Across the Bay

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Lebanese and Iraqi Order

Walid in Tears People in the Streets

Paul Salem wrote a nice op-ed in DS that echoes much of what I have been writing about the Lebanese consociational model and Iraq (see my post "Consociational Iraq Revisited" for more). Writes Salem:

    Both Lebanon and Iraq comprise ancient communities living within the borders of states outlined in the 20th century. Although a strong sense of modern nationalism exists in both, ancient

    ethnic and religious communities play a critical role in shaping political identities and public life. Both countries also possess a fairly educated middle class and intelligentsia alongside more traditional elites. Both societies have a mixed history that included periods of peaceful, cooperative politics and periods of violence and bloodletting.

    One lesson from Lebanon's recent history stands out above all others: In divided political societies such as Lebanon and Iraq, coalition democracy is preferable to majoritarian, winner-takes-all democracy. In Lebanon, the danger of one community monopolizing power over others is avoided because the Lebanese Constitution imposes permanent power-sharing arrangements on all major communities. These arrangements apply both to Parliament and the executive branch.

I've mentioned before how ironic it is to see the Lebanese model and experience being revisited in a much more favorable light (like Lijphart did in the seventies), after being dismissed and ridiculed (along with its people) for so long. But it has an even sweeter (actually, bittersweet) taste when one watches the demonstrations in Lebanon in the aftermath of Hariri's death. As Ahmad al-Jarallah of the Kuwaiti Al-Seyassah wrote in the editorial I quoted in my last post (the editorial is entitled "The Hour of the Criminals Draws Near"): "Is there any people in the world other than the Lebanese people, that managed to isolate its own government, and to prohibit it from participating in its mourning? Have we heard [in the region] before of an opposition that managed to make its voice the voice of the people, while no one heard the voice of the government, as it tried to detangle itself from what happened?"

Indeed, the opposition and the people have coalesced remarkably at the gravesite of the most unlikely of symbolic heroes of a national revolution! But, as Ajami wrote in the WSJ (see below), in fact, no one is more characteristic of Lebanon and the idea of Lebanon as drawn by Lebanonists like Michel Chiha and defended by Charles Malek, and espoused by Ajami himself. This is, very much like Iraq, a national narrative that is rejecting the authoritarian burden of deadly ideologies through an unarmed, peaceful revolution that defies violence (Lebanon's independence from the French, by the way, was also bloodless. It was worked out in negotiations and demonstrations). As Jumblat (who revealed that right before his death, Hariri told him "who are they going to kill? It's either you or me") said: "Our weapon is a word."

Naharnet reports "Jumblat, Hariri's closest friend and political ally, was below the podium, lighting a candle with tears welling down his cheeks and reciting Lebanon's national anthem. Hundreds standing shoulder-to-shoulder behind him were quick to pick the rhythm."

This is the Lebanese version of the "purple revolution" of Iraq and the "orange revolution" of the Ukraine. (A knowledgeable friend wrote to me actually that Hariri had bought a large amount of orange scarves a few days before his death.)

You can be sure the Syrian people are watching. Josh Landis wrote me that they're watching the closer Lebanon more than they're watching Iraq. But I'm sure both are playing a huge role. Now take into consideration Lee's theory about the Sunnis in his Weekly Standard piece (see below), and the unrest of the Kurds, etc. and you know that there will be stirrings.

Bashar is no reformer, and surely no long-term visionary. Had he had a shred of long-term insight, he would have realized that his only bet was to start to lay the groundwork for a consociational system in Syria. That way, he can alleviate the minoritarian fears of the Alawites, but also bring in the Kurds, and manage to share power with the larger Sunni community and others. But this is not a regime that's equipped for this kind of thinking. It preferred hiding behind the myth of Arab nationalism while "Sunnifying" the Alawite community in the misguided hope of achieving some "assimilation" or acceptance, at the same time derisively shunning and criticizing consociational politics as "sectarian" even when their whole existance was based sectarianism. Now you have two neighbors engaged in precisely that kind of consociational politics, backed by the US!

This was Ammar Abdulhamid's hope. Before Hariri's murder he wrote:

    Syria's only real card now is a credible process of political reform. This means not only introducing new reformists into the higher ranks of the Baath Party (as the party seems poised to do soon), it should also involve such "radical" steps as establishing a dialogue with opposition parties and dissidents inside and outside the country, freeing all political prisoners, lifting the state of emergency, and adopting a national reconciliation pact that can accommodate Syria's diverse ethnic, religious and political groups. A new Constitution and a new modus vivendi are in order here.

    Only such a process would enable the Syrian regime to break out of its isolation, regain international legitimacy and become an active participant in the emerging order in the Middle East.

Too late! That's why Syrians are depressed and in total shock. Their reformer was nothing more than a shortsighted dictator. But they are watching both the Lebanese and the Iraqis.

The Lebanese, like the Iraqis, got nothing but contempt. Lebanon had to live with it for decades. Their system got nothing but derision. Now its people are the pride of the region (see al-Jarallah's editorial). The only peaceful unarmed revolution in the region (next to Iraq's "purple ink election"). Its long-ridiculed system is being used in the new Iraq and showcased as a model for plural societies in the ME. That's why people like Amrani, Abu-Saba, and Cobban not only showed their bias and contempt, but also showed ignorance and totally misread the situation. "The Maronites" didn't do it to try to gain dominion over Lebanon. This is not the beginning of a new civil war. This is, in case you missed it like Cobban did, blinded by her contempt and ideology, the Lebanese coming together for freedom, sovereignty and independence from Syrian hegemony (I mean, even Juan Cole, to his credit, got it!). But people underestimated the Iraqis, and they sure as hell underestimated the Lebanese.

With winds blowing from the East and from the West, Syrians are watching the storm gather.