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Saydet el Jabal, the past and the present...

Washington DC | February 29, 2016, 13h05
Par Tom Harb

I am reading about "Saydet el Jabal" (Our Lady of the Mountain) seminars in Lebanon, to "reexamine the country and community's identity and choices." It brings back to my mind the original Saydet el Jabal seminars of the Lebanese Front (coalition of political parties) of 1976 and the subsequent strategic seminars at that historic location, which I attended for over a decade. I only wish someone had the entire written archives of these sessions. I was much younger then, seated near those considered the "big boys and ladies" of public thinking at the time. Names? Many of them have passed: Charles Malek (former President of the UN General Assembly), Fuad Afram el Bustany (founder of the Lebanese University), historian Edouard Honein, constitutionalist Moussa Prince, philosopher Said Akl. Many former officers of the Lebanese Army, such as Generals Victor Khoury and Ibrahim Tannous, and intellectual figures of the Lebanese Forces, including Antoine Najm, left their marks. The list is long. It includes the Kaslik Research Committee, the Christian Leagues, the MECHRIC Committee, Abbate' Neeman, Lina Elias, and many more. Fady Frem, Fuad Abunader, Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea, Dory and Danny Chamoun, all attended. After the original strategic seminar of 1977, attended by the top leaders of the Front, Presidents Soleiman Frangieh and Camille Chamoun, Pierre Gemayel, Abbate' Charbel Kassis, Etienne Sacr, and the other members, it was thanks to Bashir Gemayel that the seminars resumed in 1980 and throughout the decade after the assassination of the President-Elect.

I attended these seminars—with the exception of the first one in 1977, and even then, I attended meetings as a student of the working committees which set up the agenda with Abbate' Dr Touma Mehanna at Kaslik Univesity. I was at the time attending my second year of Law at USJ. Fortunately, I gathered some of my own minutes and a few documents throughout the years. Sadly, many files and documents I had kept for future historians were seized, destroyed, and served—as I was told—to wrap mana’eesh (thyme and oil sandwiches) at the end of the war...

This remarkable history of Saydet el Jabal serves as a pillar of the thinking process that evolved in the then-free areas of Lebanon. This was the forum where the public thinkers of the last free part of the country were meeting and discussing the future. Some of us in the 1980s, lawyers, professors and journalists, wrote papers about "the next quarter of a century." No one among us then had imagined that the following 25 years would be as dark and lost as they actually became. The Saydet el Jabal consensus saw a different Lebanon, one that actually connected with the country's history and at understood the aspirations of those who lived in the free areas at the time: A Lebanon that would be liberated and restructured as federal, democratic and secular. It never projected anything close to the Taef regime, which has destroyed all three principles, nor did it foresee the direction taken by politicians after October 13, 1990.

As I compare the historic Saydet el Jabal seminars with what I read coming out from the current same-name-same-place seminars, I see a significant difference. Perhaps circumstances have changed, but the focus and direction are fundamentally different from those in my memory. In the past, Saydet el Jabal summit participants knew and understood the identity of their community. They were seeking a place for it under the Sun. In today's seminars, one can see that the question of identity is confused, disoriented, as many are trying to "rewrite" its history. It is always good to meet and rethink ideas, but in a post 1990 Lebanon and under the ceiling of Taef, do not expect the box to open, yet.

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