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Now is the time to build a stable, prosperous, tolerant Lebanon

A member of the French military works at the damaged site of the massive August 4, blast in Beirut's port area, in Beirut on August 31, 2020. (AFP)
A member of the French military works at the damaged site of the massive August 4, blast in Beirut's port area, in Beirut on August 31, 2020. (AFP)
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01 Sep 2020 12:09:46 GMT9
01 Sep 2020 12:09:46 GMT9

As Lebanon marks its 100th anniversary, the crisis encompassing our country is forcing all Lebanese to reflect on what we need to do to put us on the path to becoming once again a stable, prosperous, tolerant nation.

Lebanon was founded after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and a brutal famine that had killed half the population of Mount Lebanon. What followed was a major inflection point and a total revision of government.

Today, Lebanon faces a massive economic and humanitarian crisis. Our system is broken. We are now at another major inflection point that needs a response as radical and all-encompassing as the one 100 years ago. We must prepare to establish a new Lebanon.

The current challenge is immense. The government is incapable of providing the most basic services to the people, or of protecting them from internal and external threats. Endemic corruption and incompetence have hobbled the state, leaving people to fend for themselves.

The tragic explosion in the Port of Beirut on Aug. 4 was a symptom of the terrible disease afflicting Lebanese society. The parasitic elites were repeatedly warned about the danger lingering in the waterfront warehouse, yet they refused to tackle it and then abandoned ordinary people to address the consequences.

The government’s subsequent resignation was a clear ploy for the real elites to avoid accountability. By prolonging the process of government formation and blaming everyone but themselves, the ruling regime of warlords and militias are biding their time to reassert themselves.

This is unacceptable. The same system controlled by the same people will only yield the same results, and these results have forced our country to its knees. There can be no return to business as usual. The people have for months been calling for total change, chanting: “All of them means all of them.”

This means that those responsible for Lebanon’s plight — including everyone who has propped up the governments of militias such as Hezbollah and their acquiescent warlords over the last 15 years — must not be part of its future. We must give people, especially young people, hope and stability, and give communities a vision of a new future.

Where do we go from here? We must start with an empowered and revolutionary interim government. The current names being touted as prime minister by the entrenched political parties — including Mustafa Adib — are not acceptable.

We need an interim government that that is truly independent. Interim governments are often only entrusted to collect garbage from the streets, but we need one that can remove all the garbage that litters our country’s political system.

Vested interests will seek to undermine an interim government by suggesting that it does not have a mandate for radical reform. What more clear and present mandate is needed than the young people marching in the streets or the families sitting in ruined homes?

A new interim leadership of talented, dedicated and independent experts must receive local and international backing to pursue a radical agenda that stretches from turning the lights back on to guiding Lebanon through wholesale constitutional reform.

The most immediate task will be to rebuild Beirut and secure an emergency deal with the International Monetary Fund to restore public finances. While this must be led by the people of Lebanon, we cannot do it alone. We are desperate for the international community to provide financial and development assistance with transparent and accountable delivery to ensure it reaches the people who need it.

International partners such as French President Emmanuel Macron will be critical allies for this, and we will need their long-term engagement to support us through the process. The interim government must then methodically purge the system of the vested interests and corrupt officials that have strangled Lebanon to date.

Militias such as Hezbollah are a clear and present danger to the country and must be disarmed and dismantled, freeing the government from the poisonous “state within a state.” All institutions — the judiciary, security services and even the port authorities — must be cleaned up, with factional interests replaced by meritocracy.

Most importantly for Lebanon’s future, the interim government should oversee a process of constitutional reform. The process can take its mandate from the peace agreement that ended Lebanon’s civil war, which called for such constitutional reform but remains unfulfilled by the warlords who have come to dominate the country.

By agreeing on a new, non-confessional constitution that protects minorities and enshrines the rights and freedoms of the Lebanese people, the Lebanon that we love will return. This Lebanon can be a neutral country in the region, maintaining good relations with all our Arab neighbors and welcoming citizens and investment from all friendly countries. Lebanon cannot be allowed to remain a battlefield for regional conflicts.

We are at a critical juncture in our history. We have the chance now to change the direction of Lebanon’s future. We must seize this chance and create hope that Lebanon’s next 100 years will be more peaceful and prosperous than its first.

 


Bahaa Hariri is the eldest son of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri

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