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Countering civilisationalism: Lebanese and Iraqi protesters transcend sectarianism

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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Protests in Lebanon have evolved into more than a fight against failed and corrupt government that has long stymied development in the Middle East and North Africa.

The protests constitute a rare demand for political and social structures that emphasize national rather than ethnic or sectarian religious identities in a world in which civilizational leaders who advocate some form of racial, ethnic or religious supremacy govern the world’s major as well as key regional powers.

“One, one, one, we are one people,” is a popular slogan chanted by Lebanese protesters irrespective of their denomination.

Tens of thousands of protesters emphasized last Sunday the quest for a political structure and identity that transcends sect by forming a human chain that stretched along Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast.

“We are one people. ‘Our’ leaders have been fooling us for decades that we are not one nation, but a group of nations. The past 10 days have shown that we are truly one nation, we are Lebanese, and that’s why you only see the Lebanese flag,” said Sobhi Jaroudi, a 67-year old Beirut resident who joined the chain.

It’s a do or die situation… We are ready to face fear and face responsibility that comes with facing a sectarian structure that has been in place for 30 years,” added Mohammed Shamas, a young protester, insisting he had no desire to live in a country of corrupt, sectarian politicians that have dragged the country down for their own benefit.

The protesters may not frame their demands in terms that go beyond their fragile Lebanese nation state even if those demands, stemming from constitutionally institutionalized sectarianism, have broader significance.

If they succeed in transforming Lebanese identity and translating that into constitutional reform, Lebanese protesters will have contributed to securing the future of protest as an effective tool of change.

That future depends on protesters’ perceptions of a common interest that transcends sect, ethnicity and class becoming part of the fabric of society.

Lebanese protesters’ success this week in forcing Prime Minister Saad Harari to resign also highlighted the difficulty in transcending sectarianism.

Sunni Muslim voices noted that it was a Sunni Muslim politician that had stepped down, reinforcing calls by protesters that he form a new Cabinet of technocrats only.

Nevertheless, Mr. Hariri’s resignation buoyed primarily Shiite demonstrators in Iraq, whose anti-sectarian instincts, according to Fanar Haddad, an Iraq scholar at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, have been reflected in increasingly issue- rather than identity-oriented demands since 2015.

Following in Lebanon’s footsteps, Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi is under increasing pressure to step down.

In the most recent Iraqi protests, those instincts were evident in slogans denouncing Iranian influence in the country and the government’s perceived prioritization of Iranian over Iraqi interests.

Protesters blamed Iran and its Iraqi proxies for the harsh response by security forces that has cost the lives of more than 200 people.

The Guardian quoted an Iraqi intelligence officer as saying that the operations room coordinating the security response to the demonstrations was run by Iranian and Iraqi militia commanders. “These militia became the tool to oppress the demonstrations,” the officer said.

The anti-Iranian slogans also reflected attitudes expressed by Ayatollah Ali Husseini Sistani, one of Shiite Islam’s foremost scholars and spiritual leaders known as the “safety valve of Iraq,” who has sought to counter sectarianism, keep a distance to Iran, and steer Iraq towards a more cohesive society.

They also amounted to what journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad termed “anger towards a corrupt religious oligarchy.”

Ayatollah Sistani signalled his support for the protesters with the handing out of free food, water and drinks and the provision of toilet facilities to the protesters by the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf that is run by his representative.

The anger, like a rift in the power base of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite political movement and militia, and Amal, another Shiite group led by parliament speaker Nabih Berri, fits a trend evident not only in the broader Middle East, but also in countries like Russia where criticism of the Russian Orthodox Church is mounting because of its close association with the Kremlin.

A poll of Arab youth earlier this year showed that two thirds of those surveyed felt that religion played too large a role in their lives, up from 50% four years ago. Seventy-nine percent argued that religious institutions needed to be reformed while half said that religious values were holding the Arab world back.

To be sure, Iraqi denunciations of Iran were rooted in a history of Iraqi Shiite allegiance to the state evident in the fact that a majority of the Iraqi soldiers who died in the 1980s fighting an eight-year long war against Iran were Shiites, and long standing rivalry between Najaf, the Iraqi holy city that is home to Ayatollah Sistani, and Iran’s Qom.

It’s a history, despite the vicious sectarian violence in the years following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, that contrasts starkly with the historical emphasis in Lebanon on sectarian identity that exploded in 1975 in a 15-year long civil war.

