Let Aoun, Nasrallah and Bassil be the ones to emigrate بارعة علم الدين/اتركوا عون وباسيل ونصرالله يهاجروا من لبنان Baria Alamuddin/Arab News/November 17/ 2019
Michel Aoun’s depressingly out-of-touch interview last week — culminating in him disparagingly declaring “let them emigrate,” addressed at all Lebanese discontented with the miserable status quo — focused renewed popular anger against the president. A month after it began, the revolution accumulates momentum, energy and confidence with each passing week.
The nomination of Mohammed Safadi to head a new government reassured nobody that Lebanon’s sectarian governing framework has renounced its clientelistic instincts (Safadi has since withdrawn his candidacy anyway).
Protesters denounced the 75-year-old former finance minister as one of the corrupt elite’s more grotesque faces. “Choosing Mohammed Safadi for prime minister proves that the politicians who rule us are in a deep coma,” remarked one demonstrator.
No possible choice of Sunni prime minister can solve this crisis — the sectarian system is rotten to the core and must be abolished in its entirety. Saad Hariri is one of the few leaders to understand the depth of the popular anger; hence his insistence on only cooperating with a government entirely composed of technocrats.
Hariri was burnt by his participation in previous governments for the sake of consensus and civil peace — yet amounting to no more than a sticking plaster over a gaping wound.
Following his opportunistic embrace of the pro-Syria/Iran camp after his 2005 return from exile, Aoun became the cornerstone on which Hezbollah consolidated its dominance of the Lebanese state, effectively neutralizing Lebanon’s Christians as a potential counterweight to Iranian hegemony.
Aoun, at the age of 84, is disconnected from the realities of contemporary Lebanon. His son-in-law Gebran Bassil has been the real driving force behind efforts to cobble together a government behind the scenes and subvert the revolution’s momentum.
These labors reportedly included meetings with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah to prepare the ground for a transition of power from Aoun to Bassil.
Yet Bassil is even more deeply loathed than Aoun — as attested by the unrepeatably rude chants from demonstrating crowds. Even among erstwhile Christian supporters of the Free Patriotic Movement, there is recognition that Aoun and Bassil stand guilty of facilitating Iran’s hostile takeover of their homeland.
This weekend’s sudden outbreak of protests across Iran over skyrocketing petrol prices, along with the sustained explosion of anger against Iranian meddling in Iraq, should be a salutary reminder to Nasrallah that the future disintegration of the Islamic Republic will cause the ground to disappear beneath his feet. Until recently, Hezbollah appeared omnipotent; yet, with each passing day of mass protests, Nasrallah is left scrabbling to adjust to new realities.
Ordinary people’s voices have been extinguished entirely in a state governed for the malign pleasure of oligarchic and foreign interests.
The Iranian protests already have many commonalities with the Lebanese and Iraqi uprisings, with economic grievances rapidly giving way to calls for “death to the dictator.”
Attempts by Iraqi and Lebanese protesters to directly communicate with each other indicate a way that citizens can capitalize on their common grievances — as they all ultimately desire an end to the detested ayatollahs’ regime.
Lebanon’s sectarianism and factionalism have set communities against each other, rendering the country a plaything of foreign powers, with France, the US and various regional states having their favored factional allies. However — as is the case with Syria and Iraq — Arab influence in Lebanon has lamentably withered away altogether in recent years.
Of all the foreign parties, it is Tehran that came to dominate the Lebanese arena through its chosen vehicle of Hezbollah, while exploiting clients like Aoun to monopolize the entire political system.
Instead of the sectarian system guaranteeing that all communities are represented, ordinary people’s voices have been extinguished entirely in a state governed for the malign pleasure of oligarchic and foreign interests. The Aoun-Bassil relationship is a further reminder of the feudal nature of Lebanon’s politics, with the same few families monopolizing power since pre-civil war days. How can anybody mistake this for democracy?
The civil war shattered Lebanon’s sense of collective national belonging. Recent protests herald the rebirth of this unified identity, the rejection of sectarianism, and an assertion of national sovereignty. The revolution’s first martyr, Alaa Abou Fakhr, has posthumously come to embody this patriotic mood, with his face appearing on huge murals and across social media, while the local school and the American University of Beirut have pledged to cover the costs of his bereaved children’s education.
Whether in Iran, Lebanon or Iraq, democracy only exists when people’s choices at the ballot box are meaningfully reflected in the composition and agenda of the administration. A nation state can only exist when people’s primary loyalties and affiliation are to the entire motherland and not to communities segmented along bitter sectarian divides or to foreign powerbrokers.
Aoun’s insulting retort about appointing independent technocrats — “Where can I find them?
On the moon?” — illustrates his blinkered detachment from the deep reserves of experienced, educated and dedicated figures that Lebanon can draw on when the crooks are forced to step aside.
Lebanon’s chronic crises and cronyism, generation after generation, have consistently impelled its finest minds to choose the uncertainties and rootlessness of exile. Rather than dismissively exhorting patriotic citizens to emigrate, future leaderships should offer their most outstanding citizens incentives to invest their energies, wealth and expertise in their homeland.
This is a nation capable of great things, if only protesters retain the courage of their convictions and follow through on this revolution to bring in a new generation of leaders dedicated to Lebanon’s well-being rather than their own.
If Nasrallah, Aoun, Bassil and others dislike this aspiration, then they know where they can go.
*Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.
Pictures enclosed: *Baria Alameddine with her daughter Amal. *Baria with Daughter and son-inlaw Cloney