The request for freedom in the Levant, made over the past two and a half decades, has passed through varied phases and has come under different headlines. From Damascus’ spring to toppling Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, the Qamishli uprising to the Lebanese March 14 and the epic coronation in the Syrian revolution. Among its many descriptions, this trend set up a new visionary path. It seemed that freedom was the prior condition for every policy and that all other aims whether they are “left-wing,” “right-wing,” “socialist” or “liberal” came afterwards.
It is certain however that this environment of freedom, which celebrated these transformations, is currently witnessing frustrations. In Iraq, the request for freedom was targeted with sectarian and ethnic divisions. In Lebanon and on a less dramatic level, it turned out that March 14 was a federal party that rose above sects and which during exceptional circumstances tasked itself with a patriotic uniting mission. In Syria, the revolution intersects with civil disputes and a regional crisis weakening the glare of freedom as a popular issue passing from one country to another.
Freedom comes first
A lot may be said about these cases, if each is analyzed separately. But what they have in common and what explains the current frustration is that the people of our region were not prepared to realize that this demand was in truth plans for the future. Plans that may succeed or fail. These plans have certainly not crystallized into people and homelands. If freedom is the first condition for policies, national formations among other things are the second condition, given they draw a proper aim for freedom and prevent its transformation into civil disputes.
The lack of preparation for realizing this truth was carried out by different intellectual and political schools – some of which oppose one another – which dressed us in a false costume.
Ideologies of traditional regimes that came before military coups told us that we are homelands, people, flags, national songs and seats at the U.N. Then military ideologies came treating this given as if it is self-evident and sought to call on us for wider unity. Liberal and socialist cores did not deviate from dealing with the hypothesis of homelands. People were taken for granted so it was enough to overthrow a tyrannical junta (according to the liberals) or a greedy junta (according to the socialist) in order for the people’s virtues and the country’s welfare to appear.
When rejecting divisions, they all agreed the latter was due to colonization or lack of education and awareness. They considered that looking deeply into the reasons of this division was an act close to treason or, in the nicest words, Orientalism. The logical sequel was that each ideology suggests itself as the last salvation stop which the entire people and country culminate themselves with. This is while knowing that the history of our region – ever since it was introduced to modern ideologies – only shows that these ideologies cause deep civil divisions which some individuals use to form their views and take their stances.
It has become clear today, more than ever, that without settling the freedom and state-nation issues, politics remains to be a verbal game played in time lost between times of bloody knockouts. If this estimation turns out to be true and based on negative results that no longer bear to be forged or beautified, requesting freedom has combined with the request of national formations. The intersection of these requests is most probably what lessens frustration when freedom's path relapses, and this is what helps prevent the relapse of freedom’s path in the future.
This article was first published on Feb. 16, 2013.
Lebanese journalist Hazem Saghieh is a senior columnist and editor at al-Hayat daily. He grew up in Lebanon during the golden age of pan-Arabism. Saghieh’s vision of a united Arab world was shattered when the Israelis emerged victorious from the 1967 war. Twitter: @HazemSaghieh