Hussain Abdul-Hussain

Wanted: new Christian leaders

gemayel, aoun, geagea

The approval of the "Orthodox Law", or any other electoral law, is irrelevant. No matter who wins the 2013 parliament, Hezbollah's "black shirts" will decide the coming president, prime minister, and cabinet. But the kerfuffle surrounding the law unveiled a dangerous line of thinking among Lebanon's Christians, whether followers of Michel Aoun, Samir Geagea, or the Gemayel family.


Lebanon is in a dire situation that is reflecting badly on both Christians and non-Christians. So how exactly will a law making Christian lawmakers unaccountable to Muslim constituents, and vice versa, make things better?


Christians who think electoral laws can arrest the waning of their influence should remember how the pre-Taif National Pact configuration, with its six-to-five ratio, failed to do so.


Christians who claim that they fear physical annihilation, in the absence of laws that favor them, should ask themselves why Christians like Aoun or Gebran Bassil can roam the country freely, while Muslims like Sunni Saad Hariri or Shiite Bassem Sabaa fear for their safety and live in exile.


Christian excuses for upholding the current skewed representation in which they, barely one third of the population, are guaranteed half of the seats in Parliament, cabinet, and the rest of the bureaucracy, do not cut it anymore.

Lebanon's 50-50 formula should be scrapped, not because Christians should be humiliated, but because such arrangement has proven inadequate in solving the nation's various security, economic, and political problems.


When Lebanon was put together in 1920, it was premised on two assumptions. First, that the two biggest minorities at the time – the Christians and their followers the Shiites – would outnumber the Sunnis, the region's majority, and guarantee Christian dominance.


Second, the French viewed the Levant, and perhaps rightly so, as an area with monolithic ethno-sectarian blocs, rather than individual citizens with varying interests and diverse views. The balance the French tried to strike was between the chieftains of the different groups, thus assuming that what was good for the tribal chief was also good for his followers, an idea that sticks with most of the Lebanese until today.


As such, Lebanon's Christians still obsess over sectarian balances and the national influence of their chieftains.


Other Christians want to revive an older dream, that of maintaining a purely Christian – albeit territorially smaller – Lebanon. Such arrangement, they believe, might be possible through federalism or a confederacy, which might in turn scrap their need to speak the language of their Muslim peers, literally and figuratively.


But all these ideas have been tried, unsuccessfully. Christians were once dominant by power of constitution. During the civil war, they ruled over their own enclave. Neither scenario stopped droves of Christians from emigrating year after year.


Lebanon's Christians need modernizers with visionary ideas. These need not necessarily be Christian but can be professionals, consultants if you will, who can look at the bigger picture, objectively assess Christian decline, and provide a blueprint for reversing it.


Christians should have a sense of reality. Over the past century, they have perceived of themselves as intellectually – and at times genetically – superior to Muslims. Sociopolitical and intellectual superiority was true at times when, thanks to their more fortunate economics and exposure to Western missionaries, the Christians showed a better understanding of modern trends.


And because they were economically ahead, Lebanon's Christians were able to project political influence. Yet – unlike innumerable Christians and their followers believe – Christian superiority never made them Westerners or non-Levantine.

The Christians of Lebanon remained as culturally Arab as they could be. For instance, unlike the West, Levantine Christians have always failed to construct a single political organization that can call itself democratic. Christian parties, instead, remain tribal, and produce corrupt politics and politicians all too common in the developing world.


Perhaps instead of fighting to approve drafts like the so-called Orthodox Law, the Aoun-Geagea-Gemayel bloc should use whatever clout they have to pass a ‘Parties Law’ to replace the current ‘Organizations Law’ inherited from Ottoman times. Such a law would democratize political parties, limit the terms of their elected leaders, and force them to disclose their income. Maybe when the Lebanese can trace the money, they will better understand the agendas of the parties they send to parliament.


Perhaps when the Aoun-Geagea-Gemayel bloc, whose combined years in politics add up to over a century, should encourage Christians to allow younger leaders, with new ideas, to take over and run their respective parties for limited terms, and then hand them over to yet newer leaders with fresher ideas. And no, Bassil and Sami Gemayel don't count as the ‘younger generation.’


