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Why Shouldn’t the Kataeb and Communist Parties Meet?

Why Shouldn’t the Kataeb and Communist Parties Meet?

Wednesday, 19 February, 2020 - 10:30

Two weeks ago, delegations from the Lebanese Kataeb party and the Lebanese Communist Party met to hold discussions and ''dialogue''. The meeting, as became known later, was not the first of its kind, but it was the first of its magnitude. There are two reasons for this: it was announced, and it was held in the midst of the revolution’s atmosphere. This was followed up by another one that brought together a delegation from the Kataeb with a delegation from the ''Communist action organization''.

The event took social media websites by storm, accompanied by many positive and negative reactions. However, what was remarkable was the prominence of hardline voices within what is supposedly the Communists’ environment, which is led by Hezbollah and, behind it, the Syrian and Iranian regimes.

These hardliners condemned the communists and disavowed their "deed".

Actually, many justifications and explanations can be offered for this meeting. For the two parties held similar positions during the revolution, and their opposition to the ruling establishment links them to one another in the first place. The Kataeb, under Samy Gemayel’s leadership, is different to what it had been before it: it seems determined to appear more modern and in touch with the changes brought about by the passage of time. It boycotted government (though not the regime) through its three deputies’ non participation in the session held to give it parliament’s confidence. Most importantly, the party transformed its headquarters in Saifi, Beirut, into one of the revolutions’ centers, offering first aid and urgent treatment to the revolutionaries.

The Communist Party, or some of it at least, has changed as well. After a long period of being ignored by its allies during the Pax Syriana period (1990-2005) and after the murder of several of their major figures and intellectuals at the hands of men linked to Hezbollah, the October 17 revolution put the party at a crossroads that it is difficult to overlook: are we to support the socio-economic demands being made by the vast majority of Lebanese, which is supposedly our raison d'être, or should we support the regime that includes Hezbollah?

In southern Lebanon, in Nabatieh, Kfar Rumman and Tyre communists and ex-communists beat their party to solving this contradiction as they favored the revolution. Thus, Hezbollah and its ally, the Amal movement, went about repressing it more than once.

Looking back on major historical turning points, one can add other instances to this rapprochement: the two parties were brought to life in almost the same geographical region, and their histories have witnessed few junctures at which their positions intersected, though there are many junctures at which they collided. Some of their agreements include the battle for independence in 1943 and Fuad Chehab’s rule in the sixties, which they both supported, though from different positions.

Why then, should the Kataeb and the communists not meet and hold discussions?

The most prominent justification, if not the only one, which the meetings’ critics hold on to, starts with the 1975 war, also known as the Two Year War. That is because the Kataeb fought against the Palestinian resistance, which the Communist Party had been allied with. This conflict with the Palestinian militants, then with the Syrian hegemony, established Kataebist-Israeli relations that culminated in 1982 with the Bashir Gemayel’s arrival to the presidency in the midst of the Israeli invasion.

However, while many Lebanese see departure from a supposed Lebanese consensus in this issue, is there not a similar number of Lebanese who see in the Communist Party’s support of the Palestinian resistance against the Lebanese state the same departure from the supposed Lebanese consensus?

Let us agree, then, that the real issue is one of building a new national Lebanese consensus, or that this is what should be hoped for in a country where the meanings of nationhood and patriotism, and many other notions as well, have been contentious for a long time. If this assumption is correct, then it would be valid to say that the October 17 revolution is an attempt to establish new meanings for patriotism and nationhood that break with the divisions inherited from the civil war. In this sense, we ought to welcome the step taken by the Kataeb and the communists, and other similar steps that may be taken by other parties that had been in conflict.

This is precisely where those who condemned this meeting see the problem to be: they do not want a Lebanese patriotism to take form, preferring the country to remain an arena in which regional issues are contested. Their memory is stuck in 1975 and their world is that of the civil war. This position cannot but be sectarian: for what is being said about the Kataeb could, with the same rationale, also be said about the Lebanese Forces and even about the Aounists before they joined the Assad camp.

In other words: a view that prioritizes regional conflict inevitably translates to isolating Christians, not just the Kataeb, as was said in 1975. The least that could be said about this sectarian stance is that it relies purely on outdated rhetoric and consciousness. Whoever doubts this ought to go over the concerns and slogans that dominated the Lebanese revolution and that also dominated the other Arab revolutions, which prioritized the national over the regional and the nation over the ''arena''.

However, and for this reason, those who incited against the two parties' meeting have nothing but animosity for the revolution. It is a new national event, and they are old sectarians. Supporting it dictates the encouragement of any rapprochement among its forces and those sympathetic to it, while those who oppose the revolution oppose the convergence among those forces, suggesting that the communists should continue to support Hezbollah instead. After all, isn’t the latter exonerated from sectarianism, which is monopolized by the Kataeb?

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