How Will our Region Look Come November 2016?
23 July 2015
By Eyad Abu Shakra
Against the backdrop of genocide committed by the rump of the Syrian regime
against its people in the service of the agreed regional script for the Arab
Mashreq (East), and the accelerating collapse of the concept of the "State"
throughout the Middle East and North Africa, Lebanon becomes nothing more
than a trivial sideshow.
Why care anyway about what happens to Lebanon if those supposedly most in
need of it, and were deemed the main beneficiaries for whom it was created .
. . do not give a damn about it anymore? And why be keen to keep Lebanon if
the international accords which created it as an independent country are now
under review by the world powers?
The former main beneficiaries were those Lebanese Christians who always
dreamt of living in a viable and permanent independent entity in the Arab
Mashreq, although there are others who never felt the need for such an entity
based on the conviction that the Christians were never "guests" in the
region's geography nor were they foreign to its heritage and history. Indeed,
how could they be when two pre-Islamic Christian Arab kingdoms were founded
in southwest Iraq and southern Syria by the major Yemenite tribes Lakhm and
Ghassan respectively? Later, under Islam, the Muslims and Arabs refused to
hold Christianity as a religion, or their Christian compatriots, responsible
for the Crusades, which they called "Wars of the Firinja" (the Franks or
Westerners), without any reference to Jesus Christ.
In any case, in 1920, Grand Liban, or Greater Lebanon, was created, and soon
afterwards became Lebanon, an independent republic "with an Arab face"(!),
while the two parallel sectarian mini-states also created under the French
mandate, "the State of the Alawite Mountain" and "the State of the Druze
Mountain," were both dissolved and merged in the nascent Syrian Republic. For
both the Alawite and Druze minorities the bond of "Arabism" was good enough a
guarantee—indeed an assurance—for coexistence in a new state where Sunni
Muslims make up more than 70 percent of the population.
The situation was a bit different in the new Lebanon where no single sect
could claim to constitute a majority. Thus Lebanon's political culture was
based on fragile consensus and the fact-of-life acceptance of pluralism
through mutual concessions between the two main religious blocs, the Muslims
and the Christians. This went on until the uneven population growth and the
various regional political and military developments combined to ignite the
Lebanese Civil War between 1975 and 1990. Afterwards, rational Christian
leaders became convinced that the Taif Accords, which formally established
the 50/50 partition of political and civil service posts between Muslims and
Christians regardless of population figures, and confirmed in writing the
allocation of the presidency, the speakership and premiership after modifying
their powers, provided the best long-term guarantees to the Christians.
Only Gen. Michel Aoun, the commander-in-chief, opposed the said accords,
claiming they weakened the Christians' position vis-à-vis that of the
Muslims, especially the Sunnis. Aoun's stubborn opposition made him a hero in
Christian heartlands, where for hardliners he came to represent the Christian
challenge to "Muslim hegemony," as well as becoming the "champion" of
liberating Lebanon from "Syrian occupation."
Today, in spite of becoming the number one Christian ally of both the Syrian
and Iranian regimes, Aoun is at it again threatening mass rallies "in defense
of Christians' Rights," as a reaction to the Lebanese cabinet's refusal to
appoint his son-in-law to his old post—that of commander-in-chief of the
army. In this instance he is forcing the Christian community into a tight
corner as the Middle East suffers the tough polarization between the two
extreme Sunni and Shi'ite versions of "Political Islam."
Aoun, however, is not alone in underestimating the dangers of involving the
Christian minority in a war that is not really its war. There are, actually,
a few religious and political figures who have committed that error, which
will only increase extremism and gift (self-proclaimed "Islamist") groups a
credibility they do not deserve.
It is worth recalling that when Ayatollah Khomeini's insistence on
"exporting" his "Islamic Revolution" to the Arab world sparked the Iran–Iraq
War, and radicalized Arab fighters returned from Afghanistan, the whole
region regressed into a cocoon away from openness and tolerance. Then things
got worse as outbidding began in earnest between extremist Sunni and Shi'ite
movements and groups culminating in the current poisonous polarization
between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)–Al-Qaeda camp and the
velayat-e faqih–Karbala camp. This religious and sectarian situation has been
and will be even more costly to the region, but one must recognize that
underneath the religious and sectarian cloak there are nationalistic
These nationalistic dimensions express themselves in two areas:
The first is the covert confrontation between Iran and Turkey; and the
second, the confused calculations of religious, sectarian, and ethnic
Nationalist feelings in the Arab Mashreq—be they Lebanese, Syrian, or
Arab—were never limited to Christians, but rather intensified within Muslim
communities as an "Arab" reaction to the process of "Turkification"—or
Turkish Nationalism—during the last decades of the Ottoman Empire; which was
a non-nationalist Sunni Muslim caliphate. Iran too has never been immune from
heightened nationalism, bearing in mind that for centuries it was ruled by
non-Persian and even non-Aryan rulers.
Today both Turkey and Iran are two large countries where the "major"
ethno-linguistic constituent barely surpasses 50 percent of the total
population, and hence for both attack is the best method of defense. This
means neither of them contemplates defeat, nor would they hesitate to use
others in their "grand confrontation" for regional supremacy. As for the
"others," be they Arabs, Kurds, or unattached minorities, they are available
and ready to be used as cheap foot soldiers.
Last week I saw a published map of Rojeva, or Western Kurdistan, extending
along the Syrian–Turkish border and connected with Iraqi Kurdistan. Like many
others, I have also been reading lately about the "useful Syria"—meaning the
western part of Syria bordering Lebanon and overlooking the Mediterranean.
Then of course there is ISIS dominating the desert inner curve of the Fertile
Crescent, while southern Iraq is gradually becoming more-or-less an Iranian
I am not sure where the Christians and other minorities following their
example will find themselves in all this mess; but I reckon using ISIS as an
excuse or justification for the Iran–US deal is a very ominous step, and
equally as ominous is preventing Turkey from defending itself against the
consequences of the deal.
Given all of the above, can we imagine how our region will look like come
Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing
editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978.