As a result, Lebanese protesters were more explicit in their rejection of a sectarian-based political system. Even supporters of Hezbollah transcended sectarian identities by ignoring a call by the group’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah for an end to the protests.

“I’m financed by the embassy of Hela Hela Hela Ho-stan, who’s financing you?” said a demonstrator’s placard on Beirut’s Riad Solh Square, using a chant popular with the protesters.

Added protester Alaa, a Nasrallah supporter: “His priorities here are different from our priorities, we want to change the system, get ourselves a better life; in short we want a new life, while Hezbollah’s priorities are keeping the system and making sure they’re on good terms with their allies. For the first time ever, we are having a clear diversion in vision.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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Middle East

Syrian Refugees Have Become A Tool Of Duplicitous Politics

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Syrian refugees in Rukban camp

Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria the issue of Syrian refugees and internally displace has been the subject of countless articles and reports with international humanitarian organizations and countries involved in the Syrian conflict shifting responsibility for the plight of migrants.

The most notorious example of human suffering put against political games is the Rukban refugee camp located in eastern Syria inside the 55-km zone around Al-Tanf base controlled by the U.S. and its proxies.

According to official information, more than 50,000 people, mostly women and children, currently live in the camp. This is a huge number comparable to the population of a small town. The Syrian government, aware of the plight of people in Rukban, has repeatedly urged Washington to open a humanitarian corridor so that everyone can safely return home. However, all such proposals were ignored by the American side. U.S. also refuse to provide the camp with first aid items. Neighbouring Jordan is inactive, too, despite Rukban being the largest of dozens other temporary detention centres in Syria, where people eke out a meager existence.

At the same time, the problem is not only refugee camps. Syria has been at war for a decade. The country’s economy has suffered greatly over this period, and many cities have been practically grazed to the ground. Moreover, the global coronavirus epidemic didn’t spare Syria and drained the already weakened economy even more. However, Damascus’ attempts of post-war reconstruction and economic recovery were undermined by multiple packages of severe sanctions imposed by the U.S. At the same time, U.S.-based human rights monitors and humanitarian organizations continue to weep over the Syrian citizens’ misery.

The situation is the same for those refugees who stay in camps abroad, especially in countries bordering on Syria, particularly Jordan and Turkey. Ankara has been using Syrian citizens as a leverage against the European states in pursuit of political benefits for a long time. No one pays attention to the lives of people who are used as a change coin in big politics. This is equally true for Rukban where refugees are held in inhuman conditions and not allowed to return to their homeland. In those rare exceptions that they are able to leave, refugees have to pay large sums of money that most of those living in camp are not able to come by.

It’s hard to predict how long the Syrian conflict will go on and when – or if – the American military will leave the Al-Tanf base. One thing can be said for sure: the kind of criminal inaction and disregard for humanitarian catastrophe witnessed in refugee camps is a humiliating failure of modern diplomacy and an unforgivable mistake for the international community. People shouldn’t be a tool in the games of politicians.

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Middle East

Is Syria Ready For Second Wave Of COVID-19?

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©UNICEF/Delil Souleiman

Despite a relative calm that has been holding on the front lines of the Syrian conflict since the beginning of the year, Syria had to face other equally – if not more – serious challenges. The spread of COVID-19 virus in the wake of a general economic collapse and a health care system battered by nine years of war threatened Syria with a death toll as a high as that of resumed military confrontation. However, the actual scale of the infection rate turned out to be less than it was expected considering the circumstances.

Although Syria did not have much in resources to mobilize, unlike some other countries that were slow to enforce restrictions or ignored them altogether, the Syrian authorities did not waste time to introduce basic measures that, as it became obvious in hindsight, proved to be the most effective. A quarantine was instituted in the areas controlled by the government, all transportation between the provinces was suspended, schools and universities were temporarily closed and face masks were made obligatory in public spaces.

As a result, official data puts the number of people infected with COVID-19 in the government areas at modest 4,457 while 192 people died of the infection. In turn, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria announced that 1,998 people contracted the virus. The data on the infection rate in the opposition-controlled areas in Idlib and Aleppo is incomplete, but the latest number is 1,072. Compared to the neighboring Turkey with  9,000 of deaths of COVID-19, Syria seems to be doing relatively well.

