Charbel Nahas: Building a civil state in Lebanon is our project

Translation of part 2 of reporter Amani Juha’s discussion with the Secretary-General of “Citizens in a State”, Charbel Nahas, published in Al-Sharq newspaper on June 25, 2020, on this link.

Part 1 is available on this link.

As mentioned in the first part of the interview, “Citizens in a State” is a movement that presents an integrated political, economic and social project to contain the crisis that the “expired” Lebanese regime is living. In the first part of Al-Sharq’s newspaper’s interview, the Secretary-General of the Party Charbel Nahas told us about how the Lebanese regime functions and how it led to the October 17 popular uprising. In this part of the interview, Nahas focuses on the post 17 October phase, the collapse of the Lebanese regime  and the plan the movement proposes as a rational and logical way out of the crisis. He explains that at first, citizens took to the streets in a bid to return to “life as usual”, with no ambitions for any kind of economic, social or political change.

Taking to the streets

Nahas explains that Lebanese parties were taken aback when their supporters took to the streets on October 17. Prior protests by veterans also proved this as they focused mainly on maintaining their salaries. In a sense, none of these protests questioned the economical system itself. It was, however, still a surprise to the ruling parties, who tried -in vain- to convince the people to accept a reform paper.

People felt comfortable in the streets, as if a new avenue had been made available to them. They felt that the end of the Taif agreement was near and that it was time to contain the crisis. Official and under-the-table deals were made, with some parties jumping to the protestors’ side like the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party that chose to relinquish seats – de facto relinquished- rather than risk popular support. The Future Movement hesitated, while others like Hezbollah, Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement chose to hide behind conspiracy theories and considered that the protests were against them in person following foreign agendas. They thus had to find a façade, and there was the government of Hassan Diab.  The Coronavirus made them buy some more time. . Nahas adds that October 17,  2019, was the people’s spontaneous late reaction, with the famous “all means all” expressing distrust in their leaders. Up until then, the people were not aware of the impending crisis.

Lebanon’s uprising

Nahas defines the movements in the streets as un “uprising” rather than a “revolution”. The citizens actually rose against the same leaders they had voted for earlier in the last elections. However, the face-off was almost instantaneous and firm. The regime worked in a dreadful equilibrium in confronting the protestors, it bought time without solving the crisis. All the while, the Central Bank issued a series of circulars, banks closed and dollars (including those sent from abroad) were converted to the local currency.

Although eight months have passed since October 17, the Lebanese people still need to understand what has really happened. Many have lost their jobs and the Lebanese Pound has lost much of its value. But many, including the elites, are yet unaware that the six sectarian leaders who are now repositioning are responsible for what has happened. Grasping what’s happening takes time.

Nahas believes that this is typical of Arabs who have grown accustomed to living in worry: Since the region is an arena of local and international conflicts, they tend to think that “things have always been this way”. This procures them a measure of reassurance and safety, but also leads them to defend their current way of living and evade any measure of responsibility. Although they are not happy with the way things they are, they are content with it, based on the following two principles: First, accepting any settlement that can postpone the collapse, based on the premise that an alternative is absent, and the concept that “things have always been this way”; and second, any change usually comes from decisions of foreign powers, which only leads internal powers to gain time based on the given situation.

The regime’s impotence

Nahas points out that both the leaders and the people’s problem is postponement. Although it can be useful in normal conditions, it is not currently the case. The regime is incapable of dealing locally with the changes in the region and the world. This is where Nahas makes a challenging proposition: Instead of waiting for and acting upon external decisions, let us try to build a real state.

Through “Citizens in a State”, Charbel Nahas proposes a comprehensive political, social and economic vision to build a civil state. He suggests that negotiations leading to a peaceful transition of power is a necessity. However, building a real state in canton-like societies is extremely difficult. Which begs the question: What does a peaceful transition of power involve?

Nahas quotes several historical precedents where opposing parties found ways out of crises through negotiations and peaceful transitions. The Taif and Doha (2008) agreements are just two recent examples to solve specific crises. Changing the regime becomes a necessity when a situation changes.

Nahas therefore considers that negotiating a peaceful transition of power is realistic and has already happened in similar circumstances. He points that the impending danger should move us to take quick decisions to save what remains to be saved. A part of the population has responded positively to this endeavor.

Nahas concludes by saying that the regime itself knows -and worries about- the mess it is in. Given the rgime’s failure and corruption, let the decision-making process be moved to an outsider of the system for at least a year and a half, enough to set the wheels in motion again. Although taking up the reins of power in such a situation is quite an adventurous, even perilous task, Nahas and his movement declare themselves ready to take up the challenge. Failure would be the responsibility of those in power at the time, and if they are successful, then the task would be managed according to pre-negotiated agreement between all parties.