The End of 'Greater Lebanon'

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In recent years, changes in the Levant have polarized the Sunni-Shiite divide, putting an end to the notion of “greater Lebanon” laid out in the Sykes-Picot Agreement.

For the first two and a half years of the conflict in Syria, the Future Movement in Lebanon supported the Syrian opposition with weapons and equipment in a semi-overt fashion, while Hezbollah has supported the Syrian regime in secret. Now the roles have been reversed.

After a speech last Saturday [May 25] by Hezbollah’s General-Secretary Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s support for the regime became open and official, while the support provided [to the opposition] by the Future Movement (and those around it) has become a virtual secret.

The Future Movement has gone from being semi-overt to semi-covert in supplying of weapons and equipment, while Hezbollah has gone from absolute secrecy to absolute openness in terms of weapons, equipment and, even more importantly, the fighters [that it is supplying to the regime].

While I was listening to Nasrallah's speech, my impression was that this conflict lies in a deep abyss. Here we are in Syria and Lebanon, in the midst of a pure Sunni-Shiite civil war. It is as though all the modern history that has come before us in the last several decades was but “training” to prepare us for arriving at this climactic moment. It was a sense of horror [when I heard] his warning against the “separation” of Tripoli and its Muslim countryside from Lebanon and their joining of the Syrian revolution. Yet with Nasrallah’s speech yesterday, the northern Bekaa Valley officially entered the war in Syria.

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Practically speaking, that is Lebanon today: it has lost the Sunni northern coast and the Shiite northern Bekaa. If one wanted a wider symbolic image, it would be this: only Mount Lebanon and the area of Ashrafieh in Beirut remain effectively a part of Lebanon politically. Let the Syrian national movement in both its Sunni and Alawite branches take pride in this achievement: Syria has effectively retaken all those regions forcibly lopped off by the French imperial power and joined to “Greater Lebanon.” Not only the four districts [annexed by France to Lebanon], but all of Jabal Amel, Tripoli and Akkar. 

And let the forces controlling the Sunni majority and the Shiite majority in the former “Greater Lebanon” celebrate. Formerly, these forces guaranteed the four districts during the first quarter of the twenty-first century — albeit in the form of a civil war — and kept “the stolen regions” from being returned to Syria during the final quarter of the twentieth century. Yet now it has been returned to a wider Syrian entity. The only thing that has changed in the last 90 years is the fact that, when they were annexed to Lebanon, the grandfathers of both contemporary Sunnis and Shiites rejected it (in my personal experience, it was literally my grandfather who rejected it). Yet now their descendants, who do not belong to the parties controlling our sects, do not wish to be annexed to the wider Syrian entity. We want to remain within “Greater Lebanon.”

We are in a deep new pit at the beginning of the abyss that has been created by the Syrian hurricane in Lebanon.

There is now a militarized Sunni sect with tributaries extending from Yemen to Anbar, all mobilized against the modern “Shiites” under Iranian leadership, in addition to its mobilization against the Alawite character of the Syrian regime.

[Within] the Shiite sect, Hezbollah has succeeded in generating and educating a wide militarized society within [Lebanon]. This community drinks from Hezbollah’s fountain of transformations, and has been building over the course of the last four decades — from the Iranian revolution to the fall of Saddam. On this level, there are new forces that were not in existence during the time of the first Sykes-Picot agreement some 90 years ago. Iran was a power largely detached from the region, by virtue of the barrier of Ottoman power that had been established since the sixteenth century. Meanwhile, as for Turkey’s recrudescent role, the original Sykes-Picot was a conspiracy against it, while the current Sykes-Picot might be its new partner in the conflict over eastern Syria and Iraq in some form or another — or perhaps it will once again be victimized by it?

What I wish to draw readers of this article’s attention to, however, is that I am not arguing with either the Future Movement or Hezbollah in what either are doing or aggressively pursuing. Neither of them are doing anything in a regional and international conflict of this magnitude save what they are compelled to do. The first is a Saudi organization with widespread popularity and alliances in its immediate surroundings, while the second is an Iranian organization with extensive popularity. Both of them are tainted by their "country of origin": the first by a religious Salafist civil force supported by a tradition of decades of employing financial muscle in projects to mobilize [Sunni communities], while the latter is a military-security force whose training bears an Iranian touch in its secret organization.

Neither of the two groups are engaging in behavior that I would take issue with here, yet the predictable result of both groups’ actions will be to ratchet up the level of danger that [we Lebanese] must contend with; this what both the Sunnis and Shiites are doing. And, no matter their popularity, or the popularity of their enlistees and attendant activists, this is not right.

I wish to make note of two points:

Firstly, the attempts to launch voices outside the organization or organizations controlling the sects during the last civil war all ended in failure.

Secondly, everyone’s experiences in combining this sectarian mechanism with figures who are opposed to another sectarian group were not only failures, but pathetic — if not downright disastrous — failures as well, insofar as they often (though not always) transformed into vehicles for personal profit and fame.

What is to be done, then? Nothing. Nothing except to await what will befall us. We are living in a train station and not in a country. At least I behave on the basis of that notion, seeking to draw your attention, O fine readers, to the fact that living in a train station can be a fun life in term of the variety of life, culture, relics and openness to the outside world that it offers.

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Found in: syrian civil war, syrian crisis, syrian, sunni, shiite, sectarianism, lebanon, lebanese politics, hezbollah, hassan nasrallah, future, bekaa, alawites
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