The reactions to the call by Lebanon’s Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, to form a National Committee to Abolish Sectarianism in Politics have revealed how much the country is up to its ears in sectarianism.
It might be asked, was there a need for a new test to reach this conclusion? The answer, naturally, is no. However, this call, at a time when reconciliation among politicians is moving horizontally, but not reaching the base, or the vertical columns around which Lebanese are divided, once again raises questions about the seriousness of such calls and how connected they are to the division that separates citizens from one another, as well as from their ability to treat the situation.
This is not the first time, since the Taif Accord was reached 20 years ago, in which the issue of abolishing political sectarianism has been used to treat a domestic impasse. Each time, the same type of sectarian mobilization emerges to confront these calls, and with it the divisions become strengthened rather than disappearing. The reason is not an internal “immunity” against the idea of abolishing sectarianism on the part of the public. Rather, it is that those who advocate this majestic project, which should be a daily concern for Lebanese leaders, were always the ones who have sponsored and fed sectarian division, or at the least, they were seen as supporting this division and arriving at their positions of power because of it. In other simpler terms, the sectarian politicians are the ones who call for abolishing sectarianism.
There is no need to demonstrate that all of these initiatives lack the minimum criteria of seriousness, not to mention the fact that they generate considerable suspicion about the motives and ends behind them. In this, the recent call by Speaker Berri is no different than its predecessors. Consequently, as soon as the Speaker emerged from Baabda Palace to announce it, the sects that were destined to line up in response, did so.
The Christians of the 14 March coalition had positions that varied between opposed to the timing of the initiative and having reservations about the role played by the speaker during the previous political struggle. General Michel Aoun, meanwhile, returned to his “Maronite” position, asking that discussion of the project be delayed, since the sects organize people’s daily lives, and their religious thought as well. This was understood to mean that the champion of change and reform, who has an “understanding” with Hizbullah, is taking a secular path that goes beyond merely abolishing sectarianism, and involves something deeper and more general. We know that the calls for secularism, as one of the leading options to abolish sectarianism, has traditionally sparked the reservations of Muslims in Lebanon, since it involves personal status affairs, among other things.
It is unlikely that the Mar Mikhael agreement covered this aspect of Aoun’s relationship with Hizbullah, or that the Free Patriotic Movement had gained the party’s support on this issue. Meanwhile, the country’s consensus president, Michel Suleiman, the leading guarantee for the implementation of the Constitution, and someone who is charged by the Constitution with forming the National Committee to Abolish Sectarianism in Politics, has distanced himself from Berri’s initiative, since such a step would require domestic consensus and complete participation, without contradicting Taif and the spirit of the Constitution.
There were reservations about the timing of the initiative, and also from the Future bloc, headed by Saad Hariri, who considered the abolishing of sectarianism is a part of a whole, and requires the right timing. Berri answered angrily, asking: If, sixty-six years after independence and twenty years after Taif it is still unsuitable to think about this, can they fix a suitable date for us? The reservations by Future, which is the biggest Sunni bloc, have a special meaning.
They are even more important because they come at a time in which a debate is raging about the issue of the weapons of the resistance, and the so-called defense strategy. Naturally, this debate does not serve any call to abolish sectarianism, irrespective of the motives behind such a call. And this is especially the case because these arms represent a specific sect, and when the debate about their role domestically and on the borders reaches the Cabinet.
Moreover, the repeated calls to implement “numerical democracy,” in a “numerical” challenge to all opposition or doubters about the status of the arms of the resistance, increases the doubts about what is behind the call to abolish sectarianism in politics, and deepens the sectarian mobilization for and against the resistance. Abolishing political sectarianism…yes. Provided that it is preceded by, as a condition, a reduction of the role of sectarian players.
Abolishing sectarianism… in sectarian fashion!