Monday 20 May 2013

The Middle East is falling apart at the seams

Painting by Syrian artist Wissam Al Jazairy

Ghassan Charbel, editor-in-chief of al-Hayat newspaper, penned this think piece in Arabic for today’s edition
Times are hard for the Middle East. It has to find a recipe for coexistence, drawing in the Muslims, Jews and Christians, which is not easy.
It has to search for a coexistence formula binding the Turks, Persians, Kurds, Arabs and others and a coexistence blueprint joining ethnicities, nationalities, religions and sects. This is not simple either.
Long lulls are deceptive. They feign that old conflicts have been assigned to the history books. This is not true -- any sudden twist is liable to rekindle old feuds streaming with blood.
Nation-states that were configured in the aftermath of World War One either curbed these conflicts or gave them other names. Once these nation-states’ repressive machines crack, the old demons resurface.
We’re clearly on the way to a ghastly, rather than a new, Middle East – one where the coexistence chapter drawing together its various components ends, heralding the reconfiguration of nation-states and maps.
We are unmistakably facing something more cataclysmic than the fall of the Berlin Wall or the breakup of Yugoslavia.
We are facing a Nakba worse than the 1948 Nakba of the Palestinian people, one marking the demise of coexistence.
We are into violent cross-border designs and aspirations tackling maps like an inmate treats his prison walls.
Don’t accuse me of being a prophet of doom. The pointers are everywhere in the print and audiovisual media, supported by rivers of corpses and declarations promising endless wars.
A suicide attacked a Husseiniya (Shiite house of worship) in Kirkuk, and the response was a spectacular offensive against Sunni mosques in or near Baghdad.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki blamed remnants of the “Baath” and “sectarian hatred.” His adversaries accused him of being a “sectarian bigot.”
Protesters in al-Anbar province treat the Iraqi army as a “Shiite militia” or the cover for one.
The Sunnite Iraqi says he won’t accept to be a second-class citizen, which is what the Shiite Iraqi was saying in decades past.
We’ve moved from the Arab-Kurd crisis to a Sunni-Shiite-Arab-Kurd predicament. It’s as if the whole Middle East has turned into the knotty problem of the disputed Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
Both sides in the Syria war are keen to deny its sectarian character. One side paints it as a war on inflowing terrorists and the opposite side depicts it as a revolt against a dictatorship.
So how do we explain the presence of Chechen fighters in Idlib, the arrival of Libyans to support their Sunni brethren or a funeral for a young Iraqi in Basra killed defending the Shiite shrine of Sayyeda Zeinab in Damascus?
Also, how do we explain the funeral for a young Sunni in the North Lebanese port city of Tripoli killed trying to infiltrate into Syria and the funeral for a Hezbollah member felled while on “jihadist duties” there?
Why does the Sunni Lebanese support the Syrian revolution and the Shiite Lebanese hinder it?
Why didn’t Alawites flee before rebels entered their villages or Sunnis take to their heels before government and allied forces stormed their townships?
Do the slogans of “objection” and “resistance” justify the military involvement of Iran and its allies in the Syria war? The counter-meddlers could be asked the same question.
What you hear in Lebanon, which used to be a model of and a proving ground for coexistence, is worrisome and unnerving.
Yesterday, I heard a prominent member of Gen. Michel Aoun’s “Free Patriotic Movement” accuse other Christians of treason. His charge sheet says the other Christians agreed to an electoral law allowing Muslims to have a weighty say in the election of 10 Christian legislators out of the 64 allotted to Christians in parliament.
A retreat to self-made islands won’t solve either Lebanon’s problems or the problem of its minorities. The biggest danger for Lebanon now is the growing number of risk-takers walking on thin ice.
Clearly, we are toughing out the eclipse of coexistence.
Our nation-states, our societies and our armies are breaking up.
The inviolability of international borders has evaporated. We’re in the midst of a regional civil war caused by a stream of cross-border projects. I am afraid we’re on the way to a period awash with statelets, militias, cemeteries and “cleansed regions.”