by Ghassan Kadi for The Saker Blog
Abou Omar, a close friend of mine, is one whom I have so much in common. Not only he was my boss many moons ago, but we were both brought up in political families that endorsed and advocated the unity and integrity of Syria.
When I caught up with him recently after many years, I was not surprised that our thoughts had many congruencies, and the discussion we had has given me the inspiration to write this article.
One does not have to be a member of the Social Syrian National Party (SSNP) to realize that Syria and Lebanon have been the same country up till nearly a century ago when French General Gouraud redrew the map of what was then called “Petit Liban” (ie Small Lebanon) and annexed to it other territories and gave the “Grand Liban” (Greater Lebanon) tag to the new entity.
One of my first articles on The Saker, if not the first, was titled “The Capitulation of Grand Liban” https://thesaker.is/the-capitulation-of-grand-liban/. It outlines briefly the history of Lebanon in the 100 years or so.
For the benefit of those who do not wish to read the whole article above, I reiterate that the term “Small Lebanon” was used to describe a predominantly Christian Maronite and Druze entity. This state was the love child of an uneasy concession of the ailing Ottoman Empire to European powers (Britain, France, Italy, Austria and Russia) to give Mount Lebanon a reprieve after decades of sectarian strife between the Maronites and the Druze. The Maronites, being Catholic, were France’s favourites, whilst the Druze were Britain’s.
In rebranding Lebanon, as it were, and for whichever reason, Gouraud decided to include a Muslim component to the Lebanese demography. To this effect, the predominantly Sunni coastal cities of Beirut, Tripoli, Saida plus other Sunni provinces in the North, together with some Shiite provinces in the South and the Beqaa Valley were included in the new Mosaic that gave, according to the 1932 census, a marginal Maronite majority and hence stipulated, perhaps as planned, that the President of Lebanon will have to be a Maronite Christian. http://countrystudies.us/lebanon/34.htm
The 1932 infamous census was used as the defining foundation of “fairness” upon which all positions in all tiers of government were established. So unlike other states that provide merit-based employment, not only the President of Lebanon had to be a Catholic Maronite, but the PM had to be a Sunni Muslim, the Speaker of the House a Shiite Muslim, his deputy a Christian Orthodox and so forth. Each electorate was represented on sectarian grounds by candidates of same religion and sect, and even unqualified positions had to be based on “sectarian equality”. A government office could not even hire a janitor even if it needed only one, it must hire two; a Christian and a Muslim.
It wasn’t till the 1989 Taif agreement that followed the sectarian Civil War that the 1932-based model was revisited. But after a decade and a half of blood bath, one would think that the failed sectarian model was dumped altogether, but it wasn’t. It was only amended to give Muslims equal number of Parliamentarians as against the former 11-9 split.
But that sectarian “compromise”, which in itself was a reason for conflict, was not the only problem Lebanon had and has. In the 1920’s, the “new” Sunni Lebanese did not want to belong to what they considered a Western puppet state, and they took to the streets chanting “We demand Syrian unity, Christians and Muslims”. A few decades later when Egyptian President Nasser rose to prominence, the children of the first generation of new Lebanese took to the streets with a slightly amended version of the slogan demanding Arab unity for Christians and Muslims.
The Right-wing Lebanese Christians therefore felt Lebanese Muslims are fifth columnists who are not loyal to Lebanon, and as the rift grew and the Lebanese Left supported the PLO in its struggle, the Christian Right formed well trained and equipped militia, and the 1975-1989 Civil War was an inevitable outcome.
When the Syrian Army entered Lebanon in 1976 upon the request of the Lebanese Government, Syria had a golden opportunity to mend the growing rift between Lebanon and Syria, a rift that was fanned by pre-Civil War economic and development successes of Westernized Lebanon as opposed to an impoverished socialist Syria. But by then, Syria was on the road towards recovery under a huge nation-building scheme that was put in place by President Hafez Assad, the father of the current President and the founder of the Assad legacy.
Ironically, even after four and a half decades of the Lebanese slump and Syrian rise (despite the war), some Lebanese still live in the past and feel and act superior to their Syrian cousins. I say cousins not only metaphorically, but also because there is hardly a family in Lebanon that doesn’t have family in Syria.
