Political greed could doom Lebanon

The authorities, before the citizens, know that Lebanon’s financial and economic collapse is imminent if nothing is done about the political situation.
Sunday 21/10/2018
A file picture shows a Lebanese man holding a safe during a mass rally against corrupt politicians at the iconic Martyrs Square in Beirut. (AFP)
Tip of the iceberg. A file picture shows a Lebanese man holding a safe during a mass rally against corrupt politicians at the iconic Martyrs Square in Beirut. (AFP)

Everyone concerned with power in Lebanon is scrambling to reserve a seat in the new cabinet and yet this new government has still not taken off.

The process of forming the government is subjected to pressures from various political forces in Lebanon demanding their share in the new cabinet. For five months, we have heard optimistic statements about reaching a satisfactory consensus soon but the government locomotive has not left the station. No deadline has been given either for announcing the composition of the cabinet or for dismissing the appointed prime minister, Saad Hariri.

The political row in Lebanon is far from connected to the issues and slogans raised by the March 14 alliance (which have faded away, by the way), issues centred on sovereignty, independence and placing Hezbollah’s weapons under the authority of the state.

They are not connected, either, to the slogans and positions taken by the March 8 alliance and which Hezbollah effectively reduced to what it called “protecting and preserving the weapons of resistance until the establishment of a just and powerful state,” to quote Hezbollah officials.

That argument had been repeated over and over again even though everybody knew that there was no chance for a fair and strong state to rise as long as there existed inside the country illegitimate armed militias along with a legitimate army. You can’t have a mini-state within the state.

Today, Hariri is neither demanding the dismantling of Hezbollah’s militias nor is Samir Geagea, head of the executive branch of the Lebanese Forces party, demanding the withdrawal of Hezbollah from Syria or the implementation of international resolutions on this matter. Yet, these concessions about questions of sovereignty on the part of the so-called March 14 forces were not enough to facilitate formation of a new government.

Everyone knows that the “settlement” that had installed Michel Aoun as president two years ago stipulated the placing aside of controversial issues that had a regional dimension, namely, Hezbollah’s weapons and its participation in the Syrian war. It was done on the basis that the profound disagreements about these issues were causing the faltering of the state services and hurting citizens.

However, despite the neutralisation of these sovereignty issues, the situation remained the same, in terms of the inability to form a government and even in terms of the ability to ensure a minimum level of conduct of public affairs.

When political issues of national interest are marginalised maliciously and by design, as it has happened in Lebanon with the Aoun presidency, political life becomes fundamentally flawed. The national interest is shifted in favour of the narrow and private interests of particular parties in the conflict, quite visible in the squabbles over shares in the new cabinet or in the unjustified recruitments in the public sector. The competition shifted to the basest level of who can fill the most public sector posts.

Tens of thousands of inept, unproductive and corrupt employees are driving the public sector to its expected demise.

Not only that but, by removing issues of national interest from political life, political forces shift their efforts to fighting over deals in the electricity or oil sectors and even in waste management.

Even the Lebanese University, a public institution, has been subjected to abuse that has negatively affected academic standards.  From a university controlled to a large extent by an academic authority, it has been transformed into a sphere of power-sharing between the parties in power. Appointments at the university are based on political quotas rather than academic qualifications. Rather than representing the national interest, the university has become, like everything else in Lebanon, subject to a turf war between political and sectarian forces in the country.

These scandals are just the tip of the iceberg of the corruption plaguing political life in Lebanon.

In Lebanese politics, all standards and moral values have been overturned. State authority has been marginalised and the three branches of government acknowledge it and accept it. When people demand that the task of protecting the country and the state should be the exclusive duty of the national armed forces, they are accused of treason.

When public funds are systematically plundered by the parties in power, nobody flinches and when party loyalty replaces abiding by the law as the fundamental condition for citizenship, it is no wonder then that the state becomes dysfunctional, violated and powerless.

If some in Lebanon naively believed at some point that it was still possible to build a state, despite the absence of the basic foundations for building any such a state, they must have now realised that they were totally wrong and that their optimism would contribute only to the destruction of whatever is left of the Lebanese state.

A state cannot exist in a world of binary realities. There can’t be a state and a mini-state. There can’t be a legitimate army and illegitimate militias. Citizens can’t be loyal to their country and loyal to a foreign power. When the authorities of a country allow a political force that places its loyalty to a foreign power above its sense of belonging and loyalty to its own country (as is the case with Hezbollah in Lebanon) to share power, that country is doomed, which is the case of Lebanon today.

Without a return to the basic principles of the state and the responsibilities derived from belonging to a homeland, and without reintroducing the conditions of sovereignty, independence and unity of the people to political life, the failure in Lebanon will not remain limited to just the inability to form a government but will spread to politics and society in addition to finances and economy.

The authorities, before the citizens, know that Lebanon’s financial and economic collapse is imminent if nothing is done about the political situation.