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Poverty, Interventions and 'Small Armies'

Poverty, Interventions and 'Small Armies'

Monday, 6 July, 2020 - 09:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

What is the most expressive picture of the future of the Middle East? Is it the image of a Lebanese man who committed suicide, leaving a painful note on his body saying: “I am not a heretic, but hunger is heresy”?

Or is it the image of the Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, boasting his country’s forces in Libya and preparing for the establishment of two Turkish bases in this vulnerable Arab country?

Is it the image of a region mired in ancient conflicts, under which militias and small armies - backed by missiles and drones - split maps, share influence, and squander lives in endless wars?

Painful are the scenes coming from Lebanon. Escaping hunger by committing suicide is an unprecedented story in Lebanon’s independent history.

I don’t want to hold President Michel Aoun responsible for everything that happens. He is not the only official to blame, but he is certainly accountable by virtue of his position, and is required to find solutions or light a candle of hope in this darkness.

He is also to blame because he has let the game slip away. Scenes from Lebanon suggest that we are at the end of a presidential term, knowing that Aoun’s mandate has only reached its halfway and the president does not easily resign.

He is to blame because soon after his election, he was not adamant about the formation of a reform government that deserves to be named as such. Back then, beside him were Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblatt, and Samir Geagea. But misconduct or bad faith led to the loss of the three together, although they showed different degrees of opposition and condemnation.

Moreover, the president has no right to punish the country with a government like that of Hassan Diab, which has lengthened the Lebanese people’s stay in the dark tunnel, instead of presenting a plan to get them out of it. The scandal of inconsistent figures in the negotiations with the IMF showed that the Lebanese train continued its fall towards the abyss with no limits or controls. It’s a sad amateurs club. It’s a theater of puppets and echoes.

Lebanon has absolutely no interest in this early gloomy end to a thrilling story – that of Michel Aoun. The man exhausted the country and the people by insisting on taking over the presidency. But when it was given to him, it turned out that he had no clear program or a definite mandate from his ally, Hezbollah.

It is a gloomy end for a man, who had a wide supporter base within his sect. It’s a big disappointment for those who bet that in his era would witness the rise of the Lebanese state, not its complete collapse.

I don’t want to accuse former Minister Gebran Bassil, the president’s son-in-law, alone, for striking a heavy blow to the presidency’s image and credibility.

What is sure, however, is that Gebran was at the forefront of the team that dragged the presidency into the greed of securing seals in the post-Aoun era. Lebanon does not deserve such punishment.

It’s a painful conclusion to Aoun’s thrilling story, and a heartbreaking end to an exciting tale called Lebanon. Any calm reading of the scene suggests that the combination of corruption, disintegration, and foreign allegiances, in addition to the insistence that Lebanon bear roles that surpass its capacity, are all factors that worsen the Lebanese downfall.

What is more disturbing is that the Lebanese scene is merely an aspect of a dark painting that illustrates widespread poverty, unemployment, disintegration, and failure. The number of Arabs residing in the camps exceeds the population of Lebanon. The number of Arab children who do not attend school is equal to the population of a country.

But the more frightening numbers are those of residents who live below poverty line or who are thrown by unemployment on the sidewalks of destitution and violence. They correspond to the population of a large or medium-sized country. The painting is scary because it tells us about the coming days. The future begins today and these are its signs.

The problems of poverty, faltering development, and the spread of corruption could have been less catastrophic if they were not coupled with reckless and increasingly ignored policies.

At a time when the peoples of the region were seeking to drive out militias and “small armies”, the era of mercenaries blatantly emerged.

Turkey’s move to deploy thousands of Syrian militants to fight Libyans on their own soil is a very dangerous precedent.

Is it rude to say that Libya should be left to decide its own fate without the intervention of foreign militias and armies?

Is it rude to say that Iraq should be left to the Iraqis, Syria to the Syrians, Yemen to the Yemenis, and Lebanon to the Lebanese?

Is it naive to call for placing these thorny files in the hands of the United Nations? It has become evident that the great danger usually comes from “regional wolves”, who are looking to impose their guardianship, establish their hegemony, ensure their interests, and violate small maps.

The most dangerous pretext in marketing the Turkish program is to say that Ankara repeats what Tehran has done. If the engagement in maps has achieved temporary successes in overthrowing a system or turning the balance of power, it cannot be considered a legitimate solution.

A look at the countries whose maps have been breached reveals the depth of their financial and political confusion.

The ordinary citizen dreaming of a normal state in these countries has suffered more harm than the losses to his national currency.

Attempting to besiege the maps with missile arsenals, militias, and military bases promises nothing but a terrifying Middle East.

Conquering capitals, seals, universities, and screens by the forces of the distant past, heralds only long seasons of poverty, violence, and the return to the caves of history.

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