Listen to the Lebanese... |
Gulf Daily News - 09 July, 2012
Author: James J. Zogby
With neighbouring Syria imploding, tensions with Iran mounting and Israel ever threatening, Lebanon appears to be on the brink of conflict.
But then that has been its story for decades. This remarkably beautiful country filled with extraordinary people has long been a victim of its history, its leaders and machinations of outsiders.
This may be Lebanon's past and present, but if we listen to the Lebanese people, it need not be the country's future.
It was the French who created Lebanon and its patchwork quilt, sect-driven system of governance, designing it to serve Paris' imperial interests.
During the past 80 years, operating within this framework, Lebanon's sectarian elites have jockeyed for advantage, seeking the support of external "partners" to buttress their position.
Only too obliging, these foreign "partners" all too often had their interests to promote or scores to settle. As a result, Lebanon was time and again transformed into a battlefield where sects clashed and regional power struggles were fought.
And so it is today.
Two generations ago, Lebanon was an East-West Cold War battleground. Today, it is an arena in which the conflict between the West and its allies versus Iran and its surrogates plays out - with fragile Lebanon hanging in the balance and its security, stability and prosperity at risk.
But this recurring precarious state of affairs need not be Lebanon's fate. If we listen to Lebanon's people, it is possible to imagine a very different country, based on a common identity and sense of purpose.
There are issues that divide the Lebanese. For example, two recent polls found them holding discordant views with regard to Syria and Iran.
Shi'ites in Lebanon appear to be supportive of the Baath government of Bashar Al Assad and favour close ties with Iran.
The country's Sunni community holds the opposite view. Christians are divided in their opinions.
On most issues, however, there is a strong domestic consensus and many places where Lebanese find common ground.
They agree on the country's sorry state of affairs, political priorities that must be addressed, the importance of national identity and unity and fundamental political reforms that should be enacted.
When, for example, we ask Lebanese if they are better off or worse off than they were five years ago, all agree they are worse off.
When we ask them if the country is on the right or wrong track, all groups agree that Lebanon is on the wrong track.
And when we ask Lebanese to identify their top political concerns, once again there is a remarkable convergence in attitudes.
All Lebanese, across the board, rank "expanding employment opportunities" as their number one concern, followed by "ending corruption and nepotism", "political reform", and "protecting personal freedoms and civil rights".
Foreign policy issues are not considered priorities and at the very bottom of the scale is "promoting political debate" - something most Lebanese have wearied of.
What is also striking is that when we ask Lebanese for their principal source of identity, they do not name their religion or sect, nor say their family or "being Arab".
Instead, people in all groups say that it is "being Lebanese".
In this regard they are different from Arabs from every other country - where responses are most often nearly evenly divided amongst "Arab", religion and their country of origin.
When we ask Lebanese if they prefer to maintain the sect-based apportionment system of the past or replace it with a "one man/one vote" political structure, there is broad agreement that it is time to implement the latter.
They all agree that national unity is a must for the country and reject the notion that any one group should dominate others.