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Open letter to the President of the Republic

13/08/2019

Mister President,

Michel Chiha, one of the fathers of the 1926 Constitution, known as the Constitution of “Strong Lebanon”, a slogan you have adopted since 1988, used to say that what is lost by institutions in Lebanon ends up fueling sectarianism in the streets. Conversely, sectarian bidding destroys institutions. For Chiha, a "Strong Lebanon" was a space of refuge for "associated minorities” not the vital space for the idea of an “alliance of minorities”. The concept implies that Lebanon must be "a country where everything is balance and measure” not “a country with head shots and coups". "Here, everything must be measured, balanced, tolerant and right," Chiha wrote. He promoted a model of "living-together". In the same spirit, Samir Frangie later called it a "culture of building connections". Frangie was anxious to preserve the country’s vocation of defending freedom against despotism and openness against the temptation of withdrawal inside the matrix of identity and populism as well as respecting its role on the basis of its history and geography.

In this sense, the "Strong President", despite having many constitutional prerogatives that he could have used to rule like a prince all along the 1943 regime, always governed in accordance with the national pact. In other words, he governed with a spirit of collaboration between the different powers and with his national partners and did not have a permanent confrontation and showdown with all. His strength came from his ability to be open and transcend in his role as national convener.

Between 1943 and 1990, the political and constitutional history of the country is full of cases where Chiha’s call for balance and measure in the management of power was questioned by the very top of the political hierarchy. This has led to catastrophic experiences, the epitome being the 15 year civil war that started in 1975.

Mister President,

The incidents of Bassatine-Qabr Chamoun on June 30 awoke old demons of sectarian discord that are capable of igniting the Lebanese Mountain and with it the whole country.

Therefore, it seems necessary to write you this letter at a time when, more than ever, institutional paralysis is threatening the tenuous thread of political, security, economic and financial stability on which the country rests. Furthermore, the climate of civil liberties is atrophying day by day. Under your mandate, we are witnessing the resurgence of the same security apparatus that hunted you and your partisans, among others, during the Syrian occupation.

Why is this happening?

What can explain this climate of frenetic agitation initiated throughout all of Lebanon and on all sensitive subjects by your son-in-law, the leader of the Free Patriotic Movement, three years before the presidential election?

Is there any more convincing explanation for the current crisis other than the desire of a candidate to build the foundation of his legitimacy in the eyes of his community before the next presidential election by creating turmoil and opening the wounds of the past from the Mountain to the Christian hinterland and the Sunni community? He is doing this while your ascension to the presidency in 2016 was, according to your own rhetoric, based on the idea that it was time to close the sinister chapters of the past and to support reconciliation.

Why this wave of madness and antagonism, Mr. President?

In the past, haven’t we paid enough to understand that the logic of brute force, that of the “unification of the rifle”, will eventually end up weakening the one who resorts to it even if he benefits from additional forces supplied by a powerful ally on the ground? Haven’t we learned–and your eviction and your exile by the Syrian occupier is the most powerful proof in that regard–that what is repressed always comes back stronger at the sole expense of the oppressor?

Mister President,

In all strong countries, electoral laws govern the start and the end of election campaigns and set their conditions. The means and methods of promotion and expression authorized and practiced during the electoral campaign end with the closure of the electoral process and those who object to the results can complain to the competent authority. Subsequently, the society, not without the occasional ephemeral jolt, returns afterwards to a normal state and the loser generally congratulates the winner. In short, the election period is an "extraordinary" period be it in America, France or Lebanon.

Then why did the leader of the FPM decide to go into battle during the six years of your mandate? Is it possible to deny the fact that during his visits to the various Lebanese regions he has been using the muscled tone and rhetoric that has unfortunately become characteristic of electoral campaigns in Lebanon to exalt passions and galvanize the troops around him? Is there any other way to interpret the slogan related to the "recovery of Christian rights" that he sometimes waves in front the Druze community, who differ from your strategic options? He also sometimes uses it against the Sunni Prime Minister, who is still your main partner and guarantor, versus your "allies" among the Christians, and sometimes against the Shia President of the Chamber. But he never uses it against Hezbollah, whose hold on all the key sectors of the Lebanese State, at the expense of Christians, their values and their historical responsibilities in terms of "freedom, sovereignty and independence "(your long-time slogan), and at the expense of all those who aspire to a peaceful, democratic, free Lebanon open to its Arab and international environment, is now undisputable?

What "Strong Lebanon" is your mandate capable of delivering to the young while the self-proclaimed successor to the political dynasty that you have created is already undermining your ability to succeed by attacking everyone, including Western powers, international organizations, chancelleries, political parties, refugees, intellectuals, artists and mere social network users who dare to criticize his hateful speech? He is doing all of this while the whole world is trying to help us to avoid an economic, social, environmental and sanitary cataclysm.

Three years from now, are we condemned to return to the scenario where your son-in-law will have become the "strongest of the Christians" and consequently, in the name of a perverse and doubtful "consensualism", which would make Michel Chiha turn in his grave and which would be closer to tribalism than to the spirit of the Lebanese system, he would block all the institutions until the fight stops and all the rivals capitulate to avoid the worst? In short, he is pursuing a policy of playing at the edge of the abyss as a promontory to come to power. Is this not the institutionalization of some sort of political "bullying" with the help of de facto forces on the ground which completely distorts the institutional and constitutional mechanisms of the country?

Is it necessary that, once again, under the label of the "Strong Christians" whose "rights have been ripped off" by the Taif–a logic that is subject to debate–some of your advisers should engage in "constitutional" interpretations which will eventually end by further devastating the Lebanese Constitution and the Christian-Muslim parity in favor of another distribution of power between the communities that will not be, as you might think, to the advantage of Christians, but only to the sole benefit of Hezbollah and Iran’s ambitions?

Mister President,

It is not too late to avoid the worst or to rectify the course of events. But this process should start by no longer blaming others for their reactions to provocations they are not responsible for. It also means limiting the nuisance power of those around you who are taking your mandate, and with it the whole country, on a slippery slope towards a multitude of dangers at a time when the Middle East, and even the rest of the world, are going through a period of great turbulence. This requires a return to the meaning and vocation of Lebanon. Is this not the object of your project for an Academy for Dialogue? In other terms: a return to measure, pondering and the will to live together as equal citizens free and at peace away from the discourse of hatred, exclusion and overbidding sectarianism. This is the essence of the metaphor used by Pope John Paul II to describe Lebanon–a "message of peace"; John Paul II, most certainly the "strongest" Christian in contemporary history, the Pope that brought down the Soviet Union.

History curses latecomers, Mr. President.

Please accept the expression of my best regards.


(This article was originally in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 9th of August)

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