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Rejecting the Political Picture - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The essence of the crises in our region is due to the fact that the majority of people remain unconvinced in terms of their capabilities, limitations and roles. All this tension is the result of feeling that the existing maps and political equations have been unjust to them.

As such, I would like to examine the general picture, regardless of the daily events or the results of Syria’s participation in the Annapolis Summit or Iran’s negotiations with the West. All these details are of no significance here.

Let us begin with Iran: Iran sees that it is being restrained and that it does not have a role or influence commensurate with its importance, history, national pride, and finally; its divine mission, as decreed by Khomeini, the founder of contemporary Iran.

Assad’s Syria believes that it is marginalized and stuck following the Iranian course, while Iran is already ostracized by the international community. Moreover, Syria views that it has been forcibly removed from its backyard in Lebanon. To this day, it refuses to accept the reality of the borders that separate it from Lebanon and seeks to return to the time prior to the 1920s when both states were a single entity in the Levant. Or, at least back to the status quo a few years ago when the Syrian forces still had a presence in Lebanon. Today, Syria has been restrained from participating in matters related to war and peace in the region, which is why it is causing disruption and tension.

The same applies to paramilitary entities such as Hamas and Hezbollah that operate on the basis of inciting sentiments that stem from a sense of injustice and disadvantage, and an unflinching belief that the current phase, reality, maps and roles are transient, prohibited, unjust and unacceptable.

Fundamentalist Shia parties in Iraq, which currently govern through Maliki, believe that they have only just started to modify the maps that have done them wrong. The most notoriously prominent powers in terms of rejecting maps and the geopolitical image that the Arab and Islamic world have settled upon are violent Sunni fundamentalist groups such Al Qaeda and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Jamaat al Islamiyya, in addition to other militant groups in North Africa. However, this description does not acquit a group such as the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) with its rejection of the current geopolitical image and its desire to change it. The difference lies in the fact that the MB pursues this goal in terms of “political jihad”.

As such, these states, organizations and groups disapprove of the current situation and political picture, furthermore believing that it needs to be rectified, or even obliterated to make way for a new image with completely different dimensions and scales which can then replace it. Iran wants this new picture to include Iraq’s Shia south, and even Bahrain too, as recently stated by the editor-in-chief of Kayhan newspaper. However, in the foreground of this picture, there also exists a shadow that lies outside of the established boundaries of the official image. This shadowy image extends from Lebanon to Gaza  in fact; it is an alternative political map, not a geographical one, which belongs to Hezbollah and Hamas.

Syria wants to re-enter Lebanon within the framework of a Damascus that was dealt a blow through UN Security Council resolution 1559 (2004), which called upon the withdrawal of its troops from Lebanon, moreover deeming Syrian presence in Lebanon illegitimate.

As for Hezbollah in Lebanon, it is ultimately inspired by the model of an Islamic or quasi-Islamic state  or as it is known among the Lebanese as an “agent state” to the Islamic one. In short, Hezbollah seeks a big portion of politics and sovereignty and is not overly concerned about geography; all while taking Lebanon’s plurality into account, as the party’s followers reiterate in its literature. Perhaps it is acceptable to set up a microcosm of the Islamic republic so as to appease some of the pent-up frustration! However, that will not succeed in quenching the thirst, such as the case in the ‘Hezbollah state’ on the outskirts.

Hamas, in turn, blatantly rejects the [political] picture even if that image were to improve. However, this is simply an illusory incapacitation so that it may attain the land in accordance with the 1947 Partition Resolution. Hamas does not believe in the legitimacy of the ‘Palestinian national dream’, which is the Palestinian state; rather it believes in liberating a land called “Palestine”. This land includes Jerusalem and Al Aqsa Mosque  the terminology and description are extremely important in this case since not only do they distinguish between meanings, but also between projects and illusions that are not often publicly declared!

As for Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and the organizations affiliated to them, there is no need to elaborate upon the idea of the ‘Islamic Caliphate’ and the elimination of artificial borders between all “Muslims” since it is a well-known story. The Sunni dream is a declared and publicized one, not like Freud’s obscure dreams.

