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Saturday, February 11, 2006

A state of citizens

…Fellow comrades in the opposition, whether you are new or veterans, take to the streets and you will hear it. You will hear with it a call for you to take the initiative for an uprising of a different kind, an uprising against the self that would - in the aftermath of the end of the Baath regime's mandate - pave the way to the building of a modern state, a state of citizens and not a state of subjects. (Samir Kassir, April 1, 2005. )
These words deserve a permanent post, and I am tempted to leave them at the top of every piece I write, for they express exactly what our country needs. Samir Kassir died a true martyr for his country. Is it strange for me to be thinking of him on the eve of the first anniversary of Hariri's assassination? No.

Rafik Hariri became a national symbol only after the Syrian regime took him out. His death fueled one of the strongest opposition forces in modern Arab history. On February 14, Lebanon lost a great yet fallible leader whose vision, though not perfect, lives on in the city that embraced him in death, as it did in life.

The continuous arrogance of the Syrian regime and its Lebanese cohorts drove Lebanese into two different camps. There were the ones who saw no hypocrisy in supporting a murderous regime that kills their fellow compatriots in the name of protecting them from a great conspiracy. Hizbullah.

And then there was the March 14 variety: the darlings of the western media, which saw in them the germs of democracy and the unprecedented will to swim against the current. These, for a short while, put their ideological differences aside to unite in calling for an end to the Baath era. The young and patriotic of them camped near where their fallible leader had fallen, and peacefully demanded change.

Freedom square. I've seen it in pictures. I was there in spirit and in unshed tears. They waved my flag and told the butchers to go home. And I watched from the comfort of my beltway home.

But my distant friends had no leaders. The speeches delivered to them by the "opposition" betrayed the spirit that carried these unpopular figures to the freedom podium. On March 14, when the line was drawn in red, white and green, Nayla Mouawad, Gebran Tueni, and Bahia Hariri could not fit the new mold. Michel Aoun called in, but the air around his words felt contrived and opportunistic.

My young revolutionaries had no real representatives. The spirit of the revolution had nobody to articulate it and translate it into a project for a new Lebanon. The Future Movement wanted to continue a project, though visionary, was ill-defined and faulty on many levels. Walid Jumblatt could not stick to one position long enough for it to gel into a project. Qornet Shahwan was ineffective and unpopular. Michel Aoun came home and pulled the plug. The reality of what was needed was overrun by posthumous myths and politics as usual.

Nobody stood there, except maybe Samir Kassir, to tell us that the agent of change had to come from us, not from them. None of the ones who borrowed our revolution taught us how to build a state of citizens, not subjects. Samir Kassir tried, but darkness soon swallowed his light. And then many of us were lost. We forgot that patriotism is hollow without a sense of civic duty towards our country and our fellow citizens. You can wave two million flags, but if you still cannot stand in line or be courteous to others and give them the same rights that you give yourself, you cannot call yourself an agent of change.

When I finally visited in October, I stood by Hariri's grave and tried to take in the leftovers of the fabled March 14 spirit. For it was there, in the pictures and the writings on the walls that guarded the undying spirits of the murdered. I felt the spirit but saw it disappear at borders set up by the guardians of the grave, who looked like they belonged to a clique and not a nation. It hit me then that part of my sadness came from my realization that the revolution had shrunk and was confined to a small area. Outside that area Lebanon seemed like a weary version of its old incomplete self. People were living in fear, bomb detectors were everywhere, and the news screamed division. Instead of the people of the revolution, I saw puppets of interests, opportunistic politicians and shadowy figures on revenge missions invading public squares and television screens. Was the revolution a myth, I asked myself? The answer came from the faces of the men and women on the wall. The spirit was there, but the message was not carried far enough. It died as soon as it reached the hands of those we let climb the podium.

It is also not normal to let this day's popular movement disperse even if it's hard to keep it at its current climax. It becomes as if it [the opposition] is telling citizens: Well done. Go home now. We will call if we need you!
That's essentially what many, especially Aoun, did. He called it off as soon as he returned to the country. For him, the popular movement expired upon his holy return, which he saw as the objective, a prelude to making himself president. The others did not behave better. Listen to Samir. He said this before the parliamentary elections but no one heard.

