I know Lebanon, got to know its people and was there for its developmental boom, which paved the course that had been in Europe after the war. A similar boom has been underway for years in the Gulf states, with technological innovation striving in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Kuwait, Manama and Muscat.
Nonetheless, because of my affection for Lebanon – which is shared by all those who have seen it stand strong, until recently, in the face of foreign interference – reading, hearing, or watching what has become of the country fills me with sorrow.
It stood strong until the foundations it had been standing on were suddenly crushed by those striving to turn Lebanon into an arena for short-sighted aspirations and working to fan the flames of partisan polarization and sectarian tensions.
Indeed, the shining light of Lebanon’s particularity is gradually disappearing. The skies of Lebanese life are not serene; they do not reassure the soul.
The Lebanese boast about the fact that their country has been a democracy since Lebanon attained its independence 79 years ago. However, democracy becomes a flaw when the competing forces disagree on fundamental matters that are almost national taboos. To add some clarity, democratic freedom ends, or it should, where questions of allegiance begin.
The Lebanese have allowed themselves to fall into the trap of allegiance to foreign forces, projects, and ideologies. They thereby undermined the arteries of patriotism and almost rendered them totally clogged when this or that group decided that its foreign backers take precedence over their national obligations.
Many friends, elites who also represent their sects, have complained of how badly they have suffered because of the choices of this or that sectarian chief. My friends have also told me about how these chiefs take cover under the cloak of democracy being exercised in Lebanon, while these chiefs monopolize political, partisan, and revolutionary spaces – deviating from genuine democracy.
These struggles peaked once arms began undermining the country’s democratic atmosphere.
The framework set up by the Taif Agreement is the best remedy for the ills that had taken hold in Lebanon after the pillars of its particularity were lost or undermined. It is by safeguarding them that Lebanon was kept stable, and then the Taif Agreement developed the framework to do so.
When voices hit out against this agreement amid all the suffering in Lebanon, it is because their sectarian chauvinism or foreign allegiances come before their obligations to the nation and their loyalty to the homeland and its framework.
Sooner or later, the next generation will doubtlessly end up resentful of this one because it spent years hesitant to fulfill its duty of electing a president and justifying its stances with shows of force. These grievances will grow louder, and the next generation will ask questions like: Why have you done this to us? Why did you bring these tribulations upon us after the climate created by the Taif Agreement had led to optimism and allowed us to fulfill our potential?
The agreement is also distinguished by its uniqueness. After seeing the Lebanese – armed with the weapons of others and seeking to implement these suppliers’ agendas – relentlessly fight among themselves, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia found that weapons should be taken out of the equation in this new phase the Lebanese are entitled to. Weapons had wreaked havoc and undermined their humanity.
Those who shared this vision must begin sketching the future of their democratic Lebanon on a new blank page. This democracy should include sectarian constraints without reinforcing extremism or greed. Political life should be founded on the following principles: no arms after today. No cover after today. All of us loyal to the nation are brothers starting today.
Luckily, Lebanon has a loyal friend that is understanding of its particularity in Saudi Arabia, which has enjoyed positive relations with the country since its independence and has always should keep Lebanon’s skies shining over the skies of the Arab world.
The Kingdom did not send weapons or establish a militia at any point during the war in the 1970s. It did not use its influence in the Arab world, the region, and the world to further a project that would see it control Lebanon. It always pushed Lebanon to escape the dark cycles of violence.
Eventually, its advice was heeded, and its ideas were developed further before Lebanon collapsed. No one else stepped forward because it had the means to do so.
The conference in which the Taif Agreement was similar to those of the United Nations in the sense that all groups were represented. As for those who were not represented, they lost out, though they would eventually rule the country and incite against the framework without which Lebanon would not have stabilized.
The Taif Agreement has a similar spirit to that of the Gulf Cooperation Council or the Organization of African Unity, which bring all the members together without turning differences of opinion into a taboo. Their objectives are what matters.
Moreover, the Taif could be enhanced, and its pillars could be reinforced, but not by re-considering it in its entirety or undermining the spirit of what had been achieved. Instead, we could see talks limited to the country’s top three officials (president, speaker of parliament, and prime minister), former top officials, heads of security agencies, sectarian leaders, and elite constitutional and legal experts.
These talks could decide divergences in interpretation, and it could lead to amendments, clarifications or even additions that had been overlooked in Taif. Through such talks, we won’t see debates about the Taif Agreement constantly resurfacing, nor would Lebanon continue to tremble every six years once the time to elect a president arrives and, by extension, a prime minister and parliamentary speaker.
Those who had taken part in negotiations in Taif turned the page on the agreement as soon as they behaved as though it were a political reconciliation that is important because it ended the war. Indeed, they had a duty to hold public lectures across the country to explain this agreement to people, showing them how its articles are like the pillars of a towering building – starting from its general principles defining the nation and the role of the three top officials.
They also had an obligation to integrate the agreement into the national curriculum and emphasize three fundamental matters to students, thereby making it less obscure for the next generation. The three matters: Lebanon is a sovereign, free, and independent country… Lebanon is Arab in its identity and in its affiliation… Canceling political sectarianism.
Educating youths about the significance of these matters over the past quarter century would have created a bulwark preventing thousands from being blinded to the Arab characteristics of Lebanon.
During this period, they were instead educated to behave like militias. Young men boast of the weapons by their side, and year after year, you find that there are two Lebanons, two entities, cultures, and allegiances. This hardly suggests that it is a united stable country.
One hopes Lebanon will be governed by a framework that protects it from the dangerous global winds threatening our region. This framework would protect and unite the country. It would become more significant if the military establishment is strengthened with all the weapons outside its control, both those that are apparent and those hidden beneath the surface.
With its cost, developmental projects, schools, and faculties could be established where they are needed. The nation would thus be saved from danger, and the process of writing new pages in Lebanon’s two-party democracy could begin.
Most of the democracies of the world have a two-party system, leaving no room for large and small political organizations and parties with agendas that do not benefit the nation or improve its children’s future in any way.
Taking a moment to reflect on what went wrong is more than necessary for keeping the structure standing. The dialogue we had referred to would be hosted by Riyadh. The Gulf states, the Arab League, and the United Nations would encourage it and help the Lebanese resolve their differences.
The dialogue would thus make the Taif Agreement more robust, thereby strengthening the immunity of the Lebanese, who have become ill with the virus of preferring distant neighbors over close brothers. In God we trust.
*The writer is a Former Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan and Lebanon and this article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
**The Diplomatic Insight does not take any position on issues and the views represented herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Diplomatic Insight and its staff.