Leadership: Family Ties That Make Nations Die

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February24, 2007: One of the reasons Lebanon is always in such political disarray, despite its advantageous geographical position, highly educated population (relative to its neighbors) and long history of banking and commerce, is religion. A century ago, Lebanon was mostly Christian. That was one of the reasons for the high education rate and ample commercial activity. Europeans felt more comfortable dealing with Arab Christians, and Arabs trusted the Lebanese Arab Christians more than they did the Europeans. The Turks controlled the region for over five hundred years, and were content to let the Lebanese do business, and pay high taxes (Islamic law tolerates Christians and Jews, as long as they pay higher taxes than Moslems.) But as Turkish control began to weaken, hostility towards Arab Christians increased, and the Christians began to leave, often for the United States. By the time the Turkish empire dissolved in 1918, only about half the Lebanese were Christian. Shortly thereafter, the Lebanese formed a democratic government. They dealt with the religious differences by agreeing that the government jobs would be given out in proportion to each sects portion of the population. For example, the president of Lebanon would always be a Catholic, the prime minister a Sunni Moslem and the Parliament speaker a Shia Moslem.

But the intolerance towards Christians was still there, and the Arab Christians heard from earlier migrants that there were economic opportunities, and freedom from persecution, in America and Europe. Today, only about 35 percent of the population is Christian, and there are a lot more Shia and Sunni Moslems. Yet the old arrangement for handing out power and jobs has not changed much at all. This causes friction, but no one wants to do another census, confirm what everyone already knows, and risk another round of civil war. But all this is but part of a larger problem, in Lebanon, and throughout the Arab world. The problem is a lack of loyalty to the nation. People are more loyal to a family, social or religious group, than they are to a national government. While a Lebanese, when asked what he is by a foreigner, will say, "Lebanese," when it comes to Lebanese politics, there are no Lebanese. There are Sunni, Shia, or Christian. Actually there are nearly two dozen major religious sects in Lebanon. This is what people swear allegiance to, and are willing to die for. Not Lebanon, and that's what makes running Lebanon, or Iraq, or Egypt or Saudi Arabia, any other Arab country so difficult.

 


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