Collapse of the banking system could mean the end of Lebanon

Lebanon’s leadership has no understanding of the regional changes taking place, as was the case in the 1970s.
Sunday 19/04/2020
Several hundred Lebanese protest in the northern city of Tripoli despite the country’s coronavirus lockdown, April 17. (AFP)
Unhappy days. Several hundred Lebanese protest in the northern city of Tripoli despite the country’s coronavirus lockdown, April 17. (AFP)

The Lebanese only want to know one thing: When will banks release their hold on people’s deposits? It’s not just a question of freeing Lebanese and Arab deposits, but also of playing with the country’s fate. Of course everybody is now busy with the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Lebanese are also worried about the future of their country, not knowing if it can survive if its banking system collapses.

It is no secret that Lebanon is a bank. It is primarily thanks to this role, in addition to its other roles since before independence in 1943, that the country has remained steadfast in spite of the ongoing war since 1975. What has enabled Lebanon to survive is its banking system and its continued efforts to protect a vibrant culture of life over the culture of death advocated by Hezbollah, and before it by Christian and Islamic militias and Palestinian factions. They all played a role in the destruction of Beirut, which the Syrian regime was able to fully exploit for a long time.

Despite many trials and tribulations over the past 45 years, Lebanon has always kept the foundations of life in the country. Among these foundations are Beirut’s port and airport. Beirut itself was vibrant with life, with all of its newspapers, magazines, cultural life, cafes, hotels, restaurants and nightclubs. It was a city that loved life and people loved to live in it.

On the margins of the crisis of Lebanon’s banking sector, which is crucial to the country’s survival, there is one remark that must be made. It concerns the role of certain Christian groups in bringing the political situation in Lebanon to where it is now, that is to say, to having a “Hezbollah government” in place during this “Hezbollah era.” The original sin of Lebanese Christians is not just the acceptance by some of their senior leaders, including former President Camille Chamoun and Sheikh Pierre Gemayel, of the Cairo Agreement in 1969, but, to a greater degree, their acceptance of the election of Suleiman Franjieh as president in 1970, less than a year after the Cairo Agreement.

No one doubts Franjieh’s patriotism and intimate sense of Lebanese identity, but 1970 was one of the most dangerous years in the Middle East. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser died that year, and Hafez Assad fomented a coup against his Baathist comrades as he prepared to become the first Alevi to take over the Syrian presidency in February 1971. In 1970, Jordanian King Hussein managed to preserve his throne and expel Palestinian fighters from the country. Miraculously, these fighters ended up in Lebanon at a time when the country was, more than ever, in need of political leadership that could understand the developments taking place in the region.

The Lebanese leadership at that time did not understand the significance of what had happened in Jordan, nor understand why the new-old Syrian regime was more than happy to take care of the transfer of Palestinian guerrillas to southern Lebanon, in accordance with one of the provisions of the Cairo Agreement. In other words, that agreement made the Lebanese state give up a part of its territory so that it could be turned into a base for launching attacks on Israel. In due time, that territory conceded to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in the Arqoub region in southern Lebanon became known as “Fatah Land.”

That stage of history laid the foundations for the big explosion that was to come on April 13, 1975. The country’s political leadership of the time still could not correctly read the significance of the events taking place in the country and the region. For example, they did not understand why former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger chose in 1973 to land at Rayak Military Airport in the Bekaa instead of Beirut’s international airport for his meeting with the president of the republic. Kissinger was on a tour of the region at the time, and if he had chosen to avoid Beirut’s airport, it was because he knew it had become unsafe.

It wasn’t only Beirut’s airport that had become unsafe. In the 1970s, Lebanon’s political leadership was totally oblivious to what was going on on the ground. There are countless examples of mistakes made after 1970, and a good chunk of them were made by Christian leaders. Muslim leaders have also made more than their fair share of mistakes.

Still, what Lebanon is experiencing now indicates that no one has been able to learn from the mistakes of the past. Worse, the president does not seem to realise that Lebanon is on its way out unless serious thought is given to protecting all bank deposits — the small ones before the big ones. Instead, all he seems interested in doing is pleasing Hezbollah and going along with the organisation’s crooked vision, which does not value the protection of Lebanon and the Lebanese or the future of their children. It’s a matter of principle. How can we expect a factory owner to continue creating jobs if they cannot access their money? What will happen to bank employees in the event of bankruptcy?

Sadly, no one in Lebanon understands the dimensions of the new reality at the regional level, nor the consequences of blocking Lebanese and Arab depositors from accessing their funds, nor the danger of distracting the Sunni prime minister with settling scores with every success story. No sane person can object to Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s visit to Dr Salim el-Hoss, who formed more than one government during his time as prime minister. What is objectionable, though, is using the visit to fire barbs at former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who made every effort to carry out the required reforms in the country and stop the pursuit of a suicidal economic policy.

Lebanon deserves better than this lousy era, and better than this government that has nothing better to boast about than its resentment for the successes achieved since 1990, while it conveniently ignores every failure that has occurred in the past thirty years, especially the resounding scandal of the mafia-style takeover of the electricity sector by the Free Patriotic Movement and its equally resounding failure to manage it properly.

Lebanon is living in an era where its leadership has no understanding of the changes taking place in regional equations, as was the case in the 1970s. Yes, none of them seem to appreciate the gravity of letting the banking system collapse. It’s nothing less than the end of Lebanon.

But, perhaps this is Hezbollah’s goal after all..