Opinion | The New Middle East of a Post-Sectarian Generation

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Similar cries rise from the streets of Iraq and Lebanon. “We want a homeland,” say Iraqis. That’s what the Lebanese seek by undoing government by sect: a president who must be a Maronite Christian, a prime minister who must be Sunni, a speaker of Parliament who must be Shiite. (In Iraq, it’s a Shiite prime minister, a Sunni speaker and a Kurdish president).

Such identity obsession, which stands in the way of shared citizenship, seems anachronistic to members of a younger Middle Eastern generation raised on a borderless cyber world. They want transparent governments dedicated to their citizens’ well-being, not to personal enrichment.

The road from here to there through such measures as electoral reform, judicial reform and the introduction in Lebanon of civil marriage laws (which would make it possible for citizens of different religions to wed) is long, murky and probably generational. Meanwhile, the Lebanese economy, its banks mostly closed for fear or a run on the currency, could collapse any day.

Nation creation also involves pushing back the power that has benefited most from American war, followed by American retreat, followed by American incoherence: Iran.

“Iran! Out! Out!” say the Iraqis. In Lebanon, the currency of Iran-backed Hezbollah has been devalued. Once untouchable as the “resistance” against Israel, the militant movement and political party is now often seen as part of a failed government, as well as the cynical savior of the butcher of Damascus, Bashar al-Assad. Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, is slowly being recast from the untouchable and holy “Sayyed” to just another cynical party secretary-general, who happens to be in the pay of Iran.

“We are a post-sectarian generation,” Hussein El Achi, a young Lebanese lawyer active in the orchestration of the protests, told me. “The country has changed because for the first time a collective consciousness exists. If we succeed, it could have a contagious effect in the Middle East.”

In a way, the struggle is even more universal than that. In Chile, it was a subway fare hike. In France, it was a hike in fuel tax. In Lebanon, it was a proposed tax on WhatsApp calls. The trigger can be small because a lot of struggling people across the world are at the end of their rope, angry at what look like systems rigged for the privileged.

I asked one Lebanese soldier what he thought of the protests. “We have rights,” he said. It was a significant “we” — and a very broad one.

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