Meanwhile, it is unacceptable for the opposition to give itself the image of the club of candidates to parliamentary elections. Even if Lebanon's parliament needs new blood, this does not mean that under the banner of renewing political life, the opposition makes citizens feel that all opposition figures are position seekers.
They all ran, didn't they? Even though many of them weren't our choice. They clawed one another and finished off a spirit they failed to faithfully embody. We got electoral lists of old faces on newly assigned missions bigger than they can handle. They didn't trust the people to bring in new faces. They didn't trust our judgment, so they didn't bother with programs to deliver us to the shore. They wasted our time on meaningless alliances that led the country to ruin. Rafik Hariri died many times this past year. He died with every bomb from Syria, obstruction from Nasrallah and Aoun, reversal from Jumblatt, and hesitation from his own son, Saad.

But if they all, intentionally or unintentionally, forgot the revolution, why did we? Why did so many of us return to our sectarian barracks? That's because we were not true citizens of this nation. We led an uprising exclusively against the other but not against the self. And I had to stand by the grave of my fallen fallible leader to recapture an essence lost to political manipulation and national immaturity.

On February 14, we should all go back to the grave to remember the spirit we lost. Do it for nobody's sake but your own. Let it be a silent protest of one amid millions. Carry your flag near your heart and let no one but yourself speak for you. Let the silence of your protest drown their failure to represent your dreams. Lift the banner calling for change, end to terror, and birth of a new state. Let it be Samir's "uprising against the self." Find the citizen in you, not the subject. And then find the way to the "state of citizens."

Only a state of citizens can fight the enemy and win. March on, fellow citizens.

The revolution, if there ever was one, fizzled. Revolutions do not need leaders , they need citizens with a vision, courage and commitment. A true democracy does not have leaders , it has representatives who embody the spirit , values and beliefs of the public. Revolutions should never be about individuals and personalities. They must be about ideas and principles to guide our actions. As Gibran said in the Prophet " you can only be free...when you cease to speakof freedom as a goal". Yes we have to rise and live like free people. We do not need any of the pols that have been our bane.

Yes let us celebrate March 14 not in memory of a great leader only but as a time of rebirth of liberty, freedom and decency. WE need to act free, we have to cut all the chains that have enslaved us over the decades and centuries. Send the clergy back to their houses of worship for the simple fact that you don't seek advice about cooking from a lumber jack. The failure of turning subjects into citizens is a purely personal responsibility and thus far we have failed to live up to it. We do not need leaders we need citizens. What we need most is a new collective identity, nonsectarian, gender free and open to possibilities. On March 14 we need to cement the birth of an idea, a state called Lebanon, we do not need to consecrate a man.
kais -

i am speechless.

With a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes....I say:

Thank you for the eloquence in translating into words the feelings of every honest citizen of our beloved country.


as many like myself we were there on March 14 and we are the one who made it happen. However, and as stated in your post, we were all dissapointed and it would be a completely foolish and stupid of us to even think of going down to the streets again. So NO. We are staying home this coming Feb 14.
Too bad for the fallen martyrs in 2005
Too bad for all the dreams we had for our country
Too bad for Lebanon

Best thing to do as a Christian is to move away from this country and seek a better life in Europe or the Americas. As my grandpa realized a long time ago (I wish I beleived him back then) Lebanon is not a place for us Christians.

God bless.
We are a nation of manic depressives, we go from being high to totally depressed way to fast. If tomorrow the UN says something positive about the Hariri murder we will all burst with joy and optimism. On the other hand, our ennemies have much stronger nerves.

Kais, your post is very moving, but I don't totally agree with your emphasis on great leaders and heros, some more interesting(Kassir) than others. I agree once again with ghassan's comment, it is not about men but ideas, and organizations/institutions that would embody them.
As for the usual "No Future for You" argument (sounds like a Sex Pistols song), it is no big deal: natural selection always gets rid of the weak links, those who are left will only be stronger.
Stay involved.
Be careful. I didn't say we needed leaders in the feudal sense. While I agree that it should be about ideas, ideas die when no one is found to carry and propagate them. History is about such men and women who have led people through darkness and inspired them. Most religions are centered around supernatural figures. Even Islam, which says the prophet was an ordinary man, assigns miracles to him in the years before he spread his message. So people need the myth of a great leader to believe and be bound together. Naturally, leaders have to leave behind founding principles. And the fate of countries should not hinge on them. That goes without saying.

