We need to admit that Lebanon is a failed state. Other states have gone this way before, while some Arab and other neighbouring countries suffer from financial, economic and social collapse, threatening them with disintegration. Perhaps the most severe of these is the suffering of Iraq, Syria and Jordan. Egypt, Turkey and Israel, meanwhile, have almost ended up like us here in Lebanon.
It is ironic that major countries in crisis set out to deal with the crises affecting failed states, like doctors who are sick but still heal other people. The most prominent of these is the US, which is likely to suffer severe inflation as a result of Congress passing a law recently to raise the public debt limit by several trillion dollars. Nevertheless, the White House intends to launch an old-new position to coordinate with France on Lebanon and impose sanctions on failed politicians. "We do not want to see a failed state in the Middle East and indications are that Lebanon is heading towards failure," claim US officials. However, they did not say that most of the failed politicians threatened with sanctions are among its old and new allies.
Coincidentally, a more realistic and flexible voice has emerged from New York. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addressed the Lebanese people upon his arrival in Beirut last week. "I am deeply concerned about the hardships you are facing and the ordeals you face today," said Guterres. "The [2020 Beirut port] blast injured some seven thousand people, leaving many with permanent disabilities. It destroyed thousands of homes. I know the Lebanese people want answers, and I hear your demands for truth and justice."
Perhaps the most important point he focused on is that "lasting solutions can only come from inside Lebanon" through "efforts to promote accountability and transparency and root out corruption." The UN chief went on to point out that, "It is essential for leaders to put the people first, and implement the reforms needed to set Lebanon back on track." In doing so, he has gone full circle, and we are back at asking doctors who are sick to treat those who are ill. The Lebanese leaders whom Guterres is calling on to "implement the necessary reforms" are the architects and beneficiaries of decades of corruption. It is not in the interests to implement reforms.
The truth is that what Lebanon is complaining about is the same as what the rest of the Arab and Islamic countries in crisis in Western Asia are complaining about: societies ruled by civilian and military sects and doctrines, with rulers deep-rooted and greedy for power, implicated in corruption, and insisting on being the men for all times, good and bad. They have no accountability; they are the sinners and the reformers, controlling reward and punishment which coexist forever.
So what should be done? Loyal citizens, leaders, trade unionists, professionals and intellectuals committed to the cause of the homeland and its people answer as one. We should not despair or falter, they say. We must rise, confront and resist with all our capabilities. We are concerned existentially with what our people suffer from. We are concerned because our future is in danger of disappearing.
These are beautiful and logical words, but they are old and outdated and remain good intentions and legitimate wishes, but are not accompanied by practical answers, initiatives and determination to succeed. The curse of national political action in Lebanon is a chronic failure to rise above selfishness to the dangers and challenges that the country is facing so that we can generate and develop frameworks for coordination, cooperation, integration and productive action.
I do not intend to discourage anyone, but want to sharpen and motivate our collective will, correct its course, and activate it. Corrupt rulers are always united by their selfish interests, while their opponents and fellow revolutionaries are always divided. We need to change that.
Given the enormity of the task, now is the time for those demanding change and reform to work tirelessly to agree on an interim programme at the very least. It should cover the most necessary and urgent priorities, and the most effective popular activities in the context of confronting the corrupt political and economic cliques. Our country's losses need to be limited as we stop the collapse. That's a reasonable and realistic demand.
An in-depth study of the situation of the Arab countries in crisis proposes that what is required and possible at the current stage, especially in Lebanon, is a broad alliance between the forces calling for rescue and change and for people to work seriously for them. This alliance must study the existing situation in order to agree on a united diagnosis, after which the most necessary and urgent priorities can be determined. Public action must rise above regional loyalties and sects. The sectarian quota system must be challenged in order for radical reforms to be introduced which benefit the vast majority of the people of Lebanon.
It is true that comprehensive national consensus is difficult to achieve in pluralistic societies, of which Lebanon is one, but it is not impossible, even if it takes one or two generations. Lebanon has a rich heritage upon which the future can be built, with legitimate aspirations and interests. The challenges are many, for sure, and the struggle will be long. It requires heroes and fighters with courage and perseverance to come to the fore. Their time has come. Lebanon should not be a failed state.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 19 December 2021
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.