Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

Lebanon: When Running Away from Solutions Becomes an Official Policy

Lebanon: When Running Away from Solutions Becomes an Official Policy

Monday, 31 August, 2020 - 11:45

Lebanon has recently returned to a general lockdown, that may be extended, after registering a record number of Covid-19 cases throughout the country.

This development comes with frightening problems, that began with the currency and economic collapse, made worse by the intractable political crisis, and hit the bottom on August 4 with the massive explosions of Beirut port which killed around 200, injured around 6,000, and ruined or damaged half of the Lebanese capital’s buildings.

By all accounts, and in every institutional state, a catastrophic situation like this requires holding people in charge to account. Indeed, it needs an inspired, wise, and brave leadership that is willing to take responsibility; or at least admits its mistakes and leave.

However, if we follow the series of tragedies that hit Lebanon since last autumn, we notice that all approaches never sought to find solutions. Instead, they were all acts of revenge from political opponents and attempts to hold them responsible for all shortcomings. There was no attempt to carry out change, but rather, exploit and redirect popular demands, and espouse a strategy of spite, revenge, and distortion.

When worried and aggrieved masses took to streets and squares on October 17, they spontaneously vented their anger against the whole political class. That day, they did not care about the details. The pain was so acute that they regarded all that class guilty, regardless of the degree of individual responsibility, or whether all the accused were influential players or they were film extras or false witnesses.

The instinct of the aggrieved and pained Lebanese people told them that the whole cast had to go; judging from the naive slogan "Killon Ya’ni Killon" (all means all). But since Lebanon is Lebanon, where sectarian considerations come before nationhood, and the weakest player is the fragile "compromise" cabinet, it was natural that only this cabinet should fall.

It had to fall, not because it was the only culprit, but because it was a facade of a strange political authority, whereby custom coexists with interests, and fake "entente" lies underneath the sway of illegitimate arms. Furthermore, that cabinet had agreed, from the very beginning to be a non-ruling entity functioning under a populist presidency that proclaims before its supporters to be a “strong rule”, and a "militia state" that is much stronger than the real state.

Thus, it was natural that the cabinet should resign, and indeed, it did under the pressure of the street and the people’s demands. It was a landmark, as well as an opportunity to contain what could be contained of a rapidly deteriorating situation against a background of sectarian polarization and exploitation. However, the real rulers of Lebanon, instead of admitting the need to handle positively a grave situation, chose to escape forward. They did not stop at marginalizing their opponents, but also tried to divert the popular anger toward them, and accuse them of being exclusively responsible for all the failures since the end of the Lebanese War in 1990.

On January 21st a new cabinet was formed with Hassan Diab as Prime Minister. Diab’s choice was nothing short of a slap in the face of Sunni public opinion, which, like many Lebanese expected "Killon ya’ni Killon" to literally apply to all; not just the Sunni "weak link" in the government’s chain.

On the other hand, the new cabinet was formed just when the Covid-19 was spreading from China to Iran, Italy, Spain, and elsewhere. In fact, it was somehow expected, in light of Tehran’s secrecy about the virus, that the pandemic would accelerate in the countries with close political, commercial, and religious links with Iran, as well as with China.

For a while, it appeared that Lebanon had succeeded in avoiding the worst, despite the fact that air travel between Tehran and Beirut continued for several weeks; bearing in mind that Lebanon’s Public Health Minister is a Hezbollah appointee.

At the same time, political tension was rising, whether due to Washington’s escalation against Iran, strengthening political joint actions between Washington and Tel Aviv, or bombing targets allegedly linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) inside and outside Syria, with Tehran staying totally silent. Then, last but by no means least, was the countdown for the Rafic Hariri’s assassination verdict, expected from the International Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

In the past few weeks, the financial and economic collapse has been accelerating. The political crisis also was reaching a dead end, prompting French President Emmanuel Macron to visit Beirut, meet with Lebanon’s political leaders, and candidly inform them that short of radical and genuine political reform they should expect no international aid.

Then, just before the Hariri verdict, came the devastating Beirut explosions. These explosions have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.

In addition to the large number of casualties, no less than five major hospitals – including three teaching hospitals – were badly damaged, decreasing the number of available A&E beds and medical services and staff in the thick of the Covid-19 mayhem. The explosions have also caused unprecedented damage to commercial establishments already teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Finally, the explosions have left unanswered many questions about the nature and causes of what happened; and whether they were the outcome of a hushed-up military operation or a mistake connected with the absent government and non-existent accountability which led to overlooking the storage of huge amounts of lethal and explosive materials in a civilian port adjacent to residential neighborhoods.

All questions are well justified, be they about what happened, or about when does the role of the "official" disabled government ends and that of the de facto "effective" government begins.

Unfortunately, until now, despite the fact that port’s disaster has pre-maturely brought down the failed Diab cabinet, there are still no signs that the intentions or the approaches have changed.

The sole aim of Lebanon’s real rulers is to protect their interests at the expense of a nation that means nothing to them anymore.

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks