broke. Tears overcame Zeinab Mirza, a political studies lecturer at the
American University of Beirut. She was crying for Lebanon’s awakening. “In a
way,” she said, “We were in a coma before.”
is going on in the Middle East. People from Beirut to Baghdad are in the
streets clamouring for nations to replace sects. They have been met with
bullets in Iraq. They have been met with bluster in Lebanon. They are still
there. A new generation is tired of the old ways. Nation here denotes unity,
Lebanese flag and the Iraqi flag are everywhere, symbols of a demand for
individual rights in states of law. A little more than a century ago, the
Sykes-Picot British-French carve-up of the collapsing Ottoman Empire yielded
weak states with arbitrary borders. Many have paid a colossal price. Syria lies
in ruins. People are sick of the sectarian manipulation of politics to mask
theft, corruption and state capture by oligarchical elites. They are sick of
the manipulation of fear. They are sick of the life being sucked out of them.
herself, told students how extraordinary it was to see Sunni Tripoli in
northern Lebanon, a bastion of conservatism, standing shoulder to shoulder with
Shia Nabatiyeh in the south. “There’s a realisation the same pain exists all
over,” she said.
beautiful. It is fragile. It is necessary for the Middle East.
different Middle East. Over a couple of weeks in the region recently, I
scarcely heard the United States mentioned. A Lebanese businessman told me the
best thing President Donald Trump could do, would be to get his pal Vladimir
Putin, the new power player in the region, to keep Hezbollah from making
trouble with the protests.
that, I heard disgust at Trump’s Kurdish betrayal and his grotesque decision to
freeze military aid to the Lebanese Armed Forces, whose conduct has been
cries rise from the streets of Iraq and Lebanon. “We want a homeland,” say
Iraqis. That’s what the Lebanese seek by undoing government by sect: a
president who must be a Maronite Christian, a prime minister who must be Sunni,
a speaker of Parliament who must be Shiite. (In Iraq, it’s a Shiite prime
minister, a Sunni speaker and a Kurdish president).
identity obsession, which stands in the way of shared citizenship, seems
anachronistic to members of a younger Middle Eastern generation raised on a
borderless cyber world. They want transparent governments dedicated to their
citizens’ well-being, not to personal enrichment.
from here to there through such measures as electoral reform, judicial reform
and the introduction in Lebanon of civil marriage laws (which would make it
possible for citizens of different religions to wed) is long, murky and
probably generational. Meanwhile, the Lebanese economy, its banks mostly closed
for fear or a run on the currency, could collapse any day.
creation also involves pushing back the power that has benefited most from
American war, followed by American retreat, followed by American incoherence:
Out!” say the Iraqis. In Lebanon, the currency of Iran-backed Hezbollah has
been devalued. Once untouchable as the “resistance” against Israel, the
militant movement and political party is now often seen as part of a failed
government, as well as the cynical saviour of the butcher of Damascus, Bashar
Assad. Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, is slowly being recast from the
untouchable and holy “Sayyed” to just another cynical party secretary-general,
who happens to be in the pay of Iran.
“We are a
post-sectarian generation,” Hussein El Achi, a young Lebanese lawyer active in
the orchestration of the protests, told me. The country has changed because for
the first time a collective consciousness exists. In a way, the struggle is
even more universal than that. In Chile, it was a subway fare hike. In France,
it was a hike in fuel tax. In Lebanon, it was a proposed tax on WhatsApp calls.
The trigger can be small because a lot of struggling people across the world
are at the end of their rope, angry at what look like systems rigged for the
I asked one
Lebanese soldier what he thought of the protests. “We have rights,” he said. It
was a significant “we” — and a very broad one.
Cohen is a noted American journalist, political commentator and author.
Headline: Awakening of a post-sectarian generation in Middle East
Source: The Gulf News