Affiliations and allegiances vary, but what we lose remains the same: the nation and the state.
However, first and foremost, there is Gaza – not the piece of territory, the Palestinian people enduring death, pain, hunger, and deprivation amid the relentless onslaught of the Israeli machinery, which has turned killing into a craft. This is a moment to stand in solemn respect before the gravity of a tragedy that has claimed tens of thousands of civilians, killed or wounded. It is a testing moment for the international community, which is called upon to stop its war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against Palestinian civilians – children, women, and the elderly – or rather, the Palestinian state.
It is also a testing moment for the Palestinian nation. It is called upon to give rise to a national, unifying, liberating, and liberated representative authority. This representative authority should be solely committed to the cause and loyal only to Palestine, and it must impose itself as the sole negotiator authorized to represent the Palestinians. This is the natural gateway to ending the tragedy and granting the Palestinians the rights they are entitled to. Anything less would render it illegitimate, regardless of its achievements or heroic actions. It would be lacking in both national and international trust, and thus effectiveness, due to its sectarian and regional affiliations, and perhaps national affiliations that go beyond Palestine.
We now urgently need to put an end to this narrative that is lethal to the Palestinian cause and end the divisions among the top brass to allow for a united authority and people. Egos must be put aside to ensure that the cause triumphs. Israel would be the primary and ultimate beneficiary of a failure to do so; it thrives on Palestinian divisions and blood and would be able to hinder any regional and international Arab support.
Israeli leaders have said it loud and clear: they categorically reject the establishment of a Palestinian state. That presents a crucial, and what may be the last, opportunity for the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian National Council to convene, break free of their constraints, unite the Palestinian people, and apply pressure to ensure the emergence of an independent Palestinian state that can reunite its people – all of its people – including those in the diaspora, much like Israel has done since its establishment in 1948…
And now, to the matter at hand…
The lessons of history regarding the disintegration of states and political entities are clear. The problem, in the past in some parts of the Western world, and both the past and present in the Arab world, is ambiguous belonging and unstable allegiance to the concepts of nationhood and statehood.
Regardless of its form, or belonging – whether to an individual, a party, a sect, a religious doctrine, or an imported or nationally entrenched ideology, it comes at the expense of allegiance to a domestically cohesive and internationally recognized homeland. Belonging/allegiance to a just and accountable state that is inclusive, shared, unifying, and united state signifies governance rather than imposed rule. It reinforces the authority, centrality, and legitimacy of the state. In contrast, allegiance to a party, person, sect, or external forces becomes burdensome. It creates divisions, undermining genuine citizenship and replacing it with various forms of subjugation, allegiance to imported or newly devised doctrines, and subservience to a person deified by loyalists.
This kind of allegiance lacks credibility and effectiveness. It is neither stable nor durable. Rather, it inevitably harms civilization and humanity. As a former party leader and the son of its founder, I say this: if a party does not serve the nation, it becomes a burden on the nation, operating within the homeland but against the nation’s interests.
Alien ideologies, cheap partisanship, and blind allegiance collectively and individually lead to the slow demise of societies and states.
Alien ideologies, cheap partisanship, and blind allegiance collectively and individually lead to the slow demise of societies and states. The contemporary experiences of the Muslim Brotherhood, with its conflicts, divisions, and wars, remain a clear testament to this. Fascism, Nazism, and communism also established a concept of loyalty to a party, even to individuals like Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin. That was eventually recognized by the dictator Franco, who, albeit belatedly, thus allowed for the transition from his authoritarian regime to the one of national historical legitimacy represented by the Spanish monarchy, creating stability in Spain that endures to this day. That is also reflected, albeit differently, in the confrontation between capitalism and communism, which saw both cold and hot wars, as well as direct and proxy wars.
Both in the Arab and internationally, regimes have raised populist slogans, which, while perhaps appealing on the surface, are deceptive. They promote unity, but their actions prove divisive. They claim to be developmental, but they are foreign-backed, and ultimately, they are sectarian and destructive. They left the Arab world fragmented until some parts of it eventually woke up and decided to embrace civilization and modernity more broadly. There are numerous examples, from the ostensibly socialist Baath Party, which in reality was sectarian – Sunni in Iraq and Alawite in Syria – to the Houthis in Yemen.
