There is no citizen without a state, no state without planning, and no planning without responsibility!
In the modern definition, it can be said that a state is a mandatory political organization with a central government that maintains the legitimate use of force within a specific territory. A state is also a group of individuals living in a defined land and subject to a certain authority. Another definition of a state is an area of land with permanent inhabitants, a defined territory, and a competent government that can preserve and effectively safeguard its territories, as well as engage in international relations with other states.
Despite the simplicity of that definition, the concept of the state and the exploration of its origins and the basis of authority within it raise a multitude of issues. The state is seen as a political reality because the international community is primarily composed of political units, each carrying the title of “state.” The state is also a legal concept intended to create a suitable tool for regulating the relationship between politically unequal units built on justice and equality. Relations between states must be established from the perspective of international law based on the principle and rule of equal sovereignty.
All of this may seem strange to some readers, whether they work in the public or private sector. Many questions are worth asking: Where is the citizen in relation to the state? Where is the state in relation to planning? And how can the nation be built based on the state, as President Fouad Chehab called for? President Chehab used to say, “It is through the state that one achieves a homeland and citizens, rather than the other way around, which is more complicated for us in Lebanon at this time.” This statement still holds to this day.
Chehab noted that the Lebanese society is a troubled society going through a transitional phase, dominated by severe individualism and sectarianism, which can be traced back to the long-term occupation of the country that encouraged Lebanese people to resort to individual protection in the absence of state protection. The Lebanese people have become accustomed to facing problems on their own and relying on their primitive affiliations without resorting to state authority. The Chehabist movement understood that the birth of civic consciousness and national understanding faced obstacles that must be overcome in a well-thought way and that all segments of the population must benefit from the resources generated by the national economy. Thus, the Chehabist state sought to narrow the gaps in the quality of life between different social classes to eventually eliminate them, primarily by emphasizing the importance of the development of remote and rural areas.
Fouad Chehab wanted the state to build the nation, the nation that Antun Saadeh defined as “a unified entity” in the emergence of nations. If persons in power do not provide the citizen with an accurate image of the state, they will not be able to earn their loyalty. In order to unify citizenship for the state, one must go to the citizen and regain their trust. It is the duty of those in charge to go to the citizen through the state, not to wait for the citizen to come to them. That was Fouad Chehab’s secret.
Chehab did not become the president of a peaceful state and hoped to improve it. Instead, he became the president of a fragmented state during a revolution. He wanted to unite it, and then think about what he could further do.
He wanted the state to build the nation, and he had one great goal entitled “Building the Independent State.” He considered that the state must fulfill its duties for the citizen to have a sense of citizenship. Therefore, he wanted to build the Independent State not only politically but also at the level of development. He believed that when citizens felt that the state was concerned about their vital and livelihood issues, they would respond positively.
Fouad Chehab believed that going directly to the citizen would not be effective due to the political class’s control over them and the country. Consequently, he focused on building the state through institutions, which pushed citizens to join the state. Fouad Chehab believed that relying solely on the presence of security and armed forces to defend the borders and protect homeland security from any external transgressions, is not enough to establish the Independent State. The birth of the Independent State requires and needs the participation of all Lebanese without exception. Despite his intentions and efforts to build a state that benefits the citizen and vice versa, he was faced with the reality of the political components’ rejection of these principles. Fouad Chehab went to the citizen through the state and did not wait for the citizen to come to the state; that was his secret.
A few weeks ago, the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University of Beirut organized an academic conference on “Reimagining Citizenship.” It is the first in a series of annual conferences to be held by the institute, focusing on citizenship-related topics. The conference was enriched by the contributions and analyses of speakers, and I had the honor of participating as a session chair and speaker in the first session. In my concluding remarks for the session, I emphasized the need to focus on three future topics: legally transforming the constitutional amendments added to the constitutions of some countries in the region into laws that ensure equal political, economic, and social rights for all citizens; pairing legislative reforms with clear policies aimed at implementing this legislation; and modifying educational curricula, which is the first step towards promoting citizenship values.
The current educational curricula in most Arab countries do not shed light on the diversity of society; in fact, they portray their societies as racially and religiously homogeneous, which is inaccurate in most cases. Citizens need to learn at an early age to accept cultural differences and learn how to prioritize citizenship rights over ethnicity, color, religion, and many other aspects.
As for the keynote speaker of the conference, Dr. Marwan Muasher, a member of the Board of Trustees of the American University of Beirut, delivered a speech that had a positive impact on the conference opening. He focused on the decline of the old Arab system and the need for a radical change in mindset since the cost of reform is much lower than maintaining the current situation. Dr. Muasher called for working towards a new social contract based on a citizen-centered system in different areas: (1) in education, where the aim is to create citizens with a critical mindset; (2) in an inclusive economy based on productivity rather than favoritism; and (3) in inclusive societies based on pluralism instead of uniformity or what he called monism.
In conclusion, I would like to invite everyone, building on my call to reclaim the authority of “the book” in any political reform (the word “book” here refers to the constitution, as President Chehab used to use it in reference to any political issue). I invite everyone to reclaim the authority of citizenship to build inclusive and healthy communities based on pluralism.
Simon Kachar, PHD, Lecturer in Political Science, Fellow at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs – American University of Beirut.