Last week, the Free Patriotic Movement unveiled its electoral program: Towards the Third Republic… (pdf). Aoun has discussed this concept at least as far back as 2001. But the Free Patriotic Movement has brilliantly capitalized on it for this electoral campaign. A while back, Ibrahim Kanaan elaborated in an interview with al-Akhbar on the three republics:
1st: the weak, post-independence republic. Characterized by the political classes’ divisions and thus inability “to protect Lebanon from regional forces.”
2nd: the corrupt, post-Taef republic. The Taef, again according to Kanaan, solved the first republic problem by inserting the need for an external valve, Syria. More importantly, this republic was corrupt and the cause behind the national debt.
3rd: the projected, FPM third republic. Characterized by a strong state, in contrast to the 1st, and a transparent and accountable system of governance, in contrast to the 2nd. Their impressive electoral program elaborates on how the party aims to achieve this vision.
There is much, much to say about the concept of the third republic – both its obvious ingeniousness and its less obvious assumptions – but I wanted to share a few things that struck me regarding its overall periodization.
First, any periodization is, of course, neither self-obvious nor given and, more often than not, serves a specific version of history. In this instance, FPM’s periodization builds on an existing one. It orchestrates history as a series of movements culminating in an interpretation of the present as a moment of crisis resulting from weakness and corruption. Even more so, with its emphasis on a stable, almost final epoch — “the third republic is stable” (see image) — this version of history borders on the messianic. The element of messianism is further buttressed by a major backbone of the electoral campaign deriving from the new testament verse “Fal yakun kalamukum na`am, na`am, la, la” (“But let your words be yes, yes, and no, no; for anything which adds to these is deception.” Matthew 5:34-37). As if to further stress this point, in the al-Akhbar interview Kannan uses the expression “rusul al-jumhuriyah al-thalithah” (apostles of the third republic) to describe the party.
Second, this periodization is also informed by a derivative version of history, one that references the history of France, particularly the longest and first stable republic after a century of upheavals, la Troisième République. A Rajeh al-Khouri Op-Ed in al-Nahar asks: why is the third republic stable? The answer is simple: because la Troisième République was stable. But this is not merely a matter of translation. Together with the “Sois belle et vote” campaign advertisement and the new testament references, this leaves little doubt as to what audience will not only understand, but, more importantly, react to this as an “appellation,” to borrow from Althusser — i.e. recognizing themselves in an external projection that is in fact a barely disguised reflection of their inner conditioning. The function this performs — whether purposefully or not, whether successfully or not — is the reproduction of ideology.
There is one last point to the periodization in question, and that is the less obvious de facto acceptance of a specific version of Lebanon’s first republic. The problem with this Lebanon, according to FPM’s vision, is not its corruption, not its social and economic inequalities, not its marginalization of a large segment of its population. Although the electoral program diagnoses some problems that can be traced back to the first republic (rural neglect, for example), discursively, problems of corruption, bad management, and neglect are primarily stressed in relation to the post-Taef (read, Hariri) period. The main problem with the “golden period” of Lebanon’s pre-civil war history is, according to the third republic vision, primarily the weakness of the state. As such, whereas the FPM vision of history upon which “the third republic” builds diverges only in the more recent past from the “Maronite” history shared by its adversaries, it clashes dramatically with that of its allies.