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Reasserting Arab identity, from Lebanon to Iraq

During Saad Hariri’s speech to his boisterous and adoring supporters last week, my ears pricked up at one word: “Urubah” (“defending the Arab character of Lebanon”). With a single word, he gave voice to a pressing concern for so many people: What is happening to the region’s Arab identity?
On one hand, Daesh sought to rip apart multiple Arab nations and impose an extremist vision that bore no resemblance to the region’s tolerant Islamic traditions. More dangerous still is the Persianized “Islamic Revolutionary” agenda indoctrinating Arab communities with an alien set of values. The likes of Hezbollah and Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi pledge loyalty to the late Iranian Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini’s doctrine of Wilayat Al-Faqih, necessitating absolute devotion to theological authorities external to the Arab world.
Iran’s success in imposing its influence is reflected in the fact that nowadays, each time Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations take a position on regional events, this is depicted as meddling. On the contrary, it has always been normal and necessary for sisterly Arab states to act in the service of each other’s wellbeing. What is not normal is how collective Arab action is being supplanted by Iranian hegemony.
Almost a year ago, I raised eyebrows with an article asking the rhetorical question: Is Iran 100 times worse than Israel? I calculated that the land area of Arab territories under Iranian domination was more than 100 times larger than that occupied by Israel, and that Iran’s proxies over the past decade killed 100 times more Arab citizens than Israel (the article was written immediately after the mass slaughter of Aleppo citizens by Tehran-backed militias). Israel deserves undying contempt for its crimes against humanity and against Palestine, but based on objective facts, Iran is still 100 times worse.
By temporarily freezing his resignation ahead of consultations, Hariri is prioritizing Lebanon’s stability. However, it is correct that his principle criteria be whether his government can uphold Lebanon’s Arab character (irrespective of sect or ethnicity). He is thus refusing to be a fig leaf for Hezbollah’s domestic and regional trouble-stirring.
Hariri is right to demand a return to the Lebanese policy of dissociating itself from foreign conflicts, although it is difficult to imagine Hezbollah halting foreign meddling, such as training Iraqi, Bahraini and Yemeni militants. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s recent comments about a readiness to pull back from Iraq and Syria should be taken as an admission of culpability for crimes in states where the movement has no business being.
The speech by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei promising that Iranian proxies would intervene “wherever their presence was needed” illustrates the degree to which Hezbollah and its affiliates have in essence become transnational forces.
Hariri’s resignation triggered passionate media debates about Lebanese identity. It also put Hezbollah’s army of media apologists on the defensive, as they were forced to respond to Hariri’s allegation that their loyalty was not to Lebanon but to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
They squirmed, shouted and blustered, before changing the subject and claiming that all Lebanese parties were affiliated with outside powers. There is some truth to this, but no other Lebanese factions were content to become mercenaries, marching off to fight neighboring Arab citizens at the behest of foreign agendas.

Increasingly muscular GCC diplomacy toward Iraq and Lebanon represents a tentative step toward the reassertion of coherent Arab foreign policy goals.

Baria Alamuddin

Poisonous Shiite-Sunni tensions have everything to do with political agendas and nothing to do with religion. In the Lebanon where I grew up, we were blissfully ignorant of which sect playmates came from, with little comprehension of the theological subtleties underpinning these imaginary dividing lines. Tehran pretends to be the protector of Shiite Islam, yet revolutionary Khomeinism bears little relation to the quietist, moderate varieties of Shiism cultivated across the Arab world.
Khomeini’s politicized and confrontational theology indoctrinates thousands of people through Tehran-sponsored seminaries and religious centers. Nowhere is this more conspicuous than the holy city of Najaf, where Iraqi Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani and other traditionalists find themselves besieged by militant teachings just as alien to Shiite Islam as Daesh is to Sunnis. The establishment of an Imam Khomeini primary school in a Christian town in Iraq illustrates the ridiculous lengths to which this ideological warfare goes.
The very concept of “qawmiyah” — Arab nationalism — sounds like a quaint relic of a bygone age, yet the Arab world boasts massive potential. Four out of 10 of the world’s major oil exporters are Arab nations, which represent a bloc of more than 20 states speaking a single global language, with Islam’s holy sites at their heart. For 1.5 billion Muslims around the world, Arabic is studied and revered as the language of the Qur’an. It is obvious why enemies of the Arab world prefer to see it divided.
However, Arab states are occasionally their own worst enemies. When these countries pursue conflicting individual objectives, or are beset by petty rivalries, the result is stalemate — everybody loses. In our globalized world, this is why Southeast Asian, European or American states have sought to bunch together, to enjoy economic and political weight on the international stage. With their linguistic and cultural commonalities, it should be infinitely easier for Arab states to attain a unified sense of purpose than for culturally fragmented Europeans. So why have these aspirations been thwarted?
This is not a call for “wahdah” — the utopian daydream of an Arab super-state. Each Arab nation should be sovereign, strong and independent, while working towards shared objectives. Meanwhile, forums such as the Arab League must undergo radical reform to address the lofty goals they were established to achieve.
Increasingly muscular Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) diplomacy towards Iraq and Lebanon represents a tentative step towards the reassertion of coherent Arab foreign policy goals. However, sustained efforts are required to repair the damage that has already been done.
It is hurtful and offensive for patriotic Arabs to see the Russian, Turkish and Iranian presidents meeting to dictate the future of the Syrian Arab Republic, without even a token Syrian or Arab presence. This deliberate attempt at humiliation and dispossession will ultimately backfire. Just as they have been steadfast in pursuing the Palestinian cause for 70 years, Arabs will be no less resolute in pursuing the Syrian, Yemeni, Iraqi and Lebanese causes, demanding the restoration of every inch of stolen land.

Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the  Media Services Syndicate, a foreign editor at Al-Hayat, and
has interviewed numerous heads of state.