatic of the Christian vote.

    You are bascially telling me that you are voting 14th of March out of fear. This is exactly what I was criticizing.

  8. Bech,
    As I am a new comer, I must request that none of what I say is ever taken personally or with a pejorative connotation.
    From my point of view, your cultural and social consciousness has definitely affected your view of federalism and the “Christian right”, a nomenclature which I dispute. This is your right, as it is the right of these “Christians” to see anyone opposing their objectives as denying their freedom and minority rights.
    From an objective point of view I have two remarks to make:
    1- Federalism is not a mechanism whereby a country is divided or disunited. Federalism is a mechanism of governance, ergo, a manifestation of democracy. Empirical evidence clearly demonstrates that, with the exception of banana republics, the level of democracy, transparency and social well-being are linked to the level of decentralisation, local governance and federalism. To this regard I point you to the Forum of the Federations, a great NGO which advances the cause of federalism as a way for minorities to (i) ensure their rights, (ii) to keep a tighter leech on their elected officials and public spending, and (iii) to minimize confrontation between fractions of society by permitting distinct features to coexist within federated entities, notwithstanding their form, and establishing the federated entity as an open agora for dialogue.
    Federalism is not affected by the size of the nation nor by the types of divisions of the citizens. Federalism has been a solution to racial divisions, religious divisions and linguistic ones simultaneously (as these are often juxtaposed).
    2- The current regime, constitutionally, is by all means, a personal federation, whether this raises issue or not with some of you out there. Any foreign constitutional scholar would not hesitate to qualify our regime as a personal federal regime, more advanced still than that personal federalism applicable in Belgium. I would be happy to delve into a lengthy dissertation, but for your sanity’s sake, I will only argue that the constitution provides for a bicameral parliament whereby the religious sects are granted direct representation and say on national affairs of significance; personal rights are not subject to the jurisdiction of the “central” state rather left to the religious sects, who adjudicate based on religious and canonical laws; religious sects are provided explicit rights to regulate and administer, parallel to the central state, the jurisdictions of education and entertainment. This is, be definition, a personal federation. What remains lacking is the nomenclature and the establishment of the senate.
    Before shedding two much ink (digital), I have to plead with people not to associate federalism with taboo or isolationism. While Federalism does offer certain assurances for minorities and heterogeneous societies, it also offers a great opportunity to exercise direct control and accountability. For all those disgusted by the last elections and demand more accountability, I see no other solution.
    Lastly, I will leave out the Loubnanouna and Gemayel conversation for another day.

  9. Empirical evidence clearly demonstrates that, with the exception of banana republics, the level of democracy, transparency and social well-being are linked to the level of decentralisation, local governance and federalism.

    Sources, please. I’m actually curious, since I have some doubt that the Foundation for Federalism may cherrypick evidence to suit their own perspective.

    And btw, Belgium has had quite a few serious issues over the past few years. Federalism isn’t always a solution.

    To be clear, I’m all for decentralization, even in a country as small as Lebanon. Politics is local. But the type of decentralization that Lebanese federalism advocates has a dark texture. Contrary to what you assume, there are always other solutions.

  10. Ya Bech,

    I’m telling you why I’d vote in a way in 2 words and you have a full analysis of who I am and how I feel. What can I say.
    Does nuance when it comes to understanding people disappear when you study too long ? Too much info to be treated ??

    Anyways, 3al I voted out of fear, chou badna na3mil. Maybe someday we should also analyze why a person who actually supported 8th of March now “fears” them. According to you, it’s going back to my “christian” roots (not maronite, though sorry), and maybe it’s only a reaction to events, because yes, people change their minds and evolve. -> Not a question of fear.

    Not every “christian” who votes or would have voted 14th of march is “afraid”, people are entitled to have their opinion, and actually they should be entitled to have that respected without being judged.
    Don’t put the “christians” you know as a standard for all “christians” and enough with the stereotypes.

    Yalla Ila lliqa’

  11. lah ya sandrine! I was just writing based on what you said. weren’t you saying that you would have voted for 14 march or sami because there are ‘other bad guys out there’? Sorry i’m simplifying a bit here but please tell me if I am wrong? So that is reactionary, yes or no?

    And sky-of-Lebanon, I strongly disagree with except for the beginning when you said that ‘right’ is probably not an accurate term. I have to say I was trying to simplify categories here by using a prevailing shortcut. I will answer you at length in a coming post because this requires more writing. But what I would suggest as ‘background reading’ is to have a look at my post on the perverse federalist argument IN PRACTICE and not in theory. How the theoretical is always looking shining as it hides the somber realtiies of divisive politics.

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