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The ‘Underground’ Controls the ‘Aboveground’ in Lebanon

The ‘Underground’ Controls the ‘Aboveground’ in Lebanon

Monday, 20 September, 2021 - 09:15

Many Lebanese have noticed that the steep decline in the quality of ministers. Every new government is more mediocre than that which preceded it. Every new government has a greater number of ministers suffering from extreme drabness.

That is what most people from all walks of life say to each other in their conversations, but they also say it in a few newspapers and on social media. The prevalence of mocking the ministers has rendered jokes at their expense the most prominent form of commenting about them. The number of scandalous “gaffes” those ministers make is increasing dramatically. The honorific titles with which Lebanese ministers are addressed - those that reflect an obsolete culture of sycophancy and subordination in the first place - are now nothing more than a farce.

On top of all of that, the Iranian tankers of “salvation” arrived and deprived the new ministers of the little actual authority they may enjoy. As for the reports that these ministers, before being appointed, were subjected to an examination by the son-in-law, Gebran Basil, they emphasize that these ministers have the weight of a feather.

The current ministers, then, are as close as can be to representatives of “National Progressive Front” parties in countries with a one party system. The only function they serve is to create a facade that distracts from the fact that there is only one party in power.

This decline is part of the general decline that encompasses everything on every level in today’s Lebanon. With the decreased availability of products on the market on all levels, the number of highly skilled individuals willing to serve the actual regime decreases as well (keeping in mind that there had been an abundance of skilled individuals in Lebanon before the new wave of migration decreased their number).

Nonetheless, the most important reason for that decline is that ministers are no longer important given the state’s decreased weight and the erosion of its ability to make an impact. It is no longer the source of power and influence. It is where the final signature on actions others had already taken is given, and signatures cannot be refused. As for the reason for that, it lies in a division of labor that leaves the government part of the overground, while real power lies underground.

Such a formula should be understood somewhat flexibly: ministers will continue to enjoy a degree of nominal independence because of their supposed representativeness of a particular sect, thus as a result of the need to account for the balance between sects. Even the regime of Syrian tutelage made such accommodations and accounted for that balance to a certain extent, and at the time, the number of skilled individuals seeking high office had been much higher than it is today.

Ministers will continue to be addressed as your excellency then, and their position will continue to allow them to reap benefits.

With that, those aboveground have no serious impact. They are the facade, what is visible. In the underground lies what matters, exactly like Anjar and the Beau Rivage Hotel had been what mattered during the years of Syrian tutelage.

But what is the underground? Of course, the term does not have the same connotations that it has in other countries, opposition and dissident people who are banned from operating politically and thus resort to operating clandestinely.

The Lebanese underground is equivalent to the “deep state” in Turkey and other countries.

Lebanon’s underground is a certain power and certain practices. The materials of this invisible world are composed of many elements, all of which are deadly or cause death in one way or another: Hezbollah’s actual leadership is underground, as are its sacrosanct missiles.

Also in the underground are flammable materials waiting to be smuggled and sold on the black market, especially gasoline, leaving the lives of those aboveground with little safety and security. Underground also lies a broad network of mistrust and unreliability in which the “obscure” banking system occupies a leading position.

The underground is home to a judicial system forbidden from revealing major “secrets,” about matters ranging from the Beirut port blast, to assassinations, such as that of the intellectual Lokman Slim, to acts of corruption in general.

Added to the underground are those regional and international political arrangements that are cooked up behind the backs of the Lebanese, who are left clueless about how they had been reached, feeding into the worst of conspiratorial ideas. Of course, as in many other places, the underground remains home to massive potential for prison cells.

These elements of destruction, current and forthcoming, enjoy the same legitimacy that the resistance and its missiles, just like corruption and smuggling, enjoy. Even if there were no legitimacy, the ministers whose nominal authority lies aboveground can provide it without much trouble.

Underground, then, is the power to make decisions on life and death, politics and economics, and war and peace. Above the ground are... the excellencies.

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