Speech given by Charbel Nahas, Secretary General of Citizens in a State
July 17th 2020 – Martyr square
From the brink of people’s despair, we meet today to confirm that hope exists in this country.
From the clarity of the failure of the delusional mighty, we declare the power of will.
In the face of blasphemy of all that is valuable — that is, the dignity, freedom, and rights of every human being, including the religions that have been turned into systems of patronage and rituals — we declare our belief that confrontation is a duty, is worthwhile, and chances of success are high.
Confrontation against the absence of knowledge has been long. Years of warnings were unsuccessful: so many agreements were broken, many empty promises repeated, and valuable opportunities squandered.
When denial and imposture became useless, and after the savings and moneys were wasted and the people rose up, the confrontation became against the loss of courage — against the ploys of those who put themselves in the position of reformists and revolutionaries, and against the stubbornness of those who suddenly discovered that they were the target of a conspiracy and thus sought a mask to maneuver behind, and so created the government of Hassan Diab, a weary mask for them.
When their maneuvers reached the necessity of making decisions towards the outside (foreign countries), good or bad, they blew the horns and gathered together as they lacked any freedom of decision. They adopted the non-decision, claimed the situation is good and is continuously improving. The non-decision is what leads to despair, oppression, and violence.
Our confrontation today is against the incapacity of a fallen authority. They are powerless, because they are prisoners of roles that have ended, and because the support and distribution mechanisms have lost their fuel, as have both the internal and external bets upon which they had built their positions. Their interests have clashed with each other, within each of “their” group, as they claim. Now, it is all over.
The failure to acknowledge this powerlessness and an arrogant refutation of reality, while holding onto authority, is a mixture that leads to criminality. Criminal orders were taken automatically and implemented: three different prices for the dollar. People have lost their business or the value of their income, and they are unable to determine or know the selling and buying prices. What do the sectarian leaders and their followers wait for, other than the narratives and delusions that they produce from time to time? They wait for people to emigrate silently and without causing any problems, so that billionaires will seize their property, that is, public property. They disagree about the bone’s shares before the corpse has even fallen, because they consider it without a soul. Major dangers, both internal and external, threaten people; individual dangers that translate into despair and suicide, societal dangers that translate into emigration, and security dangers that translate into maneuvers of intimidation, transgressions, and repression that may slip out of control at any moment, with or without the interference of foreign state agencies. Despair, emigration, and institutions’ closure are the real losses, and they are far more serious than the financial losses that have fallen.
What was there is over. Now, we are at the heart of a transition. The question becomes: Is there someone who is managing this transition, or is this transition left to the winds? Where is it headed, and how should it proceed?
Our dealing with the destination of this transitional stage arises from knowing the reality that has ended, from the boldness needed to establish what people do not know or may have forgotten, and from a decision that is free from the frameworks drawn for each of us — be they sectarian, class, social, or regional. A number of retired officers have spoken, and now I give my speech, after which Shamel Roukoz will give his. Our experience provided us with knowledge, even if the image, for those who know, is an ugly one, but bravery did not betray us in difficult moments. We are not immune to error, but we decide for ourselves.
We are different from them.
They are leaders of sects. We are not sects. Sects are fearful and frightening entities, aggressive by their very nature – defending when they are weak, attacking when they feel strong. And they were never strong, since they are governed by the interests of foreign countries: one sect acquiesces, another is upset; one is besieged, another is supported. Even their masters are fed up with them.
We are citizens, and I do not only mean our political movement, but the thousands of people who are here today, and the hundreds of thousands who are in their homes who are caught between two contradictory feelings: despair and rebellion…
Our message today is simple and clear: We will no longer acquiesce to be passive receivers, being ‘subject to’. Rather, we will be active, at least in our own affairs, on our land, and we will try hard to be effective in our surroundings. And we are able to do so.
We, as Lebanese, are able, with our technical, media, financial, military, and scientific competencies, residents and emigrants, to sit at the negotiating table, rather than to be one of the dishes being negotiated. The only condition for this is that we be present as a de facto state, not as sects. The sects are only dishes on the negotiating tables of states, or a fork used by one side to poke another. We are not the strongest, we are not the most fortified, but we have a vital interest and we are strong enough to be impactful. This is how politics with the outside, all the outside countries, is conducted: for the benefit of society, the real society, the whole society, instead of begging and being dependent on foreign countries and instead of the imaginary domestic antagonisms that lead to dangerous fates.
Our project is simple, clear and declared. Imposing negotiations for a peaceful transfer of power to a government with legislative powers for a period of eighteen months for two tasks: to contain the results of the collapse, that is, to manage the crisis fairly and purposefully, and to confront its causes, that is, to establish the legitimacy of the only possible actual state in our country — a civil state.
This government’s work is carefully organized in three stages:
The first stage consists of carrying an inventory of the actual assets available for use, and negotiations with foreign countries to determine the resources that would be available and under what conditions, and what we would accept politically from abroad and what we would reject.
The second stage is the minimization of damage and a fair distribution of both the burdens and the benefits, based on the results of the inventory, and the establishment of a social safety net that provides rights for people instead of turning them into beggars — a comprehensive health coverage for all residents, free basic education for all, and specific measures in the areas of housing, work, contracts, etc.
The third stage is the establishment of a real state and a real economy: a census of all residents, and then of the Lebanese emigrants, their places of residence, their professional capabilities, their age groups, etc. – for we need to deal with society in its reality, and for political representation, tax assignment and the provision of social rights, for accompanying the movement of workers from the activities that have ended into new ones, and for directing the capabilities of residents and expatriates in investment. Such is the required role of the financial sector, not charlatanism and extortion, but making work a source of dignified livelihood, not one of patronage and back-room deals.
