As Lebanese react to the STL they should learn a lesson from the Arab Spring
In the past, other Arab countries have looked to Lebanon as a model of democracy and free expression in a region submerged in autocracy and monarchism. But the Arab Spring has put us Lebanese in awe of the feats we thought our brethren were incapable of achieving, and has highlighted the systemic flaws within what we once believed to be the most representative system of government in the Arab world.
As much of the region’s citizenry fight to determine their political future, the matter of debate in the wake of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s (STL) indictment of four Hezbollah members is whether justice or stability is preferable in Lebanon. But instead of referring back to our own political reference books, we should be looking to those who are currently rewriting their history.
The latest round of protests in Egypt in July have come more than half a year since the pharaonic figure of Hosni Mubarak was ousted — plenty of time for any military council to hand power over to a civilian body that is already in place. The notion of genuine justice has become the mantra of the protestors, who want to see those who ordered and carried out killings during the uprising held to account. They are not concerned with the tired excuses that have helped to stunt the evolution of a truly representative Arab society and preserve a “stability” laced with corruption and inequality, and neither should the Lebanese.
The difference between the Egyptians and the Lebanese, however, is not only that the justice they seek follows a true overhaul of their political system, but also that they seek it on their own terms, not on those of foreign institutions. Egypt, and to a greater extent Tunisia — which has largely fallen out of the international media’s attention — have realized that revolution is a constant struggle and that they can rely only on themselves to direct its course. They understand that they must shatter the bedrock on which the previous system sat so comfortably, one institution at a time, before they can achieve what they initiated back in January.
Here in Lebanon, on the other hand, such a self-reliant fervor is not evident. Many seem to think that it is the international community that will deliver justice in Lebanon. But anyone who has taken even the most cursory look at our history and our current affairs knows that Lebanon is the playing field where conflicts and assassinations are carried out, as opposed to being resolved, in the game of nations.
A bona fide contribution to the country from the international community would have been to make good on one of the STL’s first promises: to focus on reforming the judiciary so that it could try its own cases. Perhaps if that had been a priority, six and a half years after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, Lebanon could have managed its own affairs rather than being swept up in the geopolitical wave of the tribunal.
As for those who propound stability over justice, the predication itself constitutes an insult to our collective intelligence and a means by which to point fingers and inflame sectarian conflict. By suggesting that stability will be harmed by the indictments because they pit Shia Hezbollah against the Sunni Future Movement automatically infers that the indictment amounts to a conviction in the minds of the latter, which it most certainly does not; many Sunnis are not about to swallow whole the STL pill given its grievous legal mishaps over the years. Trying to frame it as such only serves to add fuel to the fire of extremists, whose purpose is served by viewing every action or accusation by a sectarian party such as Hezbollah as representative of an entire sect, which again, it most certainly is not.
Thus the polemic that has emerged between justice and stability is just another testament to how susceptible we are to the pitfalls of sectarian rhetoric and the goading of international powers. We continually miss the point in the truth and stability equation: the two are inseparable. But if we allow our politicians to formulate their tired old narratives at a time when even the nations closest to us will not listen to the same old jazz, then perhaps we should expect to get exactly what we deserve: neither justice nor stability.
First published in Executive magazine’s August 2011 edition