Most democracies have representative leaders to lead the people. So we should not leave this in the realm of the abstract.
The Lebanese came together for he nation on the one day of March 14.

Then, thinking all was solved and resolved, with the last Syrian truck crossing the border, walked back to the old feudal/tribal/insipid/opportunistic/failed chiefs (not leaders, in the good sense of the word).

Not enough. Bravo Kais.

You can't cook a new dish with same old chefs. And change and history take more than one day.
I think we have a major disagreement on the role of a "leader". Ancient history is of no help in this case because what I am suggesting is that in a modern democratic states "leaders" don't lead. In a sense they follow because they have to embody the will of the people. Ideally a representative can be recalled whenevr he/she stop acting for those that they reporesent. A charismatic person is still important by making the implementation of the will of those that he/she represent easier but this representative is not their to dictate a vision . I would not be surprised in the least if in the next 10-20 years the world might have examples of governance whereby the internet becomes in essence a town hall that is in a permanent session. March 14 is just as much about killing a man as the assassination in 1914 of Archduke Ferdinand.

I am not denigrating Mr. Hariri and his sacrifices but the last year should have been better spent in building the foundations of a country rather than just running in place waiting for the results of an international investigation.
Pessimism is warranted only for the short-term. One enduring legacy of Hariri's tragic death will undoubtedly be the debate it sparked in the blogosphere and elsewhere(appropos Ghassan's and Josey's remarks) both within Lebanon and abroad regarding the future of the country. Kais may be saying that the movement's leaders may not have been worthy of the movement, but this does not mean the death of the movement itself. Rather, this latent energy within the populace is the most hopeful part; eventually that energy will find more effective channels, expressions, and of course, leadership. Fantastic post.
There is no longer any unity in Lebanon one year later. Walid Jumblatt is making outrageous accusations saying that the Hizbollah is an agent of Iran. That kind of talk only divides Lebanon further.
straight shooter,
I am not sure that I will classify Jumblatt's statement under accusation, it is an established fact that even the leadership of HA does not deny. Qabalan has just told us that the best thing that has happened to humanity is the establishment of the Islamic republic.He is not only an agent, he is a propagandist. How can we possibly glorify a revolution that devours its children?
Straight Shooter--

How is this outrageous? Are you really that naive or ignorant?

You're obviously NOT a Lebanese Shia, and it seems that you are the one making outrageous claims. It's funny to think that Hizbullah's leadership proudly boasts about its ties to Iran but yet it seems you would like to deny the power between the two groups.

Bravoe Kais...
Very well said.


What you wrote mirrors the way I feel. Lebanon has been taking us on a roller-coaster ride: one day I'm optimistic and the other pessimistic. At times I feel that words are just words...and me sitting here watching events unfold from the comfort of the beltway is meaningless at best. But then I justify my existence and reality by saying that all I'm doing here is for one day to be applied and used back home, for that is the ultimate goal and the scenario wherein happiness lies. However, how long should the wait be? Do we wait? Or do we just pack our bags and head towards an adventure? If we win, we're heroes, if we lose, we just return where from where we came from.

I believe that there is never with Lebanon a good time to return; it's a decision one takes, a sacrifice, if we truely wish to advance our country. I can myself be content by infusing change in an individual or two, or infusing change on the street I live.

I will stop romaticizing, and dream of the return.
I find some of the comments here quite shocking! Lebanon isn't for Christians? Who ever said this?
And just like that you are ready to move away to Europe? In search of a better life?

It's that easy for you? Well I hope there aren't many like you in Lebanon! Thank God everyone I know thinks quite the opposite, and WILL NOT LET GO of Lebanon, despite all the intimidation. This is my country and it is only over my dead body that anyone will kick me out, and will forbid me to life my life the way I want it in my country!
I am not a Lebanese Shia, but I am shortly going to be converting to Shia Islam. I support Iran because it is the leader of Shia Islam and it will always look out for its Shiite brothers and sisters all across the globe (including those in Lebanon who need Iran's generous assistance).
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