‘Citizens in a State’, an alternative plan

Interview conducted by Paula Naoufal and published on Saturday July 31st 2020 by Annahar on the following link.

Annahar interviewed Citizens in a State’s Secretary General Charbel Nahas for an insight on their alternative plan and their view of Lebanon’s future in light of the current political and economic turmoil.

BEIRUT: The October 17 revolution has paved way for many different platforms to surface, who in turn advocated for various demands. One intriguing political party that has recently gained traction is ‘Citizens in a State’ (known as Mouwatinoun wa Mouwatinat fi Dawla, abbreviated MMFD). Annahar interviewed Citizens in a State’s Secretary General Charbel Nahas for an insight on their alternative plan and their view of Lebanon’s future in light of the current political and economic turmoil.

Citizens in a State is a Lebanese political party founded in 2016 by Charbel Nahas, who is also its current General Secretary. The party has recently gain traction due to its involvement in the 2019 protests, whereby they have offered an alternative plan that is founded on building a civil state. To Nahas, the role of the state should be managing the population in terms of their ambition, behaviour and interests. Additionally, the role of a civil state is built on addressing the society as a society and not as sectarian components.

Citizens in a State’s plan is built on a peaceful transition of power that aims to construct a civil state. In turn, this civil state would have a duty to protect the society as a whole regardless of sectarian preferences, functioning as an instrument that secures a minimum of social cohesion. Their plan towards a peaceful transition of power is based on a transitional government that is given exceptional legislative prerogatives for a period of 18 months.

The plan is set out in three phases, capturing reality, controlling the effects of bankruptcy and forming a cohesive society and an economy with defenses and balanced relations with respect to the outside. The first phase of capturing reality would entail making careful inventory of monies that are still available to the state and the banking system, whilst sending reliable ambassadors to negotiate with such far or near countries, and international institutions that have an interest in Lebanon. The second phase would entail controlling the effects of bankruptcy through an equitable and just distribution of losses. This would involve both a social justice track and economic justice track. The last phase would entail a formation of a cohesive society and an economy with defenses and balanced relations with respect to the outside. This would be mainly done through establishing the civil legitimacy of the state with its realistic handling of sects as community entities, but without any prejudice to the legitimacy of the state’s authority.

Nahas believes that under normal circumstances, a peaceful transition of power would be impossible, yet giving the current situation, he believes that the current political class will have no option but to do so. “They cannot continue to deal with the situation the way they were accustomed to. The people in power are not clueless, they know that the situation is grave, and when they realize that they themselves cannot fix the issues at hand, they will have no alternative but to go for an alternative,” he added.

He also states that before the current events, although the people were not completely content, they were satisfied, and this was seen in the results of the 2018 parliamentary elections. Yet, more recently Nahas stated that people realized that the system’s tools and methodologies are failing more and more each day.

“We are heading towards a dangerous and dark place, and this will put the leaders in front of two options, either negotiate a peaceful transfer of power through a transitional phase according to the specific political formula discussed in our plan, or face violence and loss. The latter option will include seeing massive number of people immigrating, more people needing social benefits, care and protection, and possibly lack of state security,” he told Annahar.

Nahas acknowledges that political elites have not yet conceded, and this is due to the fact that their supporters thrive on clientelism and corporatism, thus they cannot let them down. He adds “it is not that simple for them to leave, they simply cannot abandon their tools, yet with time, once they realize that they can no longer use these tools, they must concede and move over […] also it would be the rational option for them to actually sit and listen, since worst case scenario, if they hand over the government, they might lose some of their followers but not all, and in the case they remain, they might lose more supporters since they will be unable to keep them satisfied in light of the economic situation.”

Nahas believes that the streets are currently not filled with people is not related to apathy, yet due to despair. He adds “Lebanese were living an illusion, and they just realized it is over. It is important to note that people do not usually become more rational when things are going in a bad direction, they tend to isolate, think about how they can survive or leave the country. These are a few main reasons as to why people are not filling the streets protesting.”

Additionally, to Nahas, this is one of the main reasons for their creation of Citizens in a State, since he believes the responsibility should not be allocated to the people, and there is a necessity for a fresh political party that guides people and provides concrete solutions, instead of populist speeches based on blaming others. “Citizens in a State want to work towards serving the state as whole and since people are confused, hopeless and in despair, we presented a structured platform,” he adds.

In terms of foreign policy and relations with other countries, Nahas states that the job of a state is to a territorial localized arrangement, therefore, when looking outwards one should prioritize the interest of their own state. “Even in terms of our ambassadors, they have a role to serve the state, and not the political party that has appointed them,” he adds. Additionally, to Nahas, he does acknowledge that the tools for achieving the state’s interests might differ pending who is in power, yet the end goal of serving the state as a whole should be the same.

Marwan S. stated that he joined MMFD because he thought that they presented the most realistic path to a real transition towards a civil state. “They have the knowledge, the courage, and the independency to be able to allocate losses and to manage the collapse of the state, and later on to build the state, a real state, i.e. a secular state,” he adds.

Mohammad Mansour, an activist in the Phalange movement believes that Citizens in a State’s plan is not realistic nor achievable. He told Annahar “people who have put an electoral law that is tailored for them in parliamentary elections, will not simply give up their power to another entity.” He also believes that there should be more reliance on the people’s awareness, especially that people’s mindsets have changed after October 17 to the better. “Also, I oppose them in regard to their stance on the weapons outside of state control, I believe only the Lebanese Armed Forces should be able to bear arms,” he concludes.

Lara Slim, an activist in the revolution believes that Citizens in a State is one of the few groups that has a detailed plan in place that does sound appealing, yet she feels the measures are not tangible on ground and they are far from reality. “I also feel that they need to appeal to the less well-informed minds by being more present on ground, since they need all different classes to understand their solution and plan,” she adds.