After the completion of the three stages, legislative elections would be held on the basis of an electoral system that deals with the sects as exceptional cases to the civil state system, not as components. Citizens who voluntarily choose to be represented within the sects can do so. The civil state would thus assume the protection of all its citizens, and the absorption and protection of the sects from each other.
For the journey to be understood, it must have a clear goal and all the means must be gathered to reach it.
The goal is determined by the need; it is not a matter of sentiments, nor doctrines, nor ideologies, nor is it an issue of investment or technocrats. The issue is to turn the page on a period of fifty years, beginning from the mid-seventies. The state and economy were destroyed, and society was hit at its very core. The situation was not great before, but we did not live on exporting young men and women and on begging. In that critical juncture, there was the aversion of Fouad Shihab to run for the presidency of the republic, and the abortion of Elias Saba’s economic policy, onwards through blocking Salim al-Hoss’ efforts and others.
What is happening today is similar to what happened at the time. The war also broke out as a result of wrong bets, and then the stubbornness in spite of the failure of those bets. It seems easy to enter into violence, but getting out is very difficult.
There are losses, yes, but the losses become sacrifices when there is a destination and a vision, because then there are big profits: dignity, pride, productive social conduct, honesty in the connotations of rights and mastery in the capture of destiny – all within available resources, of course. For the people, this is the alternative. But the alternative for leaders is not too little, either, since it saves them from the crime to which their impotence drives.
It is natural to say that the means is a peaceful transition, as long as there is room for negotiation. A peaceful transition requires, in addition to the clarity of the alternative proposition, the audacity to take responsibility for managing this dreaded legacy. This is neither a joyous ride nor a lofty office – except for those out of toush with reality or those who do not see the depth of the tragedy. A peaceful transition also requires a balance of power, first so that people do not despair, and for the leaders to deter. Our gathering today is a tributary of the path of establishing this confident and reliable alternative, and of the continuous and close contacts with many individuals, parties and groups on this particular pathway.
But the field of negotiation has limits. And if its doors are closed due to ruin or harm, the confrontation will turn into other forms, and the female and male citizens in the public administration have a fundamental role in this confrontation.
Our meeting today was organized by the “National Salvation Front” and we were invited to participate as the “Citizens in a State” movement.
A large portion of those present here got to know each other because they served together as military personnel, in a regulatory framework resembles a state. They are citizens. The actual authority is not the theaters of the parliament and the cabinet, but rather is the authority of sectarian leaders of wars and of billions of dollars. This authority is the opposite of the state, and it was built only on its ruins. It hates the State if this word has any meaning in its dictionary. Generally, it hates the administration, praises it, turns it into farms, and tarnishes its image without shame. The image held by many of the military is that they possess privileges and pose a danger to people because they oppress them.
The gathering today came, starting with the call that was formulated, to say the opposite: No to the sectarian power of corruption, no to a technocratic authority used for camouflage, and no to a military authority to suppress freedoms. The military are the children of the farmers, from when we had a productive economy. They are the workers of tomorrow, and they come from the poor of this country and its youth. They are, first of all, public servants. The public sector gathered people while society was divided and separated. They got involved in an organization that was mostly founded by foreigners, but they coexisted within it, including the administrators who were pitted against the people, and the judiciary who were put in the face of interests, and the soldiers who were put on the sidelines. Employees were given some benefits so that the leader can tame them, separate them from other people, and keep a pliable tool in the hands of the powerless, and so that they may be turned into tools and victims in the hands of foreign countries and their tricks. Do not forget what happened in Arsal and Tripoli, and before, during the civil war, and with the fall of the state and the currency in the eighties.
Public administration is the basis of the state. Politicians in the world are not saints, but in the countries of the world there is an administration. There are rights and rules, which may not be excellent, but they are actual and applied rules. From this, and in exchange, emerges the legitimacy of states. The legitimacy of alleged constituent groups did not come from established rights of people, but rather from fear and from trade in benefits and loyalties. If leaders agree, they do anything, and if they disagree, they halt everything.
There are no technical solutions nor any security solutions. Stop trading with people’s anxiety and misfortunes. Freedom is the litmus test. Insults are rejected, but anger is legitimate; mistakes are possible, but imposture is forbidden, so are stupidity and belittling.
There are people, from their despair, and others from their malice, who say that our words are very beautiful, but they ask how can change happen? And they answer themselves that there will be no change because “the country has always been like this”.
Let us consider the alternatives before every one: escaping from the country or from life, or lying to oneself and to others, or joining one of the gangs. But even the gangs’ bread has become scarce..
The confrontation is between an authority that is unable to deal with its society, and a society that faces the challenge of forming a state, that is, the legitimacy of an authority. The first challenges the second. Resisting despair, flight, and illusion is not easy, because we are starting from deep-rooted defeat, the realization of which has been long delayed and to which many have surrendered. Resistance is, at the same time, against the enemy, the system of sects and billions, and in the face of surrender within, just like any real resistance. Resistance is a political project, not a military carrier and not a job. Everyone has to make up his/her mind. Indecisiveness is surrender.
We are not used to sketching rosy pictures. When we proved, before others by years, that we were heading towards the disaster, and we described it and warned from it, we were accused of being doomsayers. Today, we preach hope, but it is a hope conditional on work, on action that is sincere, purposeful and bold. The issue is not one of making demands or providing advice, but rather an action to fortify the only viable political project in Lebanon and in this region of the world — the project of a democratic, capable, and fair civil state.
The tragedy is not fated, and the crisis is an exceptional opportunity that should not be wasted, lost, or neglected. The people – you, us, and all the rest – are the makers of history, but those who are defeated within themselves are its victims