We all remember the monotonous refrain of the Lebanese political discourse, which often praised our so-called unique multi-sectarian mosaic. The refrain kept on resonating in the air despite the civil war, which stripped the mosaic of its uniqueness, and the melody still lingers on.

Are we more advanced than India when it comes to what we have accustomed ourselves to calling “coexistence”? Are the five million registered Lebanese, add to them the legendary, or rather mythical, fifteen million Lebanese expatriates, greater than one billion two hundred million Indians? Are we home to several hundred languages and miraculously succeeded in communicating with only one or three? Have we pulled off the biggest democracy in the world despite the presence of over forty three thousand races, classes, affiliations, clans, and “ingredients”? Have we achieved greater milestones in art, technology and manufacturing? We certainly have, for we are Lebanese. “Tell them that you are Lebanese,” says Lebanese folk singer Assi Hellani in his most popular hit.

The above sets the stage for the new rhetoric with which the Lebanese political market is teeming nowadays: constituent (masculine Arabic equivalent: moukawin- feminine Arabic equivalent: moukawinah- plural Arabic equivalent: moukawinat).

How have these words originated? Who shoved them into our daily discourse? Why weren’t they as redundant and rapidly rolling up in the political rhetoric in the previous years as they are today? And will redundancy and rapidity lead to stumbling eventually?

In Ebn Manzour’s Lisan Al-Arab (may it remain an all-time reference to us), to constitute something is to create it or to bring it about and God is the creator or constitutor of all things, forging them from void into existence.

If we suppose that God is our “constitutor”, Lebanon’s politicians and clerics would then be objecting to the will of the High and Mighty, who created us as “peoples, tribes and classes” (Holy Qur’an), and spoke of “beings” not “constituents”. And if we suppose that those are assuming the role of God in their creation of new things, we should then hold them accountable for treating us like “components”, let alone, their blatant impersonation of God.

It suffices to open the modern dictionary Al-Mawrid to realize that the Arabic words “moukawinah” and “moukawin” mean “constituent” in English. This word is widespread in western political languages and refers to the electoral districts or voters, not to sects or races, especially in the US where one can find the founding fathers vs. our war lords, the Supreme Court vs. our corrupt judges, taxes and trials for politicians vs. total immunity for our zu’ama, not to mention the colleges, research centers and ongoing accountability. Where do we stand on all this? Are we really knowledgeable of what the words ingredients, constituents and elements mean?

A close examination of Lebanese newspapers and books reveals that the usage of the word “constituents”, or “moukawinat” in Arabic, started modestly in the early nineties, then kicked in a little more in the mid nineties amid talks about the “constituents of meat” and the “constituents of loans and prices”. Today, it is used abundantly as a reference to the various sects of Lebanon. Are you an advocate of plurality or proportionally? Do you support the Orthodox proposition or the 1960 law or the fifty-district proposition? And will Hussein vote for Ali or Mohammad? Will Maroun vote for Nicolas or Ahmad and will Charbel elect Mohammad or Elia?

Dr. Charbel Nahhas compared our discourse to “the Byzantine empire, which fell while its elite were still arguing about the gender of angels”. And here our leaders are today, fixated on “element” and “constituent”, while the country stands on the verge of collapse. What gender are we and what gender are they? We are neither Byzantine, nor Franks nor followers of Sultan Mohammad the Conqueror, but we are Lebanese; tell them that we’re Lebanese.

Going back to Lisan Al-Arab, one can find the word “makanah”, meaning “status, loftiness and quality”. Will the political rhetoric ever change and adopt a new terminology that speaks of high “makanah” and all the denotations of sedateness and integrity that such a word carries? Will any of our politicians ever be worthy of being larger than life?

Tha Arabic word “al onsar” (العُنصَر) means noble roots, while “al onsor” (العُنصُر) means a charlatan. Therefore, it may be plausible to say that the political discourse in Lebanon is dominated by charlatans.

Jawad N. Adra

(1) Moukawinat: Ingredients, elements, constituents

(2) Makanah: status, loftiness and quality