The assassination attempt on the famous Lebanese Christian political figure Samir Geagea is an outrageous expression of the eruption of political-sectarian confrontations in the region.
Geagea is the loudest dissident Christian voice opposed to the idea of a minority alliance, promoted by the al-Assad regime, as a justification for instinctively aligning with the outwardly “Baathist” Alawite al-Assad, in the face of the “Sunni” revolution. This is the starting point for how best to understand the ongoing conflict.
To clarify the picture, we must compare certain individuals with their opposites. We can appreciate the value of the Lebanese Christian leader Samir Geagea when we compare his position to that of another Lebanese Christian figure, namely General Michel Aoun, who is completely immersed in a sectarian alliance with the Shiite party of Hezbollah and the Alawite regime of al-Assad. This alliance is designed to target the Sunni majority across the Fertile Crescent countries from Iraq to Lebanon. But there are also other figures breaking away from the intense onslaught against the Sunni majority. We have seen the stance adopted by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt in his courageous and admirable alignment with the Syrian revolution. He even placed the revolution’s flag on the tomb of his father Kamal Jumblatt, during his latest memorial visit. Walid Jumblatt has clearly stated over and over again that he is against the theory of a minority alliance. Geagea plainly reiterated the same thing in response to Aoun and his political trend, and in an implicit reply to the new Patriarch of Lebanon’s Maronite Church, Boutros al-Rahi, who has moved closer to the language spoken by al-Assad and Aoun in contrast with his predecessor Nasrallah Sfeir.
When we talk about the sectarian factor in political analysis, we are not condoning the sectarian approach or its ethics. However, this sectarian factor denotes the reality and we must understand such realities as they are, not the way we want them to be.
How else can we interpret the positions taken by son of the Shiite Dawa party and Prime Minister of Iraq’s current sectarian government Nuri al-Maliki, who has been pursuing the Sunni Vice-President of Iraq Tariq al-Hashimi, providing Bashar al-Assad with moral and material aid, and differentiating between an evil Baathist party, i.e. the Sunni party of Saddam Hussein, and a good Baathist party, i.e. the “Alawite” sect of al-Assad?
This is a picture that screams of sectarianism and deep historical alignment.
As strange as it seems, the entire world, as expressed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, has bought into the fear of Sunni alternative rule in Syria. Yet by doing this, the world is unintentionally reinforcing Sunni sectarianism, as a reaction to its current state of besiegement. Syria’s people will soon say: “If you can see nothing in my revolution against oppression and injustice except that I am a Sunni and not an aggrieved citizen, then I will be a Sunni with a vengeance. Since my all-encompassing nationalistic messages and practices – embodied in the revolution’s slogan: “One, one, one…the Syrian people are one” – have not reached you, along with the fact that one of the Free Syrian Army [FSA] battalions is named “Sultan al-Atrash”, and the Syrian National Council [SNC] is headed by leaders like George Sabra; since all these messages have not reached their intended recipients, then I will be a much fiercer and more severe Sunni than you ever imagined”.
If Syria’s revolution turns into a sectarian conflict, which is not yet the case, it will be the international community that is responsible for pushing it in that direction.
Sectarian diversity is a reality in the region, particularly in the Levant, Iraq and Egypt. We should take advantage of this reality instead of converting it into a crisis.
Stances like those adopted by Samir Geagea and Walid Jumblatt have been very beneficial in consolidating national discourse and the humanitarian dimension of the crisis, as well as casting away the sectarian discrimination and denominational rhetoric blatantly assumed by figures like Aoun and al-Maliki, as well as entities like Hezbollah.
In his latest article, Lebanese editor and journalist Hazem Saghieh touched upon a dimension of this complicated story, regarding Arab Christians within the Sunni milieu.
He said that “In the chemistry between sects, there is a lot of bad air. Indeed, relations between Sunnis and Christians and vise-versa might be the most toxic.”
Saghieh recalled the milestones of Christian incorporation into an all-encompassing cultural discourse with the Sunni population, through the idea of Arab pan-nationalism, even through the idea of Syrian nationalism along the lines of Antun Saadeh; the famous Lebanese-Syrian nationalist philosopher, writer and politician, and also through flagrant Christan involvement in right-wing activities or left-wing policies. Saghieh remarked on how a unified religious and sectarian dimension was created by the deliberate exaggeration and magnification of the Palestinian Cause, stressing a common ground to bring together Christians and Muslims, i.e. the city of Jerusalem. Saghieh said that “The city of Jerusalem was the most heavily traded commodity in the entire deal. Regarding anti-Semitism, which was not an Islamic phenomenon, it was a poisoned gift [from the Christians]. Muslims were indoctrinated to hate Israel, not because it occupied Arab territories, but because its ancestors crucified Jesus Christ.”
In truth, despite the more or less constant presence of sectarianism in the Arab political scene, we have never noticed it to be as pressing or present as it has been over more than the past decade. You could say that the Khomeinist revolution awakened the sleeping Sunni demons.
Following the fall of the Saddam regime, Iraq was restructured in a crude sectarian fashion, just like in Lebanon, and just like the enemies of the revolution in Syria are now speaking about sectarian determinants. However, there are times in our contemporary history that are distanced from this sectarian hostility.
Names like the Syrian Prime Minister during independence era, Faris al-Khoury, as well as striving patriotic figures like the Druze Sultan al-Atrash and the Alawite Saleh al-Ali, to say nothing of symbols which earnestly served Arab culture like the Christian academic households of Al-Bustani and al-Yazji in Lebanon, and patriots like Makram Ebeid Pasha in Egypt. All the aforementioned names show that sectarianism is not the inevitable fate of this region.
Walid Jumblatt, who is now receiving threats just like Geagea, inherited his father’s anti-sectarian position. Furthermore, he has taken over the stance of his grandfather, Shakib Arslan, who was the staunchest Arab advocate of pan-Islamic policies and identity. He was also a personal friend of King Abdul Aziz Al Saud, founder of the modern Saudi State. All this confirms that there is more that unites the people of this region, than divides them.
For those who don’t know, many Syrian independence revolutionaries from the Druze sect, who were fighting against French colonialists, sought refuge in Saudi territories at certain times during the reign of King Abdul Aziz Al Saud.
There is no danger of the Syrian revolution turning sectarian. Actually, the revolution has proved its nationalistic agenda, its diversity and its unity. The one party that insists on emphasizing the sectarian dimension overtly and covertly is the regime itself.
The danger is the exact opposite. In other words, the persistence of the al-Assad regime in carrying out killings and bloody carnage could feed Sunni religious fanatical discourse. Hence, the existence of a Christian, Druze, Alawite and Shiite presence in the revolution, along with all components of the Syrian social fabric, challenges all claims of the emergence of a fanatical Sunni discourse; claims made by the regime to rekindle an abominable sectarian clash. The regime has not yet lost hope of promoting its own account of the revolution.
The assassination attempt on the Lebanese Christian leader Samir Geagea is an attempt to kill off the idea of a national humanitarian alliance, and an attempt to strike at the symbols who refute the theory of a minority alliance.
Geagea is like Jumblatt and al-Hariri, they are all symbols helping to combat sectarianism, which is the sole source of sedition and incitement. They have never sought to stir this up~ Such symbols ought to join forces at this historic moment, which might represent a rare opportunity to emerge from the dark tunnel.