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Lebanon a country of exceptions that needs a new vision

The usually bustling Beirut Corniche is cordoned off with metallic barriers, as Lebanon enters its first day of strict lockdown, Jan. 14, 2021. (AFP)
The usually bustling Beirut Corniche is cordoned off with metallic barriers, as Lebanon enters its first day of strict lockdown, Jan. 14, 2021. (AFP)
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15 Jan 2021 03:01:41 GMT9
15 Jan 2021 03:01:41 GMT9

News relating to last week’s lockdown decision in Beirut quickly made the rounds on social media. The official dispatch stated that “30 arrest warrants had been issued in Achrafieh, that there was a 90 percent compliance with the decision in Beirut, and that the army requested shops that had opened in the Dahyeh suburb to comply with the closure decision.”

The reason the dispatch was shared on social media was that the use of “arrest warrants” in one area of the city contrasted with the “request to comply” in the other. In a single simple sentence, and in a grave and dangerous moment, a sovereign decision to close non-essential businesses — whether right or wrong — was applied with force in one part of the city but could not be enforced in another. This is Lebanon today.

It is a good summary of the political, social, health and security situation in Lebanon. This selective state authority is what is bringing the country down. The fact that the authorities declared a state of emergency but the army could not enforce the lockdown or extend its full authority to Hezbollah-controlled areas is the reason for the demise of Lebanon. To restate the obvious, it is through its military arsenal, which threatens the state and the well-being of its citizens, that Hezbollah encourages disobedience to everything sovereign.

This is exactly where corruption starts and is even permitted. Hezbollah then extends this permission to those close clan leaders who can also extricate themselves from state decisions.

Lebanon is, in short, a country of exceptions. If it is the exception that proves the rule, according to the well-known saying, in Lebanon it has become “the rule justifies the exception.” Today, it is Hezbollah’s exception that trickles down and destroys the state’s sovereignty.

State sovereignty and citizens’ well-being are continuously eroded by these exceptions. The other exception that led the country to collapse was the banking sector — although banking cartel would be a more appropriate description. It is now clear that, beyond Lebanon’s health and sanitation crises, the financial crisis will also deepen. Next in line are US-denominated deposits, which are about to go through the expected “haircut,” but it is still unclear who will bear the biggest burden and how it will be applied. This day will come soon, as the peg to the dollar is expected to end, especially if an agreement with the International Monetary Fund is to be reached. This unpegging measure, which in fact would not be a bad move in the long term, will increase import costs and squeeze the most fragile parts of the population into greater poverty. Without supporting measures, which do not currently seem to be planned, it will have catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

This means that Lebanon’s situation will get even worse and that the black-market economy will grow in parallel with bigger security incidents. One can expect the state’s authority to continue to be eroded, especially as it will not be able to meet its commitments. Chaos might ensue, but in the meantime one can only expect the control of Hezbollah and its criminal organizations to grow. We will eventually see a return to a geographical sectarian division of the country, with each group protecting their own.

Between the collapse of the economy and the pandemic’s spread, the youth that revolted in an attempt to bring change in October 2019 has been crushed. They have been reduced to slogans and virtual opposition on social media. Their last slogan, which stated that Lebanon is ruled by a religious militia and a corrupt political class, does not even describe the country properly. This slogan exonerates Hezbollah, as it shares the blame with the corrupt political class, when in fact the latter is an obedient subordinate. This slogan should only be that the country is occupied by an Iranian militia. Understanding that this is a foreign occupation might be futile at this stage, but it is still important.

The simple action of publicly analyzing and presenting solutions shines a light on government opacity and mismanagement.

Khaled Abou Zahr

As the situation worsens, many brilliant Lebanese from all over the world are presenting — just for the love of their country — some smart and sharp ideas on how to create new initiatives to save Lebanon. These unsolicited concepts range from the implementation of renewable energies to practical solutions to exit the financial crisis. They all share the desire to make processes in the country more efficient and transparent. This is exactly what the current regime does not want to see, as it thrives on opacity and division and so will never take them into consideration. However, the simple action of publicly analyzing and presenting solutions shines a light on this opacity and mismanagement. Even if small, this is a net positive.

It is time for Lebanese from all over the world to take this one step further and start building a concrete framework for a new Lebanon. This might sound unrealistic, but it is how one can start to build a new vision. The youth that revolted in 2019 lacked this framework and political vision, and as a result were crushed.

A political vision with a strong governance framework, even if only on paper, is something real to aim for and develop. This should be a collaborative work that integrates the knowledge of Lebanese minds: Including lawmakers to write a new constitution, economic and business experts to implement economic and social policies, designers and architects to give meaning and depth to this vision, and those who are suffering to say what they need.

A plan and a vision would also be the best way to gain support and create momentum for people to rally around. There is an urgent need for this new road map to be created, even if it is only a distant dream. I am a strong believer that, sooner or later, a free, sovereign and independent Lebanon will emerge — one that respects and protects all its citizens, no matter their beliefs, and where all citizens respect and protect their civic duties. The Lebanese need to believe it too. Stranger things happened in 2020, so why not this at the beginning of 2021?

  • Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.
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