Tackling the virus put the already embattled health care system under enormous strain. Syrian doctors are dealing with an acute shortage of medicines and equipment, and even hospital beds are in short supply. Over 60 medical workers who treated COVID-19 patients died.

The situation is worsened even further by the economic hardships, not least due to the sanctions imposed on Syria by the U.S. and the European states. Syrian hospitals are unable to procure modern equipment necessary for adequate treatment of COVID-19, most importantly test kits and ventilators.

The economic collapse exposed and aggravated many vulnerabilities that could have been easily treated under more favorable circumstances. A grim, yet fitting example: long queues in front of bakeries selling bread at subsidised prices, that put people under the risk of catching the virus. Many Syrians are simply unable to avoid risking their health in these queues, as an average income is no longer enough to provide for a family.

Moreover, despite a nation-wide information campaign conducted with the goal of spreading awareness about means of protections against COVID-19 like social distancing and mask-wearing, for many Syrians the disease is still stigmatized, and those who contracted it are often too ashamed to go to a hospital or even confess to their friends. As consequence, a substantial number of cases goes unreported.

With the second wave of COVID-19 in sight, it is of utmost importance that the work of health care professionals is supported, not subverted by the citizens. Otherwise Syria – and the world – may pay too high a price.

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Middle East

The role of social responsibility in the policies and economic development of Iran

Sajad Abedi

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Authors: Sajad Abedi and Ghazaleh Aghaei*

Today, social responsibility goes beyond its old concepts, such as altruism and humanitarian aid, and covers the range of government activities at the local, national, and international levels. Since the social responsibility of the government exists in different areas; Therefore, economic policy-making should be done in relation to issues such as social rights, health, private sector activity and the role of companies in economic development. Each of these areas is part of the process of social responsibility and economic policy of governments. Therefore, the government can take more responsibility in the social sphere if, first, it has infrastructural capabilities; Second, to be able to use its capabilities in relation to its social responsibility to society and the power structure in the country.

Moreover, economic development, driven by the promise of eradicating poverty and increasing the well-being of societies, not only failed to overcome poverty, according to statistics; Rather, it had trapped many social classes and nations in the trap of institutionalized and structured poverty. The wealth of the world is increasing by year; But this increase in wealth is not something that is felt by all sections of society, and often, certain groups benefit from it. Another problem of economic development related to social issues has been and is the destruction of the environment. In the 1970s, various voices were heard in human societies about another scandal involving economic development. In fact, it has become widely known that this growth, dependent on increased production and consumption, requires more use of “natural resources” and produces a vicious cycle that results in the destruction of natural resources, environmental pollution, population growth, and so on. It will reduce the quality of life and endanger life on earth, which is contrary to the three principles of sustainable development. Levels related to social responsibilities in a developed society, starting from the individual, reach large government departments, and as we move from individual responsibilities to government social responsibilities, these responsibilities go from components and micro-indicators to Towards the components and macro indicators are inclined.

Levels related to social responsibilities in a developed society

The first level of involvement of social responsibilities in a developed society is individual levels: Individual social responsibility includes the participation of each individual in the society in which he lives and can be attributed to the interest in what happens in society and active participation. Defined to solve some local problems. Citizenship is a concept that is associated with the responsibility and accountability of individuals in society. In civil society, every citizen realizes that the irresponsibility of the people around him puts him on a path of fluctuation, and if he is irresponsible about the phenomena of the environment, he damages his own environment and the lives of others. The most beautiful pleasant feeling in the category of citizenship is the effort to cooperate and bear the responsibility of oneself and others.

Being socially responsible; That is, individuals and organizations must be ethical and sensitive to social, cultural, and environmental issues. Striving for social responsibility helps individuals, organizations, and governments make a positive impact on achieving sustainable development. The life-giving school of Islam, as a complete religion, has moral laws and advice for various aspects of human life, including social life, which every Muslim is required to follow in social relations and behaviors. “Purposefulness”, “being responsible”, “authority”, “having eternal life” and “being two-dimensional” are among the most important anthropological foundations in the school of Islam that make a Muslim a responsible and committed citizen to society can be one of the most important elements in improving the quality of life in the urban structure or sustainable urban development. Of course, every society is changing and has its own life, and every human being can determine his / her responsibility in the society according to the beliefs and culture of his / her society, available hardware and software facilities, governing laws and other variables.

