Eli Khoury recently had a piece in the Boston Globe in which he tells Americans everything they want to hear. He makes the following claims:
1. The majority of Lebanese are with March 14 and this challenges “the prevailing myth that Lebanon is a ‘divided’ country destined to live along sectarian fault lines.”
2. “[T]he majority of people from all across Christian, Shia, and Sunni regions support a Lebanon free from the influence of Iran and Syria.”
3. “Lebanon stands at a historic crossroads between being integrated into the international community or remaining under the heavy influences of external forces.” And to do this, the United States must “support the government in protecting the upcoming presidential elections from foreign intimidators.”
4. “History has proven that the people of Lebanon, despite all myths, have managed to create a nation. Now it needs help as it becomes a state.”
First point 1: Estimates and eye-witness accounts (including my own) show that there were just as many people, if not more, at the pro-Hezbollah rally back in December that kicked off the sit-in against the government. March 14 can mobilize a lot of people, but then again, so can March 8. This is the very definition of a “divided country.” Furthermore, with the exception of the Christians, who are divided between Aoun and Geagea (with the majority aligning themselves with Aoun and Hezbollah), the division is very much sectarian, with the Sunni and Druze on one side and the Shi’a on the other. Moreover, if the country weren’t divided, the government could function, and there would be no need for an international tribunal to investigate assassinations in Lebanon.
Point 2: I’m not at all convinced of this. I have seen no concrete evidence to support this, and Khoury offers none. The country seems pretty much evenly divided from here in Beirut, and if there had to be a slant to one side or the other, I’d be inclined to think that March 8 has slightly more support than March 14.
Point 3: It is a typically Lebanese irony that people like Khoury call for independence from “external forces” on one hand while simultaneously seeking intervention by an opposing external force — Syria/Iran and the US, respectively.
Point 4: This is perhaps the most laughable of Khoury’s points. No one is arguing that there isn’t a Lebanese state and ought to be one. But to say that history has proven that there is a Lebanese nation? I wonder what history he’s thinking of. The history that I’m familiar with (the civil war, recent divisions, sectarian bloodshed in the 19th century) all seems to point to the fact that there are a bunch of nations within Lebanon (or as Charles Glass would say, tribes with flags) but no Lebanese nation. This is the very problem with sectarianism; it strangles true equitable and pluralistic nationalism.
Eli Khoury tries to set himself (and his movement) up as an alternative to sectarianism and the Lebanese status quo, when in reality he’s just offering more of the same. The March 14 movement is just as sectarian as is the opposition (if somewhat more prone to make disparaging remarks against the poor and Shi’a). What Lebanon really needs is to find its own way. This means being not only independent of Iran and Syria, but also of the US and France. The confessional system needs to be done away with, and a truly secular state needs to be created. Perhaps if an independent state is created in Lebanon, a Lebanese nation might follow in its footsteps.