Thus far, we have briefly featured the main characteristics of denial and the categories of those who reject the political and geographical picture, in addition to the equation of roles and the political terminology and illusions that dominate the Arab and Islamic region. We have also made a reference to the source of chaos and the source of resistance that manifest in such forces, and by extension, their supporters and regulations.

But does this mean that the patriotic nation’s culture and the belief in the nation’s authority, sovereignty and right to rule are only threatened by those intimidating ‘evils’? Unfortunately, the answer is “no”, since the forces existing within a given state are no better than the ones that exist on its peripheries.

Consider Lebanon as an example, since those who regard themselves as the trustees entitled with the protection of the Lebanese “formula” always speak about foreign attempts to sabotage this formula for reasons of jealousy, envy and greed. This is untrue. What happened in Lebanon, which we admire as the Switzerland of the Middle East, was never democratic in essence; rather, it was more of a result of a state of reconciliation and ‘harmony’ between the sects. This is why the crises keep erupting every time this balance is disrupted or if one sect believes it is in a disadvantageous position.

This ‘harmony’, which is the factor behind every sect’s political survival, was not only compulsory or a means for coexistence since such sects would prevail regardless of democracy and the modern state; in fact, this reality [of the existence of various sects] was deliberately protected and guarded! Many thinkers who support the “Lebanese formula” have pondered the concept of consensual democracy  most notably the prominent Lebanese intellectual Michel Shiha. He maintained that the state dealt with the sects as an “absolute and final truth” or as a single entity, in the same manner that the ancient Islamic literature stated upon.

Mehdi Amel, the late Lebanese critic who was assassinated at the hands of Shia fundamentalists had adopted that same opinion in his book ‘al Dawla al Taifiya’ (The Sectarian State). Amel had ironically referred to the statement made by Pierre Gamayel, the founder of the Phalange Party who had secretly and overtly reiterated: “The formula, the formula! It is unique and it would be wrong to change it.”

Amel spoke of the damage that such a ‘coercive accord’ would have had since it endorses political sectarianism and eliminates the chance of the emergence of an individual citizen who is not fettered by the constraints of the political community. He argued that this formula transforms the sect into an absolute essence when originally it is a simple elementary constituent or a social unit within the Lebanese society’s fabric of composition, which is plural owing to the state’s multicultural nature.

The late Lebanese thinker also stated that no social relations are established in such a society except within sects. He spoke about the fact that Lebanese independence had played a fundamental role of entrenching the sense of political sectarian structure since the first moment of independence and the foundation of the state.

Amel cites a study by Edmond Rabat which makes a record of the establishment of sects after the independence, undertaken by the state itself, into autonomous political entities that were based on the notion of a sect being an element of classification. This history extends from 1943 to 1967, which is the time in which the Supreme Shia Council was established in Lebanon (Mahdi Amel, ‘The Sectarian State’, pages 23-24).

Thus, elements of annihilation and dissolution have existed in the Lebanese formula since the beginning of freedom and the establishment of civil rights, which were incapable of escaping the prison of sectarianism.

The aim behind all this talk is to point out the glaring failure of the contemporary model of the national state and to draw attention to the return of the debate on sectarianism and the emergence of a ‘progressive’ rhetoric that not only seeks to amend the status quo, but rather seeks to demolish it and reconstruct it anew.

So, what does this all mean? It means that for over 50 years since the establishment of Arab states, they have still failed in their endeavor to endorse a culture that apprehends concepts such as the state and citizenship among those Arab generations. Even if the idea was introduced to the masses, they have yet to fully adopt it because of the deficient manner in which it was related, or due to the fact that the original “formula” was erroneous to begin with.

Is it time to raise the discussion and talk openly about the hidden content and the buried dreams? Let us ask ourselves frankly: Do we believe in the concept of the state as such? Is it a lasting and definitive faith or is it a temporary one? What are the alternatives? Are they questions that are too painful to ponder? Perhaps. Are they shocking? Maybe, but they are the drive behind things as they appear on the surface and are the invisible fuel that sets action into motion.

It seems that we are living through a stage in which a new formula is being considered once again. We will bear witness to bolder debates than what we hear of today about the future of the state and the identity of the people if we can pump clear water into the veins of the state and citizenship once again. This water will be responsible for removing impurities of sectarianism, regionalism and tribalism in their political sense, which also lies parallel to the state.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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