Uprisings in Iraq and Lebanon reflect the failure of Iran’s project

What the Iraqi and Lebanese uprisings are saying is that the project, which is based on instilling fear from the other within the same state and homeland, is no longer viable.
Thursday 05/12/2019
Iraqi protesters walk past a mural bearing a portrait of a Christian woman with the Iraqi national flag painted on her cheek in Baghdad's Tahrir square, November 21. (AFP)
Deep-rooted nationalism. Iraqi protesters walk past a mural bearing a portrait of a Christian woman with the Iraqi national flag painted on her cheek in Baghdad's Tahrir square, November 21. (AFP)

The first Arab Christians Congress took place on November 23 in Paris. It came in a context of political and religious transformations in the region and an Arab popular movement seeking to get rid of corrupt regimes that have no respect for personal freedoms or freedom of religion.

In its essence, this Arab revivalism cannot be separated from the deeply rooted presence of Christianity in the Arab region, because the Arab identity is dependent on not just common ideology, culture, history and geography but rather on integration with the human, national, religious, regional and family identities in the Arab countries from the Orient to the Maghreb.

We cannot approach the issue of failure and regression in the management of societies in Arab countries without addressing that of the state project as a framework for a social contract between the authority and the people, based on citizenship and without discrimination between members of that society.

There is no doubt that this structural defect leaves the gate open to external greed, whether Western or regional. We should not also underestimate the weight and role of political and economic factors, including the role of regional wars and the Israeli occupation of Palestine and Arab territories, in deepening the predicament of nationalism and in fracturing the state project.

All of these divisive factors are now threatening many Arab societies in their national unity. I’m particularly referring to what has become known for decades now as “the question of minorities,” particularly in the Arab Mashreq.

The absence or disruption for decades of the practice of citizenship has been one of the reasons for the establishment and growth of dictatorships in the region.

Naturally, in the absence of equity among the citizens of the same state, the question of minorities in the Arab region has taken a turn for the worse. In this context, we should not neglect the nefarious role of those religious ideologies that based their political project on demonising the other and on opposing the civil state and citizenship.

The religious plurality that has characterised the Arab space throughout history confirms that social diversity is an inherent feature of Arab and Islamic culture. It is a shining truth in the history of our Arab and Muslim societies that is confirmed by the long-standing culture of peaceful coexistence and shared genuine aspirations for freedom, independence and progress.

The Paris Arab Christians Congress took place within the context of a chorus of voices filling our countries, especially Lebanon and Iraq, voices of freedom hailing the principles of citizenship and state. They are the free voices of an uprising that is forcing us to revise our thoughts and beliefs, to break the confining walls of sectarian illusions and minority fears. It is an uprising against one’s self, first and foremost. What Lebanon and Iraq are witnessing today is the uprising of the state in the face of the pseudo-state, of the national identity in the face of the amplification and distortions of sectarian identities. Above all, these uprisings constitute the creative act of the state of citizenship and of equal citizens.

In this sense, the Iraqi and Lebanese uprisings propose a project based on the rule of law and state affiliation rather than sectarian or religious affiliation. We are all equal citizens bound by a social contract that governs our relationship with authority and power. Deep down, the Lebanese uprising is not an act of rejecting our communal affiliations and religious identities as much as it is an act of freeing ourselves from the prison of sectarian fears, ones that leaders of sectarian parties and religious ideologies have long invested in and nourished in order to marginalise the rule of law and promote the law of the jungle.

The Shias in Lebanon and Iraq were not immune to the infection of minority power. In recent decades, they have been subjected to a process of cultural separation and ideological isolation, not just from their national or Arab contexts, but also from their Arab social, political and cultural history. Iran's ideology of surrounding the Shias everywhere with an ideological fence has contributed -- to a large extent -- to weakening their sense of citizenship. Worse, that same isolationist ideology has, in recent years, been extended to Christian and ethnic minorities.

The Lebanese and Iraqi uprisings are, in essence, a response to this Iranian illusion in its ability to domesticate societies by emphasising minorities. They also represent the rise of the awareness and understanding of the system of national interests which, by necessity, presupposes the existence of a deeper awareness of belonging to the Arab identity, a moving and adaptive identity in tune with the times and with humanity’s achievements in terms of freedom, democracy and respect for social diversity.

If we take Iraq and Lebanon as examples, these two countries have always been areas and models of religious, cultural and ethnic diversity in an Arab space. So the Iranian project started by fostering and fuelling minority tendencies as a gateway and a means to justify Iran’s influence and control. It was then only natural to react to every ideological act under the banner of exclusionary Islamic fundamentalism and perpetrated by organisations that chose terrorism and blind violence as their modus operandi, such as al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and other organisations that reject religious and ethnic diversity.

The Iranian project was not far from supporting and promoting a culture of exclusion and isolation in Iraq and Lebanon. Essentially, it relied on its ideological influence and outreach to feed and consolidate rifts in Arab societies, by chipping at and marginalising the intellectual and cultural foundations of the national and civil state.

Not only did Iran promote the concept of ideological loyalty based on sectarian affiliations in those countries, but also went further when it moved to invest in strong minority identities and tendencies in Christian and other religious minorities environments. Iran is presenting itself to these minorities as a reliable ally in the face of terrorism and the threat of the Sunni majority.

What the Iraqi and Lebanese uprisings are saying, in essence, is that the project, which is based on instilling fear from the other within the same state and homeland, is no longer viable. They are saying that the civil state, based on citizenship and equality, is the goal and sanctuary and that sectarian and religious chauvinistic tendencies are nothing but a way to turn Man into a mere victim, deprived of his or her human rights as a citizen and as an intrinsic value that cannot be overrun and abolished by any religious, sectarian or ethnic affiliation.

The Iraqis and the Lebanese have revolted for the sake of citizenship and the civil state, and it is necessarily an Arab uprising in the face of external influence, which is Iranian to a large extent.

Restoring a stolen national identity, recapturing the culture of citizenship and uplifting the civil state, these are what the uprisings in Iraq and Lebanon are all about. They reflect not only an advanced civilised position and a progressive approach to the questions of state, nationhood and respect for human beings but also a clear and loud declaration that dealing with Arab countries as societies divided along sectarian, religious or tribal lines is simply unacceptable and finished with.

This is the true meaning of the uprisings in Lebanon and Iraq, where the demand for a civil state has become the real national target. The Iraqis and Lebanese have seen for themselves what extremist sectarian and religious ideologies can do to their societies, ripping them apart, squandering their national wealth and increasing their dependence on external forces.

The civil state is a realisable dream and a window to restore human dignity. It is a real civilisational defeat of Iranian ideology at the most prominent bases of its influence. This defeat has begun today but its political features will soon be reflected in these societies and even inside Iranian cities where people have started seeking salvation from their regime’s oppressive ideology and striving for a state of citizenship or a civil state as an alternative to the religious state.