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A president ‘made in Lebanon’?

A few days ago, a supposedly “wise” Lebanese politician hailed the imminent end of the presidential impasse by saying “we are going to have ‘a made in Lebanon president’”!
Such words are misleading, as they are painful. The said politician must realize that Lebanon has never in its history managed to elect a president without either a foreign deal or as a result of dramatic regional or international imbalance. In fact, had the Lebanese had any real say in choosing a president, the post wouldn’t have remained vacant for around a year and half, there would not have been the “Doha Agreement”, the “Taif Accords” (which ended the 1975-1990 Lebanese War), the Richard Murphy attempt in 1988, and the Robert Murphy deal in 1958.
Alas, the fact is that Lebanon has been an “unfinished nation-building project” despite 96 years of its existence in its current borders and 73 years of becoming an independent state. The reason behind this is that the philosophy that underpinned the “independence format” viewed and treated the Lebanese as members of “sectarian flocks” not as citizens. As time passed, and in the absence of proper citizenship and lasting religious and sectarian loyalties, the “flock mentality” became more entrenched, and eventually, “institutionalized.” Then, even when vibrant forces within all “flocks” — now acting as “refugees” too — attempted to rebel against this status quo, many internal and external elements came together to crush all attempts.
Thus, today, when some hail the agreement on “A made in Lebanon president,” they intentionally ignore important facts, just as those who have been parroting the silly words “any president is better than the continuing vacuum” for the last two and a half years. In reality there has been “no vacuum.”
The first is that Lebanon is a country actually occupied and dominated by Hezbollah. Incidentally, Hezbollah, which is an inseparable part of Iran’s regional set-up, and follows its orders and political directives throughout the Middle East, has been the actor that has prevented the election of a president for the last two and a half years, blackmailing the Lebanese people into accepting its candidate, now described as “a made in Lebanon president”!
The second is that Lebanon, even before becoming a “polity” in 1920, and later as an independent republic in 1943, was a “principality” that covered Mount Lebanon and was always susceptible to regional competition and jockeying for influence between regional governors and sub-governors of neighboring Syria, Palestine, and even Egypt. Later, since the creation of Israel in 1948, Lebanon became a battleground of the Arab-Israeli conflict and its repercussions, which added to its fragile fabric and weak political consensus. Today, as the maps of the Levant are being revised, Israel does not seem bothered by a Hezbollah’s de facto “occupation” of Lebanon, or worried about the alleged presidential “vacuum”; and even more importantly it does not feel uneasy at all with Hezbollah’s active participation — with other sectarian militias — in Iran’s occupation of several parts of Syria.
Thirdly, as far as Iran is concerned, the whole Middle East is currently going through a decisive and historical period of nationalist confrontation with a sectarian facade. Iran is, indeed, fighting a comprehensive “war of revenge” against Sunni Arabs. So far, this war has displaced between 15 and 20 million Arab Sunnis in Iraq and Syria, and has destroyed their cities and towns.
Fourthly, in connection with the above, President Barack Obama during his last few weeks in the White House, seems to be in a hurry to complete the mission he considers the “cornerstone” of his Middle East policy, as reflected in the JCPOA with Tehran, rehabilitating and normalizing political relations with Iran, if not making it a strategic ally of the US, and giving it a freehand in its neighboring Arab countries. Thus, it is no coincidence that the need to end the “vacuum” in Lebanon was timed with the battle to liberate Mosul, which the UN expects is going to leave more than a million homeless (mostly Sunni Arabs), and the silence accompanying the annihilation of Aleppo at the hands of a shaky regime saved from collapse by Iran’s militias, then by direct Russian intervention.
Today we are in a “regional situation” exacerbated by an American vision that has impacted several sensitive issues, namely in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. However, it is in the Middle East and North Africa that Obama’s catastrophic policies have been most obvious, in every respect, since his now famous “Cairo Speech” just before the “Arab Spring” early in his first term in office. What sounded like “innocent” utopia toward Palestine, democratic change, and fighting terrorism in Obama’s discourse, clearly appeared during his second term as destructive unethical negativity, the consequences of which are for all to see: Iraq is been torn apart, Syria is in ruins, Turkey and the Arab Gulf are states under threat, the Palestinian settlement is all but non-existent, Sunni-Shiite tensions becoming a raging sectarian war, and long dormant Arab-Iranian and Turko – Kurdish tensions threatening to engulf the whole region with blood and fire.
Given such a background, how can the Lebanese, who have failed to build a homeland, believe that they can produce “A made in Lebanon president”?

• Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat.

* Originally published in Asharq Al-Awsat