I write this based on the Lebanese experience. This nation has paid a high price for its diverse allegiances and the adoption of foreign ideologies. At times, some Lebanese factions fell into these traps, undermining Lebanon’s stability and peace.
In 1958, Nasserism shook the project for Lebanese unity, destabilizing the domestic balance. In 1969, the Cairo Agreement Lebanon’s sovereignty between the Lebanese state and the Palestine Liberation Organization. In 1975, the naturalization project emerged, leading to war and the rise of the Lebanese resistance. In 1989, the Taif Agreement allowed for the imperfect restoration of the state, its pillars never fully solidified due to the varied allegiances in the country, which served the interests of the Syrian regime overseeing the political system. It also paved the way for allowing the Iranian Revolution to establish a strong foothold in Lebanon that has undermined its politics, particularly concerning the concept of allegiance to the nation.
At best, the multiplicity of loyalties in Lebanon has introduced belief systems that are alien to and from democracy, and it has derailed institutions, creating presidential and governmental vacuums and hollowing out institutions.
Presidents are elected only after foreign negotiations allow for domestic settlements. Governments are formed based on non-constitutional consultations, and even minor appointments require prior agreements.
The Taif Agreement, which became part of the constitution, did a lot to extinguish the flames of armed conflict. However, it also created a political problem, especially in terms of the constant need it created for a foreign backer, or perhaps a set of backers, to ensure that the three centers of power (government, presidency, and parliament) come to an agreement. This is due to disagreements over fundamental questions about our allegiance, political entity, identity, and political system. Each sect has a project for Lebanon that demands external intervention, which has been at best political, often military, and usually a combination of both.
This is what’s happening today with the Quintet for Lebanon, which is nominally holding discussions with domestic Lebanese actors but is, in reality, negotiating with Iran, to reach common ground that allows the election of a president for the republic. The lesson, here, is that what matters is not whether the Nasserist Movement, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Syrian and Israeli armies, and the Iranian Basij withdraw from Lebanon. Rather, the Lebanese must withdraw from foreign dependence and reject the foreign oversight over its political system and its implications for Lebanon and its people.
Today, Lebanon a three-dimensional approach is needed to ensure the rise and stability of the state in Lebanon:
Firstly, Hezbollah must be transformed into a political project. That requires the disarmament of its militia, just as the other militias were disarmed following the Taif Agreement. The political ideology of Hezbollah should change from striving for domination over the state to adopting a culture of equal and balanced participation within it.
Secondly, we must prevent the naturalization of Palestinian refugees who fled Israeli wars, the latest being the war on Gaza. That required ensuring their right of return stipulated by UN Resolution 194 and redistributing the surplus Palestinian population to other Arab countries.
Thirdly, we must prevent the permanent settlement of Syrian refugees and work to take them back to Syria by redirecting the international aid they receive in Lebanon to the Syrians in Syria, instead of using it as bait to keep them in Lebanon indefinitely.
Based on the above, we arrive at a fundamental, two-sided conclusion: On the one hand, it is essential to protect the sanctity of religion in its sublime role in connecting believers and their lords, especially given the sectarian plurality of our societies. On the other hand, we must refrain from “dragging” God into the political fray or exploiting his name for political gains.
Two types of religious exploitation for personal or party interests come to mind: one instills fear and another offers incentives. Both serve the political authorities, either violently or benevolently. Whether the stick or the carrot is used, this exploitation comes at the expense of religion, society, and the individual. Both forms use coercion or deception in the name of a religion or doctrine to undermine the values we commonly refer to as democratic values and republican principles.
Religion is not a political solution. It becomes a problem in belonging, even an existential problem if it is misused or hijacked by politics.
The time has come for unwise systems to fall…
The time has come for the rule of law and the implementation of good governance in every respect and for the triumph of freedom, justice, equality, human rights, and welfare…
The time has come to constitutionalize political systems and humanize politics. The early seeds have begun to bear fruit, and there is no turning back.
So, let us come together to reform the charter for life.