August 20, 2017

Lebanon will not be domesticated

Shaky ground. Security forces encircle Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (C) as he addresses demonstrators during a protest against the government in Beirut, last March. (AFP)

Lebanon’s public debt has reached $180 bil­lion and the annual deficit is at 60% in a budget of no more than $17 billion. Even though tax rates have been hiked, financial resources are decreasing, making the risk of fi­nancial meltdown ominous.
No matter how hard Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his national unity government try to promote the theory of separating economy from politics, indicators show the opposite. The country’s economy and its development rate are on a downward slope and it does not look like it will be possible to reverse the trend as long as there are persistent efforts towards changing Lebanon’s identity and its role in the region, the Arab world and internation­ally.
In addition to the dire eco­nomic conditions, Lebanon’s political forces, be they those revolving around Hezbollah and the Iranian project or those far removed from them, seem incapable of taking any measure that might give a glimmer of hope. On the contrary, the dominant discourse within the government and power circles shows a complete disregard for realities and a preference for having their heads in the sand rather than facing threats.
Everyone knows that public life in Lebanon has been plagued by favouritism and dubious deals but those now have reached unprecedented levels. During the past ten years, for example, there has been the largest spoliation of public land by political parties represented in the government today. These operations took place under the cover and protection of the illegally armed forces in the country.
Boasting and bravado have never been signs of self-confi­dence; they simply show that the boaster feels he is on shaky ground. So the daily political, military and media fanfaronade by Hezbollah and its allies that they can at any time take com­plete control of the country betrays their unease on land they claim to control.
Lebanon is crumbling under this pretend victory and the government is in danger of crumbling, also. It certainly cannot inspire confidence to the Lebanese citizens while Hezbol­lah promises them endless wars.
Political life in Lebanon seems dominated by threats from Hezbollah every time a criticism of the party’s hegemony inside and outside of Lebanon is uttered. The Lebanese people are witnessing concentrated efforts to stifle diversity in Lebanon and limit it within pro-Hezbollah circles. Everything outside those circles is profane.
Hezbollah’s soft power in Lebanon is apparent in its domestication of the local media. It is also very much illustrated by death threats uttered by its cronies against anyone opposing the party’s projects, amid the deafening silence of judicial institutions. These same institu­tions were quick to act, however, against a female Twitter user when she criticised Lebanese Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil. This is how Hezbollah and its allies intend to rule the country.
Yet a look at Lebanese history shows that none of the succes­sive dictatorships nor colonising powers in the country was able to suppress or domesticate the country’s diversity or its spirit of freedom. These aspects are deeply rooted in Lebanon and are fundamental to its existence and its economy. When democracy and freedom in Lebanon are tinkered with, it shows in its economy.
Lebanon has no tolerance for totalitarian regimes and can never be severed from its Arab environment. Lebanon’s Arab roots are not for show; they are real. Every time a political force tried to uproot Lebanon from its Arab identity, the attempt exploded in its face.
This is why Hezbollah is irked by Lebanon. The country refuses to submit to efforts to enslave it. It rejects any attempt to play with its diversity.
Lebanon cannot survive without freedom, without opposition and without political and cultural vitality. Because it refuses to die, it ends up wearing out and even eliminating those who try to change it or shape it to their image.
The country’s economy is no exception to this rule. It will not accept totalitarianism and, like life in Lebanon, it will refuse being boxed in and restricted.
Lebanon is mightier than any populist ideology and definitely deeper than a passing notion that it can be domesticated. It will not be colonised by external or internal forces. Its fundamental spirit of freedom will be enough to sweep away all dictatorships.

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