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For the First Time in Lebanon

For the First Time in Lebanon

Wednesday, 14 July, 2021 - 09:15

“For the first time” is a phrase the Lebanese have frequently been using these days: For the first time (since 1916), we are close to starvation. For the first time, education and health care are collapsing. For the first time, fuel and medicines are disappearing. For the first time, banks are robbing their clients…However, it is also the first time that the countries’ rulers are as insipid as they are today. This is not a tribute to the politicians who had ruled Lebanon in previous periods. It is merely an attempt to describe the distance that the current rulers have crossed on their path to frivolity.

Over a few months, two truly unprecedented developments unfolded:

The first event: Prime Minister Hassan Diab, with foreign ambassadors present, claimed an “external blockade” is behind Lebanon’s suffering, reiterating the narrative that runs against an immense amount of data and an abundance of reports and studies and is being pushed by Hezbollah, its mouthpieces and its Secretary-General. The French ambassador to Lebanon (whose remarks were not broadcasted) reprimanded the prime minister the way a teacher reprimands an ignorant and lazy student.

Axis of resistance supporters commented: the French colonialists are getting ready for a comeback!

The second event: The (resigned) foreign minister, Charbel Wehbe, ignited the notorious Bedouin scandal, succeeding at being wrong and racist and undermining Lebanon’s foreign relations and its expats in one go.

Moreover, the country’s top diplomat gave an outstanding lesson in how not to be a diplomat- his implicit role model for how to deal with the outside world oscillates between Muammar Gaddafi and Idi Amin.

In addition to the virtues evident above, Diab and Wehbe have something else in common; neither of them is a politician. Rather, both are civil servants who work for the political-economic ruling class. However, in contrast to the superior merit and efficiency, employees and civil servants typically enjoy vis a vis those who directly hold the power or wealth, here, we find the exact opposite.

How can we explain the speed at which these two glaring scandals broke out?

We would have to return, again, to the “for the first time” formula: “For the first time” Iran now directly dominates Lebanon. This means that the culture of rejecting and being indifferent to the outside world, as well as hostility to the Arab world, has become widespread and potent. Neither our economic interests nor openness to the sources of education and presence in the world is important. Diplomacy is subordination and dependence. As for becoming isolated and besieged, these are objectives we must strive to realize, like Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and other countries that the axis of resistance sees as exemplars are doing. Whoever says otherwise is a dubious Israel sympathizer.

Thus, the people’s well-being is no longer worth mentioning as far those in charge are concerned. Whoever wants proof ought to look into how immunity was not lifted from officials who should be brought in for questioning as soon as possible, in what is a crime of the scale of that seen in the port of Beirut.

However, this state of affairs, in turn, stems from an internal transformation that has come to reflect heavily on the Lebanese power structure. In 1943, the pact between Bechara El Khoury and Riad Al Solh was not just a compromise between Christians and Muslims. It was also a compromise between the city and the countryside, and the countryside in question- Mount Lebanon and its surroundings- were the most urban part of Lebanon’s countryside. The matter was repeated in 1958, with the deal struck between Fouad Chehab and Saeb Salam and, after him, Rashid Karami. It then witnessed fleeting recurrences, with Syrian tutelage and sectarian strife limiting this principle’s implementation and its effectiveness: between Elias Sarkis and Salim al-Hoss, and then between Elias Hrawi and Rafik Hariri.

Lebanon is now paying the many costs that had begun accumulating since the Two Years War (1975-6) and left the countryside more rural and the city less urban: with regard to the countryside, the Mountains War (1983- 1984) was the major contributor to exacerbating the situation. The most urban part of the countryside, which had been traditional Lebanon’s backbone, collapsed. The rise of support for Aoun among Christians was the fruit of these developments and was fortified by the “marginalization of Christians” until 2005.

For its part, the city, which armed groups- Palestinian and Lebanese, Beiruti and non-Beiruti- went about destroying in the seventies and eighties, was given nothing by Harirism but a shiny façade. Behind that façade, clientelism was solidified, while the soulless downtown commercial center failed to reunite the increasingly divided capital.

In the meantime, sectarian cleansing saw two dominant waves: during the Two Years War and the period between 1984 and 1987, when hundreds of thousands were displaced from Beirut, Mount Lebanon, and the South. The fact that those who had been forced out of their neighborhoods moved to areas in Beirut where their sect is dominant added to the sects’ cohesion.

Once we add Hezbollah’s iron grip on the county’s Shiites and its role in isolating them from Lebanese political life’s broad social and political trends, we come to understand some aspects of the degradation we are currently living through, and how, for the first time, the situation we find ourselves in could produce “diplomats” like Hassan Diab, Charbel Wehbe and others who resemble them.

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