Choosing common sense in Lebanon

As we wait for an answer, one that is already known is, barring a miracle, Beirut seems a forlorn city, an inconsolable, dying city.
Sunday 22/12/2019
Lebanese anti-government protesters erect a Christmas tree made of protest banners in Beirut's Martyr Square, December 21. (AFP)
Lebanese anti-government protesters erect a Christmas tree made of protest banners in Beirut's Martyr Square, December 21. (AFP)

Two months have gone by since the beginning of the popular revolt against the “Hezbollah Era” in Lebanon, an era that started in late 2016 with the forced acceptance of the presidential settlement and there are quite a few phenomena happening in Beirut that require a closer look.

Hezbollah’s era dragged the country into bankruptcy and none of the excuses referring to events from the past three decades diminish everyone’s responsibility. There are many positive and negative things that have occurred in the 30 years since the Taif Agreement. Normal life had returned to Beirut, whose centre was rebuilt. Roads connecting Lebanon’s various regions were laid out and, until 1996, electricity was readily available.

After 1992, Beirut reincarnated the culture of life and of unifying Lebanese from all regions, sects and social classes. It happened despite the existence of demolishing forces, which resumed their activities after the assassination of Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005. Some say this started even before then, during the era of Emile Lahoud. In any case, these demolishing forces worked tirelessly to reach the present situation in which Beirut has become a dying city.

Perhaps the first phenomenon that must be stopped is senior officials’ denial of the dangers of the economic and financial crisis. It is a crisis threatening the very existence of Lebanon and yet the country’s officials act as if there is nothing wrong with the backbone of the country’s economy and its lifeline, namely its banking system.

For the first time in Lebanon’s century-old short history, citizens have been denied access to their money in banks and prevented from making overseas transfers. Worse, the country’s biggest trading establishments will soon stop all activities because they will no longer be able to pay for imports with foreign currencies.

More unemployment is inevitable but here we are in the middle of a dispute over the shape and composition of the new government, one that is supposed to include qualified specialists and technicians who have in-depth knowledge of the issues they will be dealing with.

More unemployment will lead to further social unrest and more emigration for those who can afford it. It will be mostly the Christian Lebanese who will choose to migrate in droves to Western countries, where some of them will be welcome.

The option of the Gulf countries is shrinking rapidly because of the stalemate gripping those countries’ economies that makes it difficult for them to absorb more Lebanese, regardless of their sects and orientations. It is well known that Lebanese expatriates in Gulf countries are appreciated for their skills and professionalism in certain sectors.

If there is a lesson to be drawn from the events of recent years in Lebanon, it would be that the Christian Lebanese are not going to be able to restore their rights — if indeed there are any rights to be restored — by going through the channel of Hezbollah and its weapons.

The Free Patriotic Movement must know that Iran’s agenda in Lebanon does not coincide with its own agenda and aspirations. In the Iranian agenda, priorities and circumstances vary from time to time but Lebanon’s Christians represent only a minor detail in a game whose framework is much broader than Lebanon.

It is a shame that Lebanon’s senior officials lack common sense. The problem is that the absence of common sense will bring hunger to the Lebanese as private establishments collapse one after the other and unemployment soars. Were it not for a lack of common sense, Lebanon would have a government of specialists, backed by parties that can mobilise people behind the government. Those parties know that the country is much more important than having a share in the new government, regardless of what the United States wants or does not want.

America has a powerful and lethal weapon called the dollar. Lebanon cannot fight a war with America. The United States, which can destroy the Lebanese banking system in an instant, does not want to hear of a Lebanese government in which the parties, including Hezbollah, are represented.

Those parties can be present through personalities affiliated with them in one way or another but not through people who have a clear desire to confirm that Lebanon has become dependent on the Iranian axis.

Above all, no Arab country willing to help Lebanon, if a “respectable” government is formed, would accept the survival of this Arab country as a mere “arena” for Iran. Is it reasonable for Lebanon to be a base for the Houthis in Yemen or a refuge for all representatives of the Iran-backed sectarian militias that are working against certain Gulf countries?

Will Lebanon choose common sense and prudence or will it choose to remain in limbo as a country that does not know where its interest lies? This is a fundamental question that has become urgent, especially when none of the political parties is willing to save Lebanon from its economic crisis without imposing specific and well-known conditions.

This is not the time for theorising and bringing up unrealistic options such as opening up to China. The latter does not need anyone’s advice to look to Lebanon if it had a real interest in investing in it.

What is the use of talking about developing industry or agriculture? Before uttering such nonsense, it seems more urgent to preserve what remains of Lebanon. One of the most important things left for Lebanon is its banking system. With tourism gone, banking is the backbone of the economy.

Lebanon’s banking system used to be supported by Lebanese and Arab funds. Changing the nature of the popular revolution that the country has been witnessing for two months from a peaceful revolution to a violent one will not do it a bit of good.

It’s true that the widespread revolution has taken a violent bend. There are well-known groups that have sparked violence between the protesters and security forces and this has resulted in injuries and damage to property in the centre of Beirut, which reflects the extent of the hidden hatred for the city and for the culture of life. Such acts will not move things forward as much as they represent an attempt to deny Lebanon its rightful and vital rights and benefits.

When all is said and done, and since Hezbollah is afraid of losing its grip over Lebanon, will it allow the formation of a reasonable Lebanese government that will be acceptable to the international community and Arab countries? Then again, perhaps Hezbollah’s sole interest is in defending Iran’s interests without giving consideration to those of Lebanon and the Lebanese, including the Shia community.

As we wait for an answer, one that is already known is, barring a miracle, Beirut seems a forlorn city, an inconsolable, dying city.