Lebanon: Scene of Chaos and the Kinship System

When a regime loses the pillars of its legitimacy, and the revolution against it is subsequently rattled and obstructed, then the collapse is total. This is the state of affairs in Lebanon today: neither a regime, nor change.

In such an environment, fears flourish, among them is the fear of what some refer to as “autonomous security”. Every sect takes it upon itself to protect its regions from two threats: from the extensive economic crisis’s transformation into an extensive security crisis and from the sectarian and regional other that is “gunning for us” and might think of “expanding into our areas”. The military institution and the security forces, under these circumstances, cease to be a source of security because as they collapse as living standards rip them apart and may lead the soldiers and security staff back to their sectarian and regional origins. The potential cessation of US aid to the Lebanese army would multiply the likelihood of this dangerous development.

Some of those who are worried about this scenario have seen evidence for it in some of Beirut’s neighborhoods and alleys and in rural areas where divergent sects coexist. It is said that weapons are being distributed, organizations are being established and partisan coordination meetings are being held… On top of that, there is what became known to all: from the provocations by motorcycle riders, to attempting to storm the Ain al-Rummanah (Christian) area, to insulting some (Sunni) sacred figures, not to mention the chant of “Shiite… Shiite”.

None are oblivious. Everyone has become aware that this sectarian tension serves particular functions: the October Revolution ought not to resume, smuggling to Syria ought not to be stopped, the “Cesar Act” ought not to be applied in Lebanon and, of course, the equation that pits the resistance in opposition to bread and bread in opposition to the resistance ought not to become apparent. And who knows, this misrepresentation campaign may develop into a military campaign in the south, thus renewing the cry of battle with Israel that no cry can rise above.

But, why is it that, in this part of the world, the potential for “things to turn sectarian” is so strong?

Going back less than two decades in past, we remember that Iraq in 2003, after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, there appeared a sectarian forest that Saddam had done nothing with but suppress, allowing it to expand and fester in the shadows. Also, the Lebanese of the sovereignty movement, on March 14, 2005, did not manage to provide a single clear example demonstrating their overcoming of sectarianism. We know, from more recent history, that the Syrian revolution was transformed, alongside the regime’s brutality and the word’s neglect, into a civil war (the same is true, with a difference in the details, for the Yemeni and Libyan revolutions). Later, in 2019 and 2020, the Iraqis revolted, but the Sunnis kept themselves out of the revolution, and the Lebanese revolted, but Hezbollah kept the Shiites out of it.

Among the other very well-known examples, is one which takes us back further: “The Socialist Arab Baath Party”, described as secular, which proposed “uniting the Arab nation”, ended up splitting in two, one under Alawite leadership in Syria and another under Sunni Tikriti leadership in Iraq. The slogan of the battle with Israel has been made, by Hezbollah and because of it, into an element of a new Shiite identity. The parties described as ideological in the Arab Levant, like the Communists and the Syrian Nationalists, maintained their waning presence through this or that sect’s protection.

In such a situation, hopes in the fight against sectarianism dwindle. Education and encountering the outside world can modernize sects and sectarianism far more than they can undermine them. Social class, which may intersect with the sect and may incite rebellion from time to time, suffices itself, at the decisive moment, with being a mere economic player that has neither consciousness of itself nor the potential for politicization as such.

The fact that members of the same group live side by side, the emphasis on origins, possession of the family’s genealogical tree, the predominance of consanguineous marriage, the values of retribution and the accompanying payment of blood money (diyya)... all of these have been, since pre-modern times, the foundations of our extended kinship system. With modernity, the economy and education adapted to the kinship system: the first turned these groups into wealth distribution networks, and the second provided uneven degrees of reception to foreign schools, which thereby contributed to reinforcing the given divergence. The traditionalists’ regimes did not challenge this state of affairs, and the military regimes that came to power through coup d'états enshrined it and intensified it.

This does not mean that we have always been sectarian: 200 years ago, there were no sects in the way we know them today. Nevertheless, our tribal social composition laid the groundwork for sectarianism’s subsequent development. This also does not mean that we are destined to remain divided into sects forever. However, the era of sectarianism and the kinship system can last for a long time when we do not resist them, and we did not resist them. We resisted capitalism, colonialism, Zionism and reactionaries, but we did not resist sectarianism and the kinship system. Even today, the more pervasive they become, and today their pervasiveness is at its peak, the more our intellectuals insist on denying their existence or downplaying their ubiquity.

Indeed, modernist ideology and its political parties, which overtook our intellectuals, did nothing but modernize the traditional through various forms of denying reality. This often manifested in sectarian parties’ “Nationalism” and took them on the journey of “fighting imperialism and Zionism”. Today’s manifestations of this phenomenon are the “progressive” positions supporting Hezbollah and the Baath Party. And the last of the theaters, until further notice, may be Lebanon, where there is neither a regime nor change, only ruin to be brought down upon “brethren” at the hands of their “brethren”.