The second level of involvement of social responsibilities in a developed society is the corporate and  organizational levels: In many developed countries of the world, companies are more successful that value their corporate social responsibility. These companies are always striving to create shared value by implementing creative and practical ideas. These ideas are implemented with the support of long-term and very accurate plans that these companies have in the past set goals related to their corporate social responsibility. Sometimes these programs are made available to citizens so that they know what happen, for example, a company will create a common value for society in the next five years and what interests will protect society. The role of companies in sustainable development is divided into three categories: social, environmental and economic. In fact, it is a “sustainable” development in which, in addition to the economic dimension, its environmental and social consequences are also positively managed. With such a view, the exploitation of natural resources and human capital today should not jeopardize the earth, life, benefit and happiness of present and future generations. In fact, demanding organizations to “act responsibly” towards society is an issue that, as their influence grows on the pillars of sustainable development; That is, “economy”, “society” and “environment” intensified in the last decades of the twentieth century and led to the emergence of a concept called corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the world of management to understand the impact of organizations and businesses on sustainable development, it is enough to note that among the top 100 economies in the world, there are more than ten companies. Therefore, the issue of “corporate social responsibility” or CSR has become particularly important in guiding the development process towards sustainability. CSR in a nutshell; That is, organizations are accountable to the community in which they operate; Because they use its human, natural and economic resources. Contrary to the traditional view of management and business, organizations are no longer responsible only to shareholders and should not look only at the profitability of shareholders and based on short-term benefits. Thus, organizations that are in contact with other stakeholders are expected to consider their legitimate demands as well. Beneficiaries; Entities are groups and individuals that affect or are influenced by the organization and cover a wide range; From employees, customers, business partners and local communities to the environment, the media, public institutions, citizens and the government. From this perspective, CSR can be called the integration of social and environmental goals with the organization’s operations and the inclusion of those issues in interactions between the organization and related groups. In general, corporate social responsibility, in a simple definition, includes the responsibilities that firms have towards the community in which they operate. Thus, social responsibility is a voluntary activity based on the ethics of an organization or institution that goes beyond the legal requirements and aims to meet the expectations of stakeholders. In addition, one of the most important features considered for this concept is the emphasis that organizations place on the social system of communities. On the other hand, activities should be such that they have the least adverse effect on society.

The third level of involvement of social responsibilities in a developed society is government levels and the involvement of politics in social responsibilities to create a developed society: The attractiveness of government social policy has no boundaries and relates to all aspects of life at the local level. National, regional and global are considered. All issues related to social security, housing, education, health and social care fall into this area. Planning to achieve such goals will not be achieved through social processes alone. The economic components must also be formed in parallel with the social goals of the government. Topics such as health, education, livelihoods, jobs and money are vital issues that, with the help of government, officials, companies, social groups, economic groups, charities, local associations and other non-governmental are research groups.

In general, the government is not only concerned with social welfare; Rather, it is accountable to economic classes, the mechanism of action of multinational corporations, trade unions, financial institutions, importers, exporters, shareholders, owners of economic enterprises, and other social forces. Theorists believe that economic policy-making in the present age is formed by various government authorities and groups. In other words, various sectors are involved in the economic policy-making process. Each of these sections is a symbol of social activities in communities. Therefore, economic policy-making must be done in a way that meets social needs. Any possible scenario in social policies that lead to the welfare, comfort and cooperation of different social strata; It is part of the governance necessity. In other words, for the welfare of the society, the economic growth of the country, the promotion of the income of various industrial and economic complexes, as well as the reconstruction of the national and global economy, there is no choice but to play the role of government in economic policy; Therefore, it is not possible to consider conditions in which social welfare, economic development and technological advancement can be done without considering the role of government in social accountability and economic policy-making.

If the government fails to pay effective attention to goals such as social welfare and the promotion of national incomes in the economic policy-making process, then there will be manifestations of a welfare state as well as a non-developmental government. In such a process, some theorists emphasize that the main function of the state can not be overshadowed by any other issue. If economic development takes shape; In those conditions, a platform will be provided to increase the level of welfare of the society. That is why in the period of economic growth, the income of the government, society and economic groups increases in parallel. Also, the reduced government budget deficit provides a platform for economic prosperity, investment and the of development infrastructure.

*Ghazaleh Aghaei, Master of Accounting and Audit, Islamic Azad University

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