De­cen­tral­iza­tion might be the best so­lu­tion for Le­banon

Arab News - - Opinion - KHALED ABOU ZAHR

Nos­tal­gia is a drug and a poi­son. It is where we go when we have noth­ing more to hope for in the fu­ture or any in­spi­ra­tion left to cre­ate. The past is an ar­ti­fi­cial refuge, but it has once again be­come the refuge of the Le­banese. I say once again be­cause, af­ter the civil war started, we would re­peat­edly hear the same story from em­i­grants and bro­ken Le­banese: “Le­banon was the Switzer­land of the Mid­dle East; a fi­nan­cial cen­ter, a cul­tural cen­ter.” And this eu­logy would al­ways end with the key de­scrip­tion that I never could bear to hear: “You could ski in the morn­ing and en­joy the beach in the af­ter­noon.” To­day, once again, I keep hear­ing peo­ple re­peat these phrases — even peo­ple who would not have known Le­banon in its hey­day, but are just liv­ing in the nos­tal­gia of days de­scribed to them.

This new nos­tal­gia we are wit­ness­ing is quite wor­ry­ing, as it is an aban­don­ment of ev­ery­thing. How­ever, we can learn from other ex­pe­ri­ences in the his­tory of na­tions. If we go back to the com­par­i­son with Switzer­land, maybe we took it too su­per­fi­cially and could be in­spired by that coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, which is a fed­eral ar­range­ment.

Switzer­land has not al­ways been a na­tion state. Pre­vi­ously, it was a loose al­liance of au­ton­o­mous can­tons that came un­der a fed­eral con­sti­tu­tion in 1848. Like in Le­banon, no party dom­i­nates and, more im­por­tantly, each can­ton has its own con­sti­tu­tion, par­lia­ment, gov­ern­ment, and courts. The Swiss model is a well-bal­anced mech­a­nism that caters for the coun­try’s many dif­fer­ent as­pects. It has four of­fi­cial lan­guages and large ge­o­graph­i­cal dif­fer­ences, but they co­ex­ist. Fed­er­al­ism was key to the trans­for­ma­tion of Switzer­land, as well as its neu­tral­ity among Europe’s big coun­tries, such as France and Germany. On a se­cu­rity level, each can­ton has its own po­lice force, while the fed­eral po­lice or­ga­ni­za­tion fo­cuses on fed­eral com­pe­tences.

The na­tion state of Le­banon has never been a vi­able so­lu­tion in its cur­rent struc­ture. And so I be­lieve that we need to al­low peo­ple to build their own fences, but as part of the same sovereignt­y: A highly de­cen­tral­ized sys­tem might be the only so­lu­tion for Le­banon. Let each com­mu­nity have its own se­cu­rity, pro­tec­tion and elec­toral tar­gets. Switzer­land, like Le­banon, is a small coun­try yet it has a po­lit­i­cal and le­gal struc­ture that al­lows its var­i­ous parts to live to­gether. Could we build this in Le­banon? Could we ac­cept that we are in a cri­sis and need to move on to some­thing new? Voices claim­ing that the only prob­lem is con­fes­sion­al­ism and that abol­ish­ing this will solve ev­ery­thing are mak­ing a mis­take. Abol­ish­ing con­fes­sion­al­ism would also con­demn mi­nori­ties, cre­ate the roots for an­other prob­lem or build a ruth­less dic­ta­tor­ship. I tend to refuse the nar­ra­tive that says we are all the same and there is no dif­fer­ence be­tween us. Quite the op­po­site should be said. There are dif­fer­ences and we can rec­og­nize these dif­fer­ences while still liv­ing to­gether un­der the rule of law. All Christian mi­nori­ties need to feel rep­re­sented. The Druze need to feel rep­re­sented. Shi­ites need to feel rep­re­sented. Sun­nis need to feel rep­re­sented. Ev­ery com­mu­nity needs to feel rep­re­sented and pro­tected by the na­tion. To­day, Le­banon is ruled by the ruth­less and the thugs. It can­not go on for much longer. In an ideal world, we would say: “Let us can­cel sec­tar­i­an­ism and solve ev­ery­thing.” But we are still at­tached to “blood and soil.” Imag­ine

Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eura­bia, a me­dia and tech com­pany. He is also the editor of

Al-Watan Al-Arabi. abol­ish­ing all con­fes­sion­al­ism in Le­banese pol­i­tics and fo­cus­ing on the hir­ing and nom­i­na­tion of peo­ple with power. Once ten­sions rise be­cause there are more nom­i­na­tions from one group than an­other, then what? Un­til to­day, in Le­banon, re­li­gious al­liances only lasted when there was one op­pres­sor. The al­liance be­tween Hezbol­lah and the Free Pa­tri­otic Move­ment (FPM) is work­ing be­cause Hezbol­lah has the real power and the FPM is obey­ing. On the other side, the Fu­ture Move­ment, the Le­banese Forces and the Pro­gres­sive So­cial­ist Party have been un­able to do the same with their al­lies and have ended up be­ing torn apart.

In the pri­vate sec­tor, I have per­son­ally never looked at re­li­gion, race or gen­der, just if some­one has com­mon work val­ues and is ded­i­cated. The same should ap­ply to gov­ern­ment, which should be based on com­pe­tence and mer­i­toc­racy, not peo­ple’s blood line. Cur­rently, in Le­banon, it is not even about be­ing from the same mi­nor­ity, but be­ing from the same fam­ily. The cir­cle has got­ten ever smaller; hence the protesters from across the mi­nori­ties were scream­ing, “All means all.” I even won­der if the Shi­ite com­mu­nity re­ally con­sid­ers it­self to be pro­tected and re­spected thanks to Hezbol­lah. Would a true na­tion not give them the same, but with­out hav­ing to show al­le­giance to any­one? It would be their right to live with their head up high and not thanks to a war­lord or a clan leader. Don’t we all have this same wish?

The risks of dis­so­lu­tion ex­ist, but not only in Le­banon. Europe was built by tribes and even to­day we see de­mands for se­ces­sion: Cor­sica from France, Cat­alo­nia from Spain, and Scot­land from the UK. So why are we sur­prised if it is the case in Le­banon or even Syria?

Those who op­pose a dras­tic con­sti­tu­tional change in Le­banon to­day are the same peo­ple who con­demn Sykes-Pi­cot and warn of a con­spir­acy the­ory of a new sim­i­lar agree­ment ev­ery other sea­son. Yet they are com­fort­able with the di­vi­sion it cre­ated. It is the same nar­ra­tive that Syria and Iran have em­braced. It al­lows them to op­pose in­ter­na­tional in­ter­fer­ence in state­ments only and in­sist that they pro­tect mi­nori­ties in the face of many Arabs. In fact, they crush mi­nori­ties un­der their au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism. It is quite de­rang­ing the dam­age these coun­tries have done to our re­gion. Their com­mu­nist-re­li­gious vi­sion has pro­moted sec­tar­i­an­ism to hide their ne­po­tism and cor­rup­tion in ev­ery coun­try they rule.

It is also quite dis­turb­ing to see Euro­pean coun­tries ac­cept these views.

There are things Le­banon can learn from Switzer­land and Europe, but one main dif­fer­ence that we will al­ways stum­ble on is that there is only one Swiss Armed Forces. So, re­gard­less of our wish to be in­spired by Switzer­land, this would mean trans­form­ing the coun­try and writ­ing a new con­sti­tu­tion. And with the po­si­tion Hezbol­lah holds and its con­trol over the coun­try, this seems like a ster­ile dis­cus­sion.

The lat­est events sur­round­ing the gov­ern­ment formation at­tempts seem to in­di­cate that France will act with prag­ma­tism and push for a so­lu­tion that en­com­passes and even de­liv­ers on Hezbol­lah and Iran’s de­mands. With Saad Hariri’s con­tin­u­ous con­ces­sions, it seems that Hezbol­lah has enough sub­mis­sive ac­tors across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum to en­sure its full con­trol. In this sense, Le­banon might be­come more like Syria or Iran be­fore it be­comes a model of co­ex­is­tence.

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