The Christians should create modern, transparent, and democratic political parties and offer them as a model for a new state. Until then, the current Christian parties with aged leaders cannot demand that the state be anything different from their own autocratic, corrupt, and non-transparent model.

The Christians can save themselves and Lebanon, but this can never happen with more of the same.


So it might be in Christians' best interest to start cultivating principles of democracy inside their parties and forget ‘unity’ or ‘the need for a strong leader.’ If Christians succeed in creating democratic parties that transcend tribal politics and endorse citizenship, then maybe their parties can recruit from all Lebanese sects and therefore gain the power needed for the construction of a modern state.


And only as a modern state that is blind to sect, that reinforces the ideas of liberty, the rule of law, and state monopoly of power does Lebanon stands a chance at retaining those Christians who remain.


Hussain Abdul-Hussain is the Washington Bureau Chief of Alrai newspaper. He tweets at @hahussain 

Lebanese Christians hold up pictures of Bashir Gemayel (L, top), Michel Aoun (R), and Samir Geagea (second from L, moustache). (AFP photo)

"The Christians of Lebanon remained as culturally Arab as they could be. For instance, unlike the West, Levantine Christians have always failed to construct a single political organization that can call itself democratic. Christian parties, instead, remain tribal, and produce corrupt politics and politicians all too common in the developing world."

  • Petrossou

    It became usual to see our fellow Muslim citizens still under the influence of the past propaganda that led to the 1975 war and all what happened from there on. Just for his information: 1- It is not the Christians that accepted to give up their country to Palestinians back in 1975. 2- It is not them that refuses secularization of the politics in Lebanon but them. 3- Christians have never considered themselves superior to anyone ever, but their Muslims counter part that behaved us such by being always below expectation during when they had to make big decisions for the sake of Lebanon. 3- It is not the Christians that puts themselves consciously under the umbrella of once the Arabs today the Farsi and tomorrow God knows who, but the Muslims. 4- During their time, despite they had all the powers, Christian Presidents always respected their Muslims counter parts itchiness to a subject, the opposite never happened till to date. 5- Federation doesn't mean separation and that our Muslims counterparts are afraid of it as they will find themselves facing their own fanaticism alone without having a escape goat to blame. 6- Only Muslim parties are directly receiving orders from foreign countries wether from Iran (Hezbollah & Amal), or from Egypt (The Mourabitoun), The Baas or the PSNS (Syria), etc... 7- Only Muslim parties have in their charts and ideologies to Islamize Lebanon and impose their Charia not the Christians. When Muslims will accept real democracy, apostasy, civil marriage, cancel their ideologies of islamizing the country, only then any Muslim will have the right to criticise teh Christian leaders. Last but not least check the LF new internal status, the only one in Lebanon, you might learn something.

    March 15, 2013

  • fadi c

    Much too much to argue about. I do not have that much energy.

    March 15, 2013

  • fadi c

    Biased, badly researched and simply bad article. I'm sure that "Now" editors published it for its 'controversy' potential rather than its journalistic value.

    March 15, 2013

  • Freedomforall

    It has become obvious from his writings and tweets that Hussain Abdul-Hussain seems to suffer from an inferiority complex when it comes to “Lebanese Christians.” This complex that many in the “Arab world” suffer from usually stems from their unwillingness to accept concrete facts behind the relative success and advancement that “Lebanon – the Christian project” achieved in the past in comparison to its entire neighborhood which still dwells in backwardness, ignorance and hatred. Despite Christian downfall in the past 20 years, and despite everything that is wrong with Lebanon today, it is very obvious that Hussein’s article is not meant to criticize Lebanese Christian leadership as much as it is an outburst of negative sentiments that Hussein carries for Lebanese Christians. These sentiments are nothing new and in fact they originate in the subconscious of every Arabist/Islamist who has seen his hopes and projects come crashing down in the face of reality. Hussein’s racist accusations against Lebanese Christians of perceiving themselves as “genetically superior” are nothing more than regurgitation of “Anti-Maronite historian-bigot Kamal al Salibi” whom Hussein proudly refers to as “master,” and are in fact a testimony to the Arab mind’s intolerance and refusal to accept any diversity in the so-called “Arab world” thus considering everyone in that region who refuses the Arabic identity or simply confess their true origins as “arrogant or fake snobs.” In conclusion the Lebanese Christians with their relative success in that dark area have made the entire region look bad, and this is why Hussein and his kind simply dislike them.

    March 15, 2013

  • Wayne

    amateurish at best, not worth reading...

    March 13, 2013

  • sgc2

    good one iraqi boy, but why only christians should create democratic parties...it's up to all lebanese to develop democratic parties, institutions and political behaviour in order for us to have a modern state ...shame you didn't take this course at AUB....otherwise they'll end up like iraq but without the oil, the kurds, the ghost of saddam hussein

    March 13, 2013

  • Geo M

    A wrong diagnosis can only lead to a wrong prognosis. Besides the numbers, (Christians are a proven 40% of the population today) the author is trying to treat the symptoms rather than the disease. Christians are frustrated. On the M14 side, they are being used as tourist attraction and street brawn, and on the M8 side they are used to cover up for an illegal arsenal and an even more illegal agenda. The frustration of (say) the M14 Christian parties with their sunni partners stems directly and solely from the fact that the Future movement has not agreed to any law that would have choose their mp's, or allowed them to pose their candidates. Not one single seat. The LF, for instance, have proposed a proportional-law project based on 51 circumscriptions, which would have allowed for a fair mirroring of the people's real votes. It was duly rejected. Until we reach a secular state (of mind and of politics) and quotas are a distant bad memory, (a suicidal move for as long as we have a sub-confessional project being thrust at gunpoint by a fascist militia) we will have to make do with what people want. Ask a Aouni if he wants to change his leader. Ask an LF partisan if he wants to change his leader. In the 2011 LF's martyrs' mass, tens of thousands of supporters insisted on physically (besides those glued to the TV) attending the event despite the uninterrupted storm. The 44,000 chairs were all taken, and an equal number was on the streets. You think they want to change Dr. Geagea for someone else? Right now, both coalitions hold, and we hope that you will finger out the real cause behind the widening confessional divide in another 'in-depth' essay soon. Until we (and the whole world) reach that secular state of mind/ politics we ambition, we will do just fine with our confessional system. It has worked greatly outside of foreign interference. Thank You.

    March 13, 2013

  • Rani_

    Several problems with this article: 1- The Christians never thought that they are genetically superior to Muslims. This accusation of racism is totally unfair. 2- Fresh ideas can be wrong and old ideas can be correct. New (and inexperienced) leaders experimenting with "fresh ideas" that are unproven can be a recipe for disaster. 3- Political parties do not have to be democratic because they are only vessels for ideas that the voters can accept or reject. The country a whole has to be democratic, but not individual political parties. 4- The author doesn't consider the possibility that even if the Christians do everything right, the Middle East is just too evil a place for the Christians to fix.

    March 12, 2013

  • Beiruti

    Sure, we need new leaders, but, and its a rather large but, there are reasons that we have the leaders that we have. The writer is completely one-sided in his analysis. The Christians of Lebanon do not live in a federated state where they make decisions within the community that have no national consequence. The Christians of Lebanon cannot live in a secular state until the most sectarian of the other communities of Lebanon commit to a secular political society. Otherwise, to unilaterally abandon identity to confessional affiliation, in the face of others who will cross international boundary lines to fight for co-religionists is a formula for self-immolation and the end of Christianity in Lebanon. All must commit to secularism before any can. The Christians, as the most vulnerable in the whole society, cannot be the first to abandon their confessional identity in politics. Hezbollah must disarm, they must be denied the ability to press a sectarian agenda from the barrel of a gun. This must be a mutual undertaking whereby the whole society, Christian Muslim and Druze agree to abandon confessional affiliation as the means of political organization and move to economic interest as the basis for forming political parties. This is the modern norm and the best way to insure that being Christian in Lebanon will be no more unusual than being Christian in America.

    March 12, 2013