But during the 29 year long presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon, Syria did not manage to win the hearts and minds of the average apprehensive Lebanese. Among many other acts of corruption, Abou Omar’s (my friend) car was stolen by a corrupt Syrian Army officer. Acts of such nature did not sway those who understood the basics of the anti-Syrian politics. Abou Omar was a victim of corrupt Syrian Army thugs, but his loyalty to Syria remained unwavering.
Ironically, eventually a substantial section of Lebanese Sunnis became aggressively Lebanese in their outlook. It is possible that the current anti Hezbollah passion has united some Sunnis and Christians against a “common enemy”. But perhaps by the time they developed this sentiment, it was already too late for Great Lebanon to rise from the ashes.
And whilst the Lebanese economy is going down the gurgler, corruption is having a huge surge and the state is now virtually bankrupt with very heavy debt and no solution in sight. Corruption has reached epic proportions that recently, a Lebanese Member of Parliament has publically said in the House that the public knows that politicians are lying to the public about the debt, and the politicians know that the public knows that the politicians are lying. https://www.facebook.com/1234196636614228/posts/2624089564291588?s=549881917&v=e&sfns=mo (Facebook link).
During the Civil War, the specter of Lebanese partition was always on the cards and high on some agendas. Back then, the scenario for such a partition was that Israel would take South Lebanon and control the Litani River water, a Maronite “canton” akin to the former Small Lebanon would be created, and the North and the Beqaa would go back to Syria.
Such a partition scenario is no longer feasible, mainly because there is a new force on the ground; Hezbollah.
With Hezbollah on the ground, Israel will never be able to secure any territorial gains in Lebanon. Furthermore, the Maronite politicians ie members of the so-called “The Maronite Political Entity” are now split between a traditional Right and pro-Hezbollah faction. The incumbent President Aoun belongs to the latter group, but his tenure has thus far been plagued by bigtime corruption and squandering of resources.
Aoun’s ascendance to the presidency was not an easy birth. It was fraught with hard labour and many political settlements; the most important of which was the reconciliation of Maronite leaders. Another friend of mine, a former ambassador, a Sunni, told me back then that he felt that the Maronite-Maronite reconciliation puts Lebanon finally in good hands. This is because the Maronites are meant to be the custodians of Lebanon, the integrity of its statehood and independence, and that they would rebuild the state and its economy. But the Aoun presidency has failed abysmally and poured oil onto fire with its rampant corruption. Aoun, who is in his eighties, has given the actual reigns to his son-in-law Gibran Bassil, and Bassil is one hell of a corrupt crook with an insatiable fetish for dirty money.
General Gouraud announced the birth Greater Lebanon 99 years ago, and specifically on on the 1st of September 1920 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_Lebanon. Will this state survive another century? It is simply cannot, because it is heading towards a cliff edge, and heading there fast.
So where does Greater Lebanon go from here?
With partition no longer on the agenda and Israel kept at arm’s length, Lebanon can only eventually merge back with Syria; but currently this is not possible given that the “War on Syria” has not yet ended.
Sooner or later, one way or the other, willingly or unwillingly, fully or partially, and I dare say for better or for worse, the Lebanese will see themselves back in the bosom of Syria. This however will be faced by resistance; not necessarily armed resistance, but one cannot zero out violence. Ironically this time, the biggest opponents may prove to be the anti-Syria Sunnis in the major coastal cities of Beirut, Tripoli and Saida. The Right wing Lebanese Christian groups will also oppose any such merger, but the much wiser Lebanese Christians understand that Syria has proven to be the actual defender and custodian of Levantine Christianity when the West stood by and watched young Christian Syrian girls sold as sex slaves.
The success or failure of the future “Take 2” version of the Syrian Army entering Lebanon will also depend on to what extent victorious Syria will be able to curb corruption within Syria first. A repeat of the 1976-2005 experience of Syrian Army presence in Lebanon will ultimately lead to another unsavoury outcome.
Syria has to win her moral war like she won her military war; and I have been emphasizing the need to do so in many previous articles, because unlike most other wars, this war has been a war of morality against immorality. Morality and corruption do not mix, and fighting corruption should now be high on President Assad’s agenda.
But above all, Syria is the key for the future of the region. She is the key for the regional geopolitical make-up, the key for Lebanon, the key for justice for Palestinians, the key for Palestine, the key for any matter pertaining to the Levant, because Syria is The Levant.